5. Anecdote v. Image
Ulysses: the grey sunken cunt of the world
By the end of this narrative reading there is, indeed, "nothing doing." The "doing" of the chronicled purchase has been left behind, displaced by a search for the "idea behind it." But what is still an uncertain, meandering search on the level of Bloom's stream of thought is already a pyramiding of trope upon trope, association upon association, for Joyce and his readers. Joyce 'shores' the images of reading and money which first float through the ordinary activity of the butcher's shop, solidifying their interrelation as Bloom's thoughts turn increasing to earthen structures: "sandy tracts," trees for "shade, fuel and construction," "immense melonfields," "a dunam of land." Money ceases to be a medium of exchange and becomes a figure of transformative investment, a writing in the "book of the union" and on the desert of the "Promised Land." Bloom's stream of thought is channeled into "artificial irrigation."
Finally, as the "shored" fragments of this mental landscape rise toward its symbolic peak, Bloom's ordinary meandering becomes mythic, archetypal, heroic, Biblical. He ceases to be simply another citizen of "dirty Dublin" and becomes The Wandering Jew of an "extra-temporal history." The last image of living, heaven-sent flow is rejected:
Watering cart. To provoke the rain. On earth as it is in heaven.
A cloud began to cover the sun wholly slowly wholly. Grey. Far.
No, not like that. A barren land, bare waste. Vulcanic lake, the dead sea: no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the earth. No wind would lift those waves, grey metal, poisonous foggy waters. Brimstone they called it raining down: the cities of the plain: Sodom, Gomorrah, Edom. All dead names. A dead sea in a dead land, grey and old. Old now. It bore the oldest, the first race. A bent hag crossed from Cassidy's clutching a noggin bottle by the neck. The oldest people. Wandered far away over all the earth, captivity to captivity, multiplying, dying, being born everywhere. It lay there now. Now it could bear no more. Dead: an old woman's: the grey sunken cunt of the world.
Joyce's modulation from the quotidian to the cosmic finds completion and closure in the symbolic. In recovering from narrative the food/women metaphor with which Bloom began, the flow of events has turned to "dead sea in a dead land." Out of fragmented images, unified into a synecdochic whole, the epiphantic moment is erected; although in this case the pyramid of images form a mirror-image pit. Bloom's synthetic desire for the plenitude of the food/woman, the "young white heifer," returns here in the inverted form of misogynous resentment and revulsion--"Dead: an old woman's: the grey sunken cunt of the world." I say "although," but the case is paradigmatic of the symbolism of New Critical modernism. Prophetic vision emerges in an ascension toward downward looking despair. The 'horizontal' flow of language, plot, and the book form is redirected and reread as a 'vertical' dialectic of presence and absence, a comprehension of the irony of synecdochic (w)holes.