1. Gods in Council

“Book 1 of The Odyssey opens with an invocation of the muse, followed by an account of a council of the gods on Olympus at which Zeus decides that it is time for Odysseus to return home …”

— Frank Gifford.

Spoilt chimeras that cling to my imagination in quavering obscurity, must I call you into focus again, insert optics over my dying eyes, and trawl your nether lands for some weak explanation of this wilful, lucky life? Of course, I must or else these words will become just another sentence washed-up and forgotten on the fizzy blanking banks of Charon’s Lethe. But what a different type of “sentence” they become if I continue: one of conviction … to utterance. It is with a clear comprehension of the task ahead that I fix myself in my own era like a deep-set totem and will my mind to become anannal. Such a posture could be rendered thus: “]meaning[”. These parenthetic ears burn like a gem-like flame as I step over the wall of books surrounding my desk and fit my body into the enclosed recess before the computer, encased in this pedagogical capsule like some stern Cosmonaut, reference books stacked to the left, diaries and notebooks on the right. I grope into the dark past seeking the familiar patterns of objects that will unlock fields of memory like fingers striking the worn-down keys of a broken keyboard. To grid the pale screen with words and scroll on, to think “space over, text progressed,” that is success in life. Come closer then, sweet Memories, pile around me so that I feel half-alive in a sinking mass grave. Your cold swoll’n faces can now be observed with detachment as if gazing upon a pool of old vomit that you suddenly recognise as having once been part of you, and you parting of it, provoking heroic efforts of reprise – das Ich – from an otherwise annihilated intellect. It is certainly a thrill for my loam when you stir worm-style from the murky floor of my conscience like Milton’s infernal army reaching up to Daylight. Love and Friendship shimmy out in coils entwined with Jealousy, Betrayal, Hate and the luckless Dead. Soon this Medusa’s head of emotions is fixed firmly in my gaze. It projects a single foreboding image of us shackled together in a stiff semi-circle in the West Berlin sludge staring at the easel without acknowledgment or contact. Discarded books, tapes and drawings are spread like a soggy offertory over the hastily brushed foreground. Only our uniform black clothing suggests fidelity to a certain epoch, that itself can only be made tangible by its music: The Saints, Birthday Party, feedtime, the Velvet Underground, Joy Division, Tactics and always Bob Dylan. This relic congeals the Aristotelian PAST as if from a great height so that it appears almost comprehensible. But you might as well force goggles over the eyes of blind Oedipus as dredge up any expectation of definitive closure. That unbound period will never be resolved. It implodes in my mind like Brueghel’s vast labyrinthine Babel, its receding chambers withdrawing momentary insights into the dim core of Being LOST. All that can be done in its aftermath is to raise a clouded glass of retentions, swish the echo around my mouth, and spit their gormless traces back at Time’s unsmiling face. Come still closer then, dear Memories, until you have advanced to the window of my soul and I can watch from a deep armchair as you scrape away trinkets of frost from the brittle pane with dirt-stiffened cuffs and expose all my facets. Gaze inside on the glazed insides of my Being. Its opaque hide shines like copper crystals in the ebb as the warm air from my one-bar radiator rocks the Japanese paper lantern above my head. Slowly, I look up from a heavy stupor at your Shape presst against the thick aquarium glass. Your features are squasht out of humane proportion like one of Goebbels’ anti-Semitic posters. [LOUD] “Can you still distinguish my voice,” I ask. No reply. Pressured fissures pit the jellied glass. Secret punctures down the dim membrane. First seepthru. Bitter recollections begin passing out of me like sweat. Days long gone lost & o’er STOP You are scattered like so much fall pollen, my own dear deadens. SHIFT Only my angel from the end (“O”) remains. So be it. The Odyssey is over. The Classical period has closed. And Telemachus has drifted out of orbit like some Bronze Age Major Tom. Yet I will go on alone post-Wormwood through the nullified Space that Time once measured until I reach the spot where the last star fell into the sea (Revelations 8:11) and there, as St Jerome in his study, a recumbent lion his only companion, so I, with language slumbering protectively inside me, contemplate the blank page. I’ve been planning this text for some time but I never expected to execute it, let alone in such straightforward fashion. I’d always intended to let the shards of your demise work their way out of my system like those fragments of shrapnel that burrow through the body of an ageing ANZAC until they finally push through the flesh in a blasphemy of birth. I felt your legacy would be more manageable that way. But just as Shelley’s influence was apparently effaced from Browning’s poetry at the superficial level of style, only to remain deeply entrenched in his forms, so you, too, infest every aspect of my being. Student, pedagogue, clerk, husband, father. I have rimmed the Ontology without ever being able to mainline myself into EXISTENCE. Not that I can really complain. I’ve finally arrived at what amounts to Elysium. Rebooted like Winston Smith. With the family I always coveted. Some sense of social utility at my back. Black suit blues on the bus each morning when I’m still too full of one final grin from my daughter all dimples gums forehead and gaze as she sucks her fist, gags on a carmine jumpsuit and whispers “coo coo.” Soon she’ll be crawling across the floor of her lamp-lit room like Huysmans’ tortoise. At dawn, she stands in her cot, spreads her lower lip as tight as a drum and cries: “ning ning ning ning ning ning ning.” Seven times. It’s the longest sound she can make between gulps of air. It is my invocation to rise. Recalling it now fills me with deep feeling until I’m distracted by an old nurse working her way down the aisle. Nobody offers her a seat. I touch her sky-blue cotton work dress and rise. A private school pupil steals my place. I turn so as not to defy. I have delivered myself up to this point by sheer will to integrity. It’s a warm safe ride through familiar country like touring regional Victoria in spring. Why would I want to put all of that at stake by dredging you out of the murky bed where you lie? We ought to fade into teeming human space together like Ulysses and Diomedes inside Dante’s eighth circle. All this anguish makes it sound as if I’ve got nothing better to do than workshop the crazy stratagems which mutilated my youth. Nothing could be further from the truth. These days I am more interested in understanding things of which you were only the plastic manifestation. Not that I would ever underestimate you. Even reduced to the status of mere character, you are still capable of inflicting untold (or in this case “told”) damage. At any moment you could surge through my proofs like some uncalculating tempest. All your scattered potency on display. It’s an unpalatable sight. Writers often turn to metaphors of pollution and death to relay the power of such tropes. I tend to revert to the safety of my obscure studies. Indeed, I am surprised that it has finally come time for candour. The thin lips which zip my mouth shut are mute symbols of self-containment. Yet here I am as open and exposed as Isaac on the slab. Perhaps it’s a Proustian reflection of the zeitgeist and all those relentless confessions which America broadcasts as a substitute for ethics. But who am I to criticise celebrity shrinks … telemarketing … chatrooms … blogs … gaming … endep … or any other form of escape for that matter? I have jacked-up and cranked-up on toilet seats right across Europe, staggered into the biting late night frost and droppt onto the footpath, pulling my grit-heavy overcoat around my face, suspended in saline and smack like some bottled museum piece. Bluddy needle puncture hanging out of ma swoll’n vein. Ichor surging through my cistem. The aperture into life closes. Mundane visions of insects and fleece. Dark shapes which blockt out all light in childhood. Pins and needles sizzling my wrist. Groggy attachment to the crap infesting our lounge room. Willing your touch. This is what Browning’s Paracelsus called the “breath so light / Upon my eyelids, and the fingers warm / Among my hair.” Quest to regather Time commences. Like Tennyson, I just want to rest my cheek against your denim-shrouded shoulder once more. To reach into your embrace in another airport. To curl my fingers through your slick mane. And hear your thick lisp again. Putuwá. My eyelids finally part on a silhouette set within streetlight halo. Just briefly I thought it was you. But the voice and its language were quite foreign. I closed my eyes and rolled over in the snow. The urine came hot and quick then cold. Only nausea finally compelled me to slide along the footpath like a wounded animal until some decent burgher assisted me into the warm foyer of his apartment building, propped me up in the landing, fed me strong filter coffee and gave me my S-Bahn fare home. Joyce was walking down a Zurich Street when the definitive attack of iritis hit him. The face of the stranger who carried him to a nearby bench remained blurred. He was never able to ascribe identity to this Good Samaritan. He saw halos around the streetlamps in rims of red, yellow and green. But this wasn’t a sublime moment. I returned to Sydney soon afterwards to repair my junk-dependent cells. Not that I want to glamorise my insipid dalliance with the GEAR. It’s taken me thirty years to achieve some kind of parity. I can blow into your image so that its pale ghost glows like Shelley’s fading coal. It doesn’t take much to reawaken you. And it doesn’t take much to put you away. There’s even some chance that I’ll still abort this scheme. That’s the way it is between the Gods and Man. I tend to shift between fragments – advancing each one by increment – shifting self-contained units of meaning like jigsaw pieces – allowing some duplication – finally installing a temporary text in which the line is subjugated to the page (no caesura no enjambment) – every sheet gridded with ink – a reticulated vehicle of expression – sheer prose. If the Modernist poem is like peering down a nocturnal coastline then prose is the vast electrified network of the contemporary city. It is process driven by computer program. The Internet has conflated language into a field of symbols and slogans – all transient – opening its mechanics to display. The book too must become BINARY like that. It must expose its HTML, drilling down discursive channels without closure. Samuel Beckett said that there’s no finished works, only aborted ones. But he was vain about publication. Beckett despised quotation marks. He picked this up from Joyce, who called them “perverted commas”. This is why he used the M-dash. Joyce wanted language to make smooth progress without distraction. It all became his own testament then, even slabs of conversation appropriated from cafes and pubs in Trieste and Zurich. Ultimately, Joyce disliked characterisation being built solely through speech as per drama. He wanted to work through STAGE DIRECTIONS (see C7) and footnotes. He needed to probe the boundaries of parody and pastiche to delineate characters before they were finally called forth to make verbal utterance. We are both more comfortable transcribing events and dispositions from the fluctuating rhythms of narratorial perspective. Everything is up for grabs with this method. The logical conclusion of my approach is an endlessly amended chronicle of the manifold utterances which make up Self. Stitched thus, it acts as cipher. CODE. Every allusion plotted and matched. Cascading lists. A website full of dropdown boxes that unravel like a concordance. In words like weeds I’ll wrap me o’er, as Tennyson said. Penelope stitching unstitching then re-stitching the weft. Driving inwards Berkeley-style. This is an enterprise best-suited to the unflinching resolve of figures like Shelley, Byron and Joyce. BUT I COULD NEVER AFFECT THE HEROIC MODE. For more than a few stanzas. As with Melville, call it self-deprecation. I am only ever Wagner to someone else’s Faust. Fitting my puny sole inside the cast of Samson’s footfall. NO AGON. Pressing against the pillars of the Canon as they close. AN INVERSE PRAXIS. No fidelity to form. Call it TECHNICAL FICTION. You’re sent forward in the work. You’re sent back. You get a sense of a work plaited by internal referencing, that sets itself against chronology. It’s like the operations of the human mind. We look to the future, we go back; inhabiting our time casually. Approaching TMAC is like examining a model ship inside a glass bottle. It’s a pure form erected by contrivance behind a sheer barrier. From different angles, you get different refractions: depending on the shape and thickness of the glass at any given point. I conceived the plan to commemorate your life straight after your death as a kind of Personification Allegory but kept postponing it until my memory was decontaminated (I should probably say “tinctured”) by my essential human optimism. It seemed more manageable that way. But now all the done and undone things are equally out of reach. My parents are dead. I don’t have to endure their imbedded disinterest anymore. I’ve abandoned the monograph on Pater because he was so obstinately bland that it started to read like Beckett’s Trilogy. I had the idea to write a series of metaportraits updating his themes in Imaginary Portraits. I’ve inserted the latest draft right into the centre of this work like a key (see C5, E10). The next episode in ONE MILLION WORDS is called VAULT. See C8, Q&A4 for the full plan. It’s now just a matter of execution as with M at the end of DTP. Nothing really stands in my way now except WILL. Never a strong point. And lately I’ve been flat out just coping. Paternity shuts you down like that. External events become like falling leaves in the ebb. Oh, I no that I shudd a(r)gue that there’s flamy hardgem in my sowl yet – and there is!! – but then the telephone ratatattled and I pickt it up’n’sigh’d involuntary at the didactic mumbell of authority on t’ether end and I hanged up and ma eyelids just dropt w/out being voided n I went outside forgettent of goggulars an wandead parblind in a dayze ma grasp of the quotidian receding with ma faltering eyeslight till all replaced by John Donney outlines and touchness like sum skilless child fossicking through xmas gives. My mind turns easily to the uncanny perception of those long-gone days. O says I waste too much time dwelling in HISTORY. But the emblems of experience become more precious with age. Soon I’ll be relying on them for atoms of retained meaning. Perhaps I should get it all down on tape like Krapp. I have to be careful not to scatter my small dividend. Not with the arduous process of revision still to take place. Ah, those days of desperate concentration, bent towards the computer screen pasting the fragments of my petty brain-waverings into new sequences. Luvox cooling my temper of all its manners so I can stay seated for a few minutes without pacing. But stuff never rolls out of my mouth in some neat chronology. I always start with a simple idea. Apparently unrelated images manifest themselves at the demand for sibilance or a vowel. Sometimes I seem merely the medium for (and “on”) its terms. No stream of consciousness. An accumulation of cognizance maybe. Stuff caught in the branches as the Liffey passes (Gaelic for Life). Language dense and inscrutable. A sequence of feints at meaning only to leave a morass of mal-meanings in their wake. Metaphors heaped in discursive piles like wrong turns taken. Being displaced by oblique symbols. Some semblance of human nobility in the face of material bathos nonetheless. But I am now some days drive from Unity (Mass.). Words emanating out of all parts of my head like thorns. Each new insertion inducing another teleological disjuncture. Time being such a poor chassis for Being. And all just to squeeze out a few puny sentences. Often, I feel like it’s never going to transpire. But I have lived with my text for many seasons (many stark seasons) and I come and go as I please into its Hieratic modes or out of them. They are a trench along which words pass brimming like water: froth along the muddy banks = rhapsody; slow seepage over Ophelia’s dress is evidence of the Sublime; a receding water-level indicates Meditation. Eventually, FORM looms out of the far-too-distant screen causing mild flutters of surprise until the SLAP of my daughter’s body along the hall reminds me of life’s true hierarchy. Insects spending their brief existence, as Virag whispers in Circe, stranded on shore watching a dragonfly hover and dart over the surface of a still pool, a rippling pond. I abandon the screen to pick her up in my arms, press my mouth against her soft hair and provide the comfort of some pre-linguistic murmur. She stops crying when her fingers become distracted by the pointed tip of my left ear. Her tidal sobs ebb. We re-form. I’m glad MY LIFE has finally reached stalemate. Fatherhood is my ticket back to normalcy. For a start, it rusht me through moral coma. It also satisfies my attraction to personal oblivion; which I used to expend on drugs. Even someone as steadfast in his craft as James Joyce tried to emphasise the value of paternity; in his case, to Samuel Beckett. To no avail. But I suspect that Beckett consciously set his entire life at a tangent to Joyce. Their crosstown accents; crosstown arts. More bravura Joyce; more genuine ingenuity Beckett. Finding a way around the Joycean impasse took all his consummate skill and detachment. Hence his concept of a ‘retrogressive tendency’ in Proust. It enabled him to go back to their common ancestor, Walter Pater, thereby reinstating one of Joyce’s unspoken influences as his own point of departure. This is what Harold Bloom would call a Scene of Instruction. I’d like to put my own interest in Victorian Aesthetics in the same category. But such vanities of scale in this analogy. I have been toiling on the period when Romanticism finally shook its shiny taile loose on the marble path and scuttled into the Swinburnean pubis (pewbiz?). After that, you can watch it unravel in the tinny green dusk of Wilde’s London. It was the first faithless utterance post-Darwin. Modernism’s dam. I love those nineteenth century novels of which I can no longer partake. I miss their antinomian rage. The contemporary novel has withdrawn from any sustained experiment with form, occasionally diverting itself with occult fantasy. This is the strategy of most Magic Realism [INSERT QUALIFICATION: TEXT OF A FAT BLOKE IN A PICKLE SHOP WHO EXPLODES]. But who am I to condemn Peter Carey? I, too, am about to manufacture a fiction behind which to shield my leering skull (I am quite bald now) and with little of his cheerful talent for caricature. The first thing you notice about Ulysses is its unbalanced structure. It bears no resemblance to a conventional novel. It comprises only three chapters of completely different proportions. It sucks in the reader with an apparently simple short first chapter before ostensible form melts, spreads and warps. It becomes organised by unstated, shuffled segments of Homer and structuring devices like newspaper headlines, catechisms, dashes, exaggerated spacing and separation bars. This is an extraordinary act against readerly habits. Only with the intervention of interpreters like Bugden and Gilbert could its meaning be ultimately disclosed. Joyce’s campaign of hiring hermeneutical seers intensified with Finnegans Wake [F(W)ake]. It became like a PR campaign to rescue his last work. Sam Coleman’s prosecution speech in 1933 remains the most incisive analysis of Ulysses. The Assistant DA in the Southern District of New York was forced to read Ulysses for the obscenity trial. He concluded that its style was new and startling; it offered a new system of presenting people to themselves; it was both scientific and poetic; it represented an encyclopaedia, thorough and classified, of the very substance of 2 beings, both physical and psychological, both external and internal; and even the remotest characters are ‘limned’ with unmistakable distinctness upon its canvas. James Joyce effectively healed the nineteenth century breach between poetics and matter in Ulysses. It is Modernist High Style in a demotic setting. The basic urban scene is imbued with complex Classical referents which increase its potency and induce additional layers of meaning about Dublin. Like the Odyssey, Ulysses is a text about a world ruled by conflict and arbitrary death. It relies on appropriation of Homer’s meta-narrative to achieve an architectonic power that a confined, quotidian structure could not otherwise sustain. But Joyce is wilful in his use of Homer. The Odyssey is selectively employed. Loose or tangential associations are promoted. Characterisation is fluid and relative to Joyce’s immediate needs. For example, Molly acts as Calypso to Bloom’s Odysseus when she is first introduced only to be re-cast as Nausicaa in recollections about her youth, Circe with Boylan and Penelope by the end of the novel. Such shifting characterisation has already been justified by Stephen in his discourse on Hamlet when he talks of how the artist must “weave and unweave his image.” It is a distinctly Shelleyan form of literary relativity. Joyce ignores things that don’t serve his purpose. He doesn’t need to ape Homer. There is no Cicones episode in Ulysses, even though it was the first major narrative event after Odysseus left Troy, preceding Lotus-Eaters in Book 9. Joyce took notes for this proposed episode from Berard’s Les Pheniciens et l’Odyssie (see Buffalo Notebook, VIIIA.5). The Cicones were allies of Troy. Odysseus surprises Ismara, kills the men and takes the women as slaves. Later, reinforcements attack the Achaeans, slaughtering so many troops that Odysseus is forced to flee. It would have been difficult to slot this episode into the start of Bloom’s adventures in Ulysses. Its leitmotifs of retribution, violence and rape run counter to Joyce’s humanist themes, which are embodied in Bloom from the start of Chapter Two. It would have misrepresented Bloom at the outset. Ulysses is complex yet it can also be stripped down to its component parts quite easily. It always inverts expectations. Its Classical title signals the likelihood of sweeping narrative action over an epic period. However, it is a largely psychological, centripetal quest set on a single day. It becomes an anti-quest like Browning’s “Childe Roland.” The narrative can be likened to a TOP set in motion that never really comes to rest. It is gripped with the frenetic daily patterns that constitute modern life. This energy dwindles into nocturnal lethargy as the main characters embark on a long inconclusive walk towards Bloom’s home. In this way, the text capitulates to halt. Thus, Ulysses follows the Odyssey but it is also its inverse. Where the Odyssey is concise in its language and packed with events, Ulysses is all elaboration and insignificant proceedings. It starts conventionally but ends inexplicably. Its classical template is never fully exposed. Form is thus present but broken, covert and scattered, only to be pulled together at critical junctures. Mallarme’s Chance seems constantly in play. Yet the whole show is rigged by Joyce. The movement of the cavalcade of the Earl of Dudley across Dublin (251–4) in “Wandering Rocks” is a fine example of Joyce’s practice of fusing incongruous and apparently arbitrary narrative events and characters to create new meaning and cast new light on actions in the novel to date. This creates formal density. Yet Ulysses actually offers a very plain plot. In essence, it traces the movements of two individuals, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, around Dublin through a cycle of twenty hours. It builds towards their intersection, reaches no apparent apex during their engagement and seems set to end after their separation. But this doesn’t happen. Ultimately, it yields to the terminal monologue of Bloom’s wife. Like “The Sensitive Plant,” Ulysses continuously resists teleological closure. The notion of disrupted journeys is as essential to Ulysses as it was to its Homeric model. Stephen’s activities achieve no genuine conclusion by the end of the novel. He simply exits into the night (624). Most critics leave him hanging. Some argue that he has established a new connection with Bloom as a surrogate father. He can now develop as a man and artist. Others believe that Joyce creates a platform for Stephen to efface his own father through negative comparison with Bloom. I believe it is most likely that Stephen would find Bloom to be a slightly pompous and pretentious steward like Malvolio and the strongest signs are that he is returning to the home of his biological father to go to bed. Such a decision would be in keeping with Joyce’s own fidelity to his father. He always remained fiercely loyal to John Joyce. Joyce presents the climactic engagement between Bloom and Stephen as a sequence of three hundred and nine questions and answers. This device achieves profound emotional detachment between the subjects. After Stephen’s departure, Bloom reverts to habit by replaying customary fantasies and anxieties. He prepares his candle, burns the prospectus for Agendath Netaim (628), partially undresses while ironically contemplating a statue of Narcissus (631), compiles his daily budget (631–2), dreams of farm life and gentrification including an assessment of his financial means (634–41), analyses objects in a drawer (641–4), remembers his father (645), contemplates death/escape (647–50), goes to the bathroom to complete his ablutions (651), gets into bed upside-down (652), lists Molly’s lovers as always jealously (652–5) and gives a summary of his conversation with his wife (658). At this point, Molly Bloom is finally introduced as a character (659–704). Here, Joyce drives the final nail into another literary convention: that of character development by sustained presence over the course of the novel. Molly does not ‘appear’ in Ulysses prior to this episode. Instead, she is fully MISDRAWN by the time she finally speaks. She has been distorted by a stream of slurs and innuendo by men. Elsewhere, Joyce employs precisely the opposite tactic. He revises initial characterisation with new information that compromises positive opinions, such as with Tom Rochford or even Mulligan. Characters names are misheard or changed. Nicknames come into play (insert TMAC character list). Ulysses represents the apex of Modernism. It updates Walter Pater’s dense prose with radical attacks on style and form. There are numerous experiments with language including the thirty-plus styles used successively in the Oxen episode and the intentional clustering of rhetorical tools in Aeolus where Joyce employs up to sixty devices including metonymy, diaresis and palindrome. Oscar Wilde was a master of form across all types of text (novel, play, ballad, essay, oratory). Joyce was a master of forms within one text. Telemachus re-assesses Ulysses from the POV of the son. This is also a master metaphor for the relationship of Australia to England. Joyce’s references to Homer are reworked and extended. In PAYM, Joyce aimed to ‘forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.’ Dublin in 1904 is re-applied to Sydney in 1984 which is also like Trieste in 1914 – a melting pot of rusted-on locals, transients and migrants all hustling for life. It is Ulysses post-scriptum. Ulysses was the end of fiction as we know it. Fitzgerlad off erred to jam pout a win doe for Joy[ce]. Djuna Barnes said she would never right another line. She went onto write 5 works of fiction including Nightwood. Hemingway was one of the first prose writers to work out that it was best to ignore Ulysses, reverting to simple tales of wartime service that Joyce could never threaten. Arnold Bennett said “the code has been smashed to bits.” E. Pound used Ulysses as a stick to start the Cantos. Eliot recognised it as a completely new mode of representation – what he called ‘mythic method.’ He could never convince V. Woolf of its merits, although the book infested her psyche thereafter (see C6). Eliot wondered how Joyce could ever write again after Penelope. He was right. Nobody could escape its clutches. Everyone tried. I am the first writer to try to wriggle free by making a centripetal movement back TOWARDS Joyce. Fiction, literary analysis, biography and autobiography blur in TMAC. Time gets shifted in a way Joyce didn’t envision. Characterization is distorted. It apes different literary forms as well as styles from Joyce. So where do you begin such a story? A story of lust, hatred and betrayal. A story of romance, redemption and the Soul. You can’t just call down the Goddess of Song anymore. She went to the grave with Dionysus. Since then, we’re all trying to manufacture a new opening gambit. To confect a new Martello Tower. Make an unmatched pronouncement. Update the uneasy awakening of Josef K. Dawn has always been a popular trigger. Faust begins in a laboratory at night. Or is that Frankenstein? Gothic onset either way. Flaubert always favoured schoolyard reminiscences. Pater chose the pagan child. Sal Paradise was sick at his aunt’s house after getting divorced. Chronicles of what Milton termed “man’s first disobedience” abound. Modern movies compete in gimmicky gore. Has anyone started down a hole? Yes, Novalis and Zola. Other stories begin in garrets. You must come down, moving through hostile arenas to exit (the staircase beside the residence of Raskolnikov’s landlady, for instance) and even then you’re only on the street! Perhaps there’s a dining-room full of lodgers beside the front door as in Pere Goriot. In Australia, they’d be stuck out the back of a pub: a scientist, the … the … ‘poet,’ some seasonal workers, a prune-faced gambler. A big-nosed country barmaid enters. She balances a column of inverted schooner glasses in each grip. It is the tropics and only ceiling fans stand between us and disorder. Robert Browning always commenced his poems with a disclaimer. Sordello starts with, “who will, may hear Sordello’s story told,” as if Browning didn’t give a damn about the presence of a reader. This was a wise precaution given Browning’s trademark opacity (self-joke). In the next line, he immediately robbed his text of authority by adding a second codicil: “who believes me shall behold / The man” (my italics). This virtually conceded that the reader’s credulity may wane as the Poet doggedly pursued Sordello’s fortunes to closure as if a luminous trail of lime was draining from his anus. Yet at least Browning settled on a genre. I have never been sure which form to employ. The novel has been the preferred mode of literary expression for the last two centuries. Its comfortable paths are inlaid in our minds like deep-set stepping stones. But Kunstlerroman or Roman à clef? Austere nineteenth century Realism or experimental Modernist chronicle? Maybe an assemblage of literary modes suggesting a postmodern approach that denies itself the solace of good forms? A fable would certainly be apt for my enterprise as it announces itself as a symbolic fabrication from the outset. Allegory also has merit. I have always been attracted to characters with names like Pilgrim, Empty and Vile. They suit my simplistic ethical standpoint. But this period of my life lacks the capacity to slip into any easy form. There is no comforting resolution as in Comedy. There is no sense of self-righteous certainty as with Satire. It doesn’t possess the relentless drive of Tragedy (what the Greeks called ‘goat song’). It is neither Ibsenesque, Beckettian, Fovist or Ionescoid. It is melodrama by design, but mummery rather. Maybe I should turn to poetical drama. It was considered the quintessential medium for extended metaphysical posturing prior to the 19th century. You know the score: “Vision of the seer, craft of the maker / That beginneth in light and endeth in wisdom. / To Be, not mean. / Sanctifying language. / And I believe in Romantic and Classical tendencies, / The four emplotments / And in metaphor the barstead offspring of imagination, / Give us this day our daily rhetorical, aesthetic and mnemonic purposes, / The hegemony of style over matter / And lead us not into doggerel.” Sometimes, I would like to get right up into the reader’s face as in Epic. At other times, I would be rather be concealed by the mask of characterisation as in Drama. On still other occasions, it would be better to conceal the audience from my muse in the manner of Lyric so that I could inscribe the truth without censorship. Am I going to make a confession then? Not really. Though perhaps Tom Hallem’s absolution is my sublimated goal. James Joyce powered Ulysses on progression through successive forms. This repeated the pattern of Stephen Dedalus’ evolution in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: lyrical pre-occupation with self during infancy; adolescent awareness leading to epic negotiation of social constructs; and dramatic detachment in maturity. These stages roughly corresponded to the three qualities of Beauty defined by Thomas Aquinas: integritas, consonantia & claritas. These were symbols of wholeness, harmony and radiance. Sun beating down on our backsides on greaseproof beaches. Bright orb inducing orbit. Hyperion’s realm. Fat flocks abundant. Succulent spitted flesh. The nemesis of Odysseus’ crew in the consumption of. Triggering the threat by Zeus to shine a light on the dead (this was the first Naturalistic impulse). His thunderbolt followed. Six-headed Scylla and pitiless Charybdis. Odysseus drifting for nine days on a plank. INSERT ANALOGUE. I was in limbo, resting on a couch, my service days behind me, resisting only unconsciousness, which would yet demand me, struggle as I might, until I gave way to the light reveries of a doze, as you do on a bed on route, underfed and scanning poesy. This is a state that triggers the Muse. I pluckt a black felt-tip pen from my bedside table and hastily scrawled some shorthand notes. But why go on with all this wishy-washy diplomacy? One of the flaws of Australian Literature since the death of Patrick White has been the absence of real malice. They say a cat always lands on its feet. So does a man wearing cement shoes. Henry James invented the term “reflector” to describe the specially-selected centres of his narrative universes. You were that kind of THING for me. You embody different characters like one of Hugo’s mythical types which concentrate a whole family DNA into a single human being. I will need to deploy many requisite models to depict our experience: Telemachus, whose father was a physical absence; Hamlet, who tortured himself with doubt; Faust who felt the same self-contained drive towards knowledge; Shelley who was reckless in youth; Paris that was indolent; Rimbaud who outgrew ART; Coleridge who was crippled by drug abuse. Then there are the brothers: Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus, Shem and Shaun, Jim and Stan. Us. Perhaps your life is a Modernist parable. As with Gold Cup Day 1904, it is possible to isolate a single day when you set off on a definitive course towards closure. At that turning point, you took the first unwitting steps from being Stephen Dedalus to becoming … who … Leopold Bloom? No. It is only with the imposition of direct narrative power that an observer could register definitive change in your prospects from the events of Melbourne Cup Day, 1984. To move beyond this snapshot to the Odyssean struggle, and complete the truncated representation of Stephen Dedalus and his Homeric model, Telemachus, that is my burden; in both its popular senses as an oppressive duty and un-sung meaning. This Tessera must negotiate both these characters to reach closure. It must also navigate James Joyce (see Table 1).

Table 1. Major literary correspondences



James Joyce – young

James Joyce – old




Stephen Dedalus

(Rudi Bloom)

James Joyce

Samuel Beckett

Hamlet Jnr

Tom Hallem


Leopold Bloom (feminized)

Nora Barnacle

Harriet Weaver

NIL – problem

Elizabeth Archer


Molly Bloom

Mary Joyce

Nora Joyce


Penelope Hallem


Hugh Boylan


Michael Bodkin


Les Hallem


Leopold Bloom

John Joyce

James Joyce

Hamlet Snr

Don Cane, Leer



George Moore

WB Yeats




Kevin Egan

Ezra Pound

Eugene Jolas

NIL – a second mentor missed



Millie Bloom, Gerty

Lucia Joyce

Lucia Joyce


Ana Lafei Papese



Harriet Weaver

Ezra Pound


Francine Hackett



Stanislaus Joyce

George Joyce

R’crantz & G.

Billy Capri

Telemachus is not a prominent figure in Classical literature. He excited no interest in the ancient corpus after assisting his father, who is known as the “Last of the Heroes,” to reclaim his realm. His name means ‘fighter afar’ in Greek, which is something of a misnomer given that his only combat took place in his homeland; although Robert Graves argues that it should be interpreted in symbolical terms as “decisive battle.” His life in the aftermath of Odysseus’ reinstatement on Ithaca attracted only cursory interest. An unnamed source in the Dictys Cretensis stated that Ulysses was warned by an oracle that Telemachus would murder him and therefore banished his son to Cephallenia (vi.14). No details are provided about his life in exile. Telegonia, a sixth century BC epic cycle by Eugammon, recorded his marriage to Circe. She seems an unlikely partner for Telemachus even in the implausible world of the Gods. Some ancient scholars argued that he actually married Circe’s daughter, Cassiphone, who bore him a son, Latinus, the kind king who offered Aeneas a new home in Latium. Elsewhere, he is said to have accidentally killed Circe and fled to Italy, where he founded Clusium in Etruria. By contrast, there are many accounts of Odysseus after the term of the Odyssey. We know from the Odyssey that his journey did not finish after the slaughter at the palace. He was required to restart his quest to propitiate Poseidon by finding a land where people had never seen the sea. Pseudo-Apollodorus wrote that Odysseus journeyed to Thesprotia, a country of Epirus, a kind of Menindee, watered by the rivers Acheron and Cocytus, although he could have gone on forever like Leichhardt or Burke and Wills, which Homer called the ‘streams of hell,’ where he married Callidice and reigned peacefully over the locals. Pseudo-Apollodorus recounts how Odysseus was indicted by the families of the slain suitors, tried by Neoptolemus, who is sometimes called Pyrrhus for his golden locks, and condemned to exile at Thoas in Aetolia where he re-married and lived to an old age. Elsewhere, he is said to have found Penelope unfaithful and sent her away or even killed her. Pausanias quotes the poem, “Thesprotis,” as his source for the claim that Penelope was driven into exile. One ancient commentator says that Odysseus returned to Ithaca to find that Penelope had borne a son, Poliporthes, in his absence. Both Pindar and Herodotus report that she gave birth to Pan by the god Hermes during Odysseus’ absence. Hermes is also the father of Autolycus, the grandfather of Odysseus. He bestowed the talent for cunning on Odysseus in his role as the God of lying and thieves. It means his wife’s son is his own great-uncle. This breaking-down of blood genealogy is a key to Telemachus. In another variation, Servius wrote in the fourth century BC that Pan was born of ALL the suitors, as testified by his name which means “all” in Greek. The sight of Pan amongst the household gods was alleged to have disturbed Odysseus so much that he fled Ithaca. One of the most intriguing references to Telemachus concerns his role in the death of his father. Pseudo-Apollodorus relates the story of Odysseus’ son with Circe, Telegonus, travelling to Ithaca to introduce himself to his father. Shipwrecked on the coast, he plundered a local village. Odysseus and Telemachus were called out to defend their subjects. In the ensuing struggle, Telegonus killed his father without realising his identity (as per the Oedipus trope). This was the subject of a tragedy by Sophocles of which only fragments remain. According to Hyginus, Telegonus returned the corpse to Aeaea for burial. Telemachus and Penelope accompanied him. Athene decreed that Telegonus should marry Penelope. They had a son, Italus, who gave his name to Italy; meaning that both the language and country of the Romans are named for the grandsons of Odysseus. This is ironic given the Roman distaste for the wily Greek. Hyginus’ goes on to depict the union of Telemachus with Circe meaning that both half-brothers wed their step-mothers. Telemachus is rarely cited in Western literature. Saint Telemachus helped end the gladiatorial games in Rome by his example of non-violent protest. This makes him a worthy precursor to the mild pacifist Leopold Bloom. The Archbishop of Cambrai wrote The Adventures of Telemachus, Son of Ulysses in the eighteenth century as an instructional manual for young gentlemen. Alfred Lord Tennyson depicted him in the poem, “Ulysses.” Assuming the voice of Odysseus, Tennyson portrayed Telemachus as a super-bureaucrat who would “make mild the rugged people” with “slow prudence” and “soft degrees” (ll.36-7). This representation justified Odysseus’ decision in the poem to renew his expeditions. It is also an allegory of British Colonialism as it evolved into its administrative phase. The Odyssey, A Modern Sequel by Nikos Kazantzakas, author of Zorba the Greek, describes Telemachus in similar terms as a mild-mannered conciliator who is disgusted by his father. Odysseus arranges his son’s nuptials with Nausicaa in Book II before departing on new adventures. Michael Kohlmeier released a novel, Telemach, in German in 1995. Wikipedia calls it a “casually told antique myth.” There is no English translation. A Google search for the author registers hits for John Kohlmeier, a professor of accounting and information systems, and Ryan Kohlmeier, a minor league baseball pitcher in the USA. The top search results for “Telemachus” yield statistics for the journeyman South African cricketer, Roger Telemachus. This is apt because Telemachus incarnates the first change trundler, the dispensable co-star, living in perpetual reaction to events as a conduit or accomplice to the main narrative, making cameo appearances yet never able to gain entry, force events or enact closure. He must remain forever hanging, but not like Prometheus, no, rather fixed in place like the serving girls he once slaughtered so crudely, without prospect of termination like Shelley’s Sensitive Plant, positioned beyond the margins & thus ALWAYS OUTSIDE THE PRINTABLE AREA. The eclipse of Telemachus will be only too familiar to contemporary viewers. Celebrity offspring are invariably trawled out of obscurity for a moment of warped magnification in Warhol’s fame machine. It constitutes a rite of mis-passage in which they are finally purged from collective awareness. The son is consubstantial with the father, Joyce wrote. In the context of the Odyssey, it can be claimed that the son must repeat the journey of the father. He must break the paternal impasse or turn from life forever. Eperon or Clinamen. Stephen Dedalus tries to sidestep this choice in Ulysses by arguing that Shakespeare is both young and old Hamlet. This enables him to shed both his physical and creative fathers and become his own progenitor. Telemachus never gets this opportunity. He is shunted in-and-out of his father’s story by Homer. He dominates the beginning of the Odyssey as a residual symbol of Odysseus’ collapsed influence on Ithaca. His subsequent mini-Odyssey to Sparta mimics the paternal voyage in miniature. It is suspended at the end of Book IV as the action shifts decisively to his father. When Telemachus is finally reintroduced in Book XV, it is as his father’s accomplice. Likewise, Stephen Dedalus only appears selectively in Ulysses. He is the central figure in the short opening chapter, which corresponds to the “Telemachiad,” before ceding this place to Leopold Bloom. After that, he is only reprised in the novel when Bloom comes into contact with him. He never initiates union. Even his famous discourse on Shakespeare’s genealogy in “Scylla and Charybdis” is presented like a chance occurrence generated by Bloom’s random entrance into the National Library to avoid Blazes Boylan. In the next episode, “Wandering Rocks,” he is an incidental character. He is excluded from “Sirens,” “Cyclops” and “Nausicaa” before being reunited with Bloom in “Oxen of the Sun” for the final drive to closure. This subordinate position is not challenged until Stephen exits Ulysses in “Eumaeus” by making a decisive act of separation when he refuses shelter at Eccles Street. John Byrne lived on Eccles Street. It was where Joyce received reassurance about Cosgrove’s claims about sexual congress with Nora in 1909. He stayed the night at Byrne’s house and woke up purged of angst. He never forgot his debt to this address. During their bookend appearances, the reader is told something of Telemachus and Stephen Dedalus before the concentrated period of the masterpiece. Telemachus is twenty years old at the beginning of the Odyssey. His father embarked for Troy when he was two. His mother has been beset by one hundred and eight suitors (“Proci”) from neighbouring cities and islands for the past three years in a parallel to the siege of Troy (interestingly, an uncanny emblem breaks both blockades: the wooden horse containing Odysseus at Troy and Odysseus disguised as a beggar at Ithaca). The suitors are consuming Telemachus’ inheritance. His grandfather, Laertes, has retired to the other side of the island. Thus, Telemachus has no male role model. I grew up in similar circumstances. He is confused and restless. He oscillates between compliance and wildness. He is an uneven risk-taker. His quest to Pylos and Sparta is critical in providing meaning for him. At the very moment when Odysseus has been driven into extrinsic space – outside Time – Telemachus leaves the parameters of his known universe to enter the Iliadic arena. It is a calculated risk to force resolution. It represents Telemachus sharing a comparable experience to his father for the first time; creating a narrative parallel in which both father and son are working actively (if unknowingly) towards reunion. This centripetal force sucks them both back to Ithaca. Yet Telemachus is more than just the minor strand in a metonymy. His relationship with his father is synecdochal. He overcomes significant hurdles in his own right/rite. Where Odysseus was trained by his father, Laertes, in the Hellenic concept of manhood, Telemachus has been forced to skill himself. Where Odysseus was an experienced man at the time of his departure from Ithaca, Telemachus is really just a lad. Where Odysseus has fixed destinations to drive him, first to Troy then back to Ithaca, Telemachus is leaving home for the first time with no tangible goal. He is alone. It is bravery against the void. This may be the first Romantic quest. It has important implications for events back on Ithaca. It breaks the continuity of submission to the suitors and takes pressure off Penelope at a critical juncture. The suitors become distracted plotting his demise. Further, it enables Telemachus to assume responsibility for his own future and establish his own identity; a feat which is validated when he receives direct assistance from Pallas Athene, his father’s muse. His voyage also serves ancillary narrative purposes. He shares in a full family experience with Nestor, sharpening his sense of lack and difference. He gains invaluable first-hand information about his father, where previously he had only heard vague whorls. Any lingering doubt about his own paternity is dispelled when Menelaus and Helen immediately cite similarities in his appearance and bearing to Odysseus. Finally, Telemachus learns about the recent revenge of Orestes for the murder of his father, Agamemnon. This acts as both a barb and a spur bolstering him to play an active role in Odysseus’ vengeance against the suitors. Likewise, James Joyce separated the narrative depiction of his young hero into distinct and separate compartments across two texts. Ulysses updates the fortunes of Stephen Dedalus after A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. His growth in the earlier novel was traced from an infant experiencing each of its senses for the first time through successive engagements with philosophy, sex, religion and art. It was an episodic quest for aesthetic empowerment. Methodical progression through different belief systems projected Stephen towards self-reliance in the manner of Telemachus, although to quite different ends. Stephen abandoned Dublin and his family for Paris at the end of the novel in the same type of bold gesture as Telemachus departing Ithaca. Absorption in the physical world was gradually replaced by Existentialism; a movement reflected in formal terms by the shift to diary transcriptions by Joyce. This enclosure inside the character’s consciousness provided the template for the famed internal monologue of Ulysses. Each chapter in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man follows a pattern of ennui, despair, urgent quest, discovery and ecstatic climax which is succeeded by ‘Fall’ at the beginning of the next chapter. The same method is repeated at the start of Ulysses, establishing correspondences with A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as well as enabling Joyce to alter the meaning of the earlier novel in retrospect. In particular, he revises the optimistic conclusion of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Stephen Dedalus is confronting total dispossession at the start of Ulysses. It opens with him back in Dublin having failed to achieve artistic or personal consummation in Paris. He is a failed prodigal returning to a divided family in reduced circumstances. His only dubious progress has been to advance from university student to part-time teacher at a private academy. The death of his mother dominates the first chapter. He has left the family home after a dispute with his father and sought refuge in an abandoned coastal fortress at the southern tip of Dublin. This is a physical manifestation of his desire for sanctuary as well as a symbol of Ireland’s subjugation to the British Empire. He is effectively besieged inside the Martello Tower at Sandy Bay. He is mocked by his ostensible friend, the faux-Hellenist Buck Mulligan, and vexed by the Gaelist, Haines, who represents the worst type of Colonial patronizing. He is even being evicted from this place by stealth as symbolised by Mulligan’s request for his key. He faces the start of the day with no destination.

Tom Hallem was surrounded by decline like Stephen Dedalus. Raised in a rent family like Telemachus. Then fixed in amber like a bug at a point of climax. There’s lots of apocryphal history about that period. It swirls around the facts in bitter gusts. There is reluctance to speak about it even to this day. Many people would like to silence me, just as Odysseus held fast the mouth of Anticlus inside the Wooden Horse. But I cannot accept severance or avoidance. Not for me the Lethean ointment. My purpose hitherto has been to transcend the blockages to transmit beautiful idealisms in the name of Art. My strategy now is to let those blockages speak. Gittò voce di fuori e disse, as Dante said. INSERT TRANSLATION (SEE K. INK): “Say something. Express thyself/yourself” (repeat) then scream (~7 seconds). The writer opened WORDPRESS to update his blog. I love the thought of the void that sits just beyond this screen, he typed. Major Tom must have felt the same emotion sometimes, at least at the start. He took up a pencil. Show space with webcam, he wrote. Make sure lantern in C1 is always mounted above your head online. Exhibit art works (Untitled 1–10) on the backdrop. Include notebook fragments in a dropdown menu. Also, deleted scenes (e.g. Eggsmother). This creates a loop with the website, which was developed some time after TMAC was finished, of course. It proposes the digital format as a new type of literary form like Beckett considering his English translations as new products. I believe that everything I do is ORIGINAL like Henri Rousseau or some Naïve painter. INSERT BRAND SLOGAN: “The text is fixed but everything on this website is provisional.” You don’t have to read TMAC like a normal book. Just click FIND on the FREE PDF. Search MCCOMB. It appears eight times in the navigation column, usually in conjunction with the phrase, “Tom Hallem.” Discuss. I have stopped wanting to put more things INTO the text and started to want to load them ONTO the website. Install VR headset. Treat yourself as if you were a legend like JJ, GS or Proust. Make the webhost like the writer but NOT ME. Like another character. Add more protagonists like Proust. Click Close. Because it would be better at this moment if we turned backwards in time; backwards in time, which is ironic, because it is only by going forward again, beyond this point at which we are now stationed, that we will reach the close. Joyce too cast back. TIME. It was invented by Swiss watch-makers. Proust is most famous for his dissection of. It meant the same thing as HONOUR in Ancient Greek. A man gained time through the merit of his actions during life. And honour thus bestowed was not forgotten in death. It literally held oblivion at bay. It is impossible to put Tom Hallem’s life in perspective in this manner. He is gone, but not peacefully. There was no neat conclusion as per Tragedy. Even his autopsy was inconclusive. This lack of definitive closure somehow illegitimates my anger. It can never be properly discharged. This makes it much like Love. He even invades my weak visionary realm at night, exacerbating the lack of each waking hour, until I start with a gasp in the cold tranquillity of dawn. I am tired and I want this all to stop. “Whatever happened to your cousin,” someone asked recently as if they were speaking about the co-star of some Seventies TV series. “He’s dead,” I replied; surprised at my phlegmatic tone. I couldn’t think of anything else to say after that because I was so busy chasing him. I wandered into the garden. High up in space, a 747 was arching across the sky. You could just make out its metal wing-tips pulsing from the last sunrays as it corrected its flight path towards Asia. It left a trail of white vapour in its wake; shredding the bruised vault. The cool evening came thick and fast. Dew kissed the wended grass. Its deep heart bounced. Insects drowned in insistent dreams. The nightingale’s chant was choked by a lizard’s brace. Only a single mosquito still ebbed and flowed like ocean tide in my ears. In the P(a)lace of Symbol, all we are left with at the end are borrowed voices and provisional modes. Spring married the sky once. And the sky was penetrated by the moon. Don Cane parked his hired car outside his ex-wife’s gate. Odysseus had finally reached shore. He dozed. A feeble child cradled night’s apparently endless hold. His son rose uphill. He passed the orphanage. He turned off the footpath and went inside his step-father’s house. A screen opened as it closed. I wish I was mist. Then I could slip back to earth like some cast-off feather. And be laid over Space. To slowly extinguish the dwindling lamp. And be slowly extinguished myself by dawn.


Ana Lafei Anita Lane Australian English Nick Cave Outtakes Shanghai Dog Son & Father Technical Fiction TMAC content TMAC structure Ulysses