Miguel Cohen, brother of Randy “Ethicist” Cohen, has expressed a desire to come back to Return of the Reluctant. After several rounds of therapy, he confessed considerable guilt to me in an email about the Unethicist column. He was ashamed that his offerings weren’t literary. He was bothered by the fact that he had to compete with his brother. More importantly, he offered me five bucks.
Inspired by the recent Ulysses blog and the Bloomsbury anniversary, Miguel has decided to offer his interpretation of what it all means. So long as Mr. Cohen’s funds remain liquid, we here at Return of the Reluctant will reprint Mr. Cohen’s annotations in installments.
CHAPTER ONE: TELEMACHUS
TEXT: Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:
— Introibo ad altare Dei.
MIGUEL: The thing that confuses me here is that this guy Buck is stately and plump. If Buck Mulligan echoes an elder statesman, I ask you, outside of Kucinich, have you ever seen a thin politician? Isn’t this a redundancy? And if he came from the stairhead, did he pop some chick’s maidenhead? How the fuck does one come from a stairhead? I know there’s a lot of dirty jokes in this book, but apparently this Joyce guy couldn’t keep his cock in his pants. He’s coming down with a bowl of lather, dig? He let loose in a bowl. So this Joyce cat has to get down and dirty from the very first sentence! My kind of guy. And what kind of asshole wears a yellow dressinggown? What’s restricting this Buck guy? The fact that he’s stately and plump? When’s he going to put on his girdle? And is Joyce implying that Buck’s cock-a-doodle-doo is exposed? Naughty pederast, I think.
And Latin? Frickin’ Latin? How can anyone say something in Latin before their cup of coffee? Of course, if he’s choked the chicken, then, fuckin’ hell, he’s probably wouldn’t need it anyway.
Anyway, this “Introibo ad altare Dei” nonsense means “I will go into the altar of God.” It’s the beginning of a Latin mass. Presumably, this bowl of lather is his offering for God. Half a life force. Dead sticky sperm. Or something. All I know is that this man always has Kleenex in hand.
TEXT: Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called up coarsely:
— Come up, Kinch! Come up, you fearful jesuit!
Solemnly he came forward and mounted the round gunrest. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding country and the awaking mountains. Then, catching sight of Stephen Dedalus, he bent towards him and made rapid crosses in the air, gurgling in his throat and shaking his head. Stephen Dedalus, displeased and sleepy, leaned his arms on the top of the staircase and looked coldly at the shaking gurgling face that blessed him, equine in its length, and at the light untonsured hair, grained and hued like pale oak.
MIGUEL: So is “halted” an emotion or did this Buck guy halt? What the hell’s stopping him? And why would you peer down and call up? That’s bad for acoustics! Unless, of course, he’s about to hock a loogey on this poor Kinch mofo. So that’s two references to bodily fluids and we’re only three paragraphs in!
And then we have more “coming” forward. Yeah, right, Joyce. That and mounting the round gunrest. Well, we all know what that means. He’s being an asshole again with that jesuit thing.
Now we have more cross stuff. As if the mirror and the razor weren’t enough, he’s establishing the holy venue. Gurgling when Mr. “Kinch” Dedalus is coming in? Bad form. Does this guy have a hangover? I’ve never known a guy to do this when he wanks himself silly. And this guy has a horse face too? And isn’t hair by its very definition “untonsured”? What the fuck, Joyce? So Buck has a tonsure and Dedalus does not?
TEXT: Buck Mulligan peeped an instant under the mirror and then covered the bowl smartly.
— Back to barracks! he said sternly.
He added in a preacher’s tone:
— For this, O dearly beloved, is the genuine Christine: body and soul and blood and ouns. Slow music, please. Shut your eyes, gents. One moment. A little trouble about those white corpuscles. Silence, all.
MIGUEL: Peep marshmallows? Yeah, pretty instant, I think. Best to cover the bowl there, Buck, before ol’ Kinchie discovers the tight mess you’ve made. Been there before with brother Randy back in the day. Back to barracks? So that’s where it happens. So this is what Catholicism does to folks. I’ve seen it happen too many times. This Catholic girl I was seeing back in Boston wanted me to feed her a communion wafer every time, just after she screamed. You know how expensive those wafers are? $15.99 for a box of those motherfuckers! And I was already spending a lot of bread on the condoms.
So if Buck’s speaking in a preacher’s tone, he’s not a preacher, right? The genuine Christine instead of Christ? White corupscles? Okay, cat’s out of the bag. You’re a sick cat, James. I’m blowing this joint. And not the way you’re thinking.