Joyce’s description of  “Ulysses” as ‘the epic of the body’ is explored in this paper with medical and scientific data that pertains to the Vagus nerve.

'Ulysses' - A Map of the
Human Body from Ear to Rear

Exploring “Ulysses” relative to the function of the Vagus nerve formed the bases of a presentation by the Sydney Bloomsday Committee at The Kerry Packer Auditorium at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney on June 16th 2008. Professor Perminder S Sachdev, Neuropsychiatric Institute, Prince of Wales Hospital, Dr Carole Hungerford a fellow of the Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine.Prof Jo Duflou the head forensic pathologist at Glebe Mortuary, Sydney. Peter Campbell FRACS Department of Surgery,Liverpool Hospital provided a medical context.
Actors Danny Adcock, Chris Heywood and Kate Mulvany read sections from “Ulysses” that pertained to the body. The evening unfolded some significant synergies between the bodily functions described in “Ulysses” and the growing body of knowledge about the Vagus nerve which is a major focus in contemporary medical research.

Joyce’s description of  “Ulysses” as ‘the epic of the body’ is explored in this paper with medical and scientific data that pertains to the Vagus nerve.

'Ulysses' - A Map of the
Human Body from Ear to Rear

Joyce introduces Leopold Bloom the main protagonist in “Ulysses” by telling us that he likes to eat ‘the inner organs of beasts and fowls’. Bloom’s engagement with food, appetite and digestion provides a vital unfolding in the book.  Joyce’s description of  “Ulysses” as ‘the epic of the body’ is explored in this paper with medical and scientific data that pertains to the Vagus nerve.

In the early 20th century directly prior to Joyce writing ‘Ulysses’ pseudo-science was being replaced by significant breakthroughs from a number of eminent medical scientists including much of our knowledge about the Vagus Nerve. Otto Loewi in Vienna established that the transmission of nerve impulses was chemical and not electrical and demonstrated how the Vagus Nerve coming down from the brain manages to get the heart to beat slower. In the same year 1907 Johannus Langley, physiologist at Cambridge University labeled the brain in the gut the enteric nervous system (ENS).

The Vagus (Latin, vagus: wandering) is the 10th cranial nerve and it comes directly from the brain, not from the spinal column. It innervates the gastrointestinal tract (pharynx, esophagus, stomach), respiratory tract (larynx, lungs), cardiac (heart), abdominal viscera, cervix and uterus. It helps control the heartbeat, it goes down and helps to control intestinal activity and has a vital role in carrying information from the viscera back to the brain and generating feelings such as nausea.

Joyce with his interest in medicine could have used these unfolding constructs to guide his own mapping of the human body.

The young intelligent Stephen Dedalus with his ‘cranial brain’ drinks heavily and smokes cigarettes both of which we now know suppress the activity of the Vagus Nerve. This is juztaposed against Leopold Bloom with his “abdominal brain: an  instrument of vascular and visceral function. It is the automatic, vegetative, the subconscious brain of physical existence. It presides over organic life.”

Joyce’s exchange of so called ‘dirty letters’ with Nora are the most vivid record of his ‘research’ of the body and the sexual explicitness of these letters may have provided insights that made it necessary for Molly to experience two very distinct sexual encounters. 

Joyce is blatant in his confrontation of René Descartes's dichotomy between mind and body. "If they had no body they would have no mind," said Joyce. In “Ulysses” Joyce's uses his interest in medicine and the human body to ground abstract philosophical ideas.

Trouble and bustle always finds its way into the bosom of my stomach - James Joyce

was written between 1914 and 1921 in Trieste, Zurich and Paris. Joyce told Frank Budgen: “my book is the epic of the human body…In my book the body lives in and moves through space and is the home of a full human personality. The words I write are adapted to express first one of its functions then another. In “Lestrygonians” the stomach dominates and the rhythm of the episode is that of the peristaltic movement." 1
Stuart Gilbert is quite specific about the body in describing the structure of Joyce’s writing: “the unities of Ulysses go far beyond the classic triad, they are as manifold and yet symmetrical as the daedal network of nerves and bloodstreams which pervade the living organism.” 2
In Ulysses the challenge to find the devil in the detail is a daunting task. This Bloomsday presentation allowed an analysis of breakthroughs in medical science in the early 20th century to provide some clues as to how Joyce might have found a structure for the human body that would provide cohesion for such a complex book.
The major medical breakthroughs about the Vagus Nerve began in 1907. It is therefore feasible that the wanderings in Ulysses could be explored by following the characters through the function of their Vagus Nerve. The Vagus nerve innervates the gastrointestinal tract (pharynx, esophagus, stomach), respiratory tract (larynx, lungs), cardiac (heart), abdominal viscera, cervix and uterus.
Joyce in 1907 wrote to his brother Stanislaus:“Trouble and bustle always finds its way into the bosom of my stomach.” 4
Joyce would certainly have noted that the word vagus means ‘wandering’ in Latin and would have been adept as making this ‘wandering nerve’ scaffolding for his own carefully observed data on the human body.
Joyce did not fabricate and very specifically researched details. He loved lists and maps so much so that his father quipped: “If that fellow was dropped in the middle of the Sahara, he’d sit, be God, and make a map of it.” 5
“Joyce wrote “Wandering Rocks” with a map of Dublin before him on which were traced in red ink the paths of the Earl of Dudley and Father Conmee. He calculated to a minute the time necessary for his characters to cover a given distance of the city. 6
It is unlikely that pseudoscience would have satisfied Joyce’s adherence to observable facts. The assumption that Joyce built his characters based on scientific and medical data or at least used unfolding medical constructs to guide his own mapping of the human body is one that has not been fully explored.
James Joyce’s close friends as a young man in Dublin were medical students, Vincent Cosgrave and Oliver St. John Gogarty. Joyce did not pursue his study of medicine in Paris and returned home in 1903 only to leave again one year later with Nora Barnacle to begin his journey in exile as a writer. Joyce’s fascination with the human body was subsumed into his writing.
Frank Budgen noted that: “Joyce in Zurich was a curious collector of fact about the human body, especially on that borderland where mind and body meet, where thought is generated by the state of the body.” 7
Ulysses set in Dublin on June 16th 1904 is a simple story told with extraordinary detail. Leopold Bloom eats kidneys for breakfast, wanders around Dublin meets up with Stephen Dedalus and returns home to his wife Molly (who has had sex in the afternoon with Blazes Boylan) and drinks cocoa with Stephen. Joyce absorbs us into large tracts of text devoted to the function of the human body including: eating, defecating and sexual orgasm. 8
Joyce published Ulysses in a blue and white cover in deference to the Greeks. It was the overall structure of Homer’s “Odyssey” that Joyce emulated in Ulysses: “I am now writing a book based on the wanderings of Ulysses. The Odyssey, that is to say serves me as a great plan. Only my time is recent time and all my hero’s wanderings take no more than eighteen hours.” 9
Odysseus journey home took ten years. If the activity of the human body is Joyce’s elected subject matter then selecting the number of continuous waking hours for such a journey seems logical.

Joyce also explored the writing of Phineas Fletcher the English metaphysical poet who wrote “The Purple Island” (1633). This epic poem describes the anatomy of the human body in allegorical terms, “It is compared to an island, with veins and arteries as purple rivers flowing through the chief cities of Liver, Heart and Braine.”
Joyce describing his challenge to write an epic of the human body told Frank Budgen: “The only man I know who has attempted the same thing is Phineas Fletcher. But then his “Purple Island” is purely descriptive, a kind of coloured anatomical chart of the human body. In my book the body lives in and moves through space and is the home of the human personality. The words I write are adapted to express first one of its functions then another.” 11
The early 20
th century marks the most significant period for breakthroughs on the Vagus nerve by a number of eminent medical scientists.
Joyce kept a large collection of newspaper cuttings and as someone aspiring to write the epic of the human body one assumes that Joyce would have been alert and interested in reports of medical breakthroughs.
In 1907 Byron Robinson M.D. published “The Abdominal and Pelvic Brain” in which he makes a clear distinction between the cerebral brain and a separate nerve pathway that controls nutrition: “The abdominal brain is not a mere agent of the [cerebral] brain and cord; it receives and generates nerve forces itself; it presides over nutrition.  It is the center of life itself. In it are repeated all the physiologic and pathologic manifestations of visceral function (rhythm, absorption, secretion, and nutrition). The abdominal brain can live without the cranial brain, which is demonstrated by living children being born without cerebrospinal axis.  On the contrary the cranial brain can not live without the abdominal brain…”
In the same year 1907 Professor Johannus Langley, a physiologist at Cambridge University labeled the brain in the gut the enteric nervous system: “In mammals there exist two brains of almost equal importance to the individual and race. One is the cranial brain, the instrument of volitions, of mental progress and physical protection. The other is the abdominal brain, the instrument of vascular and visceral function. It is the automatic, vegetative, the subconscious brain of physical existence. In the cranial brain resides the consciousness of right and wrong. Here is the seat of all progress, mental and moral ... However, in the abdomen there exists a brain of wonderful power maintaining eternal, restless vigilance over its viscera. It presides over organic life. It dominates the rhythmical function of viscera....The abdominal brain is a receiver, a reorganizer, an emitter of nerve forces. It has the power of a brain. It is a reflex center in health and disease…”
Joyce living in Trieste would have read newspaper articles about the significant work undertaken in Vienna by Otto Loewi who visited Langley in Cambridge in 1903. This scientist established that the transmission of nerve impulses was chemical not electrical and demonstrated how the Vagus Nerve coming down from the brain manages to get the heart to beat slower. He proved that a chemical messenger (now known to be acetylcholine) was used to slow down the heart rate, and he later proved with analogous experiments that the cardio-accelerator nerve to the heart used a chemical (now called epinephrine or adrenaline) to speed up heart rate. The scientific breakthrough did not occur until 1921 but Loewi’s concept of a chemical intermediary possibility or transit agent was widely known after about 1904. Acetylcholine was originally called vagustoff by Loewi, literally "the stuff from the vagus". 14

The Vagus Nerve is stimulated by the Olfactory Nerve and the importance of smell is manifest throughout Ulysses. Molly smells the burned kidney, Bloom smells lemon soap, stale incense, gorgonzola cheese.

In the opening episode “Telemachus”, Stephen vividly evokes his dead mother with memories of smell: “Silently, in a dream she had come to him after her death, her wasted body within its loose brown graveclothes giving off an odour of wax and rosewood, her breath, that had bent upon him, mute, reproachful, a faint odour of wetted ashes”
(U 1. 270-273) Buck Mulligan, a medical student friend, noticing that Stephen bears a grudge against him asks: ‘What have you up your nose against me? (U 1.161-162)
Stephen suffers the ridicule of the more affluent Mulligan when he borrows his handkerchief: “The bard's noserag! A new art colour for our Irish poets: snotgreen. You can almost taste it, can't you?” (U 1. 73-74)
Later in the “Proteus” episode Stephen finds himself on Sandymount strand without a handkerchief and picks his nose: “He laid the dry snot picked from his nostril on a ledge of rock, carefully. For the rest let look who will” (U 3. 500-501)
Stephen may have been shy of bodily functions but later in the book Joyce gives us a vivid description of someone who has nose clearing down to a fine art: “The Navvy, swaying, presses a forefinger against a wing of his nose and ejects from the further nostril a long liquid jet of snot. Shouldering the lamp he staggers away through the crowd with his flaring cresset” (U15. 134-137)
Modern science tells us smell is more complex than taste. Humans are able to recognize smells because of receptor cells located at the back of the nose. As the air passes by the receptors, they send messages to the brain to help identify the smell. Scientists think that we can identify about 3,000 smells and we only distinguish 5 different tastes. 15
An appreciation of perfume began with the fragrance house of Antoine Chiris based at Grasse which was established in 1768.Chiris had patents on a steam distillation process that produced oils and had offices and factories around the world including Trieste. Today the Givaudan’s school of Perfumery in Grasse expects its students to memorize more than 3,000 smells, including flowers, spices, woods and herbs.
Leopold Bloom reflects on the vital nature of perfume in the “Nausicaa” episode after his erotic encounter with Gerty McDowell and Joyce manages to weave the word ‘grass’ into his thought process: “Wait. Hm. Hm. Yes. That's her perfume. Why she waved her hand. I leave you this to think of me when I'm far away on the pillow. What is it?Heliotrope? No. Hyacinth? Hm. Roses, I think. She'd like scent of that kind. Sweet and cheap: soon sour. Why Molly likes opoponax. Suits her,with a little jessamine mixed. Her high notes and her low notes. At the dance night she met him, dance of the hours. Heat brought it out. She was wearing her black and it had the perfume of the time before. Good conductor, is it? Or bad? Light too. Suppose there's some connection. For instance if you go into a cellar where it's dark. Mysterious thing too. Why did I smell it only now? Took its time in coming like herself, slow but sure. Suppose it's ever so many millions of tiny grains blown across. Yes, it is. Because those spice islands, Cinghalese this morning, smell them leagues off. Tell you what it is. It's like a fine fine veil or web they have all over the skin, fine like what do you call it gossamer, and they're always spinning it out of them, fine as anything, like rainbow colours without knowing it. Clings to everything she takes off. Vamp of her stockings. Warm shoe. Stays. Drawers: little kick, taking them off. Byby till next time. Also the cat likes to sniff in her shift on the bed. Know her smell in a thousand. Bathwater too. Reminds me of strawberries and cream. Wonder where it is really. There or the armpits or under the neck. Because you get it out of all holes and corners. Hyacinth perfume made of oil of ether or something. Muskrat. Bag under their tails. One grain pour off odour for years. Dogs at each other behind. Good evening. Evening. How do you sniff? Hm. Hm Very well, thank you. Animals go by that. Yes now, look at it that way. We're the same. Some women, instance, warn you off when they have their period. Come near. Then get a hogo you could hang your hat on. Like what? Potted herrings gone stale or. Boof! Please keep off the grass Perhaps they get a man smell off us. What though? Cigary gloves long John had on his desk the other day. Breath? What you eat and drink gives that. No. Mansmell, I mean. Must be connected with that because priests that are supposed to be are different. Women buzz round it like flies roundtreacle. Railed off the altar get on to it at any cost. The tree of forbiddenpriest. O, father, will you? Let me be the first to. That diffuses itself all through the body, permeates. Source of life. And it's extremely curious the smell. Celery sauce. Let me. Mr Bloom inserted his nose. Hm. Into the. Hm. Opening of his waistcoat. Almonds or. No. Lemons it is. Ah no, that's the soap.”
(U 13. 1007-1043)
Joyce certainly encourages us to stick our nose into his book. When he introduces Leopold and Molly Bloom in the “Calypso” episode he describes the most vivid smells.
Bloom evokes his love of kidneys: “which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.” (U 4. 4-5)
It is remembered smells that makes Bloom hurry home when dark clouds gather on his morning shopping spree: “to smell the gentle smoke of tea, fume of the pan, sizzling butter.” (U 4. 237-238)
Bloom is absorbed by smell as he puts down Molly’s breakfast tray: “the warmth of her couched body rose in the air, mingling with the fragrance of the tea she poured.” (U 4. 305-306)

The smell of stale incense forces Bloom to open the bedroom window and his rambling explanation about metempsychosis is rudely interrupted by a greater reality: “Molly inhaling through her arched nostrils” as she smells the burning kidney. (U 4.379)

After breakfast Bloom leaves the outside lavatory door ajar undoes his trousers “amid the stench of mouldy limewash and stale cobwebs” and reads a magazine “seated calm above his own rising smell.” (U 4. 496-495, 512-515)
Joyce provides an inordinate amount of detail to engage his readers with the activity of the nose and perhaps it is our cerebral effort to find a coherent narrative that stops us having a more elemental engagement by literally following our nose.
Joyce absorbed the world around him and he based the characters in Ulysses on real people. The idea that many of the activities that happened to these characters on Bloomsday 1904 were specifically orchestrated to demonstrate the complexity of the human body provides a very different emphasis on why Molly may have had an adulterous afternoon with Blazes Boylan or why Bloom was so concentrated on getting Stephen to have some nourishment at the end of the night.

The journey of the young intelligent Stephen Dedalus corresponds closely to Joyce’s own childhood of a poor diet and bad teeth. Joyce like Stephen in Ulysses drank heavily and smoked cigarettes both of which we now know suppress the activity of the Vagus Nerve.16

Maria Jolas who, with her late husband Eugene, became a close friend and patron of Joyce in the 1930's remembers that: “Joyce would order a meal but hardly touch it. He drank white wine, steadily. Sometimes he would order a clove of garlic and chew on it.”

Leopold Bloom’s bodily functions and digestive system fuses with his thoughts and experiences throughout the day. There is much evidence that the character Bloom is based on Italo Svevo who was born Aron Hector Schmitz in Trieste, in 1861, the fifth child of Jewish parents. Joyce interestingly met Schmitz in 1907. They met in Berlitz, the language school where Joyce was struggling to earn his living by tutoring students in English. Schmitz was forty six and twenty years older than Joyce which is exactly the age difference between Bloom and Stephen in Ulysses. Their friendship continued after Joyce moved to Zurich and then Paris.
Joyce’s intimacy with his partner Nora provided extensive data on the functioning of a woman’s body and informed Joyce’s creation of Molly as a sensual kaleidoscope of great complexity. 19 In spite of all the controversy about the so called ‘dirty letters’ between Joyce and Nora, Joyce was not really interested in profanity or pornography.
The sexual explicitness of Joyce’s exchange of letters with Nora on his first return trip from Zurich to Dublin in December 1909, are a vivid record of detailed research within an embodied relationship. One of these erotic letters sent by Joyce to Nora fetched £240,800 at auction in London in 2004.
20 These letters are a documentation of the importance of his relationship with Nora as the source of so much of the physical truth of Molly Bloom.

On 2 Dec 1909 Joyce wrote to Nora: “there is also a wild beast like craving for every inch of your body, for every secret and shameful part of it, for every odour and act of it.”
On Dec 6th 1909 Joyce looking forward to a physical reunion with Nora is specific in identifying a range of smells: “I can smell the perfume of your drawers as well as the warm odour of your cunt and the heavy smell of your behind.” 21
On December 8
th 1909 Joyce links the depth of recognition to smell: “I think I would know Nora’s fart anywhere. I think I could pick hers out in a roomful of farting women.”21

In Ulysses sexuality looms large and Molly’s adulterous afternoon and explicit language caused much controversy and outrage within the moral codes at time of publication. In 1922 Ulysses published in Paris by Sylvia Beach was condemned as obscene. It was banned from publication elsewhere until 1934 when Random House successfully defended Joyce against obscenity charges in the USA.
If we consider that Joyce’s focus was writing “an epic of the human body”
1 then Molly’s behavior may have had little to do with morality or the sanctity of marriage. Molly’s bonded relationship with Bloom and her sexual and raunchy adulterous afternoon with Boylan may have been created to enable Joyce to describe what he regarded as the full spectrum of female sexuality.
Joyce in the light of modern research may have been interested in documenting two kinds of female orgasm. In “The Science of Orgasm” published in 2006 data on the biological process leading to orgasm in women is described by Dr. Beverley Whipple. In a clinical study of women with spinal cord injuries she identified two distinct orgasms. Clitoral stimulation sends tingles up the pudendal nerve and is therefore inactive in these women however orgasm was experienced via sensations inside the vagina which travel up the pelvic nerve. Pleasurable contact with the cervix activates the pelvic, hypogastric, and vagus nerves allowing orgasm. The nerve pathway for this is via the vagus nerve which can go directly from the cervix and uterus to the brain, passing outside the spinal cord.

The implications of what Joyce described in a letter to Frank Budgen as: “the crime committed against fecundity by sterilizing the act of coition.” 23is explored in the “Oxen of the Sun” episode. There is a drunken discussion about contraception devices by Stephen and a group of medical students at Holles Street Maternity Hospital:

“I know of a marchand de capotes, Monsieur Poyntz,from whom I can have for a livre as snug a cloak of the French fashion as ever kept a lady from wetting. Tut, tut! cries Le F‚condateur, tripping in,my friend Monsieur Moore, that most accomplished traveller (I have just cracked a half bottle avec lui in a circle of the best wits of the town),is my authority that in Cape Horn, ventre biche, they have a rain that will wet through any, even the stoutest cloak. A drenching of that violence, he tellsme, sans blague, has sent more than one luckless fellow in good earnestposthaste to another world. Pooh! A livre! cries Monsieur Lynch. The clumsy things are dear at a sou. One umbrella, were it no bigger than a fairy mushroom, is worth ten such stopgaps. No woman of any wit wouldwear one. My dear Kitty told me today that she would dance in a delugebefore ever she would starve in such an ark of salvation for, as she reminded me (blushing piquantly and whispering in my ear though there was none to snap her words but giddy butterflies), dame Nature, by the divine blessing, has implanted it in our hearts and it has become a household word that il y a deux choses for which the innocence of our original garb, in other circumstances a breach of the proprieties, is the fittest, nay, the only garment. The first, said she (and here my pretty philosopher, as I handed her to her tilbury, to fix my attention, gently tipped with her tongue the outer chamber of my ear),the first is a bath -.”
(U 14.776-796)

Molly and Bloom sleep head to toe in Ulysses and this has been described as a form of contraception. However as medical research in the 21st century provides fascinating new insights into body odours and sexual attraction it may affirm that Joyce was documenting an erotic intimacy.

Claus Wedekind at the University of Bern in Switzerland examined whether variations in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), a segment of our DNA, in men's apocrine gland secretions affected women's ratings on male smells.
Women scored male body odours as more pleasant when they differed from the men in their MHC than when they were more similar. This difference in odour assessment was reversed when the women rating the odours were taking oral contraceptives.24
The implications are significant as MHC codes for some disease-detecting structures and so alerts the immune system. Experiments show that the MHC influences both body odours and body odour preferences in humans, and that the women's preferences depend on their hormonal status. It suggests that the female uses smell to ensure that they provide their progeny with certain allele combinations for loci which may be crucial in protecting against parasites.

The complexity of links made by the vagus nerve in the human body are extraordinarily diffuse and are still being mapped by modern medicine without a coherent understanding of overall body function. Joyce may have found a ‘quantum coherence’ to hold the diffuse structure of Ulysses together based on the human body.

Joyce’s collection of sensory data verified in his own body and others close to him gave him facts and specifics that allowed him to build “a map of the human body from the ear to the rear.” The Vagus nerve literally wanders through the human body. Perhaps it is this wandering that should absorb us rather than Bloom wandering around the streets of Dublin.
The Bloomsday presentation in Sydney in 2008 endeavoured to explore Ulysses within the realm of medical science sidestepping what William James described as: “metaphysical postulates of rationality” 25
Life for Bloom is a sensory experience and whilst his cerebral process falters when he tries to articulate his fine sensibility we are absorbed with him as a human touchstone for the world around him. Bloom is very aware of the importance of food and not only takes great care in selecting his own meals, he even responds to the hungry famished seagulls and buys some cakes from a street vendor to feed them. He is genuinely concerned when he sees malnourished children and knows their constitution is being undermined: “Good Lord, that poor child's dress is in flitters. Underfed she look too. Potatoes and marge, marge and potatoes. It's after they feel it. Proof of the pudding. Undermines the constitution” (U 8. 41-43)
Bloom’s views on nourishment coincide with the medical student Buck Mulligan in “Telemachus” when the old woman delivers the fresh milk: “Taste it, sir, she said. He drank at her bidding. If we could live on good food like that, he said to her somewhat loudly, we wouldn't have the country full of rotten teeth and rotten guts. Living in a bogswamp, eating cheap food and the streets paved with dust, horsedung and consumptives' spits. Are you a medical student, sir? the old woman asked. I am, ma'am, Buck Mulligan answered” (U 1. 409-414)
There is however a distinct difference between the two men. Buck Mulligan pontificates while he wolfs down his breakfast. Bloom’s engagement with food changes the climate of his being. Joyce is not just providing data he is linking knowledge to a quality of being. In the “Lestrygonians” episode, Bloom’s thoughts and associations are about food. He is distressed about Molly’s meeting with Boylan and knows that a good lunch will make him feel better:
“A warm human plumpness settled down on his brain. His brain yielded. Perfume of embraces all him assailed. With hungered flesh obscurely, he mutely craved to adore. Duke street. Here we are. Must eat. The Burton. Feel better then” (U 8. 637-640)
The vagus nerve activates the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is active during relaxation and rest. It decreases heart rate and blood pressure and promotes digestion and so being relaxed is a vital part of the eating process.
Bloom finds the men eating at the Burton repugnant: “Roast beef and cabbage.-One stew.Smells of men. Spaton sawdust, sweetish warmish cigarette smoke, reek ofplug, spilt beer, men's beery piss, the stale of ferment. His gorge rose. Couldn't eat a morsel here. Fellow sharpening knife and fork to eatall before him, old chap picking his tootles. Slight spasm, full, chewing the cud. Before and after. Grace after meals. Look on this picture then on that. Scoffing up stewgravy with sopping sippets of bread. Lick it off the plate, man! Get out of this. He gazed round the stooled and tabled eaters, tightening the wings of his nose.” (U 8, 668-679)
Bloom eventually settles down in the quiet atmosphere of Davy Byrnes and selects a cheese sandwich and a glass of burgundy: “A warm shock of air heat of mustard hanched on Mr Bloom's heart. He raised his eyes and met the stare of a bilious clock. Two. Pub clock five minutes fast. Time going on. Hands moving. Two. Not yet. His midriff yearned then upward, sank within him, yearned more longly, longingly. Wine. He smellsipped the cordial juice and, bidding his throat strongly to speed it, set his wineglass delicately down.” (U 8. 789-796)
Science now tells us that Bloom’s choice of lunch would have enhanced his serotonin levels and so elevated his mood. Serotonin a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood is in the gut and the nerve fibers in the vagus nerve carry the messages from the gut to the brain. 27

The idea that the ‘gut' might play a major role in human happiness and misery was something Joyce experienced himself and would complain to his brother Stanislaus of “gastrical disarrangement” while he waited for a letter and even more importantly some money to arrive.

The effect of the Vagus Nerve on our mental well being is a major area of research. At New South Wales University in Sydney stimulation of the vagus nerve with a Vagus Nerve Stimulation device is undergoing trials for treating drug-resistant cases of clinical depression. This therapy uses a pacemaker-like device implanted in the chest that delivers electrical impulses to the vagus nerve. It was first used to help control seizures in epilepsy patients and one of the side effects of this treatment was a better mood and increased alertness. 29
In Ulysses Stephen Dedalus is in emotional turmoil. He is in mourning for his mother and feels guilt about her death. His ambitions as a writer are being stultified in a world of grand libraries that he finds hollow and sterile: “Coffined thoughts around me, in mummycases, embalmed in spice of words.” (U 9. 352-353)
Stephen not having eaten since breakfast finds himself drunk and distraught in a brothel late at night. He is haunted by his dead mother who confronts him about his betrayal of Almighty God:
“STEPHEN: (Strangled with rage) Shite! (His features grow drawn grey and old)
BLOOM: (At the window) What?
STEPHEN: Ah non, par exemple! The intellectual imagination! With me all or not at all. Non serviam!
FLORRY: Give him some cold water. Wait. (She rushes out)
THE MOTHER: (Wrings her hands slowly, moaning desperately) O Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on him! Save him from hell, O Divine Sacred Heart!
STEPHEN: No! No! No! Break my spirit, all of you, if you can! I'll bring you all to heel!
THE MOTHER: (In the agony of her deathrattle) Have mercy on Stephen, Lord, for my sake! Inexpressible was my anguish when expiring with love, grief and agony on Mount Calvary.
STEPHEN: Nothung!” (U 15. 4222-4242)
On leaving the brothel Stephen gets into a dangerous street fight and Bloom comes to the rescue. He takes him to the Cabman’s Shelter and works diligently to get Stephen to eat something and drink some coffee: “Have a shot at it now, he ventured to say of the coffee after being stirred. Thus prevailed on to at any rate taste it Stephen lifted the heavy mug from the brown puddle it clopped out of when taken up by the handle and took a sip of the offending beverage. Still it's solid food, his good genius urged, I'm a stickler for solid food, his one and only reason being not gormandising in the least but regular meals as the SINE QUA NON for any kind of proper work, mental or manual. You ought to eat more solid food. You would feel a different man. --Liquids I can eat, Stephen said. But O, oblige me by taking away that knife. I can't look at the point of it. It reminds me of Roman history.” (U 16. 807-816)
Bloom is genuinely concerned about Stephen’s lack of healthy food and eventually does get him to imbibe a cup of cocoa at 2 a.m. at 7 Eccles Street:
“He poured into two teacups two level spoonfuls, four in all, of Epps's soluble cocoa and proceeded according to the directions for use printed on the label, to each adding after sufficient time for infusion the prescribed ingredients for diffusion in the manner and in the quantity prescribed. What supererogatory marks of special hospitality did the host show his guest? Relinquishing his symposiarchal right to the moustache cup of imitation. Crown Derby presented to him by his only daughter, Millicent (Milly), he substituted a cup identical with that of his guest and served extraordinarily to his guest and, in reduced measure, to himself the viscous cream ordinarily reserved for the breakfast of his wife Marion (Molly).” (U 17. 355-365)
It is the fun and aliveness of Molly Bloom in the final episode that provides the ultimate celebration of the human body. James Joyce wrote to Frank Budgen in August 1921:
“I am going to leave the last word with Molly Bloom--the final episode Penelope being written through her thoughts and body Poldy being then asleep. Penelope is the clou of the book. The first sentence contains 2500 words. There are eight sentences in the episode. It begins and ends with the female word yes. It turns like the huge earth ball slowly surely and evenly round and round spinning, its four cardinal points being the female breasts, arse, womb and cunt expressed by the words because, bottom (in all senses bottom button, bottom of the class, bottom of the sea, bottom of his heart), woman, yes. Though probably more obscene than any preceding episode it seems to me to be perfectly sane full amoral fertilisable untrustworthy engaging shrewd limited prudent indifferent Weib.** Ich bin der Fleisch der stets bejaht.”
Molly gives us vivid descriptions of her sexual encounters with Blazes Boylan and Bloom: “yes when I lit the lamp because he must have come 3 or 4 times with that tremendous big red brute of a thing he has I thought the vein or whatever the dickens they call it was going to burst though his nose is not so big after I took off all my things with the blinds down after my hours dressing and perfuming and combing it like iron or some kind of a thick crowbar standing all the time he must have eaten oysters I think a few dozen he was in great singing voice no I never in all my life felt anyone had one the size of that to make you feel full up he must have eaten a whole sheep after whats the idea making us like that with a big hole in the middle of us or like a Stallion driving it up into you because thats all they want out of you with that determined vicious look in his eye I had to halfshut my eyes still he hasnt such a tremendous amount of spunk in him when I made him pull out and do it on me considering how big it is so much the better in case any it wasnt washed out properly the last time I let him finish it in me nice invention they made for women for him to get all the pleasure” (U 18.143-157)
Bloom and Molly both have fond memories of their first sexual encounter when their daughter was conceived: Bloom remembers this when drinking a glass of wine at lunch: “Glowing wine on his palate lingered swallowed. Crushing in the winepress grapes of Burgundy. Sun's heat it is. Seems to a secret touch telling me memory. Touched his sense moistened remembered. Hidden under wild ferns on Howth below us bay sleeping: sky. No sound. The sky. The bay purple by the Lion's head. Green by Drumleck. Yellowgreen towards Sutton. Fields of undersea, the lines faint brown in grass, buried cities. Pillowed on my coat she had her hair, earwigs in the heather scrub my hand under her nape, you'll toss me all. O wonder! Coolsoft with ointments her hand touched me, caressed: her eyes upon me did not turn away. Ravished over her I lay, full lips full open, kissed her mouth. Yum. Softly she gave me in my mouth the seedcake warm and chewed. Mawkish pulp her mouth had mumbled sweetsour of her spittle. Joy: I ate it: joy. Young life, her lips that gave me pouting. Soft warm sticky gumjelly lips. Flowers her eyes were, take me, willing eyes. Pebbles fell. She lay still. A goat. No-one. High on Ben Howth rhododendrons a nannygoat walking surefooted, dropping currants. Screened under ferns she laughed warmfolded. Wildly I lay on her, kissed her: eyes, her lips, her stretched neck beating, woman's breasts full in her blouse of nun's veiling, fat nipples upright. Hot I tongued her. She kissed me. I was kissed. All yielding she tossed my hair. Kissed, she kissed me.” (U 8. 897-916)
Molly lies awake remembering: “the sun shines for you he said the day we were lying among the rhododendrons on Howth head in the grey tweed suit and his straw hat the day I got him to propose to me yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and it was leapyear like now yes 16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes…” (U 18. 1571-1581)
Joyce's reply for a request for a plan or an explanation of Ulysses has always been vague. Perhaps being vague and sidestepping demands to provide some rational coherence guides us towards the answer. Samuel Beckett the writer most closely associated with Joyce and who was not easily persuaded to provide rational explanation for his own texts did in his essay on Ulysses suggest a more visceral response may be required:“if you don't understand it, ladies and gentlemen, it is because you are too decadent to receive it.”31
In Ulysses the bodies of the characters may provide the blue print for a knowledge that is not based on intellect. This assertion of the human body as an antidote to abstraction and rationalism did not begin with Joyce. It was Giambattisto Vico (1668-1744) who provided the conduit for Joyce on confrontation of the rational mind with his response to the rationalism of Descartes. Vico vehemently disagreed with Rene Descartes concept of a mind body split on the basis that it killed intuition: “They would not have believed that reason was our first faculty, but on the contrary that imagination was.” 31

In “Meditations” published in 1641 Descartes argued that the mind and body are separate and distinct substances. Human essence was solely of the spirit. The senses, movement and digestion were merely mechanical functions. Descartes original statement had a huge influence in the world of philosophy and religion: "Je pense donc je suis" 32

Joyce is blatant in his opposition to this dichotomy between the body and the mind:
"If they had no body they would have no mind. It's all one. Walking towards his lunch my hero, Leopold Bloom, thinks of his wife, and says to himself, 'Molly's legs are out of plumb.' At another time of day he might have expressed the same thought without any thought of food.. But I want the reader to understand always through suggestion rather than direct statement."
In Ulysses Joyce takes spirituality and mythology in its many abstract forms and draws attention to the body’s material existence and he does this on the very first page of the first episode “Telemachus”. The medical student Buck Mulligan uses mockery to ‘earth’ the consecration in the Roman Catholic Mass: “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”(U 1. 21-23)
It is the philosophical confrontation inherent in every line of Ulysses that makes the book so vital in the unfolding of western literature. Joyce uses the body as the ultimate reality. Joyce gives the name Dedalus the character in Greek Mythology that builds the labyrinth to Stephen and so links the labyrinth from Greek mythology to the human body. The labyrinth has often been employed as a symbol for the omphalos, the sacred centre or city. The word omphalos means "navel" in Greek. The most famous omphalos was at Delphi and was supposed to mark the centre of the earth. 33Again in “Telemachus” the first episode of Ulysses Buck Mulligan mentions the omphalos as part of his aspiration to connect with ancient Greece: “To ourselves…new paganism…omphalos.”(U 1. 176)
In the second episode “Proteus” Stephen Dedalus watches a midwife walking across Sandymount Strand and thinks about the omphalos in literal terms: “One of her sisterhood lugged me squealing into life. Creation from nothing. What has she in the bag? A misbirth with a trailing navelcord,hushed in ruddy wool. The cords of all link back, strandentwining cable of all flesh. That is why mystic monks. Will you be as gods? Gaze in your OMPHALOS. Hello! Kinch here. Put me on to Edenville. Aleph, alpha: nought, nought, one.Spouse and helpmate of Adam Kadmon: Heva, naked Eve. She had no navel. Gaze. Belly without blemish, bulging big, a buckler of taut vellum, no, whiteheaped corn, orient and immortal, standing from everlasting to everlasting. Womb of sin.”(U 3. 35-44) The omphalos is the umbilicus, the belly-button, the centre where the umbilical cord is connected to the fetus. It is the entrance-way to our Enteric Nervous Center that correlates its activity with our ‘cranial’ brain via the vagus nerve.
When Stephen and Buck Mulligan meet late at night at Holles Street Maternity Hospital, Joyce makes another link to the omphalos. Buck Mulligan proposes to set up on Lambay Island: “a national fertilising farm to be named OMPHALOS with an obelisk hewn and erected after the fashion of Egypt and to offer his dutiful yeoman services for the fecundation of any female of what grade of life soever who should there direct to him with the desire of fulfilling the functions of her natural.” (U 14. 684-688)
At the end of Ulysses Molly’s thoughts about Bloom are in no way rational rather she is absorbed in her vascular and visceral experience: “Ill just give him one more chance Ill get up early in the morning Im sick of Cohens old bed in any case I might go over to the markets to see all the vegetables and cabbages and tomatoes and carrots and all kinds of splendid fruits all coming in lovely and fresh who knows whod be the 1st man Id meet theyre out looking for it in the morning Mamy Dillon used to say they are and the night too that was her massgoing Id love a big juicy pear now to melt in your mouth like when I used to be in the longing way then Ill throw him up his eggs and tea in the moustachecup she gave him to make his mouth bigger I suppose hed like my nice cream too”
(U 18. 1497-1506)

The description of a young Stephen trying to contain his excitement after a school concert in an earlier work "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" highlights Joyce’s observation of the body:
“he ran across the road and began to walk at breakneck speed down the hill. He hardly knew where he was walking. Pride and hope and desire like crushed herbs in his heart sent up vapours of maddening incense before the eyes of his mind. He strode down the hill amid the tumult of sudden-risen vapours of wounded pride and fallen hope and baffled desire. They streamed upwards before
his anguished eyes in dense and maddening fumes and passed away above him till at last the air was clear and cold again.
A film still veiled his eyes but they burned no longer. A power, akin to that which had often made anger or resentment fall from him, brought his steps to rest. He stood still and gazed up at the sombre porch of the morgue and from that to the dark cobbled laneway at its side. He saw the word LOTTS on the wall of the lane and breathed slowly the rank
heavy air. That is horse piss and rotted straw, he thought. It is a good odour to breathe. It will calm my heart. My heart is quite calm now. I will go back.”

The scientific breakthroughs about the body and the vagus nerve would have affirmed Joyce’s innate experience of the body and perhaps challenged him to explore new frontiers in giving his characters a visceral reality.

Eventually “trouble and bustle” took its toll on his own body. On Jan10th, 1941, aged 59 James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was rushed to hospital with a perforated duodenal ulcer. An operation was initially successful, but Joyce weakened and finally fell into a coma and died three days later.( JJI. 741)

Ulysses challenges us with a quantum coherence of characters in one day in Dublin. Joyce fuses all phenomena and life as part of a vast and complex system-reticulum of relationships. Joyce thought a great deal about the structure of Ulysses and perhaps the nearest he came to stating his aim succinctly is in this letter to Carlo Linati, in 1920. "It is also a kind of encyclopaedia. My intention is not only to render the myth sub specie temporis nostri but also to allow each adventure (that is, every hour, every organ, every art being interconnected and interrelated in the somatic scheme of the whole) to condition and even to create its own technique. Each adventure is so to say one person although it is composed of persons--as Aquinas relates of the heavenly hosts."

1. Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of “Ulysses (New York: Harrison Smith and Robert Hans 1954). 21.

2. Stuart Gilbert, Joyce’s Ulysses (Faber and Faber, 1930) Chap. 2 The Rhythm of Ulysses
3 Gershon, M. D., Kirchgessner, A. L., & Wade, P. R., Functional Anatomy of the Eenteric Nervous System.  ((Vol.1). New York: Raven Press ,1994
4 Joyce, James. Selected Letters of James Joyce, ed. Richard Ellmann. (New York: Viking Press, 1975) 149

5 Selected Letters of James Joyce, ed. Richard Ellmann. (New York: Viking Press, 1975) 28

6 Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of "Ulysses” (New York: Harrison Smith and Robert Haas , 1934) 121, 122-23, 124-25

7 Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of "Ulysses” (New York: Harrison Smith and Robert Haas , 1934) 106

8 Clara Mason, The Ulysses Challenge (Sydney, Joyce Press, 2004)
9 Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of "Ulysses” (New York: Harrison Smith and Robert Haas , 1934) 15
10 J.R. Young ‘The Purple Island’of Phineas Fletcher: allusions to the anatomy of the human body in English poetry up to the end of the seventeenth century.” (Vesalius. 2005 Jun; 11(1) 33-7

11 Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of "Ulysses” (New York: Harrison Smith and Robert Haas , 1934) 21

12 Robinson, B. The Adominal and Pelvic Brain.  (Hammond, Indiana: Frank S. Betz, 1907)

13 Elliot S Valenstein, The war of the soups and the sparks: the discovery of neurotransmitters and the dispute over how nerves communicate.(New York: Columbia University Press. 2005) 237

14 Raju, T N , The Nobel Chronicles. Henry Hallett Dale (1875-1968) and Otto Loewi (1873-1961). (Lancet 353(9150): 416, 1999 Jan 30)

15 Constance Classen, David Howes, Anthony Synnott , Aroma: The Cultural History of Smell (New York:
16 R. Floto, K.Smith, The vagus nerve, macrophages, and nicotine (The Lancet, Volume 361 , Issue 9363) 1069 - 1070
17 Richard Eder, In the Footsteps of James Joyce Paris (New York Times January 17, 1982)

18 John Gatt-Rutter Oxford Italo Svevo: A Double Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988)
19 Letters Joyce, James. Letters of James Joyce. Vol. I, ed. Stuart Gilbert. New I, II, III York: Viking Press, 1957; reissued with corrections 1966. Vols. II and III, ed. Richard Ellmann. New York: Viking Press, 1966.
20 Maev Kennedy, Sotheby’s auction (London: The Guardian, Friday April 23 2004)
21 James Joyce, Selected Letters of James Joyce, ed. Richard Ellman (New York: Viking Press 1975) 157-196
22. Barry R. Komisaruk, Carlos Beyer, Carlos Beyer-Flores, Beverly Whipple, The Science of Orgasm, (Maryland: JHU Press, 2006)
23. James Joyce, Selected Letters of James Joyce, ed. Richard Ellman (New York: Viking Press 1975) 251-52
24. Claus Wedekind, Thomas Seebeck, Florence Bettens and Alexander J. Paepke,
The Intensity of Human Body Odors and the MHC: Should We Expect a link? (London: Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences Vol. 260, No. 1359 (Jun. 22, 1995), 245-249
25. William James, The Principles of Psychology, Volume 2, (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1890) 670

26. Wood, J. D. ,Physiology of the Enteric Nervous System.  (New York: Raven Press, 1994)
27. Joan Arehart-Treichel, Depression and Serotonin Metab. Rational for Neurotransmitter Precursor Threat. ((New York: J..Clin Psychopharmacology., 1985)

 28. Jeremy Hugh Baron, Illnesses and creativity: Byron's appetites, James Joyce's gut, and Melba's meals and misalliances. ( BMJ 1997;315:1697-1703 (20 December)

29. Perminder S. Sachdev, Whither Neuropsychiatry? (San Francisco: J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 17:, May 2005) 140-141

30. Samuel Beckett, Dante…Bruno. Vico... Joyce. Our Exagmination Around His. Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress. (Paris, Shakespeare and company, 1929)

31. Giambattista Vico, The New Science (1725, 3d ed., 1744) The New Science of Giambattista Vico. rev. trans. Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984)

32. Rene Descartes, Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One's Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences, (Literature-org: 1637, Translated by John Veitch (1901)

33. Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of "Ulysses” (New York: Harrison Smith and Robert Haas, 1934) 21

34. Joyce, James. "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" (London: Jonothon Cape, 1952) 97-98
35. James Joyce, Selected Letters, ed. Richard Ellman (New York: Viking Press 1975) 741

Quotes from Ulysses
U +episode and line number. Joyce, James. Ulysses ed. Hans Walter Gabler, et al. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1984, 1986. In paperback by Garland, Random House, Bodley Head, and Penguin between 1986 and 1992.

Clara Mason
PO Box 1250
Rozelle NSW 2039