SMP: Sine Mascula Prole – Preparatory to Bloomsday

James Joyce’s “Ulysses” begins with a large S that takes up most of the first page and begins the first sentence: “Stately, plump….” The book is divided into 18 chapters, or episodes, as Stuart Gilbert called them, though Joyce did not number or title the chapters. A new chapter is signaled with the start of a new page, its first line all caps. Each chapter is characterized by its own, unique writing style (the changing styles are obvious, and one doesn’t need an annotated work to note or enjoy the differences). The 18 chapters are divided into three parts, marked by separate pages with a large Roman numeral at the top: I, II, and III. Part I contains the first three chapters and part III the last three chapters, part II, then, the middle 12 chapters. Each part is signaled with a full page devoted to a large letter that takes up the entire page:


Why S M P? One suggestion is that the letters stand for the three main characters: Stephen, Molly, and Bloom (P for Bloom, for his nickname: “Poldy”). But P might also point to Penelope, for Molly’s soliloquy, the last chapter (Penelope was the wife of Ulysses). Certainly the first three chapters concern Stephen (the M sentence introduces “Mr Leopold Bloom…,” and the P sentence begins, “Preparatory to anything else Mr. Bloom…”). Scholarly, annotated discussions have suggested sentence, middle, predicate, Aristotle’s syllogism. Whatever.

Frank Budgen, in his book “James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses,” explains that Joyce liked the character Ulysses for his “complete, all round character.” Ulysses was a father, a son, a husband, a soldier (but, Joyce adds, speaking to Budgen: “Don’t forget that he was a war dodger who tried to evade military service by simulating madness.”). Joyce also says that Ulysses was “the first gentleman in Europe,” and “an inventor too.” Joyce says to Budgen of Ulysses, “But he is a complete man as well – a good man. At any rate, that is what I intend that he shall be.”

I remember at CSUDH working with my Joycean mentor Mike Mahon, and I had simply looked up SMP in some dictionary, and found that it was an acronym for the Latin phrase “sine mascula prole,” without male issue. While Bloom is a father, his son, Rudy, has died (Bloom also has a daughter, Milly), and there’s a suggestion that Rudy’s death is the cause for the distance created between Molly and Bloom, and thus Bloom, in addition to being a father, son, and husband, is made by Molly to be a cuckold. Thus indeed he is Joyce’s “complete man,” and “without male issue” may take on yet another connotation.

It’s unlikely Joyce had any of the following in mind with regard to SMP, but since what Joyce had in mind is often beside the point, we might also enjoy considering:

Strategic Management Plan
Sex, Money, Power
Simple Minded People
See Me Please
Smoke More Pot
Standard Maintenance Procedure
Sub Motor Pool

Related: An Invitation to Celebrate Bloomsday with Frank Delaney

How to Live Happily to 106: Happy Bloomsday, Mr. Leopold Bloom

Articles celebrating victims of extreme old age usually ask about diet, so let’s get that out of the way first:

“Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”

The time is morning, the scene the house, the organ the kidney, the art economics, the symbol the nymph, the title Calypso, the technique mature narrative (Gilbert, 1930). The day was June 16, the year 1904, the place Dublin, the book James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Speaking of mature narrative, Jonah Lehrer, over at the Frontal Cortex, has put up a post titled “Old Writers” in which he dispels the myth that writers do their best work when very young, that older writers can’t match the quality or creativity of their younger work, as if writer’s ink were a kind of dark blue testosterone that fades and weakens in potency with age. Lehrer concludes his post with “…different circumstances call for different kinds of creativity…The most successful artists aren’t slaves to their chronological age. Instead, they succeed by speaking to the age in which they live.”

Works want readers, listeners, viewers, and they always want new readers, new listeners, new viewers, and when they don’t get them, they feel old and weak, remaindered and marked down, bagged for the garage sale: Books Penyeach.

Pomes Penyeach was first published in 1927, when James Joyce was 45 years old. Joyce’s works are remarkable for their consistent creative originality that insists on new forms to communicate the events that parallel the writer’s age and the age of the writer. And they have not weakened over time, but have grown stronger with age. Perhaps it was those nutty gizzards. Almost certainly it must have been the burgundy, as Bloom suggests (although Joyce preferred white wines). In any case, the example of Joyce’s works expresses Lehrer’s definition of the successful artist, that the work has nothing to do with the age of the artist, but everything to do with the age at which the work is experienced.