In response to:
The Politics of Joyce from the June 9, 1977 issue
To the Editors:
Richard Ellmann’s essay on “The Politics of Joyce” (NYR, June 9) quotes Bloom’s concurrence with Bakunin: “God wants blood victim. Birth, hymen, martyr, war, foundation of a building, sacrifice, kidney, burnt-offering, druid’s altars.” He finds the list “a little muddled,” remarking in a parenthesis ” ‘foundation of a building’ does not fit in so well.” In truth the muddle is not Bloom’s but the fault of Joyce’s proofreaders. There should be no comma between “foundation of a building” and “sacrifice.” What Bloom—and Joyce—are alluding to is the foundation-of-a-building sacrifice, the ritualistic spilling of blood upon laying a foundation. The bare item “sacrifice” has no place in a list particularizing sacrifices. A couple of sentences from the “Perils of the Soul” section of The Golden Bough describes the practice:
In modern Greece, when the foundation of a new building is being laid, it is the custom to kill a cock, a ram, or a lamb, and let its blood flow on the foundation-stone, under which the animal is afterwards buried. The object of the sacrifice is to give strength and stability to the building.
Frazer proceeds to give numerous cases to show that the animal victims are a substitute for human sacrifices. Apparently the custom of immuring children was observed sporadically, if secretly, into the nineteenth century, even in Europe, especially when the piers of bridges were being constructed. River spirits resented being spanned and required propitiation. The nursery rhyme and game of “London Bridge Is Falling Down” is supposed to refer to this sacrifice; the Opies in The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (pp. 275-276) lay out a panoply of learning on the subject.
The eminent Joycean Darcy O’Brien tells me the excrescent and mischievous comma appears in every edition of Ulysses he owns, including the Random House and the Penguin. The French translation, which Joyce supervised, makes the unfortunate separation even more marked: “fondation d’un monument, les sacrifices….” Bloom’s meditation occurs appropriately in the Lestrygonians section, where the leading theme is cannibalism.
Albert B. Friedman
Richard Ellmann replies:
Professor Friedman is no doubt right about “foundation of a building.” But he is wrong to blame proofreaders. The manuscripts show that Joyce himself inserted (and retained) the comma between “building” and “sacrifice.” Perhaps the list remains “a little muddled.”