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A single dot of ink

Just as egregious to many was the sacrilege concerning a single dot of ink. At the end of the last chapter featuring the protagonist Leopold Bloom, you find literature’s largest period — a giant black dot on the page — the size of which Joyce worried over, instructing his French printers to make the first edition’s big dot even “more visible.”

The big dot ends a long, hilarious chapter that parodies the kind of crisp, cold tone associated with scientific discourse. The Q. and A. format is precise to the point of exasperation. By the end of the chapter and hundreds of questions — “In what directions did listener and narrator lie?” “In what posture?” — the pesky interrogator finally asks, “Where?” To which Joyce drops his big fat dot, as if to say: Just shut up.

But of course, that’s just one interpretation. Some see the big dot as Earth, viewed from the heavenly throne of God, who is often understood to be the annoyingly precise narrator of this chapter. Some think it’s a black hole or maybe Bloom’s open mouth, finally collapsing into sleep at the interrogator’s moronic questions. (Anthony Burgess thought that when reading the chapter aloud, the dot should be pronounced as a big snore.) Others think it’s a portal, or an egg, or Molly Bloom’s anus. There are lots of lively interpretations. In the most common Random House edition, it’s there, it’s final and it’s huge — an inky one-eighth of an inch in diameter, the head of a twopenny nail stabbed into the book.