Back to the Odyssey for a second. Stephen is Telemachus, in a house of usurpers, a little too young and too weak to do anything about it but complain. Mulligan, as head usurper, here is still on his tear about selling fine original Irish witticisms to Haines. Stephen plays along half-heartedly, more enjoying the joke at Haines’ expense than whatever it is Mulligan is up to. Telemachus must have been tempted to just give in to the suitors–his situation is desperate, there’s no reason to think his father was going to return. Stephen is similarly lost.
Stephen is not, we will see, a big fan of the Irish nativist trend that was gaining in popularity at that time. There is so much scholarship on this moment, so much said about it, that I’m reluctant to even sketch it out. Here’s some erudition on the Celtic Revival, as it’s sometimes called. Haines is in Dublin to capitalize on then trend. If you’ve read Dubliners recently, you may remember the word “simony,” one of the three memorable words on the first page of the first story. Simony is the sin of selling holy benefits, sacraments and otherwise, for money. A big sin in the Joycean universe, and part of what we’re seeing here too.
So much of what’s going on in Mulligan’s palaver has to do with William Butler Yeats and the role he played in the Celtic Revival, aka Celtic Twilight (the title of a Yeats book), aka, per Joyce “Cultic Twalette.” And yet this critique is put in Mulligan’s mouth–Mulligan wants to take his shots at the Irish revival and eat on it too, and it’s that inconsistency that Stephen can’t abide.