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In and out, Part I.

Monday, September 7, 2009; 01:41 am Leave a comment Go to comments

Upon beginning my search for passages relating to my obsession, ingestion and excretion, I noted the definitions for both words in terms of the physical metabolic processes. Paraphrased, ingestion is the act of consuming a substance orally, usually for digestion, and excretion refers to the act of expelling metabolic waste products remaining after digestion is complete.  While the implications of this obsession are most certainly great in number, in looking at the first three episodes of Ulysses, I focus specifically on the physical metabolic process, i.e. the consumption of food and drink that leads to the expulsion of feces and urine.  A discussion of the more metaphorical contexts of these actions will hopefully develop as we continue reading in the novel.

The first passage relating to my obsession deals with the ingestion part of the cycle.  As Buck Mulligan enters the tower with his shaving supplies, he begins to deliver a mock mass in which he declares: “For things, O dearly beloved, is the genuine christine: body and soul and blood and ouns” (I.21-22). With this, Mulligan parodies the rite of the Eucharist, which is designed to resemble Christ’s actions of the last supper.  With Christ’s body transformed into bread and his blood into wine, both of these substances are intended for ingestion by the faithful disciples.  Mulligan’s sacrilegious mockery of this rite of mass demonstrates his unwillingness to accept the transubstantiation mystery in which the body and blood of Christ make themselves into substances to be consumed, and also his rejection of the Catholic Church and religion in general. He uses this mockery as just one of the ways to taunt Stephen throughout their interaction.  While Stephen, being a good “Jesuit” as Buck Mulligan points out, consumes simultaneously the Catholic rituals along with the wafer and the wine, Mulligan does not and prefers to mock Stephen while harassing him about getting money for booze from Haines.

The breakfast scene is the next stage of consumption and frames the cycle on ingestion and excretion in accordance with the theme of the natural and unnatural.  Previously, Buck Mulligan had identified Haines, the Englishman, as “bursting with money and indigestion,” suggesting that somehow, the main problem with the English takes root in the interruption of their natural ingestion and excretion processes. Buck Mulligan’s priority throughout the breakfast scene is to ingest as much as possible. In fact, he practically spends the whole meal theatrically shoving food in his face while spewing out the “waste” of his obvious abundance of knowledge, “he crammed his mouth with a fry and munched and droned” (I.385). Indeed, I don’t believe I have ever seen a character so voracious in consumption and brimming with… waste products.  Not only does Buck Mulligan consume food, but he also has a way of consuming Stephen’s money, even though it is apparent that Stephen is the starving artist.  To me, this echoes the Unionist sentiment regarding Ireland’s “consumption” of English resources and reliance on England as a governing body.  The Irish Nationalist movement, however, must halt this consumption that has created the “unnatural” state of Ireland in the political sphere when the island is dependent on England.  Also in Episode II, Stephen dreams of his dead mother and her own interrupted ingestion and excretion cycle when he remembers the “bowl of white china” that “stood beside her deathbed holding the green sluggish bile which she had torn up from her rotting liver by fits of loud groaning vomiting” (I.108-110).  This instance shows that the unnatural interruption of the metabolic cycle can lead to a far worse fate than simply becoming a cranky British man with indigestion.

The obsession makes a rather brief appearance in Episode II when Stephen attempts to teach the schoolboys about Pyrrus and the only thing that Armstrong seems to be capable of ingesting is not knowledge, but rather the figrolls from his satchel.  Joyce does something weird in this passage with the crumbs, and I’m still not sure what to make of it.  Anyway.

While Episodes I and II deal more directly with the consumptive aspect of the equation, Episode III deals more obviously with the excretion bit.  No poop yet, just urine.  Sorry to get your hopes up.  Oh all right, I lied.  There’s a little bit.  When Stephen muses on the great priest Arius in lines 50-52, he points out that “in a Greek water closet he breathed his last: euthanasia.”  On the eve of a potential great victory for him and his followers, Arius was undone by intestinal blockage and hemorrhaging, possibly the result of intestinal cancer.  Clearly, in order to be successful in life you must first have properly working intestines.  Perhaps that’s what happened to the British.  Toward the end of this episode, Stephen walks along the sea and demonstrates his own contribution to the cycle of life and fertility by… peeing in the ocean (III.453).  The main descriptive phrases in this passage contain water imagery: “Vehement breath of waters amid seasnakes. . . it flows purling, widely flowing, floating foampool” (III.457-460).  Snakes and water. Yes.

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