Home > Uncategorized > Obsession: Water in Calypso, the Lotus Eaters, and Hades

Obsession: Water in Calypso, the Lotus Eaters, and Hades

Sunday, September 20, 2009; 11:47 pm Leave a comment Go to comments

Not surprisingly, water is all over the place as far as imagery/symbolism and whathaveyou, which I (didn’t intend to but) have reflected structurally (the being all over the place/complete lack of organization, that is. Apologies).

At last, we meet Leopold Bloom. He’s so different from Stephen, far more focused on the physical and sensual, from the way animal kidneys leave “faintly scented urine” (45, 4.5) in his mouth, to the way a “cup of tea” will solve his “mouth dry” (45, 4.15). Although he never really resolves this thought, he does contemplate in fairly scientific/practical terms, “the weight of water, no the weight of the body in the water…” (59, 5.~40), which is a huge departure from Stephen Dedalus who seems to float around in the swurl inside his head.

(By the way, I know Translation is no longer being followed, but I just love Joyce’s translation of sound into onomatopoeia (the cat’s “mkgnao”), and how unstable and tenuous the relationship between signifier and signified is – swirl and girl, for instance, when said in Bloom’s head come out gurl and swurl. And the idea of wavespeech from episode 3 in the Telemachiad. I think I may have read a secondary source discussing the black hole impossibility of the logic of onomotopoeias, this futile attempt to capture sound into neat little letters. Sorry about this random tangent, but I love Joyce’s ear.)

Bloom definitely seems to have an attachment to tea, and also notices some ads for it in episode 5. There’s the liquidity of the tea that Bloom enjoys and the servitude it entails (as he serves his wife Molly tea – because, and I’m pretty sure this was discussed somewhere in class – the text never alludes to potential reciprocation from her). I think it was Blamires that pointed out Joyce’s de-lionization of “Poldy!” getting the tea.

Also this interesting trope of Orientalism that seems to be associated heavily with water and fecundity (although, in the Lotus Eaters, it’s an interesting dynamic between the imaginary eastern garden’s “big lazy leaves” (fecundity) and Bloom’s contrasting “languid floating flower” (lethargic sterility)). Upon seeing an ad for “Belfast and Oriental Tea Company” (58, 5.~20), Bloom’s imagination takes him to “the far east. Lovely spot it must be: the garden of the world, big lazy leaves” (58, 5.~20). Later on, as he dreams of bathing (the text makes it very apparent that Bloom relishes bathing – looks forward to it as the highlight of his morning, to make himself “feel fresh then all day” (69, 5.~500) – and then, the Orientalism tied to water again, “Turkish”. Water is… or at least bath water is “a womb of warmth” for Bloom – so definitely a feminine and infantilizing (for Bloom, anyhow) association. And interesting that Bloom (like a bud, giving birth to a flower, feminine, but productive) should experience that kind of emasculating impotence.

This episode (Hades, 6) was especially interesting to me. We’ve gotten a lot of Ireland/sea associations, but for the first time (and appropriately, given Bloom’s more physically and practically rooted self and thoughts) Dublin and the infrastructure of its water flow. As Bloom, Cunningham, Power, and Dedalus ride to the funeral, they pass by “Watery Lane” and a series of canals (4, to be exact) – which is an obvious parallel to Ulysses’s watery journey to the underworld. Canals and Watery Lane function sort of like the organs of Dublin, which seems appropriate given Bloom’s ruminations on the idea of Resurrection and decayed corpse organs, and, come to think of it, how much he enjoys eating animal organs… Being near the canals/waterways also makes him think travel, getting from point A to point B (to visit his daughter Milly)… so there’s certainly a sense that Bloom though he does have a tendency to drift imaginatively, does not seem to dwell/wallow as much as Stephen does (esp. the “Morning mouth bad images” to pull himself out of his slight stupor of depression).

Anyway, in this episode, water is tied to death and decay, hearkening back to “the dead sea” that so frequently appears in these three episodes. Far from being the site of birth, the womb, has become instead the “allwombing tomb”; “dead: an old woman’s the grey sunken cunt of the world”, “the dead sea: no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the earth” (50, 4.~220). Further ties to femininity – these sunk[en] holes in the earth (similar to a grave) that swallow men whole, similar (I think) to drowning. Which, reflecting back onto “Proteus”, confuses me (male sea vs. female sea?). Or maybe it shouldn’t.

But put that (“the grey sunken cunt”) of the world against the nubile “lovely seaside girls” (italics of original text)… two very opposing conceptions of the feminine and water.

I’m running out of steam here, but there are two other things I want to at least partially address: religion, and flow.

Religion: Bloom’s version of the funeral is definitely pretty entertaining, as focused as he is on Catholic ritual (which he experiences as an outsider), the weird description of how the priest takes “out a communion, shook a drop or two (are they water?) off it and put it neatly into her mouth” (66, 5.~345)… a lot of diction reminding me of water aside from the obvious: heads “sunk”. Drowning or (what it sounded like to me:) oral sex?

Flow: because not everything that flows is liquid or water. But, described as flowing, would certainly acquire the qualities of water (nebulous and indefinite/undefined as they are at present in my mind), most notably Leopold’s regret that “flowed down his backbone” (55) about his young daughter.

[Update]: So we didn’t really get to a specific discussion about water on Monday… Although a few people mentioned drowning, which I definitely neglected in this post.

So… Dignam + alcohol (drank too much…), McCoy potentially attending to a drowning victim instead of going to Dignam’s funeral, and the bad joke about Ruben’s boy nearly drown’d in the water. All this really does for me is affiliate water with death (which we know); further weirding up that dead sea/womb-ness. Conflation of death/life in water?

Another thread that I didn’t really touch on, but sort of considered, was the association of water with travel (I guess this could fit with flow), which I expect we’ll see more development on, being as that Ulysses traveled by water/sea.

I don’t dare reduce all the undigested material so far regarding water, except to comment that it (water, of course) is certainly protean and ubiquitous.

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