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Questions, 4-8

Monday, September 28, 2009; 06:19 am Leave a comment Go to comments

First, apologies for the lateness and most of all for the length, but since I won’t be in class tomorrow maybe this will substitute a little for my voice.

As I briefly noted at the end of my last blog post on questions, at the end of episode three we see questions being answered at a far greater rate than earlier in the novel.  I myself had questioned whether or not we would begin to see questions getting answered on a more regular basis.  Fittingly, the answer is yes and no; they are being answered at a greater rate, but the answers are not revealing much more information than if the questions hadn’t been answered at all. 

            In terms of Calypso, this yes and no theme is found in a lot of the questions between characters (as opposed to Bloom’s inner monologue).  The chapter opens with one of the more notable question/response exchanges, with Molly’s ambiguous “Mn,” which sets the tone for the rest of the chapter.  Throughout the middle of Calypso we either see questions in Bloom’s mind (which are generally rhetorical and only serve to spur his thoughts on), or questions between characters being answered ambiguously.  When the butcher asks Bloom what he wants, Bloom merely points, and to what we do not know as readers.  Thus, despite questions being directly addressed, they are addressed in ambiguous fashions and so information is withheld from readers and characters just as in episodes 1-3.  Finally, things do get a little more interesting in the later exchanges between Molly and Leopold, as he asks her various other questions to which he gets little or no response (i.e. asking about the blinds), and yet he dutifully answers all questions Molly asks him, enforcing what we already know about the power relationship (another instance of Leopold being delionized by Molly by not having his questions answered).

            In the Lotus Eaters, questions between characters are more common, but almost every answer is either yes or no without any detail thrown in.  Usually we’d like to think of questions as illuminating devices by which we might learn a great deal of information.  In Lotus Eaters, we are denied this, and instead spend the episode as readers in a sort of limbo, with questions being answered but not in any sort of meaningful way.  The most important question is the whole Throwaway horse tip, which all the summaries promise will get Bloom into trouble later, so more on that when it comes up.

            Questions in Hades for much of the first half do not come from Bloom at all, giving the power in the carriage to the other three men as we have noted in other contexts.  Bloom begins to ask questions about halfway through, but the only two questions that he gets answered are answered by Kernan, and so the power relationship between Bloom, Powers, Cunningham and Dedalus are preserved.  Interestingly, though I thought the opposite would be the case, Bloom’s musings about graves (about telephones in coffins, vertical stacking, do corpses bleed, the rat) are not at all induced or spurred on by questions.  Given that most other inner monologues in Ulysses have been driven by questions, rhetorical or not, it may be significant that this particular train of thought remains outside of the influence of questions – maybe that this line of thought is less forced and despite its weirdness more natural than the usual academic internal discourse.

            As for the questions in Aeolus and Lestrygonians, I’ll give them less space here given how much I’ve written about episodes 4-6, and then for Wednesday I will expand further on them.  In Aeolus, there seem to be many more questions than in any other chapter thus far, asked by almost every character.  For Stephen Dedalus, they serve to keep him in the spotlight – he gets his questions answered directly and promptly, reinforcing spark notes’ point about Stephen being treated with respect.  This in contrast to Bloom, who asks questions near the beginning but is quickly ousted from the center of any conversation as he is hit by the doorknob.  Despite Bloom’s position from then on as being more on the edge of the circle, Lenehan (by virtue of questions again) is placed in an even lower position than Bloom, being shunted aside by the others even as he forces his riddle on them and with Bloom telling Lenehan that he’s in a hurry (an odd shift in Bloom’s attitude that is usually deferential to others rather than impatient).  Finally, in Lestrygonians, questions between characters absolutely dominate the conversation.  There’s hardly an exchange that isn’t question after question, with yet again no real answers and no exposition at all.  It has become really incredible to me that even after eight episodes, questions as a means of dialogue don’t actually do any work – they’re mainly filler and lead neither the characters nor us as readers anywhere.  Since it’s still relatively early in the novel, I won’t posit a theory about that for fear of overreaching, but if the trend continues then there might be something to the relative emptiness of questions in Ulysses.

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