Home > Uncategorized > Obsession: Water (Episodes 7-10)

Obsession: Water (Episodes 7-10)

Monday, October 5, 2009; 03:44 am Leave a comment Go to comments

Again, as always, I never quite know what to do with all the water stuff that comes up…

Drowning: This, to my knowledge/according to my notes, did not come up as often in these four chapters. “found drowned” (7.199) came up in passing in Aeolus, and in Wandering Rocks, the scene between Stephen and his sister Dilly also brings up the idea of drowning. Drowning here is less directly connected with death than the aforementioned more literal “drowned”, more a result of the financially desperate straits the Dedalus children finds themselves in, as Simon Dedalus refuses to give more than a shilling – but at the same time, Stephen fears he will suffer his mother’s “Salt green death” (10.877), Dilly’s “lank coils of seaweed hair around me, my heart, my soul” (10.876-77). Stephen cannot decide whether or not to pull his sister Dilly out of this vortex, and feels pervasively “inwit’s agenbite. Misery! Misery!” (10.879-80), as indicated by his repeated interjections of “Agenbite” during the exchange.

It seems to me that salt/drowning/death are linked; I’m thinking of the dead sea, bitter water,  Stephen’s tears: “I wept alone” (9.224), and the fact that no macroscopic organisms can grow when water is so highly saturated with salt.

Waste: There was a fair amount of discussion about sewers, or what happens when water comes out the other end (“cloacal obsession”, also discussed in Freedman’s article), especially in Aeolus, wherein:

Cloacae: sewers… The Roman, like the Englishman who follows in his footsteps, brought to every new shore on which he set his foot (on our shore he never set it) only his cloacal obsession. He gazed about him in his toga and he said: It is to be here. Let us construct a watercloset.” (7.489-495)

Water and the control of its inward and outward flows via sewage system seem to be, for the Irish/Greek, a mark of the oppressor, in contrast to Lenehan’s comment about “Our old ancient ancestors” who “were partial to the running stream” (7.496-498). It shouldn’t be surprising that I’m not sure where this is going, but in observing that distinction, I can’t help but notice how much more natural the latter method (“the running stream”) seems in comparison to the constructed “water closet”. Perhaps there is a kind of privileging of confronting excretion in the native “running stream”, whereas the perhaps more “civilized” watercloset (or other works of prose?) tends to hide/disguise that act. Naturally, this makes me think of the abject, and the evolution of the beautiful, hallowed toilet bowl, receptacle for our wastes. But I digress.

Oh, and Bloom’s thoughts on excretion: “They did right to put him up over a urinal: meeting of the waters. Ought to be places for women” (8.415). This seems to be somewhat associated with my initial idea, this “meeting of the waters”, the mixing of that which can be ingested and that which is excreted (making water and making tea a la Mother Grogan, although I’m not sure how I feel about Tommy Moore’s roguish finger statue thing right above a urinal, if that indeed is what was described). The phrase “meeting of the waters” also reminded me of the parting of the Red Sea, a “parting of the waters” by Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt – I don’t know how much of a stretch that is. Tangentially, vegetarianism’s effects on excretion, which are couched in liquid terms: “Windandwatery though. Tried it. Keep you on the run all day” (8.537).

Other mentions of waste: “Reuben J’s son must have swallowed a good bellyful of that sewage” (8.54) – here, a tie to drowning and to comedy. We learned in Hades that Dodd’s son almost drowned (and it becomes comedic because of – ah, tutorial, you haunt me – the almost – something bad could have happened to Dodd’s son, but didn’t) – and here, whatever he might have drowned in is equated with sewage. I don’t recall which body of water he fell into, but it’s pretty easy to draw a line between that “sewage” and water.

Also, even though Bloom is technically feeding the gulls, the line where he “threw… fragments down into the Liffey” (8.76) really just reminds me of litter, or the Liffey as a rubbish bin.

Another type of water base excretion appears in the form of vapor, most prominently in Lestrygonians, with Bloom’s food intake awareness. A lot of smells are associated with these gases/vapors: “Stink gripped his trembling breath: pungent meatjuice, slush of greens” (8.651), “oniony sweat” (10.622),  which brings us ‘round to perfume’s distilled/pre-atomized form: a sort of water/liquid (eau d’espagne, water of Spain, Molly’s perfume).

And, my favorite: “Hope that dewdrop doesn’t come down into his glass” (8.804); yet another association of water with bodily excretion (snot or something of that approximate consistency), and a vague apprehension of mixing the out- and in-flows together (in the glass).

Transportation/Navigation: Pretty straightforward, I think; Ulysses/Telemachus having to navigate the sea, and the characters within Ulysses using water as a means of situating themselves or locating others (“from the river” (8.295); “Blown in from the bay” (8.311)). There is also an allusion to water as a means of transportation for baby Moses (“By the Nilebank the babemaries kneel, cradle of bulrushes…” (7.853)) – water’s religious uses, its ability to move things. And in Wandering Rocks, there are many mentions of quays/river/bridges (10.532, -1195ish, some others) as a means of describing where people are (like Where are you in relation to water? or, What is your relationship to x body of water?).

Drink: Water as drink/tea is becoming far more frequently mentioned: it has been reincarnated as “hot”/”sloppy”/”High” “Tea. Tea. Tea” (8.234/332/355, and 371)“, endowing water with a more markedly social aspect. I guess it’s a rather curious notion, the idea of people gathering either around a hearth/fire or around bodies of water/cups of water. And again, relationships to the liquid/water are an important social means of evaluating others; Bloom seems to criticize Lizzie Twig with his characterization of her tea as “sloppy” – and later on (p. 146, line ~1000) the men who gather are evaluated (to some extent) by the drinks they choose; Paddy Leonard sort of mocks the “Cold water and gingerpop!” (8.1007). Yet later, more discussion of drinking habits ensue: “Bloom and the wife were there. Lashing of stuff we put up: port wine and sherry and curacoa to which we did ample justice. Fast and furious it was. After liquids came solids” (10.548).

Things not water that possess aquatic qualities: As it turns out, a lot of things that aren’t physically water-based or even remotely liquid flow, or seem to. Fabric, words, time, life. So basically, more of Joyce connecting everything to everything else. The fabric, the “flood of bloodhued poplin, lustrous blood” (8.622) recalls an almost biblical kind of blood (perhaps the water turned into blood?) – the line is richly aesthetic, kind of like Bloom’s thoughts on Shakespeare’s lack of “rhymes: blank verse. The flow of the language it is” (8.66). But I suppose both of those are less arresting than Bloom’s almost clichéd (or maybe it is clichéd) speculations about:

“How can you own water really? It’s always flowing in a stream, never the same, which in the stream of life we trace. Because life is a stream. All kinds of places good for ads” (8.93-5)

Which, in my opinion, is really just saved by the intrusion of Bloom’s ever job-minded (or is it money-minded?) thought. I wonder what it means though, in relation to the “running stream” that the Irish historically prefer to excrete in.

The other prominent instance of non-liquid waterlikeness comes from Bloom’s moment of nostalgia: “Could never like it again after Rudy. Can’t bring back time. Like holding water in your hand. Would you go back to then?” (8.610-11) and reminiscence about time that cannot be held… It seems that Bloom and Stephen are both afflicted (in slightly different ways) by time – Bloom seems to be unable to recover himself (in a variety of mental and physical ways “after Rudy” (8.610); and Stephen seems to drown in “salt green death”, his dying mother’s “bowl of bitter waters”…

Throughout Scylla and Charybdis, the ideas of Plato and Aristotle are related to water: “shallow as Plato’s” (9.78), “Streams of tendency and eons they worship” (9.83), “A like fate awaits him and the two rages commingle in a whirlpool” (9.465), “My will: his will that confronts me. Seas between” (9.1202). The supplementary texts mention the water imagery as Joyce’s way of metaphor-izing steering between the two mythical monsters.

… Aaaand religion: of course, the typical baptismal stuff, with an especially apparent focus on washing via blood: “washed in the blood of the lamb” (8.10-11), “washing the blood off, all are washed in the blood of the lamb, bawling maaaaa” (8.482). I’m sure I could say something insightful about it, but all I can think of right now is gross.

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