Robert Spoo on teleology, monocausality and marraige
Teleology, Monocausality, and Marriage in Ulysses by Robert Spoo
A couple useful points in this somewhat pointless, certainly redundant, article:
1. The primacy of the self in terms of teleology
In class Monday, I tried in vain to articulate what I felt to be a growing primacy of the self occurring in “Scylla and Charybdis.” Leave it to Robert Spoo to do a better job, sort of.
For Spoo, this primacy, or what he refers to as “the self traversing itself in order to become itself,” is linked to the Aristotelian notion of entelechy (442). Unlike, teleology, which shares the root word telos, meaning perfection or end, entelechy does not entail the “subordination of all entities to a single end or purpose,” (443). Rather, entelechy, the individual’s quest for perfection, is essentially aimless, or has no essential aim, and this assuredly has ramifications in terms of memory and history.
Without this aim one becomes responsible not simply for recording history as a general culmination of consequential events but rather for re-calling the “seemingly negligible minutiae” that take place within and without the “pre-established” framework that history implies (444). For example, Stephen’s theory of Ann Hathaway’s more-than-insignificant role in Shakespeare’s life, and in fact the entirety of Ulysses, both of which take into account supposedly dispensable information without imbuing the narrative with any totalizable and reductive meaning.
2. Monocausality and responsibility
According to Spoo, the patently teleological notion of “woman as monocause of all subsequent woes is a major theme in Ulysses” (449). We see this in Stephen’s theory about Hamlet’s connection to Ann Hathaway, Bloom’s preoccupation with Molly’s adulterous relationship with Boylan, and the haunting presence of May Dedalus (Stephen’s mother). Yet, this monocausal relationship, Spoo argues, is constantly complicated. For instance, the phrase “a man of genius makes no mistakes,” seems to imply that the “wounds” inflicted by Ann Hathaway contributed to Shakespeare’s genius as much as anything else (← is this a salient argument Mr. Spoo?). Moreover, Bloom begins to take notice of his “responsibility” for the “sundering” of his marriage with Molly (← is this a useful argument Mr. Spoo?). And finally, May Dedalus, supposedly a metaphor for history, who by virtue of her “figural status, can never project history itself as a monocause,” (451).
3. Marriage: a novel denouement
As we are all well aware, marriage often serves as telos of the modern novel. As we are also aware, Ulysses tends to funk with convention. Therefore, despite the implication that Bloom and Stephen will find themselves impalmed when all is said and done, Ulysses may in fact lead elsewhere. At this point Spoo launches into his analysis of the strange match image from Aeolus (i.e. “that striking of that match, that determined the whole aftercourse of both our lives” (7.763-65)). For him this match is the wedding of teleology and monocausality as both the “event towards which the novel moves and the origin of ‘the whole aftercourse’ of Stephen and Bloom,” (452). The most interesting connections here include tying the striking of the match (also known as a vesta) to Stephen’s vestal virgins, Bloom’s Matcham’s Masterstroke, and several exchanges of cigarettes. In the case of the vestal virgins, Stephen’s story is notably pointless, therefore non-teleological; Bloom’s creative response to Masterstroke is simply evening colors tacked together (‘pink, then golden, then grey, then black”) and therefore also non-teleological; and Spoo sort of loses track of the cigarettes.
At any rate, things to think about include: marriage as thwarted denouement, issues of responsibility as they relate to historical memory, and the mounting complexity of causality (tracing the threads that knit together the day).