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Sirens, perpetual motion machines

Monday, October 12, 2009; 08:14 am Leave a comment Go to comments

Chapter 11 adds many layers and novel symbols to my obsession. Too numerous to be enumerated here, however, I’ll fire them off with some titbits of analysis in the hopes that we can elaborate upon them in class:

-Musical refrains and echoes.

-Joyce’s language in the Sirens episode constantly repeats itself. Meaning snowballs in never-ending assemblages of images, thematic elements, and symbols.

-The perpetual refrain of gold and bronze, representative of the ages preceding Homer’s, suggest the circular procession of antiquity, constantly renewing itself, refilling the cups (chalices) with fresh drink for any and all takers.

-Bloom finds himself slighted by a parroting blackbird: “Taking my motives he twined and turned them. All most too new call is lost in all. Echo. How sweet the answer. How is that done? All lost now” (224). The phrasing here rings of betrayal, a theme of the episode, and itself an echo of sorts—a twining and turning, libeling and returning of motives that anticipates the citizen’s slanderous interactions with Bloom in the following episode.

-Shakespeare’s daily quotations speak to the banal and quotidian nature of meaningless repetition.

-Salesmen make dear with used goods (“Chap sold me the Swedish razor he shaved me with” (238)). Things—instruments [melodeon, an elongated melon?], voices [Dollard and Dedalus return from the dead through song], characters [the stripling, and deaf Pat make their rounds]—bob and resurface on various seas: time, the free market, Dublin.

-The phrase “Done. / Begin!” (212) sums the chapter neatly. A finish is only an end and so on and so forth.

-Kennedy broken in two describes the circularity of perception. Ken = “one’s range of knowledge or sight” and eddy = “a circular movement of water”. (That this little word play re-calls the Charybdis imagery of the previous chapter solidifies the idea that the knowledge of Ulysses is repetitive and compounding.)

-Bloom eats liver again, only with added accompaniment, bacon and Goulding, and even reminisces on Molly while doing so (“Mrs. Marion. Met him pike hoses. Smell of burn. Of Paul de Kock” (221).

-“Woman. Sauce for the gander” (229) the latter part is somewhat of a tautology.

All in all in all, it seems that Joyce’s land of the Sirens is dangerous indeed. A place where nearly a month’s worth of cocks crow and yet nothing changes. Echoes of anguish and loss reverberate in Old Irish ditties, waiting waiters wait, and Bloom mulls on Molly world without end.


With this update I’d like to briefly outline the Platonic notion of extramission as it relates to issues of origination, Hellenism, Hebraism, and the gaze.

Basically, the Platonic notion of extramission states that the eye was made up of the same substance as the sun and consequently, both emit and receive rays of light.

This dialectic of sight is interesting in terms of the Sirens episode, for many reasons. First of all, it necessarily entails a merging of the subject (viewer) and the object (viewed), a merger that occurs throughout the Sirens episode, perhaps most poignantly in Bloom’s melancholy moment with his empty plate: “Bloom askance over liverless saw.” (224).

Here, Bloom’s gaze doesn’t merely pass over the liverless vicissitudes of the dish, it becomes those vicissitudes, converting his very physiognomy into the “face of the all is lost,” (224). The significance of this pathetic collapse of self and other, for both Bloom’s relation to origination and the divide between Hellenism and Hebraism is manifold.

For one, Bloom’s gaze, unlike Boylan’s, exhibits a noteworthy penchant for subordination. Whereas the “smitting light” of Boylan’s “spellbound eyes” menaces the barmaids chasing them around the bar, dominating and dazzling them, Bloom’s eyes can barely penetrate an empty bit of dish-ware without becoming entangled. This susceptibility to visual emanations, and more specifically the symbolic potential of such emanations not only connects Bloom to Stephen, who often loses himself in his own associative powers, but also to Hebraism, and, more obliquely, Protestantism.

According to theorist Martin Jay, if Hellenic culture is decidedly a visual one (ocularcentric), Hebraism is decidedly textual (or ocularphobic), grounded as it is in the Word of God. Moreover, in response to the often captivating power of visual spectacle, think of Aaron and the Golden Ox, Judaism, and to a certain extent Protestantism, each came to contain a strain of antagonism towards visual regimes of representation. Bloom’s connection to Hebraism in this sense is established both through his constant affiliation with written word in the Sirens episode (i.e. the blotting pad), and more importantly through his sensitivity to visual cues (i.e. the plate, alluring visions of women). Bloom’s wandering gaze and finesse within the visual/textual regime of advertising, however, trouble this connection.

To relate this all back to my obsession, it would seem that Bloom’s gaze, unlike those of Blazes Boylan (remember eye = blazing sun), and George Lidwell (eyelidwell? are eyes sitting in lid wells?), does not operate through pure extramission. Rather Bloom seems acutely aware of the “object’s” return of the gaze. Bloom puns on this knowledge multiple times in Sirens, for example: “Woman. Sauce for the gander” (229) and later “She looked fine,” and “Nature woman half a look,” (233-234), which suggest women’s capability of returning the gaze. Once again Bloom flaunts teleological origination. Moreover, whereas Boylan’s gaze plummets dangerously towards Bronze and Gold’s “pinnacles” of hair, Bloom’s remains more or less safe from such treacherous visions.

Things to think about: Mass as a Catholic visual spectacle, Protestantism and Hebraism tied together as textual cultures; synaesthetics in Siren’s

Anagram: Lydia = Daily = Daily Douce = Daily Double (Horse racing term meant to bet on two races consecutively)

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