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Obsession: Water in Sirens-Oxen

Monday, October 26, 2009; 03:33 am Leave a comment Go to comments

Sirens & Cyclops

In obsessing over water, it was interesting to see these two chapters side by side. Sirens, as we discussed in class, abounded with water and feminine imagery; lots of “wet lips” (11.72), “tea” (.108), “panting, sweating (O!)” (.179), “oceansong” (.378), “Woman. As easy stop the sea.” (.641), “Dolphin’s”/”mermaid” (.899/.1236), to name a few. There’s also a curious line about dry-ness and Mr. Dedalus:


Mr Dedalus, famous father, laid by his dry filled pipe” (11.258-59)… I’m not quite sure where to go with it, but thought it was an interesting thing for Joyce to insert amidst all the wet femininity.

We leave then from this comparatively feminine space (at the bar of the Ormond Hotel) and move onto Cyclops, which takes place at Barney Kiernan’s pub to meet Garryowen and his xenophobic pet human the citizen. I haven’t really been following the place of alcohol in Ulysses, but in this chapter, I couldn’t help noticing how much more prominent the place of drinking is (as a homosocial activity, which is interesting, because the previous chapter also takes place in a bar… I don’t recall any women in the pub, so maybe there’s something to that).

Anyhow, this theoretically very wet establishment seems to be filled with excessive talk of drinks and drinking (“cup full of the foamy ebon ale” (.281), “cup of joy” (.244), “drinking porter out of teacups” (.804), more “dark strong foamy ale” (.1212), etc.), and then a mention that “Ireland sober is Ireland free” (.693)). There’s mention of thirst (.141), and for some reason, with the continuous drinking in this chapter, it seems to be a thirst that is never quite slaked. So wet pub filled with thirsty men (dry throats) who would like to wet those throats with alcohol, which dehydrates. And a wet (alcoholic, that is, so dehydrated… better stick to tea and water?) Ireland is an Ireland in bondage… Or something.


Quick question before I begin: is Gerty’s grandpapa Giltrap (13.232) the citizen?

This episode also seems curiously devoid of water (“waterworks were out of order”)… which is not to say there isn’t any mention, but there doesn’t seem to be very much of it where Gerty MacDowell and her cheap perfume are concerned. Actually, I don’t think anything really substantially water-related happens until we get to Bloom’s “wet shirt” (13.851; funny how it’s only when we return to Bloom’s POV that we get this), and then it’s more “wet” (13.929, .979, masturbatory waste), “rain” (13.1060s), “dew” (.1081,.1116). It might be interesting to think about then, how the nature of water/wetness works (who is permitted to be associated with it?). I’m not seeing a very marked sex bias, although wetness seems to be more heavily associated with women (Mother Grogan, Stephen’s mother, Molly, the feminized/somewhat impotent Bloom) – and yet, there’s Gerty (a character surrounded in writing that seems more fitting in something like the Ladies Home Journal…).

The only other serious mention of water-related things comes in the form of scent and perfume (p.307ish), which the article I found a few weeks ago (Parallax Opoponax) discusses in greater depth.


Not-too-shockingly, a lot of water/liquid references in this episode are related to (one might go so far as to draw a distinction in the diction used) a) drinking/drunkenness, which makes sense given the context of profaning the sacred, and images of fertility/fluids/biblical scale downpours directly related to birth/creation:

a)     “draught… drank”, “drunken… cup… drink… drink… quaffed”, “drinking… pour them ale…”, “overmuch drunken” (14.161, 178-80, 218-19, 230, I think you get the idea)

b)    “bloodflows”, “discharge of fluid from the thunderhead”, “after hard drought, please God… water… the seed won’t sprout, fields athirst”, “poured with rain”, “great fall of rain… will much increase the harvest… wind and water fire” (14.122, 426, 475 – dignam is mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph, 503, 522-23)…

… and so on. There are some other references that don’t quite fit in either one (or could fit into both), like “Mother Grogan (the most excellent creature of her sex though tis’ pity she’s a trollop)” (14.732). I guess we could see this as along the lines of profanation, as it is “Mother” Grogan, but at the same time, she’s introduced way back in episode 1ish by Mulligan as a kind of caricature, who “makes tea” and “water” – definitely mocking creation here (of different kinds of water… one you ingest and one you would probably be better off not ingesting, and bringing hospitality and excretion into an interesting interchangeable mix). Unsure what to do with the John Ford reference, aside from its literal name-calling.

And for whatever reason, that brings me to cups – there are a couple expressions in this episode that use cups: “in his cups” (14.419) and “crush a cup of wine” (.501, to name a few; there are probably more), and there were definitely references to vessels in Nausicaa, though I’m loathe to locate them by line right now. I haven’t really been carefully considering containers that hold water/liquids (aside from Professor Simpson’s mention of the golden cup race in class, where the favored scepter loses to throwaway) – there’s definitely a feminine element to it, especially when the word “vessel” is used… Hm.

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