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Consolidation of Questions in Circe

Wednesday, November 4, 2009; 05:58 am Leave a comment Go to comments

Before I get to the main body of the post, there’s a quick moment of a specific question that was striking to me on page 394 at the bottom.  Bloom references the Charge of the Light Brigade, and all follows according to how the poem (and I believe history) actually goes with the charge failing, but then with the question “Do we yield?  No!” the reality shifts and Bloom proclaims at the end the brigade “sabred the Saracen gunners to a man.”  A question, in this case, has caused a revision of poetry and history, which is the kind of role a question has yet to fill.

There’s a whole lot questions do here, this really is the payoff (or at least one of them) for my obsession.  As I alluded to previously, power relations dominate Circe in terms of the function of questions, so let’s get right down to all the examples.

– Bloom has his power as king when he answers all the questions from his “subjects,” and fittingly his power is stripped from him right after a question “what about mixed bathing?” p. 400

– Next onto Bello vs. Bloom, the best example here being “What was the most revolting piece of obscenity in all your career of crime?” p. 438.  Not that Bloom wasn’t under Bello’s control before (have to avoid pronouns here…), but this really cows him

– Next up is the Nymph vs. Bloom, where first the Nymph establishes control over Bloom with her questions about what Bloom did in the woods, and then on 451 we get a shift of power, again with Bloom asserting his dominance with the question “If there were only ethereal where would you all be, postulants and novices? Shy but willing like an ass pissing” (p. 451).

– Boylan vs. Bloom now, Boylan establishes his position with his opening question that can’t possibly be answered “I have a little private business with your wife, you understand” (p. 461).  I got a little flustered when Bloom then asks a question on the following page, “Vaseline, sir?  Orangeflower…? Lukewarm water…? (p. 462) but I was relieved to see that there was not even an acknowledgment of the question.

– During Stephen’s confrontation with his Mother, her questions (p. 474) all about how many things she’s done for him puts her on the higher ground and reduces Stephen to shambles

– Bloom tries to establish himself over Bella in the issue of the broken lamp through questions, but he doesn’t get a chance to win the battle as he’s called away by the row in the street.  I just noticed, a row in the street, a shout in the street, he’s called away by God maybe…

– Finally Kelleher taking control of the situation with Firstwatch and Secondwatch (after they themselves took control with questions) around page 492.  

So now I’ve listed for us all these situations with questions determining power, so the question is now what does it all do for us?  With the exception of the very first instance the asker is the one who dominates every situation, and we even see a shift in power denoted by questions with Stephen and the Nymph so it’s a fairly certain thing.  Another question, what does this do for us in the larger context of Ulysses?  From what I can tell, questions in earlier chapters didn’t do a whole lot of anything, though we began to see hints of power relations I believe as early as Hades.  The theme of questions establishing power has slowly snowballed and seems to have come to a head in Circe (though I’m sure I’ll have to revise that statement come chapter 17).  I noted in some earlier post that questions don’t take on their normal role (or at least normal in the sense that that’s how they should operate) of giving and receiving information.  By Circe we see pretty clearly that they serve an important function, and that is defining relationships between characters, it’s just that Joyce has been consistent as far as I can tell about not letting questions do any work in the exchange of information.  This fits in nicely with the ongoing, very large theme that Joyce wants us to reconsider traditional roles, be they gender, race, nationality, narratorial, and even language in regards to style and now questions.


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