Yes and No (and ay!) in Episodes 16 and 17
There were three sightings of “yes” that I found in Ithaca. While it is Joyce and I want to think that they’re all present for some significant reason I’m not thinking of, only one stuck out this way. When the questioner is asking about Bloom at the range and what he did there, we learn that Bloom turns on the faucet. The questioner then asks, “Did it flow?” and we get a ‘yes’ followed by a lengthy description of how the water gets to the individual faucet that Bloom used. Then there is an even longer description of what Bloom personally admires in water. I found this telling because in my anticipation of the Penelope episode (kind of a big deal for the yes and no obsession), I’ve encountered several descriptions of Molly’s narrative as “flowing” and comparable to the way a river flows, constantly moving but always connected. ‘Yes’ seems to be associated with a free, flowing style, one that Bloom seems to like given his lengthy list of water’s admirable aspects. Perhaps it is appropriate that ‘yes’ practically disappears for the rest of this episode only to overwhelm us in the final episode when we enter Molly’s world. Generally, Ithaca’s narrative style should be read in direct contrast with that of Penelope: direct, specific questions and answers are being opposed with free-flowing, uninterrupted “stream” of consciousness.
‘No’ is even less prominent in Ithaca. Midway through, the questioner asks, “To what inconsequent polysyllabic question of his host did the guest return a monosyllabic negative answer?” (17.17.945-46). A page later, there is an appearance of “a monosyllabic negative answer,” and it comes in response to the question of whether a clown was Bloom’s son. My only thought here is that of all the questions to be answered shortly, this one is about a son of Bloom’s, obviously an important topic in Bloom’s life given the death of Rudy.
Eumaeus introduces a third word into the yes and no discussion, as the narrator reports, “the sailor grimaced, chewing, in a way that might be read as yes, ay, or no” (16.612-13). This comes immediately following an “ay” spoken by the sailor, so we are definitely being asked in these pages to consider what “ay” may mean in the context of yes and no. To keep going with the idea of flowing being linked with yes, ‘ay’ seems less open-ended. A page later, the sailor repeats it twice: “Ay, ay, sighed the sailor, looking down on his manly chest. He’s gone too. Ate by sharks after. Ay, ay” (16.690-91). Here, ‘ay’ is the beginning and end of the discussion, whereas throughout Ulysses, ‘yes’ is often followed by additional commentary or clarification. In Eumaeus, such additional clarification is almost univocally coming from the narrator. When Stephen makes a comment that supports what Bloom is saying, Bloom says yes, followed by the narrator informing us, “Mr Bloom thoroughly agreed, entirely endorsing the remark, that was overwhelmingly right. And the whole world was full of that sort of thing” (16.1106-08). While I can only guess as to what “sort of thing” we’re talking about here, it seems logical enough to think that this could be suggesting a prevalence of a ‘yes’ mindset in everyday life, in contrast to the abrasive ‘ay.’