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“Thus the Turd Becomes Trope.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009; 01:12 am Leave a comment Go to comments

“Ulysses Upon Ajax? Joyce, Harington, and the Question of ‘Cloacal Imperialism.’”  Author: Kelly Anspaugh.

Source: South Atlantic Review, Vol. 60, No. 2 (May, 1995). Pp. 11-29

So, I found a source that somewhat addresses my fascination with the Roman sewage system and how it relates to British imperialism and Irish nationalism in Ulysses, and also, conveniently, with poop. However, the passage addressed in this source is in Aeolus, which we passed over quite a long time ago.  Nevertheless, I refuse to let go of this idea so I suppose you will have to bear with me for the time being.

The author lays out a set of premises in this article, some of which I had considered and some which I had not.  She comes out and states that Joyce, “like Swift, . . . has a cloacal obsession,” quoting the English novelist H.G. Well’s review of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Yes, this has been established.  However, the main point of her argument is that while Joyce’s obsession with excretion does relate to the concepts of British imperialism and Irish nationalism, she maintains that Joyce himself was not making an anti-imperialist statement in his extensive use of shit imagery throughout his works and mainly throughout Ulysses.

The passage referenced in Aeolus is under the subheading “THE GRANDEUR THAT WS ROME,” in which Professor MacHugh says, “think of Rome, imperial . . . What was their civilization? Vast, I allow: but vile. Cloacae: sewers . . . The Roman, like the Englishman who follows in his footsteps, brought to every new shore on which he set his foot (on our shore he never set it) only his cloacal obsession” (108).

Anspaugh brings up the connection between Joyce’s cloacal obsession that he apparently shared with the Cloacal Romans and the politically allegorical work of John Harington, A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, called the Metamorphosis of Ajax (1596).  The English courtier, writer and inventor of the watercloset, could never again separate his literary achievements from his controversial piece, especially after he became renowned for inventing the flushing toilet. Anspaugh maintains that if Joyce learned anything from reading this piece by Harington, it was related to the use of mock indignation in satire.  Obviously it’s not easy to pin down exactly how Joyce viewed British imperialism and Irish nationalism, especially when you throw shit into the whole equation, but at least now I know who to blame for the downfall of the British empire with their flushing toilets: it was all that bastard Harington’s fault.  

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