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Obsession: Water in Eumaeus-Penelope

Monday, November 16, 2009; 03:30 am Leave a comment Go to comments


Hmm, what, mostly the sometimes hilarious double entendres involving the word “seaman” (p. 514); lots of sea things involving the sailor…

Also a passage about washing the dirty underthings of significant others… (517).

And this fairly important one about being “washed in the blood of the sun” (.889). Which ties water, blood, and redemption, and creepy cannibalism in a messy package.



This episode contained a particularly intense passage regarding water (p. 548-549). The first question, “Did it flow?” (548), instead of being answered merely with a straight-forward, assumptive Yes/No, gets a long answer tracing the water all the way up to “surveyor and waterworks engineer, Mr Spencer Harty” (17.173); I kind of visualized this particular passage as having a split second scene of a tiny, microcosmic drop of water that becomes blown up into its context in the infinite world as we trace the droplet backward in time. Critic Karen R. Lawrence’s article “Style and Narrative in the “Ithaca” Chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses” discusses how this chapter both divides simple actions (or those we take for granted) into their infinitely minute scientific/mathematical components and, as in the “Did it flow?” passage, expands them infinitely into historicity. I don’t really want to dwell on her article too much, but would like to point out that a) this seems to corroborate the article on Spinoza’s conception of infinity, b) the discussion we had about how easy it was to read is kind of ironic, because although I didn’t find this chapter particularly difficult to read either, the description of everything in its minute forms, the angle at which Stephen and Bloom were standing, etc, even the excess of information in response to “Did it flow?” made a lot of fairly simple things unintelligible (or nearly so)… c) ineluctable modality!

I apologize for being so fixated on this idea of ineluctable modality, but I think, especially in this episode, with the conditional “could” questions, really confronts that issue. I also think it’s something that Bloom and Stephen are extremely concerned with, this anxiety of individuation (as mentioned in Staten and in Freedman), this continual fear of “happening”. Because, in most novels, when you turn on the water to make tea, the faucet runs, and whether or not the water runs isn’t even mentioned – you just assume that in novel-world, it always does and always has and always will. Just to see that question was shocking enough, because it confronts the reader with the possibility of being a “misbirth”, of nearly not having happened.

The next passage about Bloom’s waterlovingness is loads of fun too. Somebody brought up the domesticated/subjugated nature of water as far as its being tamed by man for use, but the passage on 549 also highlights its “universality”, its contradictions arising from its everythingness: “indisputable hegemony” and “violence” to its “docility” and “potentiality derivable from” being “harnessed”. I don’t really know what else to say about how water is sort of… everywhere and involved in nearly everything.

Stephen’s “distrust[ ]” of  “the aquacities thought and language” (17.240) merits mention as well… but what does that even mean? Given the preceding page about water’s universality and all-encompassing pervasiveness… what does aquacity now connote?

Also, there are lots of empty vessels mentioned in this episode (~17.300, 325).



Critically speaking, there seem to be a lot of articles that focus on the “flowing language” of this episode, so I’ll forgo discussion of that in favor of an upcoming annotation.

Molly is certainly water-bodily (“spunk”, “piss”, and “milk” among other things), and I think many of the mentions of water (esp. “O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire” (.1598), where maybe O à eau à “big hole in the middle” à orgasm?) seem very feminine (also, lots of drinking tea from cups, which, y’know, would give you a wet cup/vessel…). I’m especially interested in the blending of water/sea/menstrual blood/fire that comes up in that citation.

I’ve also been thinking casually about Molly as a hostess to her lovers… and what it means for her to try to milk this endless parade of men/infinite series for their money (as she mentions several times that she might as well…).

It was interesting to see Molly’d marked dislike/disgust of the consumption of alcohol. I’m not completely certain that it would be worth pursuing, but I do wonder if there is any synthesis to be made of this dehydrating/mentally-dehabilitating force.

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