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Stanier’s Non-Destabilization Argument for Penelope

Tuesday, November 17, 2009; 09:39 pm Leave a comment Go to comments

Stanier, Michael. “The Void Awaits Surely All Them That Weave The Wind: ‘Penelope’ and ‘Sirens’ in Ulysses. Twentieth Century Literature. 1995. Jstor. Web. 17 November 2009. <w ww.jstor.org>.

Michael Stanier attempts in this article to determine to what extent Molly’s language in Penelope is “subversive and deconstructive to the whole,” the whole being Ulysses.  Because the author is eager to link the flowing style of Molly’s narrative to water, he begins by exploring the other main character’s varied relationships with water.  He begins with Stephen’s fear and discomfort with water as contrasted by Buck and Haines’ comfort with it, and then moves onto Bloom (who will be Leopold, not Molly, for the sake of this writing).  Stanier explains then complexities of Blooms’ relationship with water as well, confirming that water is not a single faceted symbol in the novel.  As Stanier sees it, water functions as both life-giver and taker, source of fear (for Stephen) and destiny (for Bloom).  This sets up his analysis of the style of Penelope, which takes on the apparently common assertion that Molly’s internal monologue is flowing and therefore destabilizing of a phallocentric narrative in the rest of Ulysses.  This I think is where Stanier runs into problems with his argument.  He chooses a few critics to help explain his thinking, most notably Derek Attridge, who argues that Molly’s language is not in fact one of flow because if we put the punctuation back in, her sentences are actually fairly short and conventional syntactically.  Unfortunately, the rest of Stanier’s argument rests on this premise, which is necessarily invalid precisely because the punctuation isn’t there.  This is exactly the way Joyce turns Molly’s language into a flowing narrative.  To put it another way, if Joyce had made her narrative one of flow by putting in punctuation but creating run-on sentences, Attridge’s argument would be that if we break up the run-on sentences into their logical independent clauses, they’re not run-on.  This is discounting Joyce’s intentional influence on the narrative, however: we cannot throw away choices made in the style of Ulysses simply because it fits a particular interpretation.  As for the rest of Stanier’s article, that it rests on Attridge’s faulty reasoning dooms it, but if we are to take the latter critic’s arguments as true then the rest of Stanier’s analysis makes good sense.  He finishes up his argument in Penelope by stating that since the language is not one of flow, it cannot be destabilizing, and then moves onto Sirens which I won’t address since we’re talking about Penelope on Wednesday. 

To wrap up, I think Stanier’s article falls prey to the usual temptation of Joyce critics to address twenty different things at once simply because there’s so much to talk about, but he retains focus well enough and for long enough that (discounting Attridge’s reasoning) he creates a convincing and well-thought out argument.

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