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Stanier’s Non-Destabilization Argument for Penelope

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

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>.

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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Penelope’s (lack of) Questions

Monday, November 16, 2009; 04:27 am Leave a comment

Okay so the Penelope piece of this update is pretty obvious, because there are no questions in the episode!  Well, there might have been one or two, but without question marks I’m not counting them.  As for what this indicates, since this is the first (and last) purely female perspective we’ve had in the novel, there are two ways to treat it.  The first is this lack of questions being representative of women in general, which would denote a surety lacking among the men of Ulysses.  If Molly is to be the representative for her sex in this regard, we can say with a degree of certainty (and as usual with Joyce it’s a small degree) that the lack of questions for the only female in the book gives women a stronger presence than the surface misogyny that some read in Ulysses implies.  If Molly is only representative of herself, however, we can read the lack of questions as another piece in the puzzle of her relationship with Bloom.  Molly is sure of what she wants, and has little pondering to do; she has by and large figured herself out.  The issue is that Bloom is so full of questions and uncertainty that he is the one hurting the marriage, and if he were to rise to Molly’s level of confidence their relationship would be in better shape.  This being Ulysses, I’m going to take the middle ground on this one and say that the lack of questions probably represents both of the ideas I’ve discussed, and furthermore that it probably has many more implications than the ones I’ve addressed.

As for questions as a whole in Ulysses now that we’ve finished the novel, I suppose I’ll sum up my thoughts on questions even though it’ll be a bit repetitious from the last time I did this (since Ithaca was the real climax of my obsession).  Questions begin as useless, having no direct answers and giving no information.  They then shift in the middle of the book to getting answered, but information is still lacking.  By Ithaca of course, we have an overload of information that we have to swim through to get any real meaning.  And then there’s Penelope, with no questions and yet a fully functional narrative.  Taken altogether then (I’m going to assume an authoritative voice here despite the inherent lack of certainty when dealing with Ulysses), Joyce is discounting the “common sense” conception of questions as dealing with information.  Instead, questions in Ulysses function by turns as greetings and formalities, rhetorical devices to further one’s own argument, meaningless time-consumers, and when finally they do serve the traditional role of information givers they do so in an overwrought manner that makes it difficult to obtain real meaning.  Joyce thus echoes the theme he has been pursuing throughout the novel, that being an ongoing mission to undermine tradition.  Questions are meant to equalize the playing field among people by equalizing the amount of information available to everyone, but Joyce demonstrates in Ulysses that questions are more often than not devices used to establish power relationships, whether between characters or between novel and reader.

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Unanswered Questions in Eumaeus and Ithaca

Tuesday, November 10, 2009; 09:44 pm Leave a comment

For today I’m going to shift my focus a little bit and write about a theme I’ve yet to explore, and that is unanswered questions. The three instances in particular I want to talk about are the exchange between Bloom and Molly in Ithaca, unanswered questions in Eumaeus as a whole, and in a broader sense unanswered questions for the reader.

First of all Professor Simpson pointed out in class that the only question in Ithaca that isn’t asked is the one that’s been weighing on Bloom’s mind all day, and that is “What have you done today Molly?” Of course it makes sense that he doesn’t answer in one way because he’s been avoiding the subject of Boylan the entire novel. However, between the rearranged furniture, the betting tickets, the potted meat and all that, one would think that Boylan would be on the surface of Bloom’s mind. If we take this as a given (and it’s not a very hard premise to accept), then what we’re seeing here is an immense show of willpower by Bloom to not ask the one expected question. We also should ask, why? He considers all of the possibilities of retribution on 603, but rejects all of them in favor of coping with the jealousy and humiliation – Bloom appears to value his relationship with Molly almost too much, such that he’s willing to accept it in a severely damaged form. The other half of Bloom’s interaction with Molly must be noted, and that is Molly’s question to Bloom of what he did that day. As we are all aware, he leaves out significant portions of his day and even manipulates his story some (calling Stephen a professor and author). Between this and his non-question to Molly, their marriage is in many respects nothing but living a lie.

As for Eumaeus, we said most of it in class, but questions here are by and large evaded and given half-answers and lies by omission. In particular the sailor’s evasion of questions comes to mind, which we covered pretty thoroughly in class. So, I’ll address here what it means in the larger context of how questions have been functioning so far. Strange as this notion might be, an unanswered question can be another avenue in establishing the higher ground in a social situation. The way this can happen is demonstrated by the cunning manner of the sailor, whose dodges of embarrassing questions that could lead to a revelation of his homosexuality allow him to continue to keep his audience rapt.

Finally there are the unanswered questions that the reader has, countered by the overload of questions in Ithaca. Throughout the novel, the reader is left wanting two things: answers to his or her own questions regarding plot and characters, and for questions posed in the text itself to be answered. As for the first, we get plenty of answers in Ithaca but few that reveal questions likely on the reader’s mind (unless in a highly specific coincidence the reader wanted to know about the workings of a faucet), and are in this way kept in a lower position of power relative through the book. Much like the sailor retains his audience by not giving everything away, the book ensures that we cannot reach the same level as it by leaving questions open-ended. As for answers to questions explicitly in the text, we get those too but not in the way we were hoping. Information is certainly there, but it is presented in a typical Joycean fashion, which is something that we have to unravel. In depth answers are found in the text in Ithaca, but the information they give explicitly does little for us, and it is really only the implicit ties to other ongoing themes of Ulysses that gives us any sort of satisfaction.

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Questions in Eumaeus and Ithaca

Monday, November 9, 2009; 02:01 am Leave a comment

I want to start off with a particular question that I thought was great, and then we’ll move into broader themes. In Eumaeus, page 516 line 695, “– And what’s the number for? Loafer number two queried,” which works absolutely perfectly with the theme of the episode, which as I understand it is wasted words and poor writing. It shows that the narrator has a self-awareness and is perhaps even criticizing his/her own writing, or that the characters have a sense of the writing (I’m thinking the latter is less likely). This flows nicely into my next point – the use of this question as something more than just establishing a power relationship points to the upcoming shift in the role of questions.

In Eumaeus, I cheered because I noticed the questions were starting to get directly answered, and with pretty detailed informative responses too. As a reminder, at the beginning of the book questions were rarely answered at all, then at the middle they were answered but substantively, and now finally we’re starting to get information from questions, as it should be. Eumaeus, however was just a light preview of Ithaca and the total shift in the role of questions to not only functioning as information-gatherers, but also to propelling the plot along as well.

Although this is a significant change, there is some bit of (what I supposed to be) Joyce’s commentary on the use of questions in the earlier episodes. That takes the form of the numerous questions that only function to obtain truly useless information. So even though I had originally thought that questions were now being used “properly,” it turns out that Joyce is sticking to a theme here, and seems to saying that even when questions are used to obtain information, a lot of that will be totally useless. To sum up my thoughts so far – the primary function of questions is in fact to establish power relationships, and when they are used to gain information one usually has to sift through a lot of excess to get at the heart of the answer.

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Consolidation of Questions in Circe

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

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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Questions in Circe

Monday, November 2, 2009; 06:49 am Leave a comment

Quick notes, more to come for Wednesday…

At the beginning we see Lynch and Stephen exchanging questions and (lo!) clear, direct answers.  This quickly shifts into Bloom posing rhetorical question after rhetorical question to himself.  I think the proximity and sharp contrast between these two sections of questioning does a couple of things for Circe.  First, it gives us an idea of how the episode will be focused on Bloom’s internal dealing with issues via hallucinations, while Stephen’s role will be about his interactions with other people (smashing a chandelier, or getting punched out, for example) or in the case of his hallucinations those will, as sparknotes nicely points out, “emerge out of elements of his day, such as the interview with Deasy.” 

I also took a peek at the second half of the episode, and I think some interesting things happen with power relations and questions.  Bello establishing dominance over Bloom, Bloom’s shifting relationship with the Nymph (he starts to ask more questions as he gains the higher ground), and I think Carr over Stephen.

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John Gordon’s “Obeying The Boss in ‘Oxen of the Sun’”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009; 03:16 am Leave a comment

Gordon, John. “Obeying The Boss In “Oxen of the Sun”.” ELH. 1991. Jstor. Web. 27 October 2009. <w>.

I’m going to focus on section I of III because it is most pertinent to our discussions of Oxen, and because II and III are more opaque than Joyce.  Gordon’s examination of Oxen of the Sun revolves around refuting the common claim that style dictates the action in this chapter, in favor of his own interpretation that “events generate style” (4). 

            Gordon goes through section by section and dissects the action, at each turn trying to prove that the action is the reason for the style, and not vice versa.  While he does in fact prove very convincingly in all of his studies of the lines that action and style and action are in fact tightly linked, he fails to show causality one way or another.  One of Gordon’s arguments centers around Bloom’s awakening (from just having fallen asleep in the last chapter, also mirroring how a fetus comes into sharper relief as a baby and out of the womb).  Gordon’s claim as usual is that Bloom’s awakening is the reason for the murky language and confused references to objects (“is that beer?”).  However, though he presents a compelling account of how action and style in this case are related, Gordon provides no reason as to why action is dictating style and not the other way around. 

            Similarly, Gordon’s description of the gothic Walpole scene does a very good job of describing how the action and style are related, but not how they interact with one another.  Gordon’s entire argument consists of this: he first describes that Mulligan was describing how Haines appeared at a party and spooked everyone with talk of the black panther of his nightmares.  Gordon begins the next sentence after this description by stating, “Hence, the ‘Walpole’ voice,” and leaves his analysis at that.  His claim that Buck’s description begs a gothic voice is made, but not at all justified.

            Gordon continues in this way for the rest of the article, but although he fails in his original purpose of disproving the belief that the style generates the action, he does incidentally provide a very good scene-by-scene breakdown of what happens and why.  As such, this article should be read not for the argument, but as a companion to Oxen of the Sun if the reader needs help understanding what’s going and the link between style and action.  Even if the reader were familiar with the episode and how style functions in it, Gordon’s in-depth look at Oxen would probably provide a few new insights and deepen one’s understanding of one of the more difficult episodes in Ulysses.


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