Author Archive

Bloomsday 2011 on Twitter

Wednesday, June 1, 2011; 06:30 pm 1 comment

it’s been awhile, but just thought i’d post this:

i wonder what joyce would think of twitter as a medium for ulysses.

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Deflowering virgin ears

Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 02:21 am Leave a comment

“Watery Words: Language, Sexuality, and Motherhood in Joyce’s Fiction” by Randolph Splitter

So, I had originally intended on annotating the Stanier article, but you snooze you lose. I don’t think I even have to post for today, but oh well. I’ve already read this anyhow.

This piece covers a range of Joyce’s works (“The Dead”, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegan’s Wake), and even goes over the concept of “family” in the context of late 19th and early 20th century Ireland (so, likely, Joyce’s Ireland). Though this article doesn’t explicitly focus on Ulysses (and in fact, pushes to its resolutions with/through Finnegan’s Wake), the range of works explored serve as useful corroborations for general themes in Joyce’s works (though, unfortunately, doesn’t really focus on “Penelope” at all). It does seem to pick up on a lot of (really interesting) things, but they eventually (somewhat) lead back to Irish family life in the 19th/20th centuries, and how Joyce’s works might be seen as an ambivalent response to the polarized gender roles (with mention of Amor matris) in Irish families.

Using “The Dead” as a starting point, Splitter discusses what we’ve been discussing – the conflation of seeming opposites or apparently unrelated ideas – through the short story’s final snowy, sleepy “image of death as a swooning dissolution and fusion of souls… promising union while preserving detachment” (194). Apparently (because I haven’t yet read it), A Portrait has Stephen imagining “life as a powerful tide… threatening to overflow his defenses and boundaries” (194).

Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Stephen so forthrightly imagines “life as a powerful tide”, Stephen is hydrophobia (which tangentially makes me think of Stephen with rabies). Instead of Buck Mulligan’s casual “great sweet mother”, Stephen internally recasts the sea into a huge guilt-ridden bitter green thing, and then (maybe?) menstrual blood (“blood not mine… a winedark sea”. And then more of the “watery” womb tomb funstuff. Splitter goes on to discuss the problematic relations of each character to water in Ulysses.

I feel like I’m just rehashing now, and this article sprawls… so I think I’m just going to highlight, less verbosely, some interesting ideas that I maybe haven’t covered in previous watery posts.

–  consubstantiality, Stephen as Daedalus (father) with the possibility of suffering the fate of the son (Icarus), falling into the sea and drowning (195).

–  the artist as alchemist, turning “base substances, earthbound matter, into ethereal, immaterial spirit” (196), but also the very base origins of art (as Joyce so loves to emphasize). Here, transubstantiation, where Jesus turns water to wine, where Mother Grogan makes her pee and tea (in the same pot?)…

–  this is one of my favorite ideas from this article: the idea of impregnation or insemination via ear, a la Hamlet: “They list. And in the porches of their ears I pour”. I mean, it’s the final frontier as far as orifices that can intake substances go (that we haven’t really explored in great depth):

> Splitter’s suggestion that in FW, “the sexual connotations that Joyce associates with ‘penetration’ through the ear, Earwicker’s spying – or… eavesdropping – upon the girls in the park might be imagined as another sexual assault upon him, a penetration through his ear by the erotic sound of women urinating” (198)… which not only gives us another place of entry, but also enacts a reversal of roles (and general gender ambiguity, because for all sexual differences, we all have ears), ears being penetrated with sound

>  Similarly, “Joyce’s fundamental myth or fantasy of artistic creation… places the artist in the role of the Virgin Mary” (200). The Virgin Mary/Eve as being penetrated/seduced through the ear by the Holy Ghost/Word of God/Serpent in Eden. Splitter quotes Ulysses here: “Sure, you’d burst the tympanum of her ear, man, … with an organ like yours” (cited on p. 200)…

–  here’s a fun little note about something from way back when: The sea (I think in the Telemachiad or summat) was referred to as Mananaan [MacLir], “an early Irish sea god, or his father Lir (the sea itself, the mythical precursor of Shakespeare’s Lear [and yes, my head just exploded])” (200)… an androgynous sea parent à androgynous artist-parent…

And then some stuff about the problems of Amor matris, the love of the mother, the only sure thing in the world (tied into Splitter’s historical contextualization).

Obsession: Water in Eumaeus-Penelope

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


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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Infinity and Ithaca

Wednesday, November 11, 2009; 05:00 am Leave a comment

“Where Was Moses When the Candle Went Out? Infinity, Prophecy, and Ethics in Spinoza and ‘Ithaca’ “ by Elizabeth S. Anker, James Joyce Quarterly, Volume 44, Number 4, Summer 2007, pp. 661-677

Ah, JJQ strikes again. Fortunately, this time, it looks less like a weird, minorly related tangent and more like… ∞

Anker, drawing on several allusions (both concepts and structure), teases out a link between Spinoza’s philosophy/ethics and Ulysses, with a particular focus on “Ithaca”. The main components of Spinoza’s philosophy that Anker believes Ulysses draws most prominently upon are:

1)    Spinoza’s contemplations of the “infinite” + resulting revelations

2)    Bloom’s character as Spinoza’s conception of a Talmudic prophet

In addition to those two main points, Anker also notes that Ulysses’ “embrace of the visceral and the body in the novel captures Spinoza’s monism – his notion of unity of mind and body, his celebration fo the corporeal, and his deprivileging of the exclusively cerebral” (662).

As far as contemplation of the infinite goes, Spinoza’s philosophy “maintains that God ‘extends’ himself and is therefore immanent in all of physical matter (Ethics 40)… all physical substance is essentially indivisible” (663), but human interrelations, by extension of being part of the physical, are simultaneously filled with “infinite diversity or alterity” (663). To me, this seems like a more straightforward explication of one of the sections in Henry Staten’s article that I had some trouble understanding – that is, the very Joycean conflation of both the mechanical, infinitively replaceable and the infinitely differentiated in Bloom’s ruminations (in the answers we get in “Ithaca”) about infinity.

Anker reads the interpersonal relationships in Ulysses as exemplifications of this paradoxical infinity, most notably Bloom’s relationship to Stephen and Molly. For Bloom, the interpersonal is “at once unified and fractured, a source of inseparable commonality and difference” (663), which I think is made very apparent by his confusion about intermittent moments of identification (and sometimes consubstantial conflation) with and alienation from Stephen (something like “incertitude of the void”). So in the interpersonal, Bloom swings between what sounds like plenitude and the lonely isolation of individuation (Lacanian much?). Even his revelation seems to be at odds with itself: “Not verbally. Substantially”, which reveals that “Bloom can only attain the ‘known’ because of the existence of ‘incertitude’ and through an encounter with the ‘void,’… his inability to fully ascertain the Other paradoxically produces a form of ‘knowledge’, although it is knowledge of a congenital absence or deficiency” (665).

Anker then suggests that “[w]ere human relations not irrevocably divided and Otherness not inherently foreclosed, the world would need neither ethics or hope” (665) – that the infinite gulf between Other and Self (so Bloom/Molly, or Bloom/Stephen) permits “exuberantly intimate connections with that very same Other” (666). But any revelations that Bloom comes to in “Ithaca” are moody and fleeting, existing for a season before becoming clouded by doubt.

Then we get textual ties between Bloom and old testaments prophets (“Ithaca” tends to transform “Bloom’s actions into the sacramental” (670)); then specifically, Spinoza’s old testament prophet, by virtue of Bloom’s “abandonment of formal tenets of Judaism and Catholicism” as well as Spinozan “personal qualities” which “resound with… antiheroism” – and this interesting one “the prophet’s lack of identifiable intellectual capabilities” (671) – in Spinoza’s prophet, a privileging of the imagination over the intellectual. And then Anker offers the idea of the infinite as a way to understand how Joyce’s text operates – how the instability/failure of language the simultaneously “enables an illimitable wealth of meaning that can seemingly ‘universalize’ a text, extending its reference to an infinity of instance of irreducible particularity” (673). Pretty.

Then a call for more studies investigating Spinoza’s influence on Joyce.

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Obsession: Water in Circe

Tuesday, November 3, 2009; 10:48 pm Leave a comment

The episode opened with water in the weather, lots of fog that seems to contribute to an atmosphere of gloom… we’ll see how that pans out… along those lines, a lot of mentions of water (tears/water ) in the stage directions, and not so much in the script (aside from a few mentions of drink). i noticed that gerty finally gets together with water… “slobbering”, and suddenly, her idealized femininity swings to a corporeal, economized extreme. i’m also starting to look more at water receptacles/vessels (“teapot”, the game that bloom and mrs. breen )… and (as far as things not directly related to water go), things that are dry (blazes, as opposed to bloom which should need water), fire (the house on fire, hell)…


Any doubts I had about water showing up in Circe were pretty much dispelled by the second half.

Water and corporeality seem inescapably tied to one another; Gerty’s “slobbering” in the first half, then in this one, the 2D nymph-turned museum statue suffers a “large moist stain… on her robe” (p.451, 15.3457)… among others. I feel especially that the word “moist” shows up especially much, but I also suppose that might be an affect of increased/explicit mentions of “sowcunt[s]” (.3489) and “vulva[s]” (.3089; the scene mostly taking place in… y’know… a brothel/Bloom/Stephen’s mind). There’s also a very literal attachment of water to the (sometimes disgusting) tangible: “Give him some cold water” (.4230), says Florry in response to Stephen being clearly out of (or completely inside of?) his mind.

Along those lines, there definitely seems to be a difference in liquids: those that bring you back to your body, and those that allow you to recede into your mind (water v. absinthe/alcohol, for Stephen at least).

I’m not sure how far I could pull this other thread, but, taking Bloom’s habits into account, it really does seem like he is associated with water. Maybe I’m reading too much into it (although, it is Joyce… is there such a thing?), but I was able to tie both his anti-smoking and anti-alcohol stances both related to different ways that he continually ties himself back to water, as smoke, unlike fog or mist, tends to indicate that something is on fire (which doesn’t necessarily mean devoid of water, but, for the purposes of this tangent, let’s say it indicates dryness also), and alcohol (a diuretic), as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, stimulates the kidneys to filter more water out of your blood, thus dehydrating (drying) the body. So… Bloom isn’t a huge fan of dryness. And he does like kidneys (and liver). And the slight tang of urine.

For Bloom (and this somewhat relates back to corporeality), his association with water becomes even more pronounced, especially during his transformation into a female: “(… he bares his arm and plunges it elbowdeep in Bloom’s vulva) There’s fine depth for you! … Here wet the deck and wipe it round!” (~.3090). We already know that Bloom has some kind of a fixation on what goes in and out of himself, but that comes especially to the fore here during Bello/a’s lines on page 439, wherein Bloom, in his subordinate/vaguely masochistic position is made to “rinse the seven of [the pisspots] well, mind, or lap it up like champagne. Drink me piping hot “. I realize the two are not mutually exclusive, but I do find Bloom’s love of bathing (a la the Turkish bath in Lotus Eaters) a bit at odds with this imagined consumption of liquid waste (imagined though it is…).

I’m not sure what to do with the following:

the Waterfall/Poulaphouca. It’s a (no longer impressive) waterfall in Ireland, and The Waterfall in Circe uses “Poulaphouca” (and variants of the word) to replace the sound of water falling (and according to Blamires, urine? p. 446).

the bucket. Edward the Seventh holds one, and says it is for “identification”. Edward does various things with it in the stage directions. Is this water receptacle supposed to remind us of the “bucket” (p. 441, .3131) that Bello thinks Bloom should buy?

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Obsession: Water in Sirens-Oxen

Monday, October 26, 2009; 03:33 am Leave a comment

Sirens & Cyclops

In obsessing over water, it was interesting to see these two chapters side by side. Sirens, as we discussed in class, abounded with water and feminine imagery; lots of “wet lips” (11.72), “tea” (.108), “panting, sweating (O!)” (.179), “oceansong” (.378), “Woman. As easy stop the sea.” (.641), “Dolphin’s”/”mermaid” (.899/.1236), to name a few. There’s also a curious line about dry-ness and Mr. Dedalus:


Mr Dedalus, famous father, laid by his dry filled pipe” (11.258-59)… I’m not quite sure where to go with it, but thought it was an interesting thing for Joyce to insert amidst all the wet femininity.

We leave then from this comparatively feminine space (at the bar of the Ormond Hotel) and move onto Cyclops, which takes place at Barney Kiernan’s pub to meet Garryowen and his xenophobic pet human the citizen. I haven’t really been following the place of alcohol in Ulysses, but in this chapter, I couldn’t help noticing how much more prominent the place of drinking is (as a homosocial activity, which is interesting, because the previous chapter also takes place in a bar… I don’t recall any women in the pub, so maybe there’s something to that).

Anyhow, this theoretically very wet establishment seems to be filled with excessive talk of drinks and drinking (“cup full of the foamy ebon ale” (.281), “cup of joy” (.244), “drinking porter out of teacups” (.804), more “dark strong foamy ale” (.1212), etc.), and then a mention that “Ireland sober is Ireland free” (.693)). There’s mention of thirst (.141), and for some reason, with the continuous drinking in this chapter, it seems to be a thirst that is never quite slaked. So wet pub filled with thirsty men (dry throats) who would like to wet those throats with alcohol, which dehydrates. And a wet (alcoholic, that is, so dehydrated… better stick to tea and water?) Ireland is an Ireland in bondage… Or something.


Quick question before I begin: is Gerty’s grandpapa Giltrap (13.232) the citizen?

This episode also seems curiously devoid of water (“waterworks were out of order”)… which is not to say there isn’t any mention, but there doesn’t seem to be very much of it where Gerty MacDowell and her cheap perfume are concerned. Actually, I don’t think anything really substantially water-related happens until we get to Bloom’s “wet shirt” (13.851; funny how it’s only when we return to Bloom’s POV that we get this), and then it’s more “wet” (13.929, .979, masturbatory waste), “rain” (13.1060s), “dew” (.1081,.1116). It might be interesting to think about then, how the nature of water/wetness works (who is permitted to be associated with it?). I’m not seeing a very marked sex bias, although wetness seems to be more heavily associated with women (Mother Grogan, Stephen’s mother, Molly, the feminized/somewhat impotent Bloom) – and yet, there’s Gerty (a character surrounded in writing that seems more fitting in something like the Ladies Home Journal…).

The only other serious mention of water-related things comes in the form of scent and perfume (p.307ish), which the article I found a few weeks ago (Parallax Opoponax) discusses in greater depth.


Not-too-shockingly, a lot of water/liquid references in this episode are related to (one might go so far as to draw a distinction in the diction used) a) drinking/drunkenness, which makes sense given the context of profaning the sacred, and images of fertility/fluids/biblical scale downpours directly related to birth/creation:

a)     “draught… drank”, “drunken… cup… drink… drink… quaffed”, “drinking… pour them ale…”, “overmuch drunken” (14.161, 178-80, 218-19, 230, I think you get the idea)

b)    “bloodflows”, “discharge of fluid from the thunderhead”, “after hard drought, please God… water… the seed won’t sprout, fields athirst”, “poured with rain”, “great fall of rain… will much increase the harvest… wind and water fire” (14.122, 426, 475 – dignam is mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph, 503, 522-23)…

… and so on. There are some other references that don’t quite fit in either one (or could fit into both), like “Mother Grogan (the most excellent creature of her sex though tis’ pity she’s a trollop)” (14.732). I guess we could see this as along the lines of profanation, as it is “Mother” Grogan, but at the same time, she’s introduced way back in episode 1ish by Mulligan as a kind of caricature, who “makes tea” and “water” – definitely mocking creation here (of different kinds of water… one you ingest and one you would probably be better off not ingesting, and bringing hospitality and excretion into an interesting interchangeable mix). Unsure what to do with the John Ford reference, aside from its literal name-calling.

And for whatever reason, that brings me to cups – there are a couple expressions in this episode that use cups: “in his cups” (14.419) and “crush a cup of wine” (.501, to name a few; there are probably more), and there were definitely references to vessels in Nausicaa, though I’m loathe to locate them by line right now. I haven’t really been carefully considering containers that hold water/liquids (aside from Professor Simpson’s mention of the golden cup race in class, where the favored scepter loses to throwaway) – there’s definitely a feminine element to it, especially when the word “vessel” is used… Hm.

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The Decomposing form of Joyce’s Ulysses by Henry Staten

Wednesday, October 14, 2009; 03:57 am Leave a comment

It’s a pretty long, complex article, so at the risk of being overly reductive (actually, I don’t think there’s anyway I can avoid reductiveness), I’ll try to sum it up as best I can.

Thesis:  “What is in question here is, rather, the movement of form-making and of the dissolution of form that is the common matrix of text and body. […]  What seems clear is that Ulysses achieves some of its most characteristic effects by pressing the internal logic of mimesis to the limit, above all through onomatopoeia, which manifests itself in a peculiarly condensed way the self-contradictory character of the realist project” (380-81)

Staten addresses some of the ideas (and a lot of the obsessions) we’ve been sort of circling about in class – waste, in/out, death/sex, self/anxiety of individuation: “And this ruin of form reverberates at every level of Ulysses as the undoing of all ontological security and the unleashing of the anxiety of individuation. How this anxiety, linked at one pole to onomatopoeia and the ruin of mimetic form, is linked at the other pole to the fear of infidelity is the substance of my argument” (381).

Staten first focuses on onomatopoeia (esp Stephen’s wavespeech in “Proteus”: “seesoo, hrss, rsseeiss, ooos” (3.457)) as signature, a medium through which one might attempt to access the referent (in this case, the sound of the waves), but through which (as the logic of onomatopoeias operates) direct access to the referent is impossible. Staten, referencing the repeated use of onomatopoeia in “Sirens” (and, y’know, all those other instances where Joyce uses onomatopoeia), argues that part of Joyce’s project in the composition of Ulysses is to decompose the mimesis of language.

He pulls tons of examples where Joyce’s imitations/rearrangements of letters and syntax reach beyond imitation and double back on themselves in a kind of deconstructive way, such as the un-pronounceable “Mkgnao”, “Mn”, “Sllt”… Then he ties in, with these self-deconstructive onomatopoeias, ideas of infidelity (to mimetic language, and Molly), self-cannibalism, and (Staten’s words) the “sacramentalization of shit” (384). Staten sees Joyce as prescient of the ideas Derrida later expounds.

Symmetry: Staten asserts that the “principles of reversal and reversibility condense the signification of death in Ulysses” (383), and draws on the idea of reversibility of doubling in Ulysses, most textually prominent in instances when Joyce “for no apparent reason” repeats an active sentence in passive form: “Grossbooted draymen rolled barrels dullthudding… dullthudding barrels rolled by grossbooted draymen…” (7.21-23); we get more doubling and doubling back on self: active/passive, eater/eaten (8.~123), act/acted on (Shakespeare) and ultimately (stemming from all this), ties with the Eucharist (with eating, and adjectives that couch other humans in terms of their edibility – “hams”). These symmetries eventually bring Staten to tying beginning/ending with sacrament/shit (we haven’t quite gotten here in the text, but Bloom’s fixation on Molly’s posterior serves as a kind of precursor for the eventual meeting of the in/out holes).

More on onomatopoeia: later (ep.17), with Bloom’s anagrammatic play on his own name, Staten raises (again) the disintegration of mimesis via words and even alphabet, and raises the idea of narrative as likewise being able to be rearranged (at almost random) to be something else entirely (he calls it “alphabetic combinatorium”, p. 386).

Infidelity apparently makes “one feel so imminently contingent and replaceable, this circumstance sets off an anxiety of nonbeing that resonates with the pain of death” (387). And then there’s this stuff about Aristotle’s ineluctable modality/doctrine of possibility. Which Stephen is especially concerned with, and which Bloom becomes tied into (with his dead son Rudy, who does not exist)… so eventually, (I’m skipping so much, sorry!) because Stephen identifies as Bloom’s surrogate son, there’s an overwhelming anxiety from both parties about the fragility of existence (although Staten articulates that it is “grief” where Bloom is concerned).

Okay, I’m going to update this post on either Thursday or Friday, because it is so dense, and this is an extremely inadequate summary.