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Simplifying the Everyman – “Ulysses and Us”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 04:26 am Leave a comment

Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Life in Joyce’s Masterpiece

 by Declan Kiberd (W.W. Norton, 2009)

This book operates much like Blamires, with a chapter by chapter analysis, but it claims to emphasize the “everyman” nature of Bloom and of Ulysses, “rescuing Ulysses from the dusty shelves of rarified literary neglect” (front matter). I find this thesis difficult, because while Ulysses is obsessively banal in its subject matter, it defies simplicity in style as effectively as it embraces the commonplace. Overall, this book appears to be useful for pearls on wisdom, much like Blamires, but instead presents a more wandering, conversational analysis, which engages in reader discussions and makes ranging claims rather than following a clear path.

Chapter 16 – Parenting

Kiberd organizes his chapters around supposedly everyday themes, that for Eumaeus being parenting. Rather than regurgitate his entire analysis of Eumaeus, I’d just like to summarize and comment on a few of his points. One thing he does differently compared to the companion sources we’ve been using is incorporate Joyce’s own life into his analysis of the episode, especially using Stephen to symbolize a young Joyce. He identifies 16 June as being not only the day he “first walked out with Nora,” but special also “because that moment marked his return from the self-hatred and confusions of his youth, back to the sacrament of everyday life” (240). The sacrament in the episode is the bun and coffee that transubstantiate into a brick and “something else,” while Kiberd argues that the beginning of a new life is a gift given by Bloom to Stephen. I find this interpretation to be a bit optimistic as to the success of Bloom’s random bits of guidance, but Kiberd makes a convincing point in relation to the argument that Eumaeus is an anti-climax. He disagrees with the belief that Bloom and Stephen do not find union because that union is not verbalized, asking “in a book which has repeatedly exposed the limits of language, why should the climax be verbal? (243). He emphasize instead the “new psychic layers uncovered by Ulysses,” citing the two men’s blending thoughts, positing that for Joyce, on the other end of a major life change, “Ulysses was not just an example of a high-risk business venture [which so interests Bloom] but also a sort of ‘self-help’ manual, in which an older Irishman teaches a younger one how to live and blossom” (245).

I agree that Bloom and Stephen reach some sort of new level, and while I would not say that the novel ends anti-climactically, I would suggest that the ending which lacks resolution is critical to its aim. Bloom’s story does not resolve at the end of Ulysses any more than mine will when I fall asleep tonight, and to argue that it should or has would be to argue against Joyce’s goal of tracing the intricately minute and beautiful details of any given day.

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Webs of Meaning of Light in Ulysses

Monday, November 16, 2009; 04:24 am Leave a comment

The Sparknotes of Ulysses that we have been using in class identifies Lightness and Darkness as a central motif in the novel. While the analysis is very basic, he argument in that the traditional binary of light = good and dark = bad breaks down in Ulysses, with the two main characters being associated with dark through their mourning dress and Boylan, one of the closest characters to an antagonist, is associated with light through his name and manners. While this argument fits well the symbolic correlations I laid out earlier, it also makes an interesting subliminal point, which is that in the scope of the novel, Bloom and Stephen are good and should therefore be associated with light in the traditional sense. However, I think this is a point better left to another discussion. Light in Ulysses is not used to denote good and evil meant to draw on the traditional and archetypal significance of the imagery, but instead as symbols for the characters. The function of light imagery as not only representational of the characters in a single instance but also creating a web of complicated symbolism that gives the characters almost inscrutable depth. This symbolic representation is the main function of light in novel as far as I can recognize, rather than articulating the good/evil dichotomy above or to denote religious imagery.

This is not to say that the light imagery in the novel does not draw on established tropes; the idea of femininity being related to the moon is not a new one, but rather than for example, simple relations like black = bad, the interpretations are much more complicated and nuanced. Bloom and his relation to darkness is a prime example.

Throughout the novel Bloom (and Stephen) is characterized by his black clothing, but this image goes miles beyond the traditional dastardly villain dressed all in black. For Bloom, the meanings of his association with darkness are many, varied, and at times contradictory. For one, his black clothing is a sign of mourning, meant to be a physical manifestation of his respect for Dignam. However, this analysis is challenged by the fact that on several occasions Bloom assures those he meets that it’s nothing, it’s just Dignam. But to add another level to this image, we soon see that Bloom is still very much still in mourning for his son Rudy who died over a decade ago. Complicated yet? Bloom’s connection with darkness has many other layers as well. It is representative of his Jewishness, which marks him as an outsider (Gerty sees him as the dark foreigner, he describes himself as olive skinned) and therefore separate from his Irish brethren. Darkness also associates him with Haines’ black panther, which could be interpreted as anything from a nationalist threat to Buck’s impression of Bloom as an older, threatening, homosexual male. Similarly, his unintentional connection with Throwaway, the black horse who appears from behind to win the race, possibly hinting at the arguably hopeful ending of the novel in which Bloom returns as a contender for Molly’s bed and happiness. In terms of other characters, Molly is also characterized as having a dark complexion, but she does not appear to be ostracized by society and instead is characterized almost exclusively by her sexual appeal. Stephen, who also wears black, but in this case specifically for his mother who has been dead for almost a year, is hailed as a priest, which connects to the web of Catholic imagery around him.

This example illustrates that the interpretation of light imagery often does not begin from the cultural representation and then progress to the character, but instead starts with the character and moves outwards in a web of meaning that overlaps with many other ones. Of course Joyce could not be so simple as to have one image mean one thingJ

Update for Ithaca

Wednesday, November 11, 2009; 02:42 am Leave a comment

Sorry I haven’t had much to say about Eumaeus; there just wasn’t much in the way of light to discuss.

There were a couple other instances where light was doing some interesting things in Ithaca, though:

– As Bloom and Stephen walk home, they ruminate on a series of topics (lines 11-18). However, the only thing they agree on is the “influence of gaslight or electric light on the growth of adjoining paraheliotropic trees” (44-5). The fact that the only thing they agree on is a the physical reflection of light on trees, which makes them consider different aspects of their own lives (see Blamires for an interesting commentary).

– To give a little bit more insight to the guidance theme of the candle lighting scene I wrote about for Monday, when Bloom comes to fetch Stephen, the question to elicit more information is “Did Stephen obey his sign?” (118). The use of the word “obey” highlights the father/son dynamic, while “sign” heightens the religious imagery.

– Bloom and Stephen are characterized as “doubly dark” as they move out of the house into the garden (1037). This additional reference to their mourning clothes creates the image of two men dressed all in black, which seems to me to lend a different feel to the scene than if they had been wearing normal clothes.

– As Bloom contemplates the sunrise on pg 579, it takes a while for the actual word “sun” to appear. Its light is called instead “the diffusion of daybreak,” a “luminous body,” and a “golden limb” until it is finally named as the sun, giving the appearance of an actual body climbing up over the horizon (1257, 1267).

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Light in Ithaca

Monday, November 9, 2009; 05:34 am Leave a comment

One significant instance of light is the extended moment in which Bloom must break into his own house (repeating again the theme of keylessness) and then wanders through the darkened rooms and goes about the process of lighting a candle. By their very bulk, the light words are noteworthy, fitting with the extremely meticulous language throughout the episode. Following Bloom’s process, several different lights must be ignited, match to gaslight to candle, before he can retrieve Stephen, who has been waiting outside for “four minutes” (114).  This progression, as usual, lends itself to a variety of meanings, most of which I would argue are religious, relating specifically to the end of Bloom’s wanderings. For one, the successive lights, from Lucifer match, to superfluously bright gaslight, to controlled, useful candle could be interpreted as the development of religious belief, from the very limited, unsustainable light of a match, to the wild brightness of the newly converted, to the steady, practical light of a comfortable believer. However, which this progression can be argued in reference to the lights, it holds little merit in reference to the men concerned, neither of which inhabits really any stage of this timeline. Still, this development can be superimposed over any other, such as Bloom’s excitement over his friendship with Stephen. At first, Bloom doesn’t appear to care much about Stephen, but then his paternal instincts kick into high gear, waning slowly towards the end of the novel into a mutually beneficial relationship that fades as the night passes. 

Another interpretation of this scene deals more specifically with Bloom as father and Stephen as son. In entering a new area, in which Bloom is not exactly sure what he is going to find (will Molly be there, will the evidence of the affair be explicit, etc) the father goes first as a scout, and also a host, not allowing his guest/son to take the side way in. Thus, the light which Stephen observes moving around the Bloom household is the guiding light of fatherhood, a physical manifestation of the care that Bloom has been providing him throughout their night time escapades.

A further development of light which appears in this same episode, and is actually rather beneficial to my argument concerning characters and light, hinge on the question on page 576 of “what special affinities appeared to him to exist between the moon and woman?”. This answer, I would argue largely a product of Bloom based on Stephen’s limited experience with getting to know women, seems to sum up Bloom’s mixed and conflicting feelings about women in general and specifically Molly. He discusses her constancy, but also her quality of “waxing and waning” (1162). She has power ‘to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite to and aid delinquency” (1164-5). I think we could make short work of finding instances in Ulysses in which Molly has each one of these effects on Bloom. He seems to be talking more about woman than the moon, but with Joyce, the moon could easily be personified to include these various descriptions.

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Soap, Sun, Aurora Borealis and the Shattering of the Chandelier in Circe

Wednesday, November 4, 2009; 05:08 am Leave a comment

First of all, I have a new theory that I explained to my group last meeting. So I established in my last post that Boylan = the sun (his nickname is Blazes, as well as character traits like his pushiness and fame). By this logic, I would then argue that the soap Bloom has been carrying around in his pocket is representative of the sun and therefore Boylan. Textual evidence: “He points to the south, then to the east. A cake of new clean lemon soap arises, diffusing light and perfume” (15:336-7). In this bit of description, the soap clearly appears as the sun, thus by my argument equating it with Boylan. Interpretive evidence: Bloom has been carrying the soap with him all day, just as the anxiety of Molly and Boylan’s meeting has been haunting him. As we discussed in class, Bloom is rather generously aware of what would attract and please Molly (Boylan) just as he is sensitive enough to buy her to soap and novel. Similarly, the need to return and pay for the soap has also been bothering Bloom, just as he considers the question of whether Boylan is paying Molly from a purely economical standpoint. With the relief that accompanies the Nausicca episode, Bloom is freed from his anxiety over the affair and his unpaid-for soap; though both Boylan and the soap appear later on, they are not attended by the same worry and obsession. Finally, when Bloom smells himself searching for the “man smell,” he encounters the soap instead; Boylan to many seems to represent the quintessential man, and would therefore have the man smell.

Another point which I mentioned in class is the new appearance of another kind of light: aurora borealis. In the first part of the episode, it is mentioned by name twice, lines 170 and 1373, but the heavenly lights themselves reappear gold, pink, and violet in the dancing scene in the brothel (pages 468-9) in which an entire day is experience through light, from morning to noon to twilight and night. This new light, which is colors, at night, in the sky (a location which is in my light-math is Boylan and Molly’s [Molly(moon) + Boylan(sun) = Sky]) presents new concepts for consideration. I would argue that this coloring of their affair is representative of Bloom’s path towards reunification with Molly through is improving prospects and performance in this episode, especially in his gaining of an adopted son. Thus, aurora borealis represents a disruption of the established light patterns, not only colors, but lights that both move and change.

A climactic point in this episode is Stephen’s destruction of the chandelier (4243-5), which is another critical disjuncture from the previous light patterns in that light and its production actually becomes part of the action of the story. I have a couple possible interpretations of this instance, but I would be interested to see how the rest of the class interprets it. For one, Stephen’s destruction of light could be linked to the light as religion and his willful rejection of religion as forced on him by and tied to his mother, whose ghost has just appeared to him. Another possibility would be that in his destruction of the king of lamps, the chandelier (which is called a lamp after it is broken and therefore appears smaller and more normal) could be indicative of his rejection of the opposite of shadow, being his realm of light (as I posited in class). This topic would also bring up the discussion of the ashplant, with which we could surely do much.

Notes on Circe

Monday, November 2, 2009; 03:18 pm Leave a comment

So thus far, the primary appearances of light have been doing some rather interesting things. For one, lamps are everywhere. Previously we’ve had much more natural light, but this part is dominated by artificial glow. Especially in the opening pages, light and lamps in particular create an almost spooky feel, much like a carnival after dark. Thus, light is not working to clarify or make safe, but rather to create an atmosphere of uncertainty.

I’m toying with a newish idea in terms of how light represents the characters. Thus far, I have identified:
Bloom = dark
Stephen = shadow
Molly = moon
Boylan = sun
As far as who is actually “light,” I have yet to determine this.

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Twilight in ‘Nausicaa’ and ‘Oxen of the Sun’ in the Dark

Wednesday, October 28, 2009; 03:52 am Leave a comment

Ok, so one of the articles I wanted to write about is really short, so I did two short ones which will hopefully equal a normal sized one:)

Smith, Craig, “Twilight in Dublin: A Look at Joyce’s ‘Nausicaa’,” col.28, no.3 (Spring 1991), pp. 631-635.

Smith’s main goal with this article appears to be to argue that the first half of episode 13 is not merely a comic parody of a writing style, but actually deeply packed with complicated twins, a “series of dualitites” (631). He frames this argument by discussing the setting of the episode at twilight, “the moment of transition” in which it is both night and day (631). He identifies a series of twins, both obvious ones like the sea and shore, man and woman, etc, but also more abstract concepts like reality and illusion and sacred and profane, as well as doubles of people, such as Tommy and Jacky doubling the priests. He also notes a rather startling link between Ulysses and Portrait, in which Stephen and Gerty are described in almost identical terms.

            From this point he moves on to the second part of the article, in which he argues that these two characters are unable to differentiate between a key twin, “sexual and spiritual ecstasy” (632). He doesn’t do much with this point, but goes on to find a variety of interesting similarities between Gerty and Stephen, identifying Gerty as a young Stephen as a he appears in Portrait without the intervening year of significant change (633).

            Finally, Smith uses another double to illustrate the importance of the first half of the episode, despite the common desire to brush it off as merely parody. Smith claims that “Joyce sought to continue the twinning process in the episode so that both pairs and opposites might be seen with a second vision, [thus] the strange style of the opening half of the episode is not so enigmatic” (634). He then lists the common topics of Gerty and Bloom’s respective ruminations, which are extensive, arguing finally that both sections are necessary to understand each other, just as the presence of doubles and twins contribute meaning to each part.

Benstock, Bernard, “Decoding in the Dark in ‘Oxen of the Sun’,” vol.28, no.3 (Spring 1991), pp. 637-642.

Benstock begins his article by highlighting “the absence of a controlling, much less a reliable narrator” in episode 14; which is to say that the rapid shifts from one literary style to another creates a narrator that is so transitory that it ceases to be an authority over the progression of the story (637).  Thus, as readers we are forced to experience this episode “in the dark,” without the benefit of a unified coherent narrator, “an exercise in reading blind by listening to the ten voices” (638). Much of the article consists of examples of this confusing progression, which I do not feel the need to trace as we all experienced it ourselves thank you very much. He identifies a further disorienting characteristic of this episode, which is the near invisibility of either of our expected central characters, Bloom and Stephen, especially towards the end of the episode. ‘Oxen of the Sun’ is dominated by the chattering of characters who are not only unknown to the reader, but even difficult to distinguish from each other, with Bloom and Stephen speaking remarkably little: “the disintegration of the elegance of language into dialect distortion acts to deprive the proper Bloom of a voice and reduces the literary Stephen to a few foreign phrases” (641). All told, the purpose of he argument appears to be to point out why this episode is do difficult and uncomfortable for the reader, and while he makes valid points, I don’t think any of us needed a scholar to tell us that.