I seem to have misread the syllabus in that I posted critical annotation on Monday when I was supposed to have posted today, so I will take the liberty of doing the consolidation post for my obsession since I have not done that yet.
It goes without saying that having the obsession of ‘yes and no’ pays off in Penelope, as the overwhelming amount of ‘yes’ on the final two pages concludes a colossal book filled with many themes and obsessions. Reaching this point, I find that I’m re-examining my interpretation of yes and no throughout the novel. I originally framed my obsession by looking at textual appearances of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ as well as more figurative moments of affirmation and rejection/denial that do no explictly say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ While certain moments in the text definitely applied to the latter of these two ‘yes and no’ categories, I think it will best to focus more on textual appearances of the two words, since that on its own provides considerable debate. For example, what do we make of moments where characters use words that literally mean ‘yes’ or ‘no’, like Molly’s ‘Mn’ in Calypso and the numerous instances of ‘ay’ in the later episodes? And what about moments when ‘yes’ appears in other words, like ‘eyes,’ ‘Keyes,’ and ‘Yessex’?
I’ve also begun re-skimming the book for my numerous circlings of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ appearances, finding that in almost all cases, ‘yes’ is tied to a punctuation mark of some kind, be it a period, comma, question mark, or exclamation point. One way of looking at this in the context of Penelope is to say that Joyce has been preparing us for the eruption of ‘yes’ in the end by steady repetition of the word throughout the novel, and that yes becomes the punctuation that Penelope is lacking. I’m slightly hesitant about this though because it is fairly common for yes to be followed by a punctuation mark in any context. Also, is yes punctuating if it is part of another word, such as the ones I’ve listed above?
I’ve got more questions but I think this will do for now.
Derrida, Jacques. “Ulysses Gramophone: Hear say yes in Joyce.” A Companion to James Joyce’s Ulysses. Ed. Margot Norris. Boston: Bedford, 1998.
I was attracted by the title of Jacque Derrida’s article “Ulysses Gramophone: Hear Say Yes in Joyce,” since it explicitly mentions ‘yes’ up front. Though Derrida’s conclusions in the essay span much further, I think it’s worth examining his thoughts on ‘yes’ in Ulysses as it represents a somewhat more casual, everyday approach to reading Joyce.
Quoting Joyce himself, one of the things that Derrida talks about in reading Ulysses is the relationship between the postcard and publication. He writes: “Any public piece of writing, any open text, is also offered like the exhibited surface, in no way private, of an open letter, and therefore of a postcard…with its coded and at the same time stereotyped language, trivialized by the very code and number.” He then lists several of the scenes in Ulysses explicitly about postcards and letters, including Mr. Reggie Wylie’s postcard to Gerty Macdowell, “his silly postcard”; a postcard to Flynn from Bloom which he forgets to address ( “underlining the nature of anonymous publication,” according to Derrida); Bloom’s memory of Martha’s letter; and Molly’s rendering of Denis Breen’s u.p:Up fiasco. All of these examples illustrate Joyce’s ability to provide commentary on his own methods within said methods themselves. He builds memorable characters and allows us to enter their minds, only to show them being encountered by the same textual and interpretive issues we face ourselves as we read Ulysses. Regardless of what we think “u.p:Up” can mean throughout the novel, the fact that Breen thinks it has to mean something is part of the point. Breen’s case highlights the anonymous nature of the addresser, while his failure to address the postcard to Flynn highlights the opposite.
As for “yes,” Derrida says it is “gramophoned.” That is, “yes can only be a mark in Ulysses, a mark at one written and spoken, vocalized as a grapheme and written as phoneme, yes, in a word, gramophoned” (78). The incorporation of the word “eyes” helps focus this idea. As we have talked about in class, “eyes” is an interesting word because it easily connects with “ayes,” the alternate way of saying ‘yes’ throughout Ulysses, especially in Eumaeus. Given this link, it also corresponds simply because we read ‘yes’ upon scanning the word ‘eyes.’ I think we discussed the possibility of ‘eyes’ corresponding with parallax, in that the plurality of multiple ‘eyes’ suggests multiple perspectives on what is occurring. Is there a ‘yes’ perspective, then, within this framework? I think Molly’s narrative in Penelope goes well with this, although Joyce tends to resist the constraints of the dichotomies he wants us to notice. As Derrida puts it at the end of the essay: “Everything we can say about Ulysses has already been anticipated…you are captive in a language, writing, knowledge, and even narration network” (89).
Overall, this essay is classified as a work in deconstruction in the Margot Norris “A Companion to James Joyce” book. Derrida’s style is very informal, which relates to his message about the novel, in that one needs to hear Ulysses as well as read it to get the best grasp of what is possible. Derrida originally gave this reading as a lecture to a group of Joyce scholars in Germany, and he uses this informal style to indirectly demonstrate an alternative method of reading Joyce, one that is not as rigorous but perhaps more revealing. Suggesting his own incompetence as an authority on Joyce, Derrida also brings into question the idea of literary competence. Does a first-time reader who encounters Ulysses, anonymous postcard that it is, have any more competence than a reader with background knowledge? For the purposes of the essay, Derrida’s answer is no, because words like ‘yes’ are part of a gramophonic narrative that everyone must struggle with.
There were three sightings of “yes” that I found in Ithaca. While it is Joyce and I want to think that they’re all present for some significant reason I’m not thinking of, only one stuck out this way. When the questioner is asking about Bloom at the range and what he did there, we learn that Bloom turns on the faucet. The questioner then asks, “Did it flow?” and we get a ‘yes’ followed by a lengthy description of how the water gets to the individual faucet that Bloom used. Then there is an even longer description of what Bloom personally admires in water. I found this telling because in my anticipation of the Penelope episode (kind of a big deal for the yes and no obsession), I’ve encountered several descriptions of Molly’s narrative as “flowing” and comparable to the way a river flows, constantly moving but always connected. ‘Yes’ seems to be associated with a free, flowing style, one that Bloom seems to like given his lengthy list of water’s admirable aspects. Perhaps it is appropriate that ‘yes’ practically disappears for the rest of this episode only to overwhelm us in the final episode when we enter Molly’s world. Generally, Ithaca’s narrative style should be read in direct contrast with that of Penelope: direct, specific questions and answers are being opposed with free-flowing, uninterrupted “stream” of consciousness.
‘No’ is even less prominent in Ithaca. Midway through, the questioner asks, “To what inconsequent polysyllabic question of his host did the guest return a monosyllabic negative answer?” (17.17.945-46). A page later, there is an appearance of “a monosyllabic negative answer,” and it comes in response to the question of whether a clown was Bloom’s son. My only thought here is that of all the questions to be answered shortly, this one is about a son of Bloom’s, obviously an important topic in Bloom’s life given the death of Rudy.
Eumaeus introduces a third word into the yes and no discussion, as the narrator reports, “the sailor grimaced, chewing, in a way that might be read as yes, ay, or no” (16.612-13). This comes immediately following an “ay” spoken by the sailor, so we are definitely being asked in these pages to consider what “ay” may mean in the context of yes and no. To keep going with the idea of flowing being linked with yes, ‘ay’ seems less open-ended. A page later, the sailor repeats it twice: “Ay, ay, sighed the sailor, looking down on his manly chest. He’s gone too. Ate by sharks after. Ay, ay” (16.690-91). Here, ‘ay’ is the beginning and end of the discussion, whereas throughout Ulysses, ‘yes’ is often followed by additional commentary or clarification. In Eumaeus, such additional clarification is almost univocally coming from the narrator. When Stephen makes a comment that supports what Bloom is saying, Bloom says yes, followed by the narrator informing us, “Mr Bloom thoroughly agreed, entirely endorsing the remark, that was overwhelmingly right. And the whole world was full of that sort of thing” (16.1106-08). While I can only guess as to what “sort of thing” we’re talking about here, it seems logical enough to think that this could be suggesting a prevalence of a ‘yes’ mindset in everyday life, in contrast to the abrasive ‘ay.’
Having completed Circe, my thinking about yes and no is definitely starting to take some direction.
For starters, I think the conversation surrounding yes and no is intricately linked with gender. I’m somewhat resistant to critical articles I’ve read that have suggested the notion of Ulysses demonstrating “feminized yes”; while I agree that female characters are emphatically repeating ‘yes’ in several cases (most notably Molly in the Penelope episode, of course) and perhaps even utilizing the word differently, I need more convincing to believe that every time yes is uttered in the novel it is feminized. I’m more inclined to think that throughout the novel, there is ‘yes’ perspective and a ‘no’ perspective that can change depending on the speaker and said speaker’s actions and status. ‘Yes’ may be more feminine than ‘no’, but that’s pretty obvious to most readers of Ulysses, given the overwhelming nature of Molly’s final soliloquy.
I think Circe is almost as important in terms of yes and no as Penelope is. As Suzette A. Hanke puts it, “Joyce was fascinated by the Circean image of a voluptuous enchantress who could nurture or destroy the male enthralled by her charms.” Molly is certainly the character who most epitomizes a “voluptuous enchantress,” but I think the Circe episode has the same effect (the capability to nurture or destroy), whether applied to Bloom, Stephen, or readers themselves. Like his marriage with Molly, Bloom seems completely unprepared and/or unwilling to address the intense hallucinations he endures, and I think this is represented in his answer, “Nes. Yo” (which, I might add, was coincidentally in the title of my October 12th blog post) after being asked by The Fan whether he remembers her (15. 2766). He can’t answer the question because he won’t actually acknowledge to himself the question of memory, also evidenced by his denial of Boylan and Molly throughout the novel. Stephen, on the other hand, is more willing to at least acknowledge the hallucinations, but he also makes the effort to disagree with their assumptions. We get Stephen’s mother praying for him (after he refused to pray for her when she was alive, of course), and Stephen’s response is “No! No! No! Break my spirit, all of you, if you can! I’ll bring you all to heel!” (15.4237-38). He seems to be rejecting not only the message of the ghost but also its mere presence; we could say he is rejecting the logic of the Circe episode.
What I’m now stuck on is what to make of Bloom’s “nes yo” moment, because even though he’s in denial of the question, giving that answer just makes me wonder what it means for Bloom to be in denial, if he can be so close to actually answering the question. Nes, does that make sense?
The major moment for my obsession in this section of Circe occurs when Mrs. Breen (“(eagerly)”) says the word “yes” seven times in response to Bloom recalling a series of memories about Molly. However, I view this as the linguistic climax of a very suggestive conversation between the two, so it is important to think about what’s happening with “yes” and “no” leading up to Mrs. Breen’s yes outburst. As Blamires points out, Bloom is initially flirting with Mrs. Breen but at some point takes on the role of Molly’s husband, even though he continues to speak with Mrs. Breen about their past. When she asks Bloom why he didn’t kiss her once, a “shocked” Bloom responds by pointing out that Mrs. Breen was Molly’s best friend, asking “could you?”(15.488). This is Bloom’s way of asking whether she could have done that, and she responds (according to the notes, offering “a pigeon kiss” with her tongue in between her lips) with a “Hnhn,” drawing a slight contrast to Molly’s “Mn” earlier in the morning, which was unambiguously perceived as a “no”. Spelling out the connection a bit more, we next hear Mrs. Breen ask if Bloom has “a little present for me there,” furthering her flirtation only to be rejected by Bloom, who makes the Molly connection himself and answers as if he were answering to Molly herself.
Mrs. Breen seems to be aroused by this point, and Bloom seems to keep arousing her by bringing up more memories from the past, even though he is sure to always include Molly’s part in the memory. Bloom recounts when Molly was eating a sandwich at Mrs. Joe Gallaher’s lunch basket, and even though Bloom’s subsequent description is most likely referring to Mrs. Gallaher’s food, the syntax allows for him to also be talking about Molly. Saying he “never cared much for her style. She was…” Bloom is interrupted by Mrs. Breen, who is about to say that Gallaher/Molly is “too…” something, only for Bloom to interrupt with “yes.” This allows Bloom to agree with Mrs. Breen without actually saying whatever it was that she wanted to say; if it was about Molly, Bloom does not have to hear it. Then we get Mrs. Breen’s “yes” outburst, which now seems to be in response to being temporarily suppressed with Bloom’s single “yes.” Though it is not wrong for her to repeat yes at least several times in this context (there are several different questions being asked in the memory that Bloom is sharing), the fact that there are seven hints to the reader the sexual aspect of this interaction.
Mahaffey, Vicki. “Ulysses and the End of Gender.” A Companion to James Joyce’s ULYSSES. Ed. Margot Norris. Boston: Bedford, 1998.
Joyce’s description of Gerty MacDowell as well as her interaction with Bloom marks a key moment for discussions of gender and feminism in Ulysses. As Vicki Mahaffey notes at the outset of her essay “Ulysses and the End of Gender,” Joyce will play with the term ‘feminist’ itself in the “Circe” episode. And since it’s Joyce, feminism will be subversively presented “as a paradoxically masculine, action-oriented position” (152).
“What does this mean for Joyce’s attitude for gender?” Mahaffey wonders. She is quick to point out that Joyce was intricately concerned with gender and its implications for how Dubliners lived. In Dubliners itself, Mahaffey talks about how again and again, the sexual desire and general “longing for meaningful connection” of characters are pitted “against the rules of a social system that effectively prohibits relation” (152). As readers, we encounter the societal limits with the characters themselves.
But in Ulysses, Joyce cuts right to the chase. “By composing characters who violate popular preconceptions of what makes men and women admirable,” Joyce forces us to consider the original depictions of strong men and subservient women in a way that can only evoke “the stuff of comedy” when compared to Ulysses(153). Stephen is a prime example: if Stephen is the young male hero of Ulysses, the transmigration of Telemachus, we can only laugh as “a scrawny intellectual who is poor, physically dirty, periodically infested with vermin” is what we get instead.
As for women, Gerty MacDowell is an important character, especially since we know Molly almost solely from her absence. In Gerty, who Mahaffey says “is so thoroughly indoctrinated by the image of the culturally desirable young woman that she cannot own or realize her own desires,” we meet a character that Joyce uses to critique “popular culture’s objectification of the young ‘heroine’” (158). Mahaffey cites two references to Gerty having parallels to Cinderella, as she reportedly has small feet (13.165-67) and has not been granted favorable social status or a good education (13.96-102). However, I feel like Joyce emphasizes how the gender constraints of Gerty’s life detract from her appeal, and we are left to wonder whether she will ever be married. Molly is the obvious contrast to Gerty’s provinciality. Considering Joyce’s highly verbose language that describes Molly’s body in the seventeenth episode, Mahaffey defends Joyce as someone that appreciated “female corporeality,” someone who was not afraid to put these things in print (165).
With the examples of Gerty, Stephen, and Molly, Mahaffey concludes by talking about gender categories as “mixed, controversial, changing, and alive” (168). None of these characters occupy the traditional standard for their roles, and this provides a mood of irregularity and contradiction that Ulysses is constantly exploring.
I want to supplement my obsession post for Monday by taking a look at textual appearances of “yes” in Sirens. We’ve discussed some how these episodes give us a new vantage point on Bloom’s character. More specifically, we see Joyce experimenting with new ways of Bloom being reminded of Molly and Boylan. Certain words become unspeakable (the “tup” example, for one), and we also get the repetition of “jingles” and its linguistic variants. There is tension in the moments when Bloom is reminded of a thought (Molly and Boylan) so devastating to his livelihood, especially when we see him suppress this thought so he can appear composed and businesslike. Relevant questions to consider are the extent to which Bloom is in denial of his situation and how much time he spends negotiating between private acknowledgment and public ignorance.
In Sirens, I think “yes” is functioning as an indicator of the former, of Bloom resigning to the truth. It is worth noting the number of times “yes” follows a mention of Boylan’s jingle, as though the sound Bloom associates with Boylan sets off an unstoppable acknowledgement of Boylan himself, even if it is only for a moment. Simon Dedalus repeats the word twice when he is flirting with Miss Douce, and then Bloom repeats it silently. This has come right after a “jingle” in line 212. Then we get the line, “None nought said nothing. Yes” (224), which is an affirmation of silence and absence, of denying the most important subject. The “Yessex” bit follows this, which I discussed as explicitly linking “yes” with sexual relations. Appropriately, Bloom thinks of writing to Martha next, which is about the most sexual move he can make right now. He even thinks of the girl at Daly’s where he will buy paper, and likes that she’s “civil” (230).
Overall, I think this section gives us an even better idea of how much Bloom is obsessing over his marital problems. It is definitely escalated by the fact that it is four o’clock when this is happening, so if we’re thinking about reasons for Bloom behaving uncharacteristically at the bar, perhaps it is because he needs to let out some kind of honesty and blunt delivery.