Pretending in “Penelope”: Masquerade, Mimicry, and Molly Bloom
By Kimberly J. Devlin
This article contends that Molly cannot be reduced to a stereotypical or archetypal representation of femininity because of her consistent acting out, flouting, and mimicry of gender roles.
Although the corroborating evidence is at times less than pointed, Devlin’s exposition of the critical intricacies embedded within Molly’s thought is worth its salt.
First off, Devlin argues that Molly appears to recognize the signifying practices that construct gender identification. Clothing, gender roles, (i.e. “prima donna,” (896), “criada,” etc.), gestural actions all become emblems in her mind not so much of reified gender categories as of fluid and inhabitable positionalities, where meaning assembles through performance (artifice/culture) rather than innate action (essence/nature).
For instance Molly often imagines inhabiting the feminine role in popular songs, theatrical texts, and other cultural artifacts. Yet this mimicry, Devlin argues, extends beyond sheer narcissistic or essentialized feminine identification. When Molly imagines herself as the “aestheticized female nude”, for example, her supposedly spontaneous leaps in consciousness reveal submerged critical processes. The leap that Devlin attaches to is the one where Molly envisions herself first in the painting “The Bath of the Nymph” and immediately thereafter as the “dirty bitch” in one of Bloom’s smutty photos. For Devlin, this leaps exposes that Molly is conscious of the “sexual impetus behind seemingly ‘refined’ artistic representations of the female [form]” as well as, of the fact that there are “real women behind the representation,” and women often forced into the occupation of artist’s model out of “economic need” (76).
Devlin goes on to cite numerous occasions in which Molly flouts or performs the social functions of femininity with “critical distance”. Ultimately, however, Devlin’s commentary doesn’t address the way Joyce’s formal decisions and anti-intellectual characterizations of Molly could in fact serve to reify gender dichotomies. There doesn’t seem to be much evidence that Joyce sees Molly’s epistemological techniques as the result of socialization, or is there?
Overall an alright article although I think it would benefit from a little more theoretically engaged dialogue with structuralist discourse.
In Penelope we get Molly’s interpretation of what I see as three of the most prevalent cyclical allegories for teleological processes (histories?) in Ulysses: foot to mouth, mouth to bottom, and of course procreative sex/intercourse.
FOOT TO MOUTH
It seems that Molly shares with Stephen an aversion to the pairing of feet and mouths, in the literal and figurative senses. Not only does she resent Bloom’s rather unconventional sleeping style, “his big square feet up in his wifes mouth,” she also plainly rejects the evasive self-denial that carves the circuitous routes of Bloom and Stephen’s wandering internal monologues. It seems no coincidence that it is in Molly’s nearly a-syntactic interior language that the text becomes most sexually explicit and revelatory of many previously ambiguous narrative events (though Joyce may also be working against this assumption as well). Molly obviously feels no impulse to obfuscate intentions or actions, and scoffs at the doctor’s word “omission”, a signifier most notably attached to adultery (through Bloom’s preoccupation with Molly potentially having a STD).
MOUTH TO BOTTOM
It is harder to say Molly’s exact opinion of this setup, although it is in some way connected to the notion of “omission” as a signifier of the negative capacity of masculine emission. This relation is particularly evident in Molly’s fantastic (as in the adjective form of the noun fantasy) seduction of Bloom. Here, the mouth to bottom kissing of Molly’s “brown part” acts as an intermediary transaction leading to Molly’s monetary benefit (“then Ill tell him I want £1”) as well as another of Bloom’s most masturbatory moments (“Ill let him do it off on me behind”), which subsequently ends in the now explicitly negative and commercialized climax (“Ill wipe him off me just like a business his omission then Ill go out,”) (642). In this economy, Bloom, as he has many times before, acts as the ultimate consumer, continuing processes beyond their predestined point of expiration (i.e. the end of the digestive tract “lick my shit”, the bottom of the pot “he goes and burns the bottom out of the pan all for his Kidney,” the grave (?) after all Bloom is at this point both asleep and a specter of Molly’s phantasmal sexual realization) and benefiting from them? (Couldn’t we say that Molly’s sexual fantasies are at this point the after-glow of her still fresh memories of an afternoon with Boylan?)
Since I’m running out of room and time I will update this portion tomorrow on the blog and in class.
Preparatory to any more intellectually and energetically invested discussion of Ithaca, which may itself have to remain unfortunately abiding by the wayside until a fullproper update this coming Wednesday, I’d like to expend the greater bulk of tonight’s updating textual examination on the endlessly anticlimactic episode name of Eumaeus.
Eumaeus is a wasteland where we should find shelter after merciless Circe. Joyce plays off this assumption in many ways. First off, Joyce satirizes the typical novel denouements of temperance, marriage, triumphant return, and reunion:
-Temperance: Stephen ungracefully sobers up after the harrying events outside the brothel.
-Marriage: The episode labors over Parnell’s fraught liaison and subsequent marriage to Kitty O’Shea, among other tales of widows, ill-fated husbands, and the ominous notion of second marriages.
-Triumphant return: The sailor and numerous maritime yarns about frustrated homecomings appear throughout the episode. There is also the story of the supposedly sabotaged harbor (a disappointed pier?), which serves as another image of discouraged arrival, i.e. un-safe harbor.
-Reunion: Stephen and Bloom’s (re)union is pathetic. Bloom’s didactic rationalism falls on Stephen’s deaf and apparently annoyed/suspicious ears (“Sound are impostures” (5090)). The organ “nerves” is conveyed through Bloom’s nervous sermonizing and discoursing which appears increasingly tactless, lonely, and even predatory given Stephen’s state, as the episode goes on.
Secondly, the theme of exhaustion, especially of resources monetary, intellectual, and sexual, adds to the episode’s anti-climactic mood. Bloom, who we know to be susceptible to bodily depletion resulting from sexual emission, verbally ejaculates on multiple occasions in suggestion of his intellectual fatigue. Moreover, the narrative itself obviously lags and stock phrases, most notably “up to the hilt” (stick in the mud?), “point of fact,” and “pure and simple,” repeat throughout. References to Stephen’s monetary expenditures, and other instances of general “squandermania” introduce themes parallel to exhaustion such as regret, excess, and compulsion.
Thirdly, rumors, libel, misnomers, apocrypha, and mysteries become examples of the ultimate inconclusiveness of knowledge (perhaps specifically knowledge transmitted through text/speech). The newspaper “Insuppressible” acts as an apt symbol for the incessantly aroused organ of the press. Another image of ending flow is the sailor’s “libation-cum-potation” which for me conjures an analogy to the female chalice (empty vessel), the directive though ultimately impotent empty hose.
Hopefully I can provide a useful summation of these points of evidence in class tomorrow, but for now I’ll leave things inconclusive.
In the Circe episode we find ourselves in somewhat nightmarish, liminal space, and appropriately beginnings and endings collide, overlap, and fuse.
-The episode’s form itself, the bad-trip hallucinatory tracking-shot pastiche, conjures the many frightening possibilities of such a space where past, present and forecasted future join together. Bloom’s recollections of the day, events ostensibly “ended”, drift back into consciousness, mutated by temporal estrangement. Narratives of “atavism” (378), “latency” (402), and superstition-as-predestination (“Don’t fall upstairs” (409)) crop up to underscore Bloom’s wariness of this uncontrollable estrangement from and attachment to the past, as well as to convey his hopeless apprehensions about the future.
-With each hallucination time consciousness nauseously expands and recedes. We are in the middle portion of the book and suddenly pulled by both extremes. In this Joyce finds an excuse for action to drag to halt.
-Characters confuse teleological notions of journey: “stop that and begin worse,” (408), “you might go farther and fare worse,” (388).
-We are denied apocalyptic or beatific consummation: “THE END OF THE WORLD: Wha’ll dance the keel row, the keel row, the keel row?” (414). -Bloom bumbles jumbled chronology: “But tomorrow is a new day will be..” (420). Stephen too, “in the beginning was the word, in the end the world without end,” (415).
…And much more!
The result is dizzying, carnivalesque intransigence. We are left in the lurch between, at the crux of, in the nowhere that is, beginnings and endings.
The end of Circe is strikingly end-ful for all the un-ending, beginning, and re-beginning that Joyce presents hitherto. Chandeliers crash, punches are threatened and even climactically thrown, and rumps jumping abound. Yet, as we were warned in class, Joyce’s sleight-of-hand continues. Most notably, of course, is Bloom’s dip back into reverie at the very end of the chapter. Although he has enacted a swift bit of social maneuvering on the police, the soldier, and Corny Kelleher, and whisked Stephen away from Johnny law in un-Bloom-ish style, this confident self-assertion drifts out of the picture once again as he gazes at un-conscious Stephen. Startlingly this conclusion not only refuses to tie off Bloom’s emotional turmoil but also introduces a new dimension to his struggle: (what seems to be) honest regret.
Similarly Bloom’s masochistic sexual fantasy transmogrifies from sexual to emotional humiliation, without reaching an anticipated consummation. Instead of the other sort of sopping, Bloom winds up soiled with tears, a rather virginal form of expiation that seems underwhelming in the face of what precedes it. The nymph episode as well, which begins with the empathetic Nymph’s “Nay, dost not weepest,” nearly culminates in a violent act castration.
Joyce appears to be challenging the trajectories of both the so called sexual and spiritual, as sexual dissidence ends in and a brief moment of regret and psychological lucidity, and spiritual loftiness winds up in trenchant sexual violence.
Interesting States: Birthing and the Nation in “Oxen of the Sun” by Edna Duffy, found in Ulysses—En-Gendered Perspective, Ed. Kimberly J. Devlin and Marilyn Reizbaum
Although this article for some reason appeared a bit cyclical to me, it nonetheless pricked my fancy, and had some compelling points about the relationship between birth, Irish nationalism, stylistic shifts, and masculine identity in “Oxen of the Sun”.
To wrangle up the straggling theses roaming around, Duffy’s focal points line up something like this:
Uno: Joyce presents many masculine narratives about birth, or related to birth, as a way of illuminating just how “bleak,” impotent, oppressive masculine regimes are when it comes to narrativizing the (material) (corporeal) (contemporary) (productive) act of birth itself.
Dos: In so doing Joyce undermines the viability of motherhood as a symbol of Irish nationalism.
Tres: In so doing Joyce exposes the shaky grounds of masculine identity in the face of non-symbolic femininity, i.e. birth.
Cuatro: Previous Joyce critics have overlooked the importance of Joyce’s satirical stylistic shifts and subsequently failed to address the way these parodies function to undermine the ideological positions of both figures both within the text and without.
Duffy’s evidence… There is a birth occurring and yet conversation only eclipses this central fact. Moreover, conversation jumps from one masculine narrative of birth to another, “religious motifs” to “quasi-scientific thinking”, all of which fly in the face of the purely symbolic nationalist notions of motherhood (notions of motherhood which routinely focus on maternal influence rather than birth as national production), and are considerably satirized stylistically and contextually (217). Are we supposed to take seriously Buck’s insemination station? Do we believe Stephen when he adopts the “spoiled priest” persona and avows himself an equal to Buck Mulligan, Lenehan and others on the scale of single-minded masculinist boasting (224)?
In the midst of these immature and obviously hollow-witted ramblings, Stephen and Bloom both embody (or present an attempt to embody) a new form of masculinity, a masculinity postcreation (225). For Stephen this means an escape from the “paterfamilias model of male worth” into a visionary poetic model, (one which Vincent Lynch seems to anxiously await). For Bloom, it means an escape from the nostalgic, “backward looking” fatherhood of loss and lack born with the death of a male heir (225).
This attempt to provide an alternative model of masculinity is pressed home by the stylistic (and thereby ideological) shifts that occur throughout the episode and fail again and again, even when satirically yoked by Joyce’s well-tested hand, to present a masculine voice capable of reckoning with the act of birth taking place upstairs
I know I didn’t get to all the theses I outlined above, but as this is getting long and late, I’ll try to provide some more evidence in class tomato. All in all a fine article I give it a 7 and 5/8.
Chapter 11 adds many layers and novel symbols to my obsession. Too numerous to be enumerated here, however, I’ll fire them off with some titbits of analysis in the hopes that we can elaborate upon them in class:
-Musical refrains and echoes.
-Joyce’s language in the Sirens episode constantly repeats itself. Meaning snowballs in never-ending assemblages of images, thematic elements, and symbols.
-The perpetual refrain of gold and bronze, representative of the ages preceding Homer’s, suggest the circular procession of antiquity, constantly renewing itself, refilling the cups (chalices) with fresh drink for any and all takers.
-Bloom finds himself slighted by a parroting blackbird: “Taking my motives he twined and turned them. All most too new call is lost in all. Echo. How sweet the answer. How is that done? All lost now” (224). The phrasing here rings of betrayal, a theme of the episode, and itself an echo of sorts—a twining and turning, libeling and returning of motives that anticipates the citizen’s slanderous interactions with Bloom in the following episode.
-Shakespeare’s daily quotations speak to the banal and quotidian nature of meaningless repetition.
-Salesmen make dear with used goods (“Chap sold me the Swedish razor he shaved me with” (238)). Things—instruments [melodeon, an elongated melon?], voices [Dollard and Dedalus return from the dead through song], characters [the stripling, and deaf Pat make their rounds]—bob and resurface on various seas: time, the free market, Dublin.
-The phrase “Done. / Begin!” (212) sums the chapter neatly. A finish is only an end and so on and so forth.
-Kennedy broken in two describes the circularity of perception. Ken = “one’s range of knowledge or sight” and eddy = “a circular movement of water”. (That this little word play re-calls the Charybdis imagery of the previous chapter solidifies the idea that the knowledge of Ulysses is repetitive and compounding.)
-Bloom eats liver again, only with added accompaniment, bacon and Goulding, and even reminisces on Molly while doing so (“Mrs. Marion. Met him pike hoses. Smell of burn. Of Paul de Kock” (221).
-“Woman. Sauce for the gander” (229) the latter part is somewhat of a tautology.
All in all in all, it seems that Joyce’s land of the Sirens is dangerous indeed. A place where nearly a month’s worth of cocks crow and yet nothing changes. Echoes of anguish and loss reverberate in Old Irish ditties, waiting waiters wait, and Bloom mulls on Molly world without end.
With this update I’d like to briefly outline the Platonic notion of extramission as it relates to issues of origination, Hellenism, Hebraism, and the gaze.
Basically, the Platonic notion of extramission states that the eye was made up of the same substance as the sun and consequently, both emit and receive rays of light.
This dialectic of sight is interesting in terms of the Sirens episode, for many reasons. First of all, it necessarily entails a merging of the subject (viewer) and the object (viewed), a merger that occurs throughout the Sirens episode, perhaps most poignantly in Bloom’s melancholy moment with his empty plate: “Bloom askance over liverless saw.” (224).
Here, Bloom’s gaze doesn’t merely pass over the liverless vicissitudes of the dish, it becomes those vicissitudes, converting his very physiognomy into the “face of the all is lost,” (224). The significance of this pathetic collapse of self and other, for both Bloom’s relation to origination and the divide between Hellenism and Hebraism is manifold.
For one, Bloom’s gaze, unlike Boylan’s, exhibits a noteworthy penchant for subordination. Whereas the “smitting light” of Boylan’s “spellbound eyes” menaces the barmaids chasing them around the bar, dominating and dazzling them, Bloom’s eyes can barely penetrate an empty bit of dish-ware without becoming entangled. This susceptibility to visual emanations, and more specifically the symbolic potential of such emanations not only connects Bloom to Stephen, who often loses himself in his own associative powers, but also to Hebraism, and, more obliquely, Protestantism.
According to theorist Martin Jay, if Hellenic culture is decidedly a visual one (ocularcentric), Hebraism is decidedly textual (or ocularphobic), grounded as it is in the Word of God. Moreover, in response to the often captivating power of visual spectacle, think of Aaron and the Golden Ox, Judaism, and to a certain extent Protestantism, each came to contain a strain of antagonism towards visual regimes of representation. Bloom’s connection to Hebraism in this sense is established both through his constant affiliation with written word in the Sirens episode (i.e. the blotting pad), and more importantly through his sensitivity to visual cues (i.e. the plate, alluring visions of women). Bloom’s wandering gaze and finesse within the visual/textual regime of advertising, however, trouble this connection.
To relate this all back to my obsession, it would seem that Bloom’s gaze, unlike those of Blazes Boylan (remember eye = blazing sun), and George Lidwell (eyelidwell? are eyes sitting in lid wells?), does not operate through pure extramission. Rather Bloom seems acutely aware of the “object’s” return of the gaze. Bloom puns on this knowledge multiple times in Sirens, for example: “Woman. Sauce for the gander” (229) and later “She looked fine,” and “Nature woman half a look,” (233-234), which suggest women’s capability of returning the gaze. Once again Bloom flaunts teleological origination. Moreover, whereas Boylan’s gaze plummets dangerously towards Bronze and Gold’s “pinnacles” of hair, Bloom’s remains more or less safe from such treacherous visions.
Things to think about: Mass as a Catholic visual spectacle, Protestantism and Hebraism tied together as textual cultures; synaesthetics in Siren’s
Anagram: Lydia = Daily = Daily Douce = Daily Double (Horse racing term meant to bet on two races consecutively)
Teleology, Monocausality, and Marriage in Ulysses by Robert Spoo
A couple useful points in this somewhat pointless, certainly redundant, article:
1. The primacy of the self in terms of teleology
In class Monday, I tried in vain to articulate what I felt to be a growing primacy of the self occurring in “Scylla and Charybdis.” Leave it to Robert Spoo to do a better job, sort of.
For Spoo, this primacy, or what he refers to as “the self traversing itself in order to become itself,” is linked to the Aristotelian notion of entelechy (442). Unlike, teleology, which shares the root word telos, meaning perfection or end, entelechy does not entail the “subordination of all entities to a single end or purpose,” (443). Rather, entelechy, the individual’s quest for perfection, is essentially aimless, or has no essential aim, and this assuredly has ramifications in terms of memory and history.
Without this aim one becomes responsible not simply for recording history as a general culmination of consequential events but rather for re-calling the “seemingly negligible minutiae” that take place within and without the “pre-established” framework that history implies (444). For example, Stephen’s theory of Ann Hathaway’s more-than-insignificant role in Shakespeare’s life, and in fact the entirety of Ulysses, both of which take into account supposedly dispensable information without imbuing the narrative with any totalizable and reductive meaning.
2. Monocausality and responsibility
According to Spoo, the patently teleological notion of “woman as monocause of all subsequent woes is a major theme in Ulysses” (449). We see this in Stephen’s theory about Hamlet’s connection to Ann Hathaway, Bloom’s preoccupation with Molly’s adulterous relationship with Boylan, and the haunting presence of May Dedalus (Stephen’s mother). Yet, this monocausal relationship, Spoo argues, is constantly complicated. For instance, the phrase “a man of genius makes no mistakes,” seems to imply that the “wounds” inflicted by Ann Hathaway contributed to Shakespeare’s genius as much as anything else (← is this a salient argument Mr. Spoo?). Moreover, Bloom begins to take notice of his “responsibility” for the “sundering” of his marriage with Molly (← is this a useful argument Mr. Spoo?). And finally, May Dedalus, supposedly a metaphor for history, who by virtue of her “figural status, can never project history itself as a monocause,” (451).
3. Marriage: a novel denouement
As we are all well aware, marriage often serves as telos of the modern novel. As we are also aware, Ulysses tends to funk with convention. Therefore, despite the implication that Bloom and Stephen will find themselves impalmed when all is said and done, Ulysses may in fact lead elsewhere. At this point Spoo launches into his analysis of the strange match image from Aeolus (i.e. “that striking of that match, that determined the whole aftercourse of both our lives” (7.763-65)). For him this match is the wedding of teleology and monocausality as both the “event towards which the novel moves and the origin of ‘the whole aftercourse’ of Stephen and Bloom,” (452). The most interesting connections here include tying the striking of the match (also known as a vesta) to Stephen’s vestal virgins, Bloom’s Matcham’s Masterstroke, and several exchanges of cigarettes. In the case of the vestal virgins, Stephen’s story is notably pointless, therefore non-teleological; Bloom’s creative response to Masterstroke is simply evening colors tacked together (‘pink, then golden, then grey, then black”) and therefore also non-teleological; and Spoo sort of loses track of the cigarettes.
At any rate, things to think about include: marriage as thwarted denouement, issues of responsibility as they relate to historical memory, and the mounting complexity of causality (tracing the threads that knit together the day).