Molly’s masquerade

Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 04:35 am Leave a comment

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.

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An end to gifts.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 04:29 am Leave a comment

And thus we reach the end of Ulysses. In my last post, I discussed the function of gifts as representing the various offerings (lifestyle, future) Boylan and Bloom both exhibit for/give to Molly and what she ultimately decides, represented by her acquiescence to make breakfast for Bloom (a gift in it’s own right, with a cherry on top) and the gradual phasing out of Boylan despite his propensity to give many, many gifts. This structuring of gifts in the last episode brings up a continuous theme of opposition and elaboration used by Joyce throughout Ulysses – namely, a structuring of several extreme (in my case, gifts) at the beginning and end of each chapter that the main character must navigate through. Molly does this in Penelope, when she slowly shifts from Boylan, the material-giver, to Bloom, the family/love-giver (commercial/surface pleasure vs emotional). The other times gifts reprise as a structuring device is in Lestrygonians (the birds and the meal), Cyclops (the not-giving) and Nausicaa (the giving respite), and elements of Episodes 1, 2, and 4 (probably more than that).

The structuring aspects of gifts often relate to their ability to characterize, as with Boylan and Bloom in Penelope. Certain exchanges are surface-gifts and reflect negatively on the giver, while some are heart-felt and reflect positively, and some are social, reflecting neither here nor there, but highlighting important expectations the characters of Ulysses’ Dublin operate with. Bad transactions are commercial, with little thought for coming out ahead or being respected in any manner. Characters that adhere to this lifestyle are Mulligan, Boylan, Simon Dedalus, while others engage in this “giving” simply because they have to. Good giving, without thought for the repercussions on oneself or means, is exhibited by Bloom and Stephen (who are both capable of the other giving, as well), though Stephen’s dispensing of money for his “friends” shows how he is casting pearls before swine. Bloom mainly indulges in giving to animals, though Stephen and Molly both feature in his thoughts. Social giving, where it isn’t quite commercial but there is an expectation that the favor given will be repaid at a later date, is utilized by every character encountered in Dublin, with some being more reliable than others in keeping their word.

Aside from this, there are several anomaly gifts. There are “bad” gifts such as diseases and bribes, that come with pain and/or strings attached. An example of these would be the narrator of “Cyclops” suffering from disease and Boylan buying Molly a basket of potted meats while lying about his intentions. There is one example of a consciously ungiven gift that I can think of (there may be others, wasn’t looking for this, it just leaped out since we talked about it): Molly’s gift coat for Rudy. Undelivered to Rudy (while alive), Molly makes a conscious decision (or thinks about it afterwards) to not give the coat to some other child who might need it, but rather uses it to wrap her son’s body up. This tinges of selfishness at first scant scant glance, yet Molly’s dedication to her son heralds ideas of making gifts to the dead – something Stephen is incapable of doing for his mother. Unpack that!


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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Music, Sound and Sensation: A Modern Exposition

Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 02:36 am Leave a comment

Winckel, Fritz. Music, Sound and Sensation: A Modern Exposition. Trans. Thomas Binkley. New York: Dover Publications, 1967. Print.

Fritz Winckel’s Music, Sound and Sensation provides a scientifically rooted though easily accessible analysis of human interaction with sound.  Some of the more interesting and relevant concepts are discussed in the final chapter of the book, “The Effect of Music on the Listener.” One such concept is that music (and sound) only exists through variation—disturbances and modulations.  An example Winckel provides for this concept is the fact that “A continual monotonous hum of a machine in a factory disappears from the consciousness and is noticed only when it is turned off” (157).  This same idea can be applied to Ulysses—if the lyrics to a song appear later, they are inherently linked to the previous occurrence, yet the fact that they have been “turned off” (like the factory noise) only to resume later is also significant.  The fact that certain episodes (Sirens) were so reference-heavy made them overwhelming to pick apart, which following this theory of music as variation, means that each specific reference in Sirens is less significant on its own than a similar reference in a more musically barren episode.

Winckel also provides a differentiation between speech and singing.  He states that: “Singing is the development of utterances of speech into a cultivated sound through the extension of the vowels in time, mostly on a higher pitch level” (159).  There are, of course, more than just two states (singing and speech) present, and the further variation and extension of vowels as well as other factors advance normal speech in varying degrees towards the singing end of the spectrum.

Going back again to Bloom’s concept of “Musemathematics” it turns out that my previous understanding of musical notation, at least in terms of how notes come to sound like notes, was a bit off.  According to Winckel: “. . . the written note value never corresponds accurately to a defined vibration frequency, but rather to a ‘frequency band’ of vibrations, where the written note simply indicates the average pitch” (161).   This would explain the variation in songs as well as understandings of songs, as there exists on the scientific level distinct variations within each note, which is also compounded by acoustical variations both in the environment of the listener, and also within the listener.  This probably would not serve to explain the differing perception of the bells by Stephen and Bloom in Ithaca, but it does bring instances like it into question.

As a final note, the chapter provides an explanation for why music or sound is perceived in a unique way due to interior differences within the listener.  He states: “. . . impulses are not only sent forth through electrochemical transformation, connected with the nerve fibres, but also exist in the form of electrical fields, which go beyond the limits of the individual neurons and influence their excitability positively or negatively . . . which is further influenced by the hormone regulation of the synapses in the transmission network of nerves” (165).  Although this was a long quotation, I found it necessary to include as I lack a firm grasp of anything scientific outside of what I’ve read for my obsession; but what I gather from this is that the experience of a song or sound is absolutely unique to the listener, and in this logic Bloom’s experience in Sirens (recalling past events, etc.) makes perfect sense in that it was patently different from anyone else’s.

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).

consolidated animals

Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 02:17 am Leave a comment

During this semester I’ve tried to discover various trends in the use of animals in Ulysses. Some of the ideas stuck throughout the book, while some were dismissed as the novel continued. In this post I’ll try and recap what ideas I no longer feel are important, and what ones I might wish to continue exploring.

One idea that I futilely tried to push was that Joyce wished to make strong statements regarding animal rights in this novel. While I have found evidence that animal rights activism was growing in Ireland around the time the novel was written, and Joyce apparently was interested to some extent with the treatment of cattle, it seems inconsistent with the rest of the novel that Joyce would be overly concerned with pushing his own political thoughts.

I’ve also tried at various times in the novel to connect characters to one particular animal. While some characters may be associated with some animals more than others, almost none of the characters are attached to just one animal. Consequently, I feel that instead of trying to match each character with one animal, I should look at the collection of animals the character is associated with, and see if the group of animals as a whole provides any insight to the character.

One idea that I haven’t talked about much lately, but I should explore again, is the concept of blending animals with humans. This is a somewhat broad category that includes humans being described with animal features (and vice-versa), and creatures that are part animal and part human. While I’ve been struggling for a long time now trying to figure out why Joyce blends humans and animals together, I feel that it occurs far too often in Ulysses to be ignored.

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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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