Motherhood in the End

Monday, November 16, 2009; 03:11 pm Leave a comment

The final chapter of this book seems to place the emphasis regarding women’s reproductive capacity on its ability to give pleasure (and be pleasurable) vs. its ability to produce children. Molly spends almost the entire chapter reminiscing on and yearning for pleasure none of which come from the sanctioned means of her husband. She thinks about her earlier adulterous rendezvous with Boylan, “I wish he was here or somebody to let myself go with and come again like that I feel all fire inside me.” She also thinks about her ability to independently gain pleasure through masturbation, even describing her use of a banana at one point.

Finally the later part of this chapter focuses on menstruation, not as some romanticized proof of female reproductive potential but as a terrible burden that impedes sexuality. Furthermore it provides proof of unfulfilled reproduction of non-motherhood. “O patience above its pouring out of me like the sea anyhow he didn’t make me pregnant as big as he is,” Molly thinks (633.)

In class on Mon. we talked about Molly’s separation from motherhood/ maternity and its genesis in Rudy’s death.  “I suppose I oughnt to have buried him in that little woolly jacket I knitted crying as I was but give it to some poor child but I knew well I d never have another our 1st death too it was we were never the same since O Im not going to think myself into the glooms about that any more, “ (640.) Instead of this conception of a Molly simply disinterested in mothering we realize a Molly still very much affects/ in denial of the death of her son.  However we see Molly maintaining the connection between herself and the bovine (like Bloom) instead of the equine (like Boylan.) After the Rudy’s birth partly because he’s not there to suckle, she produces an incredible quantity of milk. She literally begins fulfill the role of a commercial milk producer. Bloom milks her into his tea stating that “it was sweeter and thicker that cows” (621.) When Boylan slaps her on her bottom she reprimands him “Im not a horse or an ass am I” (610.) Despite her burying of the wool sweater she continues to feel a connection to the procreative nature of sex (partially because the absence of this connection (at least nominally) would link her to prostitution.)

Molly seems to feel almost shock yet she thinks “what was the good in going into mourning for what was neither one thing nor the other the first cry was enough for me I heard the deathwatch to ticking in the wall” (637.) I thought that this quote makes an interesting comment on the female/ mother ability to understand life and death realistically. As an intermediary between life and death, Molly unlike Bloom recognizes that her child’s feebleness.

Given these bovine illusions I kind of want to talk about Molly’s continual connection of herself with the butcher. On page 626, for example, she thinks “I never thought that would be my name Bloom when I use to write it in print to see how it looked on a visiting car or practicing for the butcher.”

I didn’t feel like we fully teased out the significance of Molly’s the potentially Oedipal relationship between herself and Stephan. We talked about it as another form of mixing the generations.

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Derrida’s thoughts on Ulysses

Monday, November 16, 2009; 09:40 am Leave a comment

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.

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Update on Penelope, the beginnings of some ending thoughts on my obsession

Monday, November 16, 2009; 06:46 am Leave a comment

Update: Penelope

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.


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).


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.

Broad Broad Overview/Penelope’s Father

Monday, November 16, 2009; 06:43 am Leave a comment

Broad overview of Fatherhood:

Stephen obsesses over his mother but there is little or no mention of his father.  Bloom thinks about himself as a father, what that means, and what makes or doesn’t make him a father.  Stephen argues about the consubstantiality of father and son.  Then we get the elevation of androgynous production. Then we see in Eumaeus and Ithaca the actual existence of a father-son relationship.  We see that unfold.  In Penelope something weird happens.  Molly romanticizes her father.  She seems to have made him the epitome of manhood.  She thinks about Bloom “I wish hed even smoke a pipe like father to get the smell of a man”  A good man in her mind is a man like her father.

It’s weird that Molly has this view of fatherhood.  I’m not sure what to do with this.  What does this have to do with her marriage? With her feelings about Rudy? about Stephen? about Milly?  What does this do to our perceptions of Molly? Also, I think there’s more to fatherhood in this episode than just this romanticization of her father… but I’ll try to add more about that when I know more after class on Monday and another read through.

Institutional Disbelief

Monday, November 16, 2009; 05:16 am Leave a comment

Ah, the soul. For once someo0ne with clear ideas set down on paper that doesn’t involve a lot of guess work, and reading for secret Freudian imagery. I suspect that Joyce is trying to toss something over my head that I simply will not notice because I was too busy being happy with Molly’s directness.

Comparing what she has to say about Catholicism to what Lotus-Eaters was hinting at with the power structure of Joyce’s Ireland, I’m glad to say that Molly seems to be pretty consistent. Molly’s belief in God is absolute, but she clearly does not have much use for the institution of the church. At the very beginning of the chapter, she discredits the masses said for the soul after death, in her dismissal of Mrs. Riordan (608.5-11). The scene is interesting as the rejection of masses as selfishly spending money on yourself rather than giving to those who have been good to you on earth is a highly Protestant idea. However, Mrs. Riordan, the “greatest miser ever was actually afraid to lay out 4d for her methylated spirit,” becomes a Catholic’s caricature of Protestantism, the miser too busy saving money to be concerned for the safety of their soul (608.6-7).

Again, there is the reinforcement that religion is a thing for women and the elderly, as Molly’s recollections of Church are almost never personal recollections of Mass, or feast day, but associations with the older women in her life. The Spanish servant (?) Mrs. Rubio turns Catholicism into a mechanism of superiority and judgment, a tool of oppression in her hands. However, “with all her religion domineering,” Mrs. Rubio is actually disarmed by Britain, acting in this instance as an unusual savior for Molly (624.753-754). Mrs. Rubio, after all “could not get over the Atlantic fleet coming in half the ships of the world and the Union Jack flying with all her carabineros because 4 drunken English sailors took all the rock from them” (624.754-625.756). Molly, half Irish, half Jewish, half Spanish, fully Catholic, is associated with the conquering Protestant English by the domineering Rubio. On a literal level because her father was with the British Army, but also because Molly is not willing to bend under the full Catholic sanctity. Mrs. Rubio becomes the institution, angry, flaunted at the way the English have taken Ireland from her, but ultimately she is useless. Baleful to those who flirt with British norms, like Molly, but incapable of getting them to “run to mass in Santa Maria to please her” (625.757).

Of course, Molly will not run to the mass because she does not believe that there is a real need to constantly be cloistered within the ritual and ceremony of the Church. Indeed, Molly is exasperated by the need for some of the most important rituals, echoing Gerty as she dis approves of priestly interference between herself and the divine: “what did he want to know for, when I had already confessed it to God?” (610.114). Molly’s statement is more clear than the girlish Gerty’s mis-interpretation of major sin and confession (300). This is a fully experienced person’s opinion of the Church institutions, and again there is a strange Protestant-Catholic dichotomy to her thoughts. Molly’s objection to Father Corrigan could be a Protestant refusal of the intercessor, or it could be skeptical Catholicism taking a look at corruption within the church. Molly, still retaining her interest in Father Corrigan, at least as a sexual partner (610.119-120), gives the corruption argument more weight, as she wishes to indulge that corruption, rather than turning away in prim disgust. She notices that the Father will not look at her, so possibly he does not know who she is out of the hundreds he hears confessions from, which allows him the sanctity of his office (610. 116). Molly’s opions about “bullneck[s] in horse collars” are her own invention superimposed on the image of the priest (610.116). Even then, her imagination does not give him an active role. Father Corrigan she suspects of being impure, but she does not fantasize that he will act on that impurity.

Molly is a good Catholic. She believes in the soul and God, just not the institution. Admittedly it could be argued that Catholicism is nothing without the Mother Church and respect for Papal decisions, yet Molly affirms Catholicism with her thoughts, and keeps her respect even when paired with skepticism. Her balanced religion is a pure relief after Stephen’s circular thoughts, and Bloom’s cloudy confusion. Molly becomes the perfect example of the moderate religion, that influences, but does not drive or define one’s actions.

Unanswered things:

– The Virgin Mary’s place in the Trinity (not Catholic doctrine, obviously, but I feel that it should be connected somehow, from all the crazy connections that we’ve had throughout the book).

– Irish Nationalism and the Catholic Church (the scene with Mrs. Rubio was useful, but did not really add anything to previous knowledge. There hasn’t been much of this since Cyclops, and I was hoping for more of a revelation than the fact that Joyce does not think that a religious identity should be super imposed upon the racial identity if there even is such a thing).

Penelope’s (lack of) Questions

Monday, November 16, 2009; 04:27 am Leave a comment

Okay so the Penelope piece of this update is pretty obvious, because there are no questions in the episode!  Well, there might have been one or two, but without question marks I’m not counting them.  As for what this indicates, since this is the first (and last) purely female perspective we’ve had in the novel, there are two ways to treat it.  The first is this lack of questions being representative of women in general, which would denote a surety lacking among the men of Ulysses.  If Molly is to be the representative for her sex in this regard, we can say with a degree of certainty (and as usual with Joyce it’s a small degree) that the lack of questions for the only female in the book gives women a stronger presence than the surface misogyny that some read in Ulysses implies.  If Molly is only representative of herself, however, we can read the lack of questions as another piece in the puzzle of her relationship with Bloom.  Molly is sure of what she wants, and has little pondering to do; she has by and large figured herself out.  The issue is that Bloom is so full of questions and uncertainty that he is the one hurting the marriage, and if he were to rise to Molly’s level of confidence their relationship would be in better shape.  This being Ulysses, I’m going to take the middle ground on this one and say that the lack of questions probably represents both of the ideas I’ve discussed, and furthermore that it probably has many more implications than the ones I’ve addressed.

As for questions as a whole in Ulysses now that we’ve finished the novel, I suppose I’ll sum up my thoughts on questions even though it’ll be a bit repetitious from the last time I did this (since Ithaca was the real climax of my obsession).  Questions begin as useless, having no direct answers and giving no information.  They then shift in the middle of the book to getting answered, but information is still lacking.  By Ithaca of course, we have an overload of information that we have to swim through to get any real meaning.  And then there’s Penelope, with no questions and yet a fully functional narrative.  Taken altogether then (I’m going to assume an authoritative voice here despite the inherent lack of certainty when dealing with Ulysses), Joyce is discounting the “common sense” conception of questions as dealing with information.  Instead, questions in Ulysses function by turns as greetings and formalities, rhetorical devices to further one’s own argument, meaningless time-consumers, and when finally they do serve the traditional role of information givers they do so in an overwrought manner that makes it difficult to obtain real meaning.  Joyce thus echoes the theme he has been pursuing throughout the novel, that being an ongoing mission to undermine tradition.  Questions are meant to equalize the playing field among people by equalizing the amount of information available to everyone, but Joyce demonstrates in Ulysses that questions are more often than not devices used to establish power relationships, whether between characters or between novel and reader.

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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