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.
Question Addressed: “How do we bridge the difference between the aesthetic and the historical, between the world of the novel and the world the novel claims to represent, without reducing the novel to a simple historical artefact or reifying it into a transcendentally aesthetic object? How to writers like Joyce mediate between word and world, both asserting autonomy and maintaining connection?”
General strategy: Freedman “examine[s] evocations of water and waste in Ulysses – inflows and outflows – as a means of exploring the elusive interplay between world and word, between the historical pipes and privies of turn of the century Dublin and the imagined ones of Joyce’s text… I argue that when Joyce contemplates both of these forms he is speculating on the relationship between aesthetics and history, between artistic and social production” (854).
Freedman begins by discussing water as a “master metaphor for economies of circulation in the novel” (and cites Robert Adam Day, 854), which she then qualifies by citing critic Derek Attridge’s note about the historical complexities/nuances of the text of Ulysses.
Freedman then separates herself from “other critics” (no idea who they are exactly…) who have focused more on “the aesthetic and metaphoric implication of water” – she wants to compare the aesthetic/metaphoric aspects of water to the moment in Ulysses when water flows “through the pipes of… Dublin as Bloom turns his tap”. She then explicitly mentions Frederic Jameson’s apparently famous “Ulysses in History” in which the process by which water flows from the tap is traced; from there, she builds on Dora P. Crouch’s assertion that water drainage systems are synonymous with urbanization/civilization.
The text of this particular section (the reference to the scientific jargon section of “Ithaca”) is compared to Frontinus’s treatise on the aqueducts of 1st century Rome (which highlights the importance of water ways), then back even to the Odyssey itself (in accordance with Fritz Senn) as a text that wanders.
The next section deals with the historical reality behind the text (especially the timely significance of Bloom’s having access to flowing water); Mark Osteen’s observation of Joyce’s historicism “raises the spectre of scarcity and improper usage” of water, which enables Freedman to further frame water as resisting the metaphor, and as evoking commmodification and specificity of time and place.
Freedman segues into a discussion about bathing, Bloom, fertility and menstruation, and hones in on Bloom’s attitude towards water (she says it is “pro-entrepreneurial though anti-corporate”, and only briefly “romantic”); there’s a fair chunk of close reading of the text here. The text of Ulysses is likened then to water, and again to wandering in the Odyssey. The idea of language/writing/the aesthetic as detritus is developed, in contrast to the notion of the body as the “repository of tremendous power”.
She once again grounds textual discussion of Stephen’s hydrophobia in context of Joseph O’Brien’s historical account of turn of the century Dublin’s filthy sewage system; the essay then touches on the idea of WCs/toilets and sewage as “express[ing] and mask[ing] a faecal obsession… [they] allow us to deny the reality of our own shit”. The article closes with a nice summary a la Fritz Senn: “Even as the tour of the water supply of Dublin points us to a certain historical depth in Joyce’s novel… the passage also playfully and paradoxically points to the routes we will not trace, the facts that can not be charted, the truths we can not know” (864).