Posts Tagged ‘beginnings’

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.


In conclusion

Monday, November 9, 2009; 05:12 am Leave a comment

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.

Do the time warp!

Monday, November 2, 2009; 05:15 am Leave a comment

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.

More tomorrow…


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.


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Interesting States… an article by Edna Duffy

Wednesday, October 28, 2009; 05:39 am Leave a comment

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.

The Decomposing form of Joyce’s Ulysses by Henry Staten

Wednesday, October 14, 2009; 03:57 am Leave a comment

It’s a pretty long, complex article, so at the risk of being overly reductive (actually, I don’t think there’s anyway I can avoid reductiveness), I’ll try to sum it up as best I can.

Thesis:  “What is in question here is, rather, the movement of form-making and of the dissolution of form that is the common matrix of text and body. […]  What seems clear is that Ulysses achieves some of its most characteristic effects by pressing the internal logic of mimesis to the limit, above all through onomatopoeia, which manifests itself in a peculiarly condensed way the self-contradictory character of the realist project” (380-81)

Staten addresses some of the ideas (and a lot of the obsessions) we’ve been sort of circling about in class – waste, in/out, death/sex, self/anxiety of individuation: “And this ruin of form reverberates at every level of Ulysses as the undoing of all ontological security and the unleashing of the anxiety of individuation. How this anxiety, linked at one pole to onomatopoeia and the ruin of mimetic form, is linked at the other pole to the fear of infidelity is the substance of my argument” (381).

Staten first focuses on onomatopoeia (esp Stephen’s wavespeech in “Proteus”: “seesoo, hrss, rsseeiss, ooos” (3.457)) as signature, a medium through which one might attempt to access the referent (in this case, the sound of the waves), but through which (as the logic of onomatopoeias operates) direct access to the referent is impossible. Staten, referencing the repeated use of onomatopoeia in “Sirens” (and, y’know, all those other instances where Joyce uses onomatopoeia), argues that part of Joyce’s project in the composition of Ulysses is to decompose the mimesis of language.

He pulls tons of examples where Joyce’s imitations/rearrangements of letters and syntax reach beyond imitation and double back on themselves in a kind of deconstructive way, such as the un-pronounceable “Mkgnao”, “Mn”, “Sllt”… Then he ties in, with these self-deconstructive onomatopoeias, ideas of infidelity (to mimetic language, and Molly), self-cannibalism, and (Staten’s words) the “sacramentalization of shit” (384). Staten sees Joyce as prescient of the ideas Derrida later expounds.

Symmetry: Staten asserts that the “principles of reversal and reversibility condense the signification of death in Ulysses” (383), and draws on the idea of reversibility of doubling in Ulysses, most textually prominent in instances when Joyce “for no apparent reason” repeats an active sentence in passive form: “Grossbooted draymen rolled barrels dullthudding… dullthudding barrels rolled by grossbooted draymen…” (7.21-23); we get more doubling and doubling back on self: active/passive, eater/eaten (8.~123), act/acted on (Shakespeare) and ultimately (stemming from all this), ties with the Eucharist (with eating, and adjectives that couch other humans in terms of their edibility – “hams”). These symmetries eventually bring Staten to tying beginning/ending with sacrament/shit (we haven’t quite gotten here in the text, but Bloom’s fixation on Molly’s posterior serves as a kind of precursor for the eventual meeting of the in/out holes).

More on onomatopoeia: later (ep.17), with Bloom’s anagrammatic play on his own name, Staten raises (again) the disintegration of mimesis via words and even alphabet, and raises the idea of narrative as likewise being able to be rearranged (at almost random) to be something else entirely (he calls it “alphabetic combinatorium”, p. 386).

Infidelity apparently makes “one feel so imminently contingent and replaceable, this circumstance sets off an anxiety of nonbeing that resonates with the pain of death” (387). And then there’s this stuff about Aristotle’s ineluctable modality/doctrine of possibility. Which Stephen is especially concerned with, and which Bloom becomes tied into (with his dead son Rudy, who does not exist)… so eventually, (I’m skipping so much, sorry!) because Stephen identifies as Bloom’s surrogate son, there’s an overwhelming anxiety from both parties about the fragility of existence (although Staten articulates that it is “grief” where Bloom is concerned).

Okay, I’m going to update this post on either Thursday or Friday, because it is so dense, and this is an extremely inadequate summary.

Sirens, perpetual motion machines

Monday, October 12, 2009; 08:14 am Leave a comment

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)

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Beginnings and endings in Aeolus and Laestrygonians (more to come later…)

Monday, September 28, 2009; 03:14 am Leave a comment

Since my last post touched on the major permutations of my obsession during Episodes 4-6, I’d like to spend this post looking mostly at Aeolus and the Laestrygonians.

Given the theme of the chapter, frustration near an intended destination, Episode 6 is short on endings. In lieu of conclusiveness, however, we get a lot of mixed up, foreshortened paths and trajectories that call into question the concept of beginnings.

The Episode itself begins at Nelson’s pillar, where trams depart for a number of different destinations, calling our attention to the notion of departure. Yet, once off its feet, we find the episode doesn’t really go anywhere. Bloom makes his “round” (96) of the newspaper office with little success at attaining his goal. Doors appear everywhere but their functions as entrances and/or exits is rarely distinguishable (“Way in. Way out” (97)). The notion of circularity crops up again, with references to newspaper circulation, the re-printing of “stale news” (98), and the repetition of speeches that may or may not bear repeating. The chapter also has its share of word play, riddles, words rearranged backwards and forwards, and caricature (particularly of Bloom), all of which trouble notions of authenticity, meaning, and origination.

Joyce’s re-use of H.G. Wells critique of Portrait of the Artist, “cloacal obsession,” (108), works towards a similar end. A reproduction of  a piece of criticism that we can assume Joyce knew well enough at the time of writing Ulysess was crap.

Even the idea of the Roman Empire as a network of sewers suggests an end that is not one. Excrement becomes another substance for transport, and transmission (i.e through news).

Stifled entrance also abounds in the chapter. There is Crawford’s struggle to open the door to his office with the keys. Bloom blocks doors, offices have inner offices thwarting entrance to ultimate destinations. We could add to this list Bloom’s ad proposal, which never makes it to the presses, and which Bloom persistently prefaces with jerky introductions (“Excuse me, councilor, he said. This ad, you see. Keyes, you remember,” (99).