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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.