Indeed, the climax of my obsession in Ulysses occurs in Penelope when Molly says “lick my shit” (642). This is the point of no return, where the fine line that may or may not have existed between ingestion and excretion is completely obliterated. I must admit I’ve shied away from the economic nature of this moment (brought up briefly in class discussion) but I will also admit that this passage is the one that I simply cannot ignore any longer. The fierce intertwining of sex, transaction, and consumption culminate in Molly’s imagining Bloom worshipping her ass and also paying her (£1) for the experience, as she commands him to consume everything that comes out of her. Bloom obviously prefers this kind of sensual interaction, and Molly’s voice in Penelope shows her revulsion toward it but also her acceptance of it, as she says that she will “let out a few smutty words” that she knows will arouse him.
Looking back at the bread and butter theme, the two are almost always associated with Molly, but she never actually gets around to consuming bread with butter throughout the novel, at least not to my knowledge. In Calypso, Bloom remembers: “thin bread and butter she likes in the morning,” and in Penelope, Molly recalls the day she realized Boylan’s foot fetish, as she was “waggling [her] foot we both ordered a teas and plain bread and butter” (613). On the next page as she remembers her series of affairs she recalls the “main with the curly hair” she noticed when she was “tasting the butter” (614). Here, we have butter but no bread, and Molly is actually consuming it. I’m not sure if this is even remotely relevant, I was just fascinated by the association of Bloom with kidneys/organs and Molly with bread/butter.
This in no way consolidates my thoughts on the subject but in my defense: hey, it’s Ulysses.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
Examination of gifts and giving in Ulysses has revealed a regular path: a certain theme gets introduced in one episode to be elaborated upon in subsequent chapters. Evidenced in the first ten chapters is the characterization of gifts and giving, from crass commercial exchange to sympathetic giving. In this phase, gifts fall under the garb of personal to social, usually with an eye toward some kind of return. This range in turn sheds light on (or underscores) the various characters populating the streets of Dublin. In the second phase, chapters eleven through fifteen, extremes of the earlier types of gifts are realized, both in literary form, character, and situation. In the third phase, episodes sixteen through seventeen, the father-son relationship of giving is explored in-depth. Episode Eighteen, Penelope, explores another facet of family exchanges – the husband-wife association, as well as recapping and transforming previous ideals concerning gifts in the prior chapters.
Within Molly Bloom’s rushing interior monologue we find a multitude of gift-forms scrutinized. The episode begins with Molly’s chafing thoughts on Bloom’s request for breakfast in bed. The husband-wife dynamic is highlighted immediately and ranges throughout the episode, and as guilt and social obligation seem to have little to do with whether the requests (from either party) are adhered to, other reasons must be found. There could be a sense of filial duty involved, and this possibility manifests itself, in Molly’s thoughts, in the put-upon woman form to the fleeting wish of a petticoat government, but these irate thoughts of duty are immediately followed by thoughts infused with feeling, or love, which constantly jumbles sense in a non-extreme way. The gift-giving in this dichotomy, then rests in how much the characters love each other, or are aware of their love for each other (mainly speaking about Molly, but some of Bloom’s actions can be traced throughout the day to have similar motivations). Realize that Molly has to work herself into this loving mood for Bloom throughout the chapter, but it ends with her deciding to adhere to his request for breakfast (she’s decided to put a spin on what “breakfast” might entail, which only proves my point).
Of course, wishes for commercial gifts are rife in this chapter, as Molly fantasizes over the myriad items she can dig out of Boylan’s gold-lined pockets. In the rest of the novel, this desire for the material would place a character into the “bad” category, or at the least unsavory. Boylan the Rich and Mulligan are the poster boys for this culture of giving, something for something. Molly’s place beside these two, however, is complicated. She indulges fleeting desires of clothes and jewels and attention, but the underlying problem resides again in her pauper-like relationship with Bloom, where the filial duty is going unfulfilled. This means more than simply adhering to or indulging the wishes of your spouse. As Molly points out, she sees herself as a good catch for Bloom yet notes that he is squandering her and aiding their poverty by being unable to hold a job down and constantly moving from one house to another. Interestingly, as the “sentences” continue, this commercial concern starts falling away to be replaced by the greater concerns of living with her spouse. Indeed, Molly herself sneers at the thought of riches and fame in the later sentences even as she craves them in the earlier ones.