Posts Tagged ‘Criticism’

Deflowering virgin ears

Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 02:21 am Leave a comment

“Watery Words: Language, Sexuality, and Motherhood in Joyce’s Fiction” by Randolph Splitter

So, I had originally intended on annotating the Stanier article, but you snooze you lose. I don’t think I even have to post for today, but oh well. I’ve already read this anyhow.

This piece covers a range of Joyce’s works (“The Dead”, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegan’s Wake), and even goes over the concept of “family” in the context of late 19th and early 20th century Ireland (so, likely, Joyce’s Ireland). Though this article doesn’t explicitly focus on Ulysses (and in fact, pushes to its resolutions with/through Finnegan’s Wake), the range of works explored serve as useful corroborations for general themes in Joyce’s works (though, unfortunately, doesn’t really focus on “Penelope” at all). It does seem to pick up on a lot of (really interesting) things, but they eventually (somewhat) lead back to Irish family life in the 19th/20th centuries, and how Joyce’s works might be seen as an ambivalent response to the polarized gender roles (with mention of Amor matris) in Irish families.

Using “The Dead” as a starting point, Splitter discusses what we’ve been discussing – the conflation of seeming opposites or apparently unrelated ideas – through the short story’s final snowy, sleepy “image of death as a swooning dissolution and fusion of souls… promising union while preserving detachment” (194). Apparently (because I haven’t yet read it), A Portrait has Stephen imagining “life as a powerful tide… threatening to overflow his defenses and boundaries” (194).

Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Stephen so forthrightly imagines “life as a powerful tide”, Stephen is hydrophobia (which tangentially makes me think of Stephen with rabies). Instead of Buck Mulligan’s casual “great sweet mother”, Stephen internally recasts the sea into a huge guilt-ridden bitter green thing, and then (maybe?) menstrual blood (“blood not mine… a winedark sea”. And then more of the “watery” womb tomb funstuff. Splitter goes on to discuss the problematic relations of each character to water in Ulysses.

I feel like I’m just rehashing now, and this article sprawls… so I think I’m just going to highlight, less verbosely, some interesting ideas that I maybe haven’t covered in previous watery posts.

–  consubstantiality, Stephen as Daedalus (father) with the possibility of suffering the fate of the son (Icarus), falling into the sea and drowning (195).

–  the artist as alchemist, turning “base substances, earthbound matter, into ethereal, immaterial spirit” (196), but also the very base origins of art (as Joyce so loves to emphasize). Here, transubstantiation, where Jesus turns water to wine, where Mother Grogan makes her pee and tea (in the same pot?)…

–  this is one of my favorite ideas from this article: the idea of impregnation or insemination via ear, a la Hamlet: “They list. And in the porches of their ears I pour”. I mean, it’s the final frontier as far as orifices that can intake substances go (that we haven’t really explored in great depth):

> Splitter’s suggestion that in FW, “the sexual connotations that Joyce associates with ‘penetration’ through the ear, Earwicker’s spying – or… eavesdropping – upon the girls in the park might be imagined as another sexual assault upon him, a penetration through his ear by the erotic sound of women urinating” (198)… which not only gives us another place of entry, but also enacts a reversal of roles (and general gender ambiguity, because for all sexual differences, we all have ears), ears being penetrated with sound

>  Similarly, “Joyce’s fundamental myth or fantasy of artistic creation… places the artist in the role of the Virgin Mary” (200). The Virgin Mary/Eve as being penetrated/seduced through the ear by the Holy Ghost/Word of God/Serpent in Eden. Splitter quotes Ulysses here: “Sure, you’d burst the tympanum of her ear, man, … with an organ like yours” (cited on p. 200)…

–  here’s a fun little note about something from way back when: The sea (I think in the Telemachiad or summat) was referred to as Mananaan [MacLir], “an early Irish sea god, or his father Lir (the sea itself, the mythical precursor of Shakespeare’s Lear [and yes, my head just exploded])” (200)… an androgynous sea parent à androgynous artist-parent…

And then some stuff about the problems of Amor matris, the love of the mother, the only sure thing in the world (tied into Splitter’s historical contextualization).


Infinity and Ithaca

Wednesday, November 11, 2009; 05:00 am Leave a comment

“Where Was Moses When the Candle Went Out? Infinity, Prophecy, and Ethics in Spinoza and ‘Ithaca’ “ by Elizabeth S. Anker, James Joyce Quarterly, Volume 44, Number 4, Summer 2007, pp. 661-677

Ah, JJQ strikes again. Fortunately, this time, it looks less like a weird, minorly related tangent and more like… ∞

Anker, drawing on several allusions (both concepts and structure), teases out a link between Spinoza’s philosophy/ethics and Ulysses, with a particular focus on “Ithaca”. The main components of Spinoza’s philosophy that Anker believes Ulysses draws most prominently upon are:

1)    Spinoza’s contemplations of the “infinite” + resulting revelations

2)    Bloom’s character as Spinoza’s conception of a Talmudic prophet

In addition to those two main points, Anker also notes that Ulysses’ “embrace of the visceral and the body in the novel captures Spinoza’s monism – his notion of unity of mind and body, his celebration fo the corporeal, and his deprivileging of the exclusively cerebral” (662).

As far as contemplation of the infinite goes, Spinoza’s philosophy “maintains that God ‘extends’ himself and is therefore immanent in all of physical matter (Ethics 40)… all physical substance is essentially indivisible” (663), but human interrelations, by extension of being part of the physical, are simultaneously filled with “infinite diversity or alterity” (663). To me, this seems like a more straightforward explication of one of the sections in Henry Staten’s article that I had some trouble understanding – that is, the very Joycean conflation of both the mechanical, infinitively replaceable and the infinitely differentiated in Bloom’s ruminations (in the answers we get in “Ithaca”) about infinity.

Anker reads the interpersonal relationships in Ulysses as exemplifications of this paradoxical infinity, most notably Bloom’s relationship to Stephen and Molly. For Bloom, the interpersonal is “at once unified and fractured, a source of inseparable commonality and difference” (663), which I think is made very apparent by his confusion about intermittent moments of identification (and sometimes consubstantial conflation) with and alienation from Stephen (something like “incertitude of the void”). So in the interpersonal, Bloom swings between what sounds like plenitude and the lonely isolation of individuation (Lacanian much?). Even his revelation seems to be at odds with itself: “Not verbally. Substantially”, which reveals that “Bloom can only attain the ‘known’ because of the existence of ‘incertitude’ and through an encounter with the ‘void,’… his inability to fully ascertain the Other paradoxically produces a form of ‘knowledge’, although it is knowledge of a congenital absence or deficiency” (665).

Anker then suggests that “[w]ere human relations not irrevocably divided and Otherness not inherently foreclosed, the world would need neither ethics or hope” (665) – that the infinite gulf between Other and Self (so Bloom/Molly, or Bloom/Stephen) permits “exuberantly intimate connections with that very same Other” (666). But any revelations that Bloom comes to in “Ithaca” are moody and fleeting, existing for a season before becoming clouded by doubt.

Then we get textual ties between Bloom and old testaments prophets (“Ithaca” tends to transform “Bloom’s actions into the sacramental” (670)); then specifically, Spinoza’s old testament prophet, by virtue of Bloom’s “abandonment of formal tenets of Judaism and Catholicism” as well as Spinozan “personal qualities” which “resound with… antiheroism” – and this interesting one “the prophet’s lack of identifiable intellectual capabilities” (671) – in Spinoza’s prophet, a privileging of the imagination over the intellectual. And then Anker offers the idea of the infinite as a way to understand how Joyce’s text operates – how the instability/failure of language the simultaneously “enables an illimitable wealth of meaning that can seemingly ‘universalize’ a text, extending its reference to an infinity of instance of irreducible particularity” (673). Pretty.

Then a call for more studies investigating Spinoza’s influence on Joyce.

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Others blogging about Ulysses

Tuesday, October 20, 2009; 01:52 pm 1 comment

Found this site that’s also blogging about Ulysses.  And they are also, get this, TWEETING about Ulysses.

Not quite sure what I think about them.  They’re clearly more loosy-goosy about the text… I do like that they connect the characters to more current stuff… and they’ve got pictures!  and Youtube videos… which is… nice… and sometimes not so nice.  The video of the “gross guy eating” actually wasn’t that gross and added nothing to my knowledge of the book.  However, the picture of the spire Dublin replaced Nelson’s pillar with definitely added something to my knowledge.  I didn’t know that Nelson’s pillar wasn’t there anymore.  And I’m glad they replaced it with something equally phallic.  Anyway… I suggest skimming it.  Well… do what you will with it.

Also, read this post:

It’s lovely.  About a theatrical interpretation of Sirens.  I wish it were possible to see it.

And this woman is reading it on her own, declaring she will read Ulysses in toto between Sept. 1st-Oct. 31st and blog about it. I’m impressed that she’s handling it on her own without a support system.  i could never do Ulysses with a support system.

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.

Dropping a Douce (warning: may contain Freud).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009; 01:39 am 1 comment

Title: Giving Death.

Author: Erin Soros.

Source: differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies. 10.1 (Spring 1998): p1. From Literature Resource Center.

Basically, this article manages to articulate everything I’ve been dancing around all semester so far, whether out of politeness or sheer reticence to admit I’ve been thinking about these things.  So, I found it extremely useful, especially regarding my secondary obsession, which is Freud.  However, some of the other obsessions addressed directly in this article include: paternity and “filiation,” maternity, male pregnancy, yes and no, and the “flow” of language (water?), and gifts.  Have at.

This phrase in particular summed up much of this madness in regard to my obsession: “Juxtaposed with various analyses of filiation, the many scenes of eating in Ulysses foreground the relationship between food and language, and between digestive processes and mourning. The other is externalized and internalized. The other gives the self and the self gives the other: ‘And we stuffing food in one hole and out behind: food, chyle, blood, dung, earth, food: have to feed it like stoking an engine’ (225). Like food, language is what one is given yet also what one gives in return.”  In one hole and out the other, couldn’t have said it better myself, ma’am.  Also, Bloom is an ad man, employed in the business of regurgitation, much like the old crusty Shakespearean critics with Stephen earlier in the library.  Bloom is also feminized not only in his behavior but in his unconscious empathy for women’s experiences of menstruation, pregnancy, labor, and stillbirth.  His fantasies of swelling predominate his internal discourse, including his obsession with feeding Molly, which he associates with impregnating her and making her swell, since he can’t seem to get any phallus-action.  Did I mention also that he pees sitting down? And when he’s in the can during Calypso, his dumping can be seen as a sort of pregnancy, as he is waiting to “birth” a large load out of his cloacal space, or his vagina substitute?  It all makes sense now.  So, pregnancy is a kind of digestion, and birth or abortion is excretion: “When a woman has an abortion, she gives a death that undermines her very definition as female. For if, according to Sigmund Freud, a woman completes herself by giving birth, then by having an abortion a woman renders herself incomplete.”

Clearly, Bloom suffers from an acute case of womb-envy.  Soros also notes: “While Bloom is sure he has an anus and can give birth to a legacy of shit, he suspects the female statues, these “[a]ids to digestion,” do not (224). His anal-lysis [HAHA] suggests that if he could be assured that women have a vagina but no anus, then he could resolve his womb envy, confident his anus functions like her vagina, that he does not lack an extra hole.”  A case of “faeces: fetus: fetish.”  In this vein, ingestion, digestion, and excretion is indeed contorted into fetish, relating not only to phallus/vagina parallels, but also the internal and external spaces, the Freudian obsession with lack or absence, and the gifts of birth and death.

While this article was packed with information, themes, analogies and parallels between all of the themes addressed, I found that it wasn’t very intuitively structured and this didn’t flow very well.  I also found it difficult to discern the author’s original opinions on the topics from information she pulled from other outside sources.  However, since I’m mainly focused on ingestion and excretion, I used the method of going though the article for relevant points and then threading them together in regard to specific points in the text that relate directly to my obsession.

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Joyce’s text as Dissonant Music. Criticism by Daniel Melnick

Wednesday, October 7, 2009; 04:21 am Leave a comment

Menlick, Daniel. “Dissonant Ulysses – A Study of How to Read Joyce” in Twentieth Century Literature 26.1 1980 pp. 45-63.

Melnick uses as the basis of his argument the fact that Joyce has espoused a view of art in which music is the ideal art form and all other art aspires to it.  Additionally, Joyce is well versed in the symbolists, and their view (voiced by Nietzsche) that dissonance “voices man’s spiritual disillusionment before reality by subverting the “pure” harmonious forms of tonality” (50).  Therefore, according to Melnick, Joyce sees dissonance as central to art, and to the relation of art to reality, and to the world of ideals.  Dissonance in prose is achieved by layering multiple, contradictory meanings, juxtaposing different perceptions, interweaving reality with fiction, mixing ancient and modern, myth and “reality”.  This understanding of dissonance is quite helpful for understanding Joyce’s concept of translating musical aesthetic into prose.

For Melnick this dissonance is ultimately about the self.  Bloom and Stephen both are seen as autobiographical characters, and therefore, the two of them demonstrate the multiple, complicating truths of his self.  The self is created through our interaction with the immensely complex and discordant reality that surrounds us, and therefore a reader’s interaction with the world of the novel help shape the reader’s self.  Not only this, but the reader is involved in the imaginative process of Bloom, of Stephen, and of Joyce himself.  Thus the novel is an affirmation of the self in the overwhelming world of modern life.  This article would probably be useful to anyone interested in Joyce’s incorporation of music into his work, and also anyone interested in the creation of self, and ultimately Joyce’s idea of art’s role in the modern world.

The article deals with Portrait and Finnegan’s Wake as well as Ulysses and is quite long so takes some sifting through.  The analysis of Ulysses focuses on the “Sirens” episode where the dissonance Melnick is talking about occurs very heavily and the music of the scene is woven thickly into the text. Melnick claims that readers have objected to the form of this episode because the narrative force is weak, but points out that the counterplay of themes, motifs, phrases, and perceptions leads to a very humorous milieu of ambiguities which center around Blooms sensibilities.  Thus the episode “develops the multiple human truths of Bloom’s situation” (53).  When we have read and discussed this episode I will be able to comment further on the usefulness of this argument, but overall the article is very interesting, and does give some good insight into how to read Joyce as it claims.

Structure of Fatherhood and Authorship

Wednesday, October 7, 2009; 03:16 am Leave a comment

“Making a Name for Himself: Paternity, Joyce, and Stephen’s Adolescent Identity Crisis” by Kent Baxter

This essay has a first section entitled “What’s in a Name” dedicated to discussing the relationship Joyce had with his own name, and the relationship  the modernist perspective perceives adolescents have with their surname.  To make it quick, since it has little to do with Ulysses and less to do with what I would like to focus on regarding my obsession of Paternity: Adolescents are striving to “make a name” for themselves and there’s a conundrum because they want to distinguish themselves within society using their name, but their name stems from their fathers’s and they struggle to separate themselves from the father as well.

The next section in the essay is “The Name Game.”  Baxter describes Stephen’s dissection of his name and multiple possible fathers in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Stephen renounces his biological father, Simon, then renounces the Church fathers because he does want to become one of a mass of priests, and at the end of Portrait he remakes his name anew, a morphed version of his father-given name, but it is his own because he was reworked.

In “The Sons of Shakespeare,” Baxter refers to the Scylla and Charybdis episode where Stephen contemplates what he had done with his name in Portrait.  Baxter emphasizes that the Scylla and Charybdis episode is where Stephen is at his most creative, producing his individualized thoughts and as Baxter says: “mak[ing] a name for himself.”   At the same time, Stephen “debunks” the names of the fathers through the “legal fiction” of Shakespeare’s writing himself a son in Hamlet, and writing himself into Hamlet as a father, and, as Baxter notes, “bastardizing” the men’s surnames who are listening to his theory on Hamlet.  In Scylla and Charybidis, Stephen is upending the whole idea of fatherhood, causing it to be a fluctuating, unstable category.  According to Baxter, this is the way Stephen is renouncing his literary fathers.  Baxter then goes on to say something that I find pushing it a little too far.  And by a little, I mean a lot!  I like tangible reality and space and time as concrete things in discourse at least, because how are we going to have a conversation without those things!?   So Baxter says:

what Stephen does …is even more radical than a new way to theorize Shakespeare.  Stephen questions the linearity of time, the                          notion that something always comes before.  And by questioning the linearity of time, he casts doubt on the belief that                                          Shakespeare came before his texts… that there is a literary tradition that comes before and defines what makes a legitimate                                  artist.

He continues saying that through the episode, Joyce is using Stephen to “debunk the notion that… a literary tradition comes before its artists” and therefore attempt to become a legitimate individual artist.  I would like to think that Joyce WISHES he could turn time and space topsy-turvy and not have the literary tradition behind him, pressuring him, molding him, but I just don’t think it’s possible.  Luckily for me, Baxter addresses this.  He goes on to say that the very act of attempting to overthrow the father is something that fathers have done, and therefore is within tradition, literary or otherwise.  Adolescents have attempted to escape the father’s influence and in doing so have completed an act which the father has already done, thus they become the fathers.

Baxter’s best sentence summarizing this cyclical conundrum would be: “the ultimate irony inherent in Stephen and Joyce’s attempt to overthrow the father arises because to make a name for oneself means both to make a name represent oneself as an individual and to affirm the impossibility of this very individuality. ”  Ultimately, Baxter argues that Stephen, in a step between childhood and adulthood, ends up exposing the structure of authorship and fatherhood and this allows Joycean followers to see that structure and work off it.

Baxter, Kent. “Making a Name for Himself: Paternity, Joyce, and Stephen’s Adolescent Identity Crisis” Naming the Father edited by Eva Paulino Bueno et. al.