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Simplifying the Everyman – “Ulysses and Us”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 04:26 am Leave a comment

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.

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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.

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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.