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Posts Tagged ‘food’

The Harp’s the Thing

Wednesday, September 30, 2009; 02:28 am Leave a comment

In Ulysses Annotated the entry “Harp Eolian” describes a harp meant to be played by the wind (of Aeolus) rather than fingers. The harp in general was the instrument of the Celtic bards and a national symbol of Ireland. “Harp,” the Annotated goes on, is also slang for an Irish Catholic.

From these simple definitions arise some obvious inferences. First, Joyce’s reference takes place on pp. 105  in episode 7, titled “Aeolus,” after the Keeper of Winds who first aided and then rebuffed the home-seeking Odysseus. Interpreting Myles Crawford as the correspondent Aeolus, and the episode itself as being full of “bad wind,” with “wind” in general corresponding to rhetoric – rhetoric, I propose, with little or no purpose, empty words for the moment – we can see the “harp” being played by Myles and his associates at the offices, discussing the fruitless past, flowery speeches and semantics, passing stories of disappointment, and going about their daily business, the paper, itself an old and wasted item after one day. Second, the slang usage of “harp” refers to Crawford and his associates, but not Bloom or Stephen. Third, the most obvious correspondent for an actual harp, as in the instrument, lies in the floss used by either the professor or Myles to clean his teeth. When plucked between the teeth, the floss goes “Bingbang, bangbang.” I’m not certain what the significance of the floss being the harp is, but several ideas come to mind: a) the floss/harp in this section only plucks at waste and detritus, thus the gaseous ideas and frustration espoused/blown everywhere b) it sets up the next episode featuring “bad food” and where it might possibly come from (or come out of), and c) the floss/harp is the only instrument at the moment capable of cleansing away this detritus, and not enough people in this episode are using poetry/rhetoric correctly to cut down on the frustrated winds blowing everywhere.

The actual above reference occurs in a section of the episode entitled O, Harp Eolian! This invokes not only the above associations but also a strong connection to the Samuel Coleridge poem “The Eolian Harp.” The poem, begun in 1795 and revised frequently by Coleridge until 1817, was one of the first conversation poems – a group of eight poems in which Coleridge applies conversational language to describe nature, life, and death. That such a reference, not including the above connotations, should appear in the “rhetoric” episode, where dialogue and conversation are key, is unsurprising. The poem itself deals with the author’s (impending) marriage by examining love through nature, which is chiefly represented by the Eolian Harp and the music it produces. More importantly, the poem sets up a series of oppositional ideas – coyness and innocence, wilderness and order, motion and slumber – and shows how these two disparate ideas actually compliment each other. This reconciliation of seeming contradictions occurs frequently throughout Ulysses, though Joyce is careful to have the ideas reconcile only so much, leaving a bit of tension for readers to follow throughout the texts. For example, the issues we discussed on Monday regarding the overlapping and complex relations between Ireland, Greece, Rome, Britain, and Judaism (not to mention the anti-Semitism displayed by many of the local characters); or Bloom’s original love of meat turned sour by “cannibalism” only to be reconciled later (in his mind) by sex – which leads down a dizzying path of its own.

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Well what’s cheese? Corpse of Milk

Monday, September 28, 2009; 04:34 am Leave a comment

In the previous segments, there were many instances of waste, but I will highlight just a few of them, and then deal with those instances found in episodes 7 and 8.  Most of these moments came in episode 6 when they go to the funeral.  Bloom is concerned with the wasted space at the graveyard, and wishes to remedy it by having corpses buried standing rather than horizontal (6. 764).  And he is very concerned with all the bad gas that must surround the area.  He also does some imagining of the process of decomposition.  The language he uses is appropriately disgusting, yet at the same time uses food words: “Rot quick in damp earth. The lean old ones tougher. Then a kind of tallow, a kind of cheesy. Then begin to get black. Black treacle oozing out of them.” (6. 777-779).  This corresponds with Blooms overall characterization of waste products as food for someone else. One man’s refuse is another organisms feast.  In wonderful Joycean fashion then, Death becomes life. In this case, an abundance of it: “… they must breed a devil of a lot of maggots. Soil must be simply swirling with them” (783-84).  Later, when Bloom sees the rat scurring along the crypt, he says “Ordinary meat for them. A corpse is meat gone bad. Well, and what’s cheese? Corpse of Milk.” (982-83), again stressing the interconnection between death, decay, and food.

Episode 7 has less to do with physical waste than waste of effort and of time.  Bloom is repeatedly frustrated in his attempts to conclude his day’s business.  He spends most of scenes feeling pushed aside, in some cases quite literally.  The introduction of J.J. O’Molloy, furthers this theme because he wastes his day coming to ask Crawford for a loan.  O’Molloy also is an example of wasted talent; he was “Cleverest fellow at the junior bar” (7. 291).  Now however, his practice is dwindling and is supposedly gamboling.  I think his character is standing as a cautionary figure, for what might happen to Stephen, if he wastes his talent.  Again, of course this section has examples of wasted words when the characters are reading Dan Dawson’s speech.  I’m not sure what to make of this example, but I like Bloom’s distinction that the words are actually quite effective when heard as the speaker reads them (7. 338).

Episode 8 brings back the theme of waste as food.  As Bloom walks on O’Connell bridge, he buys cakes and scatters the crumbs for gulls admiring how quickly they devour the morsels.  When he steps into the Burton restaurant, the scene is compared to animals eating, and the language is just as gross as the descriptions of decomposing bodies.  This links the people in the restaurant to animals feeding off corpses, but also all humans eating, with all animals eating.  When Bloom goes over to Davy Byrne’s, his own eating is described in somewhat disgusting terms “Mr. Bloom ate … with relish of disgust pungent mustard, the feety savour of green cheese” (8. 818).  This highlights the decayed nature of his meal.  As he eyes the items on the wall, and ruminates on how various foods were discovered, he thinks a little about waste.  He thinks about oysters feeding on garbage, about Chinese eating fifty-year old eggs, and about a Duke who used to eat his own dandruff (864-873). Bloom doesn’t seem keen on eating any of these things, but recognizes that they can be eaten.  Another theme seems to emerge in this episode, that of gambling as wasting men’s lives.  Flynn seems to be pretty caught up in betting on horses, and the characters who enter later, seem at least somewhat excited about picking the right horse.  This seems a common problem for the Dubliners.

I wish to add a few things to this post which occurred in episopdes 7-8 but I did not deal with already.

First, as Bloom is in the newspaper offices, and sees the machines printing out the notices of Dignam’s funeral he thinks “Smash a man to atoms if they got him caught. Rule the world today. His machineries are pegging away too. Like these, got out of hand: fermenting. Working away, tearing away. And that old grey rat tearing to get in.” (7. 81-83).  Importantly he connects the process of printing to the destruction of a person and to their decomposition after death.  Once again the image of  the rat appears, which seems somewhat important.

Next Bloom considers the miles of paper being printed, and imagines what becomes of it.  He imagines it will eventually be used for a “thousand and one things” (138), therefore nothing is actually wasted. At  the beginning of episode 8, Bloom looks over the edge of O’Connell bridge and entertains the option of throwing himself over like Dodd’s son, who “must have swallowed a good bellyful of that sewage” (53).  This phrase strikes me as odd because this episode is concerned with good and bad eating, and the sewage over the bridge can’t really be considered a “good” bellyful which I guess is the whole reason of phrasing it that way.  Then of course he remember Dedalus’ ironic comment about the waste of Dodd “one and eightpence too much” and proceeds to waste one penny on food for the gulls, thereby significantly reducing the waste of Dodd, and he considers it “quite enough”  (84) rather than too much.