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.
Throughout Ulysses, my obsession of ingestion and excretion has led me mainly toward Bloom for several reasons. First, he is the character that seems to embody the complete in-and-out cycle, as we first see him in Calypso devouring very visceral food in great detail, and at the close of the chapter we also see his great satisfaction with his successful bowel movements in the latrine. Second, Bloom is the mot sensory character in the novel, not only with his obsession with ingestion and excretion but also his fixation on smells and taste. Finally, Bloom acts as an opposite of Stephen, who doesn’t seem to care much about anything sensory, and whom we rarely see ingest or excrete anything except booze and the occasional pee in the sea. However, in reading Penelope, I was pleased to find that my obsession relates nicely to Molly as well, providing yet another link between her and Bloom.
In Molly’s mind, food and sex are intertwined. The image of oysters is dominant in this chapter, having significance both in relating to femininity (being cloven) and also as a food that happens to be an aphrodisiac. While pondering Bloom’s affairs and recalling the time she fond long hairs on his coat, Molly muses “it was all his fault ruining servants then proposing that she could eat at our table on Christmas day if you please O no thank you not in my house stealing my potatoes and the oysters” (p609). Here, Bloom’s infidelity with the servant is worse when he asks Molly if she can eat with them, and not only that, but also to eat oysters. Molly’s thinking is also directed toward food in the domestic sense, as when she becomes distracted in thought about what to make for dinner tomorrow and she decides to make cod as a break from meat (641).
Ingestion and excretion are conflated in the image of putting Molly’s breast milk into tea. She seems simultaneously comfortable and uncomfortable with her own excretory processes, releasing blood and urine into the chamber pot and also taking the time to break wind. However, she does express anxiety about Bloom’s presence when she farts, as she wishes he would “sleep in some bed by himself with his cold feet on me give us room even to let a fart. . . that was a relief wherever you be let your wind go free” (628).
I’m also trying to trace the theme of bread, particularly buttered bread, in relation to Molly but I haven’t made a ton of progress. I’ll let you know if I’m onto anything substantial.
I loved reading Circe because it seemed like elements of my obsession brought up previously in the novel just went and exploded, diarrhea-like, all together in the first part we read for today. The main actions associated with ingestion and excretion occur early on in the beginning of the chapter, with the mock-farting noises made by the officers (50), the mock-ingesting actions of Bloom with the stuffing of bread and chocolate into his pockets (he’s stuffing food somewhere, but not down his gullet), and finally the pervasive action of ass-wiping, which occurs mostly related to Bloom’s profession as an author, cue jokes about needing something with which to wipe one’s ass…how about the Freeman’s Urinal (810)? This reference struck me in particular as it directly links excretion with language, and the “bad” use of language involved in advertising.
One overarching image throughout Circe is breeches, specifically stained ones. In line 195, the Motorman refers to Bloom as “shitbreeches” and at the end A Voice instructs “Hold that fellow with the bad breeches” (2616). These references to soiled underpants painfully remind me of the lovely letters Joyce sent to his wife in which he praises her um… skid marks? I’m sorry, I digress.
The other dominant images of this section relate directly to pigs and pork and more organs, kidneys in particular. While these images are obviously linked with the Circe episode of the Odyssey in which Circe decides to transform all of Odysseus’ crew into pigs, these images hold a special meaning for Bloom in that they represent his deep-seeded anxieties of the soiled, the unkosher, and the unclean. He then feels guilty about buying the meat yet still refuses to waste it, instead feeding it to a dog. The fact that it Bloom can’t stop eating organs repeats itself almost obsessively in this chapter, with images of pork sausage, pork kidney, etc. popping up everywhere. I mean, in 1549 the room is shaped like a pork kidney. Good. Ness. PORK ON THE BRAIN. But no brains, thank god.
The first thing I noticed about ingestion/excretion in Nausicaa is the focus on cooking as a domestic act inextricably tied to femininity. In this chapter, written in such a way to imitate patterns of female frivolity, Gerty is “womanly wise” in that she recognizes that “a mere man liked that feeling of hominess. . . her griddle cakes done to a goldenbrown hue queen Ann’s pudding of delightful creaminess. . . then cream the milk and sugar and whisk well the white of eggs though she didn’t like the eating part…” (223-228). This passage introduces the theme of milk/cream/white stuff that extends throughout this chapter and the next (comparing and contrasting with the white “ivory purity”), and also the point that the feminine function in relationship to food is in the preparation, creating a dichotomy that illustrates the female/male components in terms of preparation/ingestion, where the feminine function is preparing food for the masculine function of consumption and ingestion. This passage also illuminates the anxiety about eating, and that it seems to be tied to femininity as well, as in the lines, “though she didn’t like the eating part when there were any people that made her shy and often she wondered why you couldn’t eat something poetic like violets or roses” (228-230). Here, the concept of the voyeuristic gaze is applied to eating, in which the thought of being watched while eating causes an acute sense of anxiety for the consumer. Gerty instead imagines eating flowers, or something “poetical” or metaphorical, and being able to sustain the body on metaphorical substance alone. Clearly, this is a rather unrealistic, if romantic, notion, as Joyce has managed to capitalize on the importance of the fully realized physical ingestion and excretion process. Also in this chapter, I thought that kissing acts as a kind of incomplete consumption, in which the male and female dichotomy is broached if only for a moment when mouths meet.
Toward the close of the chapter the focus is on puking rather than consumption, which is just another example of the incomplete/interruption natural cycle of in and out. This theme carries over nicely into Oxen of the Sun, in which the incomplete form of consumption is presented as nibbling and the form of excretion in childbirth/abortion. The milk theme resurfaces as well in Chapter 14, but the focus is instead on breastfeeding, an act that is in itself simultaneous ingestion and excretion for both parties, mother and newly born child (also a form of excretion by the mother…hey, I didn’t make this up, Joyce did). I thought it was fascinating that this chapter also addresses the opposite of my obsession, which is starvation. This chapter also ends in the “chap puking,” an illustration of the painful inadequacy of the digestive system’s ability to function properly.
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.
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.