Interesting States: Birthing and the Nation in “Oxen of the Sun” by Edna Duffy, found in Ulysses—En-Gendered Perspective, Ed. Kimberly J. Devlin and Marilyn Reizbaum
Although this article for some reason appeared a bit cyclical to me, it nonetheless pricked my fancy, and had some compelling points about the relationship between birth, Irish nationalism, stylistic shifts, and masculine identity in “Oxen of the Sun”.
To wrangle up the straggling theses roaming around, Duffy’s focal points line up something like this:
Uno: Joyce presents many masculine narratives about birth, or related to birth, as a way of illuminating just how “bleak,” impotent, oppressive masculine regimes are when it comes to narrativizing the (material) (corporeal) (contemporary) (productive) act of birth itself.
Dos: In so doing Joyce undermines the viability of motherhood as a symbol of Irish nationalism.
Tres: In so doing Joyce exposes the shaky grounds of masculine identity in the face of non-symbolic femininity, i.e. birth.
Cuatro: Previous Joyce critics have overlooked the importance of Joyce’s satirical stylistic shifts and subsequently failed to address the way these parodies function to undermine the ideological positions of both figures both within the text and without.
Duffy’s evidence… There is a birth occurring and yet conversation only eclipses this central fact. Moreover, conversation jumps from one masculine narrative of birth to another, “religious motifs” to “quasi-scientific thinking”, all of which fly in the face of the purely symbolic nationalist notions of motherhood (notions of motherhood which routinely focus on maternal influence rather than birth as national production), and are considerably satirized stylistically and contextually (217). Are we supposed to take seriously Buck’s insemination station? Do we believe Stephen when he adopts the “spoiled priest” persona and avows himself an equal to Buck Mulligan, Lenehan and others on the scale of single-minded masculinist boasting (224)?
In the midst of these immature and obviously hollow-witted ramblings, Stephen and Bloom both embody (or present an attempt to embody) a new form of masculinity, a masculinity postcreation (225). For Stephen this means an escape from the “paterfamilias model of male worth” into a visionary poetic model, (one which Vincent Lynch seems to anxiously await). For Bloom, it means an escape from the nostalgic, “backward looking” fatherhood of loss and lack born with the death of a male heir (225).
This attempt to provide an alternative model of masculinity is pressed home by the stylistic (and thereby ideological) shifts that occur throughout the episode and fail again and again, even when satirically yoked by Joyce’s well-tested hand, to present a masculine voice capable of reckoning with the act of birth taking place upstairs
I know I didn’t get to all the theses I outlined above, but as this is getting long and late, I’ll try to provide some more evidence in class tomato. All in all a fine article I give it a 7 and 5/8.
Professor Simpson gave me permission to write a contextual note on Robert Emmet:
Robert Emmet was an Irish nationalist who led a rebellion against British rule in 1803. The rebellion was well planned, but was hindered by a need to suddenly move up the date of the rising due to an explosion at one of the spots where Emmet was storing arms. The explosion killed a man, and was sure to cause suspicion if the rebellion didn’t act quickly. Additionally, many of the rebels Emmet was counting on to help his rebellion ended up backing out. Soon after the rebellion started, Emmet actually tried to end it in order to stop the violence, but by that point he did not have enough control to give such an order. Seeing that the rebellion was failing, Emmet escaped and went into hiding. He was only caught when he moved to a new hiding spot that allowed him to be closer to his fiancée (Thomas Moore actually wrote two songs on the subject of Emmet’s love for his fiancée). After being caught, he was tried and convicted of high treason; Emmet was sentence to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Emmet’s speech upon being sentenced is one of the most revered speeches tied to Irish nationalism:
“I have but one request to ask at my departure from this world – it is the charity of its silence. Let no man write my epitaph. No man can write my epitaph, for as no man who knows my motives and character dares now to vindicate them, let not prejudice or ignorance asperse them. Let them rest in obscurity and peace until other times and other men can do justice to them. When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then shall my character be vindicated, then may my epitaph be written.”
There are three episodes that I’m aware of that refer to Robert Emmet: 6, 10 and 11. In episode 6 while Bloom is at Dignam’s funeral, he thinks about whether or not Emmet was buried in the same cemetery (Emmet’s actual burial spot is unknown). Interestingly, these thoughts concerning Emmet lead right into Bloom’s thoughts regarding rats eating corpses (94).
Then, in episode 10 Mr. Kernan thinks about Emmet’s execution: “Down there Emmet was hanged, drawn and quartered. Greasy black rope. Dogs licking the blood off the street when the lord lieutenant’s wife drove by in her noddy” (197). (Note: Kernan is incorrect in his assertion that Emmet was drawn and quartered; despite his sentence, Emmet was actually just hanged). Like in the previous reference, Emmet is once again thought of as being consumed by animals post-mortem. Also, Mr. Kernan later wonders where Emmet is buried, just like Bloom did. The line “Greasy black rope” also stands out in this passage. Bloom is later often described as greasy, and is dressed in black because he is mourning Dignam’s death. Consequently, this possible association between Bloom and Emmet’s noose might be a subtle way of showing how Bloom is not accepted as Irish.
At the end of episode 11, Bloom (referred to as “greaseabloom”) reads Emmet’s famous speech while avoiding a prostitute and while farting (238-39). As Professor Simpson mentioned during our break the other day, this action by Bloom is shockingly disrespectful given how highly regarded Robert Emmet is among the Irish. In this scene, Bloom seems to disconnect himself from an Irish identity. This is especially surprising seeing as how it leads into episode 12 where Bloom tries to defend his Irish identity.
“A nation is the same people living in the same place”: Basically everything I wrote about last time, redux
Oh man, “Cyclops” pretty much brings all of the things I wrote about last week regarding Judaism and Irish nationalism (and by implication, Zionism) together, so that’s great. It seems like the citizen and co. have a pretty conventionally anti-Semitic view of Bloom (comparing him to Shylock and saying that “beggar my neighbor is his motto” (1491)—although I may be missing something more complex here) but the really interesting parts are how their view of their own nation contrasts with Bloom’s.
Bloom’s conception of a nation is “the same people living in the same place” (1422-3), and consequently he sees himself as Irish because he “was born here” (1431). This contrasts with the citizen’s idea of a much more racialized nation, which at once allows for a “greater Ireland beyond the sea” (1364-5) and means that Bloom belongs either to Hungary or Israel but emphatically not Ireland (the narrator’s use of Bloom’s alleged ‘Hungarian name,’ Lipóti Virag (1816), confirms that he thinks that ‘Leopold Bloom’ is some sort of pseudonym instead of his real name). It makes sense that the citizen would yell “Three cheers for Israel!” (1791) if it means that the Jews will leave Ireland for their own racialized nation once and for all (that this makes the citizen more of a supporter of Israel than Bloom himself is a pretty weird thing, nevertheless). All of this relates to what I wrote about in my last post about Bloom’s relationship to Zionism as well; Bloom thinks that he belongs in Ireland, so he’s not a fervent Zionist (even if a Jewish state would ideally provide refuge from people like the citizen).
So Bloom doesn’t see his Jewishness as a factor in which nation he is a part of. What’s strange, however, is how when Bloom fights back against the citizen’s words, he says “Mendelssohn was a jew and Karl Marx was a jew and Mercadante and Spinoza. And the Saviour was a jew and his father was a jew” (1804-5), which is true and all except for the fact that pretty much everyone he mentions renounced Judaism at one point or another (like Bloom’s father). I don’t yet know what this means, but I think it complicates the issue of Bloom’s Jewish identity in ways which will hopefully become apparent later.
The very end of “Cyclops” is also worth noting. Bloom escapes from the scene as if he were the prophet Elijah ascending to heaven in a golden chariot. With the “Elijah is coming” note that we’ve seen floating all over Dublin and the claim that Bloom is “the new Messiah for Ireland” (1642), this is basically setting up Bloom to save someone already (like Stephen?) when he reemerges.
Lastly, although this is only tangentially related to Judaism, I noted at the end of my post last week that there seems to be this parallelism between nationalism and masculinity (as was the case with Dlugacz, the deep-voiced Zionist), and all the talk about penises among the nationalists in this chapter (talk about Jewish circumcision (19), about Ireland having “the third largest harbour in the wide world with a fleet of masts,” (1303-4), etc.), and all the peeing (and, um, the fact that this is a chapter about a nationalist one-eyed monster) seems to reinforce this in a big way.
Update: We talked in class about how Judaism is matrilineal, and since Molly’s not Jewish that means that Bloom doesn’t have the means to transfer his religion onto his children (“Last of my race” he says (11.1066), and even though he thinks for a second that Rudy being alive would somehow fix this, it ultimately wouldn’t have any effect). This further plays into Bloom’s total emasculation, as a result, from his exclusion in a totally masculine space of Irish racial nationalism (I mean come on, when Bloom and company are looking up at “old Dan O’s” (Daniel O’Connell’s) “lofty cone” in Hades (6.642-3), they’re looking at this and look at that! It’s phallic and it has a big cross on top! What could exclude Bloom more?!). If Bloom’s emasculation somehow results in his exclusion from the Irish nation though, I wonder how both the Sirens chapter and, later, the introduction of Molly’s voice, change things for him? Do they at all?
Man, I keep trying to steer away from talking about Judaism’s relationship to nationalism but it just keeps coming back to that. I’m not sure if that’s the text’s doing or mine.
Davison, Neil R., “‘Still an idea behind it’: Trieste, Jewishness, and Zionism in Ulysses,” James Joyce Quarterly vol. 38, nos. 3/4 (Spring/Summer 2001), pp. 373-394.
Given our progress in Ulysses so far, I’m only going to cover part of this article for now, but I hope to address the later parts (specifically those that address “Cyclops,” “Circe” and “Ithaca”) in later posts.
Davison writes about how it’s pretty common for people to read the Zionism (modern and ancient) expressed in Ulysses as analogous to Sinn Fein republicanism, but that such an analogy “implies that the controversies over Zionism which Joyce absorbed from 1905 to 1915 in Trieste can be conflated into a portrait of the movement as a modern, racialist nationalism and thus a form of colonial mimicry” (373). Davison argues that Joyce is doing a lot more than simply conflating the two.
Bloom, Davison writes, is not a full-on Zionist: his response to Agendath Netaim, “Your name entered for life as owner in the book of the union (4.197-8) is a farcical translation of the Jewish liturgical phrase “to be inscribed in the book of life,” invoked in a land speculation pamphlet “so as to evince the materialist reality of capital used to gain foreign territory” while debunking any religious claims to the land (384). Bloom’s remark, “Nothing doing” (4.200), shows that he doesn’t really buy what Agendath Netaim is selling. That he snaps out of his fantasy by stating “Well, I am here now. Yes, I am here now” (4.232-3) implies that he’s more concerned with his present state than some far-off Zion that may or may not be feasible or fulfilling.
But in between all that, Bloom remarks, “Still an idea behind it” (4.200). Davison writes, “the dream here—Joyce seems to be emphasizing—is about the possibility but not the probability of modern Zionism” (386), that despite Bloom’s doubts, he “is simultaneously hopeful that the better lights of [his] Judaic-based Jewishness might someday find an expression in a territory free of racialist, religious, and economic anti-Semitism” (390). Whether or not it’s feasible, Bloom continues thinking about it because it offers some sort of salvation from his current sufferings (once again, this relates to Bloom’s correspondence with Martha).
One more thing. Davison notes that the butcher Dlugacz serves as a contrast to Bloom’s ambivalence towards Zionism and that his more fervent support relates to his greater masculinity: “Deep voice that fellow Dlugacz has. Agendath what is it? Now, my miss. Enthusiast” (4.492-3), Joyce writes. This masculinity/nationalism correlation is something I’ve seen in other works (there’s a lot about moustaches and reactionary nationalism in Midnight’s Children for instance) and I’d like to see if it’s repeated in Ulysses.
The contextual note I’m covering is Thomas Moore’s “The Meeting of the Waters,” which appears in the Lestrygonians (8.414-418). In this passage Bloom strolls along past the urinal by Trinity College on the river Avoca, which actually begins as two rivers in County Wicklow south of Dublin: the Avonmore (“big river”) and the Avonberg (remarkably, “small river”). One of the more famous statues in Dublin is in this location, a bust of Mr. Moore himself. In typical Bloom fashion, the first thing Bloom thinks when he approaches the statue of “Tommy Moore’s roguish finger” (414) is that they did a good thing by putting him “over a urinal, a meeting of the waters,” (414-415) and he pragmatically (also in classic Bloom form) wonders why there is not such a place for women to urinate as well. The poem/song is as follows (thank you bartleby.com):
“The Meeting of the Waters”
There is not in the wide world a valley so sweet
As that vale in whose bosom the bright waters meet;
Oh! the last rays of feeling and life must depart,
Ere the bloom of that valley shall fade from my heart.
Yet it was not that nature had shed o’er the scene
Her purest of crystal and brightest of green;
’Twas not her soft magic of streamlet or hill,
Oh! no—it was something more exquisite still.
’Twas that friends, the beloved of my bosom, were near,
Who made every dear scene of enchantment more dear,
And who felt how the best charms of nature improve,
When we see them reflected from looks that we love.
Sweet vale of Avoca! how calm could I rest
In thy bosom of shade, with the friends I love best,
Where the storms that we feel in this cold world should cease,
And our hearts, like thy waters, be mingled in peace.
Bloom goes on to quote the first line of the poem in 416-417: “There is not in this wide world a vallee,” though the spelling of “valley” he uses possesses some significance of which I cannot understand at the moment. The reason Joyce chose this poem in this context makes sense, since Bloom is wandering down by the waters. However, I couldn’t find a lot of commentary on this poem independent of Ulysses or otherwise. It seems quite like Joyce to take something perhaps obscure and make it seem like it’s something we should all know about. As Brady pointed out in his obsession post I believe, Thomas Moore’s songs are repeated throughout the text, such as “The Young May Moon” and “The Harp that Once Through Tara’s Halls.” I can only imagine the use of these Irish ballads that are not seen out of Ireland suggest the sort of isolation that Bloom is feeling at this point in the novel.
Thomas Moore (1779-1852) was a slippery character from what I can gather. Apparently he was Dublin born, Trinity College educated, but made most of his living in England (London to be exact) writing… Irish poems and songs. Really, sir? I suppose he might as well exploit the British for all they’re worth, namely their famous sentimentality. I just found this fascinating, with Moore being Ireland’s National Bard and all. He also bro’d around with Lord Byron and in fact became his literary executor when he died. The two also shared a great love of debt, and apparently Moore eventually got the boot from England because of this.
I’ve been listening to Sunday Bloody Sunday on repeat as I write this. Why, we don’t know.
All biographical information on Thomas Moore from:
DeFord, Miriam Allen. Thomas Moore. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc. 1967.
(the spacing is also being weird on this, my apologies).
Oof, apologies for being hours late. In this post I’m focusing mostly on Aeolus and Lestrygonians, but I’m addressing themes that are present throughout the chapters before them as well.
For characters that aren’t Bloom, ancient Israel and the Jewish people are an easy parallel to draw with Ireland and the Irish. This is made especially explicit in Aeolus when MacHugh likens the Romans to the English and the Jews to the Irish, explaining that both the Roman and the Englishman “brought to every new shore on which he set his foot [. . .] only his cloacal obsession” (7.492-3), while oppressing the more spiritual and creative parts of the dominated lands (that this book so occupies itself with bowel movements seems to imply that Joyce is doing something more than just echoing his characters’ sentiments). While Bloom later seems to express opinions contrary to this excrement-culture dichotomy (his thoughts about “the harp that once did starve us all” (8.605) could imply that despite all the culture of the Jews and Ireland, they can’t expect to successfully maintain nations without putting food on the table), the Christian characters in the novel seem to see this as a pretty viable way to see things.
I should also note that despite the ease by which Bloom’s colleagues use Israel as a stand-in for Ireland, their simultaneous shunning of Bloom himself based on his religion draws attention to their hypocrisy. While Nannetti (a Roman?!) can be “more Irish than the Irish” (7.100), Bloom must perpetually endure social exclusion due to his Jewish heritage. It seems like this further discredits their claims and further distances them from the reality of their situations.
What’s interesting is the way in which Jews and Judaism are characterized by Bloom varies so much from the Ireland-Israel parallel set out by other (non-Jewish) characters. Bloom is notably absent during the entire Aeolus discussion about Semites v. Romans, and the way that he thinks about Jewish customs (he confuses rituals at Passover, for example, which both plays into his tendency to almost get things right and also shows his detachment from his heritage (7.206-216)) and even Jewish friends (like Citron) indicates that he’s pretty estranged from Judaism as a whole, despite how much it seems to shape his thoughts. It does very seriously shape his thoughts, though. Bloom’s constant thinking of the Agendath Netaim ad (most recently at the end of Lestrygonians (8.1184)) and Palestine works as a kind of salvation from his current existence, one with a happy married life full of melons. His metempsychotic relationship with Moses seems to imply that he won’t live to see this sort of paradise (7.873), but it exists (like his relationship with Martha and much else) as an ideal in his head instead of an actual factual thing.
Update: I mentioned this in class, and I want to flesh it out a bit. A few posts ago I mentioned Gifford’s annotation of Buck Mulligan’s want for a “Hellenised” Ireland (1.158) and how this contrasted with a “Hebraised” one contrasts Greek and Semitic culture directly. I think it’s not unreasonable to see Greek and Roman culture on one side of a dichotomy and Jewish and Christian on the other given the ways in which Roman and Jewish culture interact in Aeolus, and this works especially interestingly in that Bloom is at once metempsychotically connected to Jews (Moses) and Greeks (Odysseus), as is Stephen with his origins tied to “Aleph, alpha” (3.39). And then what of J. J. O’Molloy’s discussion of “the Moses of Michelangelo in the vatican” (7.757), in which Jewish culture is interpreted by Roman (and obviously Christian) culture?
And (!!!) if Jews and Greeks are both tied to Ireland and Christians and Romans are both tied to Britain, does the fact that Joyce is writing an Irish novel in English have any significance given the Moses of Michelangelo bit?
This is all extremely muddled, both because there are so many possible dichotomies that can be set up and because they’re all intentionally transgressed (and because I haven’t thought this all the way through), but I think there’s something happening here about Bloom’s identity, Ireland’s identity, Joyce’s identity, et cetera.
“Castoff soldier. There: bearskin cap and hackle plume. No, he’s a grenadier. Pointed cuffs. There he is: royal Dublin fusiliers. Redcoats. Too showy. That must be why the women go after them. Uniform. Easier to enlist and drill. Maud Gonne’s letter about taking them off O’Connell street at night: disgrace to our Irish capital” (5.66-70).
Maud Gonne (1866-1953) was, among other things, a famous English-born Irish nationalist and revolutionary, the person responsible for a great deal of anguish on behalf of W. B. Yeats (who was really, really obsessed with her), and also very very tall. Her letter is addressed to the women of Dublin during the Second Boer War (1899-1902), advising them not to sleep with the British soldiers who were increasingly prevalent on the Dublin streets in an attempt to increase enlistment for the war. As Gonne writes in her autobiography,
“To make recruiting easier, the Army Authorities altered their rule of obliging the men to sleep in the barracks, and O’Connell Street used to be full of Red coats walking with their girls. We got out leaflets on the shame of Irish girls consorting with the soldiers of the enemy of their country and used to distribute them to the couples in the streets, with the result that almost every night there were fights in O’Connell Street, for the brothers and the sweet-hearts of Inghinidhe na hEireann [“Daughters of Ireland,” a revolutionary women’s society that Gonne founded] used to come out also to prevent us being insulted by the English soldiers and the ordinary passers-by often took our side” (Gonne 266-7).
Bloom’s later assertion that the British army is “an army rotten with venereal disease: overseas or halfseasover empire” (5.71-2) references the British excursion into South Africa, a military excursion which several prominent Irish nationalists used as an excuse to fight directly against the British (including Gonne’s future husband (much to the chagrin of Yeats), John MacBride, who helped to lead the Irish Transvaal Brigade in South Africa itself). I’d imagine that this war, taking place so soon before the events of Ulysses, may be a recurring topic.