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Webs of Meaning of Light in Ulysses

Monday, November 16, 2009; 04:24 am Leave a comment

The Sparknotes of Ulysses that we have been using in class identifies Lightness and Darkness as a central motif in the novel. While the analysis is very basic, he argument in that the traditional binary of light = good and dark = bad breaks down in Ulysses, with the two main characters being associated with dark through their mourning dress and Boylan, one of the closest characters to an antagonist, is associated with light through his name and manners. While this argument fits well the symbolic correlations I laid out earlier, it also makes an interesting subliminal point, which is that in the scope of the novel, Bloom and Stephen are good and should therefore be associated with light in the traditional sense. However, I think this is a point better left to another discussion. Light in Ulysses is not used to denote good and evil meant to draw on the traditional and archetypal significance of the imagery, but instead as symbols for the characters. The function of light imagery as not only representational of the characters in a single instance but also creating a web of complicated symbolism that gives the characters almost inscrutable depth. This symbolic representation is the main function of light in novel as far as I can recognize, rather than articulating the good/evil dichotomy above or to denote religious imagery.

This is not to say that the light imagery in the novel does not draw on established tropes; the idea of femininity being related to the moon is not a new one, but rather than for example, simple relations like black = bad, the interpretations are much more complicated and nuanced. Bloom and his relation to darkness is a prime example.

Throughout the novel Bloom (and Stephen) is characterized by his black clothing, but this image goes miles beyond the traditional dastardly villain dressed all in black. For Bloom, the meanings of his association with darkness are many, varied, and at times contradictory. For one, his black clothing is a sign of mourning, meant to be a physical manifestation of his respect for Dignam. However, this analysis is challenged by the fact that on several occasions Bloom assures those he meets that it’s nothing, it’s just Dignam. But to add another level to this image, we soon see that Bloom is still very much still in mourning for his son Rudy who died over a decade ago. Complicated yet? Bloom’s connection with darkness has many other layers as well. It is representative of his Jewishness, which marks him as an outsider (Gerty sees him as the dark foreigner, he describes himself as olive skinned) and therefore separate from his Irish brethren. Darkness also associates him with Haines’ black panther, which could be interpreted as anything from a nationalist threat to Buck’s impression of Bloom as an older, threatening, homosexual male. Similarly, his unintentional connection with Throwaway, the black horse who appears from behind to win the race, possibly hinting at the arguably hopeful ending of the novel in which Bloom returns as a contender for Molly’s bed and happiness. In terms of other characters, Molly is also characterized as having a dark complexion, but she does not appear to be ostracized by society and instead is characterized almost exclusively by her sexual appeal. Stephen, who also wears black, but in this case specifically for his mother who has been dead for almost a year, is hailed as a priest, which connects to the web of Catholic imagery around him.

This example illustrates that the interpretation of light imagery often does not begin from the cultural representation and then progress to the character, but instead starts with the character and moves outwards in a web of meaning that overlaps with many other ones. Of course Joyce could not be so simple as to have one image mean one thingJ

Update for Ithaca

Wednesday, November 11, 2009; 02:42 am Leave a comment

Sorry I haven’t had much to say about Eumaeus; there just wasn’t much in the way of light to discuss.

There were a couple other instances where light was doing some interesting things in Ithaca, though:

– As Bloom and Stephen walk home, they ruminate on a series of topics (lines 11-18). However, the only thing they agree on is the “influence of gaslight or electric light on the growth of adjoining paraheliotropic trees” (44-5). The fact that the only thing they agree on is a the physical reflection of light on trees, which makes them consider different aspects of their own lives (see Blamires for an interesting commentary).

– To give a little bit more insight to the guidance theme of the candle lighting scene I wrote about for Monday, when Bloom comes to fetch Stephen, the question to elicit more information is “Did Stephen obey his sign?” (118). The use of the word “obey” highlights the father/son dynamic, while “sign” heightens the religious imagery.

– Bloom and Stephen are characterized as “doubly dark” as they move out of the house into the garden (1037). This additional reference to their mourning clothes creates the image of two men dressed all in black, which seems to me to lend a different feel to the scene than if they had been wearing normal clothes.

– As Bloom contemplates the sunrise on pg 579, it takes a while for the actual word “sun” to appear. Its light is called instead “the diffusion of daybreak,” a “luminous body,” and a “golden limb” until it is finally named as the sun, giving the appearance of an actual body climbing up over the horizon (1257, 1267).

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Light in Ithaca

Monday, November 9, 2009; 05:34 am Leave a comment

One significant instance of light is the extended moment in which Bloom must break into his own house (repeating again the theme of keylessness) and then wanders through the darkened rooms and goes about the process of lighting a candle. By their very bulk, the light words are noteworthy, fitting with the extremely meticulous language throughout the episode. Following Bloom’s process, several different lights must be ignited, match to gaslight to candle, before he can retrieve Stephen, who has been waiting outside for “four minutes” (114).  This progression, as usual, lends itself to a variety of meanings, most of which I would argue are religious, relating specifically to the end of Bloom’s wanderings. For one, the successive lights, from Lucifer match, to superfluously bright gaslight, to controlled, useful candle could be interpreted as the development of religious belief, from the very limited, unsustainable light of a match, to the wild brightness of the newly converted, to the steady, practical light of a comfortable believer. However, which this progression can be argued in reference to the lights, it holds little merit in reference to the men concerned, neither of which inhabits really any stage of this timeline. Still, this development can be superimposed over any other, such as Bloom’s excitement over his friendship with Stephen. At first, Bloom doesn’t appear to care much about Stephen, but then his paternal instincts kick into high gear, waning slowly towards the end of the novel into a mutually beneficial relationship that fades as the night passes. 

Another interpretation of this scene deals more specifically with Bloom as father and Stephen as son. In entering a new area, in which Bloom is not exactly sure what he is going to find (will Molly be there, will the evidence of the affair be explicit, etc) the father goes first as a scout, and also a host, not allowing his guest/son to take the side way in. Thus, the light which Stephen observes moving around the Bloom household is the guiding light of fatherhood, a physical manifestation of the care that Bloom has been providing him throughout their night time escapades.

A further development of light which appears in this same episode, and is actually rather beneficial to my argument concerning characters and light, hinge on the question on page 576 of “what special affinities appeared to him to exist between the moon and woman?”. This answer, I would argue largely a product of Bloom based on Stephen’s limited experience with getting to know women, seems to sum up Bloom’s mixed and conflicting feelings about women in general and specifically Molly. He discusses her constancy, but also her quality of “waxing and waning” (1162). She has power ‘to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite to and aid delinquency” (1164-5). I think we could make short work of finding instances in Ulysses in which Molly has each one of these effects on Bloom. He seems to be talking more about woman than the moon, but with Joyce, the moon could easily be personified to include these various descriptions.

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Soap, Sun, Aurora Borealis and the Shattering of the Chandelier in Circe

Wednesday, November 4, 2009; 05:08 am Leave a comment

First of all, I have a new theory that I explained to my group last meeting. So I established in my last post that Boylan = the sun (his nickname is Blazes, as well as character traits like his pushiness and fame). By this logic, I would then argue that the soap Bloom has been carrying around in his pocket is representative of the sun and therefore Boylan. Textual evidence: “He points to the south, then to the east. A cake of new clean lemon soap arises, diffusing light and perfume” (15:336-7). In this bit of description, the soap clearly appears as the sun, thus by my argument equating it with Boylan. Interpretive evidence: Bloom has been carrying the soap with him all day, just as the anxiety of Molly and Boylan’s meeting has been haunting him. As we discussed in class, Bloom is rather generously aware of what would attract and please Molly (Boylan) just as he is sensitive enough to buy her to soap and novel. Similarly, the need to return and pay for the soap has also been bothering Bloom, just as he considers the question of whether Boylan is paying Molly from a purely economical standpoint. With the relief that accompanies the Nausicca episode, Bloom is freed from his anxiety over the affair and his unpaid-for soap; though both Boylan and the soap appear later on, they are not attended by the same worry and obsession. Finally, when Bloom smells himself searching for the “man smell,” he encounters the soap instead; Boylan to many seems to represent the quintessential man, and would therefore have the man smell.

Another point which I mentioned in class is the new appearance of another kind of light: aurora borealis. In the first part of the episode, it is mentioned by name twice, lines 170 and 1373, but the heavenly lights themselves reappear gold, pink, and violet in the dancing scene in the brothel (pages 468-9) in which an entire day is experience through light, from morning to noon to twilight and night. This new light, which is colors, at night, in the sky (a location which is in my light-math is Boylan and Molly’s [Molly(moon) + Boylan(sun) = Sky]) presents new concepts for consideration. I would argue that this coloring of their affair is representative of Bloom’s path towards reunification with Molly through is improving prospects and performance in this episode, especially in his gaining of an adopted son. Thus, aurora borealis represents a disruption of the established light patterns, not only colors, but lights that both move and change.

A climactic point in this episode is Stephen’s destruction of the chandelier (4243-5), which is another critical disjuncture from the previous light patterns in that light and its production actually becomes part of the action of the story. I have a couple possible interpretations of this instance, but I would be interested to see how the rest of the class interprets it. For one, Stephen’s destruction of light could be linked to the light as religion and his willful rejection of religion as forced on him by and tied to his mother, whose ghost has just appeared to him. Another possibility would be that in his destruction of the king of lamps, the chandelier (which is called a lamp after it is broken and therefore appears smaller and more normal) could be indicative of his rejection of the opposite of shadow, being his realm of light (as I posited in class). This topic would also bring up the discussion of the ashplant, with which we could surely do much.

Update from Sirens and Cyclops

Wednesday, October 14, 2009; 02:53 am Leave a comment

To continue to play with the idea of the moon as a feminine symbol in Ulysses, I would like to pinpoint a couple of instances that directly link the idea of moon as feminine with Bloom as feminine. First of all, we have the quote in 12.1801 of “If the man in the moon was a jew jew jew.” This comment not only effectively links Bloom with the moon, it also further illustrates him as an Other, associated with distance, night, and obscurity. But at least he’s a MAN in the moon.

Secondly, as Bloom/Elijah escapes from his tormentors in a chariot of fire, Bloom is described as “having the raiment of the sun, fair as the moon” (12.1913). This description is odd in the first place because of the reference to the sun; throughout the novel, Bloom has in many cases been primarily identified by his dark clothing, pragmatically because he has yet to change from his mourning, but used to distance him as of another race. Additionally, the “fair as the moon” comment again differs from his characterization as a dark, foreign figure. Coming from the pale-skinned Irish, “fair” is a mark of similarity. However, “fair” is usually a distinctly feminine description, and linked with a comparison to the arguably feminine moon, further identifies Bloom as a feminine character, which Blamires promises will be expanded in later episodes.

Complicating appearance of light

Monday, October 12, 2009; 12:37 am Leave a comment

Episode 11 saw some interesting changes in the patterns set by the first part of the book. For one thing, light words are finally being used regularly in a non-literal sense. Up until this episode, the vast majority of light words appeared as direct physical descriptions of the light quality in a given area or of celestial bodies. At its most abstract, light language would be used as descriptions of people, such as Stephen often being described as looking or feeling dark. But this section of reading marks a turning point, a diversification, in Joyce’s use a light. One word which is used in a new more colloquial way is “brilliant,” used now to mean intelligent or particularly capable. Examples of this usage appear at like 482 of episode 11 in which Dollard’s “tight trousers” are mocking referred to as a “brilliant idea,” but also in serious reflection of Irish talent describing “Dublin’s most brilliant scribe and editor” (11.268). Similarly, as Bloom hears the jingle of Boylan’s approach yet again, he gives a “light sob of breath” (11.457). I would approach the analysis of this change in usage by drawing on the established rule of Joyce that light words mean actual light. Therefore, a light sob appears at least in my mind, to be a sob connected with a visual image of light rather than referring to the strength or intensity of the sob. Why Joyce is doing this I have yet to discern.

            Another change that is appearing in this section of the reading is that the light words as a whole which refer to aspects of day or night are continuing to shift. Previously, the opening sections were filled with more appearances of “day” imagery, whereas in the last few episodes, the moon has appeared with dramatic frequency. Thus, I would argue, the solar imagery is meant to be proceeding faster, or at least ahead of, the actual day, dragging the reader on towards the end.

            Finally, I think I am actually able to posit an overall theme (a new commitment between light and I). As part of his internal monologue, Bloom thinks the phrase “manless moonless womoonless”; this reference, tied to the increasing appearance of moon imagery as well as Bloom’s growing fixation with Molly’s impending activities would lead me to make a tenuous connection between the moon and femininity, a classic connection but one which will lead me to reinterpret the plethora of references to the night as a woman’s territory and thereby day as a man’s, a perfect activity for break.

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Reflections on Light in Aeolus

Wednesday, September 30, 2009; 03:54 am Leave a comment

I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to do new posts for our reflections from Monday or if we were supposed to comment of our own posts or what, so I went with the most accessible option.

 

An interesting comparison with my analysis of light and Dan Dawson’s speech comes from the other speech that appears in episode 7, that of John F. Taylor.  Quoted in lines 828-870, this speech is also about Ireland and significantly ends with light imagery. In the previous example, references to light were concentrated on description of Ireland itself. In this second case, however, light happens, as lightning on Mt. Sinai, or represents (one of the rare times) religion as the “light of inspiration” (7.866-68). The more metaphorical use of light as “shining” in the face of Moses(Ireland)(Bloom). Needless to say, this speech is received much better by the men in the newspaper office.  This acceptance may stem from the preference of elegant metaphor over bombastic description, or from what is being described, the plight of the Irish rather than Ireland’s scenery. However, the OBVIOUS parallel between Moses and Bloom is troubling, especially appearing in an episode that seems to emphasize Bloom’s ostracism as a Jew more that some others. It’s almost as if Moses is accepted as Irish before Bloom, a designation which we see he craves.