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Demons, Circles, and Supplication, oh My

Wednesday, November 4, 2009; 03:38 pm 1 comment

This might cut into Judaism and Ulysses, but Josh didn’t mention it, so I will! The Fan on pg. 430 becomes God to Bloom’s Moses, at the pivotal moment of the burning bush. “Have you forgotten me?” becomes the question of forgetting the God of Bloom’s fathers. “Am all them and the same now me” echoes “I am he who is” or “I am who am” which are semi basic English translations of the passage in the Latin Vulgate (I think. Correct me on this, if I’m in error. I know that the King James translation is “I am that am,” but the King James is a faulty translation on many counts, and also, we’re dealing with Joyce’s Roman Catholic background, so I want to go Latin).

However, as the recitation of this burning bush continues, Bloom transforms from the powerful Moses into an ordinary Catholic Man, seeking supplication from the Virgin Mary.

The Fan

We have met. You are mine. It is fate.

Bloom

(Cowed) Exuberant female. Enormously I desiderate your domination. I am exhausted, abandoned, no more young.

Interesting to note that he is using a verb with a Latin base to indicate his longing for the Fan, the exuberant female, the Virgin who draws her mantle over the abandoned, exhausted, and the weakly aged. This contributes to the “churchy” feeling of supplication present in the scene.

Part of the echoes, obviously, have to do with Bloom’s spiral from himself, to the servile fantasy fetish Bloom-Ruby that is occurring in the nightmare. However, Bloom’s submission to the Fan reflects Stephen’s rejection of the Church in the form of his rejection of women. They both expect the same end, that the woman will dominate their lives. For Bloom this is twisted fantasy, for Stephen, it is the repugnant as Ann Hathaway was for “shrewridden Shakespeare” (335). The Virgin becomes the Church, almost entirely driving out the masculine that was associated with Catholicism in earlier chapters. As Blooms submission to the Church is part of his private nightmare, and the nightmare of the book, it is abject submission to any one thing that becomes nightmarish.

Indeed, once Bloom submits to the Mary of the Fan, the devil replaces the Virgin, and the imagery becomes even darker. “All things end,” says the Fan, snuffing out hope, “Be mine. Now” (431). The demand managed to alert Bloom that something has gone wrong, but he has parted with his talisman of a potato, and can do nothing against the devil. Significantly, the idea of the warding symbol is very Catholic. It turns Bloom into a pilgrim, lost on his way to Jer-Bloom-usalem, encountering the devil in the wastes. He cannot fight the Evil One, as he has lost his pilgrims badge, the talisman potato. So, he must kiss the Devil’s cloven hoof.

When he does fight Bella/Bello’s influence and finally rejects it, we do see Bloom taking Bella’s place in the original God/Moses, Mary/Supplicant roles. Bella sees him now as both God and devil: “I know you, canvasser! Dead cod!” she cries (452). One normally would yell to the devil, “I know you, Satan!” and the canvasser comment is tempting to associate Satan with a canvasser of souls. However, Bella adds “Dead cod!” rather “Dead God,” which would actually be Jesus, who died for the sins of men. In this way, the devil and God become conflated with one another, which just goes back to one of my favorite themes of this book: that right and wrong are too simple to apply to actions, because invariably there is no real difference between them on a cosmic level. A saint is a heretic, and a heretic is a saint in Joyce’s world. The hoof of the devil once was the foot of the Virgin.

On a side note to Josh: I’m not certain that I agree with “The fact that Bloom focuses so intently on tying a shoe on her (cloven unkosher) horse hoof (2810).” Hoof in this case seems to be referring to, say, a more goat-like hoof/pig trotter, as it is cloven. Horses have solid hoofs. Besides, it just gets better on the kosher, unkosher level, when the Jewish Bella has pigs feet, and Bloom is bending to make them neat, thus, in some way “clean.” It could be possible that by eating unkosher things himself, Bloom is somehow making them clean, becoming the new Jewish, Moses descended Messiah as we talked about in class.

There is a lot more Bello/Fan/Hoof/Bella association with the devil, see page 443 if you’re interested in seeing how this crosses with Jewishness. The Nymph and the Yews (which in German, and I think Hungarian, is the verbal pronunciation of the word “Jew”) offer more to mine on both Devil, Jewishness, and the Blessed Virgin on page 450-451. However, I should get back to the second part of my post, which is Stephen oriented. Oh Stephen, how we have missed you.

I’ve been playing with the idea of Stephen being a circular being since Proteus. We see so much of this in Circe that now I’m probably going to have to go back and look for circles surrounding Stephen in general. Anyway, despite the fact that Stephen’s thinking and movements (the empty fifths) cycle endlessly, in perfect infinity, the never ending oroborus, Stephen does not actually feel whole. I believe that he is actually searching to make himself a trinity, and triangular. “Where’s the third person of the Blessed Trinity?” is his drunken out burst to Gummy Granny, who wants his help (486). He cannot help the Nationalist cause because he is not a trinity yet.

While dancing, he waltzes, a moving circle made out of four steps at the easiest level (469). In the beginning of the dance, while everything was going Carnival crazy, Stephen does “minuet forward three paces on tripping bee feet,” however, he cannot keep it up. The prelude ends, and the real music forces him to waltz once more, becoming circular again. He switches partners three times, trying to achieve perfect trinity by association (471). Still, however, he circles, while his fellow partners, “Bloombella Kittylynch Florryzoe jujuby women” form the edges of one big triangle around him (472).

Stephen is surrounded by a trinity that he wants to become a part of, but he does not seem to notice for once that the trinity is made up of women. Arguably, Lynch might be a man, but he is subordinated by Kitty as “Kittylynch.” Bloom’s full femininity is expressed in this scene as “Bloombella” a “jujuby wom[an].” Stephen longs to become part of that female trinity of Marys that dance around him in a triangle, but he cannot, because he must find his own “third person of the blessed Trinity.”

Catholic Quickies: Oxen of the Sun

Wednesday, October 28, 2009; 01:05 am Leave a comment

Okay, to add onto the post for Monday, I’m switching gears to look at Oxen of the Sun. There isn’t as much Marian playdoh to work with, for another feminine nurturing chapter. Indeed, the church seems to be working in a very negative light, when the medical students speak about it. I feel this is because we’re now seeing Catholicism through the eyes of Stephen’s generation, which like him may be moving away from the church for good, or are indulging in their rebellion against authority for the present. Indeed this ties in with the desecration of the hospital, which in many ways seems to be another rebellion against duty and authority. Dixon just wants to get off of work and go drinking, and Nurse Callan — the embodiment of authority — is derided when she asks for some decorum (321).

Indeed, Nurse Callan seems to work as the Virgin Mary in this episode, albeit in a very understated way. She attends the hospital in the role of Mother of the Church. She is most likely a virgin, given her “nine twelve blood flows” (316). While we have no idea about her immaculate conception, Nurse Callan is like a mother to all who labor in the hospital, and their children, touching upon the aspect of her mother-to-God. Compared to Gerty in Nausicaa, she is not overtly angelic, but in some ways she is the practical Virgin who you want as your intercessory. She cares about the patients she must take care of, and recalls Bloom fondly, although she has not had interaction with him for years. Generally, she represents Marian authority gone right, rather than Gerty, who tends to be the more judgmental authority of the church.

Fireworks for the Cult of Mary

Monday, October 26, 2009; 03:31 am Leave a comment

Amy asked about this in class maybe half a month ago, now (or it could be longer), but I’m finally going to sort of answer the question of femininity in the Church, how Joyce is using it, and then quickly dodge away behind a rock before anyone figures out that I haven’t answered that question at all. So, Nausicaa finally gives us long awaited direct contact with the Cult of Mary. I’m actually surprised that it took so long when we got the much more masculine church of the fathers in Aeolus, Lotus Eaters, and Wandering Rocks.

So, let’s examine Gerty’s character through the structures of the Cult of Mary. Basically, to boil down the Cult of Mary, there 5 (or 4 – one of the beliefs in Mary wasn’t made into actual Dogma until the 1950s, but it was held as common knowledge from the 6th century) basic pieces of dogma: Mary is the Mother of God, she has always been a virgin, she was immaculately conceived, she was taken into heaven (the Assumption is the belief that had not been made official in Joyce’s time), and she is the Mother of the Church. I do think that as Joyce was constructing Gerty he was modeling the deeper Mary parallels on these five beliefs.

Sadly, the first belief, Mary as the Mother of God, is the hardest dogma to work with, for some reason. I feel that Molly fits in here better, or Milly, considering some of the comments made in Oxen of the Sun. I guess in class I’d like to look a bit harder at Gerty’s role as a mother, and how these three women interest at various points with the Virgin Mary. Gerty’s motherhood is questionable. She is supposedly a second of her house (290) but this actually fits more to Mary in her role as Mother of the Church, because Gerty’s home is more closely paralleled to the institution, rather than a more anthropomorphic representation.

Obviously, it’s much more easy to work with the concept of the perpetual virgin. Beyond the fact that it is clear Gerty is a physical virgin, she’s also extremely inexperienced mentally. Her “style” of thought is the awkward prettiness of a dime-store novel, and her very outlook is simple, and innocent. She “crimsons” at the mention of bottom when Cissy uses it in baby talk, transforming herself into the virginal rose (290). Despite the fact that she spends the whole chapter ruminating on romance, and flirting, sex is firmly in it’s proper place, that is to say, the “other thing” and out of sight for Gerty (300).  Also, her antipathy to children, compared to both Cissy and Edy (Mother and Crone pair of a different trinity) , places her firmly in the “maiden” category. She doesn’t even have children in her vision of the the ideal home, which suggests that she would prefer that children, like food, came in more “poetical” (perhaps sacred/mysterious) packages (289). The final proof of her perpetual virginity might lie in a physical virginity, however, considering her lameness. This kind of defect might mar her standing in the marriage market. It even marred her attractiveness to Bloom, after all, and he can entertain almost anything. Gerty might end up the childless spinster of the three girls, despite all her dreams to the contrary.

Moving on to the Immaculate Conception, I have to say, it’s hard to relate this to any Joyce character. In Gerty’s case, it could be argued, her freeness from sin rests in her innocence, and incapability of understanding what sin actually is, as classified by the Roman Catholic Church. “Besides, there was absolution as long as you don’t do the other thing,” is a pretty inaccurate reckoning of the doctrine of lust (300). It could be that Gerty’s immaculate-ness has to do with her pre-Fall Eve-like innocence. Otherwise, I’m going to need a little help with this one.

I’ll make an argument for a representation of the Assumption of Mary, as well, despite the fact that it still wasn’t official in Joyce’s time. I still feel that he nodded at it, in the fireworks scene (Yes, that Roman candle can be more than phallic and masturbatory. Roman candles can be a lot of things). Gerty, after all, “saw a long Roman candle going up over the trees,” which could be the ascension of the Roman Catholic church, or even Gerty going “up, up” to the heavens (300). The fireworks explode in glory becoming one with the sky at the apex of their assent. In artwork of the assumption, the Virgin also ascends in colorful almost liquid-like clouds (sometimes it’s billowing cloth) — Here’s a pretty Rueben from Wikipedia, lots of jetting clouds and artistically nude cherubs — so the fireworks and the Virgin and Gerty all ascend to heaven together.

So, finally we come to looking at Gerty through the lens of the Mother of the Church. I have to say that the moments that I identified when she fit this role were generally Gerty’s least attractive moments. Her condemnation of pretty much all women as prostitutes is one fun example, since Gerty “loathed that sort of person, the fallen woman off the accommodation walk beside the Dodder that went with the soldiers and coarse men with no respect” (299). Of course, like the Church, Gerty associates respect with her kind of virginal-Victorian ultra modesty. She seems only to be able to reach out her more charitable impulses in the language of doctrinal conversion, as well. “If he was protestant or methodist she could convert him easily if he truly loved her,” according to Gery-Mary, mother of the church (293). Each time she reaches out in love or dislike, Gerty seems to embody the Catholic church at some level. Unfortunately, it isn’t the most flattering level. I feel that Joyce is digging more at the institution, rather than woman’s reactions to it.

Femininity in the form of Mary is to be respected and adored, according to Catholic doctrine. Gerty, although she is respected and adored by Bloom, is not as attractive to the reader, having obvious flaws. But these are reflected flaws of the church. Her dislike is absolute, pronounced, and clear. She can’t get along with Edy, and her thoughts turn from majestic to poisonous, which is not brilliant, when seen in someone as powerful as Gerty believes herself to be. When Gerty reaches out with love, as the Church is supposedly open, she thinks of conversion, conquest, and changing those who are not of her color, so to speak. Again, this represents a very ugly side of an institution that has what seem to be decent goals in the form of Gerty’s rather pleasant daydreams. The Catholic Church, as represented through this Mary is a negative force, despite the positive goals it alleges to.