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.
Williams, Trevor. “Conmeeism and the Universe of Discourse in “Wandering Rocks”.” James Joyce Quarterly vol 29.2 (1992): 267-279.
Trevor Williams focused on Father Conmee’s appearance in Wandering Rocks to examine the connection between the Church, Ireland under colonial rule, and Joyce’s take on it all. In the article Conmeeism and the Universe of Discourse in “Wandering Rocks”, Williams observed that Roman Catholicism had a distinct lingual style, through Father Conmee’s perspective, and this managed to repress the Irish of the episode as much as the English colonization of Ireland represented through the Viceregal cavalcade. Through Marxism he hopes to prove that Joyce is rebelling against Catholicism’s complicity with the state in keeping the masses oppressed (okay, I’ll stop channeling Buck).
Anyway, Trevor Williams does manage to prove that there is a special style of discourse that we might define as “Conmeeism.” I’ll bite on that, since the “Eastern Star” group spent some time last Wednesday unofficially and vaguely trying to define the language he uses in connection to the disconnect between Conmee and the real world of the Dubliners. Williams did a very good job pinpointing the exact style, and what makes it so oppressive. The style of language used in his episode is for the most part pedantic, precise; it echoes the styles approved by St. Ignatius Loyola for the order that Conmee is a part of: the Jesuits (275). Because Father Conmee has a lack of vocal character, that is, what he thinks about is almost what he says, for example the section where he runs into the wife of the MP, and proceeds to talk about her children, there is a lack of fragmentation in his character that you see with Bloom and Stephen (270). This gives him a sense of wholeness, a “greater presence” so the reader believes that he is speaking for the greater Church (270). At the same time, however, his language creates a barrier between him and the fragmentary chaotic outer world (271). Not being of the world of Dublin, and yet a great force on Dublin, he in turn is never affected by that world, and without that reciprocity he becomes an oppressive force (271).
Specifically, this style represses the female characters that Conmee runs into, as Williams points out (272). I like how he notes that Conmee only seems to interact with women, really, as the men he encounters serve merely to confirm his role as the overall patriarchal Father (276). Conmee is willfully ignorant of the world around him in a way the women are not. The young couple he runs into react radically differently to him. The girl is unabashed, obviously picking the reminding twig from her skirt, as her boyfriend awkwardly salutes the priest. Conmee’s Catholic, chaste authority is challenged by the girl (278). However, he is able to brush this challenge aside, and bury it with what Williams would terms as the authority of his holy book (278). The girl leaves, gravely blessed, and he continues, reducing her to “Sin.”
Williams point is that this repression is typical of the economic oppression of the state, specifically the imperial, colonial state that England represents to the Irish mind (269). There is the same barrier between Conmee and the people as exists between the viceregal carriage. Williams borrows Engles to make the point thatthese two beings don’t see the reality of Joyce’s Dublin , which only enforces the crushing economic dependence on England that Church endorses in its complicit ignorance (269). Religion only needs to be separated from the machinations of the State because it is omnipresent in the lives of the characters, according to Williams (269).
The bright side in Williams article is that the power of Catholicism and Conmee’s language is broken when sexuality confronts the Patriarchal complex that controls capitalism (278). Williams believes that Joyce forms through feminine sexuality as femininity that can be taken on by all characters to combat the oppression (278). So, ideally, the salvation comes from the female, as an “abstract” in Williams’ words (278).
He admits that these ideas aren’t complete, as he does not examine colonialism, except to say that it parallels the church (267).It also would have been nice to see more commentary based upon the world that Joyce inhabited, and the religion of Dublin’s day. The scant “Notes” section reveals a few pieces of Marxist criticism, and some general background to Joyce and Ulysses, however, nothing connecting back to the religious reality of the day that Joyce covers in the novel. I would also have liked possibly to see something on nationalism, and how Catholicism conflicted with colonialism in that regard, if only as a response to possible weak points in the thesis. Anyway, it seems rather ironic that Williams biggest criticism of the Church-through-Conmee is that there is a disconnect between the church and reality, when there is a disconnect between Williams and the church’s reality.
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Note: I didn’t know where to put this so I’m sticking this completely unrelated thing at the end of my post.
I stumbled onto a little gem in JSTOR by accident. It’s from the “Musical Times” of 1889, and discusses among other things Guido d’Arroz, who might have been the inventor of the musical notation form that we saw in Scylla and Charybdis. Apparently the form of having only a four-line staff is common up to present day! (Thanks to Wikipedia for this info). The four-line staff is used to indicated plain chant, and the notation style was the first kind of notation that actually told pitch as well as timing, which was invented for the use of Catholic monks (Arroz was specifically a Benedictine) for the purposes of basically glorifying God in a way that wasn’t on seven different keys in an atonal nightmare. Anyway, the particle was pretty interesting:
The Great Musical Reformers. II. Guido d’Arezzo, by W. S. Rockstro The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular © 1889 Musical Times Publications Ltd. You should be able to search JSTOR for it pretty easily.
“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.