Posts Tagged ‘Maternity’

Deflowering virgin ears

Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 02:21 am Leave a comment

“Watery Words: Language, Sexuality, and Motherhood in Joyce’s Fiction” by Randolph Splitter

So, I had originally intended on annotating the Stanier article, but you snooze you lose. I don’t think I even have to post for today, but oh well. I’ve already read this anyhow.

This piece covers a range of Joyce’s works (“The Dead”, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegan’s Wake), and even goes over the concept of “family” in the context of late 19th and early 20th century Ireland (so, likely, Joyce’s Ireland). Though this article doesn’t explicitly focus on Ulysses (and in fact, pushes to its resolutions with/through Finnegan’s Wake), the range of works explored serve as useful corroborations for general themes in Joyce’s works (though, unfortunately, doesn’t really focus on “Penelope” at all). It does seem to pick up on a lot of (really interesting) things, but they eventually (somewhat) lead back to Irish family life in the 19th/20th centuries, and how Joyce’s works might be seen as an ambivalent response to the polarized gender roles (with mention of Amor matris) in Irish families.

Using “The Dead” as a starting point, Splitter discusses what we’ve been discussing – the conflation of seeming opposites or apparently unrelated ideas – through the short story’s final snowy, sleepy “image of death as a swooning dissolution and fusion of souls… promising union while preserving detachment” (194). Apparently (because I haven’t yet read it), A Portrait has Stephen imagining “life as a powerful tide… threatening to overflow his defenses and boundaries” (194).

Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Stephen so forthrightly imagines “life as a powerful tide”, Stephen is hydrophobia (which tangentially makes me think of Stephen with rabies). Instead of Buck Mulligan’s casual “great sweet mother”, Stephen internally recasts the sea into a huge guilt-ridden bitter green thing, and then (maybe?) menstrual blood (“blood not mine… a winedark sea”. And then more of the “watery” womb tomb funstuff. Splitter goes on to discuss the problematic relations of each character to water in Ulysses.

I feel like I’m just rehashing now, and this article sprawls… so I think I’m just going to highlight, less verbosely, some interesting ideas that I maybe haven’t covered in previous watery posts.

–  consubstantiality, Stephen as Daedalus (father) with the possibility of suffering the fate of the son (Icarus), falling into the sea and drowning (195).

–  the artist as alchemist, turning “base substances, earthbound matter, into ethereal, immaterial spirit” (196), but also the very base origins of art (as Joyce so loves to emphasize). Here, transubstantiation, where Jesus turns water to wine, where Mother Grogan makes her pee and tea (in the same pot?)…

–  this is one of my favorite ideas from this article: the idea of impregnation or insemination via ear, a la Hamlet: “They list. And in the porches of their ears I pour”. I mean, it’s the final frontier as far as orifices that can intake substances go (that we haven’t really explored in great depth):

> Splitter’s suggestion that in FW, “the sexual connotations that Joyce associates with ‘penetration’ through the ear, Earwicker’s spying – or… eavesdropping – upon the girls in the park might be imagined as another sexual assault upon him, a penetration through his ear by the erotic sound of women urinating” (198)… which not only gives us another place of entry, but also enacts a reversal of roles (and general gender ambiguity, because for all sexual differences, we all have ears), ears being penetrated with sound

>  Similarly, “Joyce’s fundamental myth or fantasy of artistic creation… places the artist in the role of the Virgin Mary” (200). The Virgin Mary/Eve as being penetrated/seduced through the ear by the Holy Ghost/Word of God/Serpent in Eden. Splitter quotes Ulysses here: “Sure, you’d burst the tympanum of her ear, man, … with an organ like yours” (cited on p. 200)…

–  here’s a fun little note about something from way back when: The sea (I think in the Telemachiad or summat) was referred to as Mananaan [MacLir], “an early Irish sea god, or his father Lir (the sea itself, the mythical precursor of Shakespeare’s Lear [and yes, my head just exploded])” (200)… an androgynous sea parent à androgynous artist-parent…

And then some stuff about the problems of Amor matris, the love of the mother, the only sure thing in the world (tied into Splitter’s historical contextualization).

Fatherhood: Scylla and Charybdis and Cyclops. (Updated w/ some Judaism)

Monday, October 12, 2009; 06:11 am Leave a comment


On Wednesday, my group discussed fatherhood mainly in relationship to motherhood.  Throughout Scylla and Charybdis both begetting and creating as  a father and bearing and birthing as a mother are mentioned.  Joyce starts to confound the maternity and paternity and constructs an idea that perhaps androgynous birth is best.  Both ways of producing an offspring, contained in one person.

The image of the ultimate match of male and female figures prominently in the chapter.  The image described by Stephen of  the phallic, bloody, violent mulberry tree, upright planted in the loving, accepting mother earth is a fitting support of my theory on androgynous production.  The phallus causes death, the yoni accepts the body back into her, just as the phallus engages the womb in production, and the womb bears the offspring.

Another image that makes a bold impression in Scylla and Charydis is Stephen’s thought about Eve: “Naked wheatbellied sin. A snake coils her, fang in’s kiss.”  The ultimate mother, coiled within the snake phallus, about to give birth to mankind. Powerful.

A man who can absorb qualities of women is somewhat bouyed up by Joyce. Stephen is elated to discover he can fit in women’s shoes in Proteus and Stephen wonders in Scylla: “what name Achilles bore when he lived among women.”  And in Stephen’s argument for Shakespeare being the father of the ghost, the prince and the son of the ghost and prince and Hamlet his own grandfather (or whatever) he says that in the economy of heaven there will be “glorified man, an androgynous angel, being a wife unto himself.”  The ultimate being, having qualities of men and women, production in both ways.

Buck Mulligan (of all people) personifies the feminine birth inside a masculine form when he has an idea for a play: “Wait.  I am big with child.  I have an unborn child in my brain…. He clasped his paunchbrow with both birthaiding hands.”  What’s interesting about this imagery is that it is alludes to Zeus’s takeover of the women’s role in child birth.  A God took the child from a woman and birthed a woman from his creative brain.  The Man (buck) takes and idea from God and bears it femininely to fruition with “birthaiding” hands.


From Scylla to Cylops there is not much in the way of fathers, but in Cyclops there is one mention: J.J. O’Malloy commentson the Jews waiting for their Messiah: “every jew is in a tall state of excitement, I believe, till he knows if he’s a father or a mother” (277, gabler edition)  This is interesting. It’s not in the line of the other aspects of parenthood that I’ve discussed so far.  Here, it seems suggested, the parent’s role depends on whether the child is male or female, since the child’s gender is usually the thing parents are all “in a tall state of excitment” over.  This twist of a familiar concept lands the importance of gender (and  therefore parenting style?) on the parent, which connects to the conversation on incest that we’ve been continuing throughout the book.  If a mother acts as a father in the parenting role, does her son covet her?  If a father acts feminine, does the daughter end up with an Electra Complex… I don’t know.  This will have to be developed more.   


Since Catholicism is patrilineal and Irish, and Judaism is matrilineal and not Irish, as we’ve been seeing… then when Bloom thinks about his line ending earlier on in Cyclops, he is thinking of himself decidely as more Irish than Jewish.  (and I think he can be both… but he is definitely NOT acceptig his Irishness here.)  Because Rudy has died, he considers his line ended, but only his patrilineal line is over, Milly is alive and kicking… and in the Jewish faith, that would be enough.  (But there’s always the complication that Molly isn’t Jewish… and she certainly isn’t Irish.)  Since Bloom doesn’t have a son to be a father for, he seems to have become feminized so he can be a mother for Milly.?  This is a possible direction to go here.  From what I know of the rest of the book, we’re just waiting for Bloom and Stephen to link up so Bloom can act as Father and Stephen can act as Son, and everyone can feel better about everything…..  We’ll see how it goes.