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Twilight in ‘Nausicaa’ and ‘Oxen of the Sun’ in the Dark

Wednesday, October 28, 2009; 03:52 am Leave a comment

Ok, so one of the articles I wanted to write about is really short, so I did two short ones which will hopefully equal a normal sized one:)

Smith, Craig, “Twilight in Dublin: A Look at Joyce’s ‘Nausicaa’,” col.28, no.3 (Spring 1991), pp. 631-635.

Smith’s main goal with this article appears to be to argue that the first half of episode 13 is not merely a comic parody of a writing style, but actually deeply packed with complicated twins, a “series of dualitites” (631). He frames this argument by discussing the setting of the episode at twilight, “the moment of transition” in which it is both night and day (631). He identifies a series of twins, both obvious ones like the sea and shore, man and woman, etc, but also more abstract concepts like reality and illusion and sacred and profane, as well as doubles of people, such as Tommy and Jacky doubling the priests. He also notes a rather startling link between Ulysses and Portrait, in which Stephen and Gerty are described in almost identical terms.

            From this point he moves on to the second part of the article, in which he argues that these two characters are unable to differentiate between a key twin, “sexual and spiritual ecstasy” (632). He doesn’t do much with this point, but goes on to find a variety of interesting similarities between Gerty and Stephen, identifying Gerty as a young Stephen as a he appears in Portrait without the intervening year of significant change (633).

            Finally, Smith uses another double to illustrate the importance of the first half of the episode, despite the common desire to brush it off as merely parody. Smith claims that “Joyce sought to continue the twinning process in the episode so that both pairs and opposites might be seen with a second vision, [thus] the strange style of the opening half of the episode is not so enigmatic” (634). He then lists the common topics of Gerty and Bloom’s respective ruminations, which are extensive, arguing finally that both sections are necessary to understand each other, just as the presence of doubles and twins contribute meaning to each part.

Benstock, Bernard, “Decoding in the Dark in ‘Oxen of the Sun’,” vol.28, no.3 (Spring 1991), pp. 637-642.

Benstock begins his article by highlighting “the absence of a controlling, much less a reliable narrator” in episode 14; which is to say that the rapid shifts from one literary style to another creates a narrator that is so transitory that it ceases to be an authority over the progression of the story (637).  Thus, as readers we are forced to experience this episode “in the dark,” without the benefit of a unified coherent narrator, “an exercise in reading blind by listening to the ten voices” (638). Much of the article consists of examples of this confusing progression, which I do not feel the need to trace as we all experienced it ourselves thank you very much. He identifies a further disorienting characteristic of this episode, which is the near invisibility of either of our expected central characters, Bloom and Stephen, especially towards the end of the episode. ‘Oxen of the Sun’ is dominated by the chattering of characters who are not only unknown to the reader, but even difficult to distinguish from each other, with Bloom and Stephen speaking remarkably little: “the disintegration of the elegance of language into dialect distortion acts to deprive the proper Bloom of a voice and reduces the literary Stephen to a few foreign phrases” (641). All told, the purpose of he argument appears to be to point out why this episode is do difficult and uncomfortable for the reader, and while he makes valid points, I don’t think any of us needed a scholar to tell us that.

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Underlying Gifts

Monday, October 26, 2009; 03:42 am Leave a comment

Gifts and giving form the basis and arching themes of Episode 13, Nausicaa, and Episode 14, Oxen of the Sun, though their effects become increasingly subtle. Relief and respite, protection and guidance to the “stormtossed heart of man,” flow from the Virgin Mary/Nausicaa-figure Gerty MacDowell to Bloom and the reader. This lull, this moment of clarity, comes on the heels of the gift-giving-gone-violent in Episode 12, where suspected wealth turns into expected gifts for the narrator and accompanying drinkers, illustrating the uglier side of social bonds governing wealth, gifts, and when and when not to give. In the case of Bloom’s supposed winnings, the all-male cast of Episode 12, and each of the citizen’s companions, are upset to one degree or another over Bloom not giving out, but they never put these considerations in words to Bloom – displeasure and violence instill both parties at the end. Episode 13 flips this: the female, unlooked for and unasked, not even talked to, reveals herself to Bloom, while hiding the defects, and both come away gracefully released. After this Adoration, this first gift presented directly to him, free of social constraints, Bloom, calmed and at peace, is able to articulate, if briefly, his thoughts on Molly and Boylan. He resolves to not dwell on the past and to move forward: “Returning not the same…the new I want.” Characteristically, he wrestles with the contradiction: “Nothing new under the sun.” Personally, however, the “outside-society” gift has allowed Bloom proactive development. In episode 14, Bloom can, for the first time, put aside concerns for the Boylan-Molly tangle.

Episode 14’s occurrences of gifts and giving are the basis of the episode, the gift of life, its examination, development, and miracle. This gift is inextricably linked, once and for all, with social duty in the opening Latin discourse of the episode, whereby it is described that thinking people must go forth and multiply. Inherent in the gift of life are the many gifts in between death and life, and symbolic of both, manifesting materially in things such as sweaters and drinks. At the same time, there is a theme of hospitality and proper etiquette present in the episode that receives a bear nod from the reveling students when they take in ‘the stranger’ and hush up when confronted by a nurse and stark or noble truths – eventually, however, everything becomes grist for their mockery.

After discussion, everyone was behind this “gift” from Nausicaa as a relief for Bloom, though its effects were more ambiguous than I first imagined, mainly becuase the ending of the episode re-invokes the cuckoldry and “old” scandal Bloom has been dealing with all day. Odd. As well, there is a substantial portion of people who don’t like to view this as a “gift” at all, turning instead on the point of voyuerism present in the episode and the general creepiness of it all. Voyueristic or not, I’d still say that for Bloom the relief is clear.

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.