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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.

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.

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.