Title: Giving Death.
Author: Erin Soros.
Source: differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies. 10.1 (Spring 1998): p1. From Literature Resource Center.
Basically, this article manages to articulate everything I’ve been dancing around all semester so far, whether out of politeness or sheer reticence to admit I’ve been thinking about these things. So, I found it extremely useful, especially regarding my secondary obsession, which is Freud. However, some of the other obsessions addressed directly in this article include: paternity and “filiation,” maternity, male pregnancy, yes and no, and the “flow” of language (water?), and gifts. Have at.
This phrase in particular summed up much of this madness in regard to my obsession: “Juxtaposed with various analyses of filiation, the many scenes of eating in Ulysses foreground the relationship between food and language, and between digestive processes and mourning. The other is externalized and internalized. The other gives the self and the self gives the other: ‘And we stuffing food in one hole and out behind: food, chyle, blood, dung, earth, food: have to feed it like stoking an engine’ (225). Like food, language is what one is given yet also what one gives in return.” In one hole and out the other, couldn’t have said it better myself, ma’am. Also, Bloom is an ad man, employed in the business of regurgitation, much like the old crusty Shakespearean critics with Stephen earlier in the library. Bloom is also feminized not only in his behavior but in his unconscious empathy for women’s experiences of menstruation, pregnancy, labor, and stillbirth. His fantasies of swelling predominate his internal discourse, including his obsession with feeding Molly, which he associates with impregnating her and making her swell, since he can’t seem to get any phallus-action. Did I mention also that he pees sitting down? And when he’s in the can during Calypso, his dumping can be seen as a sort of pregnancy, as he is waiting to “birth” a large load out of his cloacal space, or his vagina substitute? It all makes sense now. So, pregnancy is a kind of digestion, and birth or abortion is excretion: “When a woman has an abortion, she gives a death that undermines her very definition as female. For if, according to Sigmund Freud, a woman completes herself by giving birth, then by having an abortion a woman renders herself incomplete.”
Clearly, Bloom suffers from an acute case of womb-envy. Soros also notes: “While Bloom is sure he has an anus and can give birth to a legacy of shit, he suspects the female statues, these “[a]ids to digestion,” do not (224). His anal-lysis [HAHA] suggests that if he could be assured that women have a vagina but no anus, then he could resolve his womb envy, confident his anus functions like her vagina, that he does not lack an extra hole.” A case of “faeces: fetus: fetish.” In this vein, ingestion, digestion, and excretion is indeed contorted into fetish, relating not only to phallus/vagina parallels, but also the internal and external spaces, the Freudian obsession with lack or absence, and the gifts of birth and death.
While this article was packed with information, themes, analogies and parallels between all of the themes addressed, I found that it wasn’t very intuitively structured and this didn’t flow very well. I also found it difficult to discern the author’s original opinions on the topics from information she pulled from other outside sources. However, since I’m mainly focused on ingestion and excretion, I used the method of going though the article for relevant points and then threading them together in regard to specific points in the text that relate directly to my obsession.
The contextual note I’m covering is Thomas Moore’s “The Meeting of the Waters,” which appears in the Lestrygonians (8.414-418). In this passage Bloom strolls along past the urinal by Trinity College on the river Avoca, which actually begins as two rivers in County Wicklow south of Dublin: the Avonmore (“big river”) and the Avonberg (remarkably, “small river”). One of the more famous statues in Dublin is in this location, a bust of Mr. Moore himself. In typical Bloom fashion, the first thing Bloom thinks when he approaches the statue of “Tommy Moore’s roguish finger” (414) is that they did a good thing by putting him “over a urinal, a meeting of the waters,” (414-415) and he pragmatically (also in classic Bloom form) wonders why there is not such a place for women to urinate as well. The poem/song is as follows (thank you bartleby.com):
“The Meeting of the Waters”
There is not in the wide world a valley so sweet
As that vale in whose bosom the bright waters meet;
Oh! the last rays of feeling and life must depart,
Ere the bloom of that valley shall fade from my heart.
Yet it was not that nature had shed o’er the scene
Her purest of crystal and brightest of green;
’Twas not her soft magic of streamlet or hill,
Oh! no—it was something more exquisite still.
’Twas that friends, the beloved of my bosom, were near,
Who made every dear scene of enchantment more dear,
And who felt how the best charms of nature improve,
When we see them reflected from looks that we love.
Sweet vale of Avoca! how calm could I rest
In thy bosom of shade, with the friends I love best,
Where the storms that we feel in this cold world should cease,
And our hearts, like thy waters, be mingled in peace.
Bloom goes on to quote the first line of the poem in 416-417: “There is not in this wide world a vallee,” though the spelling of “valley” he uses possesses some significance of which I cannot understand at the moment. The reason Joyce chose this poem in this context makes sense, since Bloom is wandering down by the waters. However, I couldn’t find a lot of commentary on this poem independent of Ulysses or otherwise. It seems quite like Joyce to take something perhaps obscure and make it seem like it’s something we should all know about. As Brady pointed out in his obsession post I believe, Thomas Moore’s songs are repeated throughout the text, such as “The Young May Moon” and “The Harp that Once Through Tara’s Halls.” I can only imagine the use of these Irish ballads that are not seen out of Ireland suggest the sort of isolation that Bloom is feeling at this point in the novel.
Thomas Moore (1779-1852) was a slippery character from what I can gather. Apparently he was Dublin born, Trinity College educated, but made most of his living in England (London to be exact) writing… Irish poems and songs. Really, sir? I suppose he might as well exploit the British for all they’re worth, namely their famous sentimentality. I just found this fascinating, with Moore being Ireland’s National Bard and all. He also bro’d around with Lord Byron and in fact became his literary executor when he died. The two also shared a great love of debt, and apparently Moore eventually got the boot from England because of this.
I’ve been listening to Sunday Bloody Sunday on repeat as I write this. Why, we don’t know.
All biographical information on Thomas Moore from:
DeFord, Miriam Allen. Thomas Moore. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc. 1967.
(the spacing is also being weird on this, my apologies).
The main function I see ingestion and excretion having in the next three chapters is to introduce and define the character of Leopold Bloom and contrast him with the character of Stephen Dedalus, which was established in the Telemachiad. While Stephen cares not for the breakfast making and consuming process in Chapter One, Chapter Four, Calypso, begins with a graphic portrait of Bloom’s voracious ingestion. His preferred food happens to all be meat and mainly organs, but most of all: “grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine” (4-5). The fact that he eats organs is bad enough, but ingesting kidneys, the organ involved directly in filtering pee, puts Bloom’s awareness of the importance of ingestion an excretion on a whole new disturbing level. Also, the fact that he enjoys the pee-scent of the meat he is eating about puts me over the edge. And finally, Bloom is at least part-Jewish I believe so the fact that he obtains and eats a pork kidney makes him a bad Jew as well as having weird culinary tastes. To Bloom, the cycle of ingestion and excretion goes beyond an obsession, and becomes more of a pattern of his own passive existence. He relates to the world through food, through the food he puts in his mouth, his trip to the butcher, and his obsession with making Molly breakfast in bed, which puts a weird sexual spin on the act of ingestion.
Other food imagery present in this chapter include the milk Bloom gives to the cat and the potato talisman he carries, both of which hearken back to the Great Famine, when the Irish supply of the staple food sources potatoes with buttermilk withered and much of the population died of starvation. The talisman (72) serves as a reminder of the importance of ingestion and how fragile the human condition is without the knowledge that the cycle of ingestion and excretion will continue. Bloom’s inner monologue also reveals that Molly really likes bread with butter, and he repeats this to himself several times as he prepares her breakfast. One of the summaries I read describes the connection between bread and youth but I can’t locate it at the moment, so I hope someone else knows what I’m talking about, because that would make sense if the bread itself is also connected to Molly.
Bloom’s mobility seems to be tied directly to his eating and shitting, as he goes into town to get the kidney he has been coveting and then at the close of the chapter only rises when he feels “a gentle loosening of his bowels” (459). He likes to read on the can, apparently, and takes his good sweet time making sure to ease the “slight constipation of yesterday” (508). Clearly he understand the importance of keeping indigestion at bay, god forbid he end up like the British. He then pees and has dirty thoughts about women and their stockings, not for the first time that day. The gradesaver summary of this chapter defines Bloom as a “voyeur who is obsessed with food and defecation” and this is a fair assessment at least at this point, as the scene in the outhouse shows the combination of all these elements in the portrait of Leopold Bloom.