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In and out: the Final Dump.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 05:16 am Leave a comment

Indeed, the climax of my obsession in Ulysses occurs in Penelope when Molly says “lick my shit” (642).  This is the point of no return, where the fine line that may or may not have existed between ingestion and excretion is completely obliterated.  I must admit I’ve shied away from the economic nature of this moment (brought up briefly in class discussion) but I will also admit that this passage is the one that I simply cannot ignore any longer.  The fierce intertwining of sex, transaction, and consumption culminate in Molly’s imagining Bloom worshipping her ass and also paying her (£1) for the experience, as she commands him to consume everything that comes out of her.  Bloom obviously prefers this kind of sensual interaction, and Molly’s voice in Penelope shows her revulsion toward it but also her acceptance of it, as she says that she will “let out a few smutty words” that she knows will arouse him.

Looking back at the bread and butter theme, the two are almost always associated with Molly, but she never actually gets around to consuming bread with butter throughout the novel, at least not to my knowledge. In Calypso, Bloom remembers: “thin bread and butter she likes in the morning,” and in Penelope, Molly recalls the day she realized Boylan’s foot fetish, as she was “waggling [her] foot we both ordered a teas and plain bread and butter” (613).  On the next page as she remembers her series of affairs she recalls the “main with the curly hair” she noticed when she was “tasting the butter” (614).  Here, we have butter but no bread, and Molly is actually consuming it.  I’m not sure if this is even remotely relevant, I was just fascinated by the association of Bloom with kidneys/organs and Molly with bread/butter.

This in no way consolidates my thoughts on the subject but in my defense: hey, it’s Ulysses.

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“Thus the Turd Becomes Trope.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009; 01:12 am Leave a comment

“Ulysses Upon Ajax? Joyce, Harington, and the Question of ‘Cloacal Imperialism.’”  Author: Kelly Anspaugh.

Source: South Atlantic Review, Vol. 60, No. 2 (May, 1995). Pp. 11-29

So, I found a source that somewhat addresses my fascination with the Roman sewage system and how it relates to British imperialism and Irish nationalism in Ulysses, and also, conveniently, with poop. However, the passage addressed in this source is in Aeolus, which we passed over quite a long time ago.  Nevertheless, I refuse to let go of this idea so I suppose you will have to bear with me for the time being.

The author lays out a set of premises in this article, some of which I had considered and some which I had not.  She comes out and states that Joyce, “like Swift, . . . has a cloacal obsession,” quoting the English novelist H.G. Well’s review of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Yes, this has been established.  However, the main point of her argument is that while Joyce’s obsession with excretion does relate to the concepts of British imperialism and Irish nationalism, she maintains that Joyce himself was not making an anti-imperialist statement in his extensive use of shit imagery throughout his works and mainly throughout Ulysses.

The passage referenced in Aeolus is under the subheading “THE GRANDEUR THAT WS ROME,” in which Professor MacHugh says, “think of Rome, imperial . . . What was their civilization? Vast, I allow: but vile. Cloacae: sewers . . . The Roman, like the Englishman who follows in his footsteps, brought to every new shore on which he set his foot (on our shore he never set it) only his cloacal obsession” (108).

Anspaugh brings up the connection between Joyce’s cloacal obsession that he apparently shared with the Cloacal Romans and the politically allegorical work of John Harington, A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, called the Metamorphosis of Ajax (1596).  The English courtier, writer and inventor of the watercloset, could never again separate his literary achievements from his controversial piece, especially after he became renowned for inventing the flushing toilet. Anspaugh maintains that if Joyce learned anything from reading this piece by Harington, it was related to the use of mock indignation in satire.  Obviously it’s not easy to pin down exactly how Joyce viewed British imperialism and Irish nationalism, especially when you throw shit into the whole equation, but at least now I know who to blame for the downfall of the British empire with their flushing toilets: it was all that bastard Harington’s fault.  

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The Decomposing form of Joyce’s Ulysses by Henry Staten

Wednesday, October 14, 2009; 03:57 am Leave a comment

It’s a pretty long, complex article, so at the risk of being overly reductive (actually, I don’t think there’s anyway I can avoid reductiveness), I’ll try to sum it up as best I can.

Thesis:  “What is in question here is, rather, the movement of form-making and of the dissolution of form that is the common matrix of text and body. […]  What seems clear is that Ulysses achieves some of its most characteristic effects by pressing the internal logic of mimesis to the limit, above all through onomatopoeia, which manifests itself in a peculiarly condensed way the self-contradictory character of the realist project” (380-81)

Staten addresses some of the ideas (and a lot of the obsessions) we’ve been sort of circling about in class – waste, in/out, death/sex, self/anxiety of individuation: “And this ruin of form reverberates at every level of Ulysses as the undoing of all ontological security and the unleashing of the anxiety of individuation. How this anxiety, linked at one pole to onomatopoeia and the ruin of mimetic form, is linked at the other pole to the fear of infidelity is the substance of my argument” (381).

Staten first focuses on onomatopoeia (esp Stephen’s wavespeech in “Proteus”: “seesoo, hrss, rsseeiss, ooos” (3.457)) as signature, a medium through which one might attempt to access the referent (in this case, the sound of the waves), but through which (as the logic of onomatopoeias operates) direct access to the referent is impossible. Staten, referencing the repeated use of onomatopoeia in “Sirens” (and, y’know, all those other instances where Joyce uses onomatopoeia), argues that part of Joyce’s project in the composition of Ulysses is to decompose the mimesis of language.

He pulls tons of examples where Joyce’s imitations/rearrangements of letters and syntax reach beyond imitation and double back on themselves in a kind of deconstructive way, such as the un-pronounceable “Mkgnao”, “Mn”, “Sllt”… Then he ties in, with these self-deconstructive onomatopoeias, ideas of infidelity (to mimetic language, and Molly), self-cannibalism, and (Staten’s words) the “sacramentalization of shit” (384). Staten sees Joyce as prescient of the ideas Derrida later expounds.

Symmetry: Staten asserts that the “principles of reversal and reversibility condense the signification of death in Ulysses” (383), and draws on the idea of reversibility of doubling in Ulysses, most textually prominent in instances when Joyce “for no apparent reason” repeats an active sentence in passive form: “Grossbooted draymen rolled barrels dullthudding… dullthudding barrels rolled by grossbooted draymen…” (7.21-23); we get more doubling and doubling back on self: active/passive, eater/eaten (8.~123), act/acted on (Shakespeare) and ultimately (stemming from all this), ties with the Eucharist (with eating, and adjectives that couch other humans in terms of their edibility – “hams”). These symmetries eventually bring Staten to tying beginning/ending with sacrament/shit (we haven’t quite gotten here in the text, but Bloom’s fixation on Molly’s posterior serves as a kind of precursor for the eventual meeting of the in/out holes).

More on onomatopoeia: later (ep.17), with Bloom’s anagrammatic play on his own name, Staten raises (again) the disintegration of mimesis via words and even alphabet, and raises the idea of narrative as likewise being able to be rearranged (at almost random) to be something else entirely (he calls it “alphabetic combinatorium”, p. 386).

Infidelity apparently makes “one feel so imminently contingent and replaceable, this circumstance sets off an anxiety of nonbeing that resonates with the pain of death” (387). And then there’s this stuff about Aristotle’s ineluctable modality/doctrine of possibility. Which Stephen is especially concerned with, and which Bloom becomes tied into (with his dead son Rudy, who does not exist)… so eventually, (I’m skipping so much, sorry!) because Stephen identifies as Bloom’s surrogate son, there’s an overwhelming anxiety from both parties about the fragility of existence (although Staten articulates that it is “grief” where Bloom is concerned).

Okay, I’m going to update this post on either Thursday or Friday, because it is so dense, and this is an extremely inadequate summary.

Dropping a Douce (warning: may contain Freud).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009; 01:39 am 1 comment

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.

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In and out, Part III.

Monday, October 5, 2009; 04:59 am 2 comments

9- Scylla & Charybdis

I think we all knew this was coming.

At the opening of Scylla and Charybdis, for the first time in a while we again see Stephen’s voice in monologue form musing about his Hamlet theory while listening to the older men’s critical views on the subject, which he finds unoriginal in ideas or content.  And now we get the bomb-drop about studying and criticizing literature: it is all a matter of consuming words someone else came up with and wrote down, digesting them, and then excreting them, either in the incomplete form of regurgitation, or in pooping out the words and ideas, the completed form of the ingestion/excretion cycle.  The older men mock Stephen because they view Stephen’s interpretation as regurgitation, when Stephen had previously thought this same thing about their uninspired interpretations of the Shakespearean text.  Chaucer said something like this once: all words are merely farts, and thus all writers and critics are simply engaged in a giant farting contest (paraphrased loosely). Therefore, all we do here is eat and poop. All literary scholars and critics have ever done is eat and poop.  You’re welcome.  Much to Stephen’s disdain, John Eglinton just poops everything back in his face.  These frequent cycles of interruptions and restarting discourse reflects the regurgitation idea, in that nothing said here about literature, Hamlet in particular, is original or groundbreaking in any way, except for Stephen’s Hamlet theory, which is still regarded as inferior and labeled as regurgitive.  Also, in a moment with A.E. talking about drinking, Stephen reflects on his cycle of debt which is also reflected in ingestion and excretory terms, with borrowing money being the consumptive aspect and using the money being regurgitory, and finally paying back the owed, the completed form of the excretory step in the whole process.  And of course, the chapter closes with the ever-present form of ingestion for the Irish, drinking, when Buck tells Stephen it’s time to go booze.

The references to Dante in this chapter caused me to draw a connection between the six-headed female monster Scylla and Dante’s depiction of the three-mouthed Satan in Hell.  I’m not sure if Scylla is known for eating sailors, but having six head you would think would make this a possibility, and in The Inferno, Satan is famously munching on Brutus, Cassius, and Judas with his three sets of jaws.  Or am I out on a sagging limb here?

10- Wandering Rocks

This chapter has several passing instances of food and hunger imagery, mostly connected with the power food holds and the significance it has had in Irish culture still operating under the shadow of the famine. The only thing Katey and Boody Dedalus have to satiate their hunger is some meager pea soup, which they eat with bread (10.290).  But this is not the bread that we saw the Bloom’s eat, which always had butter on it.  Around line 300 a shopgirl presents a basket of fruit to Blazes Boylan, most notably “ripe shamefaced peaches” and “fat pears.”  What an appropriate way to describe fruit, especially peaches, and especially when Boylan takes a peek down the girl’s shirt at her not-so-shamefaced peaches.  Anyway.  Here, food represents power.  Boylan possesses the fruit, rendering him the possessor of sensual power, which he plans to use to consummate his affair with Molly later.  So, if food is power, then why does Bloom, the great ingestor and excretor himself, seem so powerless up to this point?

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In and out, Part II.

Monday, September 21, 2009; 01:59 am Leave a comment

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.

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Ariela Freedman’s “Did It Flow? Bridging Aesthetics and History in Joyce’s Ulysses”

Thursday, September 17, 2009; 01:29 am Leave a comment

Question Addressed: “How do we bridge the difference between the aesthetic and the historical, between the world of the novel and the world the novel claims to represent, without reducing the novel to a simple historical artefact or reifying it into a transcendentally aesthetic object? How to writers like Joyce mediate between word and world, both asserting autonomy and maintaining connection?”

General strategy: Freedman “examine[s] evocations of water and waste in Ulysses – inflows and outflows – as a means of exploring the elusive interplay between world and word, between the historical pipes and privies of turn of the century Dublin and the imagined ones of Joyce’s text… I argue that when Joyce contemplates both of these forms he is speculating on the relationship between aesthetics and history, between artistic and social production” (854).

Freedman begins by discussing water as a “master metaphor for economies of circulation in the novel” (and cites Robert Adam Day, 854), which she then qualifies by citing critic Derek Attridge’s note about the historical complexities/nuances of the text of Ulysses.

Freedman then separates herself from “other critics” (no idea who they are exactly…) who have focused more on “the aesthetic and metaphoric implication of water” – she wants to compare the aesthetic/metaphoric aspects of water to the moment in Ulysses when water flows “through the pipes of… Dublin as Bloom turns his tap”. She then explicitly mentions Frederic Jameson’s apparently famous “Ulysses in History” in which the process by which water flows from the tap is traced; from there, she builds on Dora P. Crouch’s assertion that water drainage systems are synonymous with urbanization/civilization.

The text of this particular section (the reference to the scientific jargon section of “Ithaca”) is compared to Frontinus’s treatise on the aqueducts of 1st century Rome (which highlights the importance of water ways), then back even to the Odyssey itself (in accordance with Fritz Senn) as a text that wanders.

The next section deals with the historical reality behind the text (especially the timely significance of Bloom’s having access to flowing water); Mark Osteen’s observation of Joyce’s historicism “raises the spectre of scarcity and improper usage” of water, which enables Freedman to further frame water as resisting the metaphor, and as evoking commmodification and specificity of time and place.

Freedman segues into a discussion about bathing, Bloom, fertility and menstruation, and hones in on Bloom’s attitude towards water (she says it is “pro-entrepreneurial though anti-corporate”, and only briefly “romantic”); there’s a fair chunk of close reading of the text here. The text of Ulysses is likened then to water, and again to wandering in the Odyssey. The idea of language/writing/the aesthetic as detritus is developed, in contrast to the notion of the body as the “repository of tremendous power”.

She once again grounds textual discussion of Stephen’s hydrophobia in context of Joseph O’Brien’s historical account of turn of the century Dublin’s filthy sewage system; the essay then touches on the idea of WCs/toilets and sewage as “express[ing] and mask[ing] a faecal obsession… [they] allow us to deny the reality of our own shit”. The article closes with a nice summary a la Fritz Senn: “Even as the tour of the water supply of Dublin points us to a certain historical depth in Joyce’s novel… the passage also playfully and paradoxically points to the routes we will not trace, the facts that can not be charted, the truths we can not know” (864).