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An end to gifts.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 04:29 am Leave a comment

And thus we reach the end of Ulysses. In my last post, I discussed the function of gifts as representing the various offerings (lifestyle, future) Boylan and Bloom both exhibit for/give to Molly and what she ultimately decides, represented by her acquiescence to make breakfast for Bloom (a gift in it’s own right, with a cherry on top) and the gradual phasing out of Boylan despite his propensity to give many, many gifts. This structuring of gifts in the last episode brings up a continuous theme of opposition and elaboration used by Joyce throughout Ulysses – namely, a structuring of several extreme (in my case, gifts) at the beginning and end of each chapter that the main character must navigate through. Molly does this in Penelope, when she slowly shifts from Boylan, the material-giver, to Bloom, the family/love-giver (commercial/surface pleasure vs emotional). The other times gifts reprise as a structuring device is in Lestrygonians (the birds and the meal), Cyclops (the not-giving) and Nausicaa (the giving respite), and elements of Episodes 1, 2, and 4 (probably more than that).

The structuring aspects of gifts often relate to their ability to characterize, as with Boylan and Bloom in Penelope. Certain exchanges are surface-gifts and reflect negatively on the giver, while some are heart-felt and reflect positively, and some are social, reflecting neither here nor there, but highlighting important expectations the characters of Ulysses’ Dublin operate with. Bad transactions are commercial, with little thought for coming out ahead or being respected in any manner. Characters that adhere to this lifestyle are Mulligan, Boylan, Simon Dedalus, while others engage in this “giving” simply because they have to. Good giving, without thought for the repercussions on oneself or means, is exhibited by Bloom and Stephen (who are both capable of the other giving, as well), though Stephen’s dispensing of money for his “friends” shows how he is casting pearls before swine. Bloom mainly indulges in giving to animals, though Stephen and Molly both feature in his thoughts. Social giving, where it isn’t quite commercial but there is an expectation that the favor given will be repaid at a later date, is utilized by every character encountered in Dublin, with some being more reliable than others in keeping their word.

Aside from this, there are several anomaly gifts. There are “bad” gifts such as diseases and bribes, that come with pain and/or strings attached. An example of these would be the narrator of “Cyclops” suffering from disease and Boylan buying Molly a basket of potted meats while lying about his intentions. There is one example of a consciously ungiven gift that I can think of (there may be others, wasn’t looking for this, it just leaped out since we talked about it): Molly’s gift coat for Rudy. Undelivered to Rudy (while alive), Molly makes a conscious decision (or thinks about it afterwards) to not give the coat to some other child who might need it, but rather uses it to wrap her son’s body up. This tinges of selfishness at first scant scant glance, yet Molly’s dedication to her son heralds ideas of making gifts to the dead – something Stephen is incapable of doing for his mother. Unpack that!

 

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Simplifying the Everyman – “Ulysses and Us”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 04:26 am Leave a comment

Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Life in Joyce’s Masterpiece

 by Declan Kiberd (W.W. Norton, 2009)

This book operates much like Blamires, with a chapter by chapter analysis, but it claims to emphasize the “everyman” nature of Bloom and of Ulysses, “rescuing Ulysses from the dusty shelves of rarified literary neglect” (front matter). I find this thesis difficult, because while Ulysses is obsessively banal in its subject matter, it defies simplicity in style as effectively as it embraces the commonplace. Overall, this book appears to be useful for pearls on wisdom, much like Blamires, but instead presents a more wandering, conversational analysis, which engages in reader discussions and makes ranging claims rather than following a clear path.

Chapter 16 – Parenting

Kiberd organizes his chapters around supposedly everyday themes, that for Eumaeus being parenting. Rather than regurgitate his entire analysis of Eumaeus, I’d just like to summarize and comment on a few of his points. One thing he does differently compared to the companion sources we’ve been using is incorporate Joyce’s own life into his analysis of the episode, especially using Stephen to symbolize a young Joyce. He identifies 16 June as being not only the day he “first walked out with Nora,” but special also “because that moment marked his return from the self-hatred and confusions of his youth, back to the sacrament of everyday life” (240). The sacrament in the episode is the bun and coffee that transubstantiate into a brick and “something else,” while Kiberd argues that the beginning of a new life is a gift given by Bloom to Stephen. I find this interpretation to be a bit optimistic as to the success of Bloom’s random bits of guidance, but Kiberd makes a convincing point in relation to the argument that Eumaeus is an anti-climax. He disagrees with the belief that Bloom and Stephen do not find union because that union is not verbalized, asking “in a book which has repeatedly exposed the limits of language, why should the climax be verbal? (243). He emphasize instead the “new psychic layers uncovered by Ulysses,” citing the two men’s blending thoughts, positing that for Joyce, on the other end of a major life change, “Ulysses was not just an example of a high-risk business venture [which so interests Bloom] but also a sort of ‘self-help’ manual, in which an older Irishman teaches a younger one how to live and blossom” (245).

I agree that Bloom and Stephen reach some sort of new level, and while I would not say that the novel ends anti-climactically, I would suggest that the ending which lacks resolution is critical to its aim. Bloom’s story does not resolve at the end of Ulysses any more than mine will when I fall asleep tonight, and to argue that it should or has would be to argue against Joyce’s goal of tracing the intricately minute and beautiful details of any given day.

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Broad Broad Overview/Penelope’s Father

Monday, November 16, 2009; 06:43 am Leave a comment

Broad overview of Fatherhood:

Stephen obsesses over his mother but there is little or no mention of his father.  Bloom thinks about himself as a father, what that means, and what makes or doesn’t make him a father.  Stephen argues about the consubstantiality of father and son.  Then we get the elevation of androgynous production. Then we see in Eumaeus and Ithaca the actual existence of a father-son relationship.  We see that unfold.  In Penelope something weird happens.  Molly romanticizes her father.  She seems to have made him the epitome of manhood.  She thinks about Bloom “I wish hed even smoke a pipe like father to get the smell of a man”  A good man in her mind is a man like her father.

It’s weird that Molly has this view of fatherhood.  I’m not sure what to do with this.  What does this have to do with her marriage? With her feelings about Rudy? about Stephen? about Milly?  What does this do to our perceptions of Molly? Also, I think there’s more to fatherhood in this episode than just this romanticization of her father… but I’ll try to add more about that when I know more after class on Monday and another read through.

Webs of Meaning of Light in Ulysses

Monday, November 16, 2009; 04:24 am Leave a comment

The Sparknotes of Ulysses that we have been using in class identifies Lightness and Darkness as a central motif in the novel. While the analysis is very basic, he argument in that the traditional binary of light = good and dark = bad breaks down in Ulysses, with the two main characters being associated with dark through their mourning dress and Boylan, one of the closest characters to an antagonist, is associated with light through his name and manners. While this argument fits well the symbolic correlations I laid out earlier, it also makes an interesting subliminal point, which is that in the scope of the novel, Bloom and Stephen are good and should therefore be associated with light in the traditional sense. However, I think this is a point better left to another discussion. Light in Ulysses is not used to denote good and evil meant to draw on the traditional and archetypal significance of the imagery, but instead as symbols for the characters. The function of light imagery as not only representational of the characters in a single instance but also creating a web of complicated symbolism that gives the characters almost inscrutable depth. This symbolic representation is the main function of light in novel as far as I can recognize, rather than articulating the good/evil dichotomy above or to denote religious imagery.

This is not to say that the light imagery in the novel does not draw on established tropes; the idea of femininity being related to the moon is not a new one, but rather than for example, simple relations like black = bad, the interpretations are much more complicated and nuanced. Bloom and his relation to darkness is a prime example.

Throughout the novel Bloom (and Stephen) is characterized by his black clothing, but this image goes miles beyond the traditional dastardly villain dressed all in black. For Bloom, the meanings of his association with darkness are many, varied, and at times contradictory. For one, his black clothing is a sign of mourning, meant to be a physical manifestation of his respect for Dignam. However, this analysis is challenged by the fact that on several occasions Bloom assures those he meets that it’s nothing, it’s just Dignam. But to add another level to this image, we soon see that Bloom is still very much still in mourning for his son Rudy who died over a decade ago. Complicated yet? Bloom’s connection with darkness has many other layers as well. It is representative of his Jewishness, which marks him as an outsider (Gerty sees him as the dark foreigner, he describes himself as olive skinned) and therefore separate from his Irish brethren. Darkness also associates him with Haines’ black panther, which could be interpreted as anything from a nationalist threat to Buck’s impression of Bloom as an older, threatening, homosexual male. Similarly, his unintentional connection with Throwaway, the black horse who appears from behind to win the race, possibly hinting at the arguably hopeful ending of the novel in which Bloom returns as a contender for Molly’s bed and happiness. In terms of other characters, Molly is also characterized as having a dark complexion, but she does not appear to be ostracized by society and instead is characterized almost exclusively by her sexual appeal. Stephen, who also wears black, but in this case specifically for his mother who has been dead for almost a year, is hailed as a priest, which connects to the web of Catholic imagery around him.

This example illustrates that the interpretation of light imagery often does not begin from the cultural representation and then progress to the character, but instead starts with the character and moves outwards in a web of meaning that overlaps with many other ones. Of course Joyce could not be so simple as to have one image mean one thingJ

Update for Ithaca

Wednesday, November 11, 2009; 02:42 am Leave a comment

Sorry I haven’t had much to say about Eumaeus; there just wasn’t much in the way of light to discuss.

There were a couple other instances where light was doing some interesting things in Ithaca, though:

– As Bloom and Stephen walk home, they ruminate on a series of topics (lines 11-18). However, the only thing they agree on is the “influence of gaslight or electric light on the growth of adjoining paraheliotropic trees” (44-5). The fact that the only thing they agree on is a the physical reflection of light on trees, which makes them consider different aspects of their own lives (see Blamires for an interesting commentary).

– To give a little bit more insight to the guidance theme of the candle lighting scene I wrote about for Monday, when Bloom comes to fetch Stephen, the question to elicit more information is “Did Stephen obey his sign?” (118). The use of the word “obey” highlights the father/son dynamic, while “sign” heightens the religious imagery.

– Bloom and Stephen are characterized as “doubly dark” as they move out of the house into the garden (1037). This additional reference to their mourning clothes creates the image of two men dressed all in black, which seems to me to lend a different feel to the scene than if they had been wearing normal clothes.

– As Bloom contemplates the sunrise on pg 579, it takes a while for the actual word “sun” to appear. Its light is called instead “the diffusion of daybreak,” a “luminous body,” and a “golden limb” until it is finally named as the sun, giving the appearance of an actual body climbing up over the horizon (1257, 1267).

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State of the Soul

Monday, November 9, 2009; 03:27 am Leave a comment

I wish I could make a good association between Catholicism and Nationalism in these next two chapters, particularly chapter 16, as it seems like there should be some cross over, there, but actually, my obsession is rather bland and obvious this week. Most of the Catholicism in Ithaca and Eumaeus re-states what I’ve already mentioned in previous posts, when Catholicism is present, which is a lot rarer than in other chapters (with the exception of Calypso). That possibly is the attractiveness of these two chapters, as they allow for a re-cap of what has been going on, although for several obsessions I would bet that they are absolute gold mines (waste, water, light and questions were everywhere! Gifts came back into play in a way we haven’t really seen since Wandering Rocks, and I suspect the maternity/paternity stuff is going to make some people’s socks roll up and down).

One new thing, however, is that Stephen seems to be embracing his Catholicism, now. When Bloom calls him “a good Catholic” Stephen does not rebut, he even supports doctrine and dogma on the state of the soul (518). It’s rather refreshing after watching him refuse what is clearly still deeply influencing his thoughts and actions from Telemachus to Circe. I think the best part of Stephen and Catholicism for me in this section was the confirmation that we can associate his heretical thoughts with fire, as he distrusts “aquacities of thought and language” (550)*. It helps unify the Saints and heretics that I’ve been marking out as Stephen’s: Arius, Sabellius, Thomas Aquinas, and Chrystomos on one side of the issue, having fiery passions for their subjects, rather than a unity of thinking.

Thus Stephen is more attracted to enthusiasm rather than certainty, finding it easier to believe in and understand. This brings us back to Thomas Aquinas in the library as he tries to fight Eglinton’s certainty with the intellectual fire of the Saint, and then the heretics (169). Bloom’s nature, it has already been established, is watery, yet his enthusiasm for things is fiery enough that Stephen can accept it, and doesn’t reject it out of hand, much as he ignores the Librarian’s attempts in Scylla and Charybdis to draw him into the conversation.

Does this make Bloom the replacement for the Holy Ghost that Stephen seeks? This is harder to tell. While I am certain now that Stephen is looking for the Holy Ghost (drawing inaccurate diagrams and dancing can sometimes be really productive), Bloom has not really acted as anything but Jesus. Yet, if we take the mention of his “dark back” (179), when Bloom is othered, mysterious and Jewish, the Holy Ghost suddenly does appear, and help brush off shavings from Stephen at the beginning of Eumaeus (501). Bloom, who has been ghosting through the book as the invisible Holy Ghost, and the crucified healer Jesus, also is allowed to become the paternal God of genesis at last to Stephen. He feels keenly for the young man, and attempts to give him all that Stephen could want in the form of a real, trustworthy companion. This image even becomes a complete Raphael-image with the Virgin Mary as Bloom attempts to lure Stephen to him using Molly/Mary (571).

Yet Stephen treats Bloom more as the Holy Ghost he cannot understand or grasp at: we have, instead, Stephen “rambling on to himself or some unknown listener somewhere, we have the impetuosity of Dante and the isosceles triangle” (521). The Holy Ghost cannot be grasped by Stephen because he actually is more attached to the less abstract Father and Son, whether consubstantial or not. The Ghost is what he keenly searches for yet cannot find. It is the long leg of the isocolese triangle that Dante was so impetuous in his attempt at explanation. The shorter, equal legs are the quickly understood Father and Son. Yet the Holy Ghost has been all-pervasive on this day, haunting Stephen even more so than his mother. As he wrestles with consubstantality, he rejects and ignores the real object of search.

This adds another depth to his rejection of the sea in Proteus, the “take all, keep all. My soul walks with me,” as the sea covers most of the earth, and water is present everywhere (thank you Ithaca, page 549-50), terrifies and disgusts him in some mysterious way, much as the indefinable, individual-universal Holy Spirit is everywhere (37). He rejects and seeks it all at once, and Stephen’s ignorance of Bloom is in part because he cannot accept the Ghost/water/sea.

*I am certain a lot of people are going to have fun stuff to say about this part, so I’ll try not to step on anyone’s obsessions until we get to class and I can go crazy. – Final Note: Oddly enough, I seem to be stepping all over Ivy’s obsession instead of Josh’s this time around.

Soap, Sun, Aurora Borealis and the Shattering of the Chandelier in Circe

Wednesday, November 4, 2009; 05:08 am Leave a comment

First of all, I have a new theory that I explained to my group last meeting. So I established in my last post that Boylan = the sun (his nickname is Blazes, as well as character traits like his pushiness and fame). By this logic, I would then argue that the soap Bloom has been carrying around in his pocket is representative of the sun and therefore Boylan. Textual evidence: “He points to the south, then to the east. A cake of new clean lemon soap arises, diffusing light and perfume” (15:336-7). In this bit of description, the soap clearly appears as the sun, thus by my argument equating it with Boylan. Interpretive evidence: Bloom has been carrying the soap with him all day, just as the anxiety of Molly and Boylan’s meeting has been haunting him. As we discussed in class, Bloom is rather generously aware of what would attract and please Molly (Boylan) just as he is sensitive enough to buy her to soap and novel. Similarly, the need to return and pay for the soap has also been bothering Bloom, just as he considers the question of whether Boylan is paying Molly from a purely economical standpoint. With the relief that accompanies the Nausicca episode, Bloom is freed from his anxiety over the affair and his unpaid-for soap; though both Boylan and the soap appear later on, they are not attended by the same worry and obsession. Finally, when Bloom smells himself searching for the “man smell,” he encounters the soap instead; Boylan to many seems to represent the quintessential man, and would therefore have the man smell.

Another point which I mentioned in class is the new appearance of another kind of light: aurora borealis. In the first part of the episode, it is mentioned by name twice, lines 170 and 1373, but the heavenly lights themselves reappear gold, pink, and violet in the dancing scene in the brothel (pages 468-9) in which an entire day is experience through light, from morning to noon to twilight and night. This new light, which is colors, at night, in the sky (a location which is in my light-math is Boylan and Molly’s [Molly(moon) + Boylan(sun) = Sky]) presents new concepts for consideration. I would argue that this coloring of their affair is representative of Bloom’s path towards reunification with Molly through is improving prospects and performance in this episode, especially in his gaining of an adopted son. Thus, aurora borealis represents a disruption of the established light patterns, not only colors, but lights that both move and change.

A climactic point in this episode is Stephen’s destruction of the chandelier (4243-5), which is another critical disjuncture from the previous light patterns in that light and its production actually becomes part of the action of the story. I have a couple possible interpretations of this instance, but I would be interested to see how the rest of the class interprets it. For one, Stephen’s destruction of light could be linked to the light as religion and his willful rejection of religion as forced on him by and tied to his mother, whose ghost has just appeared to him. Another possibility would be that in his destruction of the king of lamps, the chandelier (which is called a lamp after it is broken and therefore appears smaller and more normal) could be indicative of his rejection of the opposite of shadow, being his realm of light (as I posited in class). This topic would also bring up the discussion of the ashplant, with which we could surely do much.