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Obsession: Water in Calypso, the Lotus Eaters, and Hades

Sunday, September 20, 2009; 11:47 pm Leave a comment

Not surprisingly, water is all over the place as far as imagery/symbolism and whathaveyou, which I (didn’t intend to but) have reflected structurally (the being all over the place/complete lack of organization, that is. Apologies).

At last, we meet Leopold Bloom. He’s so different from Stephen, far more focused on the physical and sensual, from the way animal kidneys leave “faintly scented urine” (45, 4.5) in his mouth, to the way a “cup of tea” will solve his “mouth dry” (45, 4.15). Although he never really resolves this thought, he does contemplate in fairly scientific/practical terms, “the weight of water, no the weight of the body in the water…” (59, 5.~40), which is a huge departure from Stephen Dedalus who seems to float around in the swurl inside his head.

(By the way, I know Translation is no longer being followed, but I just love Joyce’s translation of sound into onomatopoeia (the cat’s “mkgnao”), and how unstable and tenuous the relationship between signifier and signified is – swirl and girl, for instance, when said in Bloom’s head come out gurl and swurl. And the idea of wavespeech from episode 3 in the Telemachiad. I think I may have read a secondary source discussing the black hole impossibility of the logic of onomotopoeias, this futile attempt to capture sound into neat little letters. Sorry about this random tangent, but I love Joyce’s ear.)

Bloom definitely seems to have an attachment to tea, and also notices some ads for it in episode 5. There’s the liquidity of the tea that Bloom enjoys and the servitude it entails (as he serves his wife Molly tea – because, and I’m pretty sure this was discussed somewhere in class – the text never alludes to potential reciprocation from her). I think it was Blamires that pointed out Joyce’s de-lionization of “Poldy!” getting the tea.

Also this interesting trope of Orientalism that seems to be associated heavily with water and fecundity (although, in the Lotus Eaters, it’s an interesting dynamic between the imaginary eastern garden’s “big lazy leaves” (fecundity) and Bloom’s contrasting “languid floating flower” (lethargic sterility)). Upon seeing an ad for “Belfast and Oriental Tea Company” (58, 5.~20), Bloom’s imagination takes him to “the far east. Lovely spot it must be: the garden of the world, big lazy leaves” (58, 5.~20). Later on, as he dreams of bathing (the text makes it very apparent that Bloom relishes bathing – looks forward to it as the highlight of his morning, to make himself “feel fresh then all day” (69, 5.~500) – and then, the Orientalism tied to water again, “Turkish”. Water is… or at least bath water is “a womb of warmth” for Bloom – so definitely a feminine and infantilizing (for Bloom, anyhow) association. And interesting that Bloom (like a bud, giving birth to a flower, feminine, but productive) should experience that kind of emasculating impotence.

This episode (Hades, 6) was especially interesting to me. We’ve gotten a lot of Ireland/sea associations, but for the first time (and appropriately, given Bloom’s more physically and practically rooted self and thoughts) Dublin and the infrastructure of its water flow. As Bloom, Cunningham, Power, and Dedalus ride to the funeral, they pass by “Watery Lane” and a series of canals (4, to be exact) – which is an obvious parallel to Ulysses’s watery journey to the underworld. Canals and Watery Lane function sort of like the organs of Dublin, which seems appropriate given Bloom’s ruminations on the idea of Resurrection and decayed corpse organs, and, come to think of it, how much he enjoys eating animal organs… Being near the canals/waterways also makes him think travel, getting from point A to point B (to visit his daughter Milly)… so there’s certainly a sense that Bloom though he does have a tendency to drift imaginatively, does not seem to dwell/wallow as much as Stephen does (esp. the “Morning mouth bad images” to pull himself out of his slight stupor of depression).

Anyway, in this episode, water is tied to death and decay, hearkening back to “the dead sea” that so frequently appears in these three episodes. Far from being the site of birth, the womb, has become instead the “allwombing tomb”; “dead: an old woman’s the grey sunken cunt of the world”, “the dead sea: no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the earth” (50, 4.~220). Further ties to femininity – these sunk[en] holes in the earth (similar to a grave) that swallow men whole, similar (I think) to drowning. Which, reflecting back onto “Proteus”, confuses me (male sea vs. female sea?). Or maybe it shouldn’t.

But put that (“the grey sunken cunt”) of the world against the nubile “lovely seaside girls” (italics of original text)… two very opposing conceptions of the feminine and water.

I’m running out of steam here, but there are two other things I want to at least partially address: religion, and flow.

Religion: Bloom’s version of the funeral is definitely pretty entertaining, as focused as he is on Catholic ritual (which he experiences as an outsider), the weird description of how the priest takes “out a communion, shook a drop or two (are they water?) off it and put it neatly into her mouth” (66, 5.~345)… a lot of diction reminding me of water aside from the obvious: heads “sunk”. Drowning or (what it sounded like to me:) oral sex?

Flow: because not everything that flows is liquid or water. But, described as flowing, would certainly acquire the qualities of water (nebulous and indefinite/undefined as they are at present in my mind), most notably Leopold’s regret that “flowed down his backbone” (55) about his young daughter.

[Update]: So we didn’t really get to a specific discussion about water on Monday… Although a few people mentioned drowning, which I definitely neglected in this post.

So… Dignam + alcohol (drank too much…), McCoy potentially attending to a drowning victim instead of going to Dignam’s funeral, and the bad joke about Ruben’s boy nearly drown’d in the water. All this really does for me is affiliate water with death (which we know); further weirding up that dead sea/womb-ness. Conflation of death/life in water?

Another thread that I didn’t really touch on, but sort of considered, was the association of water with travel (I guess this could fit with flow), which I expect we’ll see more development on, being as that Ulysses traveled by water/sea.

I don’t dare reduce all the undigested material so far regarding water, except to comment that it (water, of course) is certainly protean and ubiquitous.

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Translations in Episodes 1-3

Monday, September 7, 2009; 05:28 am Leave a comment

Post-discussion edit:

One point that was brought up in class on Monday was the difference between linguistic translation and the sort of translation that involves the movement of something from one context to another.  I didn’t really pay attention to the latter definition in the first three episodes, but did notice that not all of the non-English words/phrases were translated for us by Joyce–meaning that they aren’t translations at all, but rather phrases (often of cultural or religious importance) placed into the context of Buck Mulligan’s mockery of Catholic rituals or Stephen’s private thoughts.

The isolation of Stephen from the reader which occurs particularly in the third episode is achieved in part through the use of a plethora of non-English allusions, references, or in some cases plain phrases from everyday conversations.  Not only is Stephen isolated physically and mentally from other people and creatures in this episode, but Joyce also achieves a certain alienation of the reader from his protagonist through translation.  I am curious to see if this isolation, in both senses, of Stephen continues throughout the whole book.

Original post:

Throughout our reading of Ulysses, I will be tracking the “translations” obsession. There is a plethora of non-English words in the first three episodes of the book; the range of languages includes Latin, French, German, Italian, and Homeric Greek. Most of these occur within the third (Proteus) episode.

While most of the translations occur in the third episode, the first contains a couple. The first in the book is actually an ironic usage of the original Latin: Mulligan satirizes the rituals of Catholic mass and opens his shaving ritual with “Introibo ad altare Dei (I will go up to God’s altar)” (3). Mulligan continues this satire on page 11 when he serves breakfast to Haines and Dedalus, saying “In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.” Mulligan’s mocking uses of ritualistic Catholic phrases fits nicely with his continual criticism of Dedalus for being a “fearful jesuit” (3). Buck’s ironic criticism of Stephen’s denomination is interesting when considered alongside his criticism of Stephen for not praying for his mother.

Another important translation that occurs throughout the first three episodes is the single word “omphalos (Greek: navel)” (7). This word refers to Homer’s Odyssey (specifically, the island of Ogygia), the oracle at Delphi, and a later conception of the navel as the “center of self-consciousness and the source of poetic and prophetic inspiration” (Gifford and Seidman 17). The omphalos as a center of poetic inspiration is particulary relevant to Stephen’s career pursuits, and its status as a translation ties in to the large number of translations in the Proteus episode.

The concentration of translations in the third episode seems to have something to do with the stream-of-consciousness style that Joyce utilizes to give us insight into Stephen’s thoughts. I found Joyce’s different (apparent) reasons for using translations to be of particular interest within this episode. In some instances, translations seem to simply reinforce a sentiment already expressed by the narrator or Stephen himself, as in the case of: “Hear, hear! Prolonged applause. Zut! Nom de Dieu!” (18) Similarly, translations are also used to paraphrase ideas expressed in English–an odd use of language, given the status of languages used such as Homeric Greek or Latin. For example, Joyce rephrases and intensifies “Lord, they are weary; and whispered to, they sigh” with the Latin “diebus ac noctibus iniurias patiens ingemiscit” (41). I am interested to know to what extent this device was effective for Joyce’s readership–or if it is effective for any of us, given that I needed to look up almost every non-English word or phrase to get a grasp on Joyce’s point.

Many of the non-English words that Joyce uses are related to Stephen’s musings and reflections conceptually or through his past lived experience. His memories of studying in France are full of conversations written out entirely in French, for example. And when Stephen imagines a phone call to Eve, he uses the words “Aleph, alpha” to start his dialing–an interesting use of alphabets. Both being first letters of their respective alphabets (Hebrew and Greek), the correlation between the story of God’s creation of the world and original sin is clear. The word “Alpha” is also used as part of the phrase “alpha and omega,” which refers to God as the “beginning and the end.”

I also noticed that there are generally more translations or non-English words present in passages in which Stephen’s stream-of-consciousness loses a good deal of its coherence. Not only is the English stilted and grammatically incorrect, but non-English words are used with very little reference–the progression of thoughts disintegrates, leaving us to put the pieces together. One example of such an instance is on page 35: “Hunger toothache. Encore deux minutes. Look clock. Must get. Ferme! Hired dog!” I’m not sure how traceable this pattern will be throughout the work, but it seems apparent in the progressive increase of non-English words and phrases throughout the first three episodes, anyway.