Posts Tagged ‘ulysses’

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!


Music, Sound and Sensation: A Modern Exposition

Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 02:36 am Leave a comment

Winckel, Fritz. Music, Sound and Sensation: A Modern Exposition. Trans. Thomas Binkley. New York: Dover Publications, 1967. Print.

Fritz Winckel’s Music, Sound and Sensation provides a scientifically rooted though easily accessible analysis of human interaction with sound.  Some of the more interesting and relevant concepts are discussed in the final chapter of the book, “The Effect of Music on the Listener.” One such concept is that music (and sound) only exists through variation—disturbances and modulations.  An example Winckel provides for this concept is the fact that “A continual monotonous hum of a machine in a factory disappears from the consciousness and is noticed only when it is turned off” (157).  This same idea can be applied to Ulysses—if the lyrics to a song appear later, they are inherently linked to the previous occurrence, yet the fact that they have been “turned off” (like the factory noise) only to resume later is also significant.  The fact that certain episodes (Sirens) were so reference-heavy made them overwhelming to pick apart, which following this theory of music as variation, means that each specific reference in Sirens is less significant on its own than a similar reference in a more musically barren episode.

Winckel also provides a differentiation between speech and singing.  He states that: “Singing is the development of utterances of speech into a cultivated sound through the extension of the vowels in time, mostly on a higher pitch level” (159).  There are, of course, more than just two states (singing and speech) present, and the further variation and extension of vowels as well as other factors advance normal speech in varying degrees towards the singing end of the spectrum.

Going back again to Bloom’s concept of “Musemathematics” it turns out that my previous understanding of musical notation, at least in terms of how notes come to sound like notes, was a bit off.  According to Winckel: “. . . the written note value never corresponds accurately to a defined vibration frequency, but rather to a ‘frequency band’ of vibrations, where the written note simply indicates the average pitch” (161).   This would explain the variation in songs as well as understandings of songs, as there exists on the scientific level distinct variations within each note, which is also compounded by acoustical variations both in the environment of the listener, and also within the listener.  This probably would not serve to explain the differing perception of the bells by Stephen and Bloom in Ithaca, but it does bring instances like it into question.

As a final note, the chapter provides an explanation for why music or sound is perceived in a unique way due to interior differences within the listener.  He states: “. . . impulses are not only sent forth through electrochemical transformation, connected with the nerve fibres, but also exist in the form of electrical fields, which go beyond the limits of the individual neurons and influence their excitability positively or negatively . . . which is further influenced by the hormone regulation of the synapses in the transmission network of nerves” (165).  Although this was a long quotation, I found it necessary to include as I lack a firm grasp of anything scientific outside of what I’ve read for my obsession; but what I gather from this is that the experience of a song or sound is absolutely unique to the listener, and in this logic Bloom’s experience in Sirens (recalling past events, etc.) makes perfect sense in that it was patently different from anyone else’s.

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.


Monday, November 16, 2009; 04:13 am Leave a comment

Examination of gifts and giving in Ulysses has revealed a regular path: a certain theme gets introduced in one episode to be elaborated upon in subsequent chapters. Evidenced in the first ten chapters is the characterization of gifts and giving, from crass commercial exchange to sympathetic giving. In this phase, gifts fall under the garb of personal to social, usually with an eye toward some kind of return. This range in turn sheds light on (or underscores) the various characters populating the streets of Dublin. In the second phase, chapters eleven through fifteen, extremes of the earlier types of gifts are realized, both in literary form, character, and situation. In the third phase, episodes sixteen through seventeen, the father-son relationship of giving is explored in-depth. Episode Eighteen, Penelope, explores another facet of family exchanges – the husband-wife association, as well as recapping and transforming previous ideals concerning gifts in the prior chapters.

Within Molly Bloom’s rushing interior monologue we find a multitude of gift-forms scrutinized. The episode begins with Molly’s chafing thoughts on Bloom’s request for breakfast in bed. The husband-wife dynamic is highlighted immediately and ranges throughout the episode, and as guilt and social obligation seem to have little to do with whether the requests (from either party) are adhered to, other reasons must be found. There could be a sense of filial duty involved, and this possibility manifests itself, in Molly’s thoughts, in the put-upon woman form to the fleeting wish of a petticoat government, but these irate thoughts of duty are immediately followed by thoughts infused with feeling, or love, which constantly jumbles sense in a non-extreme way. The gift-giving in this dichotomy, then rests in how much the characters love each other, or are aware of their love for each other (mainly speaking about Molly, but some of Bloom’s actions can be traced throughout the day to have similar motivations). Realize that Molly has to work herself into this loving mood for Bloom throughout the chapter, but it ends with her deciding to adhere to his request for breakfast (she’s decided to put a spin on what “breakfast” might entail, which only proves my point).

Of course, wishes for commercial gifts are rife in this chapter, as Molly fantasizes over the myriad items she can dig out of Boylan’s gold-lined pockets. In the rest of the novel, this desire for the material would place a character into the “bad” category, or at the least unsavory. Boylan the Rich and Mulligan are the poster boys for this culture of giving, something for something. Molly’s place beside these two, however, is complicated. She indulges fleeting desires of clothes and jewels and attention, but the underlying problem resides again in her pauper-like relationship with Bloom, where the filial duty is going unfulfilled. This means more than simply adhering to or indulging the wishes of your spouse. As Molly points out, she sees herself as a good catch for Bloom yet notes that he is squandering her and aiding their poverty by being unable to hold a job down and constantly moving from one house to another. Interestingly, as the “sentences” continue, this commercial concern starts falling away to be replaced by the greater concerns of living with her spouse. Indeed, Molly herself sneers at the thought of riches and fame in the later sentences even as she craves them in the earlier ones.

Narrative Monologue Voice Stuff

Wednesday, November 11, 2009; 08:33 am Leave a comment

My blog today will focus on Weldon Thornton’s Voices and Values in Joyce’s Ulysses. The book in general focuses on Joyce’s narrative and literary forms, their connotations, historical underpinnings, and whether or not Joyce is promoting certain narrative/literary modes over others. The general argument given is that Joyce was not “in-line” with the modernist themes of the “realist” novel or the contemporary perspective that the omniscient third-person narrative was archaic in novel writing.

In particular, I focus on chapter 5 “Voices and Values in Later Episodes,” as each of the episodes after 6 (excluding 8 and the last half of “Nausicaa”) are related in that they exhibit literary and narrative forms that Joyce disapproves of for one reason or another. In the section “Penelope,” the feminine interior monologue creates “the only moment in the novel where a figural voice totally obliterates the authorial narrative voice throughout the entire chapter.” Thornton claims that Joyce’s use of the monologue is to exhibit both its strengths and short-comings, and that he has set up the episode for the best possible scenario, having it come at the end (i.e., letting us get acquainted with Molly’s relationships with others and her general situation for an entire book before dropping us in) and allowing zero interactions to occur with the outside world during the monologue. For Ulysses, the form is deftly handled.

There are, however, obvious problems with it. The lack of punctuation makes sense when depicting the wandering un-punctuated thoughts of Molly, but the speaker (thinker?) surely has pauses of thought, changes in inflection, that cannot be conveyed without punctuation. Moreover, this absence of punctuation highlights puzzles and confusion, and actually makes the reader more aware of the author. As Thornton quotes one E. R. Steinberg: “Constantly feeling for the ends of the sentences as he progresses, the reader is continually aware of the difficulty of the reading and conscious of the fact not only that he is reading but that he is solving a puzzle. This awareness, of course, keeps him aware of the author, who presented the difficulty. As well, by completely effacing the narrator the ability to build a “world” examining self and society, Ulysses’ Dublin, breaks down.

I’m not entirely sure I agree with Thornton, in terms of this chapter at least. Afetr reading the chapter, I can agree that occasionally I despised Joyce for putting me into this puzzle, but a lot of the time I was lost in Molly’s thoughts, and keenly aware of only the “Molly” part of that phrase.

Music and Song In Eumaeus and Ithaca

Monday, November 9, 2009; 03:48 am 1 comment

Performance: 7777

Opera: 666666666

Song: 66666666666666666666677777

Music: 77777

Composer: 666666666677

Instrument(s): 7

Again, above is the statistical breakdown for Eumaeus and Ithaca.  Ithaca was particularly lacking in music and song, perhaps due in part to the mechanical, scientific tone of the episode.

Of course, the notable break to this is the second appearance of musical notation on pages 566-67 of the song “Jew’s Daughter” (the first appearance of notation occurs at 9.500, page 162).  Ultimately, this is the most complete vision we get of music, as it is as close to performance itself—both in the sense that Stephen is performing it, and in the sense that the music is a blueprint for the song to be recreated and performed.

In Ithaca, nearly a quarter of the mentions of song and music occur when Bloom reenters his house and sees Molly’s piano and sheet music (17.1302-10).  Although I’ve previously established the domestic space as one where distinctively Irish music exists, the picture presented in this scene runs in sharp contrast.  First of all, the Cadby (the piano), was, according to the Gifford, manufactured in England.  The performer mentioned, Madam Antoinette Sterling, was an American, and the musical term, ritirando, was Italian (Gifford 587).  According to my previous ideas on this topic, Bloom’s house should have been “more Irish,” but then again, the household, and the marriage as a whole is at that moment more or less foreign to Bloom, who even considers not going back into his house after parting ways with Stephen.

At 16.362-63, while in the cabman’s shelter, Bloom and Stephen briefly touch on an interesting discussion related to sound and identity: “Sounds are impostures, Stephen said after a pause of some little time, like names.”  Again, going back to the “musemathematics” concept, Stephen views songs as imitations, which is particularly interesting that his later performance receives the accompanying notation.

For a performance of the Rover (16.653) the partial lyrics for which are on pages 543-44 of the Gifford, here’s the link to a version by the Dubliners (named after the book) and the Pogues: Oddly enough, I’d seen this video before I started the book, and can remember hearing this song when I was younger.

Bloom continues to view (or at least consider) everything through an economic lens.  At the end of Eumaeus he considers basically taking on Boylan’s role as promoter of concerts where Stephen would perform.  He states: “. . . it often turned in uncommonly handy to be handed a cheque at a muchneeded moment when every little helped” (16.1845-47).  While part of his goal is to break up the monotony of the Dublin music scene, his main goal seems to be the exploitation of talent for a financial gain, hence the fact that he has to continually reassure Stephen that: “. . . he would have heaps of time to practise literature in his spare moments . . .” (16.1860-61).  This of course implies that writing is somehow a more refined art, and perhaps what Stephen, or artists in general, should pursue.  However, as this is just one of the many cases during the two episodes in which Bloom’s mind entertains some odd fantasy, it’s hard to say anything definitive about his statements.

I also stumbled across this website if anyone’s curious: and while it doesn’t seem particularly scholarly, it does have clips of some of the more frequently mentioned songs in Ulysses.

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Music and Song in Circe Part II

Tuesday, November 3, 2009; 11:39 pm Leave a comment

Performance: 11111

Opera: 11111111111

Song: 11111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111

Music: 11111

Composer: 11111

Instrument(s): 1 (plus numerous minor references)

As per usual, and mostly just out of habit, my counting system is above. Musemathematics at its finest. Nearly all of the songs referenced in Circe follow the general structure of the episode in that they draw on previous occurrences and thoughts experienced by either Bloom or Stephen.

Notably, the frequency of music or song references was not quite as lacking as I had originally stated on Monday. A quick glance at my post for episodes 10-12 revealed more or less the same amount of occurrences (over the course of roughly 100 pages) as Circe, which although it is 50 or so pages longer, was not a considerable difference.

Oddly enough, in this confusing and lengthy episode, the sentiments expressed in the music seem to accurately echo the themes or experiences of the characters, perhaps to a higher degree than in earlier episodes. A conversation between Virag and Bloom about choosing women, for instance, references John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (How happy could you be with either, 15.2351), reflects both Bloom’s lacking sexuality and his desire for such acts (Gifford 493).

A little bit of research on the pianola (first mentioned at 15.1991) yielded some interesting results. According the Oxford English Dictionary, it was an extremely recent device: “The prototype of the piano-playing device which came to be known as the pianola was constructed in Detroit in 1895 by Edwin Scott Votey (1856-1931).” ( Why then, would it show up in the red light district of Dublin only nine years later? That aside, the Pianola raises some interesting questions with regard to some of my earlier posts. The concept of detachment from the authentic or complete performance of something and what can be captured on a page (a play, sheet music, etc.) is not relevant here; the Pianola is both script and performance (as is the gramophone for that matter).

Another interesting feature of the episode is the interior/exterior concepts, which are strikingly similar to the beach/temperance meeting of Nausicaa. The gramophone playing “The Holy City” outside stands in stark contrast to the occurrences within the building, yet both are at hand in the presentation of the scene.

15.2664-67: As the Gifford points out, Joyce cites this verse as the one most quoted by his father (199). This further cements the idea of the household as a place of song, and perhaps as the place of strictly Irish song, as several secondary sources I’ve read have indicated. The fact that no such text has been found could imply a few different things: the obscure nature of household songs or perhaps that Joyce’s father actually wrote a few songs himself. Whatever the case may be, this passage certainly stood out.

15.400ish: The re-appearance of “My Girl’s A Yorkshire Girl” represented roughly ten of the fifty or so song references in Circe. The numerous lovers in the song obviously draw a parallel between Bloom and, well, everyone else. The “girl” is of course married (Molly), though neither of her two other lovers seem to be aware of this until they attempt to go to her cottage (similar of course to Boylan).

I mentioned in my last post that I would have more on the abundance of music and noise on page 422. However, I don’t really know what to make of it other than framing it as some kind of coincidence or maybe as a climax of the noise and and sound of the city in general.

As a quick note, the concept of empty fifths is described here: ( under the heading “Use in harmony.” It’s a fairly basic description and part of it is not applicable, but I figured I’d include it in case anyone was curious. Somehow I also managed to overlook Blamires’ comments on this concept, which are on pages 168-169.

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