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Paternity and Circe

Monday, November 2, 2009; 04:36 am Leave a comment

What I’m seeing so far with fatherhood in Circe is a conflation of the generations, which we’ve seen before. Bloom becomes Virag, the grandfather, the father, etc. And He’s also simultaneously Henry Flower… all the versions of his last name are present. Morphing of surnames, all the linguistic and semantic play Joyce has exercised before. There’s also a lot of development of Joyce’s views of the genders. How he creates Bloom as a womanly man, and how he moves to give that validation. Also, Virag gives a lovely summary of the development of gender roles on page 423:

“Woman, undoing with sweet pudor her belt of rushrope, offers allmoist yoni to man’s lingam. Short time after man presents woman with pieces of jungle meat. Woman shows joy and covers herself with featherskins. man loves her yoni fiercely with big lingam, the stiff one…Then giddy woman will run about. Strong man grapses woman’s wrist. Woman squeals, bites, spucks. Man, now fierce angry, strikes woan’s fat yadgana.”

Virag then “(chases his tail)” and makes nonsense sounds, both things that serve to confound man with animal as well. I hope we can dissect this passage a little in class, because there’s also the aspect of the Orient, as Virag uses the Hindu terms for the genitalia.

Also in this chapter, Bloom’s dream of becoming a father is realized when he becomes the mother of 8 male children, healthy, who grow up to be smart guys who work in positions that Bloom would value. I’d love to work with Amy to figure out how Bloom’s birthing here works with past male pregnancies and the androgyny of Bloom.

Another thing that popped up during Bloom’s stint as Lord Mayor is the idea of male virginity. Greg brought this up in class on wednesday and how it cannot be verified, for there isn’t any physicial proof. Dr. Mulligan in Circe claims “I have made pervaginal examination and, after application of the acid test to 5427 anal, axillary, rectoral and pubic hairs, I declare hiim to be virgo intacta.” Is Bloom’s virginity able to be verified because he is womanly? Because he’s able to give birth in this hallucination, and because he’s doing immaculately? On this topic, I’d love to hear Mari’s take on his comparison to Mary. (And how does this affect our view of him compared to Marion/Molly?)

Oh. And his testicles are “off side.” Hilarious. and “heavier.” Because he hasn’t been sexually active? He isn’t using his semen to create children…. so that’s waste for you… waste of the potential for fatherhood.

Can’t wait to talk about this incredibly funny chapter… oh Joyce, you surprise me with your humor.

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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.

Obsession: Water (Episodes 7-10)

Monday, October 5, 2009; 03:44 am Leave a comment

Again, as always, I never quite know what to do with all the water stuff that comes up…

Drowning: This, to my knowledge/according to my notes, did not come up as often in these four chapters. “found drowned” (7.199) came up in passing in Aeolus, and in Wandering Rocks, the scene between Stephen and his sister Dilly also brings up the idea of drowning. Drowning here is less directly connected with death than the aforementioned more literal “drowned”, more a result of the financially desperate straits the Dedalus children finds themselves in, as Simon Dedalus refuses to give more than a shilling – but at the same time, Stephen fears he will suffer his mother’s “Salt green death” (10.877), Dilly’s “lank coils of seaweed hair around me, my heart, my soul” (10.876-77). Stephen cannot decide whether or not to pull his sister Dilly out of this vortex, and feels pervasively “inwit’s agenbite. Misery! Misery!” (10.879-80), as indicated by his repeated interjections of “Agenbite” during the exchange.

It seems to me that salt/drowning/death are linked; I’m thinking of the dead sea, bitter water,  Stephen’s tears: “I wept alone” (9.224), and the fact that no macroscopic organisms can grow when water is so highly saturated with salt.

Waste: There was a fair amount of discussion about sewers, or what happens when water comes out the other end (“cloacal obsession”, also discussed in Freedman’s article), especially in Aeolus, wherein:

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. He gazed about him in his toga and he said: It is to be here. Let us construct a watercloset.” (7.489-495)

Water and the control of its inward and outward flows via sewage system seem to be, for the Irish/Greek, a mark of the oppressor, in contrast to Lenehan’s comment about “Our old ancient ancestors” who “were partial to the running stream” (7.496-498). It shouldn’t be surprising that I’m not sure where this is going, but in observing that distinction, I can’t help but notice how much more natural the latter method (“the running stream”) seems in comparison to the constructed “water closet”. Perhaps there is a kind of privileging of confronting excretion in the native “running stream”, whereas the perhaps more “civilized” watercloset (or other works of prose?) tends to hide/disguise that act. Naturally, this makes me think of the abject, and the evolution of the beautiful, hallowed toilet bowl, receptacle for our wastes. But I digress.

Oh, and Bloom’s thoughts on excretion: “They did right to put him up over a urinal: meeting of the waters. Ought to be places for women” (8.415). This seems to be somewhat associated with my initial idea, this “meeting of the waters”, the mixing of that which can be ingested and that which is excreted (making water and making tea a la Mother Grogan, although I’m not sure how I feel about Tommy Moore’s roguish finger statue thing right above a urinal, if that indeed is what was described). The phrase “meeting of the waters” also reminded me of the parting of the Red Sea, a “parting of the waters” by Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt – I don’t know how much of a stretch that is. Tangentially, vegetarianism’s effects on excretion, which are couched in liquid terms: “Windandwatery though. Tried it. Keep you on the run all day” (8.537).

Other mentions of waste: “Reuben J’s son must have swallowed a good bellyful of that sewage” (8.54) – here, a tie to drowning and to comedy. We learned in Hades that Dodd’s son almost drowned (and it becomes comedic because of – ah, tutorial, you haunt me – the almost – something bad could have happened to Dodd’s son, but didn’t) – and here, whatever he might have drowned in is equated with sewage. I don’t recall which body of water he fell into, but it’s pretty easy to draw a line between that “sewage” and water.

Also, even though Bloom is technically feeding the gulls, the line where he “threw… fragments down into the Liffey” (8.76) really just reminds me of litter, or the Liffey as a rubbish bin.

Another type of water base excretion appears in the form of vapor, most prominently in Lestrygonians, with Bloom’s food intake awareness. A lot of smells are associated with these gases/vapors: “Stink gripped his trembling breath: pungent meatjuice, slush of greens” (8.651), “oniony sweat” (10.622),  which brings us ‘round to perfume’s distilled/pre-atomized form: a sort of water/liquid (eau d’espagne, water of Spain, Molly’s perfume).

And, my favorite: “Hope that dewdrop doesn’t come down into his glass” (8.804); yet another association of water with bodily excretion (snot or something of that approximate consistency), and a vague apprehension of mixing the out- and in-flows together (in the glass).

Transportation/Navigation: Pretty straightforward, I think; Ulysses/Telemachus having to navigate the sea, and the characters within Ulysses using water as a means of situating themselves or locating others (“from the river” (8.295); “Blown in from the bay” (8.311)). There is also an allusion to water as a means of transportation for baby Moses (“By the Nilebank the babemaries kneel, cradle of bulrushes…” (7.853)) – water’s religious uses, its ability to move things. And in Wandering Rocks, there are many mentions of quays/river/bridges (10.532, -1195ish, some others) as a means of describing where people are (like Where are you in relation to water? or, What is your relationship to x body of water?).

Drink: Water as drink/tea is becoming far more frequently mentioned: it has been reincarnated as “hot”/”sloppy”/”High” “Tea. Tea. Tea” (8.234/332/355, and 371)“, endowing water with a more markedly social aspect. I guess it’s a rather curious notion, the idea of people gathering either around a hearth/fire or around bodies of water/cups of water. And again, relationships to the liquid/water are an important social means of evaluating others; Bloom seems to criticize Lizzie Twig with his characterization of her tea as “sloppy” – and later on (p. 146, line ~1000) the men who gather are evaluated (to some extent) by the drinks they choose; Paddy Leonard sort of mocks the “Cold water and gingerpop!” (8.1007). Yet later, more discussion of drinking habits ensue: “Bloom and the wife were there. Lashing of stuff we put up: port wine and sherry and curacoa to which we did ample justice. Fast and furious it was. After liquids came solids” (10.548).

Things not water that possess aquatic qualities: As it turns out, a lot of things that aren’t physically water-based or even remotely liquid flow, or seem to. Fabric, words, time, life. So basically, more of Joyce connecting everything to everything else. The fabric, the “flood of bloodhued poplin, lustrous blood” (8.622) recalls an almost biblical kind of blood (perhaps the water turned into blood?) – the line is richly aesthetic, kind of like Bloom’s thoughts on Shakespeare’s lack of “rhymes: blank verse. The flow of the language it is” (8.66). But I suppose both of those are less arresting than Bloom’s almost clichéd (or maybe it is clichéd) speculations about:

“How can you own water really? It’s always flowing in a stream, never the same, which in the stream of life we trace. Because life is a stream. All kinds of places good for ads” (8.93-5)

Which, in my opinion, is really just saved by the intrusion of Bloom’s ever job-minded (or is it money-minded?) thought. I wonder what it means though, in relation to the “running stream” that the Irish historically prefer to excrete in.

The other prominent instance of non-liquid waterlikeness comes from Bloom’s moment of nostalgia: “Could never like it again after Rudy. Can’t bring back time. Like holding water in your hand. Would you go back to then?” (8.610-11) and reminiscence about time that cannot be held… It seems that Bloom and Stephen are both afflicted (in slightly different ways) by time – Bloom seems to be unable to recover himself (in a variety of mental and physical ways “after Rudy” (8.610); and Stephen seems to drown in “salt green death”, his dying mother’s “bowl of bitter waters”…

Throughout Scylla and Charybdis, the ideas of Plato and Aristotle are related to water: “shallow as Plato’s” (9.78), “Streams of tendency and eons they worship” (9.83), “A like fate awaits him and the two rages commingle in a whirlpool” (9.465), “My will: his will that confronts me. Seas between” (9.1202). The supplementary texts mention the water imagery as Joyce’s way of metaphor-izing steering between the two mythical monsters.

… Aaaand religion: of course, the typical baptismal stuff, with an especially apparent focus on washing via blood: “washed in the blood of the lamb” (8.10-11), “washing the blood off, all are washed in the blood of the lamb, bawling maaaaa” (8.482). I’m sure I could say something insightful about it, but all I can think of right now is gross.

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Well what’s cheese? Corpse of Milk

Monday, September 28, 2009; 04:34 am Leave a comment

In the previous segments, there were many instances of waste, but I will highlight just a few of them, and then deal with those instances found in episodes 7 and 8.  Most of these moments came in episode 6 when they go to the funeral.  Bloom is concerned with the wasted space at the graveyard, and wishes to remedy it by having corpses buried standing rather than horizontal (6. 764).  And he is very concerned with all the bad gas that must surround the area.  He also does some imagining of the process of decomposition.  The language he uses is appropriately disgusting, yet at the same time uses food words: “Rot quick in damp earth. The lean old ones tougher. Then a kind of tallow, a kind of cheesy. Then begin to get black. Black treacle oozing out of them.” (6. 777-779).  This corresponds with Blooms overall characterization of waste products as food for someone else. One man’s refuse is another organisms feast.  In wonderful Joycean fashion then, Death becomes life. In this case, an abundance of it: “… they must breed a devil of a lot of maggots. Soil must be simply swirling with them” (783-84).  Later, when Bloom sees the rat scurring along the crypt, he says “Ordinary meat for them. A corpse is meat gone bad. Well, and what’s cheese? Corpse of Milk.” (982-83), again stressing the interconnection between death, decay, and food.

Episode 7 has less to do with physical waste than waste of effort and of time.  Bloom is repeatedly frustrated in his attempts to conclude his day’s business.  He spends most of scenes feeling pushed aside, in some cases quite literally.  The introduction of J.J. O’Molloy, furthers this theme because he wastes his day coming to ask Crawford for a loan.  O’Molloy also is an example of wasted talent; he was “Cleverest fellow at the junior bar” (7. 291).  Now however, his practice is dwindling and is supposedly gamboling.  I think his character is standing as a cautionary figure, for what might happen to Stephen, if he wastes his talent.  Again, of course this section has examples of wasted words when the characters are reading Dan Dawson’s speech.  I’m not sure what to make of this example, but I like Bloom’s distinction that the words are actually quite effective when heard as the speaker reads them (7. 338).

Episode 8 brings back the theme of waste as food.  As Bloom walks on O’Connell bridge, he buys cakes and scatters the crumbs for gulls admiring how quickly they devour the morsels.  When he steps into the Burton restaurant, the scene is compared to animals eating, and the language is just as gross as the descriptions of decomposing bodies.  This links the people in the restaurant to animals feeding off corpses, but also all humans eating, with all animals eating.  When Bloom goes over to Davy Byrne’s, his own eating is described in somewhat disgusting terms “Mr. Bloom ate … with relish of disgust pungent mustard, the feety savour of green cheese” (8. 818).  This highlights the decayed nature of his meal.  As he eyes the items on the wall, and ruminates on how various foods were discovered, he thinks a little about waste.  He thinks about oysters feeding on garbage, about Chinese eating fifty-year old eggs, and about a Duke who used to eat his own dandruff (864-873). Bloom doesn’t seem keen on eating any of these things, but recognizes that they can be eaten.  Another theme seems to emerge in this episode, that of gambling as wasting men’s lives.  Flynn seems to be pretty caught up in betting on horses, and the characters who enter later, seem at least somewhat excited about picking the right horse.  This seems a common problem for the Dubliners.

I wish to add a few things to this post which occurred in episopdes 7-8 but I did not deal with already.

First, as Bloom is in the newspaper offices, and sees the machines printing out the notices of Dignam’s funeral he thinks “Smash a man to atoms if they got him caught. Rule the world today. His machineries are pegging away too. Like these, got out of hand: fermenting. Working away, tearing away. And that old grey rat tearing to get in.” (7. 81-83).  Importantly he connects the process of printing to the destruction of a person and to their decomposition after death.  Once again the image of  the rat appears, which seems somewhat important.

Next Bloom considers the miles of paper being printed, and imagines what becomes of it.  He imagines it will eventually be used for a “thousand and one things” (138), therefore nothing is actually wasted. At  the beginning of episode 8, Bloom looks over the edge of O’Connell bridge and entertains the option of throwing himself over like Dodd’s son, who “must have swallowed a good bellyful of that sewage” (53).  This phrase strikes me as odd because this episode is concerned with good and bad eating, and the sewage over the bridge can’t really be considered a “good” bellyful which I guess is the whole reason of phrasing it that way.  Then of course he remember Dedalus’ ironic comment about the waste of Dodd “one and eightpence too much” and proceeds to waste one penny on food for the gulls, thereby significantly reducing the waste of Dodd, and he considers it “quite enough”  (84) rather than too much.