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Pork. chops. and oysters.

Sunday, November 15, 2009; 06:33 pm Leave a comment

Throughout Ulysses, my obsession of ingestion and excretion has led me mainly toward Bloom for several reasons.  First, he is the character that seems to embody the complete in-and-out cycle, as we first see him in Calypso devouring very visceral food in great detail, and at the close of the chapter we also see his great satisfaction with his successful bowel movements in the latrine.  Second, Bloom is the mot sensory character in the novel, not only with his obsession with ingestion and excretion but also his fixation on smells and taste.  Finally, Bloom acts as an opposite of Stephen, who doesn’t seem to care much about anything sensory, and whom we rarely see ingest or excrete anything except booze and the occasional pee in the sea.  However, in reading Penelope, I was pleased to find that my obsession relates nicely to Molly as well, providing yet another link between her and Bloom.

In Molly’s mind, food and sex are intertwined.  The image of oysters is dominant in this chapter, having significance both in relating to femininity (being cloven) and also as a food that happens to be an aphrodisiac.  While pondering Bloom’s affairs and recalling the time she fond long hairs on his coat, Molly muses “it was all his fault ruining servants then proposing that she could eat at our table on Christmas day if you please O no thank you not in my house stealing my potatoes and the oysters” (p609).  Here, Bloom’s infidelity with the servant is worse when he asks Molly if she can eat with them, and not only that, but also to eat oysters.  Molly’s thinking is also directed toward food in the domestic sense, as when she becomes distracted in thought about what to make for dinner tomorrow and she decides to make cod as a break from meat (641).

Ingestion and excretion are conflated in the image of putting Molly’s breast milk into tea.  She seems simultaneously comfortable and uncomfortable with her own excretory processes, releasing blood and urine into the chamber pot and also taking the time to break wind.  However, she does express anxiety about Bloom’s presence when she farts, as she wishes he would “sleep in some bed by himself with his cold feet on me give us room even to let a fart. . .  that was a relief wherever you be let your wind go free” (628).

I’m also trying to trace the theme of bread, particularly buttered bread, in relation to Molly but I haven’t made a ton of progress.  I’ll let you know if I’m onto anything substantial.

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Cry Havoc and let slip the bowels of war.

Monday, November 2, 2009; 02:44 am Leave a comment

I loved reading Circe because it seemed like elements of my obsession brought up previously in the novel just went and exploded, diarrhea-like, all together in the first part we read for today.  The main actions associated with ingestion and excretion occur early on in the beginning of the chapter, with the mock-farting noises made by the officers (50), the mock-ingesting actions of Bloom with the stuffing of bread and chocolate into his pockets (he’s stuffing food somewhere, but not down his gullet), and finally the pervasive action of ass-wiping, which occurs mostly related to Bloom’s profession as an author, cue jokes about needing something with which to wipe one’s ass…how about the Freeman’s Urinal (810)?  This reference struck me in particular as it directly links excretion with language, and the “bad” use of language involved in advertising.

One overarching image throughout Circe is breeches, specifically stained ones.  In line 195, the Motorman refers to Bloom as “shitbreeches” and at the end A Voice instructs “Hold that fellow with the bad breeches” (2616).  These references to soiled underpants painfully remind me of the lovely letters Joyce sent to his wife in which he praises her um… skid marks?  I’m sorry, I digress.

The other dominant images of this section relate directly to pigs and pork and more organs, kidneys in particular.  While these images are obviously linked with the Circe episode of the Odyssey in which Circe decides to transform all of Odysseus’ crew into pigs, these images hold a special meaning for Bloom in that they represent his deep-seeded anxieties of the soiled, the unkosher, and the unclean.  He then feels guilty about buying the meat yet still refuses to waste it, instead feeding it to a dog.  The fact that it Bloom can’t stop eating organs repeats itself almost obsessively in this chapter, with images of pork sausage, pork kidney, etc. popping up everywhere.  I mean, in 1549 the room is shaped like a pork kidney.  Good. Ness. PORK ON THE BRAIN.  But no brains, thank god.

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In and out, White and creamy version.

Monday, October 26, 2009; 03:50 am Leave a comment

The first thing I noticed about ingestion/excretion in Nausicaa is the focus on cooking as a domestic act inextricably tied to femininity.  In this chapter, written in such a way to imitate patterns of female frivolity, Gerty is “womanly wise” in that she recognizes that “a mere man liked that feeling of hominess. . . her griddle cakes done to a goldenbrown hue queen Ann’s pudding of delightful creaminess. . . then cream the milk and sugar and whisk well the white of eggs though she didn’t like the eating part…” (223-228).  This passage introduces the theme of milk/cream/white stuff that extends throughout this chapter and the next (comparing and contrasting with the white “ivory purity”), and also the point that the feminine function in relationship to food is in the preparation, creating a dichotomy that illustrates the female/male components in terms of preparation/ingestion, where the feminine function is preparing food for the masculine function of consumption and ingestion.  This passage also illuminates the anxiety about eating, and that it seems to be tied to femininity as well, as in the lines, “though she didn’t like the eating part when there were any people that made her shy and often she wondered why you couldn’t eat something poetic like violets or roses” (228-230).  Here, the concept of the voyeuristic gaze is applied to eating, in which the thought of being watched while eating causes an acute sense of anxiety for the consumer.  Gerty instead imagines eating flowers, or something “poetical” or metaphorical, and being able to sustain the body on metaphorical substance alone.  Clearly, this is a rather unrealistic, if romantic, notion, as Joyce has managed to capitalize on the importance of the fully realized physical ingestion and excretion process.  Also in this chapter, I thought that kissing acts as a kind of incomplete consumption, in which the male and female dichotomy is broached if only for a moment when mouths meet.

Toward the close of the chapter the focus is on puking rather than consumption, which is just another example of the incomplete/interruption natural cycle of in and out.  This theme carries over nicely into Oxen of the Sun, in which the incomplete form of consumption is presented as nibbling and the form of excretion in childbirth/abortion.  The milk theme resurfaces as well in Chapter 14, but the focus is instead on breastfeeding, an act that is in itself simultaneous ingestion and excretion for both parties, mother and newly born child (also a form of excretion by the mother…hey, I didn’t make this up, Joyce did).  I thought it was fascinating that this chapter also addresses the opposite of my obsession, which is starvation.  This chapter also ends in the “chap puking,” an illustration of the painful inadequacy of the digestive system’s ability to function properly.

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Martha

Wednesday, October 14, 2009; 03:29 am Leave a comment

Martha, referenced thus far in episodes 7 and 11 of Ulysses, is a four act opera by German-born Friedrich von Flotow based on a French ballet, first produced in Vienna, and set in Richmond, England. This international milieu is supplemented later on by the additions of the play’s two most famous arias: “M’Appari” during its first production in Paris and Thomas Moore’s Irish melody “The Last Rose of Summer.”

Martha tells the story of a sheltered/shut-in noblewoman Harriet, her brief attempt to escape noble life, and the results this has on the locals and nobles. Flotow’s music is described as incredibly powerful and forbidding, especially the overture, yet everything ends happily enough.

Act 1 – Desperately bored with court life and riches (“pleasures come so easily they lack zest”) and unimpressed by her many suitors, she presses her maid Nancy and her most persistent suitor Sir Tristan into posing as country folk at the local fair. Posing as Martha, Julia, and Bob respectively, the three unwittingly entangle themselves in the fair’s tradition of auctioning off serving maids from the surrounding country. Before Bob (or the women) can stop events, “Martha” and “Julia” sign to a year’s contract with farmer Plunkett and his foster brother Lionel (who comes from a mysterious past).

Act 2 – Choosing to keep their identity secret to preserve their dignity, the women are asked by the brothers to perform basic household chores, proving inept (the men end up doing the chores). Despite this, love blooms between Julia-Plunkett, while Harriet/Martha (unsuccessfully) attempts to divert Lionel’s adoration by singing “The Last Rose of Summer.”

Act 3 – The women flee the farmhouse with the aid of Sir Tristan, returning to their former lives, yet now, instead of boredom, they are depressed. During a hunting trip they run into a similarly depressed Lionel, who recognizes Harriet for Martha, only to be locked up for a madman when he protests the trick played upon him and his brother. (M’appari – “Like a dream” – is sung during this act.)

Act 4 – Plunkett produces evidence of Lionel’s noble birth, setting his foster brother free with honors and titles. Lionel, however, has gone mad with depression at the loss of his “Martha.” Harriet, for her part, is lost and dejected. Nancy and Plunkett reunite the two at a “mock” fair, with a song; happiness.

Immediate connections occur between Martha and Ulysses. The overarching picture of a secluded/imprisoned female with many suitors draws parallels, though the twists in Martha, at least, illustrate the female’s love-hate relationship with that role and her own wandering loss/apathy. Martha is told primarily from the female’s point of view; Ulysses is almost claustrophobic in its avoidance of that perspective. The international background of the play and the idea of an Irish song that saves the heroes bears watching. At the beginning of episode 7, Bloom’s ruminations weave together Molly, Mary, Martha, Jesus, opera, song, Judaism, loss, and wanderings in the space of a few lines. In episode 11, the “M’Appari” song interjects thoughts of Molly in Bloom, who identifies, at the end, as Lionel – the disillusioned and betrayed wanderer – and Simon Dedalus, the singer, an Irishman. Complications with the Martha of Henry Flower’s correspondence or merely a jumping off point?

State of the Gifts, Part I

Monday, October 5, 2009; 07:20 am 1 comment

In this blog, I will summarize and update how Joyce utilizes gifts and gift-giving up until Episode Eleven. In addition, I hope to, at the end, give some thoughts as to what purpose gifts will be put to in future episodes, and what this blog will focus on.

 The Telemachiad – Episodes One, Two, Three

 In these episodes, our perceptions of Stephen, Buck, Haines, and Deasy are aided by how each character views and gives gifts. Most giftly interactions in this part of Ulysses are pale shadows of what we decided was true gift-giving, the acquirement (and giving) of something without compensation. Buck cheapens gifts to monetary and commercial transactions, clearly showing his investment in the material and superficial – Stephen’s antithesis. Stephen, however, does not come across much better: he gives up key and tower, but not willingly, as Buck comes across as jocularly coercive. Deasy imparts the gift of wisdom to Stephen, and then the reader discovers that the “gift” has been given before, and is less a manner of giving as bludgeoning Stephen with racist and sexist dogma. The inherent gift of talent obvious from the start in Stephen is shown to be repressed. Therefore, in the first episodes, literal and figurative gifts are repressed and twisted, fitting Stephen’s atmosphere of dispossession.

 The Odyssey – Episodes Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten

 With the introduction of Bloom there comes a steady progression of “good” gift-giving, illustrating both his character and the world he resides in is somewhat more open to interpretation than that of Stephen’s. Bloom begins by illustrating “gifts” that have an open-ended reciprocity about them. The sense of duty, social and private, constantly drives these early Bloom interactions, as well as those he gives to (the cat, M’Coy, etc.). He is willing to give hand-outs and favors with the expectation, but not the demand, for future favors.

Following this steady unveiling of Bloom’s character, we realize that in the depths of his capacity for multi-perceptions and empathy comes generous sympathy, culminating twice in episode eight. The first example comes with Bloom buying bread and throwing it to the hungry gulls. Here there is no sense of moral obligation or duty, social or private, nothing for Bloom to gain by feeding the birds, besides a slightly emptier wallet. Bloom connects with the birds, unswayed as they are by religion, discerning and surviving, and thus reaches out. This true gift-giving, which has been hidden from the reader and unobserved in every other character, now finds a home in Bloom, the dispossessed wanderer. The second selfless act of giving occurs when Bloom leads the blind stripling across the street. The dispossession, at home, at work, and in Ireland, emphasizes the generosity when one realizes that only people with comforts, riches, wealth, some stability, are able to give “gifts”.

Episode Ten farther stresses these points, the poor dispossession and generosity becoming touchstones for the gift-buying sequences of Boylan and Bloom. Boylan, wealthy, dapper, famous, is able to afford the best of fruits, wines, etc. Not so well off, Bloom wishes to buy his wife another erotic novel, something she’d enjoy, and shops for deals. In effect, the gift costs something for Bloom and nothing for Boylan. In addition, or perhaps compounding this identification, is that Boylan the well-to-do is not engaging in a socially acceptable practice; aware of this, he lies about his intentions, claiming to be giving to an invalid. Despite being the subject of several cruel jokes and pranks, Bloom’s character in episode ten is generally regarded positively by the other characters of Dublin.

Two other characters have “given” as Bloom has given and they both relate to the one-legged sailor. One was an unnamed “stout woman” and the other, never tacitly acknowledged, is Molly Bloom. Whether Molly can be this generous to people closer to her remains to be seen.

Thus far, I’ve observed Joyce’s use of gifts and giving to further delineate character and character development. The effects are subtle when compared to other obsessions, as none of the characters actively address the question of gifts, and thus my examination has been to merely establish perspective. Many of the characters (most of the characters) bear watching on their gift habits – will they develop or no? In what direction will they develop? Now that a pinnacle of true gift-giving has been observed, the progression in respects to Bloom must end and other questions must be asked. Can he apply such generosity to those elements in society not dispossessed or marginalized? What kind of gifts does he cherish most? Which does he (and others) shy away from, or hoard? Episode ten offers the possibility of a “bad” gift (Boylan’s) – does society have fixed notions of what is proper in gift-giving and what isn’t? How does this theme of giving tie into the other major themes of Ulysses – the ideas of parenthood, religion, art and craft, acceptance, home? I will have to begin the categorizing.

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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The Harp’s the Thing

Wednesday, September 30, 2009; 02:28 am Leave a comment

In Ulysses Annotated the entry “Harp Eolian” describes a harp meant to be played by the wind (of Aeolus) rather than fingers. The harp in general was the instrument of the Celtic bards and a national symbol of Ireland. “Harp,” the Annotated goes on, is also slang for an Irish Catholic.

From these simple definitions arise some obvious inferences. First, Joyce’s reference takes place on pp. 105  in episode 7, titled “Aeolus,” after the Keeper of Winds who first aided and then rebuffed the home-seeking Odysseus. Interpreting Myles Crawford as the correspondent Aeolus, and the episode itself as being full of “bad wind,” with “wind” in general corresponding to rhetoric – rhetoric, I propose, with little or no purpose, empty words for the moment – we can see the “harp” being played by Myles and his associates at the offices, discussing the fruitless past, flowery speeches and semantics, passing stories of disappointment, and going about their daily business, the paper, itself an old and wasted item after one day. Second, the slang usage of “harp” refers to Crawford and his associates, but not Bloom or Stephen. Third, the most obvious correspondent for an actual harp, as in the instrument, lies in the floss used by either the professor or Myles to clean his teeth. When plucked between the teeth, the floss goes “Bingbang, bangbang.” I’m not certain what the significance of the floss being the harp is, but several ideas come to mind: a) the floss/harp in this section only plucks at waste and detritus, thus the gaseous ideas and frustration espoused/blown everywhere b) it sets up the next episode featuring “bad food” and where it might possibly come from (or come out of), and c) the floss/harp is the only instrument at the moment capable of cleansing away this detritus, and not enough people in this episode are using poetry/rhetoric correctly to cut down on the frustrated winds blowing everywhere.

The actual above reference occurs in a section of the episode entitled O, Harp Eolian! This invokes not only the above associations but also a strong connection to the Samuel Coleridge poem “The Eolian Harp.” The poem, begun in 1795 and revised frequently by Coleridge until 1817, was one of the first conversation poems – a group of eight poems in which Coleridge applies conversational language to describe nature, life, and death. That such a reference, not including the above connotations, should appear in the “rhetoric” episode, where dialogue and conversation are key, is unsurprising. The poem itself deals with the author’s (impending) marriage by examining love through nature, which is chiefly represented by the Eolian Harp and the music it produces. More importantly, the poem sets up a series of oppositional ideas – coyness and innocence, wilderness and order, motion and slumber – and shows how these two disparate ideas actually compliment each other. This reconciliation of seeming contradictions occurs frequently throughout Ulysses, though Joyce is careful to have the ideas reconcile only so much, leaving a bit of tension for readers to follow throughout the texts. For example, the issues we discussed on Monday regarding the overlapping and complex relations between Ireland, Greece, Rome, Britain, and Judaism (not to mention the anti-Semitism displayed by many of the local characters); or Bloom’s original love of meat turned sour by “cannibalism” only to be reconciled later (in his mind) by sex – which leads down a dizzying path of its own.