Seminar Dates – Update

I have just been reminded that we’ve already done ‘Aeolus’. I meant ‘Sirens’. We will resume our reading of ‘Sirens’ in September. Please do blame this on the boogie.

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Seminar Dates 2018-19

We have dates for the next academic year, as follows:

21 September 18.00-20.00
12 October 18.00-20.00
2 November 18.00-20.00
7 December 18.00-20.00
4 January 18.00-20.00
1 February 18.00-20.00
1 March 18.00-20.00
5 April 18.00-20.00
3 May 18.00-20.00
7 June 18.00-20.00

All will be taking place in Senate House, room to be confirmed (I’ve asked for a roomier room, but the IES is constrained by only having a small range of free venues – and we’ve managed so far, I suppose). Hope to see seminarians new and old in September, when we will be resuming our reading of ‘Sirens’ at around lines 165 to 166.

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Bloomsday 2018

Please see the invitation below to join the unofficial Charles Peake seminar celebrations for Bloomsday 2018.

We’ll be meeting at 2pm on Saturday 16 June at the bar of the Tavistock Hotel in Russell Square. To begin, we’ll think about the five senses and how these are depicted in the novel by considering a few select passages. Please do have a think about any examples on this topic that you especially enjoy and would like to discuss. Remember to bring a copy of Ulysses with you!

Given our location, we’ll move on to Sirens at four (she said) by discussing Joyce’s feelings about the episode and some of its publication and reception history: handouts for this will be provided. We’ll probably wrap up around 5 – 6pm.

Seminarians might be also interested in the evening’s entertainment. At Queen Mary there’s the launch of Dedalus, a sequel to Ulysses (details here) and at the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith there’ll be a theatrical performance of Joyce’s works (details here).

Hopefully many members of the seminar will be able to make it.

Please direct any questions to Helen Saunders (via email, or comment below).

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Seminar, 1 June – ‘Sirens’, 151-166

We rounded out the 2017-2018 season with a further fifteen lines of the ‘Sirens’ episode (and it’s not entirely clear that we’re done with the last of those). Some of the following we think we got, the rest we at least had a crack at:

We scrutinised the sentence bookended by ‘by’s, but decided this was mere repetition, perhaps for the sake of the rhythm, describing a circle. Bloom’s “eyes went by” and, we trust, the rest of him too. The word “blessed” sets up a contrast with Bloom’s “dark eyes”, but the plurality of “virgins” tickled us, as did “white under” the blue robe, with its profane suggestion of nakedness. We related “come to me” to the Blessed Virgin’s intercessionary power, her role as “Refuge of sinners” (13.442), but noticed that it not only anticipates the climactic, identical line in Lionel’s aria from Martha (watch this space), but that Bloom had himself quoted, or even silently sung, the preceding two lines in ‘Aeolus’: “Co-ome thou lost one,/Co-ome thou dear one!” (7.59-60).

“God they believe she is: or goddess”: already pious belief and the subject of long controversy (and I do mean long), the Immaculate Conception of Mary, rendering her born without stain of sin, was proclaimed in 1854. Pius IX’s bull became dogma with the recognition of papal infallibility in 1870, while the doctrine of the Assumption – the direct ascent to heaven of Mary – was similarly dogmatically defined in 1950 (I have to put my hands up to some post-seminar fact-checking here, but we did have the gist of it on the night). Speaking of gist: we noted that Bloom is here boiling down to its very barest bones  something expressed at greater length by Stephen in his thoughts in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ on “the madonna which the cunning Italian intellect flung to the mob of Europe” (9.839-40). We noted the “they” and Bloom’s distance from specifically Catholic Dublin and we also discussed the use of the colon in musical notation (its appearance after the key signature).

What follows is Bloom’s version of events, regarding his being caught out looking at the statues of goddesses in the National Museum in ‘Scylla’. As Mulligan tells Stephen there, Bloom’s eyes “were upon” the statue’s “mesial groove” (9.615). We can deduce here (the “fellow spoke”) that Mulligan must have interrupted Bloom by saying ‘good day’, since, at the end of ‘Scylla’, he says “Good day again” to Bloom (9.1204). This point was where Bloom saw the “student” (Mulligan) with “Dedalus’ son” and conditionally puts a name to the face, remembering what Simon had to say in ‘Hades’: “Was that Mulligan cad with him?” (6.49).

The statues in the museum and Bassi’s statues are here conflated, the heathen goddesses and the Mother of God: “All comely virgins.” Blasphemous in this formulation, the logic is nevertheless that underpinning Stephen’s objections in ‘Scylla’, the madonna’s absorption of and association with prior forms of goddess worship. The whiteness of the naked statues brings in “those rakes of fellows” who are students like Mulligan (Bloom is here suggesting that the Buck was in the Museum for no better reasons than himself); but the whiteness of Mary’s vestments brings in sinners also; and it was hard not to see a third layer of meaning, whiteness in its relation to virginity and brothels (as when Bloom is put up for auction by Bello in ‘Circe’: “Must be virgin”, 15.3100).

“By went his eyes” is a nice piece of internal rhyme and a third repetition of ‘by’. This is voiced by the narrator and what follows is not clearly interior monologue: the actual book Sweets of Sin Bloom has in his pocket, of course; and an attempt to separate the sin from the sweet – “Sweet are the sweets” – is answered by that knowing, mock-portentous “Of sin.” We thought these two lines might be in lieu of Bloom’s thoughts, which may well have turned to Boylan and Molly and so, in typical fashion, have then shut off and turned elsewhere. Bloom has been made unavailable to the reader of ‘Sirens’ once more, for now at least.

The “giggling peal” is of laughter rather than bells, though there is the suggestion of harmony here. The word “young”, repeated soon after, directs us back to Bloom’s response to Sweets of Sin in ‘Wandering Rocks’: “Young! Young!” (10.624); although we are back in the bar, something carries over, perhaps, “Douce” returning us to ‘sweet’ also. In “goldbronze” the voices are fused, but we wondered whether the two women might have their heads together here. The repetition of “your other eye” and then “your other” might be actual repetition or the same phrase echoing – no time seems to have passed at all while the narrative was away dealing with Bloom.

We discussed the neologisms, “gigglegold” and “freefly”. It was suggested that something Homeric was going on here, the sirens letting fly, “screaming”, “piercing” – even throwing “young heads back” . . . having eaten the rest; the mysterious “signals” (hand gestures, pointing at their eyes, perhaps) adding to this reading. Conflated as he has been with the old fogey, Bloom is on some level the object of the laughter and we discussed female laughter in its effect on men, the fear of ridicule and so on: Bloom remembers Molly “screaming” with laughter at 11.557. The final word “notes” brings us back to music again.

The word “foredone”, as in put out of existence, is an archaism, as is “mirth”, which doesn’t seem right here in any case; unless it is allied with the “panting” passing into “sighing” (repeated, once for each of them, maybe) which might be the two women resuming a more conventionally feminine mode once again, quietening down after letting their laughter “freefly” in proper, unrestrained hilarity.

A demonstration was given of the difference between lipping – the edge of the cup meeting the lips – and sipping – the cup then being raised so that the tea may be drunk – not the first time that what looks like a musical wording is in fact (or simultaneously) capturing a very precise motion, a rather ladylike one in this case. We liked “gigglegiggled” but took it to be principally mimetic, with a link to “gigglegold”.

At which point, having waited for her friend to a) settle down a bit and b) be in possession of a mouthful of tea, Miss Douce sets the whole thing off again by repeating her imitation of the old fogey. Just as we’d had problems with ruffling the first time, so here “fattened” left us confused – puffed up around the eyes from laughter, or are the eyes themselves ‘fattened’ somehow? – and the rhyme of “rolled” and “droll” did not help, for all it was suggestive. We do not see this mimicry and perhaps the language is making a point in preventing us from reconstructing it precisely.

We were struck by the idea that “Kennygiggles” masculinises Miss Kennedy here (and the ‘Miss’ is dropped, for only the second time in the episode) – this is filling in for a name, in rather the way that “Bloowhose” and the like fills in for Bloom’s. We wondered precisely who or what is stooping here: Miss Kennedy or the “fair pinnacles of hair” (given separate agency, much like Bloom’s eyes)? These things are happening while she splutters: “showed” is an active verb, but it is the hair doing the showing?

At which point we ran out of time and thought we probably hadn’t quite exhausted the last line (all those questions). So we will resume there, with the hair and the tortoise (wordplay I notice only now as I write), at the next seminar, in September: final dates for next year will be confirmed as soon as I have them. Hope you all enjoy the summer and the upcoming Bloomsday especially.


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Seminar, 4 May – ‘Sirens’, 131-151

No two ways about it, we are going to need a bigger room. Another lively session in May, during which we covered twenty more lines of the ‘Sirens’ episode (seventeen, eighteen, twenty . . . we’re definitely picking up the pace).

Miss Kennedy’s refusal, spread over two lines, takes a song-like form – with “But Bloom?” a third line perhaps – but the rhyme of “don’t” with “won’t” is strangely broken across it. We toyed with the idea that if might be Miss Douce who speaks the first line (asking her friend not to plug her ears?) – if it is Miss Kennedy speaking both, the form is confusing and, we thought, unprecedented, with the double em-dashes and all. We could almost hear the laughter, though, surely the underlying motive for the form.

This is the third post-overture sighting of Bloom (see lines 86 and 102) and it has the effect, at this point, of conflating him with the old fogey. Leaving that aside, might this be taken as the reader’s question (where is the supposed protagonist of this book?), or as Joyce offering reassurance (he’ll be along shortly), or somehow both? We spent some time thinking about the bathos of the name.

According to the OED, “snuffy” means annoyed – a still current present-day equivalent might be something like ‘testy’ – but we assumed the associations with snuff would have been available to readers of the time as well: a combination of poor customer service and sniffliness, then. Miss Douce’s grunting represents another departure from her genteel facade, although it is the chemist she is transforming into an animal – Circe’s form of enchantment, of course, though the suggestion that the old fogey is hard of hearing does tie in to ‘Sirens’.

Miss Kennedy unplugs her ears – we thought of bottles as well as earplugs – she clearly wants to hear but goes back to protesting: the sense is of a well-rehearsed double-act, a routine in which Miss Douce mocks and Miss Kennedy mock-protests. All of this is heightened by the hyperbole (although Miss Kennedy does come rather close to expiring, in point of fact, or at least giving a good impression of it, at lines 166-7). That said, we may not be in a position to judge the actual hideousness of the “old wretch” since we never learn quite what did happen that “night in the Antient Concert Rooms.”

The three ‘sips’ in the next line were taken to be developing a theme, in analogy with music. The sentence is both musical and mimetic, we thought, Miss Kennedy testing the tea for its heat before relaxing into drinking it, ‘distaste’ giving way to the sweetness, while the metrical rhythm of the first part gives way to something more uneven. We found the word “brew” slightly discomfiting – why not tea? – but it fits with the setting of a hotel bar.

Miss Douce is imitating the chemist, cocking his head the better to pick up sound, we assumed – beyond that, however, we couldn’t decide whether the “ruffling” of “nosewings” was being enacted by the performer’s nostrils solo or whether a hand would be assisting. “Hufa! Hufa!” returns us to snuffiness.

“Shrill shriek of laughter  . . .”: this would be, at any earlier point in Ulysses, an entirely normal sentence, if it just had the indefinite article at its start – but that sense of the hitherto suppressed laughter finally overcoming the protests is emphatic and leaves Miss Douce in control (the “imperthnthn” reminds us that she huffs and snorts as the boots previously sniffed, no less rudely in some ways, but less sullen certainly). A “snout in quest” made us think of truffle pigs (an invisible rhyme for ‘ruffle’).

The “shrieking” is oddly placed in the next sentence and the “O!” somewhat inadequate (there are a torrent of ‘O’s coming up below, we noted) for what is now a fully-fledged fit of the giggles. There is just the one “goggle eye” here – we discussed Joyce himself in relation to the mocking of eyes, given not only his own troubles but his daughter’s strabismus as well: a subject on which he must presumably have been quite sensitive?

The “chimed” is more pleasant than “Shrill” – and allows for the double “in” – but the “deep bronze laughter” (distinguishing between the two again here?) is succeeded by “shouting” returning us to the indelicate mode in which Miss Douce is now revelling. “And your other eye!” may allude to the song ‘When you Wink the Other Eye’, made popular by Marie Lloyd (whom, in turn, the song made popular), or it may be a rather lower form of wit (some of us went there – the link between the single eye and the penis is a lot older than you might think). We took the line to be a little botched either way, as if Miss Douce knows this to be funny, but doesn’t quite get why.

The “eye!” is also an ‘aye’, a yes . . . so here he comes. “Bloowhose” is an echo of and a response of sorts to “Bloowho” (l.86), as the “dark eye”, reading on Bloom’s behalf, completes a trinity of eyes. “Aaron Figatner’s” is a pronouncedly foreign and presumably Jewish name – strange that Bloom does not reflect on this directly, but the idea of gathering figs made us think of Agendath Netaim and the cultivation of Palestine in ‘Calypso’. We discussed Bloom’s “dark eye” as a signifier of Jewishness (and sadness too).

“And Prosper Loré’s huguenot name”: it took us quite a while to realise that this is the narrator, that Bloom’s eye is reading this name next as he proceeds along Wellington Quay (another foreign name, as is Bassi’s). Although we also thought that the specificity of “huguenot” might be Bloom’s contribution to the sentence, given his thoughts on this in ‘Lestrygonians’ (8.889-90).

We did say a little about statues of the virgin, but the chair heard the sound of the theology klaxon and decided we’d be coming back to that next time – sitting behind the big desk in 243 must have gone to his head after all. Do please join us on June the 1st, for sweets and giggles.

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Seminar, 6 April – ‘Sirens’, 112-130

Another gratifyingly crowded – very nearly overcrowded – seminar in April: at this rate, we’re going to need a bigger room. Once we’d established where we were starting from, we set off into ‘Sirens’ for a fourth time.

Lines 112-13 return us to the very opening of the chapter and to lines 64-5: a motif is being reworked, as it will be again at line 545. Reading these lines against the ‘real time’ of the episode opened up various ways of interpreting them. Can the Misses Douce and Kennedy still hear the cavalcade? Or are these sounds resonating in their memories in the quiet as they wait for their tea to draw? Or is this analepsis, a movement in time as “Bloom” is a movement in space? We concluded that musicality has primacy here – the rhythm of the sentence, those three spondaic neologisms with which it ends – and that with the opening “Yes” (and yes, we did, yes, briefly, yes) the narrator is rendering his presence conspicuous: he it is, finally, who recapitulates and reworks.

With her “awfully” Miss Douce returns to her earlier, affected manner. This may be a genuine enquiry, but we noted the idea that she may be showing off also, reminding her friend that she has been on holiday (in Rostrevor, as we discover at line 197) as Miss Kennedy has not. The word “unbloused” we took to involve no more than one or two buttons, since it is just the neck being freed – inasmuch as the OED definition of ‘unblouse’ refers the reader back to this very line, it means what we take it to mean, no doubt.

Miss Kennedy’s “No” responds to the earlier “Yes” but, in context, is meant to be reassuring. Brown relates to bronze – ‘bronzed’ as a euphemism for suntanned seems to have been a term established during the nineteenth century. We couldn’t decide whether the use of the definite article  in “the borax” was Hiberno-English or was flagging up that the two women have discussed this before. The cherry laurel is a single plant (nothing to do with cherries, though it is a kind of laurel) and the water is a home remedy.

In halfstanding and looking “askance” at the skin of her neck in the mirror – a nice piece of alliteration here – the mirror’s position is finely conveyed (only later, at lines 214-5, do we learn that the gilded lettering is that of Cantrell & Cochrane’s). The hock (gold) and claret (red . . . bronze?) glasses would presumably be different in shape and possibly colour too – but we weren’t quite sure what shapes.

A similar mysteriousness surrounds the “shell” at this point, since we don’t learn till later on that it is a real shell, brought back from Miss Douce’s holiday (ll.921-2). Uninformed by that, it seems as though it might be painted on the mirror at this stage of the narrative. The business of putting an ear to shells, to hear the sound of the ocean, would relate to the Sirens of the Odyssey – the suggestion of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus was noted also.

The next line gave us some trouble – even to the extent of not being sure whether the hands are also sunburnt – but the upshot seemed to be that Miss Douce is saying that it is typical that her hands would also be affected. Glycerine is for the hands specifically here (the borax and cherry laurel water being for the neck), Miss Kennedy providing the useful advice.

Though that advice is not going to be heeded, apparently. The word “adieu” had us thinking of song (though we didn’t know which song) – Miss Douce’s hands would be at her neck at this point. We also puzzled away at “replied, reseated”: is Miss Douce reseated when she replies, or is this the end of a movement, in that she replies and then reseats (herself)? ‘Sirens’ seems to open up possibilities for uncertainty to which we are constantly adjusting (ourselves).

Gifford makes two suggestions as to which chemist “Boyd’s” may have been, but we weren’t sure it makes much difference – that it is familiar to both women is the point. Moreover, Miss Douce is choosing to turn away from Miss Kennedy’s advice in favour of that of the “old fogey”, preferring male authority to female experience and the lure of the commercial – the latest remedy, as it were – to any traditional cures.

The tea is now brewed: “fulldrawn”. Both the grimace and the praying are forms of begging here, the tone one of mock-piety and, perhaps, exaggerated delicacy. The apostrophe after “mercy” is a lovely touch – the absence of an ‘s’ at the end staying loyal to the sound of the word. Miss Douce’s “entreated” stays with the register of praying and begging, all of it somewhat over-the-top, the implication being that this is a running joke, an in-joke that has had previous outings. An interesting comparison was made between the mock-gentility here and The Importance of Being Earnest.

The pouring of tea and milk is made to seem simultaneous here (Joyce taking no sides on that one, perhaps), but with no mention of sugar, it’s not clear why the tea is sweet (unless this means merely that it hasn’t been stewed). Then again, clarity is not the point here – the ordering of words in this sentence, the redundancy of “both two”, the ambiguity of “little fingers” (her actual little fingers, which would be unusual, or any two of her fingers, which happen to be little?) are all performing other functions. One Siren is blocking out the sound of the other, in sum, in a particularly dainty fashion.

We [have already] reconvene[d] on the 4th of May – another blog post follows hard on the heels of this one!

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Seminar, 2 March – ‘Sirens’, 94-111

A cold coming we had of it, but any fears that the weather might dampen people’s enthusiasm for pushing on with ‘Sirens’ proved unfounded and it was very nearly standing room only at the March seminar.

The “boots” is, like bronze and gold, synecdoche (he is the polisher of boots), but of an even more impersonal kind (in that the next holder of this position will also be the ‘boots’). He is in a subordinate position to the barmaids – he has brought their tea – and his “loud” and “unmannerly” boorishness is met by Miss Douce’s “Find out” [for yourself] as a reminder of this. She is returning from the window, her “spyingpoint”, to the bar. Yet his “beau” may be a comment on their affectations (Gerty uses the word also, with embellishment, at 13.209 – it’s a very Gerty word).

Bronze becomes haughty in response and the register assists her in this, ‘reply’ being more genteel than the previous ‘retort’. But the superfluous “on you” spoils this register, as does the tautology of “impertinent insolence” (one of these would do) – this is an imperfect performance. Mrs de Massey, the proprietress of the Ormond, is named here for the only time in Ulysses; we wondered about her origins: Norman? Huguenot?

“Imperthnthn thnthnthn” – our second link to the ‘overture’ – is it possible to ‘sniff’ these words? (We did give it a go.) Snout and sniff relate to the imminent, as yet unmentioned flower, and sniffy relates to haughtiness (we also connected “bootsnout” to “grossbooted” in ‘Aeolus’). We considered the simultaneity of the actions here: Miss Douce is advancing (returning from the window to the bar) – “threatened” – as boots retreats the same way he came in.

“Bloom” is named here, perhaps in response to the earlier “Bloowho”. The reader’s expectations are being played with (“Bloowhere” might be more to the point) but this is also Bloom at his closest to not being Bloom at all, not merely through absence, but because this ‘Bloom’ relates immediately to the flower in the next line. The flower is similarly undifferentiated: it is merely a flower.

Stressing the fact that the boots is their junior, Miss Douce continues her attempt to perform haughtiness, but while each of her sentences starts well enough (“aggravating”, “conduct” – this also relating to orchestras) the attempted refinement of each is then undermined by tonally jarring lapses: “brat” and the wringing of ears. This should surely be the wringing of necks, but the “yard” suggests the wringing (out) of cloth and the ear is fitting in other ways here, for the ‘Sirens’ episode.

“Ladylike in exquisite contrast” returns us to line 68 and reinforces the sense of a genuine contrast between the two women (Miss Kennedy is no doubt performing too, but her performance is apparently seamless). “Rejoined” as in rejoinder, but Miss Kennedy is literally rejoining the action at this point.

The chiasmus of the next line was discussed at length as we moved from confusion to something like an appreciation of the musicality of the sentence (a line from light opera if suitably recited). The tea not being ready, it is returned to the pot. A rash sally towards the notion that the milk might be poured out ahead of the tea was swiftly sent packing by those in the know: in Dublin, the tea comes first.

The following lines caused some problems too, but we eventually decided that the crates are the “footstools” (this reference to their height suggests they may be used to retrieve things from high shelves). There is something Homeric in the Sirens cowering “under their reef of counter” – more materially, their not being visible behind the bar makes it less likely that their tea will be disturbed by the arrival of customers.

The word “pawed” (not ‘poured’) set off even more confusion and, in this case, we came to no single conclusion. Are the two women distractedly pawing at their own blouses, or is each pawing at the other’s, perhaps to attempt to feel the difference (if there is one) between the slightly cheaper and slightly more expensive fabrics? Or are the details about the two, relatively costly, varieties of black satin, for the reader’s benefit alone, the text silently distinguishing between the two women again (we assumed Miss Douce’s would be the cheaper blouse in this case)? Are they mirroring each other – around the repeated words about waiting – or is something else going on?

Me, I know what I think. But it’s ‘Sirens’. There’s going to be a lot of this. And all the better for it. Please do join us on April the 6th (apologies, blog fans, but yes, that’s tomorrow) for more of the same.

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