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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Seminar, 2 February – ‘Sirens’, 71-94

Precisely 96 years after Ulysses was published, and 136 after Joyce was born, we continued with our reading of Sirens.

‘Who? Where’ are indeed the questions. Although ‘gold’ is Miss Kennedy and ‘bronze’ is Miss Douce, it’s often quite hard to distinguish the two throughout the episode, and we wondered if there is a hierarchy in this episode in which ‘gold’ is at the top. We discussed Miss Douce’s wet lips, noting the sexualised and cinematic image, wondering if they were wet due to her having wetted them herself, in a bid to make herself more attractive. A striking phrase of Hiberno-English, ‘mind till I see’ means here ‘let me see’. The looks swapped in this extract are short yet provocative, and lead to bigger conversations about the active role these women play in their objectification.

As we spent many years discussing the layout of the newspaper office in Aeolus, so the floorplan of the Ormond street hotel might fox us. We noticed that in the line ‘she darted, bronze’ the narrator appears to be clarifying the location more clearly for us (in the previous session we spent a long time discussing the location of individuals relative to the crossblind). Is the ‘backmost corner’ that she runs to at the corner of the window? Either way she runs to a window, which her breath forms a light condensation on (‘a halo of breath’) (though there was some disagreement over how realistic this seem: a window on a sunny day would hardly generate much condensation). Bronze here is both noun and adverb, and has an echo of ‘brazen’ about it.

Her ‘wet lips’ appear again, this time ‘tittering’. We were reminded of Orpheus and Eurydice in this line – in both cases it is a man who looks back to a woman or women – and there is an imprecise allusion to the Homeric sirens too (Odysseus could look at the Sirens, but his men could not hear them).

Do the barmaids really believe that the honourable Gerald Ward, A. D. C. is attracted to them? We touted the possibility that they would like to believe he is, but ‘with sadness’ has the poignant air of a joke that inadvertently reveals a sad truth; on the page, the line also acts as a musical instruction, to speak with sadness. ‘O wept’ avoids her committing blasphemy, and reveals her exasperation, a general frustration with men. We heard ‘idiots’ and not ‘eejits’ as an attempt at a higher class of expression; ‘it’s them that has the fine times’ has something of the wistful and envious about it.

The longest paragraph of the episode so far, we noted ‘Miss Kennedy sauntered […]’ includes three sentences, each one revised slightly from the previous one. The revision allows Joyce to feature certain techniques, such as assonance and alliteration, and demonstrates in miniature Joyce’s compositional process for the whole novel, expansion through revision.

‘A man’, Bloom, marks quite an abrupt, even cinematic, transition. Does Bloom fit the stereotypes of men we’ve thought about so far in Sirens? ‘Bloowho’ echoes ‘boo-hoo’ but also suggests the barmaids’ unfamiliarity with Bloom. At this line, we noted the differences in punctuation between various editions and the changes to phrasal intonation that occur as a result.

Moulang is a jeweller pipe importer based on Wellington Quay; Wine’s and Carroll’s are further establishments in this part of town. Are the ‘sweet sinful words’ Bloom has in his mind from the book (which he read in Wandering Rocks), or from Martha Clifford’s letter?

We go back to the bar and again see dense repetition within just one sentence (‘The boots to them, them in the bar, them barmaids came’). Is this repetition useful, as a means for Joyce to reiterate a point, or does it alienate, even confuse, the reader? We discovered a rare deletion from the Little Review edition of this passage: Boots originally ‘from the hallway came’. In removing this description, Joyce prioritises the musical effects of the line, thereby establishing his priorities for the rest of the episode. In the repetition we heard a ‘live rehearsal’: the narrator seems to be finding out which construction works best.

Chattering into the barmaid’s moment of sadness comes the china, recalling Bloom delivering the breakfast things to Molly in Calypso (though he would never use the aggressive tone that Boots does here). Are these, by the musical logic suggested, cymbals or tympanums?

The musicality of the passage is compounded by the use of ‘transposed’: not only are we moving between high and low pitches in this episode, but the idiom is also moving between the coarse and the refined (note Miss Kennedy’s ‘manners’). In a more literal sense, to transpose is to move things around, such as tea things.

What is the significance of lithia here? An advert for the brand can be seen here; the image compounds the eroticised space of the bar (‘safe from eyes, low’). On this last line, we stopped to note how sensorially various this episode is.

We begin again on Friday 02 March at line 11.95 (‘What is it?’).

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Seminar, 5 January – ‘Sirens’, 1-70

On the 5th of January, we started ‘Sirens’. In line with previous discussions about how to approach the opening of the episode, we treated the first 63 lines as a block, before proceding into the rest (i.e. the remaining 1,231 lines – probably a tad more than four years for this one).

Moving from ‘Aeolus’ to this episode saw an immediate comparison made between the content of this ‘block’ and the headlines of the earlier chapter. The matter of these lines is all drawn from the text to come, but with elements of distortion, compression and distillation. It was also pointed out that the lines do not appear in the order they should, if strict sequence were a concern (a parallel with the ‘coda’ at the end of ‘Wandering Rocks’ and with that episode more broadly – what looks like a model turns out to be no such thing).

We then discussed whether this could be thought of as an ‘overture’, the commonest critical shorthand in thinking about this section. The principal objection that arose was that an overture ought really to be comprehensible by itself, whereas this needs a reading of the episode as a whole in order to make any sense of it. Then again, is making sense of it the point?

We moved on to the idea that these lines present themes or motifs, in musical fashion. Clearly this does work with some of the words and phrases – those which recur, in particular “bronze” and “gold” – but it hardly seems to apply at all to others. We took note of the fact that the chapter would have needed to be complete before the opening could be finished

On the whole, then, we concluded that the ‘overture’ looks rather more meaningful than it turns out to be. We noted that there are some handholds, though, various ways in which the opening makes clear its relation to the rest of the book: the connexion with ‘Wandering Rocks’ (which introduces the reader to Miss Kennedy and Miss Douce, “gold by bronze”, at 10.1198-99); “O rose! Castile” is Lenehan’s riddle come round again (7.591); the various mentions of “bloom” and “blooming” too. Nor is it quite as mechanical as it appears at first sight, since it is not mere transcription of what follows.

We also considered the idea (possibly Hugh Kenner’s, though no one could remember where from) that this is better thought of as an orchestra tuning up. Which then led us to think about the quality of its fragmentation in other ways. While the opening of ‘Sirens’ might – probably should – startle readers of Ulysses as a book (we thought about some other chapter openings and concluded that only that of ‘Oxen’ comes close to this in terms of discombobulation), readers of The Little Review might have been more used to this kind of fragmented, experimental writing in the context of that publication. Both Ezra Pound and Harriet Shaw Weaver expressed reservations about this episode: Margaret Anderson presumably did not.

We also spent more time considering the links with ‘Aeolus’, which we thought were not merely the arbitrary product of us moving from that episode to this, that there are some meaningful connexions here: ‘Aeolus’ was appearing in The Little Review at the same time as Joyce was writing ‘Sirens’. January 1918 also marked the appearance of a second edition of Chamber Music – at this point we belatedly realised that we were looking at this, as a piece of published writing, precisely a hundred years after its first readers had done so. We shared a moment or two of wonder and then we pushed on.

Having decided to treat the first 63 lines as a whole, we made something of an exception of the final line: “Begin!” This does not appear at the end of the episode and is clearly different in kind from the rest as a result. Who might be imagined as saying this? Who is being invited to begin? The orchestra? The reader? Joyce?

To the episode proper, then, which reponds to the injunction to “Begin!” by sending us back to the beginning of this episode and, beyond that, back to the final section of ‘Wandering Rocks’. We discussed the potential redness of “Bronze” and the idea that there is a comparative value being set on the two metals here and, by extension, the two women themselves (this, we felt, was the sort of consideration that may well get lost in a reading of the episode as a whole).

The names of the two women are of considerable interest, in that Joyce might have chosen pretty much anything he liked – these are wholly fictional characters in a way that many of the others are not – but ‘Douce’ is clearly musical (French, but ‘dolce’ by another name), whereas ‘Kennedy’ is not. The “crossblind” we remembered from ‘Aeolus’ (7.440) – and from James Joyce Online Notes – a blind covering the lower part of the window (precisely so that those like Kennedy and Douce could look over the top while passers-by on the street could not see in). Horseshoes are made from iron – as “hoofirons” confirms – making “ringing steel” (“steelyringing”) a little mysterious.

We spent some time with the ‘heads’ and the idea that these are ‘hearing’ – but “Bronze” and “gold” are nouns here and may be the agents which hear instead. We also considered how this picks up on ‘Wandering Rocks’ and the idea that the ‘coda’ represents what may be seen from the carriages (so merely the heads of the two women); also the idea that we are moving directly on from one episode to the next in a way that isn’t usual. (Of course, we are actually going back in time a little from the very end of ‘Wandering Rocks’).

Precisely because ‘Wandering Rocks’ has told us, we know exactly who is in these carriages as Douce and Kennedy do not – ‘her’ is Lady Dudley, which Miss Douce knows as Miss Kennedy does not. (Something I’ve noticed only in writing the blog – it’s miss Kennedy and miss Douce here, but Miss and Miss in ‘Wandering Rocks’.)

Miss Douce’s response to Kennedy’s question is not preceded by a dash – so are these her exact words, or a distillation, a condensation of what she says? Is “sitting with his ex” (His Excellency) her abbreviation or something performed by the episode itself in that case? Speech seems undistorted elsewhere, but we were conscious of this as something that will need attending to as we go on.

That “pearl grey and eau de Nil” are both colours had not occurred to all of us in looking at this for the first time (the latter is a kind of green). That this might refer to Lady Dudley’s outfit and hat led us to discuss the significance of the two young women’s uncovered heads and the unlikelihood of the presence of any women not actually working in a pub in a pub (or even a hotel). Eau de nil recurs in the episode (11.465, 661), seemingly as an object of reverie; the combination of grey and green the height of fashion (see the bridal dress in ‘Cyclops’, “a creation carried out in green mercerised silk, moulded on an underslip of gloaming grey,” 12.1280-81).

In the light of all that, we wondered whether Miss Kennedy’s response – “Exquisite contrast” – was her own, exactly: received opinion on the fashions of the day? Or is there even a trace of irony, a kind of drollness about this? Miss Douce, already “agog”, becomes more eager still – looking slightly ahead, we deduced that the two of them could not be at the bar, but must be quite close to the window. Again, we can identify “the fellow in the tall silk” – “the honourable Gerald Ward A. D. C.” (10.1179) – as they cannot, but the synecdoche, “silk” for silk hat, we took to be theirs. Ward is not in uniform, as the other two men in the carriages presumably are.

We will resume at line 71 on the 2nd of February.


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Seminar, 1 December – ‘Aeolus’, 1047-1075

After fully four years we concluded episode 7, ‘Aeolus’, reading from (in the corrected text) line 1047 to the closing line 1075.

We had touched on lines 1047-9 at the previous seminar, but felt that more might remain to be said about this sentence. It offers a list, characteristically Joycean in form and in its unusual emphasis on naming details. We spent a little time trying to distinguish the various kinds of horsedrawn vehicle, from Hackney cabs (two contrasting versions of the origin of this name were offered) to broughams, noting that where the trams represent a public transport infrastructure, these vehicles are mainly for private passengers and also (as with ‘delivery waggons’) commercial purposes. ‘Mailvans’ quietly helps the sense of closing the circuit with the episode’s start, where ‘vermilion mailcars’ (line 16) had once prompted much discussion of colour. ‘Aerated mineral water floats with rattling crates of bottles’ stands out from the catalogue as a far more detailed item, last in the list and offering a greater degree of close-up. We suddenly see those rattling crates and their precise contents, whereas the previous listed vehicles items remain more generic. ‘Aerated’ is a bottled trace of Aeolian wind.

We raised the question of whether the paragraph intends any pointed contrast between stalled machines (‘becalmed in short circuit’) and mobile horses (rattling and rolling), but did not reach any strong conclusion.

‘WHAT? – AND LIKEWISE – WHERE?’ (line 1050) refers directly to Crawford’s twin questions that follow. As has often been the case, we were unsure precisely what kind of publication to imagine in relation to this headline, but it’s plain that the ingenuous questions make for comedy in capitals in a way they don’t from the editor.

Crawford’s question ‘But what do you call it?’ seems to ask Stephen for a specific title – perhaps still with the notion of publishing his vignette in the Freeman’s Journal. The banal question ‘Where did they get the plums?’ is never answered; Crawford is only asking it because, unlike us, he didn’t hear Stephen say that they were purchased from a girl at the foot of Nelson’s Pillar (line 941).

‘VIRGILIAN, SAYS PEDAGOGUE. SOPHOMORE PLUMPS FOR OLD MAN MOSES’ (lines 1053-4) describes the divergence that follows between the Professor’s Latin title for Stephen’s story and Stephen’s with its emphasis on Moses’ sight of the Promised Land. ‘PEDAGOGUE’ echoes Crawford’s ‘bloody old pedagogue’ for the professor at line 350. ‘SOPHOMORE’ appeared slightly incongruous, as Stephen is a graduate rather than a sophomore (and we are now more used to encountering this word in US contexts), but it was pointed out that the word also has connections to ‘sophist’, a term used by the ‘pedagogue’ in relation to Stephen a couple of paragraphs earlier (line 1036). ‘PLUMPS’ may carry a verbal drop of ‘plum’ juice, while the familiar register of ‘OLD MAN MOSES’ is reported by Don Gifford to derive from a song.

The professor needs to say ‘Call it’ three times (lines 1055-6) before alighting on his preferred name for Stephen’s tale – rather as he subsequently says ‘I see’ three times (lines 1059, 1061, 1066) in response to Stephen’s own title. The sense is perhaps of a rather self-indulgently dominant place in the conversation, allowing the speaker to make so many merely phatic utterances. At the same time, we noticed that Joyce in these closing stages maintains the close focus on odd aspects of the professor’s appearance and expressions (as for instance earlier in the ‘witless shellfish’ swimming in his ‘gross lenses’, line 826). Here he is seen ‘opening his long lips wide to reflect’ (line 1055). The professor’s chosen title, we noted, means ‘God has made this leisure for us’: this would presumably refer to the comfort of the old women at the top of the pillar. Despite having hymned the Greek language throughout the episode, the professor now turns to the supposedly inferior Latin.

In relation to the vignette his proposed title appears ironic and sardonic: so does Stephen’s ‘A Pisgah Sight of Palestine or The Parable of the Plums’ (lines 1057-8). Pisgah, we were reminded, is the name of a mountaintop from which God is said to have shown Moses the Promised Land of the Jewish people: a land that the prophet himself did not enter. This motif has been aired already in the episode (notably at line 873), with an implicit parallel between Moses and Parnell, or at least the Irish and Jewish peoples in general. (This earlier discussion of ‘Moses and the promised land’ explains the professor’s proud comment that ‘We gave him that idea’, at lines 1060-1.) It thus seems plausible to see Stephen’s title as a comment with nationalist connotations, but it wasn’t quite so clear how the old women on the Pillar compared with Moses: after all, they are seeing the city where they have already lived for decades, rather than one merely promised to them for the future. Stephen’s two titles offer both Old Testament and New Testament flavours, as ‘The Parable of the Plums’ sounds akin to the illustrative tales told by Jesus Christ. We were not necessarily clear that Stephen’s story had really offered any parable, but there was a suggestion that the foisting of plum seeds, by virgins, on barren, stony urban ground had symbolic significance.

The professor’s laughing ‘richly’ seems to imply richness of understanding and appreciation, though we were pointed to a note by Declan Kiberd claiming the opposite – that the professor in fact failed to grasp Stephen’s meaning. For this claim we could find no textual evidence. ‘Richly’ seems meanwhile to sound a faint echo of ‘Penelope Rich’ a little earlier (line 1040).

‘HORATIO IS CYNOSURE THIS FAIR JUNE DAY’ (line 1063) offers another name for Nelson, perhaps in a newsprint spirit of elegant variation. A cynosure, it was pointed out, is a guiding star or focus of attraction: the line thus describes the fact that two characters look up at the status on its pillar in the following section. The headline here seems to have become more respectable than, for instance, the one with the walloping sophist at line 1032; we noted that few of the headlines are explicit about the immediate calendrical setting as this one is.

J.J. O’Molloy’s mere ‘weary sidelong glance’ at the statue reflects his relative alienation from the high-spirited conversation: the most melancholic figure in the group, he no longer wants to join in. Indeed he ‘holds his peace’, not merely saying nothing but perhaps, by implication, withholding something he might have said. The professor halts ‘on sir John Gray’s pavement island’: a pertinent site, as Gray had been the proprietor of the Freeman’s Journal as well as a nationalist figure. The phrase ‘pavement island’ itself was what stood out for us: it seems not to have been in use before this line, but a children’s book of this title was published in 1925. The phrase seems slightly incongruous for Dublin 1904, with its air of ‘traffic island’ (apparently a coinage of the 1930s) or even J.G. Ballard’s dystopian Concrete Island of the 1970s. If Joyce was unusual in lighting on the phrase, it was surely overdetermined by his Homeric interest in the island of Aeolus: the pavement island marks a last nod to that location.

The professor ‘peered aloft at Nelson’, a little as the two old women in the story do (line 1017). But doing it ‘through the meshes of his wry smile’ (line 1068) is a puzzle. Our best interpretation of this was that the professor’s smile is dimpling and crinkling his face, so the ‘meshes’ would in effect be crows’ feet or laughter lines, ‘through’ which his gaze travels.

The last headline (lines 1069-71) is one of the three most extensive in the episode (compare lines 77-9 and 1032-4), and seems to represent, at least from one point of view, a new nadir of newsprint as misleading, if entertaining, innuendo. In fact it is arguably true to the content that follows, which places a bawdy slant on Stephen’s tale. ‘DIMINISHED DIGITS’ (line 1069), the first of three successive alliterative phrases, appears to suggest Nelson’s lower number of fingers than most two-handed people. Something about this (or about Nelson in general, with the digits as a metonym for him) is alleged to prove ‘TOO TITILLATING’ for the old women: a claim that has little relation to what Stephen has reported, but essentially replicates the claim that Crawford will make in the episode’s last line. That claim appears to be that the two women were not merely amused but aroused by their proximity to the statue, if only because of Nelson’s risqué status as – in the phrase the professor repeats once more – a ‘onehandled adulterer’ (line 1072). The professor, being ‘tickled’ by Stephen’s form of words, is merely entertained; Crawford takes it and adds a cruder, though still fairly imprecise, connotation.

The professor’s physical expressions remain peculiarly in focus: after his rich laughter he is now ‘smiling grimly’, but the source of the grimness is not explained. If anything, the oxymoronic phrase perhaps suggests an air of worldliness befitting the sexual content. It was pointed out that ‘tickle’ – ‘to excite agreeably’ – and ‘titillate’ are close, via Latin titillare, bringing the headline and the section that follows it into close verbal connection.

To some of us, ‘FRISKY FRUMPS’ (1070) seemed another oxymoron. Anne Riordan is now joined by the more familiar ‘FLO’ McCabe, but what are they actually doing in the headline? Stuart Gilbert’s list of rhetorical figures (cited in Gifford) describes ‘WIMBLES’ as an example of an obscure technique called Hapax legomenon: essentially, a word that only appears once in a given corpus. The point then is perhaps that ‘WIMBLES’ never appears again in Ulysses. As for the exact meaning of ‘WIMBLES’ and ‘WANGLES’ as verbs, in context: if anything, they would seem to imply ‘becomes giddy’ and ‘moves unsteadily’. ‘CAN YOU BLAME THEM?’ seeks the tabloid reader’s complicity: presumably, to be precise, it seeks agreement about Nelson’s power to ‘tickle’ and disorient.

It was suggested that Crawford’s closing words – ‘if the God Almighty’s truth was known’ – had some implicit meaning in relation to the ‘parable’, which has perhaps failed to disclose the God Almighty’s truth or any very clear meaning. Either way, some of us found a note of anti-climax in this casual piece of verbiage – and it was accordingly suggested that anti-climax has been to the point in this episode, notably with the unresolved ‘parable’ itself.

At the next meeting we will commence episode 11, ‘Sirens’. One member of the group, Philip Contos, made a cogent suggestion that bears recording here: that rather than attempting to make a laborious close reading of the ‘overture’ (which will all in effect be ‘explained’ by later pages), we should start our close attention with the action proper, at line 64 (p.211). We could nonetheless commence with a reading aloud of the ‘overture’ and a general response to it as a readerly and auditory experience.

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Seminar, 10 November – ‘Aeolus’, 1031-1047

On the 10th of November, the seminar paid close attention to lines 1031 to 1047, perhaps slowing down a little with the end now clearly in sight. Unfortunately, your humble blogger was not paying such close attention to keeping a record of this session and has put aside the writing up of such jottings as he made for much too long – as a result, what follows will have to be a briefer than usual reconstruction of some of what we discussed. Not that this blog was ever intended to be an exhaustive record, of course – but my apologies nevertheless.

“Finished?” The inconclusive nature of Stephen’s ‘parable’ means that Crawford’s question is a genuine one, regardless of the preceding laugh intended to bring the narrative to a “close”; but there is also some tetchiness in it. We wondered (not for too long) exactly what the two women might do that would be worse. The Linati schema gives the ‘meaning’ of ‘Aeolus’ as the ‘derision of victory’ and we saw a certain application of that here (Stephen’s general derision, Crawford deriding Stephen, albeit gently . . . the name of Nelson’s flagship too, of course).

We spent a long time puzzling over the various parts of the next, proto-Wakean headline: its inaccuracies (Antisthenes may have studied under Gorgias, but is not remembered as a Sophist exactly); its use of tabloidese (“WALLOPS”) as well as other, less obviously sourced forms of euphemism (“PROBOSCIS”, “MOLARS” – gnashing of teeth is scriptural, but placed here as though it were Homeric); the significance of the pen (Antisthenes’s book); and the use of the nose as a symbol of beauty (Cleopatra’s rather than Helen’s).

The professor is here re-establishing his credentials, having ceded the ground to Stephen for as long as he has for such inscrutable reward. The details about Gorgias are not strictly necessary, after all, suggesting MacHugh is a little thrown. Nevertheless, Stephen will produce Antisthenes as a “pupil of Gorgias” in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ (9.621) and turns again, in both ‘Wandering Rocks’ (10.816) and ‘Circe’, to “the dog sage” (15.2642)

The bitterness against self and others which reminds the professor of Antisthenes may have been foregrounded by the nature of Stephen’s story, but applies to Stephen more broadly. That Antisthenes was the “son of a noble and a bondwoman” introduces themes of disinheritance, the notion of being only half a citizen, which also apply to Stephen, at least by analogy.

Both “book” and “palm” are deceptive words here. We wondered whether “poor Penelope” might be imagined as suffering at the hands of “Argive Helen” beyond any judgments made by Antisthenes (Helen it was who made Penelope wait, perhaps). Stephen proceeds to play with the words – is there some form of Mollyfication of Penelope at this point? – though “Penelope Rich” recurs as a real woman in Shakespeare’s London, in ‘Scylla’ again (9.639).

In making ready to cross, the pub-bound men are presumably looking around for oncoming trams (which, as we will see, have stopped). “O’Connell street” was officially Sackville Street in 1904, but was widely referred to as O’Connell Street nonetheless (an act of renaming made permanent in 1924). This custom would have intensified after the statue was erected in 1882, at which time the renovated bridge the statue looks out on was indeed renamed for O’Connell, but not the street behind him.

“HELLO THERE, CENTRAL” takes us back to the start of the episode and the heart of the Hibernian metropolis – there is also the sense of a phonecall being made here, with the GPO a little way north, another centre. The repetition and recurrence of many of the names from the opening of the chapter feed into the sense of motionlessness and these halted trams, with the power gone; “becalmed in short circuit” also points back towards the Odyssey, of course.

At the end of the seminar, after some discussion – and in now time-honoured fashion – we put to a vote the matter of which episode to move on to in the new year. This will be chapter 11, the ‘Sirens‘ episode, which we will now be starting on the 5th of January, 2018. Up next – a much better blog, to finish off ‘Aeolus’, courtesy of Joe.

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