Thursday, June 16, 2005
So what did you have for breakfast? A smidgeon of something fattening, I hope. The inner organs of beasts and fowls, perhaps? Giblet soup? Nutty Gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, and liverslices with crustcrumbs?
In honor of Bloomsday, a short (15 pages), unpublished Ulysses paper I wrote some years ago, on the theme of fat in the novel. It’s here (PDF).
Just to give you a taste, as it were, here are some of the passages from Ulysses that I work with in the paper, with links to the Etext at Adelaide:
Stephen’s contempt for priests:
Houses of decay, mine, his and all. . . . Houyhnhnm, hosenostrilled. The oval equine faces, Temple, Buck Mulligan, Foxy Campbell, Lanternjaws. . . . A choir gives back menace and echo, assisted about the altar’s horns, the snorted Latin of jackpriests moving burly in their albs, tonsured and oiled and gelded, fat with the fat of kidneys of wheat. [Proteus]
What Bloom likes:
Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he like grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.[Calypso]
Feeding the cat:
Having set [the tea] to draw he took off the kettle, crushed the pan flat on the live coals and watched the lump of butter slide and melt. While he unwrapped the kidney the cat mewed hungrily against him. . . .Here. He let the bloodsmeared paper fall to her and dropped the kidney amid the sizzling butter sauce. [Calypso]
Bloom taking a bath:
He foresaw his pale body reclined in it at full, naked, in a womb of warmth, oiled by scented melting soap, softly laved. He saw his trunk and limbs riprippled over and sustained, buoyed lightly upward, lemonyellow: his navel, bud of flesh: and saw the dark tangled curls of his bush floating, floating hair of the stream around the limp father of thousands, a languid floating flower. [Lotos-Eaters]
Bloom on corpses turning to cheese:
I daresay the soil would be quite fat with corpsemanure, bones, flesh, nails. Charnelhouses. Dreadful. Turning green and pink decomposing. Rot quick in damp earth. The lean old ones tougher. Then a kind of tallowy kind of a cheesy. Then begin to get black, black treacle oozing out of them. Then dried up. Deathmoths. Of course the cells whatever they are go on living. Changing about. Live for ever practically. Nothing to feed on feed on themselves. [Lotos-Eaters]
Bloom on men eating, like animals:
His heart astir he pushed in the door of the Burton restaurant. Stink gripped his trembling breath: pungent meatjuice, slush of greens. See the animals feed.
Men, men, men.
Perched on high stools by the bar, hats shoved back, at the tables calling for more bread no charge, swilling, wolfing gobfuls of sloppy food, their eyes bulging, wiping wetted moustaches. A pallid suetfaced young man polished his tumbler knife fork and spoon with his napkin. New set of microbes. A man with an infant’s saucestained napkin tucked around him shovelled gurgling soup down his gullet. A man spitting back on his plate: halfmasticated gristle: gums: no teeth to chewchewchew it. Chump chop from the grill. Bolting to get it over. Sad booser’s eyes. Bitten off more than he can chew. Am I like that? [Lestrygonians]
Bloom on the first time with Molly:
Ravished over her I lay, full lips full open, kissed her mouth. Yum. Softly she gave me in my mouth the seedcake warm and chewed. Mawkish pulp her mouth had mumbled sweetsour of her spittle. Joy: I ate it: joy. Young life, her lips that gave me pouting. Soft warm sticky gumjelly lips. . . . Hot I tongued her. She kissed me. I was kissed. All yielding she tossed my hair.[Lestrygonians]
Any responses (to the paper, or just the quotes)? Does it make you think of fat in other books you’ve read? Is there more ‘fat criticism’ I should read?
Well—it’s a good enough essay on the theme of fat in _Ulysses_. But where is it going? OK, you quote various passages, point out that they concern fat ... There doesn’t seem to be a conclusion as such, and the place where the essay looks like it’s going to do more work, the section on the poetic “richly textured language in which Joyce cases fat”, lasts for a paragraph.
Sorry to be harsh, but the essay is uncomfortably close to being a member of the subgenre “look at the stuff I’ve noticed in _Ulysses_”. Which I think is a genre that’s easy to write, difficult to develop in an interesting way. Stanislaw Lem is rather unfair as a critic, and he sometimes doesn’t really get the books he criticizes, but still, try his “Gigamesh” (within _A Perfect Vacuum_).
Sometimes (ok, make that often) Valve comments remind one of the title of Beckett’s first novel.
You’re right, Rich, there is no conclusion. I had one earlier, but didn’t like it, and took it out (I also took out the original introduction). The version posted is a stripped down (but still, I hope, fat) paper on a thematic issue.
Well, whatever, thanks anyway for your time.
Your eyesore lipid pools, yes, those rosy ruby lipids, and, surmounting all, that fibrous cap that hath aroma of sanguine flowers, did but seize incarnadine my corpuscular fancy, and bid surcease to further circulation about this globular realm.
Now that’s more like it.
(But you forgot to use the word “adipose.")
A second for “Gigamesh,” very appropriate for Blomsday. Lem wrote a wonderful story hypothesizing a Joycean/Wakean book in which the author has written his own exhaustive commentary, permutating all aspects of the novel with each other.
I went and read the Lem. I was happy to do so, but I was surprised (only a little) to find that he’s responding to a completely different side of Ulysses than I am. It’s a perfectly interesting essay, but not what I would call a relevant suggestion.
My approach to Ulysses’ fat is motivated by an interest in the way the language of the novel interacts with the material world Joyce is constructing. In contrast, Lem’s essay is a kind of satire on a tradition of Ulysses criticism that gets very involved in demonstrating the mystical and mathematical correspondences in the novel, at the expense of both its lyrical and its everyday pleasures. The latter style of criticism was the dominant one for many years, following Eliot’s unfortunate “mythic method” essay, but it is no longer so.
This shift in critical emphasis is related to the shift in modernist studies Marjorie Perloff refers to in the essay I linked to last week. The current generation, myself included, generally do not take much notice of the Odyssey parallels, the architectural niceties, or the obscure references to archaic texts.
For those who haven’t read it, Lem borrows a trick from Borges in that his essay is a review of a non-existent novel called Gigamesh, by a non-existent Irishman named Patrick Hannahan, whose goal is to out-Joyce Joyce: “with an eye toward outdoing his great countryman and predecessor, he wishes to encompass in a belletristic work not only the accumulated linguistic-cultural wealth of the past, but in addition its universal-cognitive and universal-instrumental heritage (pangnosis)”.
The joke is on the geeky Ulysses scholars (and imitators in fiction), whose only goal is to impress the reader with overwhelming formal complexity.
But there is another joke in this too, on the hubris of what we might call “critical trolling,” which I would define as the practice of trashing others’ labor with dismissive gestures and a smattering of obscure, if irrelevant references. (To be clear, “critical trolling” is by no means to be confused with garden-variety trolling; critical trolling a truly sophisticated enterprise, that requires an almost professional level of commitment.) Lem invents a telling quote from his fictional writer Hannahan:
“Hannahan, tolerant enough of Finnegan’s Wake [sic] thinks little of Ulysses. ‘What an idea,’ he says, ‘packing the nineteenth century of Europe, and Ireland, into the sarcophagal form of the Odyssey Homer’s original itself is of doubtful value. What, it is your comic book of antiquity, with Ulysses as Superman, and the happy end. . . . The Odyssey is a pirating of Gilgamesh, and bastardized to suit the tastes of the Greek hoi polloi.”
Yes, exactly—what was Joyce thinking? If he had only read Patrick Hannahan, he would have known that The Odyssey is a hopelessly derivative, trivial piece of Greek arcana. Indeed, he should have just read Stanislaw Lem.
I can’t say I recognize your history of Joyce criticism above, Amardeep. Eliot’s essay was never particularly influential on the still-continuing exegesis of Ulysses. It’s a revealing early reading of the book, for what it tells us about Eliot at any rate. I’m not sure why you would call it “unfortunate.”
And “mystical” and “mathematical?” Who’re you think of here?
Eric Smith has a good essay on the porcine in Joyce in a recent Joyce Studies Annual.
Rich’s comment reveals a limited and faulty perception of what literary criticism does. That “sub-genre” contains multitudes and is not easy to write.
I thought the reference to “Cartesian objectivity” was gratuitous.
And who could find Stephen’s talk on Shakespeare tedious? One of the best parts of the book (nb: my favorite section is Ithaca).
First eleven sections generally stream-of-consciousness? Proteus, yes. Others, not really.
Heard Sander Gilman give a talk on fat detectives and myelin sheaths once. Don’t know if that was ever published.
The recent business about fat’s metabolic regulatory properties might be worth mentioning as an extension of the metaphor.
Wow, a flat fifteen minutes between the two timestamps of your comments—you read fast.
The Sander Gilman suggestion is a good one. Like everything he does, that got turned into a book pretty quickly (the man works even faster than you apparently do). I was at SCT the summer he was putting some of that material together, so I don’t know why I didn’t think of it.
I’ll have to get back to you about the genealogy of Joyce criticism. I’m thinking of all the books that were built in some way around the Linati schema—starting wtih Gilbert’s own, but also including more recent people like Daniel Schwarz. (I’ll try and add some names to this list shortly) I brought it up by way of suggesting that Lem’s “Gigamesh” has more to do with critical follies than it does with Joyce’s novel.
You’re probably right about the stream-of-consciousness and the cartesian objectivity; imprecise language. Thanks for tagging them.
Finally, I haven’t heard about “fat’s metabolic regulatory properties.”
Lem’s just endlessly fascinating to me, and the author of some of the best literary criticism I’ve ever read, but I can’t see him having a full picture of Joyce commentary. For much of his life, I can’t even imagine he had access to such bourgeois work. (Wouldn’t this have been censored?) Though it’s clever and certainly worth discussing on its merits, I don’t see it indicting or being directly relevant to your essay.
Kenner strikes me as particularly useful on the subject of Gilbert and schema, the critical utility thereof.
Critical trolling? That wasn’t my intention, though if you’d like to believe it, well OK.
Jonahan’s remark about how the sub-genre contains multitudes is unfortunately true. Let’s say that you wanted to write “Oral Ulysses” instead of “Fat Ulysses”. You could take out the Bloom taking a bath scene, put more emphasis on Stephan’s “pale vampire” and the concept of blood-drinking, with reference to “Hot fresh blood they prescribe for decline”, make the sex references a bit more explicit, replace the “Literary Fat Ladies” reference with something about Freud, talk about the nature of language used in the oral tradition of tale-telling, and there you are. Any essay on a theme in _Ulysses_ can equally well be changed into an essay on any other theme.
The reason I cited Lem was because of his parody of the person who sets out on a journey into the book and finds whatever he sets out to find (going from “in _Ulysses there is music, too!” to “the spreading concentric circles of the waves surrounding Gigamesh are the ‘sum total’ of man’s existence on Earth"). Why else does Lem jape about “No one, for that matter, could wade through the entire body of criticism that the prose of James Joyce has accumulated to date!” Yes, Lem spends a good deal of time on classical allusions, but he doesn’t limit himself to them.
I think that if you’re going to add to the essays on themes in _Ulysses_, there needs to be more there. I was intrigued by your bit on his poetic use of language, but that ended too soon, and too much of the rest were bits that I think an ordinary reader would pick up on their own.
If it matters, I have no training in literary studies at all, so you can discount my opinion appropriately.
Well, I guess I won’t tell Rich about my new piece about hollyhocks and the XIXc French avant-garde. I have no idea why they used hollyhocks in their poems, which seems like a very odd choice, but they did.
I once put together a piece comparing the Odyssey to the James Bond series. You knew that they were going to survive all the tests, because what good is a hero book where the bad guy wins? Even if the hero does die in the end, like Beowulf, you can still count the pages left and know he won’t die quite yet.
Three cheers for wider columns, people. At last I can read your compelling posts comfortably, which will reduce the amount of irritation felt by any potential trolls considerably I should think.
Going back to have another look at Ithaca - my impression used to be that Joyce contrives Stephen as a wee bit overcooked and precieux on purpose. But it’s only an impression.
Thanks, Genevieve, for giving me a good excuse to quote Edmund Wilson’s bit on Ithaca (and the whole second half of the novel):
“We have now arrived, in the maternity hospital, at the climactic scenes of the story, and Joyce has bogged us as he has never bogged us before. We shall forget the Oxen of the Sun [which Wilson has just criticized] in the wonderful night-town scene which follows it--but we shall be bogged down afterwards worse than ever in the interminable let-down of the cabman’s shelter and in the scientific question-and-answr chapter which undertakes to communicate to us through the most opaque and uninviting medium possible Dedalus’s conversation with Bloom. The night-town episode itself and Mrs. Bloom’s soliloquy, which closes the book, are, of course, among the best things in it--but the relative proportions of the other three chapters and the jarring effect of the pastiche style sandwiched in with the straight Naturalistic seem to me artistically absolutely indefensible. One can understand that Joyce may have intended the colorless and tiresom episodes to set off the rich and vivid ones, and also that it is of the essence of his point of view to represent the profoundest changes of our lives as beginning naturally between night and morning without the parties appreciating their importance at the time; but a hundred and sixty-one more or less deiverately tedious pages are too heavy a dead weight for even the brilliant flights of the other hundred and ninety-nine pages to carry.”
(Edmund Wilson, From “James Joyce’s Ulysses, 1931)
That’s pretty much on the money, Bunny.