Molly Blooms: A Polylogue on “Penelope” and Cultural Studies, ed. Richard Pearce (Wisconsin UP 1994) - sundry essays [in extract]

 

File 10b (extension)
Kathleen McCormick
Cheryl Temple Herr
Susan Bazargan
Carol Shloss
Brian W. Shaffer
Joseph Heininger
Jennifer Wicke
Garry Leonard
Kimberly J. Devlin

Kathleen McCormick, ‘Reproducing Molly Bloom: A Revisionist History of the Reception of “Penelope”, 1922-1970’ (pp.17-39): ‘Using contemporary Marxist and cultural theories of textual production and reception, I will argue that reading is an interdiscursive act that occurs within changing determinations that affect both texts and readers. This perspective sees texts not as transcendent, stable entities with universal significances, but as material objects that are both produced and reproduced under changing historical and ideological conditions. Likewise, it assumes that readers (and authors) are not unique individuals who spontaneously create their own texts or meanings, but rathe that they are subjects of history who are also traversed by a variety of complex and often conflicting discourses. [...] I focus my analysis on the period between 1922 and 1970 when Molly was either extolled as an earth goddess or decried as a whore and the symbol of world destruction. [19; ...] [William York] Tindall’s comment that Molly is the “essential being of everywoman ... as fundamental and symbolic as her cat” (James Joyce: His Way of Interpreting the Modern World, 1950, p.36) similarly functions both to praise her (in order to aid in the canonization process of Ulysses) and to desexualize - indeed, dehumanize - her in order to discharge some of the threat she poses. While he contends that “it is as a person in a story, and not as a many-leveled symbol, that she must appeal to the common reader” (1138), it is her symbolic nature on which he dwells. In fact, writing a decade later and still extolling Molly’s symbolic function as the “flowering fruitful earth” (A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce, 1959, p.233), he makes it clear that “as a person” Molly could not appeal to the (decent) common reader. In a statement that, in a remarkably explicit way, establishes himself as a common (male) reader, he confesses: “born on Depot Street, reared on Main Street, onetime scholar of two Sunday schools (one Episcopalian, the other Congregationalist), member of a poor but decent profession, I am glad not to be married to this particular embodiment of everything” (Guide, p.232). Considered as a woman, Molly is too much for any typical man, but as an archetype, as a “creative principle” (Guide, p.234), she is more easily negotiated. Main Street male readers can safely assume a position of dominance over Molly the archetype, and are able, with relieved benevolence, to enact the lessons of their Sunday school training and can, in an obvious act of identification with Bloom, “forgive” Molly the woman (Guide, p.232). / Tindall’s stance of dominance through abstraction leads us to all other unspoken aspect of the “earth mother” it symbology: it opens Molly’s body to be used or mined by men in whatever way they see fit, and in so doing, it once again secures their fundamental superiority to women. [...] (Cont.)

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Kathleen McCormick (‘Reproducing Molly Bloom: A Revisionist History of the Reception of “Penelope”, 1922-1970”, 1994) - cont.: McCormick speaks of ‘exaggerated attacks on the evils of adultery [which typified criticism of Molly during this period [late 1950s and 1960s]. ‘[Darcy] O”Brien, for example, argues that “For all Molly’s attractive vitality, for all of her fleshly charms and engaging bravado, she is at heart a thirty-shilling whore” (The Conscience of James Joyce, 1968, p.211). The reasoning behind this remark is that: “it seems silly to quibble, as critics have done, over lists and numbers with Boylan’s visit a fact.” (‘Some Determinants of Molly Bloom’, in Staley & Benstock, eds., Approaches to Ulysses, 1970, p.144). In other words, the “fact” of one affair automatically “proves” Molly to be a whore. Adams and Morse, among others, concur with this assessment of female promiscuity. In discussing whether Molly “made herself available” to any of his list of possible lovers, [Robert] Adams comments parenthetically “and if to one, why not to all?” (Surface and Symbol, 1967, p.38), and [Mitchell J.] Morse suggests that Molly’s guilt is proven simply by what people think of her: “She is a dirty joke. No one [in the book] regards her as anything but a whore” (‘Molly Bloom Revisited’, in James Joyce Miscellany, ed. Marvin Magalaner, 1959, p.140). Notes also that Hugh Kenner was among those who counted her an embodiment of evil and destruction who would ‘darken the intellect and blunt the moral sense of all Dublin’ (Dublin’s Joyce, 1956, p.262). McCormick summarises her argument: ‘While the earth mother interpretation may seem reductive to us today and clearly a product of the encoding of traditional gender-specific assumptions about women, its effect was quite radical in helping to enabling [sic] Ulysses to circulate. The overt expression of the satanic mistress interpretation participated in perpetuating the traditional patriarchal recoiling at female sexuality’ (p.33) and argues that the ‘extreme nature’ of that expression forced the literary establishment to look critically at such expressions.’ (Idem.) Her analysis of the conditioning ideology includes an illustration of buxom beauties bursting from their bathing-suits who were used on a billboard campaign warning against the dangers of alpha, beta and gamma rays. (here p.32) and the use of iconic female beauties on bomber cockpits.

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Cheryl [Temple] Herr, ‘“Penelope” as Period Piece’: [...] Molly’s body is aggressively denaturalized; it undergoes and initiates seduction, but it also positions seduction as a kind of bodiless exercise or excretionless exchange (excretionless because Bloom verifies the earlier presence of Boylan in his jingling bed not by semen stains on the sheets but rather by the remains of potted meat and by an indentation in the mattress - a primitive simulacrum, if you like - left by the collision of the “Jaunty” and the “jingle”). In fact, persona-Molly’s theatrical body does not suffer the sea-changes even of the postmodern body; rather than succumb to what Kroker and Cook call the “poststructuralist diseases” of AIDS and herpes [Arthur Croker & David Cook, The Postmodern Scene: Excremental Culture and Hyper-Aesthetics, St. Martin’s Press 1986], which are intent on “privileging the ruin of the surface of the body,” persona-Molly thrives on her sexual experience. If anything, it firms her up (“yes I think he made them a bit firmer sucking them like that” (U, 18.5351) instead of eroding her flesh in the fashion of AIDS, a disease which has led, socially speaking, to our current cultural idea of “sex without secretions” (Kroker & Cook, p.13). / The question of secretions, intersecting as it does the sliding signifier of excrement, brings us full circle to the implied reality-status of Molly and of her monologic role in Ulysses. In this inquiry, the question that seems most pertinent to me is not “Why does Molly menstruate?” [vide Richard Ellmann, Ulysses on the Liffey, 1972], but rather “Is her menstruation real?” The answer, I think, is that Molly does not menstruate but only enacts menstruation because she is “actually” a man, or rather, an undecidable act(or)/(ress). The fact of enactment also helps to clear up the question of why so many putatively postmodern characteristics can be found in a socalled high modernist work, the dramatic emphasizing as it does the elements of a contemporary culture in ways that predict the future extensions or transformations of those elements. Hence it is no surpriseing that, when we think of Molly Bloom, we immediately interrogate and [74] refuse the formulation of Kroker and Cook on gender instability: “The absorption and then playing back to its audience of the reversible and mutable language of sexual difference is the language of postmodern capitalism” (Ibid., p.20). As I have argued in Joyce’s Anatomy of Culture, much of the point of the “Circe” episode is to play out this mutable language and to highlight for the reader the messages of gender construction and gender instability that were currency on the Victorian and Edwardian stage. Molly has seemed to most readers the very embodiment of the static, inert, untransformable feminine, and for that reason the reintroduction of the theatrical metaphor in her monologue works to Joyce’s ends, which are naturalist ends that enact postmodern possibilities - or rather, the postmodern-as-possible. [...] Molly’s body space, her flesh as an abstract category and a “real” fictive presence, is the stage on and around which Joyce enacts a drama that problematizes the supermodernist motives of Ulysses precisely at the points of excremental and secretional openness. The modernist nostalig a for the body, for the body of the mother and for all of the secure, lush fullness that it promises, is nowhere more urgently attested to than in our usual readings of the script that persona-Molly playacts. And yet the primary vehicle of that atavistic desire, not the body itself but the body-oozes, provides an undeniable link between Joyce’s cultural moment and our own world in which the literarlly self-purgative drama of “industrial culture” artists like Throbbing Gristle and Mark Pauline move beyond possible pornography titillation [...] to the emetic possibilities detected in Ulysses long ago by the decorous but enlightened Judge John M. [75] Woolsey.’ (pp.74-76.)

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Carol Shloss, ‘Molly’s Resistance to the Union: Marriage and Colonialism in Dublin, 1904’: [...] Molly’s resistance to the union - whether we understand “Union” to mean the tie between England and Ireland or that beteen Bloom and herself - has been reduced to insurgency: she can withhold consent, she can complain, and she can engage in acts of subterfuge that undermine the structures of authority that bind her life. She does all three. / If she has not understood how to use knowledge or power or even how to imagine the full ramifications of her own cultural position, she has mastered a more fragmentary critical art. Like the students in Stephen Dedalus’s physics lecture, she has learned how to heckle, to snipe, and to mock the script that continues to write limited cultural roles for her: “We have to be thankful for our mangy cup of tea itself as a great compliment to be noticed the way the world is divided” (U, 18.617). Her dissatisfactions can be considered the beginning signs of insurrection, just as, on another level, her decision to take a lover is a second refusal of paternalistic tradition. Seen in this light, the political importance of Molly’s affair with Blazes Boylan lies precisely in its symbolic “uncoupling” of that which has coupled her unjustly. It is a “speech act” against marriage, a refusal of its bonds. / To say this is not to make any claims about Leopold Bloom’s strengths or deficiencies as a husband. But it is to notice the complexity of Irish marriage at the turn of the century, to insist on its analogy to colonial rule, and to see the structural inequities of both institutions with regard to women. If Molly’s soliloquy is a catalogue [115] of vigorous complaints and a litany of vague hopes for more autonomy (“they darent order moe about the place its his fault”, 18.632), and if it conly contains the rudiments of a narrative construct that might serve as a counterpart to Bloom’s view of their marriage (“I declare somebody ought to put him in the budget if I only could remember the one half of the things and write a book out of it”, 18.621), it nonetheless shows the possibility of female resistance to male domination in 1904. The French historicist Michel Foucault would call Molly’s coming-into-speech, in whatever halting way, “an insurrection of subjugated knowledge”. Similarly, the American feminist Adrienne Rich would call it a “re-vision” or a seeing-again of cultural institutions that have seemed immutable but that are, in fact, the consequence of patriarchal modes of organizing structures of knowledge, structures of art, and structures of social engagement. [...]”’ (p.115-16.)

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Susan Bazargan, ‘Mapping Gibraltar: Colonialism, Time, and Narrative in “Penelope”’: ‘Besides the issue of parental race and social origin, Molly’s nationality also contributes to her ambivalence. She is keenly aware of Irish subservience, as it is registered in linguistic deflections. She worries that Gardner “mightnt like my accent first he so English” (18.889-90). Her father, Tweedy, is at best a second-order citizen in the British [122] army. Based on his military experiences, he deserves, perhaps, to be a true “Major” but is only a drill sergeant. Tweedy falls into that category Paulo Freire calls the “sub-oppressors” (30). As “hosts” of the oppressors, the colonized, the oppressed - whose only models of existence have been supplied by those in power - find that “to be is to be like, and to be like is to be like the oppressor” (33). At home, with Molly [“]lighting their pipes for them” (18.691), Tweedy and “captain” Grove occupy themselves by getting drunk and swapping tales of military exploits. / Having been schooled, as servant to a servant, in military colonialism, Molly, even after twenty years in Dublin, cannot extricate herself from British colonial aspirations. That she has retained some of her British sympathies despite her apparent Irishness (“I had a map of it all” 18.378) is shown in her support for the Boer War, which has cost her dearly. A year before, having angered the nationalists (who vehemently opposed the British conduct during the Boer War), she was replaced by “little chits of missies they have now singing” at St Teresas Hall (18.375-76). She recalls wearing a brooch for Lord Roberts, the Indian-born, Anglo-lrish commander-in-chief of the Boer War, and singing Kipling’s propaganda song “The Absentminded Beggar” [vide Don Gifford & Robt. Seidman, Ulysses Annotated, 1988, p.614]’. (For longer extract, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Major Authors” > James Joyce, infra.)

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Brian W. Shaffer, ‘Negotiating Self and Culture: Narcissism, Competing Discourses, and Ideological Becoming in “Penelope”’: ‘[...] “Penelope”, with its unique fluidity of language, and with its teeming contradictions, is perhaps best understood as that represented discourse - that linguistic process - by which Molly begins to liberate herself from “the word of the fathers” and come to “ideological consciousness.” “The importance of struggling with another’s discourse, its influence in the history of an individual’s coming to ideological consciousness, is enormous,” Bakhtin argues. “One’s own discourse and one’s own voice ... will sooner or later begin to liberate themselves from the authority of the other’s discourse” (‘Discourse in the Novel’, in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, Texas UP 1981, p.348). Despite the prevalence of authoritative discourse in “Penelope,” then, Molly’s “consciousness” might be said to be working, from at least one perspective, “in an independent, experimenting and discriminating way” (ibid., p.345). This accounts for the efflorescence of and struggle among various internally persuasive discourses in the episode. “Our ideological development is just such an intense struggle within us for hegemony among various available verbal and ideological points of view, approaches, directions and values,” Bakhtin writes, and hence “the semantic structure of an internally persuasive discourse is not finite, it is open ...” (ibid., 346). This openness is precisely what we see at work in Molly’s heteroglot, overdetermined discourse, in which the words of others - whether or not she specifically wills it - are turned to serve her own intentions. / Such an understanding of internal dialogue and ideological struggle sheds light on Molly’s much discussed ability to contradict herself, her ability to insist, in the space of less than a page, both that “itd be much better for the world to be governed by the women in it you wouldnt see women going and killing one another” (U, 18.1434-46), and that ”I hate that in women no wonder they treat us the way they do we are a dreadful lot of bitches” (U, 18.1458-59). Similarly, the following lines of Molly’s betray the gap (and struggle) between authoritative and internally persuasive discourses at the heart of her ideological becoming: ”the greatest earthly happiness answer to a gentlemans proposal affirmatively my goodness theres nothing else its all very fine for them but as for being a woman as soon as youre old they might as well throw you out in the bottom of the ashpit” (U, 18.744-47; [Shaffer’s emphasis]). Notice the abrupt shift from approval to disapproval toward the authoritative understanding of gender relations: the prestige conferred upon the woman in accepting the hand of a suitor immediately dissolves (even if it is later reconstituted) in Molly’s mind after she recognizes that [149] women are commodities to men, and that when the “goods” no longer carry exchange value they are simply to be discarded. Rather than attributing Molly’s contradictoriness to her personality, psychological makeup, or gender, then, as many readers have done, this contradictoriness is more persuasively viewed as part and parcel of Molly’s “two steps forward, one step back” progress toward emancipation from the “official line.”’ (pp.149-50.)

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Joseph Heininger, ‘Molly Bloom’s Ad Language and Goods Behavior: Advertising as Social Communication in Ulysses’: ‘[...] The consumption of goods in which Molly Bloom and Gerty Mac Dowell participate clearly functions as an integral part of Irish colonial ism’s hierarchically organized social system. For both female characters, the political reality of Irish dependence and British rule continually produces the social meanings of those goods they desire and consume. This is so because the mass production of goods, and the system of consumption-modern economic processes which always designate women as the prime consumers - are analogous in their power structures and their symbolic codes to the British political system operating in Ireland through Dublin Castle. In this analogy, the system of consumption has its imperial capitals, London and, of course, Paris, for the most sophisticated devotees. Through advertising, the capital then disseminates its messages to its colonial subjects, Ireland’s lower-middle and middle-class women who, cast in the role of inferior provincials, strive to imitate their English models in fashion and taste. / The English-Irish system of commodity consumption in 1904 typically features the image of the Queen, which is used as an advertising icon to display the product’s implied quality and the status its ownership confers on the buyer. Queen Victoria, whose jubilees in 1887 and 1897 saw her image marked on almost every British branded commodity, is first in importance as the advertisers’ favorite patriotic icon. Then, during the reign of Edward VII, Victoria is succeeded by Queen Alexandra, whose youthful visage appears on the wrapper of the “queen of ointments” Gerty MacDowell uses for her hands. (Throughout the Victorian and Edwardian eras, many products also displayed Britannia’s female heraldic image.) Not to be overlooked are the producers and arbiters of fashionable consumption: “Madame Vera Verity” and other writers in English wonlen’s magazines, including [160] Gerty’s favorite, the Lady’s Pictorial, and Molly’s Gentlewoman. [...]’ (pp.160-61.) Heininger references Theodore Adorno, ‘The Culture Industry Reconsidered’, in New German Critique, 6, 1975, pp.12-19; Seamus Deane, Celtic Revivals (1985); Raymond Williams, ‘Advertising: The Magic System’, in Problems of Materialism and Culture (1980) and Keywords (OUP 1983); Thomas Richards, The Commodity Culture of Victorian England: Advertising and Spectacle, 1851-1914 (Stanford UP 1990) - which contains a chapter entitled ‘Those lovely Seaside Girls’ and dealing with Gerty’s place in the system - et al.

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Jennifer Wicke: ‘“Who’s She When She’s at Home?”: Molly Bloom and the Work of Consumption’ (pp.174-95). ‘[...] The antipathy toward consumption at all levels, and the consequent celebration of what is difficult, avant-garde, or modernist as its counterpoint is a prevailing, I might even say the distinctive, feature of contemporary critical thinking in a variety of guises. Often this animus crystallizes in the valorizing of a more authentic, original, or folk culture now eradicated by consumption, or of a working-class culture thought to have more authenticity, of’ by extolling avant-garde practices precisely for their repudiation of consumptive strategies, in the quite stereotyped vision of what those strategies are thought to be. Even more ironically there is an attempt to recuperate aspects of mass culture as sites of resistance or struggle, with the hidden assumption that those participating in the consumption in the first place are entirely victimized by their contact with a hegemonic cultural industry enforcing its hierarchies in and through mass cultural schemes. That social hierarchies and exploitation are the order of the day is certainly my own starting premise, so my quarrel is not at all with the dimension of political critique visible in the legacy of critical theory. The problems arise when the social analysis proceeds from such a reductive view of consumption, which then obscures consumption’s manifold possibilities, political and otherwise. Not the least of the results of this oversight, if perhaps less immediately relevant to many people, is the inability to locate the really majestic prescience of Ulysses in its understanding of consumption.’ [...]. (p.177.) [Cont.]

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Jennifer Wicke (‘“Who’s She When She’s at Home?”: Molly Bloom and the Work of Consumption’m 1994) - cont.: ‘What I am proposing here is that consumption is a mode of work, that, in contrast to its reputation as the passive, effeminate, and mindless side of consciousness and modern social being, it is in fact a highly complex social and psychic labor, whose results are often contradictory or ambiguous, but never simply foregone conclusions. Work in this sense is not necessarily the physical labor involved in procuring the object of consumption-which, of course, can take form as a symbolic object (a book, a film, a poster, a museum exhibit) as readily as it may materialize as a can of Diet Pepsi on the supermarket shelf or a new lipstick from the department store cosmetics counter - nor only the labor sometimes required to physically transform the objects which enter our lives. Instead, this work may signify the time of possession, a particular context of presentation as a gift or as memorabilia, or the incorporation of a single object into a stylistic array which is used then to express the creator’s place in relation to others similarly accoutered. The object is transformed by its intimate association with a particular individual or social group, or by the relationship between these, and such transformations are the work of consumption. This is not to say, of course, that all objects are or can be consumed in some transformative way; without question, there are networks of commodities deployed in powerfully oppressive ways, and the es. trangements and refractions occasioned by that oppression are only too evident as the backdrop and even the substance of daily life, However, assigning an intrinsic negativity to the commodity, and an equally mordant and inescapable pathos to consumption, has highly reductive effects on how we gauge the social world and the possibilities inherent in it.’ (p.178.) [For longer extract see RICORSO Library, “Criticism / Major Authors” - James Joyce, infra.]

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Garry Leonard, ‘Molly Bloom’s “Lifestyle”: The Performative as Normative’: ‘[...] When Gallaher refers to Little Chandler’s act of marrying as “putting your head in a sack”, he [199] is attacking Little Chandler’s lifestyle, and belittling it in relation to his own apparently boundless ability to consume and be consumed: “Everything in Paris is gay ... They believe in enjoying life. They’ve a great feeling for the Irish there. When they heard I was from Ireland they were ready to eat me, man .... There’s no woman like the Parisienne - for style, for go” (Dubliners, p.77; emphasis added). Both Molly and Gallaher link the word “style” to a verb phrase in an attempt to show the relationship of “style” to the dynamic, theatrical, and in creasingly spectacular process of “life” and not merely to the static image of unstylish consumption where “all” goes “for food and rent.” Gallaher struggles just as much as Molly does to describe something not adequately designated in the outmoded word “style.” / For Gallaher, “style” somehow implies “go” just as Molly envisions a “style” as something that will allow her to lash it around.” What action does Gallaher wish to signify with “go”? To what action does Molly’s pronoun “it” refer? Rather than the static image of style as the cut of a dress, this active, spectacular, and dramatic style - a style with “go” that can be “lashed around” - refers to the pre-scripted and carefully directed life style where “happiness” is performed daily for both a real and an imagined audience. When Little Chandler goes home, his final crisis of feeling “trapped” is brought on not by a particular thought or a particular person, but by the language of the objects that surround him. The furniture has a “pretty” style which he now finds “mean”, perhaps because the word “go” - in Gallaher’s dynamic sense of this term - is not in the vocabulary of his furniture’s “language”: “He found something mean in the pretty furniture which he had bought for his house on the hire system .... A dull resentment against his life awoke within him. Could he not escape from his little house? Was it too late for him to try to live bravely like Gallaher? ... There was the furniture still to be paid for” (Dubliners, p.83, emphasis added). Little Chandler’s resentment of his “life” is indistinguishable from his resentment of his furniture. He has bought a “lifestyle” on credit and now, spiritually bankrupt, he cannot abandon it because it, like the furniture, “is still to be paid for.” The average Anglo-lrish domestic economy can purchase a basic “style” on an installment plan, but they are very far from the periodic pleasure of 9ashing it around.” Gallaher’s insulting description of a married man as one who “puts his head in a sack” refers to a diminished capacity to see and be seen through the execution of a commodity-based performance of the “style” of one’s “life.”’ [For longer extract see RICORSO Library, “Criticism / Major Authors” - James Joyce, infra.]

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Kimberley J. Devlin, ‘Penelope: Masquerade, Mimicry, and Molly Bloom’: ‘[...] Putting on “womanliness” that repeatedly puts on “manliness” allowed Joyce to articulate one of his canniest critiques of the ideology that produces the oppressive categories themselves.’ (p.100; quoted in Paula McDonald, PG Dip, UUC 2011.)

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