Clara D. McLean, ‘Wasted Words’, in Joycean Cultures/Culturing Joyces , ed. Vincent Cheng (1998)

Bibliographical details: Clara D. McLean, ‘Wasted Words’, in Vincent J. Cheng, Kimberly J. Devlin & Margot Norris, eds., Joycean Cultures/Culturing Joyces [transactions of conference at Univ. of California (Delaware UP; AUP 1998), pp.44-58.

Bloom’s battle with bodily fluids is waged with both body and words. In a paradoxical gesture much like his contained ejaculation, Bloom’s narrative both reveals and conceals his semen, repeatedly its wetness but refusing to ever call it by name. “That diffuses all through the body,” says Bloom (my emphasis), “permeates. Source of life. And it’s extremely curious the smell. Celery sauce” (U 13.1039-41). Again and again, the various narrative voices of “Nausicaa” call up the body’s interior wetness but at the same time suppress, cover, and disguise it with words. Bloom’s meticulous measuring of fluid, we see, is not really successful: the precious life fluid. He hoped to protect leaks out through his shirt, becoming in spite of a wet unpleasantness, waste to be rinsed out: “Mr Bloom with careful hand recomposed his wet shirt .... Begins to feel cold and clammy. Aftereffect no not pleasant” (U 13.851). I will argue here that, ultimately, the dirty secret that the narrative and characters strive so hard conceal is precisely this troubling property of the body: its inner fluids are both life and waste, sustenance and poison. Any al or bodily effort to filter, to separate these contradictory props, to align the body definitively with one or the other, is consistently undermined in this episode. The paradoxical nature of bodily fluids inevitably seeps to the surface of body and text. (p.45.)


This narrative slipperiness in “Nausicaa” collapses the boudnaries, breaking down any traditional notions of bodily, sexual, or characterological intactness. The threat of this leakage to the characters’ wholeness, to their independent “lives”in the text, is a direct extension of the threat of bodily leakage that haunts the whole chapter.

When Bloom’s well-guarded semen seeps up through his shirt, the troubling mixing of life and waste present itself, finally, as a problem of his own body, interior and inescapable. That which is the “source of life”, that which makes a baby’s body, is also filth, unpleasantness, maker of dirty laundry. This could provide a clue to the aversion to intercourse that, as we learn in “Ithaca”, has sexually paralysed Bloom for many years.


Kristeva formulates the abject as “the bad object that inhabits the body” and “something rejected from which one does not part” (1982, p.54.) The problem of the abject, the filth integral to the body, the dead thing contained within life, is central to the “Nausicaa” episode. The horror of the dead body that emerged from his own interior [i.e., semen and Rudy] leads him to attempt to reject and eject the waste of his body, through language, onto the bodies of women. His response resembles Kristeva’s abjection, whose subjects feel “a collapse of the border beetween inside and outside”, wherein “it is as if the skin, a fragile conainer, no longer guaranteed the integrity of one’s ‘own and clen self’ but, scraped or transparent, gave way before the dejection of its contents”. (53).


“Nausicaa” suggests that defilement is implicit in the body and in language. While “Nausicaa”’s characters fight valiantly against this situation, there is some suggestion of another response. Towards the end of the episode, Bloom’s narrative turns more toward Milly, his living child. In Milly, Bloom’s narrative harshness toward women seems to lessen, acknowledging a continuity with his own, clean flesh and hers: “Little paps to being with [...]” (U 13.1200-01), he thinks [...] Joyce’s own work suggests a way out of Bloom’s troubling impasse: that the body’s wste waters can be cherished, rather than feared, for their paradoxical properties. They are, in part, an artful trajectory, their leakage a life-affirming stream. [End.]


Fn.2. Criticism of the “Nausicaa” episode has often reduced Gerty’s entire narrative to its apparent “covering” function. Seemingly seduced by the hyponotic magic of the advertising language its style imitates, many critics have kept their eyes focused on the narrative’s attempt to cover at the expense of what it is trying to hide. There has been a long critical tradition - including both Richard Ellmann and Stuart Gilbert - of perceiving Gerty’s narrative as simple parody; in these readings Gerty’s character starts to look like and empty dress, a frilly ensemble with no body beneath. [Quotes Thomas Karr Richards: ‘Joyce made Gerty MacDowell one dimensional ...’].

Bibl. incls. Kimberly Devlin, ‘The Romance Heroine Exposed: “Nausicaa” and The Lamplighter’, in James Joyce Quarterly, 22 (4 (1985), pp.383-97; Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (Columbia UP 1982); David Lodge, Metaphor, Metonymy and the Typology of Modern Literature (Cornell UP 1977); Margot Norris, ‘Modernism, Myth, and Desire in “Nausicaa”’, in James Joyce Quarterly, 26, 11 (1988), pp.37-50; Thomas Karr Richards, ‘Gerty MacDowell and the Irish Common Reader’, in ELH, 25, 3 (1985), 755-76.


[ close ] [ top ]