Jennifer Wicke, ‘“Who’s She When She’s at Home?”: Molly Bloom and the Work of Consumption’ (1994)

Bibliographical details: Jennifer Wicke, ”Who’s She When She’s at Home?”: Molly Bloom and the Work of Consumption’, in Molly Blooms: A Polylogue on "Penelope” and Cultural Studies, ed. Richard Pearce (Wisconsin UP 1994), pp.174-95.

Molly Bloom, in déshabillé, fingers shiny with butter from the morning toast, interrupts her breakfast in bed to determine the meaning of a word found in the thickets of Ruby, Pride of the Ring, marking it with her hairpin for the obliging Leopold to read, “Met him what? he asked. Here, she said. What does that mean?” “Metempyschosis? Yes. Who’s he when he’s at home?. … Metempsychosis, he said, frowning. It’s Greek: from the Greek. That means the transmigration of souls. O, rocks! she said. Tell us in plain words” (U, 4.336-37, 339-43). This scene of instruction famously introduces a portentous term for he text, played out against its mise-en-scène of orange-keyed chamber pot, sibilant bedsprings, and rather squalid lingerie. Embedded, as it could be said to be, solidly within the domestic detritus of the everyday, metempsychosis, as a word, erupts out of acts of consumption - the desultory consuming of breakfast, the casual consumption of Ruby, left to lie unceremoniously underneath the bed. The multifarious affinities of metempsychosis with both the “mythologization” of the text, to follow Adorno’s distinction, which differentiates the simple use of mythology as a theme from an embedded, linguistic, and textual mythologization process of the sort Joyce employs, and with the issue of historicity, repetition and return, are crucial, and have been valuably discussed. However, the connection of “met him pike hosses” [174] with the activities of, and the consciousness entailed by, consumption is harder to discern. The transmigration of souls can beautifully analogize the nightmares of history, the wanderings and the eternal returns of material history as it is lived over time by disparate groups of people, and can offer a technique for the staging of shifts of identity from disparate ontological planes - Bloom as Moses as Christ as Ulysses as Parnell as Charlie Chaplin. But additionally, metempsyhosis folds into the transformative labors of consumption - the logic of consumption, one could say, is metempsychotic.

As we attempt to grapple with consumption in theoretical, political, and aesthetic ways, the importance of consumption to Joyce’s work has emerged as a powerful focus for new readings of his major texts.


The imbrication of Dubliners and A Portrait, Ulysses, and even Finneg ans Wake in a material world awash in the detritus of consumer objects and the subjectivity of the everyday universe of consumption is now at least evident. Many questions follow from this recasting of our regard and the decision to take it as important that these texts are extravagantly interlaced with consumer minutiae - not the least of which is what critical paths we then choose to take through Joyce’s texts. At this stage of of discovery, however, the approach to consumption is still inevitably filtered through long-standing theories of consumer culture, the status of the commodity and commodity consciousness, or recent theoretical takes on those now pressing issues. Grateful as one is for the rereading of Joyce they are providing, it will be all the more useful to look at Joyce’s texts not just as sites for the application of currently interesting rubrics like consumption, but as sources of privileged access to the problems of describing and defining consumption itself. In other words, very new things can be learned about the matrix of consumer society by reading Joyce, if these texts are seriously held to have the issue of consumption at their root. (p.175.)


Many of the most sophisticated and valuable forays into the larger social resonances of the Joycean text have been predicated on theories of mass culture, of commodity fetishism, and of social reification in the historical processes of capitalism which have their own larger life in cultural debate. Among the contributors to this long and complex critical tradition are Georg Simmel, Max Weber, Thorstein Veblen, Walter Benjamin, Georg Lukacs, the Frankfurt School thinkers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Jean Baudrillard, Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault, and others, all essential in referring to the foundations of our present understanding of mass culture, consumption in general, and the commodity form. What can be claimed, in the shorthand contractions necessary here, is that whether issuing from the right or the left, the primary tenor of theories of consumption is distinctly negative. On the one, that is, the right, hand, consumption is a fallen if eminently necessary social process, which is mercifully refined out of existence in the rarefied circles of art and culture Ulysses, for example, can be held up as an artifact impervious to the depradations of mass culture and rigorously defiant of consumption, having made itself unconsumable, the veritable proof of its artistic merit. The left hand of this argument doesn’t require that texts attain a purity unsullied by signs of traffic with social relations, since the assumption is that texts arise from social contexts, or are social contexts themselves, but consumption arrives equally tainted in this arena, because it is the very marker of ideological control and the very symbol of capitalism’s incursions into art and culture.

[.; cites Frederic Jameson’s praise of Ulysses for its 'exhibition of the gragmented alienation of modern society and its refusal to be embedded in the Procrustean bed of consumption by the same token’; cites Franco Moretti view of Ulysses as 'a principled refusal of mass culture and all the degraded commodities of capitalism’; pp.176-77.]

[...] 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.


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.

[Cites Cheryl Herr’s 'important alternative’ view that 'Ulysses be considered to have been written at least as much by its surrounding cultural practices as by a singular author.’ 178]


To speak of consumption in Ireland is problematic because the Ireland of 1904 is a colony; in some measure its economic underdevelopment exists because Ireland is trapped in a backwater as a consumer market for British goods, without the independent means of production necessary to create its own goods for internal use. It is an ironic and well-known fact that the only really viable, indigenously manufactured product for internal consumption as well as for the export market at the time of Ulysses was Guinness Stout. Other than this liquidly circulating product, Ireland was systematically used-no other economic word will quite suffice-by England as the source of agricultural raw materials, including the cattle Mr. Deasy so blithely worries about, and perhaps primarily as a captive market for the injection of its own industrial goods, goods at every level from the necessities of life to the meta-consumptions of cultural forms. This makes the consumption taking place within Ulysses consumption at a double remove. In other words, it is the consumption of commodities which are themselves already mediated by and through the colonial relation of British dominance over Ireland. The consumption operates in its own right, and then also as a consumption of the colonial status quo, of the unequal relations between Ireland and England which are crystallized in the distribution and consumption of commodities of all sorts.

Molly is in an even more mediated position as a consumer than the general run of characters in the text because her ties to Ireland are funneled through her youth spent in Gibraltar; as a resident of Dublin she is subjectively dispersed out over her past in another outpost and also mobilized by the presence on Irish soil of British artifacts and styles. Her doubleness doubles the equivocal position of the Irish consuming [180] subject, while her gender contributes too to a straining at the seams of the consumptive norm, if such a thing can be said to exist. Molly is literally transmigratory, and if we have come to equate her very penumbra of being with Home, Molly as the plump period which marks the domestic spot, this is our own blindness to the migratory richness of her culture of consumption. Molly remains at home during much of 16 June 1904; during the peregrinations of the body of the text we merely see her white arm flung out from an upper window of the house in Eccles Street in the Wandering Rocks [sic], as she tosses a coin to the old sailor, “for England, home and beauty,” a slogan with considerable fantasmatic power for Molly Bloom. Her traveler’s orbit, by domestic contrast, encompasses the home, but who she is when she’s there is a mosiac of consuming travels, her placedness as a double refugee, her interior organization of the wanderings of the text.

The debates which have swirled around Molly Bloom as character, voice, or ecriture in the text have tended to constellate around the "Penelope” episode, and then to argue the case for Molly as a real woman, or a good woman, or a bad woman, or as not-woman, or as woman under erasure, with varying degrees of theoretical sophistication, “Penelope” can be valorized as expressing a female jouissance so acutely powerful it sweeps punctuation away in its wake, or be celebrated or anathematized as writing in drag, a linguistic imposture masquerading as the real, unsymbolizable thing, “woman”. I want to elide this debate by sidestepping it, in favor of tracing the metempsychotic consequences of Molly Bloom’s consumption, a consumption which is assuredly gendered, but which has stakes beyond cataloguing, the supposed sexual politics of Ulysses as a whole. My reading moves away from the argument that Joyce trivializes Molly by immersing her in consumer obsessions, but beyond this, claims that such immersion would not be trivial in any event. Molly as consumer subject is doing cognitive, analytic work. Moreover, the larger internationalist context of Ulysses as a whole is recovered from Molly’s private consumer meditation - these are not divorced elements of the text. The reading of “Penelope” can’t be closed down with gender concerns alone - or to do so forecloses on the historical, the national, the political in favor of a very narrow and privatized notion of sexual politics. Molly Bloom is a textual crucible of consumption, and I propose seriously that one can learn much from this about the conditions of modernity under consumption, and the consuming consciousness the modernist text refracts. To discuss this will require some slippage among designations for this "Molly Bloom”, in The emphasis falls on the textual, in other words, written construction of this discursive entity, but the [181] sentimental and characterological elements of Ulysses are bracketed, I think, at some peril to the mass cultural frame of the test, so at times in my analysis, "Molly Bloom” achieves character status too, although never as a flesh-and-blood simulcrum of "woman”.

This doesn’t amount to pointing out that Molly Bloom, as a character, is a consumer, or, more sexily, a consuming subject-features which make her no different from any other character in the text. Leopold Bloom is precisely such a consuming subject. As a virtual litmus test of most politically progressive or materialist analysis, the condemnation of consumption follows naturally from a horror of the manipulative nature of the capitalism which depends on its consumptive matrix. There are other ways to conceive of this relation, however, if consumption can be accorded the status of a complex and intentional cultural mode. It is just such an oppositional version of consumption I suggest - an active, or a productive consumption, where the interest lies in the uses to which the consumptive strategy is put. Meaning is use, as Wittgenstein’s phrase ever arrestingly warns us; in the absence of any social alternative to consuming, when we are talking about the circumstances of the modern world and the global economy, consumption cannot simply be equated with alienation or manipulation, and the curtain of analysis be pulled mercifully closed to hide its depradations. One can draw on the insight of Michel de Certeau, in his delineation of consumption as an active tactic of the weak, recasting the products shunted to them by their reformulation, and additionally on the emphasis Pierre Bourdieu places on the productive nature of social consumption, its constant making of meanings. Further, in this analysis, consumption itself must be taken in an elaborated, expanded sense, since it more typically is conceived only as a shorthand for the act of buying mass-produced products; consumption refers not only to the regime of the commodity as literalized in shopping, or window shopping, or choosing to read Ruby, Pride of the Ring. Both material resources and semiotic and cultural forms are consumed - transport, clothing, food, the media, education. language and gesture. travel, thought. as John Fiske productively reminds us. Consumption is imbricated in every transaction, even, or especially, in the production of meaning which is language. Consumption should not be viewed with the transfixed. transfixing lens of the spectacular/specular, or with the dismay evinced at finding a slag-heap outside one’s front door; above all, there is the final critical irony that Ulysses is a book which calmly expects to be consumed. Some of that tranquility needs to be recaptured in order to give appropriate consideration to the nature of consumption and what the book can tell us, about it. The [182] danger in these claims is that they have a Panglossian ring. They seem to suggest that we live in the best of all possible consumer worlds and that the best thing to do is lie back, consume, and enjoy it. For this reason, I should underscore the political framework of my own analysis by insisting that it is only by seriously exploring the extent to which all the operations of modern culture, including political critique, are performed under the sign of consumption, that clues about rearranging the disposition of consumption within culture will emerge.

Moreover, following the theorist of modernity perhaps most persuasive in interrogating the psychosocial aspects of consumption, Georg Simmel, I want to specify Molly Bloom’s work of consumption as urban, national, even urbane, as well as domestic. Writing of the determinations of the metropolitan character in “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” Simmel proposes that “it is the decisive nature of the metropolis that its inner life overflows by waves into a far-flung national or international area,” and, correspondingly, that like the city “man does not end with the limits of his body or the area comprising his immediate activity. Rather is the range of the person constituted by the sum of effects emanating from him temporally and spatially”. Following out Molly Bloom’s work of consumption requires mapping the range of her effects, tracing her emanations as they leave their commodified scent across a wide swath of metropolitan, national, and international geography, as well as textual space.

Just as we speak of the division of labor in the productive sphere, so we also should take seriously the idea of consumption as work, containing also its own versions of the divisions of labor. These divisions don’t unpack neatly as the simple bifurcation of gender. Even so finely nuanced a commentary as Thomas Richard’s chapter on “Nausicaa” in his The Commodity Culture of Victorian England collapses these divisions into two paths: “the female labor of consumption remains bracketed within male production and consumption as women become the go-betweens mediating men and their particular desires. The gendering of consumption works exclusively to masculine advantage, freezing women in postures prescribed by the watchful gaze of the male. Gerty does not stop Bloom dead in his tracks. The Medusan glance of 'Nausicaa’ belongs not to her but to Bloom” (pp.246-47). Here women’s consumption is a matter of gilding the lily of male desire; that is not the sort of work I have in mind, for consumption or for Molly, who quite clearly is not stopped in her tracks by Leopold’s gaze. Consumption so regarded offers nothing by way of active, tactical use of consumption by women, and thus cannot conceive of the productions of meaning in even seemingly male-directed consumption. [183]


Fashion is mysterious because of its cannibalizing of the new, its appearance of waste, its incriminating connection to conspicuous consumption. As Baudelaire says, “fashion is the essence of modernity, of the transient, the fleeting, the contingent” (403). The flaneur is valorized as the epitome of fashion, a fashion persona arranged as a work of art because of its thoroughgoing devotion to the ephemeral. No such distinction clings to the female fashion victim, who is presumed invaded by the fashion consciousness as a form of disease, or else, as in Thorstein Veblen’s invaluable analysis, parasitic on the need of the husband to demonstrate wealth on the back of his wife. Leopold Bloom is incapable of these potlatch gestures, of course; as Molly says “Ive no clothes at all the brown costume and the skirt and jacket and the one at the cleaners 3 whats that for any woman cutting up this old hat and patching up the other the men wont look at you and women try to walk on you because they know youve no man” (U, 18. 470-74). Fashion isn’t an automatic system, so that Molly can simply take over an approved style as a slavish imitator. While fashion is a language of class, and its nuances map out the border territories of class overlap and conflict, Molly’s interpolation of fashion should be understood as mental energy, a productive use of what she consumes. If the dandy analogy seems too excessively complimentary, there should be an equivalently lofty typology for the class self-construction entailed in the productive consumption of fashion. Walter Benjamin’s phrase for fashion, in “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” that it is “a tiger leaping out to devour the past,” helps to explain the obsession in “Penelope” with fashion, which is also at some level, attributable to Joyce (Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, NY: Schocken 1969, p.261, thesis XIV). This last aspect is often elided with the condescending amusement reserved for the underwear fetishist, but Joyce’s immensely learned appreciation of fashion should in fact be celebrated as the mastery of an arcane language which materially situates the text in a tiger’s leap of desire. One perhaps feels uneasy insisting on the importance of the minutiae of fashion within this monumental text, but such details parallel the mind-boggling finesse of the text, a replication on the cutting board of writing of the intricacy of fashion’s tracings on the social board.

When Molly goes to plead with the implacable Mr. Cuffe to save Bloom’s job, the moment is mediated through the fashion she employs as persuasion: “I felt rotten simply with the old rubbishy dress that I lost the leads out of the tails with no cut in it but theyre coming into fashion again I bought it simply to please him I knew it was no good by the finish” (U, 18.513-16). The dress had passed out of its instant, had lost any power to signify the distinctive differences needed to attract the merciful attention of Mr. Cuffe’s social circle. Bloom has steered her wrong in this arena on many occasions - “every blessed hat I put on does that suit me yes take that thats alright the one like a wedding cake standing up miles off my head he said suited me or the dishcover one coming down on my backside” (U, 18.521-23).

In this light we need to consider those violet garters, the elastic suspenders of the text, spanning its length and engirdling its breadth. "I wonder is that antifat any good might overdo it thin ones are not so much the fashion now garters that much I have the violet pair I wore today” (18. 455-57). Like the nymph’s speech in Circe: "I was hidden in cheap pink paper that smelled of rock oil. I was surrounded by the stale smut of clubmen, stories to disturb callow youths, ads for transparencies, trueup dice and bustpads, proprietary articles and [188] why wear a truss with testimonial from ruptured gentleman. Useful hints to the married” (U, 15.3248-52). Molly’s eros uncoils out of the antifat ads and the emblematic garters which subtend it. The violet garters also snap to a geographical pendant - they help to attach the materiality of Gibraltar to the thigh of Dublin, as it were, hoisting the multiple layers of history and colonial space aloft on consumer fasteners of erotica. The unquestionably pragmatic function of garters - they hold your stockings up - conjoins with their unquestionably fantasmatic role in a rather meager commodity sexuality (no one any longer has any other kind), to replicate the conjoining of the everyday with the transcendent in the book as a whole. As always, the avenue is through the commodity form as conceptualized by its users.

Molly has to confront a changing fashion which automatically excludes her, the fashion image of the girl on a bicycle, exemplified for her by the saucy exploits of her daughter Milly, “That old Bishop that spoke off the altar his long preach about womans higher functions about girls now riding the bicycle and wearing peak caps and the new woman bloomers God give him sense and me more money I suppose theyre called after him I never thought that would be my name Bloom” (U, 18.837-41). Through the coincidental magic of mass culture the underwear fetishist Bloom seems to have provided the name for a woman’s undergarment linked also to freedom, movement, and self-assertion; the “new woman” and the woman on the bicycle segue together in Molly’s consciousness of her marginality to this feminine trend. As for Bloom, “hes mad on the subject of drawers always skeezing at those brazenfaced things on the bicycles with their skirts blowing up to their navels” (U, 18.289-91). What is worth pointing out is that feminine self-determination itself is arising out of a consuming context, from within the nets of fashion and advertisement. Milly has already heeded the call; sent off to be a photo girl, she is freed from her precarious domestic situation by a free-fall into the photographic image. Molly’s version of photographic immortalization involves either posing for erotic photographic postcards - “would I be like that bath of the nymph with my hair down yes only shes younger or Im a little like that dirty bitch in that Spanish photo he has” (U, 18.562-64) - or, the apotheosis of her photographic image, her connection with Stephen Dedalus. She regrets having shown him her photo - “my photo is not good of me I ought to have got it taken in drapery that never looks out of fashion” (U, 18.1302-4) - little realizing that Milly’s photo girl photos are the ones now in fashion, but projects ahead to the publication of their two photos in the newspapers, after their affair has made her famous as his literary muse.

Molly herself is dispersed out over the mass cultural scene of Dublin, in the form of her participation in innumerable musicales, in her presence in shops, hotels, tea rooms and bazaars, in her newspaper reading and her glimpses of celebrity figures and her alluring erotic image. Her experiences of the sublime and her engagement with transcendence also derive from consumption - her attachment to the little statue Bloom brings home, “theres real beauty and poetry for you,” "Id love to have the whole place swimming in roses” (U, 18.1557-58).

The general movement of “Penelope” then is not so much the random exhalation and inhalation of female circularity, or the utterly formless and fluid stream of menstrualized consciousness nairned the feminine. Instead, my reading of the episode shows me an arc repeated again and again, a mental passage to Gibraltar or back from Gibraltar, mediated by the act of consumption. The largest example of the cognitive work of consumption is Gibraltar. Molly uses consumption to think through-to produce a situated analysis-of the relations of Gibraltar to Ireland, Gibraltar to England, England to Ireland. She is metempsychosed from one to another, on wings of consumer memory which displace, enter, and refract a cultural experience as profound as the meditations launched by Stephen in the “Nestor” episode or by Bloom in his colloquies with the Citizen.

Accordingly, Molly has been critically scanted on the political turf of the text. Gibraltar is not a utopian space beyond all commodity exchange in Molly’s text, profuse with oranges and dark-eyed women, as it functions in Bloom’s evocations of Molly’s exotic otherness. Nonetheless, its opportunities for consumption are remarkably disti ct from those of Dublin, involving catering to a British military presence superimposed on a Spanish and Arabic indigenous culture. Molly recalls Mrs. Rubio, her disobliging servant, “because she never could get over the Atlantic fleet coming in half the ships of the world and the Union Jack flying with her carabineros because 4 drunken English sailors took all the rock from them” (U, 18.754-56). Gibraltar is flower and sun and the Moorish wall, donkeys and children and soldiers, a limbo land of consumption, “Penelope” moves in and out of the zone of Gibraltar by way of the exigencies of consumption in Dublin, its stringencies, its efforts, the attempt to get back to a Gibraltar with its plenitude of possibility. And yet, in Gibraltar, “people were always going away and we never,” and “the days like years not a letter from a living soul except the odd few I posted to myself with bits of paper in them so bored sometimes I could fight with my nails listening to that old Arab with the one eye and his heass of an instrument” (U, 18.668, 698-701).

Molly is in a lived relation with the modern world offered by no [190] other figure in the text; an English colonial subject by her Irish nationality, she has also lived under Britain’s colonial flag in the outpost of Gibraltar as a colonist, thanks to Major Tweedy, and is both of Gibraltar and not of it, forced to make and remake her “imagined community” of national identity (following Benedict Anderson) out of the scraps and bits of consumption which currently come her way. The envelope of consumption within which she - and everyone else lives is in her case elastically stretched to encompass a Gibraltar reachable now only through consumption or as consumption. "Id love to have a talk with an intelligent well educated person Id have to get a nice pair of red slippers like those Turks with the fez used to sell or yellow and a nice semitransparent morning gown that I badly want or a peachblossom dressing jacket like the one long ago in Walpoles” (U, 18.1493-97).

If Molly’s discourse seems centered in the home, then it is a home scored by traffic with an extended world, and in particular freighted with the ironic history of Gibraltar, “Penelope” alludes to this exoticism and its role in consumption by Molly’s reading of The Moonstone -”that was the first I read of Wilkie Collins” - but also insists on the materiality of Molly’s own historical past. She herself gives the dead Captain Gardner a ring, “as if it brought its bad luck with it like an opal or pearl”, her own version of the moonstone. She imagines him wearing it as he dies of enteric fever in the Boer War - “those Boers killed him with their war and fever but they were well beaten all the same”, in The sexual delirium of Gibraltar for Molly also carries all the shock of empire, since Gibraltar is a way station for postings all over the globe. Through her sexual consumption Molly is witness to, and pays the price for, this centrifugal force, “there I was leaning over him with my white ricestraw hat to take the newness out of it the left side of my face the best my blouse open for his last day” (U, 18.797-99). Even on Gibraltar social relations are consummated through the unspoken language of things: “I kept the handkerchief under my pillow for the smell of him there was no perfume to be got in that Gibraltar only that cheap peau dEspagne that faded and left a stink on you” (18.863-65).

When Bloom pronounces “metempsychosis” Molly smilingly answers with the exasperated epithet, “O rocks!” To put perhaps inordinate textual pressure on that phrase is to see the outline of the rock of Gibraltar in the distance. The transmigration of souls can entail, Bloom explains, changing “into an animal or a tree, for instance. What they called nymphs, for example”, in In and through consumption, in all its array, a transmigration of subjectivity is enacted into objects and [191] back again. Such metempsychosis can be reifying, fragmenting, and objectifying, but it can also be enlarging, tactical, productive. Too return to Simmel’s darker view momentarily:

On the one hand, life is made infinitely easy for the personality in that stimulations, interests, uses of time, and consciousness are offered to it from all sides. They carry the person as if in a stream, and one hardly needs to swim for oneself. On the other hand, life is composed more and more of these impersonal contents and offerings which tend to displace the genuine personal colorations and incomparabilities . [the individual] has to exaggerate this personal element in order to remain audible even to himself. (“Metropolis and the Mental Life”, rep. in The Sociology of Georg Simmel, trans. Kurt H. Wolff, NY: Free Press 1950, p.422).

Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, as it is known, doesn’t so much speak the feminine as give a painstaking material recording of the work of consumption, a work which is as rhetorical and ardent and political as the rest of Ulysses. It is not a chaotic fragment, or a recapitulative coda, but a minutely tracked venture into the metempsychotic labors of Molly Bloom. Molly says "I hate a book with a Molly in it,” apropos of her unhappy reading of Moll Flanders, whom she found "a whore always shoplifting anything she could cloth and stuff and yards of it” (U, 18.657-59). This alone would prevent Molly from reading the book which she concludes. But the conclusion reenacts the arc of her labors, as her memory of her first kiss from Bloom pushes back past him to the trammeled world of Gibraltar. I was thinking of so many things he didnt know of Mulvey and Mr Stanhope and Hester and father. .. and the Spanish girls laughing and the auctions in the morning and the Greeks and the jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe” (U, 18.1582-89). Let me take this kiss as the epitome of consumption, an allegory of what it is mistakenly supposed to be. From Bloom’s point of view, Molly’s acceptance of the kiss is total, a promiscuous, erotic swoon, the very figure for the delirium of consumption, consumption’s easy lay. But underneath lies what he doesn’t and can never know - the skein of interwoven, thoroughly self-embroidered thoughts Molly produces which situate, deflect, and inflect her affirmative kiss, her historically sedimented kiss, the fabric of her kiss woven from the material of political life, Molly Bloom’s work of consumption.

Her work reveals, as does the writing of Ulysses, the manifold possibilities inherent in consumption, the consumption of language, of symbolic capital, the objectification of objects which then take up a place in a private universe. The ventriloquial or transvestite aspects of “Penelope” could be more carefully attributed to the parallels between [192] Joyce as writer and Molly Bloom as consumer-though the latter is not an author, her readjustments of her world of consumption are prompted by creativity, political resistance, and endless desire, as are Joyce’s textual strategies in this book as the work of the consumption of Dublin. The inequalities and harrassments so evident in the consumptive universe of the market, and so specifically a feature of British colonialism in Ireland, are never eliminated by this text, but neither are the transformative and indeed positive features of the proliferating universe of material objects, whether these be books, ideas, violet garters, or Sweets of Sin, in the increasingly differentiated universe of modernity. It is the philosophical and political implications of the universe of consumption I think Ulysses takes up aesthetically, and the strong divide we are ready to make between consumable goods and rarefied literature is a distinction Ulysses does not want to make. As a later Joycean text will have it, “My consumers, are they not my producers?” In so saliently replicating the intricate mechanisms of consumption in its own construction and its own reading process, to say nothing of its material orbit, Ulysses prompts us to see the potential so rarely glimpsed or acknowledged in our attitudes toward consumption. Given that this is our cultural state, which Ulysses accepts with equanimity and realism, Joyce can teach us how we have been performing the work of consumption all our lives. [End.]

Works Cited

  • Adorno, Theodor, Aesthetic Theory (NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1984).
  • Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities (London: Verso 1983).
  • Baudelaire, [Charles], “The Painter of Modern Life”, in Selected Writings on Art and Artists, trans. P. E. Charvet (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1972).
  • Baudrillard, Jean, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (St. Louis: Telos Press 1981).
  • Benjamin, Walter, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”, in Illuminations, ed., Hannah Arendt (NY: Schocken 1969), PP.260-65.
  • Bourdieu, Pierre, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (Harvard UP 1984).
  • Campbell, Colin, The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1987).
  • de Certeau, Michel, “Making Do: Uses and Tactics”, in The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press 1984).
  • Fiske, John, Understanding Popular Culture (London: Unwin Hyman 1989).
  • Foster, R. F., Modern Ireland (London: Allen Lane 1988).
  • Frisby, David, Fragments of Modernity (Boston: MIT Press 1986).
  • Henke, Suzette, and Elaine Unkeless, eds., Women in Joyce (Illinois UP 1982).
  • Herr, Cheryl, Joyce’s Anatomy of Culture (Illinois UP 1986).
  • Hobsbawrn, Eric, Nations and Nationalism Since 1780 (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press 1990).
  • Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (NY: Herder and Herder 1972).
  • Jameson, Fredric, “Ulysses in History”, James loyce and Modern Literature, ed., W. J. McCormack and Alistair Stead. (London: Routledge 1982), pp.126-41.
  • Kristeva, Julia, “Joyce ‘the Gracehoper”, in James Joyce: The Augmented Ninth, ed., Bernard Benstock. (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press 1984), pp.147-52.
  • Lawrence, Karen, “Joyce and Feminism”, in The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce, ed., Derek Attridge. (Cambridge UP 1990), pp.237-58.
  • Leonard, Carry, “Women on the Market: Commodity Culture, ‘Those Lovely Seaside Girls,’ and ‘Feminity’ in “ UlyssesJames Joyce Studies: An Annual 1991. [Forthcoming.]
  • Lévi-Strauss, Claude, The Savage Mind (Chicago UP 1966).
  • Lukács, Georg, History and Class Consciousness (London: Merlin 1971).
  • Lyons, F. S. L., Ireland Since the Famine (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1971).
  • McCormack, W. J., and Alistair Stead, eds. James Joyce and Modern Literature (London: Routledge 1982).
  • McCracken, Gerald, Culture and Consumption (Indiana UP 1990).
  • Miller, Daniel, Material Culture and Mass Consumption (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1987).
  • Moretti, Franco, “The Long Goodbye” Signs Taken for Wonders (London: Verso 1982).
  • Richards, Thomas Karr, The Commodity Culture of Victorian England (Stanford UP 1990).
  • Scott, Bonnie Kime, James Joyce and Feminism (Brighton: Harvester 1987).
  • Sirnmel, Georg, “The Metropolis and Mental Life”, rep. in The Sociology of Georg Simmel, trans. and ed. Kurt H. Wolff. (NY: Free Press 1950).
  • Simmel, Georg, The Philosophy of Money, trans. Tom Bottomore and David Frisby (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1978).
  • Steele, Valerie, Fashion and Eroticism: Ideals of Feminine Beauty from the Victorian Through the Jazz Age (NY: OUP 1985).
  • Veblen, Thorstein, The Theory of the Leisure Class (NY: Viking Press 1967).
  • Weber, Max, Economy and Society (California UP 1978).
  • Wicke, Jennifer, Advertising Fictions: Literature, Advertisement, and Social Reading (NY: Columbia UP 1988).
  • Xenos, Nicholas, Scarcity and Modernity (Boston: MIT Press 1989).

  • [ close ] [ top ]