Joyce, "Penelope" and the Body

Joyce, "Penelope" and the Body

Joyce, "Penelope" and the Body

Joyce, "Penelope" and the Body

Excerpt

How's the body?

“How's the body?” (U 5.86). M'Coy's apparently casual everyday question that he asks Leopold Bloom when they encounter each other just after 9.00 o'clock in the morning outside the Post Office in Westland Row in the “Lotos-Eaters” episode of Ulysses may well strike the contemporary critic of Modernist literature as an unignorable invitation to explore the representation of the body in the book. Bloom's equally apparently thoughtless and conventional response, “Fine. How are you?” (U 5. 87), may, in its strictly mimetic context, be read as suggesting his personal frustration at that moment with M'Coy's interruption of his thoughts. But, in the wider context of a contemporary critical debate about the representation of the body throughout Modernist literature and the arts, it might also be generalised to remind us that our identity itself can sometimes be construed in terms of the physical body and its wellbeing or otherwise and that Joyce's Ulysses is a text which frequently calls our attention to that phenomenon. It might also remind us of the way that Modernist representations may more often than not come down to questions of modality, to the question of “how?”. For Ulysses, the book of eighteen episodes and many more than eighteen different styles, in which symbolic parts of the body are freely and widely dispersed throughout the various episodes, as well as for our own varied collection of essays upon it, this may be especially the case.

In recent years the body has become a rich, inevitable and significant site of discussion in the fields of the humanities, especially in the visual arts and in contemporary continental philosophy and theory of gender, as well as in its traditional places in the physical sciences and these essays on the “Penelope” episode of Ulysses participate in this discussion. Indeed, I think it is fair to say, that they both apply and extend it in a variety of intriguing ways. This is perhaps no more than one might have expected from studies of a book whose author announced it to be an epic “of the cycle of the human body”, who had himself attempted and abandoned the study of

1. James Joyce, Ulysses (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984), p.60. Hereafter
episode and lines numbers are used to refer to Ulysses.

2. James Joyce, Selected Letters of James Joyce (London: Faber, 1978), pp. 270
1. Hereafter SL.

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