Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

'The Void Awaits Surely All Them That Weave the Wind': 'Penelope' and 'Sirens' in 'Ulysses.'

Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

'The Void Awaits Surely All Them That Weave the Wind': 'Penelope' and 'Sirens' in 'Ulysses.'

Article excerpt

Dubliners begins with the figure of a boy gazing into a dying priest's house through a "lighted square of window" that shines "faintly and evenly" (1). Ulysses ends in a similarly voyeuristic vein as the reader gazes illicitly into Molly's thoughts. While one sees a boy muttering "paralysis" and the other has the critics clamoring "flow,"(1) it is important to recognize that the objects in question - Penelope as well as the window - are crafted and framed, cultural artifacts. This is particularly vital in "Penelope," and it should be the basis for grounding any criticism of the Earth Mother and her language. Without such a basis any approach rapidly gains a Wakean circularity, forever looping the lemniscate figure eight(2) as if on a Mobius-strip treadmill. When you court Penelope, be wary of the tapestry unraveling in your hands just as quickly as it is woven.

In "Penelope" the reader can be seduced into thinking that Molly's monologue is somehow unmediated; that tacked on to the real stuff of the topic is the "natural" mind-speech of the excluded "Other." It is, for instance, the only chapter that is fully in the present tense and stands seemingly free-form, away from the ministrations of the arranger.(3) It is her language in particular, "the language of flow" (339), that attracts the tag of "archetypally feminine," more than her eroticism and apparent fertility (after all, Molly is menstruating which means, to her relief, that she is not pregnant: "not what any self-respecting fertility symbol would be expected to feel" [Attridge "Molly's" 561]). The French feminists Helene Cixous and Luce Irigaray appear to have used this chapter to inform their notion of ecriture feminine. This passage of Irigaray which "lauds the feminine signature" (Henderson 518) might have been written for or inspired by Molly:

"She" is indefinitely other in herself. This is doubtless why she is said to be whimsical, incomprehensible, agitated, capricious . . . not to mention her language, in which "she" sets off in all directions leaving "him" unable to discern the coherence of any meaning. Hers are contradictory words. . . . For in what she says, too, at least when she dares, woman is constantly touching herself. She steps ever so slightly aside from herself with a murmur, an exclamation, a whisper, a sentence left unfinished. . . . When she returns, it is to set off again from elsewhere. (This 28-29)

Others, verbosely, have followed the lead:

[Molly's] subvocal iterations seem to imitate the amorphous and irrational utterances of hysterical speech. Her unpunctuated soliloquy flows out of a rich and capacious unconscious, drawing on those preverbal, prediscursive dimensions of language that Julia Kristeva describes as semiotic - a threatening and subversive discourse associated with preoedipal attachment to the body, voice and pulsions of the imaginary, maternal figure. Molly's lyrical prose poetry offers a paradigm of ecriture feminine, as jouissance is deferred by a free play of the female imagination over the elusive terrain of enigmatic sexual difference. . . . Molly Bloom's discourse is fluid and feminine, deracinated and polymorphic, uncontained by the limits of logocentric authority. (Henke 149-52)

Nevertheless, for all her apparent bursting of the mind-forged manacles, Molly is a construction of the "natural," similar to the flowers on her wallpaper (Levitt). Joyce's attempt to portray the essential feminine as destabilizing, undermining, and "unweaving" the world of phallocentric language and presence is ultimately doomed to failure. Representation is inherently phallocentric, so that any portrayal as Other paradoxically excludes it from being Other. Otherness

always remains and, to preserve intelligibility and meaning, must remain part of, enclosed within, conventional, 'educated' discourse. The discourse of the 'other' is never truly other. (Van Boheemen Novel 177)

For instance, on the one hand Molly appears to subvert the notion of closure; she is the unweaver. …

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