THE REPROCESSING OF TRASH IN ULYSSES: RECYCLING AND (POST)CREATION
In woman's womb word is made flesh but in the spirit of the maker all flesh that passes becomes the word that shall not pass away. This is the postcreation.
["Oxen of the Sun," 14:292-4]
The misunderstanding about "Throwaway" is probably the most meaningful focus in Ulysses on an object about to be trashed: at the end of "Lotus Eaters," Bloom gives Bantam Lyons an unwitting tip for the Gold Cup race at Ascot Heath, by telling him he can keep the Freeman newspaper he is looking at, because he was just about to "throw it away"; and Bantam Lyons, with his mind bent on races, understands this as a subtle hint to bet on the dark horse of the race, called Throwaway. Bloom might have wanted to keep the paper, but he is ready to give it away to get rid of Bantam Lyons :
Better leave him the paper and get shut of him.
--You can keep it, Mr Bloom said.
--Ascot, Gold cup. Wait, Bantam Lyons muttered. Half a mo. Maximum the second.
--I was just going to throw it away, Mr Bloom said.
Bantam Lyons raised his eyes suddenly and leered weakly.
--What's that? his sharp voice said.
--I said you can keep it, Mr Bloom answered. I was just going to throw it away that moment.
Bantam Lyons doubted an instant, leering: then thrust the outspread sheets back on Mr Bloom's arms.
--I'll risk it, he said. Here, thanks. [U 5:529-41]
Bloom wanted Bantam Lyons to disappear, and Bantam Lyons wanted a tip for the race: the transaction is obviously a success, since they both get what they wanted, and Bloom can keep the newspaper. The message, if there is one, could be phrased in the words of a modern advertising campaign: "Don't trash. Recycle. You'll make a profit."
* * *
This incident is the introduction to the "throwaway" motif that will run throughout the book, and it is also the high point of the Freeman's career in Ulysses.1 I find this particular item all the more interesting here since a daily paper is by very definition ephemereal and bound for the trashcan (the very opposite of what is defined in "Oxen of the Sun" as literary creation--"the word that shall not pass away", 14:293-4). Further, the Freeman paper is here a commodity whose status is almost immediately defined as "throwaway" or trash.
What is exactly the trajectory of this paper in Ulysses? Bloom first mentions buying it in "Calypso", in order to find out the time of Paddy Dignam's funeral2; we do not actually see him buying it, but we find out he has done so when the newspaper appears in "Lotus Eaters." There Bloom will successively: roll it into a baton to tap against his trouserleg, thus beating time as he walks along3; bring it to his nostrils while he is in the postoffice for a pleasant smell of fresh ink4; use it for an idle read to give himself composure when M'Coy asks him about his wife,5 (except this is when he runs into the Plumtree Potted Meat advertisement,6 which coincides both with his interest in advertising and with his obsession with Molly's impending adultery and Boylan's imminent "potting of his meat"); use it to hide and read Martha's letter unheeded7; and employ it to carry the soap he has just bought from the chemist.8 Obviously, the paper's main function in the episode is to get Bloom rid of Bantam Lyons. Later on, in "Hades," Bloom will quickly glance at the obituaries,9 and remark: "Inked characters fast fading on the frayed breaking paper" (6:160), the double meaning of "characters" allowing here for a pun commenting on the common transient nature of both newspapers and human life--"the word that shall [...] pass" and "all flesh that passes." (14:293). Finally, the paper will be used in church to protect Bloom's trousers when he kneels at the funeral: as he comes out of the carriage, Bloom takes the soap out of the paper and replaces the paper where he can easily access it, in his hip pocket,10 then in the chapel he discreetly drops it to the ground before setting his right knee upon it.11
In the end, we realize that the Freeman is truly a multi-purpose commodity, or rather that this paper, which seemed by its very nature condemned to a short-lived, transitory use as a simple reminder of the schedule for the funeral, is actually not only read or consulted, but also reprocessed as, in turn: walking-stick, deodorizer, professional inspiration and obsession feeder, letter-holder, time-saver (or magic wand to make Bantam Lyons disappear), betting-tip of course, wrapping-paper, and cushion. Not only does the Freeman paper not get trashed, its useful life--to use the current terminology--is maximized, and even considerable profit is envisaged. Unsurprisingly, among Bloom's projects listed in "Ithaca," we find a scheme to acquire wealth through "the utilisation of waste paper" (U 17:1701-2).12
The manipulation and varied usages of the Freeman in "Lotus Eaters" and "Hades" are truly an illustration of Bloom as a model, creative recycler. His innovative way of looking at objects, his capacity to change the habitual, established viewpoints on them, to picture them in different contexts than their natural ones, in different positions, shapes, or uses--in short, Bloom's imaginative viewpoint--make of him a resourceful recycler. His treatment of the Freeman paper shows him successively unrolling it and opening it for a read, rolling it lengthwise and turning it into a baton, folding it neatly into a square to put the soap in, unfolding it again to drop it to the ground, each time changing its location, from his hands, to one of his pockets, to the ground, etc. Such careful reconditioning and repackaging are current processes in the recycling industry, allowing one to maximize the useful life of items, and this is all nicely carried out here thanks to Bloom's meticulousness and inventiveness.
Ulysses provides several examples of Bloom's ingenious recycling. Most obviously, there are the references to the second-hand clothes business run by the Blooms.13 In his work as an ad-canvasser, we also notice--particularly with the House of Keyes example--how he will easily borrow images or slogans and think of reusing them in different contexts14. In a way, the very first introduction we get to "Mr Bloom" in "Calypso" ("Mr Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls." etc.), has prepared us for such a tendency. His taste for kidneys, the pleasure he takes in thus recycling the physiological trash--or excrement--, are from the start given as his idiosyncratic particularity.15 Indeed, if we read again Bloom's scheme to make money in "Ithaca," we realize the complete formula runs as follows: "The utilisation of waste paper, fells of sewer rodents, human excrement" (17:1701-2). Such innovative inversion (or perversion) may very well be at the core of his inventiveness as model recycler.
Speaking of perversions, we might also consider Bloom's sex life as obeying a logic of recycling, when in his resourcefulness he always devises new ways of enjoying that which others would deem out of their reach or lost. This is made possible, for one, by his voyeurism--noticeable as soon as he catches sight of a woman, at the butcher's,16 or coming out of a jaunting car,17 but most strikingly exemplified in "Circe," by his fantasy of watching Molly and Boylan's sexual intercourse through a keyhole.18 Besides, we often see him relishing the sight, or smell, or just the thought, of Molly's discarded underwear, and indeed, fetishism allows him to enjoy the now discarded garments that have first been put on "for him, for ..." Boylan. And these two perversions are nicely complemented by masochism, as gradually becomes clear from the correspondance between Bloom's first name, his more than ambivalent obsession with his wife's infidelity, and several allusions to Leopold Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs.19 Indeed, fetishism, voyeurism and masochism all make it possible for Bloom to vicariously draw pleasure from the scraps of his wife's adultery.20 Instead of considering the relationship wasted or irretrievable, he manages to extend his common life with Molly: his mild, tolerant approach to cuckoldry--especially if you compare it to Odysseus' punishment of the suitors--shows that with a change of perspective, pleasure and sexual energy may be recovered from these wastes.
To speak more crudely, Bloom's capacity to vary the habitual viewpoint and thus to multiply the uses of an object is also at work when he considers sexual objects. Molly's body, for one, is finally contemplated from the back, for when Bloom has completed his spiralling trajectory through Dublin, he will in the end lie down alongside his wife, head to bottom, embracing her from behind, with her "plump melloneous hemispheres" his last sight before closing his eyes (17:2242). Such fascination for the female posterior may also be noticed when Bloom goes to inspect the Venus of Praxiteles' backside at the museum to check whether there is a hole there. This anal attraction is obviously a way of turning round the sexual object and enjoying it differently, especially since we learn in "Ithaca" that full "carnal intercourse" (with "ejaculation of semen within the natural female organ" (17:2283-4) has been "incomplete" for over ten years between Bloom and his wife. Such maximizing of the sexual object's life through variation of perspectives and positions is perhaps best confirmed in "Sirens," when Bloom plainly states "Three holes, all women" (11:1089).
Bloom's careful husbandry--playing here on the double meaning of "husband" as noun and verb--thus allows him to make the most of what others would consider lost, wasted or trashed; and his imaginative, unprejudiced perspective makes him a model recycler both in the economic and in the sexual fields.
* * *
The Venus of Praxiteles' incident21 gives us a hint perhaps that Bloom's imaginative recycling may also apply to the aesthetic field.22 However, to appreciate the full extent of the recycling logic at work in the cultural or aesthetic fields in Ulysses, we should of course turn to the character of Stephen Dedalus.
Stephen's prodigious memory allows for another form of recycling, one that is less sensible, less down-to-earth or practically oriented than Bloom's, but nevertheless fundamental. If you but look at the first two paragraphs in "Proteus" for instance, or rather, if you but look at Gifford's notes for the first two paragraphs in "Proteus," you find they contain scraps of works by, in turn, Aristotle, Jakob Boehme, Berkeley, Boswell (Life of Johnson), Dante, Lessing, Shakespeare (Hamlet), Blake,... and as you know the list needs not be exhaustive.23 Arguably, this is not as productive or effective as Bloom's recycling; and indeed, Stephen's literary recycling never seems to produce any literary object authored by Stephen--except of course Stephen's erudite stream of consciousness, but this is authored by Joyce. This recycling process is definitely not as potentially profitable as the "Throwaway" tip, but on the other hand its functioning and complexity resemble that of a much more elaborate, modern, and advanced recycling industry. For Stephen's memories of the texts he has read seem to have been broken down, stripped like old cars, the reusable parts have been removed, and fitted again onto new sentences. And at a more minute level, punning and playing with sounds and letters (still quoting from the first two paragraphs in "Proteus": "Diaphane, adiaphane." 3:7-8; "Crush, crack, crick, crick." 3:19), you could even say that the words have been shredded, blended, melted down, remixed and recombined with other materials to produce new words and a new text.
Stephen's mind--memory and consciousness together--seems like the crucible where this blending, melting and recombining takes place: his extraordinary memory insures nothing gets wasted, and his stream of consciousness supplies a continual output of reprocessed literature. Needless to say, although Stephen seems incapable of setting pen to paper and writing the books he has dreamt of, Joyce himself did a very good job of repackaging the products of this recycling and reselling them, adequately judging that literary energy could be recovered from these wastes.
* * *
Taken together, Bloom and Stephen's complementary methods of recycling may be saying something essential about Joyce's writing itself.24 Indeed, it is striking, when considering genetic criticism, how the idea of recycling, or even the word "recycling" itself, frequently pops up25, an adequate metaphor perhaps to account for the dialectic of invention and repetition described by Daniel Ferrer26. Recently looking at the review section in the Fall 2001 volume of the JJQ, I came upon an article by Roland McHugh about The "Finnegans Wake" Notebooks at Buffalo, edited by Deane, Ferrer and Lernout. A sentence reads as follows:
Finnegans Wake is like a sculpture of great intricacy and beauty, which on closer scrutiny is discovered to be composed of small pieces of rubbish cleverly fitted together.27
Further in this issue of the JJQ, reviewing a volume of Essays in Joycean Genetics edited by Ferrer and Jacquet, Dirk Van Hulle was writing, about a passage from notebook VI.B.9 that eventually had not made it into Ulysses:
Thanks to Joyce's textual economy, however, the words were recycled and incorporated in Finnegans Wake.28
Which reminded me that at a Joyce conference in Paris in 1999, Dirk had already used the phrase "encyclopaedic recycling" to describe Joyce's writing process.29
Indeed, just as an encyclopaedic culture (or Gifford's Ulysses Annotated) will allow us to understand the recycling process at work in Stephen's mind, the encyclopaedic researches of genetic critics allow us a glimpse into the recycling process at work in Joyce's mind.30 The notebooks, manuscripts and proofs, thus deciphered and fitted with commentary, stand as so many witnesses to the formidable reprocessing that produced Joyce's text. For when genetic critics look at the Notebooks, they consider in turn the origin and the finality: on one hand, they are concerned with finding the sources Joyce borrowed from, and on the other, with discovering where the quotes have been transferred in Joyce's text. Thus following Joyce's work in progress, the first stage would allow us to compare the notebooks to collection bins, or drop-off centres, where he saved and stored the scraps from his readings. Then the second stage consisted in the treatment of the waste: removing the reusable parts, cutting and shredding bits of sentences, phrases and words. And in a third stage, these parts and scraps were then combined with other material to produce the new text. When the material in a notebook had not been deleted and transferred, it could subsequently be copied into another notebook for later use, thus reducing the volume of the waste after treatment. And the process sometimes required iteration: studying another stage in the recycling, genetic critics have noticed the seemingly never-ending expansion of Joycean proofs, which revealed how often other shreds and scraps were added to an apparently finished recycled product, or even included elsewhere when additions came too late for the printer31. In the case of Finnegans Wake of course, the recycling comes close to nuclear reprocessing, given the thoroughness and the meticulousness of the transformations completed, at the atomic level almost, when the structure of words may be altered beyond recognition.32 And of course Joyce's consciousness of such recycling appears in the declension, throughout Finnegans Wake, of the litter/letter paronomasia: drawing "letter from litter," he gradually produces his own "litteringture."33
This recycling metaphor also comes in handy to account for the type of literature Joyce chose to recycle. Although Ulysses itself could be considered as a gigantic recycling of Homer's Odyssey--an exemplum of high culture if there ever was one--, when we look at the detail, at all the bits and scraps that have been quoted, we take the measure of Joyce's predilection for what usually passes as literary "trash". And here I am not only alluding to the kind of softporn literature with which Bloom feeds his wife's fantasy, and his own34. Even in terms of Greek mythology and epic literature, Joyce had a preference for alternative versions, of the kind that turned Penelope into an unfaithful wife, mother to the great god Pan. Even in the field of religious studies, Stephen shows himself particularly interested in various heresies--or the trash of Roman Catholic theology. And as far as ephemeral literature bound for the trashcan is concerned, we remember that in Ulysses, a whole episode is devoted to journalese and journalism, whilst the first half of "Nausicaa" plagiarizes the cheap kind of female magazines that a girl like Gerty might be reading. The study of the early notebooks of Finnegans Wake confirms this fondness for "the trivia of current newspapers and periodicals," which seem to have been the first step in Joyce's project, rather than a later addition.35 Such fascination with literary throwaways shows how much postcreation may be concerned with the transmutation of "the word that passes" into that which "shall not pass away."
* * *
Words pass, or rather are passed on, which brings me back to the tip Bloom passes on, unawares, to Bantam Lyons. Beyond the story of the newspaper as model recycling programme or the coincidental good tip it provides, it is remarkable how Bloom's sentence ("I was just about to throw it away") becomes a linguistic unit ("throwaway"), which will remain in Ulysses as a meaningful motif and achieve its own trajectory: after being the name of a horse, it will also refer to the Elijah leaflet Bloom is handed out in the beginning of "Lestrygonians"36, and which he will, ironically, throw away to the gulls into the Liffey37. Subsequentely, in "Ithaca," Bloom will actually enjoy the title of "distributor of throwaways" (17: 1940), and at that stage, no single or limitative meaning will be given to the word "throwaway".38 Indeed, by the time we reach "Ithaca", the "throwaway" motif has been made into a veritable leitmotif: presented with meaningful variations each time it appears, it has collected substance and connotations. As we already suspected, the "throwaway" linguistic unit has acquired an independent life of its own, unattached to one single precise signified. Signifiers--as all punsters know--may be recycled.
If you look even closer at what happens during the original dialogue, you perceive that Bantam Lyons, obsessed with races and thus inclined to bad reasoning, has neglected to check whether Bloom's referential context is the same as his own. Ironically, such unscientific interpretation would have allowed him to bet on the right horse, had he risked it: "I'll risk it" are actually his last words as he leaves Bloom with the newspaper sheets on his arms. Except as we learn in "Cyclops", Lenehan talked him out of it. Lenehan must have (scientifically) reflected that Bloom did not know anything about horse races, and therefore should not be trusted as "distributor of throwaways". He may even have surmised that there was nothing but coincidence between Bloom's words and the horse's name. And such scrupulous and methodical interpretation is considered valid... until they find out the results for the race and associate them with what they know--or think they know--about Jews and their talent for making money.39 As Joyce ceaselessly demonstrates, hermeneutics is a risky affair, and the recycling of signifiers an endless source of irony.
If we look back again on Bantam Lyons's initial misunderstanding, we realize he recognizes, or thinks he recognizes, the name "Throwaway", when Bloom is actually saying "throw it away."40 In other words, in order to recognize the signifier as relating to a horse, he has to effect a linguistic throwing away of his own--that of the pronoun "it". As far as we know, Bantam Lyons is an adept of linguistic throwing away: earlier on in the dialogue, his notable elision in "half a mo" produces a meaningful pun. Thus the pronoun "it", once thrown away, might produce profitable meaning. Of course few signifiers are as open to numerous signifieds as a pronoun, and especially this one, which is the vaguest of all, and may be used as a spare part in so many different sentences; so perhaps this is the same pronoun we encounter at the end of the dialogue, when Bantam Lyons claims "I'll risk it"41. In other words, linguistic waste, if carefully recycled, may produce meaning, and profitable meaning at that--but only if you are ready to take a risk and invest in it.
Needless to say, it is very tempting to apply these conclusions to Joyce's project. For the recycling of signifiers brings about meaning and, in such recycling, language acquires a life of its own--which may even be endless ("the word that shall not pass away"). What the ironically meaningful misunderstanding between Bloom and Bantam Lyons really teaches us, is that Joyce's predilection for trash and recycling is neither a disinterested, contemplative affair,42 nor even a question of thrift and good husbandry: if you are ready to risk it, however illogical and far-fetched it may seem, the recycling of trash may bring considerable profit. Who knows? perhaps even immortality.
© Valerie Benejam, 2004
|volume 5, issue 1, 2004|