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James Joyce
Sam Slote
QUESTIONING TECHNOLOGY IN “ITHACA”

Ever the pragmatist, Bloom frequently ponders practical solutions to potential problems, that is, exploiting technology for the benefit and comfort of all. One of his recurrent, albeit minor, enthusiasms on June 16 is for the construction of a tramline parallel to the North Circular Road that could be used to transport livestock from the Dublin cattle-market at Aughrim Street to the quays (U: 4.108–10; 6.400–2; 15.1367–68; 17.1726–43). In “Wandering Rocks,” Conmee is likewise inspired to contemplate the advantages to a tramline along the North Circular Road (U: 10.73–75). At Dignam’s funeral, momentarily concerned that his acquaintance might be buried alive, Bloom considers the advantages of mandating the installation of a “telephone in the coffin” (U: 6.868–69). Bloom’s bourgeois Arcadia, Flowerville, is to be outfitted with all the latest gadgets, such as an automatic telephone (U: 17.1525); a barometer with hydrographic chart (U: 17.1529); a refrigerator (U: 17.1547); a “capacious waterbutt” (U: 17.1571); and a “lawnmower with hydraulic hose” (U: 17.1572). Although the installation of a comprehensive gas supply throughout the house (U: 17.1549) is not the most modern of conveniences since by 1904 electrical power was starting to become prevalent in Ireland. Bloom’s mod cons are old school. Even so, as a rational, empirical, practical, and eminently bourgeois gentleman, Bloom is rather technophilic. Technology provides answers, solutions to problems, even problems that technology itself has created. But there is also a certain ambivalence towards technology projected in Ulysses, an ambivalence, or perhaps rather a polymorphous perspective, that may be worth pursuing.

Of course, to pursue this question of ambivalence is already to inhabit a technological paradigm, that is, to assume problems can have solutions, whether that problem be transporting cattle in Dublin or understanding Ulysses. Heidegger articulates what he sees as this ambivalence within technology in “The Question Concerning Technology” where he proposes that the essence of technology is a specific, delimited mode of questioning. Technology is inherently teleological in that it aims towards revealing an answer or solution. In this, it is a mode of unconcealment, or aletheia in the Heideggerian patois. The rub is that the technological mode of unconcealment employs a will-to-mastery and in this it is not so much a revealing but rather a challenging, specifically an act of challenging nature, that is, phusis. For Heidegger, this challenging is dangerous in that it is an enframing (Gestell) through which man becomes the only measure of the world and thus can encounter only himself.(1) Technology is dangerous because it is inherently anthrocentric and anthrocentralising: it reduces the world to being an exploitable and calculable resource. Technology makes the furniture of the world disponible, that is, arranged, made available, granted, but also disposed, extinguished, wasted. For Heidegger, technology is a contrivance that reduces nature to an instrument to be used by man. But, technological enframing is not dialectically opposed to aletheia; Heidegger cites a line from Hölderlin’s poem “Patmos” to remark this point: “But where danger is, grows / The saving power also” (QCT: 28). If, as Heidegger argued in his essay on the Anaximander fragment,(2) the history of the West was always already consigned to the concealing force of instrumental reason, then instrumental reason might also, potentially, yield to a more “poetic revealing” (QCT: 35).(3) As Heidegger writes, “the essence of technology must harbor in itself the growth of the saving power” (QCT: 28). For Heidegger, thus, this imbrication of danger and salvation characterises the ambiguity of technology.

Put simply, Heidegger’s argument is that enframing alienates man from the world in which he dwells. As an example of this, he discusses the implications of setting forth a hydroelectric plant into the river Rhine. “In the context of the interlocking processes pertaining to the orderly disposition of electrical energy, even the Rhine itself appears as something at our command” (QCT: 16). Technology translates the Rhine into an object that can be calculated and used; it translates it into what Heidegger calls a standing-reserve (Bestand). Technology inherently alienates an object into servile objectification and commodification.(4) In this way, Heidegger’s analysis of technology is somewhat more radical than Marx’s. In discussing the complications machinery introduces into the equations of labour, Marx concludes that the problem only lies within the “capitalist application of machinery” rather than within the machinery as such.(5) In contradistinction, for Heidegger, any notion of use is inherently exploitative; that is to say, all technological application is capitalistic. Seen in this way, Bloom is an eminently technological man and “Ithaca” an eminently technological episode. For example, Bloom’s Acadian fantasy is accompanied by a detailed, albeit wistful, plan as to how he would finance his dream (U: 17.1658–97). Evidently, dreams and progress have a price that can be reckoned. The episode proceeds through a series of highly idiosyncratic catechistic questions and answers that successively frame and reframe incidents attendant to Bloom and Stephen’s temporary union on the morning of June 17th. The episode proceeds through calculation, often exaggerated to extreme and comedically absurd proportions, such as with the answer to the apparently simple question to describe the relationship between Bloom and Stephen’s ages.

16 years before in 1888 when Bloom was of Stephen’s present age Stephen was 6. 16 years after in 1920 when Stephen would be of Bloom’s present age Bloom would be 54. In 1936 when Bloom would be 70 and Stephen 54 their ages initially in the ratio of 16 to 0 would be as 17½ to 13½, the proportion increasing and the disparity diminishing according as arbitrary future years were added, for if the proportion existing in 1883 had continued immutable, conceiving that to be possible, till then 1904 when Stephen was 22 Bloom would be 374 and in 1920 when Stephen would be 38, as Bloom then was, Bloom would be 646 while in 1952 when Stephen would have attained the maximum postdiluvian age of 70 Bloom, being 1190 years alive having been born in the year 714, would have surpassed by 221 years the maximum antediluvian age, that of Methusalah, 969 years, while, if Stephen would continue to live until he would attain that age in the year 3072 A.D., Bloom would have been obliged to have been alive 83,300 years, having been obliged to have been born in the year 81,396 B.C. (U: 17.447–61).(6)

Beyond the potentially infinitely-expansible enumeration proffered here, seemingly gratuitously, there are a few features of note. It is stated that at Stephen’s birth the ratio between his and Bloom’s age was 16 to 0: mathematically such a ratio is both meaningless and impossible. Indeed, when it comes to actually producing calculations, the narrative takes the proportion as it had existed in 1883, which is one year after Stephen’s birth, thereby yielding the mathematically useful ratio of 17 to 1. This enumeration is thus an exercise in calculation unencumbered by representation; in other words, a pure extrapolation in the act of narrative enframing.

A moment that could be taken as a highly significant symbol of Bloom and Stephen’s unity is likewise entirely a function of narrative caprice and enframing. As Stephen walks away from Bloom and Eccles Street, Bloom hears, so we are told, “The double reverberation of retreating feet on the heavenborn earth, the double vibration of a jew’s harp in the resonant lane” (U: 17.1243–44). It seems that Stephen is playing a Jew’s harp as he walks away, the instrument functioning as a kind of symbol that unites Bloom, a Jew, with Stephen, an Irishman. But Stephen does not have a Jew’s harp; after all, this is the first we hear of him possessing such an instrument. Instead, the narrator is describing the sound of Stephen’s twinned footsteps on the street as the twang of a Jew’s harp. Indeed, on an “Ithaca” notesheet we read: “SD bootsoles on flags of hollow lane twanged a fourfold chord, scale of a jew’s mouth harp.”(7) Therefore, the idea of a union of Bloom and Stephen here is purely an effect of narrative contrivance. The union exists only in the frame, in the act of the enframing. Furthermore, the actual union, such as it is, a handshake, is described entirely in geometric terms that obviate any sense of contact that is not merely instrumental (U: 17.1220–23).

The narrative in “Ithaca” thus treats Bloom and Stephen as resources to be exploited through variable contrived frames. David Hayman introduced the term arranger to account for such enframing. He describes the arranger as a “felt absence in the text, an unstated but inescapable source of control.”(8) In Heideggerian terms, the arranger arranges; and, consequently if not tautologically, Ulyssean narrative is that which can be arranged, that which is disponible to the arranger. An example of this can be found in the following query: “Reduce Bloom by cross multiplication of reverses of fortune, from which these supports protected him, and by elimination of all positive values to a negligible negative irrational unreal quantity” (U: 17.1933–35). This question asks to enframe Bloom in hypothetical economic terms of diminution and destitution. In other words, Bloom is to be treated as a number, a variable to be plugged into the determining formula of impoverishment. The qualities “negative irrational unreal” all pertain to numbers; although the expression imaginary number is the preferred term instead of unreal number.(9) The answer that is given gathers together numerous elements from the text, such as the dun from “Cyclops” (U: 12.1937). This particular mathematical extrapolation of penury, however, balances out Bloom’s imagined future prosperity, which had culminated in the construction of the fanciful Flowerville (U: 17.1497–1764). This reduction has Bloom withering instead of blooming and thus could be taken to indicate his economic anxiety.(10) In any case, whether prosperous or impoverished, Bloom is still a token of the narrative’s capricious enframing, as if he were some kind of plastic plaything.

During the extrapolation of Bloom’s imagined profligacy, various “schemes of wider scope” (U: 17.1709) are delineated. As Molly has it, Bloom is a bit of a polutropon, “the way he plots and plans everything out” (U: 18.1008–9) and, given half a chance, his plots and plans are more than somewhat far-ranging. It is as if Bloom desires to be an arranger himself. So, in this section of “Ithaca” we have a doubled contrivance: the narrative extrapolation of Bloom’s own wistful extrapolations (which was something that was already deployed on the level of style in “Eumæus,” where the narrative adopts an extrapolation of the style Bloom might write in, were he to write). One of Bloom’s supposed future plans is

A scheme to be formulated and submitted for approval to the harbour commissioners for the exploitation of white coal (hydroelectric power), obtained by hydroelectric plant at peak of tide at Dublin bar or at head of water at Poulaphouca or Powerscourt or catchment basins of main streams for the economic production of 500,000 W.H.P. of electricity (U: 17.1710–14).

Bloom sees the water circulating in and around Dublin as an exploitable resource, exploitable for the residents of Dublin as a source of untapped power and exploitable for Bloom himself as a potential source of wealth. Water is an instrument, a means to an end: white coal, as the fanciful expression has it, an expression that is not of Joyce’s coinage.(11) The details of Bloom’s plan are not completely innocuous since one of the proposed locations for a dam is at the Poulaphouca waterfall on the River Liffey at Wicklow, whose name had been twice called in “Circe” as a taunt to Bloom (U: 15.3299–3300 and 15.3348–49). The narrative thus in-gathers intra-textual references into Bloom’s plans. In fact, a dam was built at Poulaphouca in 1939 for the use of the Dublin Corporation and the Electricity Supply Board,(12) so Bloom’s schemes have indeed borne fruit (or, rather, white coal).

In terms of being a resource, water is supposedly scarce in the world of Ulysses. A draught is mentioned three times in the novel (U: 4.43–44, 14.475, 17.171). According to the 1905 edition of Thom’s, the total rainfall in Dublin for 1904 was 25 inches, which is only three inches below average. In May 1904 there was an above-average rainfall of 2.69 inches and in June there was a below-average rainfall of 1.08 inches.(13) So, the claim of drought seems to be exaggerated. At the third citation of a drought, in “Ithaca,” in the description of the Dublin waterworks, we hear that water rationing has been introduced in Dublin, with harsh penalties threatened (U: 17.171–82). As Robert Adams has noted, Joyce derived some of the information about the Dublin waterworks deployed in this passage from a letter printed in the 15 June 1904 issue of the Irish Independent.(14) This letter makes no mention of a drought and of rationing, but does indicate that the South Dublin Guardians are being prosecuted by the Dublin Corporation for excessive waste of water.(15) Even if there was no drought in 1904, water is still a delimited, that is finite, resource. Disponibility also entails dissipation of supply through usage.

But, of course, Bloom does not merely conceive of water in instrumental terms: its utility and exploitability are but part of its charms and qualities. In one of the lengthier answers in “Ithaca,” we are treated to seemingly all the aspects of water admired by Bloom the waterlover, which include “Its universality: […] its infallibility as paradigm and paragon: its metamorphoses as vapour, mist, cloud, rain, sleet, snow, hail” (U: 17.185–217). Amidst many, many qualities, water is the be-all and end-all: paradigm and paragon, it is here measured to be the measure of all things. Water is, if you will, plastic. Other aquatic qualities that are mentioned are “constancy” (U: 17.185) and “restlessness” (U: 17.188); its “hydrostatic quiescence” and “hydrokinetic turgidity” (U: 17.190); its “sterility” (U: 17.191) and “healing virtues” (U: 17.213) and also its “noxiousness” (U: 17.227); its “imperturbability” (U: 17.201) and “violence in seaquakes” and so on (U: 17.205). Each attribute is accompanied by its contrary. Water, like Whitman, and more so than mercurial Malachi Mulligan, contradicts itself;(16) it is “neverchanging everchanging” (U: 17.233–34). Water is plural, flowing, shifting, Protean, delimited yet infinite, useful yet uncategorisable. In this way, or rather ways, water is not just a standing reserve, that is, an exploitable resource. It is what gives; the Heideggerian Es gibt, if you will. The standing reserve is not what is enframed but, rather, that which frames. Precisely because of its “ubiquity in constituting 90% of the human body” (U: 14.226–27), water is, in this way, seemingly just like the Shakespearean artist Stephen proposes in “Scylla and Charybdis”: “all in all in all of us” (U: 9.1049–50). It is universal precisely because it is so labile and fungible and foundational and essential.

Water is thus the ultimate artist, moulder of the earth and moulder of life and all that is living on the earth. And yet, there is something incompatible between water and art. Stephen, unlike Bloom, is a hydrophobe, and refuses Bloom’s offer of water to wash himself. One of the reasons proffered, if not by Stephen himself then at least by the narrative, is that he distrusts “aquacities of thought and language” (U: 17.240). And furthermore, the reason given that Bloom does not further implore Stephen to wash is that there is an “incompatibility of aquacity with the erratic originality of genius” (U: 17.247). There is, thus, something about water, its aquacity, that is incompatible with art,(17) although on an “Ithaca” notesheet, Joyce contrasted aquacity with “terracity.”(18) Precisely because in the list of its attributes water seems to be, in Heideggerian terms, that which resists enframing, it is nonetheless enframed (and not just purely through Ithacan narrative decorum). Because it is all in all in all, it is quintessentially disponible. And so, among its qualities, water is servile. As we have it on the list of attributes: “its docility in working hydraulic millwheels, turbines, dynamos, electric power stations, bleachworks, tanneries, scutchmills: its utility in canals, rivers, if navigable, floating and graving docks” (U: 17.220–23). Even in rushing torrents, water is docile, that is, tractable, yielding. Water thus serves, unlike Stephen’s artistic paradigm, with the Satanic cry of “non serviam” (AP: 117; 239).

Further illustrating its servility, amidst water’s salient qualities is “its climatic and commercial significance” (U: 17.192–93). Precisely because society is founded upon water, water is enframed within the social and so water is made to serve the society it makes possible. Frank Budgen remarks that Dublin would survive without Christ, but it would not survive without the Liffey.(19) More precisely, it would not survive without the exploitation of the Liffey. And because water is so, well, fluid, it can accommodate exploitation as envisioned by Bloom (and later by the Electricity Supply Board) without compromising or otherwise altering its profundity. Aquacity entails capitalistic servility.

And, of course, aquacity entails narrative servility. Water is deployed as a trope within the narrative art (or should I say techne) of Ulysses. Joyce uses water as a theme, as a theme of aquacity. Water thus both exceeds art yet is contained by it. It exceeds art in that, as paradigm and paragon, its qualities are potentially infinite; yet it is contained by art in that it is precisely an emblem of infinite disponibility. Water may be opposed to art in that it is servile, yet without water, without aquacity, there could be no art, just as without water there could be no technology and no society.

Furthermore, water is, unless contaminated, clear. Stephen doesn’t just dislike physical contact with water, he dislikes “the aqueous substances of glass and crystal” (U: 17.239). He dislikes the transparent, the limpid, and the clear. An example of this is indicated in the question “Which seemed to the host to be the predominant qualities of his guest?” (U: 17.252; emphasis added). Whatever Stephen’s predominant qualities may or may not be, they are only seemingly manifest. But these qualities apparent to Bloom are remarkably aquaceous (although given water’s manifold qualities, it would be impossible for Stephen to not appear somehow like water). Stephen seems to exhibit “Confidence in himself, an equal and opposite power of abandonment and recuperation” (U: 17.253–54). In other words, Stephen is both hydrostatic and hydrokinetic. In this way, aquacity, in its apparent clarity, is the reflection of technicity, the mirror to art (and not the mirror to nature). Ulysses, in deploying all sorts of reconfigurations, in continually “harking back in retrospective arrangement” (U: 15.442–43) treats the world of Dublin, 16 June 1904 as an aquacity to be enframed and re-enframed. If water is necessary for life, then aquacity is necessary for art.

1 Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, trans. William Lovitt, New York: Harper, 1977, 26–27; hereafter abbreviated as QCT.
2 “The word ‘usage’ is dictated to thinking in the experience of Being’s oblivion. What properly remains to be thought in the word ‘usage’ has presumably left a trace in tò chreón. This trace quickly vanishes in the destiny of Being which unfolds in world history as Western metaphysics” (Martin Heidegger, Early Greek Thinking, trans. David Farrell Krell and Frank A. Capuzzi, New York: Harper and Row, 1984, 54).
3 “It is precisely in Enframing, which threatens to sweep man away into ordering as the supposed single way of revealing, and so thrusts man into the danger of the surrender of his free essence — it is precisely in this extreme danger that the innermost indestructible belongingness of man within granting may come to light, provided that we, for our part, begin to pay heed to the coming to presence of technology” (QCT: 32; see also Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche I: The Will to Power as Art, trans. David Farrell Krell, New York: Harper Collins, 1991, 81–82).
4 The translation into standing-reserve alienates an object from its self-standing, that is, its thingness (see Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter, New York: Harper & Row, 1971, 167).
5 Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fawkes, New York: Vintage, 1977, 569.
6 On the Rosenbach manuscript, a similar question (“What did Bloom think of their different ages?”) appeared earlier in the episode, before the description of the flow of water to Bloom’s house. The answer given was a far briefer, but still inscrutable, miniature version of that which appears in the final text: “That neither could Stephen now have his age then nor he then Stephen’s now.”
7 Phillip F. Herring, Joyce’s “Ulysses” Notesheets in the British Museum, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1972, 455.
8 David Hayman, “Ulysses”: The Mechanics of Meaning, revised edition, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982, 123. Initially, Hayman had described the arranger as an absent character whose influence impacts upon the tenor of the narrative (David Hayman, “Cyclops,” James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” eds. Clive Hart and David Hayman, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974, 243–75; cf. esp. 263–68). Subsequently, in The Mechanics of Meaning, he redefined the arranger as more of a site than a character. This view is infinitely more supple and accommodates virtually all attitudinal shifts within Ulysses.
9 A negative number is less than zero, an irrational number is incapable of being expressed by a proper or improper fraction, and an imaginary number is a number whose square is a negative real number.
10 See Mark Osteen, The Economy of “Ulysses,” Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1995, 417–18.
11 The OED records this citation from Pitman’s Dictionary of Economic and Banking Terms (1913): “White Coal, a fanciful name given to a glacier in so far as it is a reservoir of force.”
12 Douglas Bennett, The Encyclopaedia of Dublin, rev. ed., Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 2005, 277.
13 Thom’s 1905, 797.
14 Robert Martin Adams, Surface and Symbol, New York: Oxford University Press, 1962, 226.
15 Ignatius Rice, “Dublin Corporation v. South Dublin Union,” Irish Independent (15 June 1904): 6.
16 “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, Mercurial Malachi” (U: 1.517–18). Mulligan here echoes Whitman’s “Song of Myself”: “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then.... I contradict myself; / I am large.... I contain multitudes” (section 51, lines 6–7).
17 Robert Adams Day discussed this passage (briefly) in his witty and elegant survey of Joyce’s use, such as it is, of water throughout his works (“Joyce’s AquaCities,” Joyce in the Hibernian Metropolis, eds. Morris Beja and David Norris, Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1996, 3–20, 15–16).
18 Herring 1972, 445.
19 Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of “Ulysses,” Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989, 128.