Rhetoric, Oratory, and a Crux or two

The seventh episode, “Aeolus,” is where the fun really begins. Up until now we’ve had a fairly naturalistic novel, experimental in narrative technique but hewing close to a few modes: exposition, internal monologue, etc. When episode seven opens, we right away know something’s up: what are these headings doing here? This is the chapter where the true star of the book emerges, what David Hayman dubbed “the Arranger”: a narrative persona beyond simple first or third person, a kind of Artist-God behind the book, playing games with the reader. We’ll see a lot more of him in the second half.

The game in this chapter is rhetoric, and littered throughout the chapter are dozens of rhetorical devices, giving the chapter a linguistic verve surpassing that of the early chapters. You can have fun hunting for them, or, if you’re like me and you wouldn’t recognize a polyptoton if it came up and spit in your face, you can refer to Gilbert and/or Gifford, both of whom provide lists. Also central to the episode are the three speeches cited by various characters, illustrating various styles of oratory. The last of these was actually recorded by Joyce himself, the only known recording of him reading from this book (there’s also an excellent recording, well-worth checking out, of him doing a passage from the Wake):

And then there’s this passage, as J.J. O’Molloy is discussing the second example of oratory: 

–He spoke on the law of evidence, J.J. O’Molloy said, of Roman justice as contrasted with the earlier Mosaic code, the lex talionis. And he cited the Moses of Michelangelo in the vatican.


–A few wellchosen words, Lenehan prefaced. Silence!

Pause. J.J. O’Molloy took out his cigarettecase.

False lull. Something quite ordinary.

Messenger took out his matchbox thoughtfully and lit his cigar.

I have often thought since on looking back over that strange time that it was that small act, trivial in itself, that striking of that match, that determined the whole aftercourse of both our lives. (7.755-65)

What is happening in that last line? Who is speaking? Who are the two who “both” are having the course of their lives determined? For that matter, who is “Messenger”? It seems reasonable to say that it is either J.J. O’Molloy or Lenehan, the two who are speaking here, but why do we suddenly have this drastic change of tone? I’m sure many critics have puzzled over it: I rather thought it might be an example of a rhetorical device, but neither Gifford nor Gilbert seems to mention it. Thoughts?

And while I’m putting questions out there: what do people think of Stephen’s Parable of the Plums? That’s something the critics almost always address, usually chalking it up to political allegory (see, for example, Richard Ellmann’s guide Ulysses on the Liffey, which I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet). But every time I read it I’m still puzzled by it. What do you guys make of it?

6 thoughts on “Rhetoric, Oratory, and a Crux or two

  1. Stevie July 29, 2010 / 1:10 am

    okay, this one sent me to the book (which is 20+ years old & full of notes from 6 different reads, some for school, some for fun). i have that whole last sentence highlighted, & in the margin i wrote “what’s going on here?” in pencil. underneath in pen i have “Stephen turns the scene into Literature.” i guess i got that from one of my profs. it’s as good an explanation as any i can come up with, i suppose.

  2. Steve Pantani July 29, 2010 / 8:23 am

    Spit out what you can’t swallow or you’ll choke for sure.

    That’s the kind of motherly advice the two aging vestal virgins of the parable might have given their kids if they’d had any. Good sensible maternal advice, which is why Ireland pays heed and follows through in the case of self-dramatizing Stephen. He’s the hard-core of the plum (the professor doesn’t miss it: Stephen is the one of whom it is impossible to tell “whether [he] were bitterer against others or against himself”), spit out by these avatars of his homeland, sent sailing between the rails from the symbol of British power (here Nelson’s column, but also the Martello tower, no less) over the roofs of the churches enumerated in the parable (outposts of the Italian Church, Stephen’s second would-be master) and out into the world. If Ireland is the old sow who eats her young, then Stephen is the indigestible part of the meal, the part folk-wisdom warns against trying to devour. And it’s not only the old ladies who reject him – it’s Mulligan, and the circle of new Irish literary types, exponents of their own kind of nationalism. But if Ireland’s pretentions to be Palestine, a Promised Land, are absurd (see the Ellman) then to be spit out of Pisgah, the place that falls short of Palestine (Irish’s true status), means to be sent away, across the waters, into a true deliverance. This isn’t chiefly a geographical question (though it could be, if we believe that Stephen, like Joyce, finally flees Ireland for good); it’s a destination of the mind, the place of refuge from being swallowed whole by the old ladies and all they stand for. Does this all somehow deflate Stephen’s election of “exile” for himself; maybe, but let’s not forget that it’s Stephen telling the story.

    • Judd Staley July 30, 2010 / 12:04 pm

      Thanks Steve: as usual, your analysis makes the rest of us (and I’m including Ellmann here) look ignorant and inarticulate.

      Eddie Epstein reads an allegory of sexual impotency in it, as well: two virgins, atop a phallus, spitting “seeds” out onto barren ground. Seems like there’s a lot going on there. Anybody else have any ideas, or know of any particularly insightful readings of this passage?

      • Chris Forster July 30, 2010 / 3:30 pm

        [The links below, just fyi, may contain “spoilers.” (Whether a novel can like Ulysses can be spoiled we’ll leave for another day.)]

        Stephen’s parable, alongside his earlier riddle about the fox, has always left me confused. I take some solace in the fact that in both cases Stephen’s immediate interlocutors seem as befuddled as I am. And, while it might be a cop out, any number of critics have simply understood the parable as a sort of failure (though, of course, “a man of genius makes no mistakes…”). Michael Begnal in an essay writes, “The Parable of the Plums in form suggests a short story which could have been edited out of Joyce’s own collection [Dubliners] . . . While at least Garrett Deasy’s letter on hoof and mouth disease has a form and a function… Stephen’s little tale is only half listened to by Dubliners hurrying to the pub for a drink… [Stephen’s] art is egotistic, confessional, and obsessionally introspective.” (via Google Books

        Another critic (I can’t locate the citation now; apologies) notes the gap in the narration as the episode follows Bloom (the “RETURN OF BLOOM”), suggesting that perhaps some portion of the actual parable is not narrated to the reader.

        That said, any reading which doesn’t engage the actual content of the parable itself is unlikely to be compelling (at least from my perspective). The parable seems certainly to concern British power and its relation to Ireland, as Steve’s deft reading suggests. The women, who climb a rather phallic symbol of British power in order to get a glimpse of Dublin (based on the reference to Pisgah, a glimpse of the “Promised Land” [of Irish Home Rule?]), are overwhelmed and end up on their backs staring at a British “onehandled adulterer,” (not sure I entirely get the pun; handled?) spitting plum pits. Exactly why there are two women (are they in “antithesis” as the professor suggests?), why they eat plums (rather than another stone fruit), etc; these remain vexing questions for me.

        Robert Frumkin has an essay on the parable that is freely available here. While I have only glanced over it (and find it somewhat frustrating in a number of regards), Frumkin takes a pretty systematic approach to the question of what the hell do we make of this thing. For Frumkin the parable’s appearance (SPOILER ALERT) later in the novel is crucial to its importance for the novel as a whole. And this bit, from Frumkin, I though seemed provocative: in the parable, Frumkin suggests (quoting, at the outset, an an essay by Philip Tomkins) Stephen shows “‘that the Irish nation can neither communicate with itself nor pay homage to her conqueror. Instead she spits out nationalist sentiments which are as worthless and incidental and plumstones.’ Stephen sees the Irish leaders as victims of paralysis, but he does nto refute the premise Taylor’s enthymeme; what he objects to are Irish nationalist leaders. Stephen is placing his art above English and Irish politics” (3). (Taylor’s speech it will be recalled, similarly appeals to Moses and Old Testament imagery in defending Irish independence; it also continues the parallel between the Jews and the Irish).

  3. Stevie July 31, 2010 / 5:32 pm

    @steve whoo-hoo! That was awesome. I was going to add something like what @judd said, but he beat me to it.

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