Martello tower, photo by Erik Simpson

Staten, Henry. "The Decomposing Form of Joyce’s Ulysses." PMLA 112, no. 3 (May 1, 1997): 380–92.

Related topics:

Bodies
Creation and Making
Ingestion and Excretion
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Religion
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Sports and Competition
The Unspoken
Yes and No

Staten centers his argument on the outhouse scene at the end of "Calypso" (U 4) in which Bloom uses a page from Titbits to wipe himself. Staten argues that this scene encapsulates a "realist mimesis" that Joyce conceives of through "the isomorphism of two decompositional series, one involving language, and the other the body" (380). In other words, the deconstruction of language at its most extreme mirrors the decomposition of the body through digestion. Joyce sees these two series as being simultaneous and unified, and Ulysses enacts that indistinction between creation and dissolution of form, the "becoming-formless of form, that is central to both" (381). Staten presents onomatopoeia as a figure for "the abyss into which mimesis falls" (381), whereby the singular mark of an object—the Aristotelian eidos, or what Joyce calls "the [signature] of all things" (U 3.2)—is rendered into language. He points to the printing press in the "Aeolus" episode (U 7) as a symbol of how the translation of eidos into the substance of print marks the point at which the soul must surrender its spontaneity and vitality in order to be legible. Staten frames this process as a cycle of ingestion and excretion, a somewhat autocannibalistic act, inherent in any attempt to translate thought into language. All of these phenomena set off an "anxiety of individuation" (381) that manifests itself in Bloom's fears of death and romantic infidelity, both of which animate a uniquely human anxiety that we are "eminently contingent and replaceable" (387). Staten locates this fear at the core of Bloom's relationship with Molly, an "abyss of erotic anxiety" akin to the decomposing individual. He points specifically to the final lines of the book wherein Molly recollects accepting Bloom's proposal, because it is "well as well him as another" (U 18.1604-5). Her decision to choose Bloom as a singular romantic partner is motivated by a reasoning that denies his uniqueness, a paradoxical structure enacted by and enabling the text's decompositional mechanism.

Citations and Related Sources

Attridge, Derek. Peculiar Language: Literature as Difference from the Renaissance to James Joyce. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988.
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, Arnold V. Miller, and J.N. Findlay. Phenomenology of Spirit. Oxford: Clarendon, 1977.
Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1978.
Lawrence, Karen. "Legal Fiction or Pulp Fiction in ‘Lestrygonians.’" In Ulysses En-Gendered Perspectives: Eighteen New Essays on the Episodes, edited by Kimberly J. Devlin and Marilyn Reizbaum. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999.

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