Thursday, August 30, 2007

Richard Pearce (ed.) "Molly Blooms": Review

"A Polylogue on 'Penelope' & Cultural Studies" (U. of Wisconsin, 1994), gathers twelve articles by various literary critics exploring the ultimate chapter of James Joyce's "Ulysses." Kathleen McCormick surveys the reactions to Molly's chapter over the past century, from outrage to awe, from shock to praise, and finds that each decade reflects in its reception the unsurprising fact that the social mores, intellectual currents, and scholarly understanding of Joyce's bravura eight sentences and thousands of words that provide Molly with her scripted thoughts provide a mirror into the changing attitudes of earth mother or shameless hussy that have polarized much of 20c response to her performance. Pearce follows with a brave if awkward attempt by a "male feminist" to transcend the "male gaze" to scrutinize how we look at Molly, especially if male critics, even as his essay is inevitably, like Joyce's, framed by such a gender-constructed and linguistically daring but role-bound limitation.

The performative aspect of Molly's recital provides its own "star turn," what Joyce proffered as the 'clou', the closing act to bring down the curtain after Poldy went to bed, inverted next to her, and his own narrative ended with a big (or small?) black period. Cheryl Herr's analysis confronts the chapter as Molly's "period piece" with the multiple meanings this phrase carries. Herr, building upon her work in the 1986 'Joyce's Anatomy of Culture,' emphasizes the staginess of the drama-- which is not a stream of consciousness in its pauses addresses to the audience, role-playing, and although a monologue, it is a text and a speaker aware that the chapter plays with the melodramatic conventions of 1904 Dublin.Therefore, Molly acts out her role, yet she speaks her lines while holding back total revelation. Herr even argues that Molly's menstruation, seemingly the undeniable sign of the character's female self, remains in Joyce's portrayal "playacting." We can never truly know Molly, Herr insists. Mrs Marion Bloom sticks as an Irish citizen and a woman, to a "script forced on her." (78) Inside, she holds her secrets, keeping her interior feelings hidden from their external expression in the closing pages of Joyce's exploitative media.

Kimberly Devlin follows by contrasting masquerade with mimicry, as if Marilyn Monroe were set alongside Madonna the singer for contemporary analogies. Devlin argues Molly's closer to Ms. Ciccone in her willful appropriation. Carol Schloss raises the issue of colonialism with marriage, Susan Bazargan explores the Gibraltar aspects of Molly's memories, and Brian Shaffer employs Bakhtin. These three essays lack the inventiveness of Herr's contribution, but remain organized, cogent, and of interest to cultural studies scholars. Joseph Heinenger nears Herr's earlier work in contexts within which Joyce placed the novel by examining advertising language of the actual products peddled which Molly uses; Jennifer Wicke matches this with a dense, rather theoretically dependent article that enters the realm of consumption and the place not only of Molly but ourselves as consumers of these works. This essay, by the way, finds in the second ed. (2005; reviewed by me also here & on Amazon US) of the Cambridge Companion to James Joyce a counterpart in Wicke's longer piece on this topic; similarly, Garry Leonard-- another fine contributor to the CCJJ, on Dubliners-- here in Pearce's collection provides a spirited Lacanian look at the erotics of shopping, display, and performance. I particularly liked his close reading of Molly's decision not to return her "laddered" stockings before she meets Boylan as an example of pre-coital as opposed to post-coital shopping!

The book closes with Margaret Mills Harper on drapery in both the Odyssey & the chapter, and Ewa Zietek's ambitious study of technology, memory and "the female body." Again, while some essays, notably Herr & Leonard, stood out from the rest personally, this remains a solid anthology of in-depth investigations of Molly's enigmatic, shape-shifting, and fittingly masked and webbed persona(e).
Dated a bit by references to the Real Roxanne, Imelda Marcos, and "Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous," nevertheless the ties that continue to be made to the media of a century ago employed by Joyce and that through which you read my comments today show that Molly indeed transcends the time and place that she ineluctably remains tied to so vividly for us a century hence. She is part of the "transparent showcart" Bloom ad man imagined with "two smart girls" rolled through Dublin, hawking yet another cultural studies artifact to sell to us.

(Image: Festival de Occidente, Venezuela, Maria Fernanda Ferra's single-laddered stocking performance 2006: "La noche de Molly Bloom.")

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