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T.S. Eliot declared that Ulysses was a masterpiece because it demonstrated the futility of all prior literary styles. Indeed, the episodes of “Oxen of the Sun” and “Aeolus” could be taken as challenging primers on English style and rhetoric. This kaleidoscopic potential is seemingly reduced to a stark black-and-white vision in “Nausicaa.” As many critics have pointed out, Joyce stylizes Gerty MacDowell’s half of the narrative with a saccharine veneer which euphemizes her sexual encounter (itself a distanced and euphemized rendezvous) with Bloom. The first-time reader and seasoned critics alike are led into sneering at Gerty behind the safety of the author’s overt critique of her superficiality; only when Joyce reveals the psychological origin of her constant evasion – her lame leg, a condition which is only hinted at until Bloom notices it post-climax – are the first seeds of pity sown in the reader’s mind. The audience’s appreciation of Gerty’s “defect” grows “ten times worse” (301) in light of Bloom’s uncharacteristically cavalier and scurrilous attitude towards a fellow outsider in which he, too, is guilty of his own brand of sexual evasion. As the reader implicitly identifies Bloom’s rather heartless outlook with his own, he compensates for his initial condemnation of Gerty’s character by sentimentalizing her with a Dickensian gloss – and thus is held as culpable of evasion as the episode’s heroine and hero. Joyce’s manipulation of his audience’s expectations is never deployed through explicit moralizing but through his parallactic style (a concept distinct from the stylistic cornucopia present elsewhere in the novel), a shifting mode through which he questions the objectivity of sentiment.
Euphemism, linguistic and otherwise, is the most obvious form of evasion throughout “Nausicaa.” But the root of Gerty’s flowery language runs deeper than simple women’s-magazine parody. The ambiguous tension between romanticization and shame-avoidance clouds the first half of the narrative, even before Gerty has been introduced. After Cissy Caffrey coaxes the words ” – A jink a jink a jawbo” out of the baby, Joyce continues the baby-talk alliteration: “Cissy Caffrey cuddled the wee chap” (284). Cissy later chides her two other brothers for fighting: “And you, Jacky, for shame to throw poor Tommy in the dirt sand” (285). “Shame” is the operative word here; the conservative narrative dispenses only negations and puns on prostitution: “His little man-o’-war top and unmentionables were full of sand but Cissy was a past mistress in the art of smoothing over life’s tiny troubles” (285). The cause of Tommy’s own thrice-repeated cry of “Nao,” a negation which recalls the cat’s “Mkgnao” (45) and Molly’s “Mn” (46) of “Calypso,” is incontinence, an act so shameful it must be hidden from Bloom’s view: “CissyÃ,,-whispered to Edy Boardman to take him there behind the pushcar where the gentleman couldn’t see and to mind he didn’t wet his new tan shoes” (285).
Underneath the hyperbolic surface, Joyce exercises great restraint when dropping faint clues to Gerty’s lameness. When the children’s ball falls by her feet, Gerty is forced to kick it away and the narrative voice merges with hers: “Gerty drew back her foot but she wished their stupid ball hadn’t come rolling down to her and she gave a kick but she missed and Edy and Cissy laughed” (292). Gerty – or Joyce, whoever is controlling the voice here – doesn’t detail any further why “A delicate pink crept into her pretty cheek” (292) after her missed kick; the decision not to succumb to self-pity concerning her lameness is the product of a stoicism we are initially unequipped to attribute to Gerty, or is obscured by her omnipresent shame which manifests itself later in the paragraph (when induced by Bloom’s gaze): “She felt the warm flush, a danger signal always with Gerty MacDowell, surging and flaming into her cheeks” (292). Her blushing itself serves a similarly dual purpose, attracting Bloom as coquettish make-up and exteriorizing her juvenile embarrassment. Joyce prompts a dissection of his/Gerty’s heightened prose when she first acknowledges her lameness (without ever specifically defining it):
Art thou real, my ideal, it was called by Louis J Walsh, Magherafelt, and after there was something about twilight, wilt thou ever, and ofttimes the beauty of poetry, so sad in its transient loveliness, had misted her eyes with silent tears for she felt that the years were slipping by for her, one by one, and but for that one shortcoming she knew she need fear no competition and that was an accident coming down Dalkey hill and she always tried to conceal it. (298)
Joyce’s subtextual wordplays and rhymes are masterful in this extended sentence, one whose subject and rhythm correspond to her limping gait. “Wilt,” of course, also means “To cause to become limp” (OED, 3.2a), and plays off the sound (and a reordering of the first four letters) of the romantic “twilight.” The real versus ideal dilemma posed by Walsh receives reinforcement from the rhymes or half-rhymes throughout: real/ideal/tears/years/hill/conceal. The ideal is the sweeping language of the first half of the sentence, and the real is the awkward run-on phrasing of the remainder. As a synopsis for Gerty’s questioning of Bloom throughout the episode, her lofty and idealized self-indulgence also butts against the very real and hastily delivered admission of her “one shortcoming.” We now slightly recant our impression of Gerty and are made to group her as another of the novel’s many outsiders, a status that is difficult not to sentimentalize. The relative weight of her mysterious ailment is still too minimal compared to her superficial prose, however, to warrant our full sympathy. Nevertheless, the poetic, if hackneyed, language of “Nausicaa” does provide great relief from the previous oppressive atmosphere of “The Cyclops” and spurs an identification with Gerty away from which the reader reluctantly turns – we both detest and delight in the liberal and sensuous prose. Only later, when the familiarity of Bloom’s vulgarity becomes unbearable, does Joyce allow the reader any potential room to disavow his connection with Bloom and favor Gerty.
But it is still not so easy to choose sides in “Nausicaa.” The recognition of his recent cuckolding impedes Bloom’s merriment in both his masturbatory and literary conquests and redeems him for the reader. However crass he may be, his bare, critical introspection is compensatory enough for the reader, who remains aware of the undercurrent of sexual anxiety in all of Bloom’s thoughts. He wonders about the coincidence between his stopped watch and that afternoon’s tryst: “Funny my watch stopped at half past fourÃ,,-Was that just when he, she? O, he did. Into her. She did. Done” (303). The fragmented sentences are typical of Bloom’s self-censorship of unpleasant issues, but his cry of “O” inverts the euphoric and orgasmic repetition of “O” during the fireworks: “And then a rocket sprang and bang shot blind blank and O! then the Roman candle burst and it was like a sigh of O! and everyone cried O! O!” (300) Bloom similarly negates the “O,” perhaps worth noting as Elizabethan allusion to the vagina, after he notes Gerty’s lameness: “Tight boots? No. She’s lame! O!” (301) Bloom’s causes for evasion from love are many; his interrupted scrawl in the sand of “I. AM. A” (312) can, in the context of the episode, gain some significance in the Latinate root of ama-, or love. Bloom’s diminished capacity for love finds its simile in the staying power of evanescent sand: “Mr Bloom effaced the letters with his slow boot. Hopeless thing sand. Nothing grows in it. All fades. No fear of big vessels coming up here” (312). The vessel is a symbolic constant throughout Ulysses for the woman’s body, and Bloom’s evasion from bodily intimacy throughout “Nausicaa” (where even writing fails him, unlike in previous erotic “encounters”) pivots around the centrality of the masculine gaze as a detached and alienated form of intercourse.
Joyce abandons his subtle description of Gerty’s leg and exaggerates the episode’s treatment of eyes and their spatially opposed purpose of assimilating external information while applying it internally, usually to self-centered use. Edy’s “shortsighted” or “squinty” eyes are brought up three times (285, 287, 295) as evidence for her jealousy, unattractiveness, and inability to project; conversely, Gerty’s beautiful eyes, given to equally beautiful projections, are praised as “a charm few could resist” (286). Even when she is seemingly left alone, Joyce makes it clear that her gaze is always reciprocated: “Gerty MacDowell who was seated near her companions, lost in thought, gazing far away into the distance was, in very truth, as fair a specimen of winsome Irish girlhood as one could wish to see” (285-286). Gerty’s receptive role as a magnified “specimen” confers on her a distorted sense of autoerotism (or in Gerty’s euphemized case, auto-emotion-ism) rooted in her eyes: “Her very soul is in her eyes and she would give worlds to be in the privacy of her own familiar chamber where, giving way to tears, she could have a good cry and relieve her pentup feelings though not too much because she knew how to cry nicely in front of a mirror” (288). Like Martha’s malapropian dislike of “that other world” (63), Gerty’s “worlds” are a nexus of the public and private; nothing about Gerty’s internal world, not even her vision, is entirely self-directed (unlike Bloom who, at times, hardly exists outside his head). This doesn’t detract from the potency of her eyes – Bloom’s self-appraisal shows his insecurity in receiving the gaze: “Saw something in me. Wonder whatÃ,,-Ought to attend to my appearance. Didn’t let her see me in profile. Still, you never know. Pretty girls and ugly men marrying” (302). “In profile” – is Bloom hiding his Jewishness? That Gerty is the cyclopean Citizen’s granddaughter – “the photograph of grandpapa Giltrap’s lovely dog Garryowen” (289) – only heightens the irony that, even with her two perfect eyes, Gerty has little depth perception. Still, at times Gerty somehow knows details of Bloom’s life without seeing them, and at other times is completely oblivious. This polarity lies at the heart of her romanticization of their encounter, as she (and Joyce) places Bloom and herself into alternating categories of opposition.
Gerty’s parallactic perceptions of Bloom are remarkable, often allowing for adjustment in a single phrase. She correctly identifies Bloom through his countenance as a “foreigner,” but is unable to determine “whether he had an aquiline nose or a slightly retrouss” (293). If Bloom is hiding his profile for religious reasons, Gerty is certainly confused: “Even if he was a protestant or methodist she could convert him easily if he truly loved her” (293). Later, however, she gains petty satisfaction from the fact that Edy is out of contention for Bloom’s attention because of her outsider status, social or sexual – the one supposed link, albeit tenuous, between Bloom and Gerty herself: “Ã,,-and they both knew that [Edy] was something aloof, apart, in another sphere, that she was not of them and never would be and there was somebody else too that knew it and saw it” (297). The reader cycles between astonishment at Gerty’s sixth sense and contempt for her blind insensitivity. Just as she is referred to as a “girlwoman” and then as a “womanly woman” (293), Gerty amalgamates Bloom’s role as both the somewhat effete tragic hero “in deep mourning” (293) and the aggressive bermensch: “Then mayhap he would embrace her gently, like a real man, crushing her soft body to him, and love her, his ownest girlie, for herself alone” (294). The dichotomy of gentleness and crushing is further stratified by the ambiguous sense of possession – the phrases “his ownest” and “for herself alone” suggest Gerty’s conflicting desire for selfish subjugation. That she shares her name with Hamlet’s appetitive mother and has “a languid queenly hauteur” seems to cast Bloom in two roles, as both the cuckolded King Hamlet and the adulterous Claudius. Our perception of him is similarly divided, with sympathy for his failing marriage but disapproval for his seduction of a young girl.
Joyce toys with these oppositions in the entr’acte between Gerty’s and Bloom’s narrative halves. The narration veers towards Bloom’s mind at first: “A fair unsullied soul had called to him and, wretch that he was, how had he answered? An utter cad he had been!” (300) Though in the third person, these sentences may very well be in Bloom’s head. But the authorial voice is again fractured: “Should a girl tell? No, a thousand times no. That was their secret, only theirs” (301). Perhaps Gerty is wondering if she should reveal her secret to anyone – the girlish confirmation of “only theirs” validates this claim – but the question may also be borne from Bloom’s sudden panic that he will be discovered. The perspectival splintering is not exclusive to Gerty and Bloom. Gerty’s contention that “she felt instinctively that he was like no-one else” may be true in Bloom’s case, but her embellishment to fit her own selfish needs contrasts with Molly’s generalized view of Bloom during his proposal: “I thought as well him as another” (643-644). Molly refuses to endow Bloom with the uniqueness she knows exists, but her motivation for accepting him makes her stubbornness more palatable and honest: “yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is” (643).
Gerty’s sentimentally evasive reasons for accepting Bloom’s visual proposition are countered, as usual, by similar evasions on Bloom’s part, justifications that extend deep into taboo and both titillate and disturb the reader. Immediately after Bloom makes his obligatory comment of “Poor girl!” (301) as he does for Dignam and any other unfortunate creature, he allows his fade to fall: “Glad I didn’t know it when she was on show. Hot little devil all the same. I wouldn’t mind” (301). His thoughts then run the gamut from his generalizations of women to explicit sexuality to Molly – all retreats from the fact that he just masturbated in the presence of a seventeen-year-old. Yet these are difficult passages for the reader to ignore. The graphic content that courses through the episode excites us as much as it does Bloom, and we find ways to separate ourselves from him. Joyce twice triangulates paragraphs of the sexual encounter, the temperance litany backdrop, and the children at play (292, 294) as a means of exposing evasion in its simplest terms in hopes that the reader will recognize similar escapism in himself.
Ultimately, the motive behind evasion must remain somewhat unclear, at least for Bloom. When he thinks back on his decidedly evasive action from violence in Barney Kiernan’s, he reminds himself of the necessity for perspectival inclusion:
“Mistake to hit back. Or? No. Ought to go home and laugh at themselves. Always want to be swilling in company. Afraid to be alone like a child of two. Suppose he hit me. Look at it other way round. Not so bad then. Perhaps not to hurt he meant. Three cheers for Israel.” (311)
Bloom’s mollification of the Citizen’s undoubtedly hostile remark may spring from either cowardice or his underlying sense of humanity, depending on how one takes it. And that parallactic means of interpretation is what “Nausicaa” requires – not only for interpreting the text, but for interpreting our interpretation. We, after all, are the ultimate voyeurs in an episode of purely visual interaction. To commit our literary resources to uncovering the work alone, and not ourselves, is yet another instrument of evasion.
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