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  • "Beggaring Description":Politics and Style in Joyce's "Eumaeus"
  • Karen R. Lawrence (bio)

The "Eumaeus" chapter of Ulysses inaugurates the nostos or final section of Joyce's novel. It represents the one a.m. wanderings of Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom after they escape from nighttown and seek refuge in the cabman's shelter. In the logic of the plot, there is a kind of recuperation here, represented in the first sentence by Bloom's "preparatory" action of brushing off the shavings from Stephen's shoulder and "buck[ing] him up generally in orthodox Samaritan fashion" (16.2-3).1 It is as if the intense psycho-sexual drama of "Circe" were traded, with relief, for a more comfortable outing in the male world of cabman's shelters and almost deserted Dublin streets, the psychic depths charted earlier replaced by strictly surface transportation. (The art of the chapter, according to Joyce's schema, is navigation.) The "Bloom" of "Circe," in all his pantomimic glory and shame, is now dignified with his original title in the narrative, "Mr. Bloom." One could say that the narrative is engaged in regaining a sense of bourgeois respectability.

The narrative, then, offers linguistic respite as well as geographic refuge. For the place of refuge is also a commonplace; the narrative contains a host of well-worn clichés. Nostos means homecoming; hence, the [End Page 355] word "nostalgia." I have written previously that the language of the chapter represents the "public, anonymous 'voice of culture' . . . a transpersonal repository of received ideas" (168). But this Flaubertian notion of received ideas bears further scrutiny. What is the socioeconomic terrain of the commonplace? To whom is it common? What are the investments of canvasser and poet in speaking or trying to evade this discourse? In "Eumaeus" Joyce shows us how language interpellates (to use Althusser's word) political subjects. The dominant cultural "voice" of "Eumaeus" mimes the hegemony of middle-class ideology and bourgeois common sense. The discourse of bourgeois productivity underwrites much of the narrative, an extension of, but not limited to, Bloom's own preoccupation with utility and profit. This ethic of productivity, summed up in Bloom's vision of Ireland as a country "Where you can live well, the sense is, if you work" (16.1139-1140), is woven into the narrative in a tissue of economic idioms of accounting and investment. But the discourse of "Eumaeus" demonstrates the way ideology conceals contradictions in colonial Ireland; the commonplaces mask economic and political divisions beneath their universalizing rhetoric. "Calypso"'s art is economy, referring to the domestic economy of the Blooms; "Eumaeus" represents complexities of the Irish political economy. Jew and poet are seen as part of the weave of this socioeconomic fabric, even in their alienation. It is curious that recent critical interest in the politics and ideology of style has not yet inspired detailed discussion of this pivotal chapter. I will argue that in the play (and work) of the narrative of "Eumaeus," Joyce constructs an anatomy of socioeconomic identifications and divisions at the turn of the century in Ireland.

By focusing on the socioeconomic terrain of the language, we can recast questions of identity in the chapter, which have received much deserved critical attention, into the terms of social identifications. Emphasis then falls on a kind of social mapping in "Eumaeus," by which characters are placed in relation to an economy of production. In a largely sympathetic review of Ulysses in 1937, the British Marxist Alick West complained that the book shows no sign of productive activity, no work or workers: "Joyce shows . . . little of the relations of production. There are no disputes between employers and labour, no struggle for wages, no strikes" (120). But, paradoxically, in this desultory chapter, work is a central concern. From Stephen's question to Bloom about the reason why chairs are put on tables (to sweep under the table) to Gumley's sleeping on the job ("evidently a glutton for work," Bloom surmises), labor leaves its traces. And twice we are reminded that Thursday, June 16, is payday.2 The "disputes" West calls for are implied in the chapter-there [End Page 356] are signs of overwork...


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