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  • Framing Rudy and Photography1
  • R. Brandon Kershner (bio)

“Bloo? Cadges ads. Photo’s papli, by all that’s gorgeous.”

(U 14.1535)

As Bloom meditatively stands guard over the recumbent Stephen at the end of “Circe,” “[a]gainst the dark wall a figure appears slowly” (U 15.4956–57). In a chapter of apparitions, hallucinations, materializations, epiphanies, transformations, and wholesale arrivals from nowhere, this appearance is unique. Rudy (for it is he) stands as a coda to the remainder of the episode, a sort of clou to “Circe” much as “Penelope” is a clou to the book as a whole; but where Molly, when she finally speaks, speaks endlessly, Rudy never breaks his charmed silence. What might he say, as a returned spirit from “that other world”? As a “changeling” captured by fairies, eleven years resident under the hill? Surely his message would be more enlightening than Paddy Dignam’s news about all the mod. cons. available to those who have “passed over.” But unfortunately Rudy, like us, is engaged in his reading, evidently of the Torah, and seems not even to see Bloom. Perhaps, like Stephen, he has in any case outgrown his father and is now effectively of a higher social class, as the Eton suit suggests. Such matters must be possible in Tir na n’Og, even for the son of a Jew.

But what sort of apparition is this? Remember, Bloom is so “wonderstruck” at it that he loses his voice and cannot call his son’s name aloud, whereas he has earlier taken the appearance of the End of the World, not to mention of his own dead father and grandfather, pretty much in stride. I want to suggest a metaphor generated not by the literary or the psychological context of the episode but by the broader cultural context of the late nineteenth century. We are accustomed to reading “Circe” as an episode in which men are turned subhuman by a sorceress or, alternately, as one in which the buried desires and fears of Bloom and Stephen take on substantial form. Without abandoning these contexts, I want to suggest that we view the appearance of Rudy as a photograph. To put it another way, I am suggesting that to the degree that Bloom, consciously or not, participates in the appearance of Rudy, he does so out of a context of practices and conventions that surrounded the popular art form of photography and its iconography. [End Page 265]

From its beginnings, photography as a social construct has been framed in two divergent ways. On the one hand, the photograph has been received as an objective guarantor of appearances, the undeniable testimony to factuality that makes a momentary visual appearance eternal. It gives us the superhuman ability to examine a broad visual field at our leisure. Emile Zola, the leading ideologue of literary realism and an enthusiastic photographer, asserted in 1901 that “you cannot claim to have really seen something until you have photographed it.” 2 From this perspective, the photographer is presumed to be unimportant, and the camera is assumed simply to replicate the human act of seeing, although unconstrained by the limited degree and span of attention available to humans.

On the other hand, photography from the first was also clearly something more or other than a replica of seeing. At the most obvious level, its unique mechanics and processes were reflected in the photographic image. Eugène Atget’s portraits of Parisian streets, because of the long exposures which his plates required, captured a deserted early-morning urban vista that few Parisians had seen before. The simple fact of long exposure times also meant that for a long while it was difficult to photograph children and even more difficult to give the impression of action in a photograph. Photographic portraiture thus first became an exercise in static iconography long before the advent of the snapshot altered its dynamic possibilities. In place of the potential for meaning implicit in action and movement, the Victorian photograph tended to fill up the available semiotic space with a wealth of symbols. Rudy’s elaborately detailed appearance in his materialization at the end of “Circe,” as he takes...

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pp. 265-290
Launched on MUSE
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