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The critical cliché of the autonomous aesthetic modernist object has long since been displaced by the historical examination of modernism as theory and practice. However, critics have too often seemed compelled to choose between the Scylla of cultural criticism and the Charybdis of aesthetic experience.1 In one, the work of art appears as a relic of privilege, wilfully detached from social history and significant only insofar as details of the world can be read through the work; in the other, the work of art is accountable only to itself and its own aesthetic tradition.2 Yet as Stephen Daedalus demonstrates of Shakespeare in Joyce's most ambitiously historical work, Ulysses, history is grist to the artist's mill; the work of art is both deeply implicated in the historic moment and asserts a critical difference from it.3 The nature of that difference has become a preoccupation for a more recent return to problems of aesthetics.4 How do we bridge the difference between the aesthetic and the historical, between the world of the novel and the world the novel claims to represent, without reducing the novel to a simple historical artefact or reifying it into a transcendentally aesthetic object? How do writers like Joyce mediate between word and world, both asserting autonomy and maintaining connection?5

A small moment in the "Ithaca" chapter of Ulysses dramatizes the encounter between the real world and the world of the novel, even as it challenges the rigidity of that distinction. Bloom turns on a tap to fill a teakettle. The narrator asks of the water, "Did it flow?," and instead of then simply presenting an answer to that question, traces the water back through the pipes all the way to its source.6 By doing so, Joyce rejects the imaginary spectacle [End Page 853] of water coming from the tap as a creation ex nihilo and the autonomy of the literary work, and insists on tracing the object back to its origins—an origin that, like a drop of water in the ocean, ultimately dissolves into itself and is untraceable. This essay will not attempt the Herculean task of charting all of the mentions of waste and water in Ulysses, a task akin to mucking out the Augean stables or draining the sea. Instead, I will examine evocations of water and waste in Ulysses—inflows and outflows—as a means of exploring the elusive interplay between world and word, between the historical pipes and privies of turn of the century Dublin and the imagined ones of Joyce's text. Water and waste are not simply tropes for aesthetic production in Joyce's work, although this is one of their functions. Treating water and waste solely as a reflexive metaphor detaches them from historic referent and source, and I argue that when Joyce contemplates both of these forms he is speculating on the relationship between aesthetics and history, between artistic and social production. Joyce limns the outlines of a world where something always comes from something else, a world that leads us back, like water through pipes, to an origin both beckoning and necessarily elusive.

Ulysses tends to reject the idea of an original product, or a product without history, and instead embeds both the subjects and objects of the world in the history of their origin, their making, and their repeated iterations.7 The sourcing of the water from the tap to the Roundwood reservoir is symptomatic of the historical insistence of the text. Water does not merely flow from a tap; it comes through pipes and tanks, a subterranean system of delivery that creates the illusion of water appearing from nothing. In general, Ulysses as text insists that nothing comes from nothing and emphasizes the materiality of the tactile, lived world. Despite the novel's numerous and heralded departures from realism, this emphasis on material, origin, and source constitutes a sophisticated variant on realist technique, one that not only insists that the novel's characters, like us, need to go to the bathroom and buy their breakfast, but also that we live in a world in which objects, like novels, tend to have their origins occluded. Joyce responds to this tendency with an emphasis on the material qualities of object and text. If you want a kidney for breakfast you need to go to the store and buy it; if you purchase a bar of soap and slip it in your pocket, its smell stays with you the entire day. And if you want to write a modern epic, you have the reservoir of Western (and a sprinkling of Eastern) tradition and literature to draw upon, as well as the trusty Thom's Dublin Directory, the source of Joyce's information on the water source of Dublin.

As Robert Adams Day points out, "Ulysses is in a state of saturation" (12). Not only is, as again Day writes, "realistic fiction about Dublin bound to have rivers and canals in it" (12), but Joyce appropriates what Day terms the AquaCities of his native city for the verbal, metaphorical, and material flows of his text. Water becomes a kind of master metaphor for the economies of circulation of the novel.8 Flow is also central to the material elements to which the book returns again and again: it evokes river, canal, and ocean, water and urine, semen, and finally menstrual blood. Water exemplifies the protean transmigrations so crucial to the novel's themes and structures; the ode to water mentions its many metamorphoses and, with a wink to the reader, "its infallibility as paradigm and paragon" (Joyce 549). But, as Derek Attridge argues in his [End Page 854] discussion of Molly's flow, critical attention to "flow" in Ulysses has too often lapsed into ahistorical romantic readings that do not always take into account the historical complexity of the text. In relation to Molly's monologue, Attridge demonstrates that the "freeflow" of her internal monologue is anything but free; he argues that the both the syntax and preoccupations of her monologue are surprisingly conventional, and that they draw attention to the historical limitations and preoccupations of women in early twentieth-century Dublin rather than personifying some essential and essentializing vision of écriture féminine. He writes:

It is possible, that is, to read Ulysses as a text in which, on the one hand, the cultural stereotype of the female flow is foregrounded, literalized, demystified, and parodied; while on the other a more potent ungendered flow—or set of flows—operates throughout the text to erode the cultural and ideological barriers between the sexes.

(Attridge 112)

The water supply is a similarly potent flow which, rather than eroding the barriers between the sexes, erodes the boundary between the natural and cultural, the city and the country, the communal and the privately owned. The seemingly conventional and prosaic tour of the Dublin water supply has often been overshadowed by the subsequent protean, near-ecstatic ode to water, where Bloom "waterlover, drawer of water, watercarrier" admires water for qualities ranging from its mythic implications to its physical mutability. While other critics have emphasized the aesthetic and metaphoric implications of water in Joyce's corpus, I want instead to juxtapose this euphoric flow of ideas with the earlier, more mundane flow of the water through the pipes of early twentieth-century Dublin as Bloom turns on his tap.

To return to the passage under discussion: after the keyless Bloom breaks into his own home in the penultimate chapter of Ulysses, he performs a few acts of hospitality for his guest, Stephen Daedalus. He draws up two chairs, lights a fire in the grate, and finally Bloom turns on the kitchen tap to fetch water to boil in his kettle. What happens when he does this is quite amazing: the water flows. This may not seem particularly impressive or surprising, either on Joyce's part or on Bloom's. The fact that water flows when we turn on a tap meets rather than jars our expectations. However, by calling attention to this mundane action Joyce points us to the possibility that water will not flow, raising the spectre of impediment in the text. He also foregrounds the effect of realism of the novel, in which taps are turned on and water flows, as well as the possibility that the novel will not behave like the world. Thus, neatly and at once, the novel employs realist conventions but by emphasizing them, calls their reliability into question. Finally, the question highlights the near miraculous and immediate quality of contemporary life, where water appears from taps rather than laboriously being carried from wells.

Frederic Jameson gestures towards this passage at the end of his famous essay "Ulysses in History," writing, "to the vitalist ideology of Molly's better known final affirmation, I tend to prefer this one" (141). Jameson favours this passage because it rejects the reified, disconnected logic of capitalism and instead re-inserts human labour [End Page 855] and production. The objects of the city are traced back "less to its origins in nature, than to the transformation of Nature by human and collective praxis deconcealed" (140). Tracing water from the pipes in turn traces an entire, often hidden, realm of human activity and need. As opposed to the later passage, which begins the Ode to Water celebrating "Its universality" (Joyce 549), water is anything but universal here; it belongs to a particular time, place, and mode of passage, is measured and collected, transmitted and received. It can be measured by the distance it travels, by the cost of the pipes that carry it—finally, by its cost to the city and its residents. The "yes" of the passage—here flat and affirmative, rather than ecstatic and abandoned, as it will be at the end of Molly's monologue—is elaborated, at length, for the reader:

Yes. From Roundwood reservoir in County Wicklow of a cubic capacity of 2400 million gallons, percolating through a subterranean aqueduct of filter mains of single and double pipeage constructed at an initial plant cost of 5 per linear yard by way of the Dargle, Rathdown, glen of the Downs and Callowhill to the 26 acre reservoir at Stillorgan, a distance of 22 statute miles, and thence, through a system of relieving tanks, by a gradient of 250 feet to the city boundary at Eustace bridge, upper Leeson street.

(Joyce 548)

This is a description that would suit an engineer.9 Still, as unadorned and seemingly literal as the description is, it does seem to retain a certain pleasure in appropriating a largely technical language for a literary text. Both "Roundwood Reservoir" and "cubic capacity" have not only an alliterative but also a nearly onomatopoeic resonance. More commonly known as the prosaic Vartry waterworks, Roundwood reservoir fills the mouth in a way that evokes depth and moisture, an effect that certainly would have been deliberate for a writer so famously sensitive to sound. Percolating comes as a surprising verb in the second clause, bringing us back to the kettle on Bloom's stove and creating a kind of double focus in the text, where we see both the kitchen and the countryside that lies far beyond it. The passage also glories in the place-names of the surrounding countryside, names that carry their own mystique even as they are evoked almost in passing. They shimmer, half-claimed, on the edges of the narrative. One can only imagine Joyce's delight in a name like "Stillorgan." The effect is reminiscent of the paper flowers opening in water at the end of the Overture in Marcel Proust's Du Côté de Chez Swann; the countryside opens up, flowers as it is named, though fleetingly. Indeed, in the urban landscape that Joyce charts, food and water are the links to the surrounding countryside. The milkwoman provokes in Stephen a thought that is the closest the text gets to pastoral, "Old and secret she had entered from a morning world, maybe a messenger. She praised the goodness of the milk, pouring it out. Crouching by a patient cow at daybreak in the lush field" (Joyce 12). County Wicklow, known as the garden of Ireland, supplies the city with water and sustenance; Dublin responds with waste, excess, subterfuge, greed, as we will see in the continuation of the passage. Even as the water supply is traced and contextualized, Dublin finds its context in a larger Ireland.

Joyce's decision to trace the waterworks is particularly interesting because waterworks have always been the sign and the condition of advanced development in an [End Page 856] urban context. As Dora P. Crouch writes, "Attention to water supply and drainage is the sine qua non for urbanization, and hence for that human condition we call civilization" (19). Sextus Julius Frontinus' treatise on the aqueducts of first century Rome, De Aquis provides both a stylistic model and an exalted precedent for Joyce's digression into the waterways. Frontinus claims the Aqueducts of Rome as the most advanced products of an advanced civilization, and distinguishes between their monumental utility and other, lesser, purely aesthetic achievements. "Will anybody compare the idle Pyramids, or these other useless though much renowned works of the Greeks, with these aqueducts, with these many indispensable structures?" (19). Frontinus lays out the elements of his examination, "I will first put down the names of the waters which are brought to the city of Rome; then by what persons, and under what consuls, and in what year . . . how far they were carried in underground channels . . . how much each aqueduct brings" (5). We see Joyce similarly naming the waters, their passage, and their volume. Frontinus' catalogue, informative and exalting in turn, is the first to lay out the elements of a city's water system in great detail, but it also acts as a microhistory of the use of water in Rome, as a legal text, and in brief moments, as an encomium. Cities, Frontinus seems to argue, live or die according to the integrity of their water supply; the waterworks are the most significant monuments of a great civilization, and indeed, form an element of the conditions of production of other great works of art.

We might trace the preoccupation with water supply back even further, to the ancient Greeks. In Homer's Odyssey, after Odysseus has returned to Ithaca but does not recognize his homeland because Athene has "poured a mist over all" (13; 190), Athene identifies Ithaca as a country with "watering places good through the seasons" (13; 247). Later in the narrative when Odysseus approaches the city, the narrator pauses at the city's fountain and enters into a brief description of its appearance and origin:

Now as they went down over the stony road, and were coming Close to the city, and had arrived at the fountain, sweet-running And made of stone; and there the townspeople went for their water; Ithakos had made this, and Neritos, and Polyktor; And around it was a grove of black poplars, trees that grow by Water, all in a circle, and there was cold water pouring Down from the rock above; over it had been built an altar Of the nymphs, and there all the wayfarers made their sacrifice


The fountain marks the border of and entrance to the city. The fountain's architects are invoked by name, and thereby honoured in the text, and the fountain itself represents a convergence of natural, man-made, and religious forces. It fills a practical, social, and ritual function, and will soon prove the location of Odysseus' altercation with Melanthios the goatherd. As he sees Odysseus unjustly attacked, Eumaios offers a brief prayer to the nymphs of the fountain. Fritz Senn points to this brief digression, and notes, "Intertextually, Joyce's prolonged pause by the wayside flows out of the Ithacan springs" (56). The flow of water in the text is also historical in this sense, since it runs not only forward but backward to acknowledge its predecessors. [End Page 857]

Turn-of-the-century Dublin was behind many of the other great European cities in sewage disposal, trash cleanup, and had corresponding high rates of illness and mortality. The Vartry waterworks in county Wicklow, constructed in 1868, were one of the few municipal triumphs of the city of Dublin, and even in 1904 the easy availability of clean water was not to be taken for granted. Joseph O'Brien points out that before the waterworks were constructed, water was drawn from the city's many canals. He writes, "The potability of the supply must have been suspect to those who lacked faith in the effectiveness of filtration to remove the noxious effect of bilge water from manure carrying canal boats or the carcasses of cats and dogs" (18). According to one clergyman, O'Brien writes, the pollution of the water supply was responsible for alcoholism among the poor.10 Even after the installation of the waterworks, thousands of tenement homes lacked an indoor tap or even an outdoor water supply, relying on water from public fountains that ran only sporadically. Bloom's access to flow—his indoor tap—locates him above the poor of early twentieth-century Dublin, even as his lack of a watercloset puts him below the rich and the upper-middle classes.

While qualities of flow have often been emphasized in Joyce's language, it is also important to note that Joyce disrupts flow as often as he invokes it, and for a purpose. When we look at the language of the passage, it clearly does not flow but is deliberately clunky and digressive. The passage on the Roundwood reservoir is written in the stiff, deliberately heavy pseudo-scientific jargon of much of the rest of the chapter. On its way, it incorporates the language of bureaucrats and lawyers—Mr Spencer Harty, borough surveyor, who prohibits use of water for purposes other than consumption, and Mr Ignatius Rice, solicitor, whose letter on behalf of the Dublin waterworks committee was published in the Irish Independent, June 15, 1904. The conditional "though" introduces the disruption of the water supply:

though from prolonged summer drouth and daily supply of 121/2 million gallons the water had fallen below the sill of the overflow weir for which reason the borough surveyer and waterworks engineer, Mr. Spencer Harty, C.E., on the instructions of the waterworks committee had prohibited the use of municipal water for purposes other than those of consumption (envisaging the possibility of recourse being had to the impotable waters of the Grand and Royal canals as in 1893) particularly as the South Dublin guardians, notwithstanding their ration of 15 gallons per day per pauper supplied through a 6 inch meter, had been convicted of a wastage of 20,000 gallons per night by a reading of their meter on the affirmation of the law agent of the corporation, Mr. Ignatius Rice, solicitor, thereby acting to the detriment of another section of the public, selfsupporting taxpayers, solvent, sound.

(Joyce 548)

As Mark Osteen points out, the mention of the South Dublin Guardians and of the drought raises the spectre of scarcity and of improper usage. We are told that in 1904, tap water use was restricted for the purposes of consumption, and are also told that the South Dublin guardians have been abusing their supply. Osteen writes:

the paragraph is really about an impediment to "flow"—a water shortage—and thus recognizes an economy of scarcity at odds with the celebratory tone of the succeeding [End Page 858] description; it is less poetic than bourgeois, describing a violation of proper usage by the South Dublin guardians at the expense of "solvent, sound" citizens like Bloom.


Here the universal and transcendent quality of water is stopped, on the one hand, by public officers, and, on the other hand, by public services—the South Dublin guardians who have mysteriously misplaced 20,000 gallons of water a night "notwithstanding their ration of 15 gallons a day per pauper." The language of the passage is cluttered with bureaucratic, periphrastic statements, and passive language—"for which reason," "for purposes other than," "recourse being had to," "notwithstanding," "thereby acting to the detriment of another section of the public." This Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce type of legal squabbling leaves us quite confused about agency and origin. Water is disappearing, but we're not sure why; something is being done about it, but we're not sure what; somebody is acting on behalf of someone else. To paraphrase Dickens, we think there's a fraud somewhere in the room, but we can't positively say that we have got it. The provision of clean water, as a public service and public good, was from the first subject to misuse. Frontinus' treatise comes down heavily on fraud, writing with disapproval, "the public watercourses are brought to a standstill by private citizens" (51) and evoking a litany of complaints familiar to any water commissioner, including the overwatering of private gardens. As he harnesses water for the public good, Frontinus also submits it to ownership and control. Elsewhere, Bloom speculates, "How can you own water really?"(Joyce 126). Similarly, in the ode to water he celebrates its universality, ubiquity, and democracy. One might suppose water belonged to everyone and no one, neverchanging, everchanging. It does not. The text here resists water as metaphor, evoking instead water as commodity, subject to scarcity, fraud, and control. Perhaps this inability to flow is another way of noting the register of the real.

It is worth noting that for all of Joyce's evocation of realism in this passage, the spectre of scarcity is in fact invented. While the description of the waterworks of Dublin is in most points accurate, Joyce fabricates the drought of 1904—Don Gifford points out that the summer of 1904 was average Irish weather, and therefore, as Gifford puts it, "far from dry" (569). The fictional drought allows Joyce to juxtapose scarcity with the idea of water as excess. Joyce also subtly changes the terminus of the water supply, ending the tanks at the city boundary instead of in central Dublin, where they ended according to the Dublin directory. Ending the water supply infrastructure at the city boundary emphasizes the difference between the city and its environs, a difference fluidly bridged by the passage of water. Perhaps more crucially, these fictional revisions allow Joyce to invoke history even as he masters it. Like Daedalus' version of Shakespeare, Joyce spatchcocks an actual reservoir to a fictional drought and cuts off a system of pipes at the edge of the city, leaving their ghostly, actual counterparts to meander to the city's centre.

Another common and central public use of water is, of course, for bathing, and Bloom punctuates his day with a bath. Bloom is a waterlover, as opposed to Stephen the hydrophobe, and Stephen's refusal to bathe in the Forty Foot pool at the beginning of the novel is contrasted by Bloom, who seeks out the public baths, an act unusual [End Page 859] enough that Joyce wondered if it might surprise the reader. Aside from his donation at Paddy Dignam's funeral, the bath is his largest expense of the morning, and seems one of his greatest pleasures. He looks forward to it with anticipation and remembers it with satisfaction. Bloom's interest in hygiene and pleasure in bathing is a paradoxical mark of his Judaism. His immersion is thematically linked to immersion in a mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath. It is worthwhile to note that the Tara Street baths opened in 1885, but in 1897 the Corporation added a plunge bath or mikvah for the use of Jewish women. Immersion in a mikvah marks the transition between a state of ritual purity and impurity. More significantly for the purposes of this narrative, it marks a transition from a period of menstruation and abstinence, for seven days after the cessation of the menstrual cycle, and the beginning of a period of sexual intercourse and fertility. Tumah, or ritual impurity, is timed to end approximately around the period of ovulation; the combination of the end of a period of enforced abstinence and of ovulation obviously encourages conception. From the standpoint of the Dublin health committee, the mikvah ritual seemed to "have a beneficial effect on the procreativeness of the Jewish female, and goes far to account for her healthy offspring" (O'Brien 102). Hygiene, fertility, and ritual were linked in the minds of the health committee and perhaps in the minds of the public, and valued to such an extent that in 1914, when the baths of the city were closed due to a water shortage, the mikvah remained open. Although, as Neil Davison points out, Joyce "consciously created Bloom as one who is not Halachically Jewish" (697), there is a suggestive overlap between his bath and the mikvah, used for ritual immersion.11 Molly and Bloom have been in a kind of nidda, or period of abstinence, for years. The language that describes his bath raises similar tropes of fertility in heavily biblical language:

He foresaw his pale body reclined in it at full, naked, in a womb of warmth, oiled by scented melting soap, softly laved. He saw his trunk and limbs riprippled over and sustained, buoyed lightly upward, lemonyellow: his navel, bud of flesh: and saw the dark tangled curls of his bush floating, floating hair of the stream around the limp father of thousands, a languid floating flower.

(Joyce 71)

The language of this passage mimics the biblical covenant with Abraham, where a future is promised and foreseen that Abraham will never himself actually experience. At the same time, the promise of fertility is complicated or undermined by the adjective "limp." This parodic invocation of Bloom the patriarch is further underlined by his inability to be fertile, to produce another child, despite the literal fulfillment of this promise in the Circe chapter.

Certainly, the mythic and romantic implications of water are still important in the text, and numerous characters, including Bloom himself, show themselves to be fully susceptible to these implications. When Bloom sees a rowboat floating an advertisement down the river, he wonders if the owner pays rent to the corporation. He then speculates in a Heraclitean mode, "How can you own water really? It's always flowing in a stream, never the same, which in the stream of life we trace. Because life is a stream" (Joyce 126). These same themes are later picked up and extended in the Ithacan Ode to [End Page 860] Water. The motif of flux and of stability in flux is crucial in the narrative, from Stephen's speculations on the weaving and unweaving of Mother Dana to Bloom's thoughts on the water that flows from the tap. Bloom's thinking is pro-entrepreneurial though anti-corporate, and he drifts into romantic speculation only briefly. His first thought on seeing the advertisement on the rowboat is "Good idea that" (126). He follows up his rather more philosophic observations on the flow of water with the more practical "All kinds of places are good for ads" (126). Bloom isn't protesting the use of water for "filthy" advertising, but is celebrating this use, and indeed, even in the ode to water, one of the reasons water is celebrated is for its many uses. Water is at once essential and historical, limitless and scarce, natural and cultural.

Bloom glimpses the rowboat with the advertisement for trousers from O'Connell Bridge, where he has paused to feed the gulls. The sight of the river evokes a series of thoughts; first of suicide, though this passes quickly, then of the passing seagulls. He throws a crumpled ball of paper into the water, which the seagulls wisely ignore. He remembers a piece of verse about seagulls, a commonplace couplet that, according to Gifford, is of Bloom's own composition (159). Then he contrasts this with Shakespeare's style of writing, which he calls, significantly, "the flow of the language" (Joyce 125). The piece of Shakespeare that comes to mind is, "Hamlet, I am thy father's spirit/ Doomed for a time to walk the earth" (125). The language flow here is deliberate, multidirectional, and canny. The Shakespeare quotation comes to mind because Bloom has just thought of suicide, evoking his own father's unquiet spirit. It also prepares the way for Stephen, the Hamlet figure in the text, whom Bloom has yet to encounter. Language flow in the text moves both forward and backward and is both nostalgic and anticipatory. The novel disrupts the unidirectional, progressive movement of plot in order to chart a story that simultaneously moves into the past and future. While the novel employs the framework of temporal progress through a single day—a wink to Aristotelian unities—the use of time is more reminiscent of epic than of Aristotelian tragedy.12 The Odyssey wanders, like its protagonist; the use of stories within stories, and the narrative collapsing, and expansion of time balance the end-point of the text with an expansive circularity that has clearly been shown to be a model for Bloom's homecoming and Joyce's narrative strategies. Perhaps it is appropriate that both are stories of sea-dwelling nations; the ocean, matching its gains with losses daily along the shore, forms a model for non-linear motion.

These bits of quotation in the text also form a kind of collective unconscious, and like the ball of paper Bloom sends floating down the Liffey to try to fool the gulls, are significant but somehow not fully assimilated. Walking along the sands of infinite possibility in Sandymount Strand, Stephen speculates, "These heavy sands are language tide and wind have silted here" (Joyce 37).13 In saying this, he refers to the detritus washed up along the beach—dead dog, porter bottle. But language, too, is like this detritus and silt, a repository of objects old and new, treasured and forgotten. This dead language, in contemporary terms, does not degrade; instead it undergoes its own seachanges.

Writing is at once a form of waste like any other, both elevated and undermined by its comparison to bodily waste, shit, and snot —the paper floating on the water, the [End Page 861] paper Stephen leaves on the rock, the story Bloom uses to wipe himself—and at the same time, is a little more sterile.14 The gulls are far more enthusiastic about the crumbs of Banbury cake Bloom sends into the water than they are about the piece of paper Bloom throws in as a tease, and as he feeds them Bloom imagines himself, briefly, as a beneficent and unexpected God, "They never expected that. Manna" (Joyce 126). Books and writing are demystified, while the body itself seems to be the repository of tremendous power. Sitting in the outhouse, Bloom wipes himself with a "prize story" but speculates that his excrement could nourish a garden.15

The sourced, materialist imagination that I emphasize here is also in evidence in other parts of the text. Bloom's shopping trip involves tracking down and cooking food in a modern, bourgeois rendition of the contemporary hunter-gatherer; his fantasy of labourless production in Israel—"Orangegroves and immense melonfields"—is clearly marked as such and is contrasted with the vision of a "barren land, bare waste" (Joyce 49). Similarly, when the milkwoman delivers milk, the text mentions that the milk is "not hers," displacing one source for another. The text is at once conscious of material origin as well as of the capitalist apparatus of delivery and dissemination, and its coexistence alongside older models of delivery, like the milkwoman who at once evokes and dispels traditional Ireland.

Outflows are certainly as significant as inflows in this famously excremental novel. We might note the garbage on the beach as Stephen walks, and the ubiquity of undigested thoughts and pieces of text in the novel. Here, too, is an element of the real that does not flow but remains occluded, insistent, and obstructive. Then there is sewage. As a city, Dublin was much more adept at managing the inflow of water than the outflow of sewage. As O'Brien writes:

When James Joyce left Dublin the Liffey's waters still bore away all manner of offal, sluggishly, and the stench in summertime was notorious. It was not until 1906 that the main drain system commenced to deposit city sewage out beyond the harbour.


Perhaps Stephen's hydrophobia is more comprehensible when we recall that on bad days, "the bathing as far out as Sandymount was often destroyed" (124). The Liffey, memorialized in Sir Samuel Ferguson's poem "Mesgedra" as "limpid Liffey, fresh from wood and wold," bore the carcasses of dogs and cats along the river; Stephen encounters one such carcass on the beach. Bloom refers to the river as "that sewage" (Joyce 125); Stephen thinks of "unwholesome sandflats . . . breathing sewage breath" (Joyce 34). The Dublin Main Drainage Works, long anticipated, were finally inaugurated September 24, 1906. In Davy Byrne's pub, Nosey Flynn asks Tom Rochford, "How's the main drainage?" (Joyce 146). He burps in answer, conflating the city's systems of circulation and waste disposal with his own. Gifford writes that the real Tom Rochford, an engineer, "was, on 6 May 1905, involved in an attempt to rescue a sanitation worker overcome by sewage gas" (184). Two of the twelve men down the sewer died of the effects of the gas.

As O'Brien points out, worse than the stink of the Liffey were the hidden systems of house drains and sewage lines incapable of supporting the detritus of the new water [End Page 862]

Figure 1. Advertisement for pedestal wash-down closet, "The Cedric," 1902. Photo courtesy of the Science and Society Picture Library, UK.
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Figure 1.

Advertisement for pedestal wash-down closet, "The Cedric," 1902. Photo courtesy of the Science and Society Picture Library, UK.

closets. A campaign to abolish privies was largely successful by 1907; in 1904, Bloom still enjoys his "jakes," accompanying himself with reading material that doubles as toilet paper. Ulysses engages in this very timely debate about waterclosets. When he reaches the urinal under the statue of Tommy Moore—an initiative of the men of Dublin and not of the Dublin Corporation—Bloom thinks, "Ought to be places for women" (Joyce 133). O'Brien writes that "the Corporation steadfastly refused to provide a public lavatory for the women of Dublin" (120) until long after June 16, 1904. In the offices of the Freeman's Journal and Evening Telegraph, Professor MacHugh juxtaposes the Hebraic civilization with the Roman:

What was their civilization? Vast, I allow: but vile. Cloacae: sewers . . . The Roman, like the Englishman who follows in his footsteps, brought to every shore on which he set his foot (on our shore he never set it) only his cloacal obsession. He gazed about him in his toga and he said: It is meet to be here. Let us construct a watercloset.

(Joyce 108) [End Page 863]

MacHugh juxtaposes colonial Rome with colonial England and aligns them in their mutual obsession with toilets. To this, Lenehan wittily replies, "our old ancient ancestors, as we read in the first chapter of Guinness's, were partial to the running stream" (Joyce 108). Attitudes like Lenehan's were the despair of public health workers as well as colonial administrators; back in 1870, the Freeman's Journal pleaded, "Must the Liffey become the cloaca maxima of our city?"(O'Brien 18).

It is interesting to note that the hygienic Hebrew Bloom, owner of an indoor tap and running water, does not seem to have yet converted to a water closet, though the villa he imagines in Flowerville has a watercloset complete with footstool and armrests. In the city, waterclosets were a poisoned gift; as O'Brien writes:

Defective drainage caused the greatest harm among the better off classes, for their houses were rapidly converted to the water-carriage system of waste removal (Via WC's) while the poorer classes still generally depended on the old conservancy system of ashpit and privy.


The stinking "Irish Styx" did not pose the greatest threat to public health. Instead, the sewage gas that leaked from house drains and connecting lines stealthily contaminated both air and water.

What else is disagreeable about water closets? Perhaps Joyce objects to the way that they both express and mask a faecal obsession. Ulysses is a book that celebrates waste; water closets whisk away the offending excreta, allow us to deny the reality of our own shit. Clearly this would have been tempting as a metaphor for colonial denial of the waste products of imperial history. By contrast, Bloom's visit to the privy prompts him to meditate on the fertilizing qualities of manure. For Bloom, nothing is pure waste. Meanwhile, the hidden pipes of the new "sanitary water closets" of Dublin contributed to Dublin's staggering rates of mortality and disease.

Behind the simple action of turning on a tap or visiting a privy in Ulysses is a deeply historical—we might even say an environmental—logic. There is an uncanny, nearly prescient intuition of issues of scarcity and waste, of disposal and supply—issues that have only become more important in the hundred years since the book was set. Nothing comes from nothing, and nothing returns to nothing; Joyce rejects the promises of Old Testament and New, preferring to situate his book in a world scatological rather than eschatological, a world of history and of waste—in Joyce's terms, indeed, these may be much the same substance.

Yet despite this insistence on historicity, it is important to keep in mind that this remains a fictional text. Like Wittgenstein's picture of the boiling pot, (must there be pictured water in the pictured pot, he asks), the book creates the illusion of a real, lived Dublin while subtly differing from that Dublin.16 We achieve the illusion, but not the substance of depth and of the real—an important corrective to any strictly historical reading of Joyce.17 Wallace Stevens references this quality of realism when he writes of a house in a poem that "the windows will be lighted, not the rooms"(309)—a near perfect evocation of the stage set of realism, where certain details are evoked in such depth that they create the illusion of a real, filled-out world around them. Indeed, [End Page 864] in the "Ithaca" chapter of Ulysses, Joyce seems to reference not realism so much as naturalism, the compendious, encyclopaedic works of Zola and Hardy that participate in the near-obsessive attempt to catalogue the world.18 These literary counterparts to the late nineteenth-century obsession with charting and measuring, hierarchizing, and defining seem to both know and not know that they are engaged in a task of Sisyphean impossibility.19 As Fritz Senn writes of the "bias of the organizing mind toward categorization . . . It gets everything under control. And misses almost everything" (39).20 Even as the tour of the water supply of Dublin points us to a certain historical depth in Joyce's novel, a consciousness of origin and source, the passage also playfully and paradoxically points to the routes we will not trace, the facts that can not be charted, the truths we can not know. Perhaps when Joyce quipped that the reader would be able to recreate Dublin from his text, he meant a city as any single individual might know it, with certain streets known nearly by heart and other entire neighbourhoods left in the realm of rumour and possibility. Joyce understands that the novel will never succeed in charting the world in full, but neither will we; the novel knows the world as we ourselves do, in luminous islands of insight or recognition suspended in a dark sea of obscurity.

Ariela Freedman

Ariela Freedman is Associate Professor of Literature at the Liberal Arts College, Concordia University, Montreal. She is author of Death, Men, and Modernismand has also published on H.D., Mary Borden, postcolonial studies, and the representation of Zeppelins. Her current project is on home front writing during the First World War.


1. As Paul Gilmore writes, "in the past two decades, American literary criticism has tended to dismiss aesthetics in toto by identifying it almost exclusively with New Criticism’s formal judgements" (467). Gilmore claims, "while aesthetics on its own does not create a more just or egalitarian world, any progressive politics shorn of the utopian and sensual experience the aesthetic attempts to capture is bound to be as empty and detached from material lives as the idealist, formalist aesthetic of the New Critics" (487). Gilmore argues that the exploration of historically specific ideas about aesthetics and the practices they engendered may lead to a fuller and less universalizing treatment of the category of the aesthetic.

2. As Ian Hunter succinctly puts it, "The cultural studies movement conceives of itself as a critique of aesthetics ... The slogan of this project is the proposal to "politicize aesthetics" (347). This project has been deeply influenced by Pierre Bourdieu’s claim that "the pure aesthetic is rooted in an ethic, or rather, an ethos of elective distance from the necessities of the natural and social world, which may take the form of moral agnosticism (visible when ethical transgression becomes an artistic parti pris) or of an aestheticism which presents the aesthetic disposition as a universally valid principle and takes the bourgeois denial of the social world to its limit" (5). On the other side is the Jeremiah of aestheticism, Harold Bloom, who has long lamented the incursion of cultural studies into the literary field, and surprisingly, Richard Rorty, who writes, "You cannot, for example, find inspirational value in a text at the same time that you are viewing it as the product of a mechanism of cultural production" (133).

3. Stephen’s discourse in the library is a marvellous display of criticism that attempts to bridge historic fact and textual fiction in a dazzling bricolage whose validity is as primarily a function of Stephen’s creativity and rhetorical power. His listeners evoke different critical traditions and interpretive strategies, contrasting interest in the artist’s life and context with ahistorical appreciation of the text. As Russell dismissively sniffs, "But this prying into the family life of a great man ... Interesting only to the parish clerk. I mean, we have the plays ... We have KING LEAR: and it is immortal."

4. A number of critics have recently returned to the problems of aesthetics and have attempted to rewrite the terms of the debate between aesthetics and cultural studies. Among these writers are Isobel Armstrong, Ian Hunter, and Paul Gilmore. A recent issue of American literature was devoted to the topic of "Aesthetics and the End(s) of Cultural Studies" (September 2004) while a 1998 article by Scott Heller in The Chronicle of Higher Education drew attention to recent work on aesthetics [End Page 865] ("Wearying of Cultural Studies, Some Scholars Turn to Beauty," December 4, 1998). Armstrong is hopeful about the possibilities of the aesthetic, claiming her project is one of "uncoupling the aesthetic and privilege"(4) and writing that "the components of the aesthetic life are those that are already embedded in the processes and practices of consciousness—playing and dreaming, thinking and feeling"(2) rather than simply symptoms of bourgeois consciousness. Hunter is more sceptical; he sees the aesthetic approach as a rarefied practice, "an ethic: an autonomous set of techniques and practices by which individuals continually problematize their experience and conduct themselves as the subjects of an aesthetic existence"(358) and suggests that the dominance of the aesthetic stance has subsumed other, more effective forms of political engagement.

5. Joyce is a particularly challenging and apt example as he combines obsessive historic research and felicity with virtuoso displays of aesthetic autonomy.

6. For discussions of water and flow in Ulysses see Robert Adams Day, "Joyce’s AquaCities" in Joyce in the Hibernian Metropolis (3–20). Robert Young elaborates on the secretions of language and music in "The Language of Flow", tracing "sex, secreting, farting, and writing" as the "concealed, illicit activities" of the text (91). In " ‘Goddinpotty’: James Joyce and the Language of Excrement," Vincent J. Cheng claims that in Joyce "not only is the body the site equally of the sacred and profane (the Body of God and the excreting body), but the two seem indistinguishable"(93). Maud Ellman charts an "economy of flows" in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man "where the wake of language—writing—is stained by urine, the wake of the flesh" (92). In Ulysses, urine is given its own "fourworded wavespeech." Susan Brienza also elaborates on "Joyce’s specific conflation of fluids and verbal production" (118) which she, too, traces back to the Portrait. The most extensive exploration of what she calls the "alimentary logic" of the novel is by Lindsey Tucker in Stephen and Bloom at Life’s Feast: Alimentary Symbolism and the Creative Process in James Joyce’s "Ulysses" (Columbus: Ohio State UP1984). This essay differs from the work above because my interest is less in the metaphoric connection between water, waste, and creativity and more in the way the inflows and outflows of the text connect Ulysses to the historical realities and concerns of contemporary Dublin. In other words, while the focus of much of the work on Joyce here listed is textual my focus is cultural and historical and I argue that the emphasis on water and waste not only points in to the strategies and style of the text but also out to the world it claims to represent.

7. Prominent discussions of Joyce, history, and materialism include Frederic Jameson, "’Ulysses in History’" and Robert Spoo, James Joyce and the Language of History: Daedalus’ Nightmare (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994). See also Mark Osteen.

8. Richard Ellman suggests that Joyce had envisioned "a theme of riverlike flow" for Ulysses, and that Finnegans Wake was "perhaps the legatee of this unused idea" (545).

9. Jameson calls this passage, "boring in three sense of the word: (1) it is essentially non-narrative; (2) it is inauthentic, in the sense in which these mass-produced material instruments (unlike Homer’s spears and shields) cannot be said to be organic parts of their users destinies; finally, (3) these objects are contingent and meaningless in their instrumental form, they are recuperable for literature only at the price of being transformed into symbols" (140). Yet "Ithaca"’s lists have asserted a strange and enduring fascination over Joyce’s readers. Joyce himself called the chapter the "ugly duckling" of the book and therefore, his favorite (Ellman, 500). Part of the fascination of the chapter lies in the voyeuristic appeal of the list of objects in Bloom’s drawers, or of his daily accounting, and part of it lies in the unexpected flights into whimsy or imagination which punctuate the more prosaic moments of the chapter. As Andrew Gibson writes, the chapter oscillates between "a founding and unfounding of worlds, between familiarity and defamiliarization, the sense of belonging and disorientation" (21).

10. W.C. Fields had a similar justification for his refusal to drink water. "Fish fuck in it," he explained.

11. For further discussion of Joyce and Judaism see Davison 679–716, and Marilyn Reizbaum, James Joyce’s Judaic Other, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999).

12. Andras Ungar explores Joyce’s use of epic in Joyce’s Ulysses as National Epic: Epic Mimesis and the Political History of the Nation State, (Gainesville: The University of Florida Press, 2002).

13. Susan Brienza also elaborates on "Joyce’s specific conflation of fluids and verbal production" (118) which she traces back to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. [End Page 866]

14. As Tucker writes, "we see digestive processes acting as a correlative, a signal, and sometimes even a parody of the so-called higher processes" (46).

15. Of course, as Brienza and others demonstrate, writing is also a form of bodily production in Joyce’s work. However, in Ulysses, the comparisons between bodily by-products and writing seem often meant to undermine writing rather than to elevate—for instance, the snot Stephen leaves on the rock after jotting down his poem, or the prize story that disappears down the privy.

16. Wittgenstein writes, "Of course, if water boils in a pot, steam comes out of the pot and also pictured steam comes out of the pictured pot. But what if one insisted on saying that there also must be something boiling in the picture of the pot?" (101).

17. For a fascinating exploration of the novelist’s achievement of what she calls "vivacity," the illusion of the real inside the text, see Elaine Scarry, Dreaming by the Book (New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1999).

18. Hugh Kenner writes, "This is the comedy of the inventory, the comedy of the closed system, in which we constantly recognize known things in new fantastic guises; and it is the dead end which Joyce triumphantly prosecuted until it became exactly the image of the city he loved for its variety and distrusted for its poverty of resource" (66).

19. For more on "Ithaca"’s relationship to scientific discourse, see Gibson’s fascinating article, where he argues that "Ithaca repeatedly introduces a principle of excess into scientific or technical discourse" (163).

20. For further discussion of the catalogic mode in Ulysses see Senn 31–76 and Kenner’s The Stoic Comedians.


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