Immaculate Erection

With all the irregular movements in Nausicaa ­ Gerty’s limping walk, Bloom’s masturbation, the jerky flight of a hovering bat , the abrupt and erratic changes of scene and perspective, and finally the seasick movement of the sea (1189; 1162, “Do fish ever get seasick?”) – one can’t help but accumulate a sensation of “nausea” (1187) over the chapter’s course. But if we can swing with the off-kilter events (and morals) in this chapter, we may begin to intuit that they are a portal to epiphany; Joyce’s espoused errata as portal has become “erratic erotica” as portal. At the outset of Nausicaa, we get many signals that the pending scene is of a special, radiant, and (self-consciously) “religiously marked” quality. Its events take place at a “mysterious” (1) hour, and will be presided over by the “pure radiance [of] a beacon… Mary, star of the sea”(7-8). Chants and incantations to Mary fill the beach; the narrative flashes quickly to evening incantations to her or related ecclesiastic ritual just before (289) and throughout the Bloom-Gerty encounter scene. We are given the slight impression that Gerty is the acting Mary in situ, the special avatar and representative of the famous virgin. A “child of Mary badge” (639) is inside her small drawer of most prized possessions as an object that associates her directly with the virgin; she might wear it on her chest and press it to her flesh, thus metonymically linking her to this “goddess.” (It seems more appropriate to call the Mary in Nausicaa “goddess” rather than “Mother of God/Jesus”; not once is Mary mentioned along with the latter description, and the Mary presented seems to be loosely linked only with other divine/saintly feminine entities, such as “Our Lady of Loreto” (288). She is a “blessed virgin” figure to whom prayers are sent in isolation; she is the prime and deity of the chapter, who “presides over all virgins” [and hence the three girl friends on the beach, two of which are “virgin-mothers” of sorts]. The mention of “Erin” further emphasizes the goddess valences ­ i.e. as a principal and independent divinity not needing to be linked to a male deity ­ that mark the chapter. Erin, the mythical female-name for the Irish Nation, is a “higher power” secondarily invoked by the figure and presentation of Gerty: “God’s fair land of Ireland did not hold her equal” (121-122). She, like Erin, metaphorically “reigns” over all of Ireland. The entourage on the beach catch “the last glimpse of Erin” (625), passing out as day turns to night. She, like Mary, is a temporal (moving) dusk goddess, who picks this “moving… gathering twilight” (624) time to manifest herself and be “seen”.) The Virgin’s epithet, “Mystical Rose”(374), is played out over Gerty’s body, further linking her viscerally to this “goddess.” She blushes several times, “crimsoning up to the roots of her hair” ( 454), once (she recalls) in front of a priest and also under the gaze of Bloom. Her cheeks were stained “rose”-color, and color “rose” to her face. Indeed her face (and hence person) performed a chameleon-transition to actually transmute into a potentially-mystic rose: “a burning scarlet swept from throat to brow till the lovely colour of her face became a glorious rose” (519-520), and “flushing a deep rosy red” (266). Indeed, Gerty, just post-climax, is described as having a “flowerlike face” (764). “She rose”(759), Joyce writes, just as she is getting up to leave the lingering Bloom and her “flowerlike” face looks as if it possesses a “strange shining” (763). This “shining” is both reminiscent of the halo of a saint, and an aura of sexual excitement. For, The multi-petaled rose could allude also to the female pubis. ( A perhaps complementary ­albeit more subtle – genitalia-reference to that of Bloom and his “stick”(895); “My fireworks. Up like a rocket, down like a stick…”. Bloom, incidentally, later throws the stick into the sand (1270); “it stuck”; indicating a successful and achieved action of metaphorical “copulation” he undertakes with the “virgin”). Bloom also notices that Gerty’s menstruation is coming on and ruminates on menstruation thoroughly, connecting it sexual excitement; this string of physiological musings can similarly be connected to an image of a blood-red rose, the (sweet) but pungent smell of the rose, and passion for which the rose is a common symbol. As avatar of the mystic rose, Gerty would not deny Bloom’s attentions or wants: “…the most pious Virgin’s intercessory power that it was not recorded in any age that those who implored her powerful protection were ever abandoned by her” (378-380). Gerty asserts in her mind that she will accept and “love him” despite his sins (see passage beginning 431). She does not deny Bloom as petitioner because she possesses the the com-passion of the virgin: she is womanly (on the cusp of menstruating and in flux with the lunar -cosmic- forces) and acts on her “natural” sexual/passionate drives with feeling (com-passion). She is an impartial agent of sexual feelings, feelings of sadness, guilt, and all others and more combined. Thus, the Bloom-Gerty tryst is linked to the pantheon of Catholic imagery and symbology. When Bloom at last ejaculates, it is to the bursting of a phallic-shaped “Roman candle”- a firework of a nomenclature alluding to the “Roman Catholic” Church, and recalls the candles in any Catholic church (or, specifically the flower-threatening candle in Father Conroy’s service (552-555)). We are left with the odd and scandalous suspicion that Bloom and Gerty are performing an illicit (but sacred) sacrament, juxtaposed to the eroticized, but “real” sacraments to Mary are taking place just over the beach and inside the building from whence arousing wafts of incense flow and fill the beach (371).But what is the nature and/or the spiritual fruits of this unsupervised sacrament? Upon the central “rose” epithet and allusion-set, Joyce fills this chapter with the greatest density of flower references in the book thus far. Reading this chapter is like walking through a field of scented and exotic vegetation; we read of “violets”(230), a “bunch of flowers”(336), “whiterose scent” (641), “violet ink” (642), “violet garters” (800), “heliotrope… hyacinth… jessamine”, (1009-1010), “sunflowers” (1089), “rhododendrons” (1098), as well as the flowers described in the various images of church ritual (“flowers and the blue banners of the blessed virgin’s sodality”: 448). And indeed, Henry Flowers/Bloom, seems to be experiencing some sort of intensified flowerly blooming: even when he opens his coat to attempt to smell a “mansmell” he is accosted with a flowerly scent (1041). The feminine has invaded every part of his being and has inundated even his most personal physicality. Bloom’s earliest and most timely envoy (in terms of the course of his epic-length day) of feminine-erotica/erotic epiphany, Martha, presaged this moment in her effusive but oblique letter. Henry, in this chapter, truly hits a timely stroke in which he may “Flower” and “Bloom” (ejaculate?); he is “damn glad” (786) that he didn’t do “it” in the bath that morning over Martha’s letter and conserved his juices for this rare moment offered up by a convergence of circumstance. First, there are the distracting fireworks that give Bloom and Gerty privacy from on-lookers (they are also at first mistaken for sheet lightning- something that would indicate the sympathy of the cosmos; a pathetic fallacy that Joyce side-steps by replacing it with a man-made “cosmic” event, but still alludes to). There are secondly the lines of force that radiate from Gerty’s person (see 949, in relation to the ball, related perhaps more generally her lunar pre-menstral pull), and the specific influence of evening that causes women to “Open like flowers” (1089). It is an uncanny “Chance”(1271) meeting over the long trajectory of “for ever”(1254), in which Bloom must grapple with the paradox of erotic return; couples in the rhododendrons and the fleeting uniqueness of one specific moment of encounter.. “It never comes the same”(1277)). It is an encounter spun up in and moving through the convergence of “different world”s (those of Mary, Erin, the Church, Ireland, and the old man and young girl of Gerty) that Martha (via her erotically-nested errata) introduced; an ecstatic potential, previously only evinced through clues in “torn space” is coming to fruition. Martha planted the masturbatory seed, as did his earlier gazing at his lotus-flower in the bath-tub. Bloom was primed with distant, removed, and apparently randomly induced fore-play of an oblique nature from ungraspable women… Indeed, a second presaging and mildly titillating incident that frames the events in Nausicaa; it is the “compressed” narrative in museum when he attempts to look “up” the skirts of the stony goddesses, to see “if they…” in Ch. 8. Bloom himself mentions this incident as one of the high points in his “Long day”: “museum with those goddesses” (1215). The scene with Gerty, where he steals a look up her skirt, is parallel (or an expanded) version of earlier inspection of the marble goddess-statues in the library. Statuesque imagery is applied to Gerty, “Greekly perfect… veined alabaster” (88-89), and moving from pagan to Christian, one can well imagine a white effigy of the blessed virgin too. In both incidents, Bloom is, from a distance, looking up the skirt of an indifferent (or quite welcoming, in the case of Gerty) goddess/woman. Even though Gerty is now a living woman of flesh (contrary to the only-imagining Martha, and the stone-women of the library), there is still the distinctive phenomenon of distance between the two “lovers” (as there is between Bloom and his wife and daughter, the central women in his profane existence). Joyce spends much narrative (tongue-in-cheek) time developing Gerty as an embodied “ideal” of Irish beauty and of young-womanhood generally, with all the allusions to her reading of fashion magazines, grace and goodness, etc. Thus, Bloom is connected directly to this ideal via eyes only, yet, paradoxically it is a highly sexualized encounter based on “look but don’t touch”: it is an “immaculate erection”.We might begin to think that Bloom truly is of the Catholic faith (despite being merely a convert): he embraces the invisible Mary perhaps more than an average Catholic. And, when he notices that she is “lame”; the universe/happenstance has engineered a perfect sacrament for him. The perfect ideal of woman (all the passages spent building up how ideal in every way Gerty is) is embodied in the host (Gerty’s and Bloom’s bodies) is brought down to the material and embodied in the imperfect (sin-infected) human flesh. Bloom’s sinning errata (which she swears to accept) is merged with her secret and hidden (like Bloom’s masturbation) physical errata. We see that they are matched and mutually attracted not unlike Bloom’s realization that he and Molly, like most husbands and wives, are quite a pair: “As God made them he matched them”(976). Both Bloom and Molly (and Gerty) are seeking ecstasy (and enlightenment?) in the orgasm of illicit sexual union. Bloom’s sexual climax, whose splendor we can only deduce from synchronized, euphemistic fireworks (and Bloom’s many “O!”‘s), marks a door through which Bloom passes beyond which he “reawakens” (see 1110: the Rip Van Winkle episode and thoughts). Blooms epiphanic “portal” allows him to rethink/rediscovers his link to Molly; two of a pair, both orgasming in their own ways. And linked still linked strongly- Bloom thinks that his watch, carried on his own person, must have stopped when Molly orgasmed with her lover.Thus Joyce leaves us with a picture of Bloom who, although wryly conscious of his aging, is still incanting the life-affirming, sex-flowers-(blooming)- food “yumyum”: “Lovers: yum yum” (1100). The bat is the joining symbolic carrier of the illicit Gerty-Bloom “union”. Just as their sacrament is a hybrid Catholic-sexual rite, the bat is a weird cross between a rodent and bird. It flies from the church bell and hovers over the “lovers”. Like Bloom “the mysterious man on the beach” the bat is a “mysterious/ weird”thing and the mediating body between the religious discipline and propriety of the church and the sexual licence (and tandem religious ecstasy) that occurs outside of the church. Inside the church‹the candles threaten the flowers “his bloom” might be destroyed. Thus, their weird yet life-affirming sexual encounter must be hidden behind a protective “no” (“Should a girl tell? No a thousand times no.” (750)), a word first heard from a child, little Master Tommy: “Nao” (70). Tommy as child and twin, is the recent “fruit” of sexual union, and the embodiment of Bloom’s theory of “twin souls” (i.e. husbands and wives) finding each other. Further, he recalls Bloom’s dead boy; all there of the young boys could be stand-ins for Bloom’s dead son, himself conceived from an unconventionally-tinged sexual union. But despite all valences of grief, loss, and sadness (somewhat assuaged by “Mary mistress of tears”: Gerty’s parting “smile that verged on tears (765)), we end with Bloom’s practical down-to-earth (lewd, man-based) commentary of sexual phenomena: “Tip. Have to let Fly” (994-995); and then, more humanely, “It never comes the same… no harm in it” (1277).

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