Ulysses: Episode 14: Oxen in the Sun: The Critic in the Cabernet 05/30/09
After I make my Ulysses post for this week I'll have to get started on reading "Circe" for next week. So far the episodes have been between thirty and sixty pages long. "Circe" is 180 pages long! Fortunately it's written in the form of a play so hopefully it will be manageable for reading in a week along with all of my regular reading.
The "Oxen in the Sun" section of The Odyssey is a warning against "tempting fate." Throughout the epic Odysseus is warned not to harm any of the Oxen of the Sun if he wishes to return to Ithaca with his ship and crew intact. Of course despite his warnings and orders, Odysseus can't keep his ship of their island or his crew from killing some of them for food.
In Ulysses the fate is one of birth. All pregnancies come to an end one way or another. Whether they are successful resulting in a healthy living infant and a tired but healthy mother or whether one or both will die in the process is part of life. Joyce combines the labor of Mina Purefoy and the birth of her child with the artistic labor of writing a novel. He shows this through ten different (one for each month plus the birth) parodies of style that work their ways up through the ages.
Meanwhile Bloom, Stephen and Buck Milligan spend their time drinking. First they drink in the hospital where Mina Purefoy is laboring but they are shooed away by the midwife because their debauchery is disturbing the beautiful moment of a woman giving birth. The episode follows them to the pub where they continue their drinking.
Before the scenes with all the drinking I wanted to talk about Stewie Griffin from Family Guy because he's a very loquacious, obnoxious and crude baby. Plus there are a number of episodes that focus on his birth and on him wanting to prevent any future births in the family. Add in all the debauchery on the part of Peter and his friends it seemed perfect. Bones though provided an even better example with "The Critic in the Cabernet" which combines a murder in a winery with lots of talk of having babies. Best of all, Stewie Griffin makes a guest appearance.
In "The Critic in the Cabernet" the tempting fate theme comes to play in two forms. First and foremost there is the vintner who is selling his cheap wine bottled in knock off versions of the much more expensive wine next door. While the average consumer probably can't tell the difference and will pay the extra money by label and reputation alone, a wine critic can tell the difference. Rather than own up to his forgery he temps fate a second time and will eventually be caught.
The second fate comes in the form of all the baby talk during the episode. First and foremost, Temperance Brennan has decided she wants to be a mother. Since she's not exactly in a relationship she decides to go it alone with help of artificial insemination. She asks Booth to be the doner. He says yes but with reservations, knowing full well from his own experience as a single father of the huge commitment a child is for any parent. Finally there are the two infant children fathered by the late critic who give Brennan a chance to try her hand at mothering and bring back home the motifs of debauchery and labor.
What makes the "Oxen in the Sun" difficult to read is the sheer length of each of these parodies. Most paragraphs are a page long. The sentences are long and rambling. The sentences draw from many different literary sources. There are online resources for fully understanding the ins and outs of "Oxen in the Sun."
Next Saturday I'll post my thoughts on Episode Fifteen: Circe. If you want to read along, Ulysses is available online at Read Print.
books | fiction | James Joyce | 1918