Joyce’s Ulysses: Exhibitionism as Self-Advertisement in the Nausicaa Episode

Haider Al-Kabi


James Joyce shows a great interest in the way advertisers act as puppeteers who, by means of a vast network of telepathic threads, aim at, and frequently succeed in, instilling false needs in the consumer’s mind, as a preliminary step toward selling their merchandise. In the Nausicaa episode, through the displaying of Gerty McDowell’s stream of consciousness, Joyce reveals a world dominated by market-oriented standards, and governed by mercantile logic. By allowing access to Gerty’s meditations and daydreaming, Joyce presents a close picture of a typical female consumer entrapped into a world of advertisements, and, as a manifestation of this entanglement, Gerty shows a tendency towards exhibitionism as a form of self-advertising. ‘Exhibitionism’ is defined as “1 a: a perversion marked by a tendency to indecent exposure of the person so as to excite or gratify oneself sexually by such exposure b: such exposure or an act of exposure 2: the act or practice of behaving so as to attract attention to oneself: extravagant or willfully conspicuous behavior” (Webster 796). The counterpart of exhibitionism is ‘Voyeurism,’ which is derived from ‘voyeur’ meaning “1: one whose sexual desire is concentrated upon seeing sexual organs and sexual acts—called also peeping Tom. 2: an unduly prying observer usu. in search of sordid or scandalous sights <a sordid sideshow for political ~s —A.M.Schlesinger b. 1917>” (2566). Nonetheless, there is no indication that the form of exhibitionism demonstrated in the Nausicaa episode is of pathological nature. The sympathy with which Joyce portrays Gerty leaves no doubt that she is meant to be shown as an ordinary young female who, under a bombardment of advertisements showered at her from everywhere by the surrounding consumer-oriented environment, has developed an unusual inclination toward taking pleasure in showing her own person and her fine attire and other belongings. The total impression she leaves in the reader is that of innocence, or rather naiveté, and unawareness of the destructive influence of advertisement over her. This unawareness renders her not just inculpable, but also incapable of being morally wrong. She is simply a prey to commodity culture.


     The competition that characterizes the so-called free-market system is paralleled to a hidden rivalry between Gerty McDowell and Cissy Caffrey. The same mindset of the system is transferred to the characters, whose standards for value-judgment echo the criteria of the marketplace in defining values. From Gerty’s perspective, almost every move Cissy Caffrey performs is understood in terms of showing. Thus when Cissy runs after the children, Gerty perceives that as a mere excuse for Cissy to show how well she can run, reminding Gerty of her lameness. Gerty sees in Cissy a living commercial passing before her, flaunting itself as a challenge posed by a superior commodity. Gerty’s natural reaction to that is to bring into view the shortcomings of the commodity of her competitor. “She jumped up and called them and she ran down the slope past him, tossing her hair behind her which had a good enough colour if there had been more of it but with all the thingamerry she was always rubbing into it she couldn’t get it to grow long because it wasn’t natural! so she could just go and throw her hat at it!” (Joyce 294). In spite of all that ‘thingamerry,’ Cissy has very little hair with a barely good color, which, from Gerty’s perspective, implies that, as a commodity, Cissy’s hair is of less value than Gerty’s. To prove that, “Gerty just took off her hat to settle her hair and a prettier, daintier head of nutbrown hair was never seen on a girl’s shoulder – a radiant little vision, in sooth, almost maddening in its sweetness” (295). This display before Bloom is a clear indication of self-commodification: one consumer (Bloom) and two commodities (two types of hair) to choose from. Parallel to this, there is a commercial rhetoric promoting one commodity and underrating the other. “Gerty’s crowning glory was her wealth of wonderful hair. It was dark brown with a natural wave in it” (286).  The linguistic register in which Gerty introduces her hair is typical of those commercials that advertise the marketing of hair-care products. “You would have to travel many a long mile before you found a head of hair the like of that” [My emphasis] (295). The ‘You’ here represents the imaginary ‘consumer’ Gerty has in mind, to whom she is directing her advice to look no further for a prettier hair, as though her head’s sole function were reduced to being a hair displayer.


     Unconsciously, Gerty expresses a desire to divest Cissy of the point of advantage Cissy has over her, that is, the unflawed legs with which Cissy now is running to catch the children. If only Cissy would rip her skirt, or better still, stumble and fall, she would make a sight of herself, and would most likely get out of the way as an unqualified rival

of Gerty’s. Cissy “ran with long gandery strides it was a wonder she didn’t rip up her skirt at the side that was too tight on her because there was a lot of the tomboy about Cissy Caffrey and she was a forward piece whenever she thought she had a good opportunity to show off and just because she was a good runner she ran like that so that he could see all the end of her petticoat running and her skinny shanks up as far as possible. It would have served her just right if she had tripped up over something accidently on purpose with her high crooked French heels on her to make her look tall and got a fine tumble. Tableau! That would have been a very charming expose for a gentleman like that to witness” (294-295). Because the removal of one seller in the marketplace is advantageous to the other, a need arises for a certain form of rhetoric that aims at disqualifying the commodity of the other seller. Gerty expresses a desire to monopolize Mr. Bloom’s attention by downgrading Cissy’s achievement, as a necessary step to get her out of the way, as an article of trade that is unworthy of Bloom’s attention.


When Gerty repeatedly mentions the prices of things she has bought, she must have in mind some sort of relation between price and the quality of those things, that is, the higher the price, the better the quality. Thus a contest between Gerty McDowell and

Cissy Caffrey to attract Leopold Bloom’s attention takes the form of a comparison between two pairs of stockings. “Three and eleven she paid for those stockings in Sparrow’s of George’s street on the Tuesday, no the Monday before Easter and there wasn’t a brack on them, and that was what he was looking at, transparent, and not at her insignificant ones that had neither shape nor form (the cheek of her!) because he had eyes

in his head to see the difference for himself” (295).  Apparently, Gerty McDowell fails to notice that what she is taking pride in is an external, marketable object that can be owned by anybody else. The unspoken message of such a stance suggests that, beyond mirroring the commodity’s value, the price reflects the value of the commodity’s owner. Or, as Thomas Richards put it, “‘Nausicaa’ marks the capacity of manufactured objects to become dominant images for the self” (Richards 217). Richards rightly points out that Joyce has presented the advertised spectacle “not just as a social space for displaying commodities but as a coercive agent for invading and structuring human consciousness” (Richards 207). Gerty, identifying with what she buys, inadvertently commodifies her own person.


According to Karl Marx, money serves as an expression of value, and does not carry value in itself independent from the amount of work put forth into it as an intermediary commodity. The only source of the value of a commodity is the labor congealed in it. “The first chief function of money is to supply commodities with the material for the expression of their values, or to represent their values as magnitudes of the same denomination, qualitatively equal, and quantitatively comparable. It thus serves as a universal measure of value. And only by virtue of this function does gold, the equivalent commodity par excellence, become money.” (Marx 42). As such the price represents the money-form expression of the value of the commodity, while the commodity itself has no other source of value than the work exerted in producing it. But the metamorphoses of money as an intermediary commodity that serves to facilitate exchange makes it look as though it were itself the source of value. Marx remarks that “It is not money that renders commodities commensurable. Just the contrary. It is because all commodities, as values, are realized human labour, and therefore commensurable, that their values can be measured by one and the same special commodity, and the latter be converted into the common measure of their values, i.e., into money. Money as a measure of values is the phenomenal form that must by necessity be assumed by that measure of value which is immanent in commodities, labour time” (Marx 42). Price then represents the amount of the intermediary commodity (gold) that reflects the more or less accurate amount of work embodied in the commodity. But the source of the value of this intermediary commodity itself is nothing but human labor. While money is originally invented to indicate the existence of human labor in the commodity, and to furnish a device by which that labor is measured, it now functions as a layer that hides that labor from view. This is why Gerty McDowell attributes the value of the clothes she has bought to the money she has paid for them, and fails to see the human labor that has produced them.


Gerty’s mind has been held captive to a vast net of advertisement. Her happiness is dependent on finding the ‘right’ piece of commodity she is looking for, oblivious to the fact that her own sense of judgment is, at least partially, shaped by a bombardment of ads.

“All Tuesday week afternoon she was hunting to match that chenille but at last she found what she wanted at Clery’s summer sales, the very it, slightly shopsoiled but you would

never notice [. . .] and what joy was hers when she tried it on then, smiling at the lovely reflection which the mirror gave back to her! And when she put it on the waterjug to keep

the shape, she knew that that would take the shine out of some people she knew” (Joyce 287). But Gerty fails to question the source of this sort of knowledge of hers—that is, why she is so sure that that chenille “would take the shine out of some people.”  The chenille Gerty has acquired at Clery’s may be superior to that owned by those people she has in mind, if they ever owned one, but Gerty implicitly acknowledges that the human value can be increased or decreased by the mere acquisition or dispossession of an object, and that is quite in sharp contrast with Marx’s assertion that the human labor is the source of value.


Advertisers reach out for Gerty’s mind, and, once they have won it over, her body is also theirs, and she would unconsciously do the rest for them: Believing she is in full control of her choice, she would inadvertently allow her own body to be turned into what

Thomas Richard terms as “a field for advertisement” (Richards 225). She has fallen into the trap and is never to be let go of. She has become inextricably entangled in a vast and

complex net of commoditized system. Furthermore, because the body “had become the prevailing icon of commodity culture” (Richards 203), her needs, from now on, will, issue mostly from her body, and will fluctuate according to the market’s vicissitudes. “The quacks set into motion the use of women as icons of consumption and began to transform the female body into a specific site of advertised spectacle” (Richards 206). The more pliant the consumer’s mind, the more beneficial to the commodity marketers. The mercantile business, whose sole end is the gaining of profits, will increasingly tighten its grip on their happily enslaved consumers, and squeeze them to the last drop. For such a business to continue to grow and thrive, new needs must be created, the old ones being perpetually renewed, in the mind of its well-intending consumer. Accordingly, new maneuvers, schemes, and strategies are designed to further enmesh the consumer.


By offering us access to Gerty McDowell’s mind, Joyce demonstrates how she echoes the advertisers’ logic, how she embraces their claims, and how, in the end, she comes to believe that what those advertisers had already planted in her mind was nothing less than the inference of her own direct experience with the advertised products.  “Her figure was slight and graceful, inclining even to fragility but those iron jelloids she had been taking of late had done her a world of good much better than the Widow Welch’s female pills and she was much better of those discharges she used to get and that tired feeling” (Joyce 286). This monologue itself can serve as a commercial for ‘those iron jelloids.’ This is what the advertisers constantly do: point out a problem, real or imaginary, and then claim that they have the solution. And, to sound more convincing, they cite at times some of their ‘customers’ who have bought the product, tried it, and discovered its superiority to similar products. Due to long and persistent exposure to commodity culture, the advertisers’ input, is now mirrored in Gerty’s mind and is articulated by her tongue as her own output.


    Gerty’s belief in the efficiency of advertised commodities takes another shift; it further extends itself until it begins to infringe upon a region previously governed solely by religious jurisdiction. “Had her father only avoided the clutches of the demon drink, by taking the pledge or those powders the drink habit cured in Pearson’s Weekly, she might now be rolling in the carriage, second to none” [my emphasis] (Joyce 290). The juxtaposition here between the spiritual (the pledge) and the material (those powders) is

far from being coincidental. To Gerty, taking “those powders” can substitute for “taking the pledge” as a cure for her father’s alcoholism. The belief in the efficacy of advertised products here verges on mysticism. This is closely related to Marx’s concept of commodity fetishism. Marx declares that “It is a definite social relation between men that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands” (Marx 31). On the

one hand, it is quite obvious that it is only figuratively, that the power to cure alcoholism is attributed to “those powders in Pearson’s weekly,” and not to the men and women who

have produced them. On the other hand, Gerty McDowell not only takes the claim of the advertisement of those powders unquestionably and at face value, but also, she parrots those claims acting as an agent for the sellers. In this regard, Mark Osteen, in his book The Economy of Ulysses, Making Both Ends Meet, quite accurately indicates that for Gerty “commodities are religious icons that bring salvation” (Osteen 300), because, for her, commodities seem to issue in a vacuum, like some sort of miraculous gifts produced by invisible hands, and offered to the consumer by a homogenous abstract mass of philanthropists.


Interestingly, in his article “James Joyce: Moralist,” Ellsworth Mason suggests the existence of a linguistic veil between Gerty McDowell and things. The fancy names with which the advertised products are called, the unverified merits attributed to them, the

pompous language with which they are described, all function as a curtain drawn between Gerty and those product. “The labels which the world has attached to things make her unable to identify their real nature, and her use of highly emotional words to make things seem what she would like them to be robs her of self-perspective” (Mason 198). It is not that Gerty proves incapable of penetrating the thick wall of this linguistic prison; it is that she is by no means able to recognize the presence of that prison, and thus she is defenseless and highly vulnerable. Mark Osteen proposes that Gerty’s deficient education, which is in turn caused by her belonging to a lower-middle class, is directly responsible

for her vulnerability. “Buried in the lower-middle class, with limited education and little access to other sources of information about goods and services, Gerty is precisely the

kind of person most susceptible to advertising” (Osteen 298). The clothes she buys are wrapped in that linguistic fabric of which Mason speaks, and therefore “Gerty has bought not just clothes but the entire ideology of advertisements” (Osteen 298). This by no means implies that Gerty believes in each and every advertisement she reads; since advertisers compete with each other, they must have different degrees of success in convincing her of their merits. Nonetheless, she is entrapped in the advertising culture as a whole, and her view is shaped by it.


     Joyce draws a constant parallel between two groups on the beach: that of Gerty, Cissy, Edy, the children and Mr. Bloom, on the one hand, and that of the Mass at the church, on the other. The parallel suggests that the activities of the church represent another manifestation of commodity culture. Religion is presented as another form of merchandise, the clergies as salesmen, and the worshipers as consumers. The sexual

scene between Gerty and Bloom takes place parallel to a view from inside the church where Mass is being administered with a censer and a candle, suggesting the feminine and masculine sexual organs respectively. While the virgin Gerty on the beach stands parallel to the Virgin Mary in the church.  “Queen of angels, queen of patriarchs, queen of prophets, of all saints, they prayed, queen of the most holy rosary and then Father Conroy handed the thurible to Canon O'Hanlon and he put in the incense and censed the Blessed Sacrament and Cissy Caffrey caught the two twins” [emphasis added]. This

sudden leap from the inside of the church to where Cissy and the children are confirms the parallel, and merges the two scenes.


Listening to Mr. Bloom’s stream of consciousness, we learn that, in his view, the link between the two aforementioned groups, on the one hand, and the church and commodity culture, on the other, is unmistakable. Religion is a distinctive form of trade. “Could hear them all at it. Pray for us. And pray for us. And pray for us. Good idea the repetition. Same thing with ads. Buy from us. And buy from us” (Joyce 309). While the capitalists typically advertise tangible commodities, the clergies promote spiritual ones, and both use repetition as their primary technique. Furthermore, one may remark the obviously sarcastic mention of the Virgin Mary’s conception ‘without stain,’ and the repetition of ‘pray for us,’ quoted in another occasion juxtaposed to “buy from us;” both of the remarks link the activities of the church, now to  mercantilism, and now to prostitution. “Through the open window of the church the fragrant incense was wafted and with it the fragrant names of her who was conceived without stain of original sin, spiritual vessel, pray for us, honourable vessel, pray for us, vessel of singular devotion,

pray for us, mystical rose” (Joyce 292). Thus Mark Osteen concludes that “Christianity and prostitutions emerge as similar institutions both using similar techniques and offering similar rewards” (Osteen 123). Afterward, during the fireworks show, when Mr. Bloom has ejaculated, he, in a strikingly irreverent wordplay says, “Mass seems to be over” (Joyce 309), ‘Mass’ being short for ‘masturbation.’


The fireworks scene is one of the highest points in the episode, where Gerty and Bloom conspire to perform a hands-off sexual interaction. While Gerty exposes herself to Bloom’s eagerly watchful eyes, the latter masturbates. The fireworks may stand

for the sexual pleasure and the ultimate orgasm Gerty and Bloom experience. Joyce paints this scene meticulously, with all the thrill associated with fireworks. Here, too, Joyce hints at the Roman candle, a phallus, which was already introduced to the reader in a view from inside the church. Joyce describes Gerty’s face, when she strains back with seemingly sexual ecstasy, as ‘divine.’ “She leaned back ever so far to see the fireworks and something queer was flying through the air, a soft thing, to and fro, dark. And saw a long Roman candle going up over the trees, up, up, and, in the tense hush, they were all breathless with excitement as it went higher and higher and she had to lean back more and more to look up after it, high, high, almost out of sight, and her face was suffused with a divine, an entrancing blush from straining back” [emphasis added] (Joyce 300). One possibility of why Gerty takes pleasure in showing her body is her engrossment in an exhibitory, consumer-oriented commodity culture to the point that she judges her own person according to the same standards by which a commodity is measured. Another possibility is that Gerty has lost self-esteem, and become unsure of her desirability as a consequence of an accident that left her lame, and, later, due to having been rejected by “the boy that had the bicycle off the London bridge road always riding up and down in front of her window” (Joyce 287). As a result, Gerty looks forward to regaining her self-assurance.


But even in the midst of the pleasure Gerty seems to be taking in exposing her body to Bloom, she is apparently incapable of viewing her own value apart from the prices of the clothes she has on. Or as George Simmel, quoted by Mark Osteen, put it, “She renders her adornment valuable by presenting it as expression and extension of herself, but her value also depends on others’ recognition of the value of her clothes and accessories” (Osteen 300). Mr. Bloom must have a different standpoint from that of Gerty, who appears to be more interested in showing her things rather than herself. Just like in the marketplace, in doing so, Gerty reveals a desire to show Mr. Bloom how superior her things are to those of her competitors; “he could see her other things too, nainsook knickers, the fabric that caresses the skin, better than those other pettiwidth, the green, four and eleven, on account of being white and she let him and she saw that he saw” [emphasis added] (Joyce 300). The italics point out Gerty’s emphasis on her things, their superiority over other products, and their prices, which are a proof of their worth, and, by extension, of the worth of their wearer. In line with this, Garry Leonard, in his book Advertising and Commodity Culture in Joyce, suggests that “Gerty is an obsessive witness to her own commodification. . . She advertises herself to Bloom as a product he must have to complete himself, and she does so in order to imagine herself as complete. . . Gerty knows she must buy an image for herself as ‘feminine’ in order to be visible to a masculine subject. She must view her face as having a certain amount of currency, as much as if it were a coin” (Leonard 100). Though Leonard, in advancing the idea of completing oneself, is obviously building on Lacan’s principle of ‘lack,’ his position is quite reasonable in that each of Gerty and Bloom are actually looking in each other for something essential to their self-fulfillment. Also, Gerty actually advertises herself as being superior to all those women he has known. “She was a womanly woman not like other flighty girls unfeminine he had known, those cyclists showing off what they hadn’t got” (Joyce 293).


Nevertheless, Gerty uses her pieces of garments only as a bait to entrap her potential lovers. Once she has insured that Mr. Bloom is earnest in his desire, she, now free from the worries she used to experience about the vicissitudes of the marketplace, lets herself go, and relishes every moment of her sexual play; “and then it went so high it went out of sight a moment and she was trembling in every limb from being bent so far back that he had a full view high up above her knee where no-one ever not even on the swing or wading” (Joyce 300). When the clothes and other things have fulfilled their function as a means for Gerty to acquire acceptability, then, though only for a moment, she has reclaimed her self-identity; “and she wasn’t ashamed and he wasn’t either to look in that immodest way like that because he couldn’t resist the sight of the wondrous revealment half offered like those skirtdancers behaving so immodest before gentlemen looking and he kept on looking, looking” (Joyce 300). She is no longer displaying her things; she is now exhibiting her own person. On the other hand, Bloom’s standpoint is more direct and more physical. He merely sees in Gerty an attractive girl with whom he would like to enter in a brief and cursory sexual adventure. However, as Leonard put it, “While Bloom’s orgasm has an obvious biological component in it, nonetheless, he himself recognizes it never would have occurred had he known about her limp: ‘A defect is ten times worse in a woman . . . Glad I didn’t know it when she was on show’” (Leonard 102). As such, Bloom is not immune to the influence of commodity culture. He also commodifies Gerty and weighs her worth according to the marketplace criteria.  “Poor girl! That’s why she’s left on the shelf” [emphasis added] (Joyce 301).


As we approach the climax of this scene when Gerty reaches the peak of her pleasure, Joyce gradually loosens his sentence structure, and creates an aura of colors and thrill to match the explosive fireworks spectacle, and the elated moment of orgasm. “She would fain have cried to him chokingly, held out her snowy slender arms to him to come, to feel his lips laid on her white brow, the cry of a young girl’s love, a little strangled cry, wrung from her, that cry that has rung through the ages. And then a rocket sprang and bang shot blind blank and O! then the Roman candle burst and it was like a sigh of O! and everyone cried O! O! in raptures and it gushed out of it a stream of rain gold hair threads and they shed and ah! They were all greeny dewy stars falling with golden, O so lovely, O, soft, sweet, soft!” [emphasis added] (Joyce 300). At this moment, Gerty seems to have come to terms with herself, and soared high above the calculations of the marketplace. But, incidentally, the Roman candle appears again in the midst of this panorama of fireworks, to hint at the union of sex and religion.


Had it been left to the mercy of commodity culture, Gerty’s whole character would have diminished until she becomes little more than a living mannequin on which various commercial products are displayed. Fortunately, Gerty’s humanity is irreducible to such a tragic nadir. Deep in her heart, there is a perpetual yearning—a lifelong thirst which all her purchased products have so far proved incapable of quenching. “A gnawing sorrow is there all the time. Her very soul is in her eyes and she would give worlds to be in the privacy of her own familiar chamber where, giving way to tears, she could have a good cry and relieve her pentup feelings” (Joyce 288). But, even in her private chamber, the claws of the capitalistic environment refuse to let go of her, and she finds herself standing astride between two urges pulling at her from two different directions. She would not have her fill of crying for fear of spoiling her look. She is self-conscious of her own reflection in the mirror, which stares back at her and tells her, “You are lovely, Gerty,” and thus she keeps her emotions in check, and cries ‘nicely.’


As Joyce put it, “‘Nausicaa is written in a namby-pamby jammy marmalady drawersy (alto la!) style with effect of incense, mariolotry, masturbation, stewed cockles, painter’s palette, chitchat, circumlocutions, etc etc’” (Richards, quoting a letter from Joyce to Frank Budgen, 217). This is most evident at the very beginning of the episode, “The summer evening had begun to fold the world in its mysterious embrace,” (Joyce 284), etc., and during Gerty McDowell’s long monologue. The agreement between content and form here is of primary import. Joyce has chosen this style in order to mimic Gerty McDowell’s mode of thinking, and to parody the advertising language Gerty is fond of. Through the unfolding of Gerty’s stream of consciousness, we bear witness to the role of commodity culture in shaping Gerty’s mindset, and subsequently, in turning her into a perpetual consumer, an unpaid advertiser, and a front displ






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