The modernist inkblot.
--Virginia Woolf, Orlando
Writing with pen and ink favors a steady hand and steadfast resolve. In a Utopian scene of writing, the ink flows from pen to paper in a metered economy: precisely fluid enough for dramatic swoops and elegant ligatures but not so much that the writer's hand bears tell-tale smudges or smears. But ink is rarely so obliging. Predictably unpredictable, its ebb and flow are accompanied by such ephemeral byproducts as the inkblot and blotting paper. Together, they constitute a messy and protean economy that is instrumental to modernism's scenes of writing.
The word "blot" has accrued an array of connotations, many of which bespeak its curious but vexing relationship to the creative process. Rich with suggestive ties to the body, a blot can signify a mark, blemish, or disfigurement. A blot might besmirch its maker: to blot is to soil something, or cover paper with worthless writing. And because the verb can mean "to absorb" but also "to stain," it can be understood as a contronym or enantiodrome: a word that denotes both a thing and its opposite. Even in its lexical guise, the blot is beset by doubleness.
Curiouser still, inkblots have sustained associations with creativity and imagination. When the inkblot was adopted by psychoanalysts at the turn of the twentieth century, it came to represent the creative unconscious in ways that would persist in literary modernism. Within the inkblot's amorphous contours, creativity forges an uneasy rapport with criminality.
A blotter not only suggests the police blotter, or crime report, but also a scribbler, or sorry writer. And if ink is the sorry writers lifeblood, then blotting paper is the sine qua mm of authorial practice. Inky mistakes and blotting paper are closely entangled: one strays, and the other corrals; one is wayward and unruly, and the other its disapproving headmaster.
Though borne of utility, the blotting paper creates an ephemeral or paratextual trace of the manuscript. A writer's blotter would contain an inky imprint, or a shadow image, of the writer's process--a treasure trove for the archivist. At stake here are notions of material enclosure; namely, the act of writing takes place under cover in order to evade the public gaze. Such covert measures became critical to women writers for whom composition was suspect. This constellation of meanings coheres in modernist scenes of writing, from the blot's corporeal implications to the suggestion that authorship is a clandestine, even criminal, enterprise.
Modernists were not the first to notice the cryptographic possibilities of blotting paper. This history begins in the late nineteenth century, when the practice of mirror-writing was associated with mediumship and the occult. As Helen Sword explains, mediumship "has always been closely allied with authorship" (2002, 8). (1) And since pens could be haunted, handwriting became a trace or imprint of an otherworldly presence. For instance, handwriting plays a pivotal role in Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which a specialist notices that Jekyll and Hyde's handwriting styles are "identical" save for the important detail that they are "differently sloped" (2003, 28). Incidentally, when Hyde later evades the police, he is "simply blotted out" of the narrative, as if little more than an erratic inkblot. Central to Hyde's menace, writes Patrick Brantlinger, is his literacy: "Hyde lurks in a shadowy borderland between a criminal literature of the slums--penny numbers, shilling shockers--and the moral allegory" proposed by Stevenson's wife Fanny (1998, 179). James Joyce, too, would engage mirror-writing's criminality in Finnegans Wake (1939). Some see Shem the Penman as Joyce's authorial doppelgiinger, but, like Jekyll, Shem has a double of his own:"Maistre Sheames de la Plume," writer of "some most dreadful stuff in a murderous mirrorhand" (Joyce 2012, 177). As we will later see, it is unclear whether these writings are "dreadful" in the sense of quality or in terms of genre: the literal sense that they inspire dread, as a crime novel like Stevenson's might.
Crime fiction made good use of blotting paper. A single blotter could be read as a palimpsest, with pages of script imprinted in mirror image. Sherlock Holmes takes advantage of the phenomenon when he solves a crime by reading the blotter's imprint in Arthur Conan Doyle's 1904 story "The Adventures of the Missing Three-Quarter." Embedded in the original publication in The Strand is an image of the tell-tale handwriting, rendered in mirror image by the blotting paper (a plot device, by the way, that Joyce would later rehearse with fascination). Like a photographic negative, the mirrored script functions like a cipher or, in the story's terms, a "hieroglyphic" (Doyle 1953, 731-32). And much like the blot's contronymic legacy--wherein a single word might mean one thing and its opposite--the blotting paper's script suggests both encryption and key, or hieroglyphic and Rosetta Stone. The script captured on the blotting paper (typically a disposable graphic trace) can be understood as a clue, or a narrative device crucial to the growing genre of detective fiction. From Jekyll to Sherlock to Shem, we see a confluence of criminal narratives, the doppelganger, and writing's ephemeral traces. Lurking in the shadows of this unlikely cluster is the inkblot.
The inkblot came into its own with the late-nineteenth-century practice of klecksography, in which an ink-spattered page was folded to create an image of bilateral symmetry. Early on, these quasi-calculated inkblots were catalysts for the imagination and triggers for free association. A European parlor game in the nineteenth century, Klexographie, or "Blotto," involved a set of inkblots from which participants generated words and phrases. German poet Justinus Kerner (1786-1862) would annotate his inkblots with imaginative poems (see figure 1). His work emerged nearly in synchrony with the faux-Darwinian classifications and taxonomies imagined by nonsense poets Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. In keeping with this trend for fanciful creatures, Kerner's 1857 Kleksographien suggestively blurs the human and otherworldly. Kerner, who described his inky creations as "chance inkblots," seems to have stressed their arcane provenance, even suggesting that "the forms assumed by the blots were sometimes of supernatural origin--'figures from Hades'" (Pichot 1984, 594-95).
The klecksograph's folding resembles the work of blotting paper; a single image encompasses both the original and its mirrored opposite, as if introducing the pen's untidy scrawl to its paratextual voyeur. The inkblot's mirror-image design--its premeditated duplicity--strikingly resembles the two hemispheres of the brain and, at the same time, implicates both halves of the human spirit. (2) In a sense, it embodies both Jekyll and Hyde in a single image or Joyce's "murderous mirrorhand." Especially popular at the end of the century was Gobolinks, or Shadow Pictures for Young and Old (1896) by Ruth McEnery Stuart and Albert Bigelow Paine. The title's playful portmanteau unites "ink" with "goblin," presumably a devilish spirit that haunts the inkbottle. (And, as we will later see, modernism was familiar with haunted inkbottles, with Joyce's Shem the Penman residing in a Haunted Inkbottle of his own.) (3) From the Butterfly Man to the Long-Tailed Bear, the Gobolinks demonstrate how the blot's inky genesis gives way to novel appendages, from whiskers and wings to tails.
This whimsical history culminates with klecksography's lone celebrity, one who played with inkblots throughout childhood and adulthood. Hermann Rorschach was born in 1884 and nicknamed "Klex" (or inkblot) in school (Wood et al. 2003, 24). Following his medical training, he worked as a resident at a psychiatric asylum in Miinsterlingen, Switzerland from 1909 to 1913. This would prove an exciting juncture, one rich with watershed research by Josef Breuer, Sigmund Freud, and others. In 1911, Rorschach introduced inkblots to his research "to investigate whether gifted children gave more imaginative interpretations than did less gifted children" (Richardson 2011, 136). In June 1921, Rorschach published Psychodiagnostik, and thus emerged the Rorschach inkblot test. (4)
Rorschach died in 1922, at the moment of modernism's zenith, and only nine months after the publication of his monograph. His supervisor Eugen Bleuler commemorated Rorschach as "the hope of an entire generation of Swiss Psychiatry" (Wood et al. 2003, 28). By World War II, the test had become a prominent psychodiagnostic measure: "Training manuals were rushed into print and many people were trained in Rorschach procedure" (Aronow, Reznikoff, and Moreland 1994, 5). Early on, Rorschach's inkblots were understood as "a visual variation on Freud's verbal technique" of prompting free association (Geary 2011, 63). (5) Today, the Rorschach inkblot test has weathered nearly a century of praise and critical outrage for what some have described as a "pseudoscientific modern variant on tea leaf reading and Tarot cards" (Wood et al. 2003, 1).
From Kerner's whimsy to Rorschach's research, the inkblot's striking forms flirt with the erratic, asking subjects to ascribe randomness with narrative. Such phenomena fall under the aegis of pareidolia, the impulse to extract meaning from the seemingly random--from clustering illusions to mondegreens and constellations. Marrying the Greek roots para-(beside, alongside--but, in this case, faulty or wrong) and eidolon (image, form, shape, representation), the term's etymology itself suggests a haunted mirror image. In fact, the term eidolon is historically intermingled with spectral narratives. Pareidolic tendencies are sometimes hierophantic, such as the Man in the Moon or urban legends about a prophet likeness arising from a toaster. (6) If it seems that our yearnings for meaning-making favor the lunar and stellar, this is perhaps because the world above is as foreign as it is familiar. And because we crave the comforts of faces and figures, inkblots seem to satisfy, or at least tempt, these cravings. Rorschach's images tend to elicit human or animal associations, so reliably that Card I is fondly known as the "sinister-looking moth," Card II is the "sex card," and Card IV the "father card" (Aronow, Reznikoff, and Moreland 1994, 34-38). Perhaps inkblots are seductive to viewers because their randomness is ambiguous, even suspect; are they random, really? The inkblot's bilateral symmetry, remember, is suggestively organic, and it might be tempting to project upon it the brain's hemispheres or the butterfly's spots. But that wavering is precisely the draw of the pareidolic. Unmoored from the rules of representation, the viewer assumes the authority of assigning meaning to the meaningless.
Alone, an inkblot is unfinished. It wants labels, interpretations, and stories, and in flirting between representation and abstraction it is suggestively compatible with the modernist moment. We see pareidolic impulses, for instance, in the haunting anthem of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land (1922): "I will show you fear in a handful of dust" (2001, 30). In Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway (1925), a skywriting plane inspires assorted Londoners to look upward, each ascribing lexical meaning to what at first seems like a random assortment of letters. For Septimus Smith, the pareidolic urge stirs his wartime traumas--"So," he muses, "they are signalling to me"--but then prompts a poignant meditation on beauty: "Tears filled his eyes as he looked at the smoke words languishing and melting in the sky" (Woolf 1981, 21-22).
We could as easily attribute the inkblot to modernism's ekphrastic impulse, one sometimes traced back to Walter Pater's well-loved description of Mona Lisa (1873) and forward to W H. Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts" (1939) and "The Shield of Achilles" (1952). (7) By definition, though, ekphrasis presupposes representation, whereas the inkblot at least pretends at abstraction. (8) As if baiting spectators to free-associate, Andy Warhol's 1984 series "Rorschach" features inkblot prints nearly fourteen feet in height, a project cited by Rosalind Krauss as evidence of the artist's renewed commitment to abstraction (2012, 27-33). More recently, Rorschach's work has resurfaced as a counter-creative motif. Dan Farrell's The Inkblot Record (2000) rehearses in alphabetical order fifty years of Rorschach responses in what Brian Reed has described as "a dystopian vision in which interior lives are reducible to strings of alphanumeric data" (2013, 69). (9)
My aim, however, is not to rehearse a catalogue of modernist pareidolia but to acknowledge that pareidolic impulses may inform the writings of key modernists when they engage inkblots as sites of suspect creativity. Modernist inkblots not only plumb the relationship between randomness and narrative but also interrogate creativity for its psychological demons. An inkblot, remember, comprises both the original and its copy. The Rorschach inkblot was wildly popular, I believe, because it excavated suspicions about writing's duplicity: not only its haunted origins but also a lingering criminal depth evident in writing's material manifestations. First tracing a lineage from Jane Austen to Virginia Woolf, I show that what began as convention or material necessity for women writers evolved into a critical adaptation, one that supports and engenders creativity. Joyce, too, explores inky mistakes--blots as well as their ephemeral remedies--as covert sites of women's authorship and graphic imagination. What's more, in remaining loyal to old-fashioned accoutrements like pen, ink, and paper, Woolf and Joyce demonstrate an attachment to composition's pre-modern materiality--an attachment sharply at odds with modernism's well-documented technophilia. (10) What resurfaces in such scenes of writing is a scrawling, scribbling, doodling praxis too often eclipsed by the eventualities of type and reproduction. The material exigencies of handwriting, I argue, come to support and even protect modernist creativity.
Beneath the blotting paper
In exploring the material complexities of women's authorship, it is tempting to understand the inkblot's fluidity in terms of sentiment. One such example is the first page of Woolf's Jacob's Room (1922), and our introduction to Betty Flanders:
Slowly welling from the point of her gold nib, pale blue ink dissolved the full stop; for there her pen stuck; her eyes fixed, and tears slowly filled them. The entire bay quivered; the lighthouse wobbled; and she had the illusion that the mast of Mr. Connor's little yacht was bending like a wax candle in the sun. She winked quickly.... The mast was straight; the waves were regular; the lighthouse was upright; but the blot had spread. (1950, 7)
The passage suggestively layers tears with ink, the two fluids impeding the writer's eyesight and composition." We could conclude that the inkblot is little more than affective prop--an objective correlative, maybe, for what George Eliot might have termed "silly novels by lady novelists" (1883, 178). (12) But surely Woolf is up to something more interesting. First, the inkblot dissolves the full stop, akin to dismantling syntax into a stream of language. Second, the inkblot inspires such lively verbs as "quiver," "wobble," and "bend," melting the quotidian scene into a kind of surrealist tableau. Solid objects, from lighthouse to mast, begin to behave like ink, or as if awash in an inky deluge. Once Betty blots away her tears, the passage's formal register returns to lexical realism with plain predicate adjectives: "was straight," "were regular," "was upright." Her fleeting sentiment betrays a Woolfian sleight of hand: Betty's "stuck pen" gives us pause enough to see the scene through her eyes as well as those of its modernist maker.
As if plumbing the blot's potent associations with sentimentality, Woolf addresses writing's materiality in plainly gendered terms in A Room of One's Own (1929). She first recalls that William Shakespeare famously "never blotted a line," suggesting that his ink was perfectly apportioned for the task at hand (Woolf 1957, 53). Readers might hesitate to take such a comment literally, but Woolf does exactly that a few pages later when she turns to the material conditions faced by Jane Austen. Woolf first imagines the challenges of writing in "the common sitting room": the constant interruptions, distractions, and obstacles faced by the woman writer. According to a nephew's memoir, Austen had to be "careful that her occupation should not be suspected by servants or visitors or any persons beyond her own family party." She "was glad that a hinge creaked, so that she might hide her manuscript before any one came in" because, as Woolf speculates, "there was something discreditable in writing Pride and Prejudice!' The result is an ephemeral form of secrecy: as Woolf explains, Austen "hid her manuscripts or covered them with a piece of blotting paper" (70-71). So imagined, the blotting paper serves as a veil or mantle enshrouding the writer's work in secrecy.
Though Woolf professes surprise at such efforts to cocoon the act of writing, we can see similar patterns in her own autobiographical writings. In "A Sketch of the Past" (1939), she recalls her adolescent bedroom and the secondhand writing table she inherited from her half sister Stella, a table "stained green and decorated by her with a pattern of brown leaves" (Woolf 1985, 122). In looking closely at this writing space, we see that, much like Austen's, it is characterized by secrecy: "On it stood open my Greek lexicon; some Greek play or other; many little bottles of ink, pens innumerable; and probably hidden under blotting paper, sheets of foolscap covered with private writing in a hand so small and twisted as to be a family joke." In recalling this formative space, Woolf dwells on its material conditions. Beneath the public display of Greek drama, her "private writing" is characterized by sedimentary layers ("hidden under") and convolutions. Even her "small and twisted" handwriting resembles a cipher. Blotting paper, as in Austen's example, serves as an enclosure around the scene of writing. For this young writer first imagining a room of her own, the blotting paper effectively partitions her from the wider world.
Blotting paper assumes an instrumental role in Woolf's late fiction, particularly in The Years (1937). I focus here on Eleanor Pargiter's composition process, one that unfolds across decades. From the late Victorian era to "The Present Moment," Eleanor's world changes dramatically, but the material conditions of her writing remain constant. When we first encounter her writing, the year is 1891: "Eleanor was sitting at her writing-table with her pen in her hand.... She drew on her blotting paper; a dot with strokes raying out round it. Then she looked up. They were burning weeds in the back garden; there was a drift of smoke; a sharp acrid smell; and leaves were falling. A barrel-organ was playing up the street" (Woolf 1965, 91). What might have begun as an inkblot and then a simple doodle--"a dot with strokes raying out round it"--unfolds into a series of sensory memories: smells, sights, and sounds. In 1910, nearly two decades later, the scene all but repeats itself: "Eleanor was blackening the strokes on her blotting-paper. I've heard all this, I've done all this so often, she was thinking. She glanced round the table.... I know what he's going to say, I know what she's going to say, she thought, digging a little hole in the blotting-paper.... Why must we do it? Eleanor thought, drawing a spoke from the hole in the middle" (175). The scene is plainly modern, from Eleanor's distractible and almost Prufrockian ennui to the modern implications of her sketch. What were solar "rays" in 1891 have become "strokes" and then "spokes" in 1910. The dot's radiating structure has evolved into something mechanical: the spokes of a bicycle wheel, perhaps, or an engine's strokes. (13) What seemed aimless before has gradually become more insistent. A destructive urgency or violence is evident here, as she digs into the paper with determined force. (14) And when her sketching becomes "digging," the paper acquires a third dimension, as if her creative medium has transformed from the writer's ink to the sculptor's clay.
When the narrative advances to the present day, we again find Eleanor thinking about her writing table and experimenting with the blot: "Millions of things came back to her. Atoms danced apart and massed themselves. But how did they compose what people called a life? ... Perhaps there's 'I' at the middle of it, she thought; a knot; a centre; and again she saw herself sitting at her table drawing on the blotting-paper, digging little holes from which spokes radiated. Out and out they went; thing followed thing, scene obliterated scene" (366-67). In a meditation again distinctly modern, she conceives of memory in terms of lively atomic imagery. The question she poses to herself--"How did they compose what people called a life?"--pivots on a telling ambiguity: the word "compose" could simply mean "make," but because Eleanor sits at a writing table, we ought to also consider her question in terms of creative process.
I believe that Eleanor answers her own question in the passage's final sentence: "Out and out they went; thing followed thing, scene obliterated scene." In this metanarrative, we can glean important clues about modernist creativity. The first of three narrative models, "out and out they went," is plainly spatial and suggests a kind of spidery, radiating model suggestive of social metaphor. This model resembles the "navelcord" that stretches across Joyce's Dublin in Ulysses (1993, 3.36) or, in Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, the "thin thread" that connects Richard to Clarissa until, "as a single spider's thread is blotted with rain-drops, and, burdened, sags down," it breaks (1981, 112). Given Eleanor's earlier fascination with solar rays and radiating spokes, this branching model is familiar to readers. In the second model, "thing followed thing" is a temporal or sequential stringing-together of items, a narrative conventional in its linearity. Most interesting of all is "scene obliterated scene"--a third model that, particularly in light of the historical moment, 1937, eerily augurs World War II. The term "obliterate," a Latinate conjoining of "ob-" (against) and "littera" (letter, script), means "to erase, delete, efface" and also "to blot out (anything written, drawn, imprinted, etc.)" (OED 2015, emphasis mine). As Woolf understands it, to obliterate is conceptually similar to blot in the sense that it encompasses its own opposite, so that in Eleanor's imagination, obliteration is writing that unwrites. Her inky mistake has precipitated not an aimless sketch but a narrative model rife with pessimism. Returning to her radiant "knot" or "centre," moreover, we can understand obliteration as a literary device, and the blot a creative mechanism important to the woman writer.
While Jacob's Room or The Years may offer us passing glimpses of creative process, a fuller representation appears in Orlando (1928), where Orlando drafts and revises "The Oak Tree" across centuries, allowing Woolf to dramatize the poem's composition in protracted detail. The poem is materially complex in part because of the privacies engineered by its writer:
Then Orlando felt in the bosom of her shirt as if for some locket or relic of lost affection, and drew out no such thing, but a roll of paper, sea-stained, blood-stained, travel-stained--the manuscript of her poem, "The Oak Tree." She had carried this about with her for so many years now, and in such hazardous circumstances, that many of the pages were stained, some were torn, while the straits she had been in for writing paper when with the gipsies, had forced her to overscore the margins and cross the lines till the manuscript looked like a piece of darning. (Woolf 2006, 172-73)
"The Oak Tree" is a "roll of paper," not yet printed and reproduced, and the manuscript unfurls like a scroll, its unraveling a prerequisite to reading or writing. In rolling it up, in other words, the writer encloses the composition. Orlando participates in the tradition of "crossing letters," an epistolary technique important to women writers and sometimes used for economy or encryption. (15) The poem, we learn, did not emerge from a linear stitching together of word upon word but has instead thickened over time, accruing layers as if a palimpsest of ink, blood, tears, even seawater. So elaborate is this weaving together that the poem begins to resemble "darning," in a sense conflating text and textile, vividly illustrating what Woolf would elsewhere term "frock consciousness," the pages nearly stitched into "the bosom of her shirt." (16) It seems fitting, then, that Orlando keeps close to her body not a symbol of romance (a "locket or relic of lost affection") but a draft, and one that betrays the material conditions of her creative process.
Especially curious is the role of the inkblot in Orlando's writing, a mistake that would seem to arrest but actually helps enable her creative process:
Orlando, who had just dipped her pen in the ink, and was about to indite some reflection upon the eternity of all things, was much annoyed to be impeded by a blot, which spread and meandered round her pen. It was some infirmity of the quill, she supposed; it was split or dirty. She dipped it again. The blot increased. She tried to go on with what she was saying; no words came. Next she tried to decorate the blot with wings and whiskers, till it became a round-headed monster, something between a bat and a wombat.... To her astonishment and alarm, the pen began to curve and caracole with the smoothest possible fluency. (17) (173-74)
The blot, first described in terms of impediment or infirmity--a body broken, perhaps, or maladapted--prompts the pen to "caracole," suggesting the urgency and dynamism of a rollicking horse. (18) The inkblot, and the creature spun from it, are reminiscent of the klecksographs that transfixed Kerner, just as its inky "wings and whiskers" recall the mythical Gobolinks created by Stuart and Paine. The ominous "round-headed monster" possesses the pen such that it takes on a life of its own. As the pen assumes physical and even grammatical agency, Orlando's creative process seems governed by some external force; were she W. B. Yeats or Gertrude Stein, we might call this automatic writing.
This scene occurs in the Victorian era, but, as her automatic writing suggests, Orlando's sensations are distinctly modern. (19) As her pen becomes haunted, she feels "as if she were made of a thousand wires upon which some breeze or errant fingers were playing scales," and her "arms sang and twanged as the telegraph wires would be singing and twanging in twenty years or so" (175). The next morning, her pen remains haunted: "The pen made one large lachrymose blot after another, or it ambled off, more alarmingly still into mellifluous fluencies" (177). As in the opening of Jacob's Room, the intermingling of tears and ink in a "lachrymose blot" could suggest the writer's sentimental leanings, but, importantly, the blot here does not arrest the writer's progress. On the contrary, the pen "amble[s] off," as if assuming new mobility in the wake of its inky play.
Woolf's pens would again be haunted by otherworldly spirits. In her 1931 essay "Professions for Women," she describes her hand-to-hand combat with the Angel in the House, the icon of Victorian femininity whose decorum and propriety threaten the woman writer's work. The Angel's principal crime, it would seem, is ink-haunting: "She made as if to guide my pen" (1979, 60). Reacting with violence, Woolf turns upon the Angel, killing her, and, forever after, Woolf writes, "whenever I felt the shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the inkpot and flung it at her. She died hard." Just as the Angel's weapon of choice is the pen, Woolf retaliates with the inkpot, a weapon certain to stain the Angel's radiant dress. In a sense, the Angel becomes the blank page upon which the writer hurls her ink--an act of violence that would turn the Angel into a demon, appropriately so, given the inkblot's entanglement with a lively genealogy of demons. Klecksography, after all, nearly coincided with Coventry Patmore's 1854 "The Angel in the House," the poem responsible for the counter-creative force that haunts Woolf. And as Orlando has taught us, if the aspiring writer is to benefit from an unearthly benefactor, it would not be an Angel at all but a demon emerging from the primordial soup of the inkblot.
Leopold Bloom, scribbler
From the material intimacies of women's authorship, we turn to Joyce, whose 1922 Ulysses is similarly preoccupied--this time, though, through the eyes of compositional voyeur and trespasser Leopold Bloom. Because Bloom wants to write popular fiction and imagines himself a neophyte in this decidedly feminine cult of writing, he studies the compositional practices of his wife Molly, daughter Milly, and correspondent Martha Clifford. Along the way, he adopts crucial strategies and emulates the material complexity of their compositions, including the strategic use of material enclosure (often blotting paper) for authorial privacy. Recalling Orlando's writing history for a moment, the development of "The Oak Tree" could be understood to reach its apotheosis once Orlando writes as a woman, crossing her letters for privacy, but then also reaping the creative freedoms such privacy affords. Bloom similarly adopts certain strategies of women writers in order to exercise creative freedoms typically beyond his purview. Here, we widen our scope from ink's particularities--blot and blotting paper--to the material practices essential to authorship, especially those important to the popular genres that populate Ulysses.
The reading landscape of Ulysses is saturated with popular fiction, and Bloom's authorial ambitions are relatedly middlebrow. (20) Detective fiction, for instance, is a mainstay of his musings. Earlier, we learned of blotting paper's instrumental role in Doyle's story "The Adventures of the Missing Three-Quarter" (1904), where Holmes neatly solves a crime by reading the blotter's mirrored "hieroglyphics" for clues. In "Sirens," Bloom imagines just such a scenario. Penning a flirtatious letter to typist Martha Clifford, he quickly blots the address to hide his infidelity from an onlooker. In so doing, an idea occurs to him: "Blot over the other so he can't read. There. Right. Idea prize titbit. Something detective read off blotting pad" (Joyce 1993, 11.901-92). (21) Bloom's infidelity triggers these guilty associations with crime and detection, but perhaps more suggestive is the blotting paper that prompts him to think creatively about narrative devices. In this case, writing a letter to typist Clifford--a missive enmeshed in his own sensational fantasy--is connected to a larger fantasy, one in which he is a writer of popular fiction. In his courtship, then, Bloom becomes both mysterious lover and authorial puppet-master.
By this point in the novel, readers are wise to Bloom's half-hearted ambition to write popular stories. His aims are plainly inspired by the reading materials he encounters at home and around Dublin, from his own fascination with Raoul's steamy adventures in The Sweets of Sin to Molly's blithe regard for the novels of Paul de Kock. (22) Even the imagined tryst between Bloom and Gerty MacDowell could be understood as two readers immersed in the shared lexicon of popular fiction. When he visits the latrine in "Calypso," reading and then blotting himself with an ill-fated edition of Titbits, we first learn about his short-lived writing career:
Our prize titbit: Matcham's Masterstroke. Written by Mr Philip Beaufoy, Playgoers' Club, London. Payment at the rate of one guinea a column has been made to the writer. Three and a half. Three pounds three. Three pounds, thirteen and six.... It did not move or touch him but it was something quick and neat. Print anything now. Silly season.... He envied kindly Mr Beaufoy who had written it and received payment of three pounds, thirteen and six. Might manage a sketch. By Mr and Mrs L. M. Bloom. Invent a story for some proverb. Which? Time I used to try jotting down on my cuff what she said dressing. Dislike dressing together. (23) (1993, 4.502-20)
In imagining his future as a writer, Bloom is at first purely pragmatic. Unmoved by Beaufoy's prose, he instead mulls over the particulars of income and the allure of a "fashionable London address" (Gifford and Seidman 1998, 81). Importantly, Bloom understands the writing life in terms of a marital collaboration. The partnership he imagines is hardly egalitarian, though: it positions Molly as creative source and Bloom as copyist. In a sense, he casts himself as apprentice to the craft of women's authorship, furtively "jotting down" the fruits of her creative practice. But in transcribing her words in her bedroom while she is in a state of undress, he violates one of the few privacies available to women authors.
Molly's words are critical to Bloom's developing creative process in several key ways. Bloom aspires to write the sort of popular fiction he finds in his home, which means that his authorial aims are sharply gendered. Like generations of women writers before him, he exercises this ambition under cover. Imagining her husband's infidelities, Molly Bloom recalls: "Yes because the day before yesterday he was scribbling something a letter when I came into the front room to show him Dignams death in the paper as if something told me and he covered it up with the blottingpaper pretending to be thinking about business so very probably that was it" (Joyce 1993, 18.46-51). What Molly describes here is eerily similar to Woolf's description of women writers like Austen--working in the parlor, or "the front room," and covering their work with blotting paper to disguise their efforts at composition. What's more, Molly describes Bloom's work as "scribbling," a word loaded with pejorative allusions to women's authorship. Bloom might well be hiding evidence of his infidelities, but his stealth is also connected to his private practice of "scribbling" stories (or Titbits.
Bloom observes and participates in several models of women's authorship, one of them epistolary. In surveying his zig-zagging wanderings through Dublin on June 16, 1904, we can see how his correspondence requires him to assume a number of roles: cuckold, father, advertiser, even would-be lover. Early in the day, as he wakes at 7 Eccles St. and retrieves the morning mail, he spots a note from Blazes Boylan to Molly as well as a letter from his "fond daughter Milly." (24) The letters are far from uniform in their material bearing. Boylan's "bold hand" suggests that the letter was dashed off in the magisterial style we come to expect from him. What's more, his heavy hand implicates the feminized "scribbling" that thwarts Bloom's authorship. Importantly, Bloom does not study Boylan's letter so much as his wife's response to it. Even as he watches for signs of his imminent cuckoldry, he is also keen to observe and emulate Molly's authorial strategies. For instance, he notices that Molly opens, reads, and then tucks the letter under her pillow. Bloom catches her in this act of material enclosure, as if spotting the woman writer's recourse to blotting paper. In fact, Bloom has begun to adopt these strategies himself.
Bloom's epistolary romance with Clifford is a tutorial in the ephemeral trappings of women's composition. Readers are familiar with Bloom's attraction to such a type. By way of his alter ego Henry Flower, he has enlisted not just any lady typist, but a smart one: "Wanted, smart lady typist to aid gentleman in literary work" (8.326-27). Indeed, Flower's advertisement specifies "literary work," not secretarial transcription, as if the typist's requisite smartness implies that she will be involved not only in reproduction but also composition. Crucially, Bloom requires not transcription but tutelage--in how to write a popular story but also, perhaps, how to be a popular story. After all, the typewriter girl was by this point a stock character in popular fiction and erotica.
Bloom studies Clifford's letter with an eye for its material complexity. Unsurprisingly, she has typed her letter, and Bloom notes that the address to "Henry Flower Esq" is typed on the envelope (5.61). Even in its packaging, the letter advertises Clifford's vocation--a collapse of the professional and personal that intrigues Bloom. What's more, Clifford is herself prone to wordplay. In writing to Flower, she has compressed exactly that within the missive: "A flower. I think it's a. A yellow flower with flattened petals" (5.239). The odd textual feature plays on the organic and ephemeral, just as "leaves" might signify both pages and foliage. And if we can imagine Clifford flattening the flower's three dimensions into two, we could read Bloom's leveling of character in similar terms. In enlisting Clifford in his authorial fantasy, he compresses her into a flat textual feature, or reduces a human being into a stock type of popular fiction.
So involved is the letter's materiality that it resembles a woman's dress: "Fingering still the letter in his pocket he drew the pin out of it. Common pin, eh? He threw it in the road. Out of her clothes somewhere: pinned together. Queer the number of pins they always have. No roses without thorns" (5.275-78). Hand in pocket, Bloom unpins the letter by touch, as if undressing in the dark. (The pin recalls an earlier scene from "Calypso" in which Molly reads with her pm, tracing the text line by line in search of metempsychosis. She reads by touch, in other words, just as Bloom becomes acquainted with Clifford's material assemblage in the privacy of his pocket.) Given this intimacy, it is surprising how quickly and resolutely Bloom discards the letter's pin, considering that he had earlier surveyed Molly's lingerie with meticulous care, noting her underclothes strewn across the bedroom floor. And readers know by this point that Bloom handles material objects with a kind of kinaesthetic reverence--he thinks often of the lemon soap in his pocket, for instance, or his parched potato. So why discard the pin? For Bloom, women's literacy is predicated on material assemblage, and he observes these structures carefully but ultimately undoes them--as if unpinning a specimen from its taxonomic shackles in order to study, and perhaps mimic, its adaptive mechanisms. To discard the pin is to disassemble the composition. Bloom is eager, in other words, to move beyond Clifford's sartorial cover and learn about the tricks of composition that lie therein. (25)
But Clifford's letter is only one half of this epistolary exchange. Also curious is Bloom's response, a composition that takes shape before the reader's eyes in "Sirens." From the beginning of his creative process, he approaches the act of writing in material terms: "Better write it here. Quills in the postoffice chewed and twisted. Bald Pat at a sign drew nigh. A pen and ink. He went. A pad. He went. A pad to blot" (11.821-23). Bloom listens to music in the intervening moments, and Pat returns with the necessary material accoutrements: "Bald deaf Pat brought quite glad pad ink. Pat set with ink pen quite flat pad. Pat took plate dish knife fork. Pat went" (11.847-48). With the moment of composition drawing nigh, the syntactical rhythms--sing-song and soothing--begin to echo a child's primer. What if we interpret this scene as the entr'acte between Bloom's quotidian conversations and his imminent scene of writing? Such a reading would suggest that Bloom's interior monologue dramatizes a transition between speaking and writing, as if negotiating the developmental narrative of becoming literate. And since Bloom understands "Pat" and "pad" as homophones, the waiter's baldness could also signify as the paper's blankness--the French idiom for writer's block being la vertige de la page blanche, or the vertigo of the white page. So imagined, Pat's baldness is not erasure but compositional lacuna.
Writing under the blotting paper's protective cover, Bloom can compose freely. His halting meditations suggest that he is thinking about sentence assemblage in terms of ink and paper, and the ensuing narrative belabors his writing process in crucially material terms:
Remember write Greek ees. Bloom dipped, Bloo mur: dear sir. Dear Henry wrote: dear Mady. Got your lett and flow. Hell did I put? Some pock or oth. It is utterl imposs. Underline imposs. To write today. [...] Bloom mur: best references. But Henry wrote: it will excite me. You know how. In haste. Henry. Greek ee. Better add postscript. What is he playing now? Improvising. Intermezzo. P. S. The rum turn turn. How will you pun? You punish me? (11.860-62, 888-91)
The material slowness of his writing process prompts Bloom to note and relish its nuances, from underlining "impossible]" to the Greek "e" that slyly intimates his bohemian sensibilities. Dramatizing the composition process, he dismantles his own name into its phonetic ingredients, as if stocking a pantry of lexical ingredients. In so doing, he becomes playful. (26) In "Bloo mur: dear sir," we can see that the closing letter of his name inspires him to think of the sartorial "bloomer" as well as the homophone lurking behind "mur: dear" (perhaps a clue that blotting paper is already inspiring new plots for detective fiction). But why is Bloom thinking about Bloom as he prepares to write in the persona of Henry Flower? Perhaps he murmurs along with his composition, subvocalizing the words as they take shape on the page. His hand's lag and his half-penned words, then, expose a fleeting interlude between speaking and writing: the voice performs Bloom while the pen animates Henry Flower.
Bloom's words in progress dramatize the suggestive overlaps between the lexical and purely acoustic. In penning the word "punish," he must first write "pun," a register of his sequential, letter-by-letter composition. But even if "pun" is merely a way station on the road to "punish," it nonetheless reroutes his mind into a spiral of punning. Once again, Pat is fodder for Bloom's wordplay: "Pat is a waiter hard of his hearing. Pat is a waiter who waits while you wait. Hee hee hee hee. He waits while you wait. Hee hee. A waiter is he. Hee hee hee hee. He waits while you wait" (915-19). The puns begin to test the boundaries between text and author when Bloom reaches the now-infamous allusion to Joyce's 1907 Chamber Music:" Chamber music. Could make a kind of pun on that. It is a kind of music I often thought when she. Acoustics that is. Tinkling.... Diddleiddle addleaddle ooddleooddle. Hissss" (979-84). What began as a word-in-progress, "punish," has led Bloom through an onomatopoeic fantasy that subsumes and then succeeds lexical meaning: "Prrprr. Must be the bur. Fffl Oo. Rrpr.... Pprrpffrrppffff. Done" (1286-89, 1292). Here the episode memorably ends. Comedy aside, Bloom's acoustic convolutions began with Pat's pad, or blotting paper, a material that (as Molly earlier divulged to readers) Bloom relies upon for enclosure and privacy. This episode, then, illustrates how the materiality of writing--namely, the blotting pad--has creative ramifications and acoustic, even digestive, repercussions. In short, the freedoms afforded by one medium come to effect experiments in another.
Of course, Bloom has a history with blotting paper--an employment history. He was once a "traveller for blottingpaper" for Wisdom Hely's, a past that he and the reader confront throughout Dublin (6.703). In "Lestrygonians" and "Wandering Rocks," five men bearing advertising sandwich-boards navigate the city on foot, with "scarlet letters on their five tall white hats: H.E.L.Y.S. Wisdom Hely's" (8.126). The letters disperse and coalesce with tidal fidelity, as if staging and restaging the assemblage of letters into words. The unusual spectacle prompts Bloom to recall his employment under Hely's--fodder for some of his most creative advertising ideas, from the writer's tell-tale inkblot (an inkbottle "with a false stain of black celluloid") to a salacious scene of writing: "A transparent show cart with two smart girls sitting inside writing letters, copybooks, envelopes, blotting paper. I bet that would have caught on. Smart girls writing something catch the eye at once. Everyone dying to know what she's writing" (8.131-35). Bloom here uncovers the scene of writing, laying bare the ephemeral secrets of women's composition. Just as Austen and Woolf veiled their compositions with blotting paper, evading the public or familial gaze, Bloom imagines lifting such a veil in an act described by Jennifer Wicke as "voyeuristic reading" (1988, 166). The cart's transparency is suggestive of a peepshow, but in this case the anticipated spectacle is women's literacy. He twice refers to the featured girls as "smart," the term doubly suggestive: they are intelligent enough to be literate, but they are also chic and modish in their demonstration of writing. And, in his ongoing quest to study the secrets of women's authorship, Bloom had used the same adjective in seeking a "smart lady typist," in the query that led him to Clifford in the first place.
A curious ambiguity motivates this scene's critical reception. Wicke notes the "syntactical slippage" at play in this passage: "By the time one arrives at reading 'envelopes' and 'blotting paper' the words have become an inventory, not a description of what the girls would be writing" (167). This ambiguity, muses Wicke, suggests a "hesitation] over whether they actually produce any writing. The semblance of writing, and the erotic charge of writing as hieroglyph of woman's secret, are key here." Although Wicke's reading is persuasive, Bloom has taught us that we must understand writing's ephemera as instrumental to composition. One can write a letter because the noun suggests both material and genre; but can one write blotting paper, the prepositions "on" or "with" conspicuously absent? Clifford wrote an envelope, after all, and we have by now become familiar with blotting paper's utility for women writers. The slippage identified by Wicke is compelling reason for us to recognize these ephemeral media as emergent genres in modernist scenes of writing.
What can we learn, then, from Bloom's authorial failures? We can admire his would-be innovations in advertising, such as his clever rendering of an inkblot in black cellophane. (27) But readers may reasonably conclude that his name is unlikely to grace the bylines of Titbits, as he might have hoped, or appear on a cheap novel for sale at a Dublin bookstand. Even his idea for a detective story (the handwritten clues in mirror image on the fateful blotter) seems ill-timed. However, in what could be understood as an act of authorial charity, Joyce allows Bloom a shred of creative promise: his blotting paper idea, imagined in June 1904, precedes Doyle's August 1904 publication of "The Case of the Missing Three-Quarter" by an excruciatingly slim margin. The remarkable synchrony suggests that Bloom's authorial whims actually anticipated Doyle's--that Bloom might in fact have marketable (if undeveloped) talent in writing popular fiction.
Even as he has recently begun to experiment with the privacies afforded by material enclosure, Bloom has not yet surrendered his pen to the inkbottle's creative demons--not yet given free rein to the "round-headed monster" that crawls from Orlando's quill or the inky exploits of Shem the Penman, whose "murderous mirrorhand" I next examine. Even as the question of Bloom's authorship remains unresolved, Joyce would later introduce a writer whose authorial misadventures offer some answers.
Postscript: modernist mirrorhands
In 1922, Joyce published Ulysses and began work on what would become Finnegans Wake. Only a few months earlier, Rorschach had also published his magnum opus. The eerie synchrony of their work assumes new urgency in Shem the Penman, whose scenes of writing are especially relevant to this discussion of ink's associations with imagination and criminality. As we saw earlier, his "murderous mirrorhand" and sojourn at the "Haunted Inkbottle" would suggest that he has a few gobolinks of his own. Shem and his work are mired in inky residues, with cognates appearing no fewer than thirty-five times, from "inkenstink" and "inkware" to "Inkupot" (Joyce 2012, 183.06, 182.09, 424.07). The tally quickly grows if we include "cuttlefishing" (173.36); Shem's "squidself" (186.06); the thirteen variations on "blot" that range from "Blottogaff" (522.22) to "blottom" (281, F2);"handworded" (21.20) and "handsign" (407.23); or the dozens of words beginning with "pen," from "Pencylmania" (228.19) to "penmarks" (421.18).
Although Rorschach does not enter the novel by name, his influence on Shem's work is evident in the novel's many psychoanalytic references. In the midst of the tavern brawl, for instance, we encounter this line: "All he bares sobsconscious inklings shadowed on soulskin" (2012, 377.27-28). And elsewhere, Shem's literary crimes emerge alongside inkblots and their formal kin:
A blighty, a reeky, a lighty, a scrapy, a babbly, a ninny, dirty seventh among thieves and always bottom sawyer, till nowan knowed how howmely howme could be, giving unsolicited testimony on behalf of the absent, as glib as eaveswater to those present (who meanwhile, with increasing lack of interest in his semantics, allowed various subconscious smickers to drivel slowly across their fichers), unconsciously explaining, for inkstands, with a meticulosity bordering on the insane, the various meanings of all the different foreign parts of speech he misused and cuttle-fishing every lie unshrinkable about all the other people in the story, leaving out, of course, foreconsciously, the simple worf and plague and poison they had cornered him about until there was not a snoozer among them but was utterly undeceived in the heel of the reel by the recital of the rigmarole. (173.27-74.4)
Recurrently, Shem free-associates in the vicinity of ink. Notice how his words are unprompted by social etiquette or discourse, from "unsolicited testimony" and "unconsciously explaining" to the uninterested listeners "smicker[ing]" at his "babbly" talk, their "increasing lack of interest in his semantics" evident to all but Shem. The pseudo-idiomatic "for inkstands" and the whimsical "cuttlefishing" suggest that ink is in part responsible for this stream of discourse--evidence, I think, that Shem is thinking of or responding to the inkblot tests pioneered by Rorschach. Unsurprisingly, psychoanalytic diagnoses and vocabulary abound here, Shem's "meticulosity bordering on the insane" suggesting an obsessive temperament, and a highly verbal one--as if talk therapy has unleashed a spate of free associations. Moreover, the passage engages consciousness at three distinct levels: first "subconsciously]," then "unconsciously," and finally "foreconsciously." Shem is scaling Freudian topographies of mind, and his climb is fueled by ink.
As if inspired by a klecksographic genealogy of haunted inkbottles and inkblots, Shem's authorial crimes take place within the inkbottle--the ultimate enclosure, as his inkbottle is plainly a space of privacy: "His penname SHUT sepiascraped on the doorplate and a blind of black sailcloth over its wan phwinshogue" (182.32-34). This private sphere is both enshrouded in "black sailcloth" (a harbinger of pirate ships or plague, and perhaps a reference to Shem's rogue creativity) and also besmeared with sepia ink. From the Greek sepein, to rot or make rotten, "sepia," could be understood as a curious link between composition and decomposition, and the term again links the creative and the animal; in keeping with Orlando's wombat or Kerner's imaginative creatures, sepia is not only a variety of ink but also the adaptive smokescreen of the cuttlefish. And in a bizarrely serendipitous genealogy, cuttlefish bones were once ground into pounce, a powder used for blotting ink. (28) The cuttlefish's utility, then, resembles the blot's contronymy in the sense that each encompasses inky play as well as the cleanup that must follow.
Just as Shem the Pen man has a pen name in Maistre Sheames de la Plume, there is no disputing that the novel repeatedly casts Shem as Joyce's authorial alter ego, or "outlex" (to borrow another apt coinage from the novel). But it is also compelling to understand Shem as Bloom's counterpoint or even revision. With his creativity enclosed and protected by the Haunted Inkbottle, an ideal space for indulging the seductions of popular fiction, Shem can enact authorial desires that necessarily remained dormant in Bloom. A murderous mirrorhand, then, is also a modernist mirrorhand.
Modernist authorship is fraught with inky duplicity. Indeed, the folded inkblot is itself a Janus-faced double, one that encompasses the highbrow Ulysses as well as the popular fiction consumed by its characters. To write is to harbor a known criminal, one whose ink-spattered travails threaten to expose the writer's demons. Particularly for women, writing constitutes a criminal (or, to borrow Woolf's term, "discreditable") practice, and has thus necessarily taken place in the shadows of public life. We return, finally, to blotting paper: a mantle for Austen's sitting-room compositions, a protective enclosure around Woolf's adolescent writings, and material cover for Bloom's authorial fantasies. What began as an adaptive mechanism transformed into a murky but generative space--an evolution that can and should be instructive. Recognizing that creativity dwells in both halves of the inkblot, we can become attuned to the unseen work of outlexes and doodling wordsmiths alike. It is essential to shelter the writer's free play and incubate the inky creatures that sidle from the pen.
Emily James is assistant professor of English at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. She has written about scenes of composition and creativity in the work of Joan Easdale, Virginia Woolf, and Aldous Huxley.
I shared early pieces of this essay at a 2014 Modernist Studies Association Conference panel on "Developmental Fictions," and appreciated feedback from fellow panelists Michael Rubenstein and Patrick Moran and moderator Joseph Valente. I am grateful to Paul Saint-Amour for reading this essay and offering helpful suggestions about enantiodromes, full stops, and other "modernisms-of-the-blot." Finally, the essay's anonymous readers shared constructive and generous suggestions about Woolf scholarship, materiality, and creativity.
(1.) Helen Sword explains that modernists were "intrigued and attracted by spiritualism's ontological shiftiness" and "its subversive celebrations of alternate, often explicitly feminine, modes of writing" (2002, 8-9). Bette London attributes the "revival" in mediumship to World War I and notes that automatic writing was especially popular "when literary modernism was at its height" (2007, 625). This confluence, according to London, was connected to a cultural fascination with creativity: "Modern mediumship and automatism provided new forms of access to the study of mental and creative processes, to the modes by which the mind ... receives and transmits information" (624). The phenomenon prompted gendered reactions: "Women's automatism turned writing into a performance--one that would appear to receive its validation from the men who observed, analyzed, and documented it" (625).
(2.) Citing Gerard Manley Hopkins's proclivity for tmesis ("brim, in a flash, ful"), A. M. Klein claims that "the Rorschach is the tmesis of the visual" (1994, 128). The comment suggests that we examine the making of the inkblot's bilateral form: does the paper's folding constitute a fissure, or, by doubling does it extend? The term tmesis means "cutting," but we must then ask, what or who cleaves the image in two?
(3.) In fact, Joyce referred to his long string of childhood homes as "haunted inkpots" (O' Brien 1999, 2). I thank Amanda Golden for the reference.
(4.) Curiously, the original monograph included only ten of fifteen inkblots, with the book's printers hesitant to produce the unusual and costly images. All of these images were altered and damaged by the printer's work--what Aronow, Reznikoff, and Moreland have described as the "incredible and almost accidental formation" of the images that would come to define the Rorschach inkblot text throughout the twentieth century (1994, 3).
(5.) Rorschach was not the only one to apply inkblots in psychological evaluation. As early as 1896, researchers Alfred Binet and Victor Henri had cited the inkblot as a trigger for what they termed "involuntary imagination" (quoted in Richardson 2011, 134). Across the Atlantic, Howard Andrew Knox, an assistant surgeon at Ellis Island, developed the Inkblot Imagination Test in 1914. Using a set of asymmetrical inkblots, he asked his participants, a group of fifty Italian emigrants: "What do these spots look like and what do they remind you of?" (quoted in Richardson 2011, 132-33). Consider the inkblots similarity to another tool that emerged during this time: just as the x-ray's scopic powers seemed to unpeel the body's privacies, the inkblot, sometimes termed the "psychological x-ray," was thought to unveil the subconscious imagination (Wood et al, 2003, 1).
(6.) James Geary writes: "Rorschach's method is a form of physiognomic perception, yet another example of the human brain's determination to find patterns in absolutely everything. Even when presented with images with few or no recognizable features, we still find patterns in them--animal shapes in cloud formations, human faces in Martian craters, figures of the Virgin Mary in grilled cheese sandwiches, and butterflies in inkblots" (2011, 63).
(7.) See Pater 1980, 98-99 and Auden 2007, 179, 594.
(8.) W.J.T. Mitchell conceives of the ekphrastic relationship as "an affair between a speaking/seeing subject and a seen object" (1994, 164). The relationship is fraught with asymmetries: "Like the masses, the colonized, the powerless and voiceless everywhere, visual representation cannot represent itself; it must be represented by discourse" (157).
(9.) Implicit here is the suggestion, according to Reed, that "writing verse is just another form of rote intellectual labor" (2013, 68). Dan Farrell's work, in challenging the inkblot's affiliations with creativity, poses difficult questions about whether randomness is ever really random.
(10.) I refer here to Hugh Kenner's foundational study, The Mechanic Muse (1987), as well as to subsequent work by Mark Seltzer (1992),Tim Armstrong (1998), Friedrich Kittler (1999), and Pamela Thurschwell (2001).
(11.) Kate Flint describes the letter as "redolent of emotion" and notes that "the fluids of composition and of sentiment seem interchangeable" (1991, 361). But this scene was a late addition in Woolf's revision process. Reading the holograph manuscript of Jacob's Room, Flint notes that earlier drafts of the novel begin with Jacob himself, and reads this shift in focus as evidence of Woolf's changing regard for gender and writing.
(12.) In an anonymous essay published in 1856 in Westminster Review, George Eliot took aim at "the frothy, the prosy, the pious, [and] the pedantic"--the combination of which she casts as "feminine fatuity" (1883, 178). Such novels, she imagines, must be written "in elegant boudoirs, with violet-coloured ink and a ruby pen" (180).
(13.) I am grateful to Elisa Kay Sparks for examining Eleanor's blots alongside the novel's sunflower imagery and, in so doing, drawing attention to some curious marginalia captured by Mitchell Leaska's 1977 edition of Woolf's The Pargiters. As if doodling alongside her characters, Woolf has left her own record of inkblots, many of them transformed into doodles. Sparks notes that these doodles "chart a course parallel to Eleanor's ink spots in the novel, evolving from a simple asterisk formed of three intersecting lines ... into more complex figures"--figures that, in Sparks's reading, closely resemble flowers (2013, 122).
(14.) The blotting paper may be in holes because of overuse and austerity. In Jacob's Room, the narrator compares the handwritten correspondence of Mrs. Flanders and Mrs. Jarvis to "the unpublished works of women, written by the fireside in pale profusion, dried by the flame, for the blotting-paper's worn to holes and the nib cleft and clotted" (Woolf 1950, 91). Blotting paper may also have become instrumental to women because of its household utility; in Mrs. Dalloway, Peter Walsh recalls how Clarissa's "Aunt Helena used to press [flowers] between sheets of grey blotting-paper with Littre's dictionary on top, sitting under the lamp after dinner. She was dead now" (1981, 162).
(15.) Of course, Orlando began this poem when she was he; the first page, penned in 1586, is in "her own boyish hand" (2006, 154). Crossing letters, or cross-hatching, was a popular form of epistolary economy in the nineteenth century. A crossed letter resembled a palimpsest, with script running left to right and also bottom to top. For greater detail, see Beal (2008, 102--3).
(16.) Woolf coined the phrase "frock consciousness" in a diary entry dated April 27, 1925:
People have any number of states of consciousness: & I should like to investigate the party consciousness, the frock consciousness & c. The fashion world at the Becks--Mrs Garland was there superintending a display--is certainly one; where people secrete an envelope which connects them & protects them from others, like myself, who am outside the envelope, foreign bodies. These states are very difficult (obviously I grope for words) but I'm always coming back to it. (1977-1984, vol. 3, 12-13)
(17.) Orlando cleverly introduces the nineteenth century in terms of climate. The sky, now a "bruised and sullen canopy," spreads dampness throughout the country: "Damp swells the wood, furs the kettle, rusts the iron, rots the stone" (2006, 166). But it also creeps into the mind: "Love, birth, and death were all swaddled in a variety of fine phrases. The sexes drew further and further apart. No open conversation was tolerated" (167). And worse, because "there is no stopping damp" "it gets into the inkpot as it gets into the woodwork--sentences swelled, adjectives multiplied, lyrics became epics, and little trifles that had been essays a column long were now encyclopaedias in ten or twenty volumes" (168, emphasis mine).
(18.) The image is a favorite of Woolf's: she sometimes used the term "gallop" to describe a productive spate of writing (Podnieks 2000, 238).
(19.) Automatic writing is a practice associated with twentieth-century modernity. See Armstrong 1998.
(20.) Much of the scholarship focused on popular fiction and Ulysses concerns Gerty MacDowell's sentimental curriculum in "Nausicaa." Suzette Henke, for instance, suggests that "Gerty MacDowell is James Joyce's Emma Bovary. Her mind is thoroughly imbued with the orts, scraps, and fragments of Victorian popular culture" (1982, 133); Henke sees Gerty as directly influenced, for example, by Gertrude Flint, the protagonist of Maria Cummins's 1854 novel The Lamplighter, and Kimberly Devlin (1985) finds Gertrude provides an ironic contrast to Gerty. For wider-ranging discussions of Joyce's fascination with popular culture--as well as popular culture's fascination with him--see Joyce and Popular Culture, edited by R. B. Kershner (1996). Finally, Kershner's The Culture of Joyce's "Ulysses" is useful in distinguishing the subgenres of popular fiction most important to Ulysses--from Arthur Conan Doyle's detective stories to the "tiny splinter genre" of circus novels, such as Ruby: The Pride of the Ring (2010, 9).
(21.) In thinking about Joycean mirrorhand, another relevant passage is the typesetting in reverse that Bloom observes in "Aeolus" (Joyce 1993, 7.205-6).
(22.) Bloom's fascination with Raoul--"For him! For Raoul!" (Joyce 1993, 10.609)--began with a steamy scene in Sweets of Sin, the novel he picked up from a bookstall, one endorsed enthusiastically by the phlegm-puking, rheumy-eyed shopman in "Wandering Rocks." Unable to locate the novel's provenance, Don Gilford and Robert Seidman speculate that Sweets of Sin is likely an example of "soft-core dime-novel pornography" (1998, 272).
(23.) Just as Bloom's early attempts at a writing career dwell almost entirely on his cuffs, the novel suggests that his ideal reader is Stephen Dedalus. Earlier, in conversation with Buck Mulligan in "Telemachus," Stephen had gazed at (and just beyond) his cuff: "Across the threadbare cuffedge he saw the sea hailed as a great sweet mother by the wellfed voice beside him" (Joyce 1993, 1.106-7). The cuff's materiality is a visual anchor for near-sighted Stephen. As his eyes focus on the fraying threads of the proximal cuff, the distal sea blurs into a vista of green--one imprecise and abstract enough to support his stream of consciousness. With the sea strategically blurred before him, he exhumes his mother with sensory descriptors that alternate between eerie (an "odour of wax and rosewood") and unsettling ("the green sluggish bile which she had torn up from her rotting liver") (1.104, 109-10). His short-sighted fixation on the cuff, in other words, supports his composition and comprises a sartorial link between the writing careers--one unlikely, the other promising--of Bloom and Stephen.
(24.) Milly's letter, too, is rich with compositional lore, and Bloom studies it with care. Presumably handwritten, it closes first rather formally ("with fondest love") but then in haste: "P. S. Excuse bad writing am in hurry. Byby" (Joyce 1993, 4.413). Milly's scrawled postscript resembles her father's stream of consciousness, as if she has inherited his predilection for staccato fragments and halting syntax. Whether "bad writing" refers to syntactical or graphic badness is unclear. In either case, her style suggests improvisatory, dashed-off haste: in other words, she neither painstakingly crosses her letters nor scrupulously encrypts her letters as Austen might have done. Though writing a private letter, Milly does little to ensure or protect its privacy; instead, her writing is spontaneous and impulsive. Perhaps, then, Ulysses suggests that Milly, born on the cusp of the twentieth century, can write freely and without cover.
(25.) Too, the pin might be understood in terms of mechanical parts. Recall the well-documented slippage at play in the word "typewriter," which can signify the machine, its woman operator, or both. If typewriter Clifford is short one pin, then her mechanical counterpart would be similarly faulty--a mechanical idiosyncrasy that would texture her writing--another trope of composition familiar to readers of detective fiction, such as Doyle's account of a typewriter in "A Case of Identity" (1891).
(26.) Gifford and Seidman note that the Greek "e" could have suggested "an artistic temperament" (1998, 304).
(27.) For some, Bloom's inkblot may resemble the full stop at the end of "Ithaca," a textual feature that has triggered, according to Austin Briggs, "an astonishing range of critical interpretation" (1996, 125). As if rehearsing associations in the style of Rorschach, Briggs asks: "Is the dot a dot indeed or a stop of closure or a puncture of aperture?" (139).
(28.) James Daybell explains:"Pounce (also known as 'pin-dust'), made from powdered pumice or cuttlefish, was used both to prepare the paper ... and to absorb excess ink after writing, as a precursor to blotting paper" (2012, 41).
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Caption: Figure 1. Justinus Kerner (1890). Kleksographien.
Caption: Figure 2. Stuart and Paine. Cobolinks (1896). Front cover.
Caption: Figure 3. Stuart and Paine. Cobolitiks (1896). Back cover.
Caption: Figure 4. Rorschach. Psychodiagnostics (1951).
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|Publication:||Twentieth Century Literature|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2017|
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