Figure of speech. Listening to the sounds in the
printing press room, Bloom thinks "Sllt. Almost human the way
it sllt to call attention. Doing its level best to speak. That
door too sllt creaking, asking to be shut. Everything speaks
in its own way. Sllt." Later in Aeolus this principle
is put into dramatic action when some dental floss speaks a
line of dialogue, and Mr. O'Madden Burke uses it narratively
to tell an allegory of Youth and Experience.
Most of us today know the principle as personification or
impersonation; ancient rhetoricians called it prosopopoeia,
a device whereby the speaker adopts the voice of absent
persons or inanimate objects.
Prosopopoeia (PRO-so-po-PEE-uh, from Greek prosopon =
face, visage, person, dramatic character + poiein = to
make, to do) implies "doing the character" of someone or
"making a person." Quintilian writes that this device gives
the orator the power to "bring down the gods from heaven,
evoke the dead, and give voices to cities and states."
Well-known oratorical examples of impersonation include
Cicero's Pro Caelio, in which he speaks as an old man
named Appius Claudius Caecus, and Abraham Lincoln's Cooper
Union speech, in which he stages a debate between Republicans
and the South. In a similar vein, it has been argued that in
the first three books of Romans, when Paul says that God's
wrath will fall on the wicked, he is actually miming the
arguments of his opponents.
The second, more poetic kind of prosopopoeia,
personification, pervades the Bible. Many of its books
attribute emotions to the heavens, the earth, the human body,
and other inanimate entities, essentially personifying them,
and in some passages these things acquire language. In Job
38:7 the stars are said to have sung. In Psalm 35:10 the bones
of the psalmist speak. In Jeremiah 47 the sword of the Lord
conducts a dialogue with the prophet. In Sirach 24:1-3 Wisdom
says, "From the mouth of the Most High I came forth, and
covered the earth like a mist." In 1 Corinthians 12:15-16 Paul
imagines feet, hands, and eyes debating aloud. In Revelation
6:9-10 the dead cry out, "How long, O Lord, holy and true,
doest thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell
on the earth?"
and Seidman identify the passage in which Bloom imagines
a paper-feeder "Doing its level best to speak" as
prosopopoeia. Although he only imagines the machine acquiring
a voice here, Bloom does repeatedly think "Sllt," adopting its
voice. Strangely, neither commentator cites a later passage
when an object actually does speak: "He took a reel
of dental floss from his waistcoat pocket and, breaking off a
piece, twanged it smartly between two and two of his resonant
unwashed teeth. / — Bingbang, bangbang."