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About this book

This collection of recent essays on James Joyce's masterpiece, Ulysses, provides an up-to-date overview of debates in Joycean scholarship, with particular emphasis on gender, postcolonial and ideological critiques, and deconstructive readings. The essays are framed by an introduction that assesses particularity and universal schemes in Joyce's novel, including its role in modern literature.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Ulysses’ Small Universes

When Leopold Bloom returns home at the end of Ulysses, he thinks about the day he has spent wandering around Dublin. His thoughts, however, move well beyond the confines of the city to take in both existence in general and order in the smallest as well as largest sense. In particular, he muses on
the universe of human serum constellated with red and white bodies, themselves universes of void space constellated with other bodies, each, in continuity, its universe of divisible component bodies of which each was again divisible in divisions of redivisible component bodies, dividends and divisors ever diminishing without actual division till, if the progress were carried far enough, nought nowhere was never reached.
(p. 652)1
Despite the seeming conclusiveness of Bloom’s musings, their convoluted form as well as their self-undermining ending ought to warn us against presuming that the novel has arrived at any unequivocal universal truths. As much as the text seems to define worlds of its own, their plurality as well as their ever-diminishing size and significance suggest that we in turn need to think carefully about Ulysses’ universe.
Rainer Emig

1. James Joyce: The Limits of Modernism and the Realms of the Literary Text

James Joyce oversaw the modern novel through its evolution of various narrative modes. Such movement takes us from realistic fiction (the kind of slice-of-life portraits that we have in Dubliners) to the literature of self-consciousness and the indeterminate that we find in Finnegans Wake. Joyce’s development as a novelist thus recapitulates — indeed replicates — the evolution of the modern novel. Joyce’s work is a microcosm of the macrocosm — proof that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny — and Joyce is the paradigmatic modern.1
Richard Lehan

2. ‘Proteus’ and Prose: Paternity or Workmanship?

Unlike Menelaus in the Odyssey, Stephen Dedalus, in the ‘Proteus’ episode of Ulysses, does not ask why he has been held up for so long on his island. He knows the banal financial answer to that. Rather, he is seeking the answer to another question from a Proteus of his own who takes on the form of the ‘Old Men’ of his island, most of them dead — Columbanus, Jonathan Swift, George Berkeley, Oscar Wilde — one figure after another, ‘nacheinander’, his literary fathers, and of some elders still very much alive, ‘nebeneinander’ (p. 37)1 — AE, W. B. Yeats, Douglas Hyde, even Bram Stoker. Each of these men has made a name for himself, and Stephen is wrestling with them to obtain an answer to his question: what must I do to be memorable like you, my fellow Dubliners? Or, as the catechism question might have been put at Clongowes: what must I do to gain eternal life? — on earth, of course, not in heaven.
Michael Murphy

3. The Disappointed Bridge: Textual Hauntings in Joyce’s Ulysses

Shari Benstock, in ‘Ulysses as Ghoststory’, considers some of the more obvious ways in which Joyce’s text incorporates ghosts, primarily dwelling on Stephen’s Shakespeare theory and the figure of Stephen’s mother. However, she fails to offer her own definition of what constitutes a ghost, perhaps relying on the reader’s recollection of Stephen’s definition of a ghost as ‘One who has faded into impalpability through death, through absence, through change of manners’ (p. 180). Yet, Stephen’s definition is more complicated than it may first appear; to begin with, it subverts the commonplace notion that a ghost is the soul of a dead person. The ghost, for Stephen, has metaphorical connotations having to do more with ‘fading’ and ‘impalpability’ than with actual, physical death. The ghost is that which is ambiguous, that which cannot be touched, that which cannot be immediately experienced. In its ‘fading’, the ghost joins the many metaphors of incompleteness that suffuse Ulysses and Joyce’s other writings: the Pisgah sight of Palestine, the gnomon, the disappointed bridge, the condition of ‘almosting’.1
Jeffrey A. Weinstock

4. Nobody at Home: Bloom’s Outlandish Retreat in the ‘Cyclops’ Episode of Ulysses

As Seamus Deane has commented, Joyce’s largely self-cultivated apolitical image has helped to obscure both his keen interest in Irish politics and the fictive nature of his political imagination.1 What passes for apathy might be better described as disillusionment: for, in the words of David Fitzpatrick, ‘if revolutions are what happens to wheels, then Ireland underwent a revolution between 1916 and 1922 … social and political institutions were turned upside down, only to revert to full circle upon the establishment of the Irish Free State’.2 Joyce’s general approval of Arthur Griffith and the antiparliamentarianist Sinn Féin had been tempered (from at least as early as 1906) by Griffith’s cautious appeasement of the Church, and the rhetoric of venereal contamination characteristic of the United Irishman’s robust polemics.3 However, Joyce’s supposed indifference to the Irish struggle for independence (whether a conflation of authorial and textual politics or a projection of Stephen’s ‘non serviam’ onto the author), his apparent distance from the Irish Literary Revival, and the presumedly disinterested character of his work have faced increasing critical scrutiny, led by a wave of postcolonial studies.4 As Deane remarks, paradoxically ‘Joyce remained faithful to the original conception of the Revival. His Dublin became the Holy City of which Yeats had despaired.’5 But despite some warm early reviews of Ulysses, Joyce was more than a little wary of making a return to that Holy City he had reconstructed through memories from afar — fearing (apart from the risk of entanglement in factional violence) that he might, like Parnell, suffer quicklime thrown in his eyes for his novel’s controversial acclaim.6
Adam Woodruff

5. ‘The void awaits surely all them that weave the wind’: ‘Penelope’ and ‘Sirens’ in Ulysses

Dubliners begins with the figure of a boy gazing into a dying priest’s house through a ‘lighted square of window’ that shines ‘faintly and evenly’. Ulysses ends in a similarly voyeuristic vein as the reader gazes illicitly into Molly’s thoughts. While one sees a boy muttering ‘paralysis’ and the other has the critics clamouring ‘flow’,1 it is important to recognise that the objects in question — Penelope as well as the window — are crafted and framed, cultural artifacts. This is particularly vital in ‘Penelope’, and it should be the basis for grounding any criticism of the Earth Mother and her language. Without such a basis any approach rapidly gains a Wakean circularity, forever looping the lemniscate figure eight2 as if on a Möbius-strip treadmill. When you court Penelope, be wary of the tapestry unravelling in your hands just as quickly as it is woven.
Michael Stanier

6. Wasted Words: The Body Language of Joyce’s ‘Nausicaa’

‘Lord, I am wet’ (p. 355), Bloom says to himself in the ‘Nausicaa’ episode of Ulysses. This adjective could easily be applied to the whole episode, which, throughout its narrative fluctuations, its ebb and flow of style and perspective, its turgid ‘tumescence’ and ejaculatory ‘detumescence’, exhibits a relentless obsession with bodily fluids. Bloom is indeed wet when he makes this statement: having just manoeuvred a clandestine ejaculation to the sight of Gerty MacDowell, he sits submerged in his own silent narrative, his semen seeping up through his shirt, mentally and physically stewing in his own juice. ‘[W]aterlover, drawer of water, watercarrier’ (p. 624) though Bloom may be, the inner wetness of the human body is nonetheless highly problematic for him, a point hinted at in ‘Ithaca’, where the narrative tribute to water winds down to this ominous ending: ‘the noxiousness of its effluvia in lacustrine marshes, pestilential fens, faded flowerwater, stagnant pools in the waning moon’ (p. 625). Bloom is water-fearer also, and in ‘Nausicaa’ appears suspended between these contradictory feelings toward bodily fluids. Fluids here are both precious and threatening, essential and potentially noxious. His semen seems especially suspect, inspiring mixed impulses.
Clara D. Mclean

7. Cribs in the Countinghouse: Plagiarism, Proliferation, and Labour in ‘Oxen of the Sun’

The ‘Oxen of the Sun’ episode of Joyce’s Ulysses presents, on several levels, a debate about human proliferation and its effects on the political economy and on the quality of life. Depicting the painful and prolonged delivery of a child to Mina and Theodore Purefoy by means of a capsule history of English prose style, the episode first confronts the inescapable fact of literary debtorship and then demonstrates how Joyce both acknowledges the debts to his predecessors and makes literary capital from them. The episode’s two thematic planes intersect in Joyce’s borrowings from nineteenth-century writers, particularly John Ruskin, whose writings on value, labour, and political economy reveal the same conflicts displayed in the Ulysses episode. Like the ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ episode that anticipates it, ‘Oxen of the Sun’ uses homologies between physical and artistic generation to translate the debate about human proliferation into a self-reflexive questioning of Joyce’s own artistic practice. As it explores parallels between Mr Purefoy’s work in a bank and Joyce’s management of the inter-textual economy, the episode also discloses relationships between the Purefoys’ prolific childbearing and Joyce’s prolixity and textual extravagance. By pairing the intertextual and political economies, ‘Oxen’ ultimately illustrates how Joyce privileges artistic labour — an Irish labour of excess that emerges from debt — over both the female labour of childbearing and the male labour of physical and financial begetting.
Mark Osteen

8. ‘Circe’: Joyce’s Argumentum ad Feminam

The rapidly growing body of feminist scholarship in Joyce studies1 can be seen as part of a larger project to rethink the complex intersections between gender and the logic of modernity.2 As Alice Jardine argues, the often uneasy valorisation of the feminine in modern literary and theoretical texts is not an accidental but rather an intrinsic feature of modernity. The invention or recovery of new rhetorical and ‘conceptual spaces’ in modern texts all too often depends on coding as feminine what has been excluded or marginalised in the dominant discourse.3 Similarly, the work of Julia Kristeva has located the source of the aesthetic ‘revolution’ in a desire to reach the maternal jouissance by violating the constraints of the symbolic exchange. The suppressed level of signification — the semiotic chora — is ‘gendered’ as maternal as if the structuralist linguistics could not be deconstructed without dismantling gender ideology.4 From yet another perspective, Luce Irigaray responds that the articulation of female sexuality in its own specificity necessarily involves ‘retraversal’ and ‘mimicry’ of the discursive operations of the patriarchal culture, whose specular system of representation is intolerant of differences, multiplicity, and indeterminancy.5
Ewa Plono, Wska Ziarek

9. ‘Circe’ and the Uncanny, or Joyce from Freud to Marx

As Leopold Bloom half staggers through the more than merely hallucinatory milieu of ‘Circe’, his imaginatively prosaic sensibility is confounded by the sheer variety — and garish spectacle — of the apparitions rising to confront him. Joyce, not content merely to render a milieu emblematic of unconscious forces, limns a Nighttown that — fraught with overdetermination — is rather a place in the psyche, the constitutive nexus, determinant centre, of a true host of unheimlich spectres. These uncanny spectres comprise, in swirling aggregate, a necessary counterweight to the psychically-vitiated Dublin portrayed so poignantly throughout Joyce’s work, the everyday Dublin demonstrably sapped by a certain ‘haemiplegia of the will’.1
Michael Bruce McDonald

10. Molly Alone: Questioning Community and Closure in the ‘Nostos’

This chapter considers the closure of Ulysses. In postcolonial writing that operates as homology of the forces in conflict during the revolution, the struggle is represented as a new beginning. The past is, relatively, disregarded: in Ulysses, especially in the first two opening episodes of the text, the accepted version of nationalist history is ridiculed as a pastiche of a series of mythologies, most of them mere faked copies of imperial originals that had been developed in the first place to subjugate the peripheral peoples. Rather it is the future, and the possibility of imagining a newly independent national community that will take shape in that future, which preoccupies the work. For the postcolonial author working up the first tentative texts in the new voices of a national culture, it might appear that the beginning of a narrative would have been most difficult. In practice, however, the writer sustained the act of beginning as a concerted effort to displace those hackneyed discourses of ‘history’ that had already been set in place to narrate the potential new nation. Instead, it is the conclusion of the text, as the test case in the narrative for the successful imagining of a new community, that is difficult.
Enda Duffy
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