Arnold Kettle

James Joyce: Ulysses (1922)


JAMES JOYCE, unlike D. H. Lawrence, was an aesthete, an artist chasing the chimera of a complete, abstracted aesthetic experience. Stephen Dedalus, in a conversation which is one of the central episodes in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), says:

"'. . . Beauty expressed by the artist cannot awaken in us an emotion that is kinetic or a sensation which is purely physical. It awakens, or ought to awaken, or induces, or ought to induce, an aesthetic stasis, an ideal pity or an ideal terror, a stasis called forth, prolonged, and at last dissolved by what I call the rhythm of beauty.'

'What is that exactly?' asked Lynch.

'Rhythm,' said Stephen, 'is the first formal aesthetic relation of part to part in any aesthetic whole or of an aesthetic whole to its part or parts or of any part to the aesthetic whole of which it is a part.'

'If that is rhythm,' said Lynch, 'let me hear what you call beauty; and please remember, that though I did eat a cake of cowdung once, that I admire only beauty.'

Stephen raised his cap as if in greeting. Then, blushing slightly, he laid his hand on Lynch's thick tweed sleeve.

'We are right,' he said, 'and the others are wrong. To speak of these things and to try to understand their nature and, having understood it, to try slowly and humbly and constantly to express, to press out again, from the gross earth or what it brings forth, from sound and shape and colour which are the prison gates of our soul, an image of the beauty we have come to understand that is art.'" [1]

It is a passage relevant in a number of ways—including even the cowdung—to an approach to Ulysses.

The subject of Ulysses is sometimes described in some such

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terms as "the record of a single day, June 16th, 1904" or "twenty-four hours in the life of a modern city." I do not think the emphasis here is quite right. Dublin is the scene, and in a sense the be-all of Joyce's book; yet Ulysses is not about Dublin any more than Homer's Odyssey is about the places Odysseus visits. The subject of Ulysses is the odyssey of Leopold Bloom and, since no man is an island, his relationships with other human beings, of which the most important are, obviously, his wife Molly and Stephen Dedalus.

Ulysses, although quite clearly a unique work and in some respects a revolutionary development in the novel as art-form, is in one of the main traditions of the English novel. Fielding's famous description of Joseph Andrews, "a comic epic poem in prose," fits it better perhaps than any other twentieth-century novel. It has the scale and scope and even despite the misty vapour at its heart something of the objectivity of epic, and it is at the same time, like Don Quixote, mock-epic, essentially comic in its underlying approach. So much rather heavy solemnity surrounds the bulk of the discussion of Ulysses that it is perhaps worth emphasizing right away that it is a very funny novel, including passages as uproarious as anything in modern fiction.

Another point worth making concerns the novel's 'difficulty.' Because of Joyce's extraordinary virtuosity, the wealth of references and allusions that are, to most reader's intents and purposes, untraceable, and the eccentric texture of certain passages, this 'difficulty' has, I think, been exaggerated. Any reader who can cope with, say, a Shakespeare play or Tristram Shandy, will not find the bulk of Ulysses excessively difficult. There will no doubt be points that he misses (this is true of the most conscientious attacker) and passages he finds obscure, but this will not prevent him from getting to the heart of the book nor from enjoying most of the incidental felicities. Such passages as the opening of the Siren episode, which Mr. Levin has usefully elucidated, [2] need not be grasped in their every detail for the essential point to be taken, nor need one have more than a vague knowledge of what is being parodied to get the essential hang of the hospital scene. It is probably well to read Ulysses fairly fast; much of the complex

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system of cross-reference then falls more or less naturally into place.*

How important is the relation of Ulysses to the Homeric epic? Much has been written on this subject and a good many parallels drawn which to the average reader must seem farfetched and unhelpful. Although Ulysses is a mock-epic it certainly does not stand in the kind of relation to Homer that Don Quixote does to the chivalric romances. Joyce, particularly while he was living in Switzerland, where much of Ulysses was written, was soaked in the atmosphere of contemporary psychological research and its resultant cults. I do not know if Joyce should be called a Jungian, but to say that he looked upon the Homeric epic in the light of an archetype, a symbolic expression of certain patterns of human experience of universal and almost mystical significance, seems a fair assessment of his attitude.

It is true that in Ulysses Joyce does to some extent use the contrast between a glamorous, heroic and integrated past and a sordid, unheroic, disintegrating present as a source of irony (that Bloom is not a hero is an essential point about him; heroes do not fear piles or passively accept Penelope's infidelities) just as it is in T. S. Eliot's Waste Land; but the irony is in both cases double-edged, it reduces the past as well as the present. The chief point of the Homeric parallel is that it provides a framework which—given the authority of Homer plus the theory of archetypes—strengthens the illusion of an underlying pattern of the deepest significance. As a matter of fact Joyce is prepared to dabble in any kind of myth, quite apart from the Odyssey, which will contribute to this illusion. The Wandering Jew and the Eternal Feminine are grist to his mill. This said, it remains true that a realization that the basic structure of Ulysses is related to that of the Odyssey, that

*One can, for instance, appreciate the lunch-bar episode perfectly adequately without being conscious that "the technic of this episode is based on a process of nutrition: peristalsis, 'the automatic muscular movement consisting of wave-like contractions in successive circles by which nutritive matter is propelled along the alimentary canal'. This process is symbolized by Mr. Bloom's pauses before various places of refreshment, the incomplete movements he makes towards the satisfaction of the pangs of hunger which spasmodically urge him onward and their ultimate appeasement. . . ." [3]

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Bloom is Odysseus, Stephen Telemachus and Molly Penelope, is necessary to an intelligent reading of the book and not more than a novelist is justified in demanding of his reader. There is, emphatically, no need to make heavy weather of the more abstruse Homeric parallels.

The first three sections, or chapters, of Ulysses are a kind of elaborate lead-in to the book proper. They form, moreover, a significant bridge between A Portrait of the Artist and the infinitely more ambitious Ulysses. Stephen remains the chief character though he is presented rather more objectively than in the Portrait. That work, concerned above all with his struggle to emancipate himself from the Roman Catholic Church, had ended with his decision to become—it is a keyword throughout Joyce—an exile. At the climax of the very moving conversation with Cranly his vow of non serviam (the devil's vow) is made.

" 'Look here, Cranly,' he said. 'You have asked me what I would do and what I would not do. I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my weapons the only arms I allow myself to use silence—exile and cunning." [4]

It is the apotheosis of individualism, a rejection of obligation social and religious so complete that the later, somewhat shrill pledge, "Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race," [5] rings false and melodramatic. For what's his race to Stephen or an exile to Ireland?

The Stephen of Ulysses has returned to Dublin from Paris, summoned home for his mother's death. From the very first pages of the book the situation in which he finds himself he has refused the dying wish of his mother and is haunted by his decision becomes a leading theme of the novel, one of the recurring leit-motifs which give it its unity. For the rejection of his mother is not merely a personal thing but bound up with his rejection of Church and State—"the imperial British state and the holy Roman catholic and apostolic

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church." [6] Stephen's part in the book is indeed that of the Son. He is Telemachus and Japhet, searching for a father. He is an Irishman rejecting Britain which is associated through the sea (the Englishman is "the seas' ruler") with the mother (the sea is "our mighty mother"). Equally he rejects Ireland, the milkwoman, also a mother-symbol but with "old, shrunken paps." He is Hamlet, he is the erring son of the Church, he is, blasphemously, through the rape of the mother by the panther (it was, we learn, Panther the Roman centurion who violated the Virgin Mary), Jesus.

Leopold Bloom is, equally, the Father searching for his Son his only actual son died at the age of eleven days and is throughout the book in some mysterious rapport with Stephen though they do not actually meet to speak until well into the last half of the novel. The coming-together of Bloom and Stephen in the brothel scene, culminating in the moment when Bloom, standing over the prostrate Stephen, has a vision of his dead son, is the climax of the book.

We shall have to return later to a consideration of this framework of Ulysses, the pattern which gives the total book what unity it possesses; meanwhile it will be necessary to say something about Joyce's technical methods.

A great deal of Ulysses is written in the form of a kind of shorthand impressionism which aims to convey the thought-track of the characters.

"On the doorstep he felt in his hip-pocket for the latchkey. Not there. In the trousers I left off. Must get it. Potato I have. Creaky wardrobe. No use disturbing her. She turned over sleepily that time. He pulled the halldoor to after him very quietly, more, till the footleaf dropped gently over the threshold, a limp lid. Looked shut. All right till I come back anyhow." [7]

It has become almost a parlour-game among commentators to find precedents for this method and already Shakespeare, Richardson, Fanny Burney, Dickens, Fenimore Cooper and Samuel Butler have been cited among the ancestors of the work to which Joyce himself admitted his indebtedness"—Les Lauriers sont coupés by Edouard Dujardin. The truth is that any writer who has attempted to indicate in the first person something of

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the thought-processes of his characters is likely to write some form of interior monologue and Joyce, until the final chapter of Ulysses, is original largely in the extent to which he uses the method. Two points should perhaps be noted. In the first place what Joyce is doing in passages like the short one quoted above is not to limit the point of view to that of the particular character he is dealing with. He is not primarily concerned to show life through the eyes of Bloom. Rather he is using Bloom's impressions to add a dimension and enrich the texture of an objective description of reality. Hence objective statements in the third person ("he felt in his hip-pocket for the latchkey") are intermingled with unspoken soliloquy ("In the trousers I left off"). In the second place we should recognize that the attempt to give an impression of a thought-track is indeed impressionist and not 'scientific.' Joyce does not succeed any more than any other writer in finding a precise verbal equivalent for unformulated thoughts, as indeed, by the nature of things, he cannot. Such a phrase as "Potato I have" serves its purpose. The thought "I have a hole in my pocket like a potato" is expressed in a way which, by its very waywardness and obliquity, gives a certain illusion of thought-processes, but its real value in Joyce's scheme is that it can and will be used as a minor leit-motif, a recurring phrase associated with the loss of Bloom's front-door key (keys themselves having a major symbolic significance throughout Ulysses) and his relations with his wife. Five hundred pages later Bloom will ask one of the whores in the brothel to give him back his potato.

BLOOM:

There is a memory attached to it. I should like to have it.

STEPHEN:

To have or not to have, that is the question.

ZOE:

Here. (She hauls up a reef of her slip, revealing her bare thigh and unrolls the potato from the top of her stocking.) Those that hides knows where to find. [8]

The tiny episode illustrates, perhaps, something of Joyce's method and the levels of suggestion upon which he simultaneously works. In the first place the scene is at once farcical

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and sordid, trivial and significant. "There is a memory attached to it": the phrase is at once a cliché and a revelation. The whole paraphernalia of cheap sentimentality ("Thanks for the memory," etc.) of escapist entertainment is conjured up, Zoe becoming for a second that familiar figure the can-can girl, the predecessor of the strip-tease artiste (sic) who symbolizes the pornographic character of such culture ("Why, strip-tease without music ain't art"). And the psychological situation behind the brothel-world is at the same time suggested in a number of ways. Bloom is not wicked in an abstract sense, he is sentimental and frustrated. "I should like to have it" refers of course not simply to the potato but to his wife. Stephen's parody of Hamlet makes us pause on the reiterated word "have" and its associations. Indirectly it brings in—and because the profundity of Hamlet's soliloquy is immediately invoked we take up the cue—the complex relationships between thought and action ("letting I dare not wait upon I will") acquisitiveness and sex-relations. There is nothing heavy or pompous in the method of this association. Stephen's intervention is ridiculous as well as relevant. Stephen-Hamlet is no more master of the situation than Bloom or, for that matter, Zoe, who will shortly be put in her place by the ubiquitous madame of the brothel, Bella Cohen, simultaneously male and female, Jew and gentile, a Circe who threatens at the critical moment (a superb shaft of irony) to call the police.

"Those that hides knows where to find" might well sometimes be said of Joyce's own method of cross-reference and it is worth noticing that the images and phrases especially associated with a particular character's 'stream of consciousness' crop up from time to time in the interior monologue of somebody else. "The corpse-chewer! Raw head and bloody bones!" [9] cries Stephen as the figure of his mother appears to him in the brothel scene and we are taken back not only to the long series of richly complex images surrounding Stephen's own riddle ("a pard, a panther, got in spouse-breach, vulturing the dead") but to the butcher's shop that Bloom has patronbized earlier in the day. What Joyce is attempting in fact is not the mere conveying of a character's impressions but a radical

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extension, exploiting all the ambiguities of language, of the normal methods of objective description.

The intricate system of leit-motif which Joyce developed his methods of composition apparently involved something like a card-index system with coloured crayons to assist the process has its own value in the achievement of a remarkable richness and complexity of texture, as complex often as life itself. As Mr. Levin has well put it:

"He did not bring literature any closer to life than perceptive novelists had already done; he did evolve his private mode of rhetorical discourse. He sought to illuminate the mystery of consciousness, and he ended by developing a complicated system of literary leit-motif."

The final chapter of Ulysses is of course in a rather different category. Here, with the abandonment of punctuation, there seems to be a more consistent attempt actually to reproduce the stream of consciousness. The thoughts are now no longer broken by objective statements in the third person, they glide on and into each other until consciousness is finally overcome by sleep. It must be remembered that the lack of any kind of objective statement in this chapter is made possible only by the peculiar moment of consciousness Joyce has here chosen to communicate. Molly Bloom's thoughts need no punctuation because, lying in bed, action has been eliminated. The cross-play of thought and action is no longer a technical problem. It is significant that the stream of consciousness method can only come into play in its purest form when consciousness is no longer an active apprehension of the present but a mode of recollection and impulse divorced from actual activity. I think a great deal too much has been made by critics of Molly Bloom's final affirmation. What reason have we to suppose that it will stand the test of tomorrow morning's reality? In any case it is doubtful whether it has been induced by more than a casual—and scarcely productive—recollection. I do not think there is really any progression in Ulysses. Those who have called its construction circular are nearer the truth.

What, then, are some of the reasons for regarding Ulysses as something more than a virtuoso piece, an astonishing but

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ultimately rather absurd phenomenon which manages paradoxically to combine the qualities of the cul-de-sac and the endless journey?

In the first place there is Joyce's remarkable ability to bring a scene to life. Ulysses, despite some exasperating qualities and passages, tingles with life, with the physical feel of existence and with a sense of the vibrating reality of human relationships. I cannot think of any finer expression of the 'feel' of the comparatively early morning than the opening pages of Ulysses. The kind of effect that Hardy achieves in the fields of Talbothays Joyce gets on a far more complex scale—the scale of sophisticated urban as opposed to rural peasant life—and he gets it by immediately setting in motion the disparate consciousnesses of Buck Mulligan, Stephen and, later, Hames. Mulligan's full-blooded and unscrupulous blasphemies are rather like gong-blows picking up echoes and gathering distortions as their vibrations encounter differing surfaces. The early exchanges between Stephen and Mulligan and Haines, stating as they do so many of the essential themes of the book, get their effect not from the intrinsic interest of the intellectual arguments involved, though this is often considerable, but from the human situation, general and personal, behind the arguments.

It is the same in all the best passages of the book. The immediate physical sense we get of Molly Bloom lying drowsily in bed, of the movement in the streets, of Davy Burne's lunch bar, of the cabman's shelter, of the three-master gliding into port, all is achieved with a relaxation of art, a cunning play on rhythmical detail, a supremely subtle sense of language.

"He turned his face over a shoulder, rere regardant. Moving through the air high spars of a three master, her sails brailed up on the crosstrees, homing, upstream, silently moving, a silent ship." [11]

The effect is got by a number of touches. Stephen is moving, so is the ship and that he should glance at it as he moves somehow gives it too momentum. "Rere regardant." He is looking for someone who may be watching him; his aloneness (and a connected sense of guilt) makes him turn and is in turning

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shattered. The obsolete, chivalric phrase is not pedantry (except in so far as Stephen is a pedant) but calls in forces that haunt Stephen, the medieval church and its philosophers. He looks back not merely into space but into time. And he catches sight of the ship, itself outmoded yet purposive and beautiful (Mr. West suggests a connexion between crosstrees and the Christian cross). And the ship isn't bound to him in any mystic way, though they are both "homing," but is separate from him yet of the world of which he is a part. The superb sentence describing the movement of the ship gets its power from the integrated sense of motion (the present participles carrying the sentence along) plus the measure of controlled effort suggested in the words (particularly "brailed up" and "upstream"), the rightness of the rigging, the implication of successful, co-ordinated social effort, the human richness of "homing" (also associated with the instinctive simplicity of a bird's movements). A contrast is made with previous descriptions of the casual movement of the weeds in the water "To no end gathered; vainly then released, forth flowing, wending back . . ." and the indifferent, bobbing corpse of the drowned man, whose inquest is a worry to Bloom's friend McCoy.

The sense here illustrated of the interpenetration of human activity and experience is one of the great achievements of Ulysses. It emerges from Joyce's rejection of an individualist style of narrative, which sees the world merely from the point of view of the individual looking at it, and his powerful feeling for the inter-relationships which go to make up society. As Alick West, in what seems to me the best short essay on Ulysses, has put it:

"In contrast to the traditional style, Joyce shows the individual action within the totality of relations existing at the moment. The traditional unity (of the nineteenth-century novel) is broken; in its place is the unity of Dublin." [12]

The most convenient example of this aspect of Joyce's technique is of course the tenth episode of Ulysses, the chapter which takes as its (rather obscure) Homeric parallel the episode of the Wandering Rocks.

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This chapter, Mr. Gilbert remarks, may in its structure and technique "be regarded as a small-scale model of Ulysses as a whole." [13] I think this is somewhat misleading, for the chapter is built on a far simpler plan than the book as a whole and does not include, even in embryo form, many of the themes which turn out to be the most important elements in its pattern; but it is nevertheless useful for the illustration of this particular quality of inter-relatedness.

The chapter consists of eighteen episodes—varying from a page to about six pages in length—which give the effect of a cross-section of life in the Dublin streets between three and four o'clock in the afternoon. Two of the episodes involve the principal characters of the novel, Bloom and Stephen, the remainder deal with the progress of other figures who take some part in other episodes in the book, the exception being the final section in which the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland makes his only appearance.

The whole of the chapter is, clearly, more significant than the sum of its parts. The episodes are linked together in a number of ways. Several of the people involved pass by and are conscious of certain static phenomena—the posters advertising the appearance in Dublin of Marie Kendall, charming soubrette, of Mr. Eugene Stratton and of the evangelist proclaiming the coming of Elijah. Several of the particular characters meet one another or are conscious of the same person: Father Conmee notes the queenly mien of Mrs. McGuiness at whose pawnbrokers' establishment much of the Dedalus home reposes; Dilly Dedalus, having got one and twopence out of her impossible father, meets her brother Stephen at a bookstall: a one-legged sailor is given a blessing by Father Conmee and money by a stout lady in the street and by Molly Bloom who throws a penny out of the window as she makes her toilet in preparation for Blazes Boylan's visit. The chapter is linked with time past by the appearance not only of the main characters but of casual unnamed individuals like the sandwich-board-men (who wend their way right through the book) and with time future by strands which will not of course be taken up till later in the book: the flushed young man whom Father Conmee sees emerging with his girl from a gap in the hedge

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will turn out to be a medical student named Vincent in the hospital scene; Stephen notices "a sailorman, rust-bearded" who will cross his path again in the cabman's shelter late at night.

Again, in the midst of a particular episode, one comes upon a sentence which has no apparent connexion with the immediate scene but simply links it with another episode, giving the effect of the simultaneous activities going on in the city and reminding us that a character has not ceased to have his being just because he is not at that moment being described. In the middle of a discussion over tea about Stephen's view on Hamlet between Mulligan and Haines we are suddenly confronted with an apparently stray sentence about the one-legged sailor and the words "England expects. , . ." Here the effect is a little more complex than a mere reminder of the continued and apparently unrelated existence of the sailor moving down Nelson Street. It points the way towards the Lord Lieutenant and also serves to place Haines's views on Stephen, for Haines's part in the pattern of Ulysses is alvays that of the smug and small-souled representative of the alien imperial state.

The main purpose of the Wandering Rocks chapter is certainly the achievement on the surface level of a sense of the teeming life of Dublin and of a reality deeper than and independent of the individual consciousness. But the chapter is, necessarily, not merely objective documentary (and even a documentary is of course anyway selective); it also contributes continuously to the pattern of the total novel.

Thus the opening and closing episodes Father Conmee and the 'viceroy'—besides contributing to the richness of the Dublin scene have a symbolic importance: they represent the Church and State which are the twin objects of Stephen's non serviam oath. In the course of the chapter our knowledge of both Bloom and Stephen is considerably deepened, not only through what they do but through other people's comments. There is, for instance, the splendid observation of Lenehan the journalist.

" 'He's a cultured all-round man, Bloom is/ he said seriously. 'He's not one of your common or garden. . . . you . . . There's a touch of the artist about old Bloom.' " [14]

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And there is the poignant and beautifully controlled description of the encounter between Stephen and his sister Dilly.

Each episode in the chapter has its distinguishing rhythm and texture. The limitations of Father Conmee—his smugness, the urbane complacency of his inner heart—emerge out of every sentence of Joyce's prose. The quality of the prose of The Sweets of Sin, the pornographic novel Bloom buys in a bookshop, enters into the very essence of our knowledge of Bloom himself. The sudden move, when Stephen appears, to a more involved sentence-structure and a range of reference more erudite (not to say perverse) takes us without ado into Stephen's own consciousness. It is hard to say how objective Joyce is being when he gets to Stephen. Time and again the prose swings into a rich and luscious rhythm which one feels to be less 'poetic' and altogether more cloudy than is the intention. And yet in doubting the intention one is perhaps doing Joyce a serious injustice. By the end of Ulysses one has felt the full force of Buck Mulligan's exasperation: "O an impossible person!" and I think one should rank this feeling as one of the real achievements of Ulysses. Just as Lawrence in Sons and Lovers succeeds despite himself in making us feel the intolerable qualities of Paul Morel so does Joyce here manage to 'place' Stephen. He is indeed "Kinch, the loveliest mummer of them all." [15]

Clearly it is impossible in a short chapter to discuss adequately a work of the complexity of Ulysses. Much of the material relevant to such a discussion has been gathered together in Stuart Gilbert's James Joyce's 'Ulysses', a work of perhaps excessive piety but of an obvious value to the more-than-casual reader. Together with Harry Levin's lively and incisive James Joyce, Alick West's most perceptive essay in Crisis and Criticism and, on a more pedestrian level, Edmund Wilson's chapter in Axel's Castle (this essay is not really more than a starting-point), Mr. Gilbert's book forms what might be described as a "course of minimum reading" for the interested but not necessarily expert enquirer. I do not suggest that it is impossible to enjoy Ulysses without these critics any more than it is impossible to enjoy Hamlet without having read a

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word that has been written about it. But it is as foolish to insist that every work of art should be totally intelligible at a single reading or hearing as to make a deliberate cult of obscurity.

It is legitimate to criticize Ulysses on the grounds not of its complexity but of the nature of that complexity.

As has been said often enough it is an epic of disintegration, Odysseus and Telemachus meet only to drift apart again. The faithful Penelope lies dreaming of her illicit loves. Stephen, exiled by his own intellectual choice, and Bloom, a self-conscious though sociable member of an exiled race, are both in their different ways without roots, essentially lonely and—for all their social contacts—isolated. The intellectual life of Stephen, in whom thought and action have become separated and whose ratiocination is as sterile as it is ingenious, corresponds to the physical auto-erotism of the cuckold Bloom, The point of Buck Mulligan's obscene play for the mummers is equally relevant to all three of the principal characters.

The whole picture of Dublin which Joyce presents is of a society in hopeless disintegration extended between two masters—Catholic Church and British Empire—which exploit and ruin it. The family unit is as far decomposed as any other: there is a desperate weight of irony behind Dilly Dedalus's "Our father who art not in heaven." I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that throughout the book not one character performs a single action that is not fundamentally sterile. There is the odd kindness of course, the moment of compassion, the generous gesture. Bloom himself is, heaven knows not a bad sort of chap. But there is a complete lack not only of any kind of human heroism but of any productive activity of any kind.

"We see people eating, drinking, making love, arguing, they go after money, or they drift about; the churches and pubs fill and empty; and all this is felt happening simultaneously. But there is no sign of the productive activity without which none of this could happen. As a part of this organized production, there is not a worker in the book at most an occasional cab-driver and a string of sandwich-board-men. We walk through the world meeting ourselves and we meet our relations and so Stephen says ostlers, but no industrial workers. . . . The reality of Joyce's social world

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is numberless acts of consuming, spending, enjoying of things that are already there. His selection of the social relations to be described is that of the consumer." [16]

The point of this criticism is not, of course, that Joyce ought to have written a different book, but that in the book as written there is something wrong.

"Streets intersect, shops advertise, homes have party walls and fellow citizens depend upon the same water supply; but there is no co-operation between human beings. The individual stands motionless, like Odysseus becalmed in the doldrums." [17]

Joyce's failure to produce a great modern epic is closely bound up with his theory of the aesthetic "stasis" and his personal sense of isolation and exile. In an important sense there is more of the essential feeling of the relationship of man to man and man to society in a great urban centre in the public-house ballad 'I belong to Glasgow' than there is in Ulysses. Ulysses, in its whole technical conception and in a thousand splendid flashes and insights, goes far beyond the negative individualism of A Portrait of the Artist. It is in many respects the most astonishing and brilliant attempt in the history of the novel to present man, the social being, in his full and staggering complexity. And it will always be read with enormous pleasure for its intimacy of insight and its phenomenal virtuosity. Yet the attempt flounders and not even heroically. The structure and basis of epic is replaced by a few tenuous and mystical threads which mean in the end almost nothing. The relationship between Bloom and Stephen, on which the whole pattern of the book depends, is a fraud, whose only significance is imposed from above by a vast apparatus of what can often only be described as verbal trickery. The tragedy of Ulysses is that Joyce's extraordinary powers, his prodigious sense of the possibilities of language, should be so deeply vitiated by the sterility of his vision of life.

More perhaps than any writer of English since Shakespeare Joyce was aware of the richness of content and significance behind the ambiguities of language and the literary possibilities involved in this realization. But too often his exploitation of

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these ambiguities is an exploitation in the pejorative sense of the word. The ambiguous nature of language is its glory in so far as it expresses the actual complexity, the dialectical sense of growth and change which are at the very core of life and which a static, mechanistic, dead use of language cannot capture; but when ambiguity is not such an expression of reality but the mere artful juxtaposing of counters and the achievement of arbitrary effects then it is of course self-destructive. At least half the 'significances' of Ulysses are aribtrary significances which are, through their arbitrariness, given a kind of mystical haze. What real play is there to be made on the fact that Bloom's employer is named Keyes? What real significance is there in the inclusion of La ci darem la mano in Molly Bloom's programme or in the name of the typist Martha Clifford who is supposed via Martha and Mary to link up in some way with the Virgin? The case against the use of the association method run mad is not simply that it is arbitrary and confusing and indeed often leads to unintelligibility, but that it actually builds up a false web of associations, a pattern which, like so many of the patterns of modern psychology, has not the kind of basis in reality which it is held up to have.

It would of course be quite false to say that Joyce's achievement is totally vitiated by such weaknesses, important as they are. Laughter and compassion break through, turning virtuosity and pastiche into something far greater. Laughter is the greatest human positive of Ulysses, the assertion of sanity against which Stephen's isolation and Bloom's ineffectiveness break themselves. And along with the laughter there is a deep compassion, too, as in the passage when Stephen catches his sister Dilly buying a grammar to teach herself French. At such a moment Joyce's apparatus of leit-motif and cross-reference reaches into and extends the resources of language and we forget the jig-saws and the pedantry. Yet the total effect is unsatisfying.

"What Joyce spends most care on is the formal side, watching that a phrase used on one page has the right echoes with phrases used on fifty other pages. But this sovereign importance of the

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verbal phrase is in contradiction to the life of the book. For it implies that the fabric is stable, and that its surface can be decorated with the most subtle intricacy, like the Book of Kells. . . . It assumes something as permanent as the church was for its monks. Yet Stephen and Bloom are both drawn as symbols of humanity in the eternal flux. On the other hand the sense of change in the book is so strong that this static formal decoration is felt to be a mechanism of defence against the change, and only valuable to Joyce as such defence. Joyce seems to play with the two styles of change and stability as he plays with his two chief characters. He plays with the contradictions; he does not resolve them. Where in Milton there is advancing movement, Joyce only shifts from one foot to the other, while he sinks deeper into the sand-flats." [18]


ULYSSES [pp. 200-201]

1 A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Travellers Lib. ed., 1932), p. 234ff.
2 James Joyce (1944), p. 74ff.
3 Stuart Gilbert, James Joyce's Ulysses (1952 ed.), p. 204.
4 Op. cit. p. 281.
5 Ibid., p. 288.
6 Ulysses (Odyssey Press ed., 1932), p. 23.
7 Ibid., p. 58.
8 Ibid., p. 560.
9 Ibid., p. 581.
10 Op. cit., p. 73.
11 Ulysses, p. 55.
12 Alick West Ulysses, Crisis and Criticism (1937), p. 165.
13 Op. cit., p. 225.
14 Ulysses, p. 243.
15 Ibid., p. 7
16 Crisis and Criticism, p. 169.
17 Harry Levin, op. cit., p. 96.
18 Crisis and Criticism, p. 178.


SOURCE: Kettle, Arnold. "James Joyce: Ulysses," in An Introduction to the English Novel. Vol. 2: Henry James to the Present (London; New York: Hutchinson's University Library, 1953, pp. 135-151.


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