Frederic Jameson, ‘Ulysses in History’, in W. J. McCormack & Alistair Stead, eds., James Joyce and Modern Literature (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1982) [Chap. 9], pp.126-41.

One does not read Joyce today, let alone write about him, without remembering the fifteen-year-long struggle for freedom of the people of Northern Ireland; the following then, for whatever it is worth, must necessarily be dedicated to them.

I had it in mind, in what follows, to say something about the two most boring chapters of Ulysses: most people would agree that these are surely the "Eumaeus" and the "Ithaca" chapters, the scene in the cabmen’s shelter and the catechism. I have found, however, that in order to do that properly one must necessarily speak about the rest in some detail so that finally those parts are greatly reduced. One of the things such a subject leads you to consider, however, is boredom itself and its proper use when we are dealing with literary texts of this kind, and in particular the classical texts of high modernism or even postmodernism. I will still say something about that -I think there is a productive use of such boredom, which tells us something interesting about ourselves as well as about the world in which we live today - but I also mean to use this word in a far less positive sense, so I will do that first and say that if there are boring chapters of Ulysses, with which we must somehow learn to live, there are also boring interpretations of Ulysses, and those we can really make an effort to do without, sixty years after its publication, and in a social and global situation so radically different from that in which the canonical readings of this text were invented.

It would be surprising indeed if we were unable to invent newer and fresher ways of reading Joyce; on the other hand, the traditional interpretations I am about to mention have become so sedimented into our text - Ulysses being one of those books which is 'always-already-read’, always seen and interpreted by other people before you begin - that it is hard to see it afresh and impossible to read it as though those interpretations had never existed.

They are, I would say, threefold, and I will call them the mythical, the psychoanalytical, and the ethical readings respectively. These are, in other word the readings of Ulysses, first in terms of the Odyssey parallel ; second, in terms of the father-son relationship; and third, in terms of some possible happy end according to which this day, Bloomsday, will have changed everything, and will in [126] particular have modified Mr Bloom’s position in the home and relationship to his wife.

Let me take this last reading first. I will have little to say here about Molly’s monologue, and only want now to ask not merely why we are so attached to the project of making something decisive happen during this representative day, transforming it in other words into an Event; but also and above all to ask why we should be committed to this particular kind of event, in which Mr Bloom is seen as reasserting his authority in what can therefore presumably once again become a vital family unit. (You will recall that he has asked Molly to bring him breakfast in bed the next day - the triumph over the suitors!) In this day and age, in which the whole thrust of a militant feminism has been against the nuclear and the patriarchal family, is it really appropriate to recast Ulysses along the lines of marriage counselling and anxiously to interrogate its characters and their destinies with a view towards saving this marriage and restoring this family? Has our whole experience of Mr Bloom’s Dublin reduced itself to this, the quest for a 'happy ending’ in which the hapless protagonist is to virilise himself and become a more successful realisation of the dominant, patriarchal, authoritarian male?

Still, it will be said that this particular reading is part of the more general attempt to fit Ulysses back into the Odyssey parallel. As for the mythical interpretation - the Odyssey parallel undoubtedly underscored for us by the text itself as well as by generations of slavish interpreters - here too it would be desirable to think of something else. We are today, one would hope, well beyond that moment of classical modernism and its ideologies in which, as Sartre said somewhere, there was a 'myth of myth’, in which the very notion of some mythic unity and reconciliation was used in a mythical, or as I would prefer to say, a fetishised way. The bankruptcy of the ideology of the mythic is only one feature of the bankruptcy of the ideology of modernism in general; yet it is a most interesting one, on which (had we more time) it might have been instructive to dwell. Why is it that in the depthlessness of consumer society, the essential surface logic of our world of simulacra - why is it that the mythic ideal of some kind of depth integration is no longer attractive and no longer presents itself as a possible or workable solution? There is a kinship here, surely, between this waning of the mythic ideal or mirage and the disappearance of another cherished theme and experience of classical or high modernism, namely that of temporality, 'dur6e’, lived time, the passage of time. But perhaps the easiest way to dramatise the breakdown of myth and myth criticism is simply to suggest that we suddenly, with anthropologists like 1,6vi-Strauss, discovered that myths were not what we thought they were in the first place: not the place of some deep Jungian integration of the psyche, but quite the opposite, a space preceding the very [127] construction of the psyche or the subject itself, the ego, personality identity and the like: a space of the pre-individualistic, of the collective, which could scarcely be appealed to to offer the consolations that myth criticism had promised us.

On the other hand, as I stated previously, we can scarcely hope to read Ulysses as though it were called something else. I would suggest, then, that we displace the act or the operation of interpretation itself. The Odyssey parallel can then be seen as one of the organisational frameworks of the narrative text: but it is not itself the interpretation of that narrative, as the ideologues of myth have thought. Rather it is itself - qua organisational framework - what remains to be interpreted. In itself, the Odyssey parallel - like so much of that whole tradition of the classical pastiche from Cocteau or even from "La Belle Hé1ène" all the way to Giraudoux or Sartre or even John Updike - functions as wit: a matching operation is demanded of us as readers, in which the fit of the modern detail to its classical overtext is admired for its elegance and economy, as when, in Ulysses, Odysseus’ long separation from Penelope is evoked in terms of a ten-year period of coitus interruptus or anal intercourse between the partners of the Bloom household. You will agree, however, that the establishment of the parallel is scarcely a matter of interpretation - that is, no fresh meaning is conferred either on the classical Homeric text, nor on the practices of contemporary birth control, by the matching of these two things.

Genuine interpretation is something other than this, and involves the radical historisation of the form itself: what is to be interpreted is then the historical necessity for this very peculiar and complex textual structure or reading operation in the first place. We can make a beginning on this, I think, by evoking the philosophical concept, but also the existential experience, called ' contingency ’. Something seems to have happened at a certain point in modern times to the old unproblematic meaning of things, or to what we could call the content of experience; and this particular event is as so often first most tangibly detectable and visible on the aesthetic level. There is something like a crisis of detail, in which we may, in the course of our narrative, need a house for our characters to sleep in, a room in which they may converse, but nothing is there any longer to justify our choice of this particular house rather than that other, or this particular room, furniture, view, and the like. It is a very peculiar dilemma, which Barthes described as well as anyone else, when he accounted for the fundamental experience of the modern or of modernity in terms of something like a dissociation between meaning and existence: [128]

The pure and simple 'representation’ of the 'real’, the naked account of 'what is’ (or what has been), thus proves to resist meaning; such resistance reconfirms the great mythic opposition between the vécu [that is, the experi­ential or what the existentialists called 'lived experience’] and the intelligible; we have only to recall how, in the ideology of our time, the obsessional evocation of the de jure exclusion, what lives is structurally incapable of sciences, of literature, of social practices) is always staged as an aggressive arm against meaning, as though, by some de jure exclusion, what lives is structurally incapable of carrying a meaning - and vice versa.[1]

One would only want to correct this account by adding that the living, life, vitalism, is also an ideology, as it is appropriate to observe for Joyce himself more generally; but on the whole Barthes’s opposition between what exists and what means allows us to make sense of a whole range of formal strategies within what we call the high modernisms; these range clearly all the way from the dematerialisation of the work of art (Virginia Woolf’s attack on naturalism, Gide’s omission of the description of people and things, the emergence of an ideal of the 'pure’ novel, on the order of 'pure poetry’) to the practice of symbolism itself, which involves the illicit transformation of existing things into so many visible or tangible meanings. I believe that today, whatever our own aesthetic faults or blinkers, we have learned this particular lesson fairly well: and that for us, any art which practices symbolism is already discredited and worthless before the fact. A long experience of the classical modernisms has finally taught us the bankruptcy of the symbolic in literature; we demand something more from artists than this facile affirmation that the existent also means. that things are also symbols. But this is very precisely why I am anxious to rescue Joyce from the exceedingly doubtful merit of being called a symbolic writer.

Yet before I try to describe what is really going on in the text of Ulysses, let me do something Barthes did not care to do. in the passage I quoted, and designate the historical reasons for that modernist crisis, that dissociation of the existent and the meaningful, that intense experience of contingency in question here. We must explain this experience historically because it is not at all evident, and particularly not in the ideological perspective - existential or Nietzschean - which is that of Roland Barthes, among many others, and for which the discovery of the absurd and of the radical contingency and meaninglessness of our object world is simply the result of the increasing lucidity and self-consciousness of human beings in a post-religious, secular, scientific age.

But in previous societies (or modes of production) it was Nature that was meaningless or anti-human. What is [129] paradoxical about the historical experience of modernism is that it designates very precisely that period in which Nature - or the in- or anti-human - is everywhere in the process of being displaced or destroyed, expunged, eliminated, by the achievements of human praxis and human production. The great modernist literature - from Baudelaire and Flaubert to Ulysses and beyond - is a city literature: its object is therefore the anti-natural, the humanised, par excellence, a landscape which is everywhere the result of human labour, in which everything - including the formerly natural, grass, trees, our own bodies - is finally produced by human beings. This is then the historical paradox with which the experience of contingency confronts us (along with its ideologies - existentialism and nihilism - and its aesthetics - modernism): how can the city be meaningless? How can human production be felt to be absurd or contingent, when in another sense one would think it was only human labour which created genuine meaning in the first place?

Yet it is equally obvious that the experience of contingency is a real or 'objective’ one, and not merely a matter of illusion or false consciousness (although it is that too). The missing step here - the gap between the fact of the human production of reality in modern times and the experience of the results or products of that production as meaningless - this essential mediation is surely to be located in the work process itself, whose organisation does not allow the producers to grasp their relationship to the final product; as well as in the market system, which does not allow the consumer to grasp the product’s origins in collective production. I am assuming, rightly or wrongly, that I do not have to insert a general lecture on alienation and reification, on the dynamics of capital and the nature of exchange value, at this point: I do want to dwell at somewhat greater length on one of the basic forms taken by reification as a process, and that is what can be called the analytical fragmentation of older organic or at least ' naturwüchsige ’ or traditional processes.[2] Such fragmentation can be seen on any number of levels: on that of the labour process first of all, where the older unities of handicraft production are broken up and 'taylorised’ into the meaningless yet efficient segments of mass industrial production; on that of the psyche or psychological subject, now broken up into a host of radically different mental functions, some of which -those of measurement and rational calculation - are privileged and others - the perceptual senses and aesthetic generally -are marginalised; on that of time, experience, and storytelling, all of which are inexorably atomised and broken down into their most minimal unities, into that well-known 'heap of fragments where the sun beats’; the fragmentation, finally, of the older hierarchical communities, neighbourhoods, and organic groups themselves, which, with the penetration of the money and market system, are systematically dissolved into [130] relations of equivalent individuals, 'free but equal’ monads, isolated subjects equally free to sell their labour power, yet living side by side in a merely additive way within those great agglomerations which are the modern cities. It is incidentally this final form of reification which accounts, be it said in passing, for the inadequacy of that third conventional interpretation of Ulysses mentioned above, namely the fetishisation of the text in terms of 'archetypal’ patterns of father-son relationships, the quest for the ideal father or for the lost son, and so forth. But surely today, after so much prolonged scrutiny of the nuclear family, it has become apparent that the obsession with these relationships and the privileging of such impoverished interpersonal schemas drawn from the nuclear family itself are to be read as break-down products and as defence mechanisms against the loss of the knowable community. The efforts of Edward Said and others to demonstrate the omnipresence of such familial schemes in modern narrative should surely not be taken as an affirmation of the ultimate primacy of such relationships, but rather exactly the reverse, as sociopathology and as diagnosis of the impoverishment of human relations which results from the destruction of the older forms of the collective.[3] The father-son relationships in Ulysses are all miserable failures, above all others the mythical ultimate 'meeting’ between Bloom and Stephen; and if more is wanted on this particular theme, one might read into the record here the diatribes against the very notion of an Oedipus complex developed in Deleuze and Guattari’s "Anti-Oedipus", which I do not necessarily endorse but which should surely be enough to put an end to this particular interpretive temptation.

But the psychoanalytic or Oedipal interpretation was itself only a sub-set of the Odyssey parallel or mythological temptation, to which, after this digression, I promised to return. What I wanted to suggest about the kind of reading determined by the Odyssey parallel in Ulysses is that this parallelism, and the kind of matching it encourages between the two levels of written and over-text, functions as something like an empty form. Like the classical unities, it offers a useful but wholly extrinsic set of limits against which the writer works, and which serve as a purely mechanical cheek on what risks otherwise becoming an infinite proliferation of detail.[4] The point is that, as we suggested a moment ago, the older traditional narrative unities have disappeared, been destroyed in the process of universal fragmentation: the organic unity of the narrative can thus no longer serve as a symbol for the unity of experience, nor as a formal limit on the production of narrative sentences: the single day - that overarching formal unity of Ulysses - is a meaningful unit neither in human experience nor in narrative itself. But at that point, if what used to be experience, human destiny and the like, is shattered into such components as taking a walk at [131] lunchtime from your place of business to a restaurant, buying a cake of soap, or having a drink, or visiting a patient in a hospital - each of these components being then in itself infinitely subdivisible - then there is absolutely no guarantee that the transformation of these segments into narrative sentences might not be infinitely extended and indeed last forever. The Odyssey parallel helps avoid this unwelcome development and sets just such external limits, which ultimately become those of Joyce’s minimal units of composition - the individual chapters themselves.

But what I wanted to show you was that alongside the type of reading encouraged by the mythic parallels - which I have called a matching up - there is a rather different form of reading which resists that one in all kinds of ways, and ends up subverting it. This is a type of reading which interrupts the other, consecutive kind, and moves forward and backwards across the text in a cumulative search for the previous mention or the reference to come: as Kenner and others have pointed out, it is a type of reading, a mental operation, peculiarly inconceivable before printing, before numbered pages, and more particularly before the institutionalisation of those unusual objects called dictionaries or encyclopedias. [5] Now one is tempted to assimilate this kind of reading to the more customary thematic or thematising kind, where we compile lists of recurrent motifs, such as types of imagery, obsessive words or terms, peculiar gestures or emotional reactions; but this is not at all what happens in Ulysses, where the object of the cross-referencing activity is always an event: taking old Mrs Riordan for a walk, the borrowed pair of tight trousers worn by Ben Dollard at a memorable concert, or the assassination in Phoenix Park twenty-two years before. This is to say that these seemingly thematic motifs are here always referential: for they designate content beyond the text, beyond indeed the capacity of any of the given textual variants to express or exhaust them. In such cross-referencing, indeed, one can say that the referent itself is produced, as something which transcends every conceivable textualisation of it. The appropriate analogy might be with the return of characters in Balzac’s ' Comédie humaine ’, where the varying status of a given character - the hero in one novel, a character actor in a second, a mere extra in a third and part of an enumeration of names in a fourth - tends effectively to destabilise each of the narrative forms in question, and to endow them all with a transcendental dimension on which they open so many relative perspectives.

What I want to suggest is that the analogous recurrence of events and characters throughout Ulysses can equally be understood as a process whereby the text itself is unsettled and undermined, a process whereby the universal tendency of its terms, narrative tokens, representations, to solidify into an achieved and codified symbolic order as well as a massive [132] narrative surface, is perpetually suspended. I will call this process 'dereification’, and I first want to describe its operation in terms of the city itself. The classical city is not a collection of buildings, nor even a collection of people living on top of one another; nor is it even mainly or primarily a collection of pathways, of the trajectories of people through those buildings or that urban space, although that gets us a little closer to it. No, the classical city, one would think - it always being understood that we are now talking about something virtually extinct, in the age of the suburb or megalopolis or the private car - the classical city is defined essentially by the nodal points at which all those pathways and trajectories meet or which they traverse: points of totalisation, we may call them, which make shared experience possible, and also the storage of experience and information, which are in short something like a synthesis of the object (place) and the subject (population), focal points not unlike those possibilities of unifying perspectives and images which Kevin Lynch has identified as the signs and emblems of the successful, the non-alienating city. [6]

But to talk about the city in this way, spatially, by identifying the collective transit points and roundabouts of temple and agora, pub and post office, park and cemetery, is not yet to identify the mediation whereby these spatial forms are at one with collective experience. Unsurprisingly that mediation will have to be linguistic, yet it will have to define a kind of speech which is neither uniquely private nor forbiddingly standardised in an impersonal public form, a type of discourse in which the same, in which repetition, is transmitted again and again through a host of eventful variations, each of which has its own value. That discourse is called gossip: and from the upper limits of city life - the world of patronage, machine politics, and the rise and fall of ward leaders - all the way down to the most minute aberrations of private life, it is by means of gossip and through the form of the anecdote that the dimensions of the city are maintained within humane limits and that the unity of city life is affirmed and celebrated. This is already the case with that ur-form of the city which is the village itself, as John Berger tell us in Pig Earth :

The function of this gossip which, in fact, is close, oral, daily history, is to allow the whole village to define itself. ... The village ... is a living portrait of itself: a communal portrait, in that everybody is portrayed and everybody portrays. As with the carvings on the capitals in a Romanesque church, there is an identity of spirit between what is shown and how it is shown - as if the portrayed were also the carvers. Every village’s portrait of itself is constructed, however, not out of stone, but out of words, spoken and remembered: out of opinions, stories, [133] eye-witness reports, legends, comments and hearsay. And it is a continuous portrait: work on it never stops. Until very recently the only material available to a village and its peasants for defining themselves was their own spoken words. ... Without such a portrait - and the gossip which is its raw material - the village would have been forced to doubt its own existence. [7]

So in that great village which is Joyce’s Dublin, Parnell is still an anecdote about a hat knocked off, picked up and returned, not yet a television image nor even a name in a newspaper; and by the same token, as in the peasant village itself, the ostensibly private or personal - Molly’s infidelities, or Mr Bloom’s urge to discover how far the Greek sculptors went in portraying the female anatomy - all these things are public too, and the material for endless gossip and anecdotal transmission.

Now for a certain conservative thought, and for that heroic fascism of the 1920s for which the so-called 'masses’ and their standardised city life had become the very symbol of every­thing degraded about modern life, gossip - Heidegger will call it 'das Gerede’ - is stigmatised as the very language of inauthenticity, of that empty and stereotypical talking pour rien dire to which these ideologues oppose the supremely private and individual speech of the death anxiety or the heroic choice. But Joyce - a radical neither in the left-wing nor the reactionary sense - was at least a populist and a plebeian. 'I don’t know why the communists don’t like me,’ he complained once, 'I’ve never written about anything but common people.’ Indeed, from the class perspective, Joyce had no more talent for or interest in the representation of aristocrats than Dickens; and no more experience with working-class people or with peasants than Balzac (Beckett is indeed a far sounder guide to the Irish countryside or rural slum than the essen­tially urban Joyce). In class terms, then, Joyce’s characters are all resolutely petty-bourgeois: what gives this apparent limitation its representative value and its strength is the colonial situation itself. Whatever his hostility to Irish cultural nationalism, Joyce’s is the epic of the metropolis under imperialism, in which the development of bourgeoisie and proletariat alike is stunted to the benefit of a national petty-bourgeoisie: indeed, precisely these rigid constraints imposed by imperialism on the development of human energies account for the symbolic displacement and flowering of the latter in eloquence, rhetoric and oratorical language of all kinds; symbolic practices not particularly essential either to businessmen or to working classes, but highly prized in precapitalist societies and preserved, as in a time capsule, in Ulysses itself. And this is the moment to rectify our previous account of the city and to observe that if Ulysses is also for us the classical, the supreme representation of something like [134] the Platonic idea of city life, this is also partly due to the fact that Dublin is not exactly the full-blown capitalist metropolis, but like the Paris of Flaubert, still regressive, still distantly akin to the village, still un- or under-developed enough to be representable, thanks to the domination of its foreign masters.

Now it is time to say what part gossip plays in the process of what I have called dereification, or indeed in that peculiar network of cross-references which causes us to read Ulysses backwards and forwards like a handbook. Gossip is indeed the very element in which reference - or, if you prefer, the 'referent’ itself - expands and contracts, ceaselessly transformed from a mere token, a notation, a short-hand object, back into a full-dress narrative. People as well as things are the reified markers of such potential story-telling: and what for a high realism was the substantiality of character, of the individual ego, is here equally swept away into a flux of anecdotes - proper names on the one hand, an intermittent store of gossip on the other. But the process is to be sure more tangible and more dramatic when we see it at work on physical things: the statues, the commodities in the shop-windows, the clanking trolley-lines that link Dublin to its suburbs (which dissolve, by way of Mr Deasy’s anxieties about foot-and-mouth disease, into Mr Bloom’s fantasy projects for tramlines to move cattle to the docks); or the three-master whose silent grace and respectability as an image is at length dissolved into the disreputable reality of its garrulous and yarn-spinning crewman; or, to take a final example, that file of sandwichmen whose letters troop unevenly through the text, seeming to move towards that ultimate visual reification fantasised by Mr Bloom virtually in analogue to Mallarmé’s 'livre’:

Of some one sole unique advertisement to cause passers to stop in wonder, a poster novelty, with all extraneous accretions excluded, reduced to its simplest and most efficient terms not exceeding the span of casual vision and congruous with the velocity of modern life. (Ulysses, p.641)

The visual, the spatially visible, the image, is, as has been observed, the final form of the commodity itself, the ultimate terminus of reification. Yet even so strikingly reified a datum as the sandwichboard ad is once again effortlessly dereified and dissolved when, on his way to the cabman’s shelter, Stephen hears a down-and-out friend observe: 'I’d carry a sandwichboard only the girl in the office told me they’re full up for the next three weeks, man. God, you’ve to book ahead!’ (Ulysses, p.538). Suddenly the exotic picture-postcard vision of a tourist Dublin is transformed back into the dreary familiar reality of jobs and contracts and the next meal: yet this is not necessarily a dreary prospect; rather it [135] opens up a perspective in which, at some ideal outside limit, everything seemingly material and solid in Dublin itself can presumably be dissolved back into the underlying reality of human relations and human praxis.

Yet the ambulatory letters of the sandwichmen are also the very emblem of textuality itself, and this is the moment to say the price Ulysses must pay for the seemingly limitless power of its play of reification and dereification; the moment, in other words, to come to terms with Joyce’s modernism. Stated baldly, that price is radical depersonalisation, or in other words, Joyce’s completion of Flaubert’s programme of removing the author from the text - a programme which also removes the reader, and finally that unifying and organising mirage or aftermirage of both author and reader which is the 'character’, or better still, 'point of view’. What happens at that point can perhaps oversimply be described this way: such essentially idealistic (or ideal, or imaginary) categories formerly served as the supports for the unity of the work or the unity of the process. Now that they have been withdrawn, only a form of material unity is left, namely the printed book itself, and its material unity as a bound set of pages within which the cross-references mentioned above are contained. One of the classic definitions of modernism is of course the increasing sense of the materiality of the medium itself (whether in instrumental timbre or oil painting), the emergent foregrounding of the medium in its materiality. It is paradoxical, of course, to evoke the materiality of language; and as for the materiality of print or script, that particular material medium is surely a good deal less satisfying or gratifying in a sensory, perceptual way than the materials of oil paint or of orchestral coloration; none the less, the role of the book itself is functionally analogous, in Joyce, to the materialist dynamics of the other arts.

Now in one sense textualisation may be seen as a form or subset of reification itself: but if so, it is a unique type of reification, which unbinds fully as much as it fixes or crystallises. They may, indeed, offer the most appropriate contemporary way of dealing with the phenomena Joseph Frank described in his now classical essay as 'spatial form’. I am thinking, for instance, of the moment in which a remarkable and ingenious method for cabling news of the Phoenix Park murders across the Atlantic is described: the reporter takes an ad (Mr Bloom’s 'one sole unique advertisement’) and uses its spatial features to convey the trajectory of the killers and the map of the assassination (Ulysses, pp.137-8). This is to institute a peculiarly fluid relationship between the visually reified and the historically eventful, since here these categories pass ceaselessly back and forth into one another.

The climax of this development is in many ways reached in the "Nighttown" section, itself a prolongation of that comparable movement and outer limit reached by Flaubert in "La Tentation [136] de Saint Antoine". Indeed, had we more time, it would have been pleasant to discuss the peculiar representational space generated by these two 'reading plays’, these two seeming eruptions and intrusions of a properly theatrical space in that very different space - no matter how experimental - of narrative or novelistic representation. I think we would have been able to show that this new space, with its ostensibly theatrical form (scenic indications, character attributions, printed speeches, notations of expression), has nothing to do with the closure of traditional theatrical representation; far more to do, indeed, with that space of hallucination in terms of which Flaubert often described his own creative processes, and which, in 'Saint Antoine", he represents as follows:

And suddenly there move across the empty air first a puddle of water, then a prostitute, the edge of a temple, a soldier’s face, a chariot drawn by two white horses rearing. These images arrive abruptly, jerkily, detached against the night like scarlet paintings on ebony. Their movement grows more rapid. They follow each other at a dizzying rate. At other times, they come to a halt and gradually waning, melt away; or else they fly off, and others take their place at once.[8]

Hallucinatory experience of this kind can be described, in the language of Gestalt psychology, as the perception of forms without background, forms or figures sundered from their ground or context, and passing discontinuously across the field of vision in a lateral movement, as though somehow on this side and nearer than the objects of the visible world. The instability of space or experience of this kind lies in the failure of the discrete or isolated image to generate any background or depth, any worldness in which it can take root. On the printed page, this essentially means that the ground, the anticipatory-retrospective texture, of narrative - what Greimas calls its isotopies, its ana- and cata-phoric relationships - is ruptured: it therefore falls to the typographic and material mechanisms of theatrical and scenic directions to bind (or rebind) these discontinuous images together. Typography thus becomes an event within the text among others. Or, if you prefer, since it is the reified sense of the visual which has here been solicited and stimulated, this sense will now begin to function as it were in the void, taking as its object the material signifiers, the printed words themselves, and no longer the latter’s signifieds or representations or meanings.

At any rate, this peculiar climax of Ulysses in the seeming immediacy of a theatrical representation which is in reality the unmediated experience of the printed book will now help us to understand two kinds of things: the peculiarly anticlimactic nature of the chapters that follow it (I’m getting to them, at [137] last!), and the ground on which the depersonalised textualisation of the narrative of Ulysses takes place, what one is tempted to call a kind of 'autistic textualisation’, the production of sentences in a void, moments in which the book begins to elaborate its own text, under its own momentum, with no further need of characters, point of view, author or perhaps even reader:

Mr Bloom reached Essex bridge. Yes, Mr Bloom crossed bridge of Yessex. (Ulysses, p.260.)


Love loves to love love. Nurse loves the new chemist.
Constable 14A loves Mary Kelly. Gerty MacDowell loves the boy that has the bicycle. M.B. loves a fair gentleman. Li Chi Han lovey up kissy Cha Pu Chow. Jumbo, the elephant, loves Alice, the elephant. Old Mr Verschoyle with the ear trumpet loves old Mrs Verschoyle with the turnedin eye. . You love a certain person. And this person loves that other person because everybody loves somebody but God loves everybody. (Ulysses, pp.331-2.)

The point I want to make about passages like these, and they are everywhere in Ulysses, is that 'point of view’ theory does not take on them, nor any conceivable notion of the Implied Author, unless the I.A. is an imbecile or a schizophrenic. No one is speaking these words or thinking them: they are simply, one would want to say, printed sentences.

And this will be my transition to the two most boring chapters of Ulysses, and thence to a close. Because what happens in the "Eumaeus" chapter is that, so to speak, Joyce lapses back into more traditional narrative 'point of view’: that is, for the first time in Ulysses we once again get the 'he thought/she thought’ form of indirect discourse, what I will call the third person indistinct, and a henceforth conventional belief in that central reflective consciousness which is both appropriate and ironic in the chapter in which Bloom and Stephen are finally able to sit down together, two closed or solipsistic monads projecting that most boring theme of our own time, namely 'lack of communication’. Indeed, I am tempted to say, judging from the sentence structure, the elaborate periphrases, the use of occasional foreign expressions as well as cautiously isolated 'colloquial’ ones, that this chapter really constitutes Joyce’s attempt at a parody or pastiche of a writer he had no particular sympathy or respect for, namely Henry James. (If so, it is not a very good pastiche, and only our supreme belief in Joyce’s power of mimicry, in his ability to do anything stylistically, has prevented us from noticing it.) Or better still, this chapter deploys the stylistic mannerisms of Henry James in order to record a social and psychological content characteristic, rather, of James’s enemy brother and archetypal rival, H. G. Wells - that is, an essentially [138] petty-bourgeois content whose comfortable fit with the Jamesian narrative apparatus is somehow humiliating for both of them and sends both off back to back, as though their well-known differences on the form and function of the novel were less the taking of incompatible positions than - to use a more contemporary expression - mere variants within a single problematic, the problematic of the centred subject, of the closed monad, of the isolated or privatised subjectivity. The theory and practice of narrative 'point of view’, as we associate it with Henry James, is not simply the result of a metaphysical option, a personal obsession, nor even a technical development in the history of form (although it is obviously also all those things): point of view is rather the quasi-material expression of a fundamental social development itself, namely the increasing social fragmentation and monadisation of late capitalist society, the intensifying privatisation and isolation of its subjects.

We have already touched on one aspect of this development - reification - which can now be characterised in another way, as the increasing separation, under capitalism, between the private and the public, between the personal and the political, between leisure and work, psychology and science, poetry and prose, or to put it all in a nutshell, between the subject and the object. The centred but psychologised subject and the reified object are indeed the respective orientations of these two concluding chapters, "Eumaeus" and "Ithaca": and it is as though Joyce meant here to force us to work through in detail everything that is intolerable about this opposition. What we have been calling boredom is not Joyce’s failure, then, but rather his success, and is the signal whereby we ourselves as organisms register a situation but also forms that are finally stifling for us.

This is perhaps a little easier to show in the "Ithaca" or catechism sequence: the format - question and answer - is not really, I think, a return to the experimentation - better still, the textualisation - of the earlier chapters. It is rather that quite different thing - the construction of a form of discourse from which the subject - sender or receiver - is radically excluded: a form of discourse, in other words, that would be somehow radically objective, if that were really possible. And if it is observed that even this seemingly sterilised alternation of question and answer turns increasingly, towards the end of the chapter, around Mr Bloom’s private thoughts and fantasies, in other words, around the subjective rather than the objective, then I will reply by noting the degree to which those fantasies, Mr Bloom’s 'bovarysme’ (tactfully called 'ambition’ by Joyce), are henceforth inextricably bound up with objects, in the best consumer society tradition. These are falsely subjective fantasies: here, in reality, commodities are dreaming about themselves through us.

These two final Bloom chapters, then, pose uncomfortable [139] problems, and not least about narrative itself: the subjective or point-of-view chapter, "Eumaeus", asks us why we should be interested in stories about private individuals any longer, given the extraordinary relativisation of all individual experience, and the transformation of its contents into so many purely psychological reactions. Meanwhile, the objective chapter, "Ithaca", completes an infinite subdivision of the objective contents of narrative, breaking 'events’ into their smallest material components and asking whether, in that form, they still have any interest whatsoever. Two men have a discussion over cocoa, and that may be interesting at a pinch: but what about the act of putting the kettle on to boil - that is a part of the same event, but is it still interesting? The elaborate anatomy of the process of boiling water (Ulysses, pp.591-4) is boring in three senses of the word: (1) it is essentially non-narrative; (2) it is inauthentic, in the sense in which these mass-produced material instruments (unlike Homer’s spears and shields) cannot be said to be organic parts of their users’ destinies; finally, (3) these objects are contingent and meaningless in their instrumental form, they are recuperable for literature only at the price of being transformed into symbols. Such passages thus ask three questions:

1 Why do we need narrative anyway? What are stories and what is our existential relation to them? Is a non-narrative relationship to the world and to Being possible?

2 What kind of lives are we leading and what kind of world are we living them in if the objects that surround us are all somehow external, extrinsic alienated from us? (It is a question about the simulacra of industrial society, essentially a question about the city, but in this form at least as old as the interrogation of the 'wholeness’ of Greek culture by German romanticism.)

3 (A question I have already raised but which remains seemingly unanswered, namely) How can the products of human labour have come to be felt as meaningless or contingent?

Yet to this last question at least, Joyce’s form has a kind of answer, and it is to be found in that great movement of dereification I have already invoked, in which the whole dead grid of the object world of greater Dublin is, in the catechism chapter, finally, disalienated and by the most subterranean detours traced back ... less to its origins in Nature, than to the transformation of Nature by human and collective praxis deconcealed. So to the vitalist ideology of Molly’s better known [140] final affirmation, I tend rather to prefer this one:

What did Bloom do at the range? He removed the saucepan to the left hob, rose and carried the iron kettle to the sink in order to tap the current by turning the faucet to let it flow. Did it flow? Yes. From Roundwood reservoir in county Wicklow of a cubic capacity of 2,400 million gallons, percolating through a subterranean aqueduct of filter mains of single and double pipeage constructed at an initial plant cost of £5 per linear yard.... (Ulysses, p.591)

[141; End]

Notes
1. Roland Barthes, L’Effet de réel, 'Communications’, 11 (1968) p.87.
2. See for a more detailed account of reification my 'The Political Unconscious; Narrative as a Socially Symbolic
Act’ (London: Methuen; Cornell UP 1981), esp. pp.62-4, 225-37, and 249-52.
3. Edward Said, 'Beginnings’ (NY: Basic Books 1975), pp.137-52.
4. For further remarks on the proliferation of sentences see my 'Fables of Aggression: Wyndham Lewis, the Modernist
as Fascist’ (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979).
5. See Hugh Kenner, 'Flaubert, Joyce, Beckett: the Stoic Comedians’ (Boston: Beacon 1962). Also the work of
MacLuhan and Walter Ong.
6. Kevin Lynch, 'The Image of the City’ (Harvard UP 1960).
7. John Berger, 'Pig Earth’ (New York: Pantheon, 1981), p.9.
8. Gustave Flaubert, 'La Tentation de Saint Antoine’ (Paris: La Pléiade 1951), vol.1, p.69.

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