"Hungry Man Is an Angry Man": A Marxist Reading of Consumption in Joyce's 'Ulysses.'

Article excerpt

Herring, Phillip F., ed. Joyce's Ulysses Notesheets in the British Museum. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1972.

-----. Joyce's Uncertainty Principle. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987.

Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. E.V. Rieu. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1959.

Jameson, Fredric. "Ulysses in History." James Joyce and Modern Literature. Ed. W.J. McCormack and Alistair Stead. London: Leopold Bloom's identification of hunger and anger in the "Lestrygonians" chapter of Ulysses (8.662-63) should have alerted the early Marxists to the possibility that Joyce's insights into the human condition coincided with their own. Nevertheless, positive criticism of Joyce from a Marxist perspective has been comparatively rare in the last sixty years. After an initial flurry of mainly negative response in the 1930s, when Ulysses, no longer suppressed, was finally becoming widely available, further work on this front was sparse until the 1970s, when interest in recuperating a political Joyce began to flourish, especially in France and in relation particularly to the Wake (Sollers). While it is obviously true that the Cold War era, especially in the United States (the metropolis of the Joyce industry), was hostile to political interpretations of texts, other reasons operated in the case of Joyce. For example, Joyce's own refusal to become even minimally involved in the great European political issues of the thirties, even though he personally helped Jews escape Nazi tyranny (Ellmann 772), was instrumental in promoting the view that the Joycean texts, like their author, were apolitical. That the texts refer to contemporary issues in Irish politics was regarded as immaterial, since never at any point does the content offer a political way forward. This apparent refusal to offer his characters a way out and his lack of a "worldview" were what most disturbed early Marxist critics.

Georg Lukacs was influential in leading the attack on modernists like Joyce (even though he presents little evidence to show that he had actually read Joyce). Here are specimens from his 1938 condemnation: "juxtaposition of false--because dead---objectivity and false--because empty--subjectivity"; the internal life of characters is allowed "a completely unrestricted field, entirely free from any criticism" (Essays 145-48). By 1957 Lukacs's views were no less intransigent: "the negation of outward reality"; the "dissolution of personality"; the pursuit of "an abstract polarity of the eccentric and the socially average"; no hope for a future; and human activity "rendered impotent and robbed of meaning" (Meaning 17-46). Wrongheaded though all this might seem today, such hostility itself clearly had a political context in Joyce's presumed satisfaction with the Irish status quo in particular and with reactionary forces generally.

The First Congress of Soviet Writers (1934) and its aftermath have been well documented (Scott; Struve; Hawthorn; Segall). In particular, the attack by Karl Radek (himself soon to be a victim of Stalinism) on Joyce and other modernists was influential, given the contemporary prestige in left circles of the first apparently socialist state in history, in setting the tone of the subsequent antagonism. Little noticed today, however, is the role of R. Miller-Budnitskaya, a leading Soviet literary critic, who a few months before the Congress wrote an extremely negative account of Ulysses (but which at least had the virtue of demonstrating close attention to the text): "Ulysses is permeated with political, religious, national and racial hatred, a hatred which turns into the deepest disgust for humanity...destructive nihilism...pessimism and misanthropy....Leopold Bloom is...a sort of odious arithmetical average of the genus philistine...a symbol of human baseness and depravity...uncultured and reactionary (6-7). For her the political meaning of Joyce and other modernists is simply this: they turn to "savage, primitive art as the elixir that might help to revive bourgeois culture" (26, emphasis mine). …