Joyce, Milton, and the Theory of Influence

By Patrick Colm Hogan | Go to book overview
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Chapter 1
The Economy of Innovation and the Grammar of Influence

It is commonplace to observe that modernist writers sought to refashion literature in both form and subject. Novelists such as D. H. Lawrence worked to extend the domain of literary matter to the taboo; poets such as Stephen Spender broadened the scope of the aesthetic to include the "ugly." In a complementary movement, authors such as Virginia Woolf undertook the creation and elaboration of novel stylistic devices. James Joyce did all of this.

For some, these innovations were part of a struggle for realism. Like artists engaged in the (Popperian) development of representational painting described by E. H. Gombrich in Art and Illusion, a development through conjecture and refutation, some modernists saw themselves as overcoming the errors of past representation. In a well-known letter to Stanislaus, Joyce criticized George Moore in the following terms: "Damned stupid. . . . A lady who has been living for three years on the line between Bray and Dublin is told by her husband that there is a meeting in Dublin at which he must be present. She looks up the table to see the hours of the trains. This on DW and WR where the trains go regularly: this after three years. Isn't it rather stupid of Moore" ( SL44). In his 1900 essay "Drama and Life," Joyce insisted that drama functions "to portray truth" ( CW41). "Art is true to itself when it deals with truth," he asserted (43-44). In his first essay on James Clarence Mangan, Joyce called beauty "the splendour of truth," and though in the "Pola" notebook he separated the two, there is more than ample evidence that he never retreated from his commitment to achieving

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