Joyce Agonistes: Reading Milton in Contexts
Joyce, even more than many other writers, sought from a young age to crush his competitors. He stole and criticized, incorporated and ridiculed. And he often praised lavishly those who could never compete with him. Extending a common modernist practice, he had a particular tendency to parody important precursors, as a number of critics have indicated. Discussing Joyce and Ibsen, Tysdahl notes that "Joyce often parodies what he makes important use of. Parody, in Joyce, very rarely amounts to an abnegation of the thing parodied" (13). Ellmann points out that Ulysses is in some ways "a great joke on Homer," but, he adds, "jokes are not necessarily so simple, and these [uses of Homer] have a double aim." Joyce's parodies are both '"mock-heroic" and "the ennoblement of the mock-heroic" ( James Joyce360). Mary Reynolds, in her study of Joyce and Dante, points out that "Joyce's own transformations, like the comments on Dante he made to friends, often have elements of burlesque and frequently of irony, but they never imply a reductive view of [ The Divine Comedy] its purposes, or its author" (4). Joyce similarly burlesqued Aristotle, refashioning his most influential poetic concepts into implicit puns and in-jokes, while at the same time making serious use of less-known Aristotelian ideas (see Hogan "Influxes").
But there is more to Joyce's defensive response to both influence and competition than parody. Indeed, Ibsen, Homer, Dante, and Aristotle are among the rather small number of truly important writers whose influence Joyce acknowledged. And in the cases of Ibsen and Aristotle, we have