Light Rays: James Joyce and Modernism

Light Rays: James Joyce and Modernism

Light Rays: James Joyce and Modernism

Light Rays: James Joyce and Modernism

Excerpt

James Joyce--who usually pretended not to notice his contemporaries in the arts--made a memorable exception one day in Zurich during the First World War. In questioning his friend, the painter Frank Budgen, about Ulysses, Joyce wanted to know whether the structure of the double storyteller in the Cyclops chapter seemed like modern Italian art: "Does this episode strike you as being futuristic?''

In reply, Budgen turned away from Italy and towards France: "Rather cubist than futurist." Neither Joyce nor Budgen thought it odd to discuss literature as though it were painting or to compare the arts of different nations.

Supported by Joyce's tacit approval, Budgen went on to compare the writing of Ulysses to the composition of a cubist painting:

Every event is a many-sided subject. You first state one view of it and then draw it from another angle to another scale, and both aspects lie side by side in the same picture.

Simultaneity and interpenetration, the two principles of modernist theory alluded to by Budgen, provide clues we might well apply to the entire body of Joyce's work over the first four decades of the twentieth century. Joyce's materials--his characters and their situations--are generally quite simple and ordinary. But his writing becomes "many-sided" by the continual addition of views from different angles or to different scales. Often Joyce took actual events . . .

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