Joyce's Ulysses: The Larger Perspective

Joyce's Ulysses: The Larger Perspective

Joyce's Ulysses: The Larger Perspective

Joyce's Ulysses: The Larger Perspective

Synopsis

All fifteen essays in this collection are concerned with the primacy of the novelistic aspects of Ulysses and how it achieves its meanings. Together they seek to redress the tendency of some recent critics to regard Ulysses as a compendium of techniques or a treatise.

Excerpt

Over the past several decades, criticism of Joyce's works—and particularly of Ulysses—has developed an impressive diversity of approaches, including some that deal with such presumably fundamental questions as whether Ulysses be a novel at all, whether Joyce has abandoned "representation" as an artistic aim, and whether the critic should presume to seek determinate "meanings" in the text. These approaches raise questions not only about whether Ulysses presents its meanings and values through the traditional novelistic modes of character, plot, imagery, and tone, but about whether the book proposes any values at all. And to critics of this persuasion, it begs the very questions that we should be debating if we presume that Ulysses is a novel, or if we presume that we can give the term novel sufficient definition to justify our using it in critical discussions.

To other critics, however, these questions and claims about Ulysses run the risk of depriving us of the affective and connotative richness that reading the novel should provide. We seem in danger of coming to regard Ulysses not as one of the finest and richest novels ever written, but as a compendium of techniques, or as a philosophical (or anti-philosophical) treatise. And while the term novel may not be capable of formal definition, it still seems the most appropriate term for the discussion of Ulysses, in its assumption that the book is primarily a narrative about characters.

Among the many critical issues that these divergent perspectives upon Ulysses raise is a question that has troubled the Western mind at least from the time of Socrates—namely, whether we can have meaningful knowledge of anything if we cannot give a formal account of how we know it. Socrates challenges Euthyphro as to whether he has any real knowledge of piety, if he cannot provide for a formal definition of piety and give a foolproof "effective procedure" for recognizing it. (The example and some of the language here are indebted to Hubert L. Dreyfus's What Computers Can't Do "1979".) The analogous question for the literary critic is whether we can make any meaningful statements about a "novel" if we cannot agree upon a definition and upon a formalized program for analyzing such a thing. But if literary criticism took seriously this line of thinking, it should abandon all further discussions of literary texts—whether "novel" or "poetry" or "drama"—until it has agreed upon a formal definition not . . .

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