Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Beyond the "Holy See": Parody and Narrative Assemblage in "Cyclops"

Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Beyond the "Holy See": Parody and Narrative Assemblage in "Cyclops"

Article excerpt

The "Cyclops" chapter of Ulysses, with its first-person narrator, its multiple parodic forms, and its shifting points of reference, presents a narrative puzzle in which narrative form itself plays a crucial role in the tangle. Although the chapter opens with an apparently well-defined narrative point of view - a talented, if overly opinionated, barroom raconteur - the reader soon finds that this singular "I" at the center of the chapter is hardly a unique, or for that matter central, authorial eye. On 33 occasions, parodic "intrusions" cause the narrative to shift points of view.(1) These shifts set up a paradoxical move that grants narrative centrality to a given form, while at the same time revealing the limitations of that positioning. The result is a chapter that transforms multiple failed attempts at direct narration into a productive narrative model, defined by the interaction of a multiplicity. Each shift results in a proliferation of narration through these multiplying "reports of eyewitnesses" (U 12.1869-81). As eyewitnesses proliferate - interrupting, canceling, and contradicting each other - narratives begin to serve as supplements to one another. While this proliferation undermines the authority of any single, direct narration, the interaction of these multiple forms affords Joyce the possibility of creating a multilinear narrative assemblage in the place of authorial, authoritative narration.

Narrative delineation in "Cyclops" serves to mark the limitations of any given narrative framework. The "central" I-narrator brings this feature of the chapter into high relief by his prominent delineation as a character. That which defines him as narrator also serves as his narrative limit. He is in effect a parody of narrative authority, neither all-seeing nor all-knowing. His opinions shape the facts of the story and, like the names of characters he occasionally forgets, whatever does not fall under the eye of the narrator does not become a part of his narrative. In addition to marking this lack of impartial omniscience, Joyce also calls attention to the limitations of the narrative scope by emphasizing the I-narrator's bodily presence, a fact most notable when the I-narrator exits the bar to relieve himself, taking the narration with him (U12.1561-72). Likewise, the chapter reads more as a retelling rather than a running commentary, with Joyce emphasizing the act of storytelling by writing out the so's and anyhow's.(2) These features of the chapter delineate the narrator's character and, in doing so, emphasize the limitations of this perspective: that we are hearing a version of the events in Barney Kiernan's pub.

In a similar fashion, the delineation of various genres by way of parody forces the reader's attention on the means by which "narrative frame" serves as both limit and condition of possibility for narration. As Michael Groden notes, the parodies in "Cyclops" and other "middle stage" chapters allowed Joyce to introduce "a relativity in the point of view that is much stronger than the variations among the initial-style episodes" (155). Each narrative "interruption" radically alters the account of events in the section, calling attention to the way in which telling shapes the tale. Like "Circe," "Cyclops" is a chapter of metamorphoses; but in this section of the novel, character transformations occur as a direct result of changes in narrative frame. As early as the first page of the chapter, the I-narrator demonstrates the means by which narrative form determines narrative content. In order to voice his perspective on Herzog the merchant, he literally gives voice to Herzog by impersonating him: "He drink me my teas. He eat me my sugars. Because he no pay me my moneys?" (U 12.31-32). But the narrative is equally involved in a less-obvious process of (im)personation when creating Geraghty in the character of "the most notorious bloody robber" (U 12.25). Narration in this chapter is always a form of impersonation; representation in propria persona is not possible. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.