Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

From Dowel to Tesseract: Joyce and De Stijl from "Cyclops" to Finnegans Wake

Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

From Dowel to Tesseract: Joyce and De Stijl from "Cyclops" to Finnegans Wake

Article excerpt

Joyce and the artists of the De Stijl movement share the problem of construction that comes with their dismantling of traditional form. They engage with this problem at a time of massive, international reconfiguration. The "Cyclops" episode was composed, Michael Groden observes in a recent essay, between June and October of 1919, "while Zurich, like much of Europe, was settling into the return to peace and adjusting to the political and national realignments that followed the end of the World War".1 We might connect this observation with Groden's earlier claim, in "Ulysses" in Progress, that "Cyclops" plays a pivotal role in Ulysses. Groden shows that the episode forms the transition from the first eleven interior-monologue episodes to the final seven that "dispense entirely with the 'initial style'".2 The episode is thus a crucial juncture in the composition of Ulysses, as it moves from subject-centred narration to vigorous, depersonalised formal and stylistic innovation. If, as Luca Crispi observes, the text block is "a basic and fundamental aspect of Joyce's compositional method throughout his career",3 "Cyclops" is the first episode in which Joyce displays the text block as a separate element, ostentatiously refraining from integrating it into a continuous text. As "Cyclops" responds to the challenges of a new political context, its new form joins different discursive reservoirs belonging to different communities. To do this, Joyce employs a new mode of assemblage. The explicitly political De Stijl aesthetic can afford us a politically engaged set of conceptual and formal terms with which to think about the nature and significance of the episode's conjunctions.

Just after the Armistice in November 1918, in another neutral, outlying, European country, the first De Stijl manifesto was published in concerted defiance of international tensions and of individually defined agendas. In Dutch, French, German, and English, it was signed by Theo van Doesburg, Robert van 't Hoff, Vilmos Huszár, Antony Kok, Piet Mondrian, Georges Vantongerloo, and Jan Wils. The manifesto proclaimed De Stijl's agenda of dispensing with old hierarchies in the hope of surmounting divisions and achieving an all-embracing accord. Itself an exercise in welding together the highly contrasting views of a group of artists, it called for the forging of a new unity in every area:

1. There is an old and a new consciousness of the age. The old one is directed towards the individual. The new one is directed towards the universal. The struggle of the individual against the universal may be seen both in the world war and in modern art.

2. The war is destroying the old world with its content: individual predominance in every field.4

The manifesto associates the war with modern art, seeing them both as countering individuality with a new universality, an "international unity in life, art and culture". In their aesthetic programme, as well as their designs, the artists of the De Stijl group refuse predefined, determinate form in order to oppose conventional understandings of the nation, the family, and the individual. A conception that spans from the "left-wing politics" of Van't Hoff and Wils to the Hegelian-inspired philosophy of Mondrian,5 this new universal consciousness is free of personal concerns and embodied by a new spatial continuity. The manifesto summons artists, architects, and designers to give both social and aesthetic expression to this new universality: "the founders of the new culture call upon all who believe in reform of art and culture to destroy these obstacles [tradition, dogmas and the predomination of the individual] to development, just as in the plastic arts - by doing away with natural form - they have eliminated that which stood in the way of pure artistic expression, the logical conclusion of every artistic concept".6 The De Stijl artists thus proclaim an art that is allied with social and political change, and a rejection of "natural form" that is coterminous with the restructuring of society. …

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.