(almost voicelessly) Excuse me. I am suffering from a severe chill, have recently come from a sickbed. A few wellchosen words.(U 15.998–99)
Taken from Leopold Bloom's trial sequence in "Circe," the words of my epigram have a claim to being the first in Ulysses actually spoken by John F. Taylor, the nationalist barrister renowned in Dublin for his oratorical skill. While Taylor is more commonly associated with "Aeolus" and its famous analogy between the Israelites enslaved in Egyptian bondage and the Irish oppressed under British rule, the speech in which the analogy is elaborated in the earlier episode is presented as a lengthy quotation, recited from memory by Professor MacHugh to the assembled pressmen and hangers-on in the offices of the Freeman's Journal. Thus, although Taylor's words have appeared in the novel prior to "Circe," it is only in the fifteenth episode that the reader can finally identify a moment in the text when Taylor himself might be the speaker of words—and, quite aptly, words about choosing words—that have been attributed to him. Even so, it would seem at best naively literal, and at worst outrageous, to advance such a claim on the evidence of "Circe," particularly when the episode is understood as a hallucinatory or textual unconsciousness. Considered as an archive (in the Foucauldian sense), however, "Circe" serves to expose and illuminate aspects left inchoate or underdeveloped in earlier moments of the novel, bringing out what had been latent in the narrative and re-casting acts of interpretation as part of an ongoing process of misrecognition and limitation. As in "Aeolus," Taylor's appearance in "Circe" inheres precisely in the enunciation of words attributable to him; in "Circe" alone, though, this relation pivots explicitly on the textual apparatus framing the identity of the speaker. A capitalized dramatic tag immediately preceding the words names their speaker as "J. J. O'MOLLOY" (U 15.997), although the tag itself is preceded by an italicized stage direction describing O'Molloy's assumption of Taylor's ragged, phthisical features (U 15.993–96). Immediately [End Page 400] following the tag, someone approximating the great orator speaks—"almost voicelessly," the reader is informed parenthetically—before becoming yet another semi-materialized figment of Aeolian rhetoric. Taylor's ineluctable last gasp—the word "words"—thus gestures not toward his oratorical distinction or colloquial reputation, but toward the availability and adaptability of his own words in the public sphere.
Why this "archival" series of lines in "Circe" manifests these "few wellchosen words" in the form it does is determined by the political interplay of authority and appropriation subtending the citation of Taylor's speech in "Aeolus." This is to say that the moment of Taylor's appearance in "Circe" dramatizes a highly mediated relation of authority, citation, and attribution that, in "Aeolus," remains unspecified and occluded, even as the features of the relation strongly inform the significance of the seventh episode. In light of the severely bared fictional device of their Circean reenactment, then, the reporting and reception of Taylor's words in "Aeolus" are themselves revealed to be a reenactment, pointing not to some prior section of the novel, but to the textual archive (in the material or institutional sense) of early twentieth-century Irish political culture. By fictionalizing the historical conditions in which it simultaneously participates, "Aeolus" thus opens up the question of the relationship of the singular work of art to mediated reproducibility and propagation. It is to this final question that the present essay will attend.
The problem of textual authority in Joyce's works remains an enduring and vital aspect of Joycean criticism, one dependent as much on the works' formal difficulty and technical recalcitrance as on their tortuous histories of composition and publication.1 That such a byzantine configuration of interpretive dilemmas has resulted in a certain methodological balkanization is unsurprising, and it is therefore fitting that this question of textual authority is perhaps most critically dynamic in relation to Ulysses, a book written partly in the somewhat literally Balkanized city of Trieste. What is surprising is how frequently...