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David Herman ULYSSES AND VACUOUS PLURALISM This essay engages only tangentially in a reading or interpretation of Ulysses; it mainly attempts to construct a quite general model for interpretation, one of whose possible applications is the processing of specifically literary texts such as Joyce's novel. In fact, Ulysses will be my case-study because, prima facie at least, its reputation for plurisignificance qualifies the novel as a notable counterexample to the model I here attempt to construct. Ostensibly, Ulysses not only invites competing interpretations, but also incorporates into its styles and themes incommensurate interpretations, from different perspectives, of things and events that ipso facto cease to be stable or constant. Yet I shall attempt to make a case here for interpreting Ulysses not as a limitlessly plural but rather as, in a sense I shall make clear momentarily, a rich or saturated text—if such terms may be permitted in days so cholesterolridden as our own. More generally, I here construe as nonsensical the view that, at any given time, an unconstrained plurality of legitimate interpretations holds for one and the same artifact, situation, event, or object. Testing my argument against what would appear to be an insuperably polysemous Ulysses, I shall make the claim that even in the case ofJoyce's suggestive or rather hyperconnotative text, interpretive pluralism taken in the extreme sense just indicated represents not a strategy for interpretation, but merely a notion at best vague, at worst vacuous or inane. Given the less-than-transparent nature of my own title, however, it may be appropriate to begin with a few definitions and some philosophical background. Let me therefore attempt to sketch in what I mean by "ideal objects" and how I think that such objects bear, first, on the issue of what I have termed "vacuous pluralism" and, second, Philosophy and Literature, © 1993, 17: 65-76 66Philosophy and Literature on Joyce's Ulysses, which, as an exemplary modernist text, has been construed as a prime exemplar of pluralistic meaning. The notion of"ideal objects" demands some explanation.1 As we shall see in a moment, ideal objects constitute the basic referential mechanism of what might be termed a phenomenological semantics. But a first, rough characterization might run as follows: ideal objects are the terms, the medium, in which things, states of affairs, and events must be interpreted if we are to set about organizing them into a world. Things, situations, and occurrences I here group under the more general heading of "objects"—that is to say, objects of interpretation. Such objects must be de-spatialized, de-temporalized—idealized—in order that they might be linked up with other objects in a way that makes themjoindy intelligible or, more precisely, constitutive of at least serme world. For arguably, it is by detaching the object ofinterpretation from everything that is happening at any given now, and then determining the steps or operations that allow us to connect the detached or idealized object with other objects similarly disposed, that we are able to build up a world in the first place. We perform some such operation every time we draw an inference, learn an important rule of behavior: from lighting and being burned by a match once in Paris in 1953 we reach the conclusion that matches, when lit, burn everywhere and at all times. Being burned by a match once is what happens; inferring that, in general, matches burn is to transform or, as Robert Champigny suggestively puts it, to "disactualize" part of what happens into an ideal object.2 So idealized, the object relates in manifold ways to a whole system of analogously idealized objects, an entire world in which not just matches but also blow-torches, electrical fires, and gas-ovens can, at any time and place, burn us. But I do not mean to suggest that by talking about "ideal objects" I am breaking radically new philosophical or theoretical ground. Rather, the term enjoys a long and storied use in philosophical—more specifically , phenomenological—circles. By providing at least an abbreviated genealogy of the notion of ideal objects, I can perhaps gesture toward a broader conceptual base, a larger context, for the various separate...


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