The Meta-Utopian Metatext: The Deconstructive Dreams of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake


Ulysses is a novel of immense and endless structuration, but one that resists structure itself, which eschews the closure and determinism of stereotypically Utopian mythologization. Joyce's work acknowledges that we continue to cling to our Utopian dreams, despite all the material evidence. Yet Joyce advances a mode of Utopianism that, in recognizing the tensions inherent to its relationship with the real, not only self-consciously deconstructs but also therefore sustains itself. If the Utopian breaks down upon its contact with material history, then perhaps by inscribing—and, more importantly, integrating—its antithesis and its own absurdity within itself, it might achieve a balance and a self-awareness sufficient to sustain it beyond the moment of its conception, the revolutionary or revelatory moment, and to translate its abstraction into the very materiality that had originally threatened to extinguish it. Joyce reveals Utopian literature's potential for self-deconstruction while at the same time rehearsing the hypocrisy and tyranny of literalist political interpretations of that discourse. Ulysses explores this process at a literary-political level; but it is Finnegans Wake that, in its dissolution of the dictatorship of the aesthetic, enacts the innate failure of the project of perfectibility at the level of language itself.