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“Addicted to the lubric a little”:
Spectacle, Speculation, and the Language of Flow in Ulysses

It is a truth critically acknowledged that the economics in Joyce’s Ulysses are rooted in, and routed through, the commodity form. In his analysis of the novel as a response to the crises of liberal capitalism—one in which, as he puts it, “every idea of cultural system goes awry”—Franco Moretti argues that cultural and social relationships in Ulysses “appear only through the prism of consumption,” and that the equivalence-before-the-market, therefore, of ideological fashions renders aesthetic production incapable “of being either an example to, or a compensation for, the state of the world.”1 Likewise, though more optimistically, Garry Leonard asserts that in Ulysses Joyce “writes the history of consumption for the first time,” framing commodity culture in Bloomsday Dublin as a “form of production that makes one’s identity intelligible” and which offers reparation, Leonard writes, “for an historically specific sense of lack.”2 Enda Duffy and Maurizia Boscagli have suggested in these pages that Ulysses, jewel-like in its “reiteration of details and ornaments,” can be read as an attempt—in the face of an imminent minimalism they associate with the rise of mass production—to “try to drum the recalcitrant commodity . . . into a moment of telling that might at last reveal its other, wilder, uses and effects.”3 This is, obviously, cursory treatment of complicated and important arguments, and the census of critics who have taken up the subject of the commodity in and around Ulysses includes, of course, many other signal contributions.4

Yet, while there is certainly ample cause for critics of Ulysses to focus such scrutiny on the commodity form (this is a novel, [End Page 23] after all, in which a bar of soap proclaims itself part of a “capital couple”), I hope to show in what follows that Ulysses concerns itself foremost with an entirely different set of economic practices.5 Writing, for the most part, out of a Marxist critical tradition invested in production and consumption—to wit, in the commodity—critics of Ulysses have largely ignored the role financial speculation plays in the novel, missing, most importantly, how what Joyce calls its “language of flow” responds to an historical moment in which commodities were becoming abstracted into endless flows of speculative financial data, into prices and quantities disseminated in real time via the stock ticker (Ulysses, 216).

Carey James Mickalites has demonstrated compellingly that speculation was crucial to the evolution of modernist writing, finding in Dubliners’s epiphanic structure, for example, a “tightly controlled narrative economy” that works to arrest “capitalist fantasies of growth through endless circulation.”6 More broadly, Mickalites shows how speculative economic practices are undergirded by what he calls “fantasmatic functions”—invisible hands, specters, self-regulating markets—whose irrationality is exposed by modernist texts which in turn “construct new literary forms around those irrational economic impulses” (Modernism, 3). Yet Mickalites reads Ulysses itself not, as we might expect, as an index to emergent forms of financial speculation, but in relation, once again, to early-twentieth century commodity culture, contending that the novel’s investment in “outmoded ephemera” functions, like Walter Benjamin’s auratic object, to blast apart the “dreamy continuum of capitalist duree,” radically disrupting, thereby, “a historical consciousness reified in its fixation on the new” (93, 117). Extending Mickalites’s attention to the desuetude of the commodity, I hope to show that while commodities may be doomed, for a certain term, to fast in the fires of obsolescence, they give rise to a form of economics, speculation, which abstracts the commodity into its discursive logic, deprivileging in the process the commodity itself as a locus of economic, social, and aesthetic organization. In Ulysses, I argue, Joyce both represents speculative practices, albeit indirectly, and adopts a speculative narrative logic in order ultimately to expose that logic as an illusory discursive practice, a form of rhetoric loosed from its underwriting values, whose effects reverberate, with negative consequences, through nearly every aspect of modern life.

Avoiding both a narrow economic determinism and the undue optimism of aesthetic “redemption,” I want to suggest nonetheless that Ulysses offers a compelling test case for how the procedures of modern art, writ large, attempted to channel speculative “flow” within an organized, increasingly abstract, aesthetic agenda. At the same time, however, that agenda often abetted the further entrenchment of speculative logic, since much modern art lived and moved and had its being in speculative economies in which conventional modes of patronage were re-fashioned as financial investments, texts and paintings and pottery refigured as stock. “Patrons,” Lawrence Rainey explains, were no longer simply “giving away money in misguided sentimentalism about the arts,” but “investing in something that would increase in value.”7 Yet as the ambivalent relationship between Ulysses and financial speculation indicates, modern literature remained in large part excluded from these networks; despite Joyce’s publication of Ulysses in a [End Page 24] thousand-copy first edition earmarked for the rare book trade, the novel, like all novels, remained relegated to the logic of the commodity in its movement through the literary marketplace. In this essay’s closing section, I argue that Joyce’s interest in speculation, more than merely formal or thematic, is also an interest in the bonfire financial capitalization of artistic value in the modern period, an interest, that is, in how aesthetic production engages with and holds the mirror up to economies in which value itself is increasingly discursive. Speculation, in other words—and as we well know in the wake of our own subprime mortgage crisis—is a legal fiction.

A Little History of Big Finance

In his study of financial speculation as the “highest stage” of capitalist imperialism, Lenin locates “the turning point from the old capitalism to the new” at the beginning of the twentieth century, that moment, he writes, when “capital in general” yielded to “the domination of finance capital” concentrated in the hands of an increasingly few big banks.8 The moment, as Lenin describes it, is eerily similar to our own turn-of-the-century economic situation, yet speculation was, by 1900, already well-established in Ireland as an economic practice, with trading in securities overlapping with licensed (and, of course, unlicensed) forms of gambling, and with stocks passing easily and inexpensively between the Dublin and London exchanges. Indeed, Ireland, already endowed with a highly-developed banking system in which much popular speculation took place, possessed more bank branches per capita than either England or France on the eve of the First World War.9 In the Bank of Ireland—the “most historic spot in all Dublin,” says Ned Lambert in “Wandering Rocks”—senior traders oversaw the buying and selling of hundreds of shares per day, while on the streets and in rural areas Jewish moneylenders engaged in small-scale loans of goods and currencies to their neighbors; like Bloom’s tap water, we might say, the money flowed (Ulysses, 189).

The prevalence of speculative practices in Ireland at this time did not mean, however, that its depressed colonial economy had been outpacing that of imperial England; rather, financial speculation was yet another battleground on which the ongoing fight for Irish independence was being waged, with banks tending toward nationalist or unionist allegiances and manipulating interest rates—and currencies, and credit lines, and even employees—accordingly. The Bank of Ireland, for example, ironically a unionist bank, “rarely employed Catholics in senior positions,” Cormac Ó Gráda explains, while “during the wave of branch expansion in the late 1910s,” conversely, “some Ulster Catholics hoped the Munster & Leinster would take on the ‘Orange Belfast banks’ in the north” (Ireland, 357). Such competition, however “free-market” it may have been, was particularly worrisome in England, where bankers and legislators alike regarded, with no insignificant unease, German and American economies already advanced in their development of financial capital. Given these charged circumstances, it is perhaps not surprising that speculation’s rise to prominence was accompanied by what economist Urs Stäheli calls a “veritable discursive explosion,” as journalists and social [End Page 25] reformers, evangelicals and hucksters sought to make sense of an economic system “no longer exclusively based on the discourse of production, exchange, and labor.”10

Ulysses, I suggest, was part of this explosion. Exploring how Ireland’s turn-of-the-century “new economy” had been re-fashioning everyday life—often detrimentally, as it shows—the novel is a case study in how the increasingly abstract nature of that economy provoked new modes of novelistic representation, forms of writing both mimetic of and critical toward speculative practices. For speculation was itself—and remains today—a representational practice, a discourse. Speculation, Stäheli writes, “converts its economic referents [commodities] into a play of self-generated signs, abstracts from the ‘real’ values previously considered to underwrite the substance of economic operations” (2). While the commodity remains bound by its status as spectacle—as visible thing—to a superficial, inert materiality, speculation abstracts from and re-values those commodities, shifting the locus of economic value from object to representation, from signified to signifier; the signs and symbols of speculation, we might say, wheel and dart and buzz and flow around the ponderous objects they refer to, threatening at any moment to fly free of referentiality completely. As Thomas Piketty has made clear, because “the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of growth of output,” speculation aspires to abolish entirely its dependence on the commodity form, discarding it, like a bit of newspaper tossed into the Liffey, in favor of a more powerful economics based on the change over time of value and the areferential play of signifiers.11

Introducing both liquidity and instability into a given market, speculation seems an apt economic corollary to the aesthetic procedures of Ulysses, a novel one critic describes as a “game of mutual relations” and a “continual displacement from one fiction to another.”12 As Fredric Jameson explains, financial speculation resulted in “a withdrawal from older notions of stable substances and their unifying identifications,” as capital became “free-floating” and money was “in a second sense and to a second degree abstract.”13 There is thus, I propose, a significant structural homology between the emergence of finance capital from what Lenin calls “the old capitalism”—organized around productive labor and the commodity—and the contemporaneous emergence of the modern novel from the “old” or “traditional” realisms that preceded it, writing characterized by “unifying identifications” of its protagonists and by “stable” prose styles. While I want to stop short of characterizing “realism” as a kind of commodity—and while I am leery of generalizing at all about nineteenth-century literary production—I do want to suggest, if only heuristically, that such writing is perhaps commodity-like in its interest in self-identity and in its mystification of the labor behind it, the labor, as Heidegger put it, of “language speak[ing].”14

I would propose, likewise, that this homology is more than mere coincidence, that speculation and its attendant technology, the stock ticker, challenged the viability of literary realism in much the same way that other media technologies were doing in this period. For the stock ticker, as Stäheli points out, “transformed a spatial order founded on representation into a temporally organized order founded on simultaneity,” its real-time speed serving to “continually represent the market” (Spectacular, 207–08, [End Page 26] emphasis in original). The stock ticker provides an aspirational model for the forms of aesthetic representation in Ulysses, with the novel’s ticker-like stream of consciousness and its simultaneous narratological structure. While Ulysses, like Finnegans Wake after it, explicitly links its language of flow to the rolling babble of water, the stock ticker runs like a current beneath the text’s surface, the language and imagery of financial speculation everywhere bubbling up in this most—or perhaps second most—liquid of novels.

Invented by telegraphist E. A. Calahan in 1867, the stock ticker facilitated a striking democratization of financial speculation, since anyone with access to a ticker—and most banks had them—could participate in speculative markets without being physically present there; between 1900 and 1932, the number of amateur traders rose from 4.4 to 26 million, a dramatic increase in participation (Stäheli, Spectacular, 4). The stock ticker also, Stäheli argues, “shaped modes of inclusion by drawing attention to itself as a medium” of dissemination, affectively structuring traders’ experiences through the foregrounding of its own technical aesthetics, similarly to “when the bibliophile takes an interest in the typography of a publication even before examining its contents” (201–02). Even more than photography or the cinema (the latter’s reels of tape remain unseen by the viewer) the stock ticker consistently showcased itself as a medium for the mechanical reproduction of economic reality, a techne exhibiting that medium specificity characteristic of much modern art, from Mallarmé’s “Un Coup de Dés” to Matisse’s fauvism to Man with a Movie Camera to Henry Moore.

The ticker also, I’ve been suggesting, informs that “language which is above all languages” toward which Joyce was working in Ulysses; in the novel, language itself is foregrounded as medium, its rhythms and sounds and silences themselves sites of affective and aesthetic meaning. In a 1916 letter to a friend, Joyce famously lamented that “I cannot express myself in English without enclosing myself in a tradition,” pointing to his attempts to loose his writing from the stabilizing reference characteristic of the realist novel and to transform it, thereby, into a kind of music.15 One of the most notable and alluring features of the stock ticker was its rhythm, a rhythm “accessible to everyone,” and which “overshadowed . . . all other activity” to the point that fascinated businessmen were said to have caught “the fever of the ticker” (Stäheli, Spectacular, 217–18). Like these traders, Ulysses is, as Bloom describes Dublin’s gossip magazines, “addicted to the lubric” of speculative flow, with all the attendant instability that that flow, like gossip, carries with it (Ulysses, 532). The real-time speed and abstraction of the stock ticker, in other words, helps Joyce imagine how the modern novel might be more “speculative” in nature—abstracted, quicksilver in its playfulness, attaining to the flow, the music of whirring tape passing through clacking metal.

Is this, then, the rhythm of Bloomsday Dublin? Perhaps. There is no admission in Richard Ellmann’s biography that either Joyce or his father owned a ticker or that they even invested in stock, tempting as it is, to imagine the young Joyce staring through the windows of the Irish National as the endless ribbons of white tape piled up. Yet Joyce, we know, was familiar with speculative practices, and indeed how could anyone not be, in his era? At the age of twenty-one, Ellmann reports, Joyce “turn[ed] himself into a joint-stock company,” selling shares “which would increase spectacularly in [End Page 27] value as his books began to appear” (James Joyce, 164). Exiled from Trieste during World War I, Joyce was surrounded in Zurich by refugees, political exiles, and artists all linked through speculative wartime networks for goods and currencies (409). And when he returned to Trieste five years later, Joyce himself proved a shrewd speculator in international currencies, attempting—though he never actually made the trip—to travel to London to exploit the pound’s greater purchasing power there. Writing to Ezra Pound in 1919, Joyce says that,

while the pound (I mean the other pound, the English not the American one) stood at 100 or 90 I could fight the prices here because my money was in English currency. Today the pound is at 62 and my brother-in-law (who is cashier of a bank here). says it is gravitating towards a lower price owing to certain trade maneuvers or. nobody could buy at such high figures. If it reaches 50 I cannot swim any more. but disappear under the surface.”


Joyce’s aquatic metaphors here suggest that he saw in speculative data a language of flow against which the stable economic subject had to “fight” to keep from drowning. This shuttling between the economic and the aesthetic, liquidity and stability, seems present, too, in his characterization of Édouard Dujardin’s style of interior monologue as an “uninterrupted unrolling” that replaces “the usual form of narrative,” Joyce’s terminology recalling, of course, the literally uninterrupted unrolling of the ticker tape (519–20).

The unrolling of thoughts like tape, the flowing of money across borders, a destabilized subject threatened by economic flux—we are close, perhaps, to a more direct relation between speculative practices and Joycean aesthetics; yet we have not yet turned, with any kind of scrutiny, to Ulysses itself, where, in “Proteus,” Joyce’s anxiety about disappearing beneath the surface of finance resurfaces as Stephen walks along the beachfront. Thinking of his dead mother, Stephen’s thoughts—and thus the narration itself—flow together with the rush and wrack of the waves: “Listen: a fourworded wavespeech: seesoo, hrss, rsseeiss, ooos. Vehement breath of waters amid seasnakes, rearing horses, rocks. In cups of rocks it slops: flop, slop, slap: bounded in barrels. And, spent, its speech ceases. It flows purling, widely flowing, floating foampool, flower unfurling” (Ulysses, 41). Anticipating the “Flip!” and “Flep!” of the washerwomen’s labor in “Anna Liva Plurabelle,” the passage’s sonic texture points to the aspiration of Joyce’s language to an aural presence loosed from the obligation of representation, his interest in sound itself as a mode of poesis.

Yet immediately after this “wavespeech,” the narration returns to a figure who has already begun to haunt the novel and will—quietly, beneath the surface—continue to do so, that elusive, unnamed man “drowned nine days ago” in Dublin Bay (38). “Full fathom five thy father lies,” Stephen thinks. “At one, he said. Found drowned. High water at Dublin bar” (41). This language of drowning, often mediated through high literature, recurs constantly in the Telemachiad, in which Stephen not only recalls The Tempest but is teaching “Lycidas” before he decides to quit, and thinks of his own father, a debtor and alcoholic, as “a drowning man” (38). Mark Osteen, in his brilliant [End Page 28] study of the economy of Ulysses, has demonstrated compellingly that the figure of the drowned man is “woven into the network of debtorship and obligation” in the novel, its characters dragged under in rip-currents of both debt and drink.16 Osteen astutely shows, in a number of powerful readings, how bonds of debt structure social life in Bloomsday Dublin, but I contend that this is more than a socioeconomic issue for Joyce, more, that is, than the novel simply representing speculative practices and their effects on early-twentieth century Ireland; Ulysses is an inquiry not only into how emergent speculation refashions Irish society but how its formal innovations affect aesthetic production as well, catalyzing new modes of novelistic representation. Taking up Osteen’s line of investigation, then, I propose that Joyce’s drowning imagery also operates on a meta-formal level, suggesting how the novel’s language of flow—inspired by speculative flows of financial data—drowns and drowns out the coherent realist subject in tides of sound, currents and eddies of language following their own, never-before-charted course.

But Ulysses does, I need not point out, have a protagonist—however modern and “destabilized”—to whom its language, despite its aspiration to a kind of water-like playfulness, constantly refers back. And while its prose may be metonymic of speculative flow, Ulysses, and Joyce himself, remain enthralled by the spectacular commodity. In the ubiquity of Epps’s soluble cocoa and Plumtree’s Potted Meat, for example, Ulysses demonstrates its own lingering indebtedness to the commodity form, a spectacular visuality that stands in contrast to the invisible, abstracted logic of financial speculation. This indebtedness to the commodity registers as well in the novel’s formal dependence, recalling Stäheli’s terms, on the “‘real’ values” which “underwrite it,” namely the realist novel with its self-identical protagonist, and, behind it, the myth of Odysseus. Indeed, it is the very visuality of the commodity that makes it an inescapable subject for aesthetic treatment, whereas its invisible, largely discursive nature renders speculation far more difficult to represent. Only twice in the novel, in fact, does Joyce depict actual financial speculation taking place—first, in “Nestor,” when Deasy’s anti-Semitism prompts Stephen to imagine “[o]n the steps of the Paris stock exchange the goldskinned men quoting prices on their gemmed fingers” and later, in “Ithaca,” when Bloom’s alleged travel plans include “the Wall street money market (which controlled international finance)” (28, 597).

In lieu of representing these markets, Joyce opts instead, I will argue, to metaphorize them, giving speculation visible form through various localized practices: Bloom’s schemes for civic improvement; gambling, in the form of the Gold Cup; systems of debt and credit represented in the standing of drinks; and gossip, which I do not treat here but which is taken up in many other compelling readings.17 Addicted to the “lubric” of speculative flow, Ulysses is not quite able, as I will show, to match the stock ticker’s abstract, never-ending “stream-of-(market)-consciousness,” a form that will await its aesthetic embodiment, ten years later, in that “commodious vicus of recirculation” that is Finnegans Wake; yet by channeling the invisible, real-time flows of speculation back into visual form, Joyce also hypostatizes and exposes those flows to aesthetic—which is also to say political and economic—manipulation. Moreover, in its toggling [End Page 29] between visibility and invisibility, between visual and discursive logics, Ulysses both models the spectacular commodity’s abstraction into speculative networks, and, on a broader scale, reworks the idea of medium specificity long considered a hallmark of modernist art, modulating instead between several competing media—and several economies—at once.18

The novel’s vexed relationship to emergent forms of financial speculation is concisely demonstrated at the beginning of “Proteus,” when Stephen is most attuned to, the narration most mimetic of, “wavespeech” as he closes his eyes on the “things” he is “here to read,” listening instead to “his boots crush crackling wrack and shells. . . . Crush crack, crick, crick.” Yet no sooner has the novel stumbled onto its “[a]catalectic tetrameter of iambs marching” than Stephen opens his eyes again on the “ineluctable modality of the visible,” that modality to which Ulysses itself time and again returns. “See now,” he thinks. “There all the time without you: and ever shall be, world without end” (31). But if Stephen—like Joyce, like Ulysses—cannot quite loose himself from the visuality of “things,” neither, it might be time to admit, can speculation. For despite their potential to fly free of referentiality, speculative practices remain complexly tethered to the commodity forms from which they emerge. To be sure, in forms like derivatives, futures, forwards, and swaps, speculation’s underlying assets (called indices) are not commodities at all, but other indices, signifiers themselves abstracted from the commodity form. Yet, while much “value” is no doubt discursively produced in this play of signifiers, even these forms of speculation, as bubble after tech bubble has taught us, are to a certain extent illusory, their dream of areferential play trackable back—behind endless short-sells, mortgage bundles, and debt purchases, beneath however many intermediary mattresses—to the pea-like commodity at the bottom.

The Ineluctable Modality of the Visible

One notable difference, then, between the commodity form and financial speculation is that the former operates visually while the latter draws its economic, and therefore social, importance from its invisibility, from its power to abstract from, represent, and revalue the thing-in-itself that is the commodity. Its hyper-visibility betrays the commodity’s affinity with previous forms of spectacular social organization, in particular—and as we will see in Ulysses—the pageantry surrounding medieval and early modern monarchies. In public displays of his power, the sovereign expressed the authority that was once considered inherent within him as a divine right, presenting himself, to borrow from Guy Debord, “simultaneously as society itself, as a part of society, and as instrument of unification,” that locus which “concentrates all looking and all consciousness.”19 Yet the ever-more-sumptuous nature of these displays in England—their lavishness scaled directly to the increasing illegitimacy of the divine right—bespoke an uneasiness that behind the glittering veneer of pageantry there existed no substantive basis for the sovereign’s power, that regal spectacle concealed a lack in much the same way the commodity form mystifies the labor that is its origin and source of value. For the commodity, Marx says, “appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing” and “easily understood” [End Page 30] as an object with use-value; but “so soon as it steps forth as a commodity”—as an object to be exchanged—it becomes “transcendent,” abounding in “metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties,” a kind of divine right, we might say, of the commodity form.20 While the image of commodities “step[ping] forth” as if on stage gestures toward the importance of visuality here, Marx also makes this link explicit in a later, less-quoted passage, comparing the apparent objectivity of the commodity form to the way “light from an object is perceived by us not as the subjective excitation of our optic nerve, but as the objective form of something outside the eye itself” (Capital, 83).

In Ulysses, the apparently “objective” nature of spectacle is exposed as illusory, among other places, in “Cyclops,” where the public hanging of H. Rumbold functions as a form of spectacular social organization. “From the belfries far and near,” Joyce writes, “the funereal deathbell tolled unceasingly while all around the gloomy precincts rolled the ominous warning of a hundred muffled drums.” Descending into parody, the execution—attended, we learn, by “Ali Baba Backsheesh,” “Hi Hung Chang,” and “Commendatore Bacibaci Beninobenone”—cannot be taken seriously even by its victim, in “capital spirits” when his “blushing bride” flings herself upon his “muscular bosom.” As the reference to capital suggests here—as well as the executioner’s use of “finely tempered disembowelling appliances (specially supplied by the worldfamous firm of cutlers, Messrs John Round and Sons, Sheffield)”—the logic of the commodity is already latent within the medieval spectacle out of which it arises; that logic, moreover, reproduced here in an overly romantic farce, seems no longer to claim a legitimate purchase on the scene’s viewing—or reading—public (Ulysses, 251–54).

Ulysses also explores the deprivileging of the spectacular commodity in its characters’ knowing ambivalence toward the commodity form, the way they both see and see through it, situating it, as financial speculation does, in broader discursive practices. While I lack space to treat this ambivalence in detail, I might gesture briefly to the way Bloom’s fascination with Gerty’s “transparent stockings” yields, post-orgasm, to the recognition that “she’s lame,” or how Gerty herself, seemingly entirely interpellated by commodity culture, in fact exhibits serious doubts about this culture; despite appearing publicly, that is, in expensive stockings, the latest “eyebrowleine,” and “a neat blouse of electric blue . . . because it was expected in the Lady’s Pictorial,” Gerty desires most of all to be alone, removed from public consumption and from circulation on the Dublin marriage market (301, 286–87). “A gnawing sorrow is there all the time,” Joyce writes. “[S]he would give worlds to be in the privacy of her own familiar chamber where, giving way to tears, she could have a good cry and relieve her pentup feelings” (288). Molly, too, knows the spectacular commodity as a form of currency, even while acknowledging the lack of real value therein; recalling a concert given years ago by Ben Dollard, Molly reflects that “that must have been a spectacle on the stage imagine paying 5/- in the preserved seats for that” (636). As her mocking of Dollard’s performance (a nod, perhaps, to the inflated value of modern art) and her thinking in Arabic numerals suggests, Molly is able to abstract from and compare, value and devalue the commodity form, treating it, as speculation does, in discursive relation to other abstracted values, both economic and social. [End Page 31]

We might, therefore, understand the novel as scaling Raymond Williams’s concepts of residual, dominant, and emergent forms of culture onto its own economic system, a scale in which residual spectacle supplies the dominant logic of the commodity form while at the same time coming under threat from emergent financial speculation, from, as Williams puts it, “new meanings and values, new practices, new relationships and kinds of relationships.”21 The interplay among these three forms of economic culture is demonstrated most clearly in “Wandering Rocks,” where a “residual” viceregal cavalcade circulates alongside “dominant” H. E. L. Y. S. sandwichboard advertisements and “emergent” Gold Cup speculation. While critics have tended to suggest that the cavalcade, coming as it does at the culmination of the chapter, supplies the final organizing logic of “Wandering Rocks,” I propose that the cavalcade’s position alongside and simultaneous with other modes of organization points, rather, to the mutual overlap and exchange among various economic practices at work—or, perhaps more appropriately, at play—in Bloomsday Dublin.

To the extent that the viceregal cavalcade of William Humble (Earl of Dudley and the British government’s Lord Lieutenant of Ireland between 1902 and 1905) does organize the Dublin of “Wandering Rocks,” it does so through visual lines of sight, with characters both seeing and being seen by the spectacular procession. From the Ormond Hotel, “Miss Kennedy’s head by Miss Douce’s head watched and admired” the cavalcade. “On Grattan bridge Lenehan and M’Coy, taking leave of each other, watched the carriages go by” as “Tom Rochford, seeing the eyes of lady Dudley fixed on him . . . doffed his cap to her.” Even “Buck Mulligan, gaily and Haines gravely, gazed down on the viceregal equipage” (Ulysses, 207–08). Recalling the lavish excursions of English monarchs among their subjects, the cavalcade, a residual form of colonial organization, is distinguished by its reliance on visual interpellation as well as by its anachronism, with its romantic, quasi-mythical “outriders leaping, leaping in their, in their saddles” (198). These “outriders,” a detail the text insists on, always repeat themselves—“In the saddles of the leaders, leaping leaders, rode outriders”—in such a way as to foreground their whimsicality, undermining, in the process, the very authority they ostensibly represent and making clear that, with its spectacular visual logic, the viceregal cavalcade belongs to an outmoded, literally “early” modern era (204).

But there are, as I’ve suggested, competing modes of social organization at work in this chapter; indeed, all three modes of organization—cavalcade, commodity, Cup—become nearly indistinguishable in the syntax of “Wandering Rocks.” “Bang of the lastlap bell spurred the halfmile wheelmen to their sprint,” Joyce writes, conflating, in the next sentence, the circulation of the horse race with that of the sandwichboard boys “J. A. Jackson, W. E. Wylie, A. Munro and H. T. Gahan,” who, “their stretched necks wagging, negotiated the curve by the College library” (195). And if the young admen are identified synecdochally by their initials, so too are “the quartermile flat handicappers, M. C. Green, H. Thrift, T. M. Patey, C. Scaife, J. B. Jeffs . . . and W. C. Huggard” (209). What this somewhat tedious catalog suggests is the way in which, rather than being organized exclusively through the commodity, social relationships in Ulysses are equally mediated by an emergent form of financial speculation metaphorized, [End Page 32] here, in the Gold Cup horse race; indeed, the term “outriders,” in addition to referring to riders on horseback preceding a vehicle as escort or guard, also denotes “an officer . . . whose duties include collecting taxes” and “a mounted official who escorts racehorses to the starting post.”22

The novel’s metaphorizing of financial speculation, rather than its direct treatment of it, is central to my argument that speculation itself exceeds the modern novel’s representational capacities. In the first place, the literary representation of speculation is, if not impossible, sufficiently boring as to demand thoroughgoing figurative transformation. More importantly, even Joyce’s language of flow, fluid as it may be, cannot keep pace with and therefore cannot represent those real-time flows of prices and quantities on which financial speculation is based, cannot exist, in other words, within the temporality in which speculation takes place. Bound to a finite, commodified mode of print culture, Joyce must give visual form to these invisible, because abstracted, speculative flows, transliterating them back into commodity-like form—into a horse race, into rounds of drinks, and into Bloom’s plans for civic improvement. This process of rendering legible what resists legibility, of transliterating coded signifiers into a language not of flow but of things, is demonstrated concisely in “Wandering Rocks,” where Molly’s “generous white arm” flings “forth a coin” the novel immediately loses track of (Ulysses, 185). A coin, of course, must somehow be marked, be made legible, in order to be tracked, as Bloom well knows having earlier marked just such a coin “for circulation on the waters of civic finance.” Yet even Bloom loses track of his marked money, abstracted as such money is—or drowned, perhaps—in the murky waters of financial speculation. “Had Bloom’s coin returned? Never” (571).

Just as Joyce metaphorizes the invisible play of financial speculation, so too must he represent the stock ticker (a technology with which the novel cannot keep pace) indirectly, through that financial medium that precedes the ticker and will itself be superannuated by it: the newspaper. It is in “Aeolus,” that is, in the offices of the Freeman’s Journal and Evening Telegraph, that Joyce stages most explicitly what we might think of as the lack and lag of the modern novel. Joyce repeatedly identifies Ulysses itself, in form and content, with the printed daily, and the novel owes much of its detail—including our aforementioned drowned man, resurfacing here—to the Irish newspapers of June 16, 1904, copies of which Joyce was likely “able to obtain, perhaps on his last visit to Dublin” (Ellmann, James Joyce, 378–79). Benedict Anderson, too, links the two forms of print culture when he notes the “profound fictiveness” of the newspaper, comparing it to a “novel whose author has abandoned the thought of a coherent plot.”23 Like the novel, importantly, the newspaper article had a narrative structure that, as Stäheli points out, “was inferior to the ticker” since it remained bound to the “story” form; the ticker, in contrast, “could claim to present pure data” (Spectacular, 224). “The trained reader,” he writes, “not only learned actual prices and volumes traded from the symbols on the ticker, but treated these symbols as a real-time news organ” reflecting everything, as one 1910 treatise put it, “from a foreign war to the passing of a dividend; from Supreme Court decision to the ravages of the boll weevil” (224). Moreover, newspapers reported stock prices a day late and—since [End Page 33] their text was arranged by hand rather than automatically, as was the ticker’s—“under constant suspicion of manipulation” (207).

Such manipulation is exactly what plays out in “Aeolus,” where the invisible operation of financial speculation is rendered visible as Gold Cup racing news is reduced to a matter of commodity exchange. In the same space, that is, in which the gambling odds of the Gold Cup are relayed to the betting public, the horses that serve as the objects of that speculation are themselves commodified. “Value 1000 sovs. . . . For entire colts and fillies,” an advertisement in the Telegraph reads, suggesting, as in “Wandering Rocks,” the interplay between financial speculation and the commodity form that underwrites it (Ulysses, 529). I have contended that the rendering-visible of abstracted speculative practices signals a limitation of, or lack within, novelistic representation, but “Aeolus” allows us to complicate this thesis with the possibility that the reinscription of speculation in fact poses a challenge to its abstracting logic, insisting on giving such logic too solid form, and in so doing, resisting a coded economics increasingly, as Lenin diagnosed, under the control of a monopolistic financial elite. If speculators feared manipulation of prices by newspapers and their employees, this means that the medium was indeed capable of affecting, if not entirely channeling, the flows of speculative markets, that the printed daily (and by association, the novel) retained some efficacy in the face of the real-time stock ticker.

Benjamin, for his part, views the newspaper, too, as a potentially democratic space, since in it “the reader is always prepared to become a writer,” the worker to become “an expert [who] gains access to authorship” in the same way, for instance, that Deasy acquires authorship with his letter regarding hoof-and-mouth disease. “The place where the word is most debased—that is to say, the newspaper,” Benjamin writes, “becomes the very place where a rescue operation can be mounted.”24 Moreover, the fact that the newspaper’s language can be broken down into its constitutive, rearrangable parts—like all presses, but not, importantly, like the ticker—means that it might be capable of authorizing an alternative economic history, of rewriting market logic toward less inequitable ends. “It is amusing,” Bloom thinks “to view the unpar one ar alleled embarra two ars is it? double ess ment of a harassed pedlar while gauging au the symmetry with a y of a peeled pear under a cemetery wall” (Ulysses, 100). His “au” in “gauging” alluding to Marx’s ur-commodity, gold, Bloom makes a point that Joyce reiterates in Ulysses, that how something is narrated determines what, exactly, is narrated thereby. Approached this way in “Aeolus,” that point takes on democratizing economic potential, since it signals the possibility that the mystified workings of financial speculation might be transliterated into legibility by the mass of workers at their presses, that speculation, in the novel’s terms, might be read backward from abstraction into materiality. “Must require some practice that,” Bloom thinks, “mangiD kcirtaP. Poor papa with his hagadah book, reading backwards with his finger to me. Pessach. Next year in Jerusalem” (101).

As Bloom’s messianism suggests, however, the democratic potential Benjamin finds in the newspaper is never actualized in Ulysses. The transliteration of financial speculation back into visual, commodified form is halted as the newspaper is revealed [End Page 34] as always already enmeshed within, controlled by, and dependent for its own profit on financial speculation; put more succinctly, the Gold Cup literally stops the presses. “A shrill voice went crying, wailing,” Bloom observes in “Nausicaa,” “Evening Telegraph, stop press edition! Result of the Gold Cup races!” (310). As with most newspapers of our own era, The Freeman’s Journal and Evening Telegraph were publicly traded companies in 1904, struggling for investors among a sea of rival dailies and, at least in fictive form, halting production in order to issue new editions that would, though only momentarily, be up-to-date with the real-time data of speculation. Despite the fact that the presses do start up again, the paper, like the novel, is bound perpetually to lag behind modern economic reality. “Sufficient for the day,” then, is hardly sufficient at all. And “This morning”—with which the article about Dignam’s funeral begins—marks not the Telegraph’s currentness but its deadness (529).

“The best residential quarters of financial magnates”25

Having examined the novel’s figuration of financial speculation, I might now be in a position to examine precisely how such speculation structures social relationships in Ulysses, and, subsequently, to explore the cultural and historical implications of this fact. Social relationships in the novel are not, we can now see, mediated through consumption as Moretti claims, but primarily through inchoate systems of finance uniting Dublin in intricate and sustained networks of mutual debt. Secondly, attention to these speculative forms reveals financial speculation as a less-than-democratic practice, since, as Osteen demonstrates, speculation operates via an “invisibility . . . that more easily generates exploitative relationships” (Economy, 47). Osteen’s understanding of the mystified procedures of financial speculation provides, I think, a helpful context within which to assess the particular forms such procedures take in Ulysses.

While Osteen is perhaps more optimistic about these speculative forms than I am—reading gambling, for instance, as a kind of potlatch that “creates solidarity” in Bloomsday Dublin—he nonetheless demonstrates how speculation “occasions social unity” in the novel, how friendships, animosities, allegiances, and betrayals follow along the paths channeled out by speculative flows (264–65). This unity, I would stress, is not always a positive form of sociality, not always “solidarity,” since in gambling one bets not so much on a horse as against one’s fellow gamblers, gamblers, moreover, of decidedly unequal means. Thus, a horse like Throwaway, whose odds to win the Gold Cup are twenty to one, yields a higher payout than Zinfandel, rated at five to four; the more gamblers who lose, the higher one’s payout will be. In other words, while Osteen may be correct in arguing that losers are socially welcomed and winners shunned—“other gamblers,” he writes, “see him or her as a cheat”—such sociality plays out within a broader economic system in which all winners, and all losers for that matter, are pitted against each other, a system in which the house always wins, whether because it absconds with the losers’ money or because it perpetually fosters the kind of social ressentiment which distracts its subjects from the real source of economic hegemony (54). Likewise, the standing of drinks at Barney Kiernan’s pub accomplishes a negative [End Page 35] form of social unity, since “expenditure,” Osteen points out, “reconstitutes power as the power to lose” (54). As Marcel Mauss and others have demonstrated, this power is also the power to obligate, to indebt one’s fellow drinkers and to call in that debt at a later, presumably more useful date.26

That systems of debt and credit, and speculation more generally, do not occasion “kinship” or democratic sociality in Ulysses is suggested in the way the novel’s characters scrupulously catalogue and call up debts owed. Stephen himself, of course, exists in an extensive and presumably permanent web of economic debt that he is nonetheless able to recall exactly: “Mulligan, nine pounds, three pairs of socks, one pair brogues, ties. Curran, ten guineas. McCann, one guinea. Fred Ryan, two shillings. Temple, two lunches. Russell, one guinea, Cousins, ten shillings, Bob Reynolds, half a guinea, Koehler, three guineas, Mrs MacKernan, five weeks’ board. The lump I have is useless” (Ulysses, 25–26). As a debt collector, the first-person narrator of “Cyclops” has been “hanging on to [Geraghty’s] taw now for the past fornight” and “can’t get a penny out of him,” while, in the same chapter, the Citizen manages, despite a booze-filled evening at Kiernan’s, to keep track of the standing of drinks, noting as he does that Bloom “slop[es] off with his five quid without putting up a pint of stuff like a man” (240, 277). And even in the midst of hallucinatory oblivion at Bella Cohen’s brothel, Bloom is able to recall that Hynes owes him three shillings, a debt that Hynes, Bloom says non compos mentis, “can keep” (385).

In absolving Hynes of his debt, Bloom would appear to situate himself beyond the speculative logic to which other characters in Ulysses are subject, as he also does, for instance, in abstaining from gambling—“He had not risked, he did not expect, he had not been disappointed”—and in stating explicitly, in “Ithaca,” his objection to speculation. “Why did he desist from speculation?” the catechist asks. “Because it was a task for a superior intelligence to substitute other more acceptable phenomena in the place of the less acceptable phenomena to be removed” (553, 572). It is this process of substitution, I have argued, that characterizes financial speculation tout court, since in such practices discursive signifiers abstract from and take the place of the “less acceptable” phenomenon that is the commodity. Yet Bloom, as I will show, has not desisted from speculation at all, but aspires—and, like the novel he moves through, ultimately fails—to become in fact an expert speculator, an aspiration hilariously gestured at in “Eumaeus” when Bloom, eagerly searching for it, comes across his name misprinted as “L. Boom” in the Evening Telegraph (529). It is here, in the cabman’s shelter to which he and Stephen have fled after their Nighttown debauch, that Bloom dreams up, presumably not for the first time, “all kinds of Utopian plans,” including “a concert tour of summer music” at “bijou spots, which might prove highly remunerative” and a transportation venture involving “opening up new routes to keep pace with the times apropos of the Fishguard-Rosslare route.” “A great opportunity there certainly was,” Bloom thinks, “for push and enterprise to meet the travelling needs of the public at large” (538, 512–13).

Bloom’s most elaborate speculative project, however, is his ambition to capitalize on Stephen’s literary and cultural cachet, an ambition which complicates, though does [End Page 36] not necessarily rule out, the traditional reading of Bloom as a father-figure to the young Dedalus. As the two nurse their hangovers, Bloom wonders if Stephen has “his father’s gift” for singing, and, knowing Stephen’s literary background as well, contemplates how he himself might manage such a talent (541). Just as Shakespeare, as Stephen argues in “Scylla and Charybdis,” “toadied” for a “coat and crest,” parlaying his literary career into a title of nobility, Bloom imagines enlisting Stephen’s cultural training to secure “in the near future an entrée into fashionable houses in the best residential quarters of financial magnates” (172, 541–42). Stephen’s culture “open[s] up new vistas” in Bloom’s mind “such as Lady Fingall’s Irish industries, concert on the preceding Monday, and aristocracy in general,” the would-be speculator believing “it was his interest and duty even to wait on and profit by” his protégé, since “to cultivate the acquaintance of someone of no uncommon calibre . . . would amply repay” (541, 528, emphasis added). As the allusions to financial speculation here suggest—“An opening was all he wanted . . . to bank his hopes on”—Bloom cares for and offers Stephen a place to stay not only out of compassion, but also as a speculative investment; he incurs an immediate, localized debt, much as when buying a stock, in the expectation that “in the near future” the investment will pay off (538, emphasis added). As with the market, Bloom’s wager is predicated on the change over time of Stephen’s cultural value and, perhaps more importantly, the way such value relates discursively to other cultural codes.

I want to be careful, however, of substituting a kind of morality play between Stephen and Bloom—with the latter harboring nefarious speculative designs on the former—for a larger political reading that explores how both are inextricably enmeshed within increasingly undemocratic financial structures. Likewise, I want to resist characterizing Bloom as a proxy for the depredations of financial speculation, a characterization too close, perhaps, to the kinds of anti-Semitism figured in Ulysses itself, in Haines’s worry that England will “fall into the hands of German Jews,” for example, or in Deasy’s claims that “as sure as we are standing here the jew merchants are already at their work of destruction” (18, 28). Rather than parasitically capitalizing on Stephen’s talent, Bloom seems to carry on and extend Stephen’s own efforts to situate his writing in the material practices of everyday Dublin; that Stephen “lacks advancement,” as Hamlet puts it—“I am a most finished artist,” Stephen says—is not so much because he disdains the “cracked lookingglass of a servant” that is Irish art as because he has yet to find an appropriate cultural outlet for his writing (422, 6). In “Proteus,” for example, Stephen contemplates a host of literary ventures he has not pursued, including “books . . . with letters for titles” and “epiphanies written on green oval leaves, deeply deep, copies to be sent if you died to all the great libraries of the world” (34). In “Scylla and Charybdis,” similarly, Stephen steers his “idea of Hamlet” past the Platonist whirlpool that is George “Æ” Russell—whom Stephen imagines at a literary salon to which he himself has not been invited—only to disclaim belief in the idea and to renege on publishing it (15, 175). Bloom’s speculation, then, is not really predatory but an attempt to reconceptualize Stephen’s culture as labor in order, like a manager or literary agent, to situate that culture within extant speculative networks. [End Page 37]

Like a good Marxist, Bloom believes economic value inheres primarily—though not exclusively—in labor, and over coffee in the cabman’s shelter attempts to redefine Stephen’s culture accordingly. When Bloom lays out his “utopian,” speculative plan for a guaranteed income—“where you can live well, the sense is, if you work”—Stephen refuses at first, prompting Bloom to expand his definition to include “work in the widest possible sense. Also literary labour not merely for the kudos of thing” (526–27). This reconceptualization of culture as labor fails, so far as we know, since both men remain barred from the real networks of economic and cultural power; Bloom’s mistake, I propose, is to overvalue labor itself as a source of social currency, as a kind of stake with which one buys into systems of power in the first place. For in the forms of speculation coming to prominence in the early twentieth century, value arises not primarily from labor but from the eddies and flows of, and the relations within, a discursive system over time. In Ulysses, that novel most aspiring to the flows of finance, there is not a single productive worker, Alick West points out, speculation attempting, rather, to banish labor as a source of value, or, failing that, to compel workers by scarcity into unattractive and increasingly lower-paying jobs.27 “I’d carry a sandwichboard,” the itinerant John Corley says in “Eumaeus,” “only the girl in the office told me they’re full up for the next three weeks, man. God, you’ve to book ahead, man” (Ulysses, 505).

West’s claim, however, is only partially correct, since in Bella Cohen’s brothel Bloom appears at the head of a vast parade of ghostly laborers—“coopers . . . millwrights . . . vintners, trussmakers”—whose virtual, dream-like form suggests how speculation, despite its aspiration to free play, remains haunted by the labored commodity it perpetually conjures up (392). Indeed, Bloom himself aptly demonstrates what we might think of as this structural ambivalence in financial speculation, which is also, I’ve suggested, a structural ambivalence in the modern novel; a would-be speculator, a Jew thrice-baptized, Bloom is also a commodity himself, since he “belong[s] to a race,” he explains in “Cyclops,” “that is hated and persecuted. . . . Plundered. Insulted . . . At this very moment . . . sold by auction in Morocco like slaves or cattle” (273). Bloom is “stock,” as Bella Cohen later slanders him, both in his impoverished material circumstances and in his undying aspiration to perpetually increase in cultural and economic value (440). Formally, too, Bloom is poised between the materiality of the commodity and the abstracted play of speculation, since he is simultaneously Joyce’s spectacular protagonist and the emptying out of this characterological position, not “I” so much as “I, I and I” as Stephen puts it, not “I” but “A. E. I. O. U.,” a flow of vowel sounds, in other words, organized by debt (156).

B(l)ooming Markets; or, A Stock Exchange for Books

Near the end of the novel that bears her name, standing alone in her evening dress at the party she has all day planned, Clarissa Dalloway is drawn “into the shelter of a common femininity” by a bit of gossip reported to her, in hushed voice, from Lady Bradshaw.28 “A young man,” the latter whispers, “had killed himself. He had been in the army.” Stunned, at first, into self-pity at the news of Septimus’s suicide, Clarissa [End Page 38] reflects on her marriage to Richard—without which, she thinks, “she must have perished”—and on the forces that bind her, despite “awful fear,” to the world and to life. “She had once thrown a shilling into the Serpentine, never anything more,” Woolf writes. “But he,” meaning Septimus, “had flung it away.” Here, the coins that both Molly and Bloom fling forth “for circulation on the waters of civic finance” float back up, given quasi-embodied form in the figure of the shell-shocked veteran drowning in post-war alienation, his suicide barely rippling the surface of Clarissa’s party (Mrs. Dalloway, 571). “It was her punishment,” Clarissa thinks, “to see sink and disappear here a man, there a woman, in this profound darkness, and she forced to stand here in her evening dress” (183–85). Septimus is not, of course, neither formally or in actuality, drowned in the decentering flows of financial speculation, nor, as this brief scene demonstrates, is Woolf’s prose a “language of flow” in the same way that Joyce’s is; but the scene offers instructive insight into how other modernist writers attempted, like Joyce, both to represent and to channel within an aesthetic system the speculative flows of financial capital.

In a brilliant reading of the novel and of the Bloomsbury milieu out of which it emerged, Jennifer Wicke finds in Woolf’s style an analog to “the blooming, buzzing confusion of the market,” a market no longer characterized, as Keynes diagnosed, by the ordered rationalism of supply and demand, no longer “self-regulating,” but chaotic, disoriented, playful, an “organism,” Wicke writes, “ready to ramify the smallest shock throughout its limpid, limbic system.”29 If such an organism—very close, I think, to what I’ve described as a play of speculative signifiers—“def[ies] description in that it is no longer equatable with realist or entirely rationalist models of representation,” Woolf’s writing attempts to give visible, and therefore manipulable, form to the predominately invisible flows of finance (Wicke, Market, 11). The “blooming” confusion of the market, for Wicke, shows up in “trope[s] of consciousness” that is itself blooming and dispersed, and manifests too, I would add, in Woolf’s attention to flowers themselves, whether those Clarissa “would buy,” those Mr. Ramsay deems “creditable,” those to which, in The Waves (1931), “every eye brings its own contribution,” or those “little paper flowers” in Jacob’s Room (1922) which “a firm of merchants having dealings with the East put on the market.”30

Wicke’s is a compelling, largely formalist reading of Woolf’s prose style, the structural homology she posits between that style and an increasingly unstable financial marketplace leading her to conclude that Woolf’s writing is “a paradigm case for a different concept” of “ever-promising” market relations (17). Such a conclusion risks downplaying, however, what Piketty diagnoses—to be fair, two decades after Wicke—as the intentionality of that market, the way new modes of speculation engendered staggering levels of inequality by abstracting the commodity into discursive systems and mystifying, thereby, the real sources of wealth-creation; for speculative logic, as I’ve been suggesting, facilitates the removal of economic practice from the public sphere, barring access to Bloom, Stephen, Septimus, and the rest of what is now referred to as “the 99%,” a mass of workers who cannot even, Luddite-like, smash their tickers to disrupt the flows of wealth passing them by. My point here is not, I hasten to point [End Page 39] out, to reread Mrs. Dalloway with an eye toward its “disruptive” potential; Wicke is no doubt correct to suggest that Bloomsbury as a whole “acknowledges . . . capitalism with relaxed acceptance” (8). Rather, I hope to shift attention to how directly, how matter-of-factly much modernist writing—including Woolf’s and Joyce’s—confronted these new markets, seeking not only to channel the flows of finance into more promising aesthetic containers but often to dam those flows entirely.

For one purpose, of course, of tracking an advertising agent through everyday, working-class Dublin is to investigate the lived experience of Ireland’s new, speculative economy, to examine, as Ulysses does, how inequality comes about in markets in which the real site of economic power is rendered invisible. When Bloom imagines in “Eumaeus” a “private wireless telegraph” by which he could transmit “the result of a national equine handicap . . . won by an outsider at odds of 50 to 1” to a later time zone in which, presumably, betting had not yet closed, what he in fact imagines is a machine that already exists and which already—though he does not know it, cannot see it—organizes the world around him: the stock ticker (Ulysses, 589). That Joyce, in turn, organizes his own critique of inequality around this device—alluring in its rhythm, attaining to the speed of real-time market consciousness—testifies to the extent to which speculation itself remained hotly-contested terrain in colonial Ireland, where England had been attempting, unsuccessfully, to yoke old-style imperialism to the new “big” finance to which Germany and the United States had already shifted. England, in other words, appeared vulnerable on this front, since the dominant class there, as Moretti explains, remained “incapable of enacting those basic transformations which, elsewhere, were to permit the move into a new phase of capitalist development” (Signs, 186). Joyce is sensitive, in this passage, not only to the vulnerability of England at this time but to the looming obsolescence of the nation-state itself, sensitive, that is, to speculation as a post-national imperialism whose flows—like Bloom, flouting national laws—move freely and indiscriminately across time zones. Following these flows, the cosmopolitanism of modernity, Ulysses suggests, is one of unacknowledged inequality, the imaginary “community in anonymity” Anderson finds among newspaper readers—and which, for him, is the “hallmark of modern nations”—threatened by dissolution in the tides of global finance (Imagined, 36). Bloom’s exile from any kind of economic futurity is demonstrated in his amateur’s misunderstanding of how betting works; since betting closes everywhere at the start of a race, regardless of time zone, what Bloom in fact imagines is not a stock ticker but a time machine.

And so might we consider Ulysses. As I have mentioned, the novel was intended as a speculative object which, moving through time, would accrue ever-greater value in the literary marketplace; less than two months after its publication, Ulysses was selling for $50 in New York City, “350% more than the original asking price” and $700 in today’s money (Rainey, Institutions, 69). For Rainey, the intention behind this marketing strategy was to transform potential readers into speculators, as Ulysses, and modern literature writ large, sought to refashion individual artistic patronage into a speculative investment, integrating the book-thing into proleptic financial networks in much the same way that Bloom attempts to marshal Stephen’s cultural labor for social gain. [End Page 40] Modernism’s engagement with the public sphere through speculative practices testifies, for Rainey, to “the increasing penetration of capitalist relations into every facet of life,” sounding indeed the death knell of aesthetic autonomy, since the substantial price of works of art demanded a kind of “buying in” to or willed belief in aesthetic merit, a belief in turn bolstered by reference to the book’s high price (74). Ulysses itself inaugurates an “immense tragedy,” argues Rainey, the success of its marketing strategy serving “only to obscure the immense loss of faith in the integrity of the aesthetic that it entailed,” a claim he supports by quoting Adrienne Monnier: “we made books objects of speculation; we made or let be made a stock exchange for books” (73).

Rainey is probably correct, and not alone of course, to find in modernism a deliberate flouting of the traditional barriers between aesthetic and economic value, though his argument relies perhaps too heavily on the notion of a prelapsarian past in which art and artists were clearly demarcated from, and never beholden to, their financiers, as if Cangrande della Scala, Dante’s patron, happened accidentally to find his way into Paradiso, or as if the Medici, as in Botticelli’s Adoration, were present at the birth of Christ. Patronage, as Dustin Griffin has argued, was hardly ever that guarantor of aesthetic autonomy we imagine it to be, the line between gift and obligation always more blurred than we would probably care to admit.31 More importantly, formal attention to the texts whose material histories Rainey examines—Ulysses, The Waste Land (1922), Pound’s Cantos (1915–1962)—helps show how these texts often profoundly questioned the speculative practices in which they participated. As Bloom, looking for a gift for Molly, peruses the books for sale in a shop near Merchants’ Arch, he picks up a mass-market romance titled Sweets of Sin, reading to himself a passage that seems as if it could have been lifted from the florid narration of “Nausicaa”: “All the dollarbills her husband gave her were spent in the stores on wondrous gowns and costliest frillies. For him! For Raoul!” (Ulysses, 194, emphasis in original). Not only does Bloom’s selection represent the use and exchange of erotically spectacular commodities, but so too is Sweets of Sin itself a most conspicuous commodity, both sugary confection and, as Bloom intends it to be for Molly, erotic bauble. In the context of emergent speculation, however, the novel’s status as commodity functions not so much as a marker of its penetration by capital, but of its defiant resistance to it, its insistence, like Ulysses, on an enduring, necessary thingness lodged against the abstraction of speculative logic.

There is indeed a “gnawing anxiety about the nature of value” in this period, as Rainey points out, since both aesthetic and economic value were taking on new, discursive form, but this is an anxiety that Ulysses works through rather than submits to, adopting and representing speculative logic in order to expose that logic as itself an aesthetic system, one whose effects, however, are decidedly more harmful than those of conventional aesthetics (Institutions, 72). If Joyce, famously, “put in so many enigmas and puzzles” into Ulysses that it would “keep the professors busy for centuries,” so too, I propose, is his marketing of the novel done with a kind of wink, Joyce “gaming” literary networks in order to help remunerate all those who had endured financial burden to publish the novel in the first place (Ellmann, James Joyce, 521). Joyce’s marketing, I think, has very little to do with any kind of economic “profit,” and indeed Rainey seems somewhat [End Page 41] to overstate the extent to which literary texts, however marketed, worked to generate windfall profits for their authors in this period. Modernist literature might very well have been “an experiment in adopting exchange and market structures typical of the visual arts,” but that experiment in large part failed, ill-suited as literary production was for a mode of marketing dependent on what Rainey calls “a limited submarket for luxury goods;” modernist literature, in other words, was never—and is still not—an investment in the way that, say, a Picasso or Pollack is (Institutions, 75).

Far from abetting literary production, speculation threatened, rather, to embarrass its pretension to representing economic reality, challenging as well literature’s ability to stand apart from and resist what is now apparent as the financialization of everything. But to the extent that the stock ticker haunts the novel’s effort toward capturing, in form, the blooming, real-time flux of modern consciousness, so too might we understand the novel itself as confronting, by indirection, the spectral form that haunts it, reading it backward into presence, charging it, as Horatio charges Elsinore’s own ghost, “speak.”32

Christopher Kempf

Christopher Kempf is the author of the poetry collection Late in the Empire of Men (Four Way, 2017), and a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature at the University of Chicago.


The author gratefully acknowledges the editors and anonymous peer reviewers of Modernism/modernity, as well as Maud Ellmann and Brandon Truett, from all of whom this article has immensely benefited.

1. Franco Moretti, Signs Taken for Wonders: On the Sociology of Literary Forms (1983; rpt., New York: Verso, 2005), 184, 204, 208.

2. Garry Leonard, Advertising and Commodity Culture in Joyce (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998), 8, xi.

3. Enda Duffy and Maurizia Boscagli, “Selling Jewels: Modernist Commodification and Disappearance as Style,” Modernism/modernity 14, no. 2 (2007): 189–207, 206.

4. Especially relevant to this paper are Fredric Jameson, “Ulysses in History,” in James Joyce and Modern Literature, ed. W. J. McCormack and Alistair Stead (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982), 126–41; Patrick McGee, Paperspace: Style as Ideology in Joyce’s “Ulysses” (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988); Patrick McGee, “Ulysses as Commodity,” The James Joyce Literary Supplement 1 (1987): 9–10; Rebecca Walkowitz, Cosmopolitan Style: Modernism Beyond the Nation (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 55–77; and Jennifer A. Wicke, Advertising Fictions: Literature, Advertisement, and Social Reading (New York: Columbia, 1988), 120–69.

5. James Joyce, Ulysses, ed. Hans Walter Gabler, Wolfhard Steppe, and Claus Melchior (New York: Vintage, 1986), 360.

6. Carey James Mickalites, Modernism and Market Fantasy: British Fictions of Capital, 1910–1939 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 21.

7. Lawrence Rainey, Institutions of Modernism: Literary Elites and Public Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 74.

8. V. I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, A Popular Outline (New York: International Publishers, 1977), 46.

9. Cormac Ó Gráda, Ireland: A New Economic History 1780–1939 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 349–50.

10. Urs Stäheli, Spectacular Speculation: Thrills, the Economy, and Popular Discourse (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013), 3, 2.

11. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), 1, 354.

12. Stephen Heath, “Ambiviolences,” Tel Quel 50 (1972): 22–43, quoted in Moretti, Signs, 184. [End Page 42]

13. Fredric Jameson, “Culture and Finance Capital,” Critical Inquiry 24, no. 1 (1997): 246–65, 258, 251.

14. Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper Perennial, 2001), 188.

15. Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, revised ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 397.

16. Mark Osteen, The Economy of “Ulysses” (Syracuse: Syracuse University Pres, 1995), 168.

17. See especially Maud Ellmann, The Nets of Modernism: Henry James, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and Sigmund Freud (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 35–40; Osteen, The Economy of Ulysses, 264–68; and Daniel Shea, “‘A Rank Outsider’: Gambling and Economic Rivalry in Ulysses,” James Joyce Quarterly 48, no. 1 (2010): 75–88.

18. James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (1939; rpt., New York: Penguin, 1976), 3.

19. Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit: Black and Red, 1970), Thesis 3.

20. Karl Marx, Capital (New York: The Modern Library, 1906), 81–82.

21. Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 123.

22. Oxford English Dictionary Online, December 2016, s.v., “Outlier,” definitions 1 and 4c, oed. com/view/Entry/133901.

23. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1991), 33n54.

24. Walter Benjamin, “The Author as Producer” in Understanding Brecht, trans. Anna Bostock, 85–104 (New York: Verso, 1998), 90.

25. Joyce, Ulysses, 542.

26. See especially Marcel Mauss, The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, trans. W. D. Halls (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000), 39–43. See also Peter Blau, Exchange and Power in Social Life (New York: Wiley, 1964), 207–09; and Jacques Derrida, Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 1–33.

27. Alick West, Crisis and Criticism and Selected Literary Essays (London: Folcroft Library Editions, 1975), 121.

28. Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (New York: Harcourt, 1953), 183.

29. Jennifer Wicke, “Mrs. Dalloway Goes to Market: Woolf, Keynes, and Modern Markets,” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 28, no. 1 (1994): 5–23, 11, 20.

30. See, in order, Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (New York: Harcourt, 1955), 66; The Waves (New York: Harcourt, 1958), 104; and Jacob’s Room (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 111.

31. See especially Dustin Griffin, Literary Patronage in England: 1650–1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 13–69.

32. William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, in The Complete Works of Shakespeare, ed. David Bevington, 6th ed., 1097–1149 (New York: Pearson, 2008), 1.1.132–43. [End Page 43]