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The ‘Wandering Rocks’ episode of Ulysses is named after what we could call an ‘unnatural’ natural phenomenon described in the Odyssey: rocks in the sea that defied their weight and gravity by clashing together to the peril of boats and seamen. These oxymoronic ‘wandering rocks’ are obliged to serve an ironic function because their scientific impossibility conceptually challenges the assumed stability of the earth’s physical foundation. Joyce criticism has inevitably translated this implication as referring to the episode’s narrative and stylistic features, its function as ‘the endlessly contestable and fundamentally unstable “centerpiece” of Ulysses’, as Steven Morrison puts it.1 But the trope’s geological referent invites us not to dismiss its grounding (or un-grounding) in nature and this raises the intriguing question of how ecocriticism might help us explore the intertextual, metaphorical and narrative function of ‘Wandering Rocks’. The most promising possibility is articulated in Michael J. McDowell’s essay ‘The Bakhtinian Road to Ecological Insight’. He writes, ‘Bakhtin’s theories might be seen as the literary equivalent of ecology, the science of relationships. The ideal form to represent reality, according to Bakhtin, is a dialogical form, one in which multiple voices or points of view interact.’2 Yet this approach could be construed as merely another name for the multi-perspectival analyses that already characterise many of the readings found in the 2002 special issue on ‘Wandering Rocks’ published as European Joyce Studies 12, for example. The challenge of an ecocritical approach to the episode becomes further complicated when we try to reclaim any sort of natural referent in what is finally an urban setting that is by definition inimical to ‘the intimate and vital involvement of self with place’ as Neil Evernden discusses it.3 At the same time, the nature/ culture binary has itself become challenged in such works as Armbruster and Wallace’s 2001 Beyond Nature Writing: Expanding Negative EcocriticalVisions in ‘Wandering Rocks’ MARGOT NORRIS 113 the Boundaries of Ecocriticism, which encourages us to find ecological contexts and issues beyond the borders of writing focusing narrowly on ‘nature’.4 This is the point where an ecocritically oriented discussion of ‘Wandering Rocks’ might fruitfully begin, by recognising that ‘ecology must engage with urbanisation to have critical relevance in the twenty-first century’.5 Richard Brown’s marvellous discussion of the city in the episode was enlivened by the ‘postmodernist cultural criticism’ found not only in ‘the work of de Certeau, but in that of Walter Benjamin, David Harvey, Edward Soja and Henri Lefebvre’.6 His focus on Dublin as a ‘multifarious’ space can now be updated with the contemporary concerns voiced by such writers as Tim Wenzell, who begins his discussion in Emerald Green: An Ecological Discussion of Irish Literature by lamenting the usurpation of the Irish countryside by the city: ‘[A] new menace – the underbelly of this Celtic tiger – has moved from the threat of British imperialism to the threat of world capitalism and globalisation, rising across the Irish landscape in the form of urban sprawl.’7 The landscape of Dublin had by 1904 already been transformed into a ‘paved civilisation’, as Wenzell would call it.8 Is the city that is the setting of ‘Wandering Rocks’ therefore by definition an ecological disaster, and if so, how is its ruination of nature communicated? Certainly not directly, I would argue, but obliquely; not by what the narration shows or represents but in its depiction of sentiments, both by characters and by narrative strategy, that work in opposition to an ecologically sensitive sensibility. An ecocritical reading of ‘Wandering Rocks’ consequently requires an engagement with a series of anti-ecocritical world-views. Nature, or the natural, is virtually extruded in the visions of life offered by the assorted perspectives in the episode, and it is the threat of its extinction in perception that may be counted as its ecological casualty. My exploration of this problematic construction of the episode’s environment – man-made, urban and social and cultural rather than non-human or natural – will attempt to approximate a critical simulation of ‘wandering rocks’ by taking one view of nature, the body and place, and letting it collide with other and competing views. This strategy will begin with a disjointed analysis of a number of issues that may appear unrelated, but which can be brought into some relational focus. It is perfectly logical for an episode based on the mythical Sympleglades to evoke a marine disaster even though Jason and his 114 ECO-JOYCE Argonauts...


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