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Ulysses: Latent Coherence of Deviating Episodes

From: Dublin James Joyce Journal
Number 4, 2011
pp. 1-13 | 10.1353/djj.2011.0005

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

One salient feature of Ulysses are its abrupt metamorphoses; they impede effortless leisurely absorption. The novel (if that is what it is) lives up to its otherwise misleading title: it springs novelties upon its unsuspecting readers and keeps changing its unstated often erratic rules of the game. A chapter may end with the familiar sounds of a cuckoo clock, the next one sets off with a cryptic threefold repetition of ‘Deshil Holles Eamus’ (U 13.1304, U 14.01). One analogy with the Odyssey remains valid: the episodic adventures are diverse and make renewed demands on one’s adaptability — a book of many turns: ‘Each adventure (that is, every hour, every organ, every art being interconnected and interrelated in the structural scheme of the whole) should not only condition but even create its own technique’.1 Often, at least from the midpoint, a simple glance at the layout of the page identifies an eccentric episode.

All these known facts are far more striking than the underlying continuities, the latent interconnections between capriciously conflicting episodes. The following observations (an elaboration of an earlier sketch) are extracted from a larger project to work out the implicit narrative nuts and bolts that hold the epic together.2

The emphasis, naturally, is not the obvious sequence of characters, topics, or plot development, but on technical and structural devices. Often a connection is a simple reversal into its opposite, as in the transition from the rude male deprecating noises of ‘Cyclops’ to the female syrupy sentimentality of ‘Nausicaa’.

Three successive episodes are here under inspection, pars pro toto: ‘Wandering Rocks’, ‘Sirens’, and ‘Cyclops’. For the present purposes the unintegrated Homeric tags serve to give individual names to seemingly autonomous episodes.

From ‘Wandering Rocks’ to ‘Sirens’

‘Sirens’ immediately grows out of ‘Wandering Rocks’ in explicit repetition. A motif is struck twice in ‘Wandering Rocks’, first as an interpolation, ‘Bronze by gold, Miss Kennedy’s head by Miss Douce’s head, appeared above the crossblind of the Ormond hotel’ (U 10.962), and then, with changes, in the Coda: ‘Above the crossblind of the Ormond hotel, gold by bronze, Miss Kennedy’s head by Miss Douce’s head watched and admired’ (U 10.1197–9). It is resumed in the opening of ‘Sirens’: ‘Bronze by gold heard the hoofirons, steelyringing’ (U 11.01).

Before, the two barmaids are seen and in turn are watching; in the acoustic dominance of ‘Sirens’ the metallic sounds are now heard. When the episode begins properly (after the ‘Overture’, or tuning up) another, more extended variant, sets the chapter off: ‘Bronze by gold, miss Douce’s head by miss Kennedy’s head, over the crossblind of the Ormond bar heard the viceregal hoofs go by, ringing steel’ (U 11.65–6).

Four occurrences, with later reverberations, serve as conspicuous joints and collectively parade a principle of repetition with variation, which would be one possible thumbnail description of traditional music.

‘Wandering Rocks’ was put together from nineteen parts, with more than thirty displaced passages, interpolated from one location into another, to indicate events going on elsewhere at the same time. A sense of simultaneous elsewhereness emerges, something that sequential language cannot act out but has to dissolve into a series. The ‘nebeneinander’ of events can only be treated as a successive ‘nacheinander’ (U 3.13–7).

Readers are now alerted to unmarked translocations. While we are detained within the Ormond bar, parallel tracks are kept of other characters, mainly Bloom. A dismissive comment on men calls up a short paragraph ‘A man’ (U 11.85), and a different site is interposed, all in the manner of ‘Wandering Rocks’, with an exact location: ‘Bloowho went by by Moulang’s pipes bearing in his breast the sweets of sin, by Wine’s antiques, in memory bearing sweet sinful words, by Carroll’s dusky battered plate, for Raoul’ (U 11.86–8).

‘Bloom’ (U 11.102), or a question as to his whereabouts, ‘But Bloom?’ (U 11.133), indicates that other characters, remote from the main scene, are within the narrative range. ‘Sirens’ abounds in one or two word paragraphs that punctuate the episode. ‘Wandering Rocks’ offered exact locations, but ‘Sirens’ is less specific about several...

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