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"Circe" and Surrealism: Joyce and the Avant-Garde


Writing the "Circe" episode of Ulysses in Paris, Joyce expressed interest in the play Les Mamelles de Tirésias, for which Guillaume Apollinaire coined the term "surrealist." Les Mamelles' husband's birth of 40,050 children in a single day is paralleled not only in Bloom's instantaneous production of eight metallic children but also in the episode's unceasing generative energy. If the massive production of children in Les Mamelles is purposive, the production of "Circe" is out of control, embodying both the pleasures and the dangers of industrial capitalism, an endless production of commodities that seems to offer change but generates instead a phantasmagoria. Reading "Circe" and Les Mamelles alongside Walter Benjamin's understanding of the effects of the capitalist city—explored in the Arcades Project in Paris while Joyce was finishing Ulysses there—allows us to see how "Circe" moves beyond the limits of Surrealism and offers another way of conceiving of the avant-garde.

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