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  • A Tale of a Pub: Re-Reading the “Cyclops” Episode of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” in the Context of Irish Cultural Nationalism by Marianna Gula
  • Greg Winston (bio)
A Tale of a Pub: Re-Reading the “Cyclops” Episode of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” in the Context of Irish Cultural Nationalism, by Marianna Gula. Debrecen: Debrecen University Press, 2012. 164pp. €19.00.

That remarkable shift into the first-person narrative voice of the “Cyclops” episode arrives at a moment nearly midway through Ulysses when readers have grown somewhat acclimated, if not entirely accustomed, to shifting sands, unstable signifiers, and parallactic re-orientations. We turn a corner to find a quick walker and fast talker whose Dublin-ese leads the way through the Stoneybatter streets to [End Page 520] Barney Kiernan’s pub. Yet, even before we reach that urban oasis, initial hints of disrupted talk and inflated rhetoric suggest this episode will pose as much of a challenge to narrative uniformity and linearity as anything encountered so far. The narrative voice is interrupted—or some might say augmented—by such wide-ranging genre-voices as ancient legend, sports column, and society page. Yet, one thing these diverse discourses share is a connection to the longstanding, self-conscious projects of national self-definition.

Marianna Gula’s A Tale of a Pub: Re-Reading the “Cyclops” Episode of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” in the Context of Irish Cultural Nationalism starts from this premise as it looks to resituate the episode within the imagined community of colonial Ireland. Gula’s introduction acknowledges the well-worn critical path on which the book embarks in reading “Cyclops,” yet this work is set apart from previous efforts by its singular episodic focus and expanded historical scope. The text ultimately reconsiders the “Cyclops” episode within a cultural-nationalist milieu that is significantly broader than the 1890s Celtic Revival. Fusing theories of modern nation-building, Irish studies, and the postcolonial turn in Joyce criticism guided by, among others, Vincent J. Cheng, James Fairhall, and Emer Nolan,1 Gula assumes the mindset of an “archaeologist” (3). Her excavations into numerous social, cultural, and political strata and, above all, Ulysses, yield some fascinating finds.

Chapter 1 argues that the forms and structure of “Cyclops” are the first places to locate its ironic commentary on Irish cultural-nationalism. Three intertwined formal elements take precedence: narration, parodic interpolations, and lists of names. In this way, Gula begins with a panoramic survey before zooming into the minutiae that show “Cyclops” engaging with and subverting familiar cultural-nationalist rhetoric. If at first the narrator seems to represent a unified voice, this is soon supplanted by “continual modulations of style and perspective which fracture or multiply the I-narrator’s voice and frustrate the linear march of his story. Thus, the episode in general stages a wholesale formal intervention into Irish cultural nationalist projects to create coherent, linear, univocal narratives of the nation” (20). Gula shows this “intervention” happening across the episode’s numerous shifts. Interpolation, however, is the term on which she settles to refer to these narrative changes that repeatedly draw “Cyclops” away from the singular narrative voice. Whether the interpolations augment, inform, silence, or strengthen the I-narrator will always be a key debate for readers. In any case, they achieve for Gula a complicating interconnectivity akin to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s concept of the rhizome.2 A botanical metaphor offers an effective reframing of “Cyclops” as a tree-wedding parody, and, in addition, the narrative interpolations broach formal questions of translation work and nominal [End Page 521] economies found at the core of many nationalist projects.

With this effective structural hook, Gula proceeds in her ensuing chapters to study the two major lists of names that bookend the episode. The enumeration of “many Irish heroes and heroines of antiquity” becomes the focus of chapter 2 (44), while the catalog of saints is the core concern in chapter 3. Gula examines each one through effective theoretical frames conjoining historical and textual genetic readings. The latter are supported by triptych foldouts that reconstruct the evolutionary stages of each list (five for the heroes, seven for the saints); these proceed...


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pp. 520-525
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