A Book Review by
Ulysses (1922) by James Joyce was originally published by Sylvia Beach in Paris, and begins with the young Stephen Dedalus at the Martello tower as Buck Mulligan invokes the spirituality of the mass which represents Irish mysticism. The humor of the medical student and the bard create a contrast between sacred spirituality and a profane medical perspective that lasts throughout the novel, which begins as a literary portrait that is naturalistic in style, and gradually evolves into a general discussion of life in Ireland which is portrayed as a leading European culture with enlightened intertextual opinion. When the conversation turns to Hamlet by Shakespeare the novel transforms into literature at its finest with the psychogenesis of the father/son relationship described in the passage on the ghost of Hamlet's father. The narrative of Stephen Dedalus is that of an author writing in short sentences with em dashes, whose narrative is somewhat informal in perspective while considering the great themes of literature. This relaxed casual style makes Ulysses a pleasure to read with chapters written in various modes of writing: epic, poetic, historic, philosophic, dramatic, and interior monologue. The narrator experiences a conversion to innovative writing techniques that is similar to a religious conversion halfway through the monumental novel, and beginning in the bronze by gold chapter Ulysses becomes more poetic in style. The epiphany of Stephan Dedalus is a profound realization about esthetic theory that helps him evolve from the objective prose of the Irish pub to the poetic prose of the final chapters, so that Ulysses becomes the first monumental novel of modernism in the 20th Century.
When Buck Mulligan and Stephen Dedalus have a dramatic conversation in the ancient tower it reminds us of Prince Hamlet of Denmark with a discussion of personal appearance as Buck Mulligan shaves, and holds out the small mirror to Stephen, we see that Stephen's style is "hair on end."
—Look at yourself, he said, you dreadful bard! Stephen bent forward and peered at the mirror held out to him, cleft by a crooked crack. Hair on end. As he and others see me. Who chose this face for me?
The autobiographical self-portrait of Stephen Dedalus is modeled on the author, whose introspective fair skinned looks remind us that he is a literary person, and the mirror's reflection reveals that his own face is obscured by the jealousy of a hidden entity.
Laughing again, he brought the mirror away from Stephen’s peering eyes.
—The rage of Caliban at not seeing his face in a mirror, he said. If Wilde were only alive to see you!
Drawing back and pointing, Stephen said with bitterness:
—It is a symbol of Irish art. The cracked looking-glass of a servant.
This passage reminds me of my own theory of Michigan art with the shaving mirror reflecting an old yellow face where a young man's face should be, so that the literary community is disrupted by this type of invasive networking, while the esthetic theory of the innovative novelist is adversely effected by the looking glass.
The discussion of the plays of Shakespeare in the library express the wit of Stephen Dedalus, who perceives the drama through the pre-consciousness of esthetic theory with the analysis of a composition as a way of envisioning a dramatic action, and with the essay Composition as Explanation (1926) by Gertude Stein we see that James Joyce has chosen just a few theories to develop after the years of Cubist abstraction produced the techniques of multiple perspective on the subject matter of the still life tableau, landscape painting, or the Cubist portrait. The multiple perspective can be applied to the modern novel when the narrator describes a single day in the life of the narrator through the use of varying modes of description in each chapter, which are modeled on the individual chapters of the Odyssey by Homer, a literary precedent which acts as an archetypal model for Ulysses.
There is singularly nothing that makes a difference a difference in beginning and in the middle and in ending except that each generation has something different at which they are all looking.
Composition as Explanation
The subject itself has changed with the move away from Cubist abstraction towards a large scale novel that focuses on a single day in the life of the narrator Stephen Dedalus, so that we are looking at a series of scenes which represent a change in relationship, and now the leading women are Gerty MacDowell and Cissy Caffrey, who are making a difference as the subject of the novel. The art conscious esthetic of Cubism found in the writings of Gertrude Stein impressed James Joyce enough to model the leading female character Gerty MacDowell on her.
From phenomenological law to theological spirituality Ulysses takes its first step towards the summarization of ancient history that James Joyce's next novel Finnegans Wake (1939) would become.
Then wotted he nought of that other land which is called Believe-on-Me, that is the land of promise which behoves to the king Delightful and shall be for ever where there is no death and no birth neither wiving nor mothering at which all shall come as many as believe on it?
The conversion to innovative writing occurs with the formal abstraction of concepts heard in the ancient language of Ireland, where well known philosophers and theologians have produced small kingdoms which introduce the theme of California vineyards. This loyalty has extended from the ancient cultures until now without our being consciously aware of it, and may be based on peer groups of compatibility. The poetic prose that begins in the Sirens chapter has always satisfied my sense of esthetic pleasure with prose writing in the poetic mode, and I have returned to Ulysses many times over the years.
Bronze by gold heard the hoofirons, steelyringing.
Chips, picking chips off rocky thumbnail, chips.
Horrid! And gold flushed more.
A husky fifenote blew.
Blew. Blue bloom is on the.
A jumping rose on satiny breast of satin, rose of Castile.
The poetic mode of the Sirens chapter has always seemed more interesting to me than the objectivity of dramatic dialogue, and the lyricism of this chapter is where I become interested in the prose style of James Joyce. In the nighttown chapter Stephen Dedalus comes close to my own esthetic philosophy of social interaction with an appreciation of the nightlife, while retaining his self-control among the opportunities to converse.
STEPHEN: (Looks behind) So that gesture, not music not odour, would be a universal language, the gift of tongues rendering visible not the lay sense but the first entelechy, the structural rhythm.
LYNCH: Pornosophical philotheology. Metaphysics in Mecklen-burgh street!
The frame of the narrative extends beyond Stephen Dedalus's own life into the life of other characters, including Leopold and Molly Bloom, a young couple who have attracted him. The final two chapters describe Leopold Bloom in an objective question and answer style that parallels the objectivity of phenomenology, with the final monologue of Molly Bloom written in an informal unpunctuated prose. Yet the idea of composition anticipates the ending of the novel.
when general Ulysses Grant whoever he was or did supposed to be some great fellow landed off the ship and old Sprague the consul that was there from before the flood dressed up poor man and he in mourning for the son then the same old bugles for reveille in the morning and drums rolling and the unfortunate poor devils of soldiers walking about with messtins
Ulysses (1922) by James Joyce is a masterwork of innovative fiction that bogles the mind of the reader with a large scale structure composed of chapters written with individual modes of writing: dramatic, poetic, historical, philosophical, and interior monologue. Each chapter parallels the journey of Odysseus, and the reader may enjoy this classic approach to description while realizing that the psychological plot summary is written in the early years of the 20th Century when simplicity was gradually evolving towards the ultramodern complexity of the next century. I have returned to Ulysses by James Joyce many times since I first discovered it on the book shelf in high school, and now as I work on my own innovative novel which parallels this classic of modernism, I am glad that I have realized my dream of becoming a writer.
David Detrich lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where he has just completed The Convergence of Two Narrative Lines Ascending, an ultramodern Surrealist novel written in minimal squares. He is working on Dream the Presence of the Circular Breast Starfish Topography, a monumental Surrealist novel written with innovative typographical design. His first novel Big Sur Marvels & Wondrous Delights (2001) is available from Amazon. He is the editor of Innovative Fiction Magazine and Surrealist Star Clustered Illuminations.