Unreal Nature

May 26, 2017

Everything Has a Voice

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:24 am

… who speaks, when everything has a voice?

This is from the chapter on ‘Ulysses‘ in James Joyce (2nd Edition) by Steven Connor (1996, 2012):

… The understanding of the relations between Ulysses and the modern world appears to have gone through three historical stages, which mimic perhaps the three stages of art, the lyrical, epical, and dramatic, defined by Stephen in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The first stage covers the period of the writing and periodical publication of Ulysses and extends after its publication in 1922 to the beginnings of the novel’s passage into critical respectability in the years following the publication of Stuart Gilbert’s semi-authorized study of it. This stage is characterized by baffled, negative, and hostile responses.

[line break added] During this period, Ulysses is read as a horrifying surrender or release of dark and ugly energies, energies identified both with the body and with the forms of modern life; it is said both to reveal and revel in the filth, ennui, and corruption of modern urban life. A sophisticated, and aestheticized version of this criticism is to be found in Wyndham Lewis’s Time and Western Man, which attacked the work of Joyce as representative of the decadent time-obsession of the modern Western world.

The second stage in the reading of Ulysses extends from the 1930s through to the 1970s, and marks the critical rehabilitation of the novel. The labor of explication carried out in these years is intended to show that Ulysses immerses itself in the destructive element of modernity and mass culture in order precisely to transform that destructiveness into art.

[line break added] It is a work of critical transformation which exactly and uncannily shadows the work of spiritual-aesthetic transformation said to be undertaken in the novel. By the 1960s, Ulysses had been transformed from a dark and threatening exposure of, and to, the baseness and horror of modern life, into a rich and complex refusal of modernity. Modernity here brings forth modernism.

The third stage, which extends from about the 1970s to our own period, reflects the new complexity of the understanding of the relations between modernism and modernity, high and mass culture, art and the commodity, which arose during that period, especially in discussion of postmodernism. This way of reading Ulysses, of which this present discussion is doubtless an example, is less certain of the nature of the willed surrender to the modern brought about by, and in, the novel.

[line break added] Central to this way of reading Ulysses has been an enlarged understanding of the politics of voices, both in narrative and in social life — their origins, processes of transmission, conflicts, and forms of authority. The cultural work on modernity undertaken in Ulysses can thus be seen as a work of voicing. The novel anticipates its successor, Finnegans Wake, in beginning to use the novel form as a sounding board or receiving apparatus for the manifold voices, styles, and idioms which throng about and permeate modern subjectivity.

[line break added] Perhaps this reaches its point of maximum intensity in the ‘Circe’ chapter, which explores that condition of ventriloquial logomachia, or universal war of voices which is to be the structure of Joyce’s next work, for in ‘Circe,’ not only does everything speak ‘in its own way,’ but everyone and everything also speaks in the way of, or through the mouths of, others. Here, Joyce presses the principle of mimetic autonomism almost beyond the power of the text to channel and contain it, forcing on us the conundrum: who speaks, when everything has a voice?

My most recent previous post from Connor’s book is here.

-Julie

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