An Analysis of Joyce’s Ulysses: Against Myth

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Myths have always been an integral of the history of human beings. Beginning as a product of oral tradition, they evolved to written form, which threatened a multifaceted and polyphonic form of myths. Observing the power myths have in societies has been an ongoing global study, as well as fixing their meanings into one dimension. Dominant world-views of varying ages came up with ideological characters on through myth. One inference, from Daniel M. Shae’s book title, Mythical of Modernism and James Joyce, whose study cuts a broad swath through the body of work of Joyce. This title is laden with two unwieldy and magnificent ideas, and Shea never retreats from some of the major, very daunting headlines in Joyce studies: modernism, myth, theology, history, aesthetics, history, economics, anthropology, natural science as well as publishing. The reader disputes a book with eight unnumbered chapters which have no formal conclusion nor introduction or any subdivisions in any given form. Published with a plain black-and-orange soft-cover which forms the part of ‘Studies in English Literatures’ collection by Ibidem-Verlag in Stuttgart, the book of Shea gets an ever-strengthening publishing world of academia as a study which is unfocused and sweeping in conception.

A small count of chapters in Mythology of Modernism and James Joyce is dismaying and impressive in the way Shae’s polymathic approach is and how broad and generalist its orientation is. He does not waste time in approaching Joyce through the most sweeping and consequential frames of reference. The book starts with a focus on religion and myth, trying to frame Joyce as being both myth maker and Roman Catholic, a paradoxically loyal apostate who can affirm God through challenging him by using the inspirational to the function of mythopoeic hierophant-artist. In the first chapter, Shae is taking a rhetorical and oppositional tone, trying to establish his main claims. In one way or another, in the entire book typically, his sentences are both vague and grandiloquent. Shea puts narrates, ‘Forty-odd years (S.L.) observation of Goldberg of Joyce and fullness, this purports to be the same, as I suggest a vision for James Joyce as being a mythopoeic writer with an agenda which is not less than the presentation of an artist in his whole world towards divine and beyond the material.’ He repeatedly criticises critics for not seeing what he sees. In the first chapter, he gives these statements: ‘Joyce’s approach in this respect on mythology is one of the present arsenals of evaluations which have been quietly, softly as well as complacently accepted’ when this track is followed, although critical lens often blinds itself to the facts of own milieu of Joyce,’ and the unfortunate way of critics to segregate the text from it mythological import which has changed the course of attention to move away from the work of Joyce (end page 602) in finishing what his forebears had undertaken.’ This ‘what those who criticise have been unable to understand’ motif goes on throughout the book as if intending or hoping on exposing the conspiracy. At the end of chapter one, there are major problems with Shae’s studies. In the first chapter, any attempt in a systematic way in defining myth as well as its dizzying multiplicity of meanings through integrating anthropology scholars, folk studies and religion is rendered moot. To make matters worse, he refuses to address any of the critics by naming them; he instead claims to have missed the mythical point, failing to have an engagement on the vast Joyce important tradition in any sustained form. Who are those who have missed what he saw? Out of what basis he has established his work? As he periodically cites other scholars, it becomes apparent that Shea has not attempted to situate his book in the context of the recent decade; his sparse bibliography lists works which that were published after the year 2000 and none were published after 2002. The work of Shea, therefore, exists in a solitary chamber of criticism.

Through Joyce’s subversive approach to myths as well as his process of rewriting, he believes that he can lead, ‘the Irish people who are in prison by the twin captivity of labyrinth history, (Schwarz, 1987, p121) and motivate them to ‘go quickly with those nets’ (Joyce, 2011, p.324) thrown over many by religious values and authoritative imperial and blind the establishment of values and nationalism as well as institutions which restrict Ireland by all possible means. T.S Eliot came with the idea that myths had a promise in the reestablishment of order in opposition to the chaos, alienation and fragmentation created by the present conditions mostly in the first half of the twentieth century, which led to distress to both the individual as well as the society. Myth resulted in being the object of endeavour for the present day writers whose hope was to obtain a safety in the mythical territory. Joseph Frank in the same way states that, ‘the objective imagination of history, by which the present man has prided himself, and which the same man has very carefully cultivated since Renaissance, is changed in these writers to the imagination of myth for which the time of history does not exist-the imagination which finds the events and actions of a specific time merely as forth bodying of the eternal prototypes. These prototypes are made by transforming the time-world history of the world to timeless mythical world. And thus is this timeless world full of myth, which forms the general content of literature in the present day, which finds it’s right aesthetic expressing in spatial form.’

This shelter gave the present day writers a safe, steady as well as stable world. M.Keith Booker states that ‘this model for the modernist evading from the messiness of history may be associated directly with the Christian ideology of the conservatives of Eliot, who gave the method of myth its name as well as reputation in his reading of Ulysses of Joyce.’ Though, Joyce never was interested in the order as well as the precision as given by myth but got the intention of trampling on them to set them free from the closed world for making a future for Ireland. That is to imply, in spite the difference between Joyce’s Ulysses and Homer’s Odyssey; it is apparent that ‘Joyce is narrating Homer’s myth, but rather using it for his story’ (Tindall, 1995, p.129) due to his religious and political distress linked to his homeland.

There are various reasons as to why this study focuses on Ulysses. To begin with, Ulysses is enriched by inter-textual references to his previous novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and it is a show of his final and mature views on Irish matters and Ireland. Also, his goal is to construct an epic nationally for Ireland through writing Ulysses. For Joyce’s national epic, he uses subversive feelings towards the internalised and imposed values which are reinforced by myths in not only his society but also his country. This places him in an outstanding position among his contemporaries because he prefers opposing and questioning authority instead of conforming to it. He raises questions regarding national, religious as well as cultural identity concerning his country, which is relevant an relatable for many other nations, including Turkey, which includes and amounts to the importance of Joyce’s work and this study. Though the problems of Ireland are unique and most of the time the results of its colonial past, the solutions which were suggested by Joyce are great. I believe that they give a path, which is by diversity, polyphony and plurality, out of non-functional ends for any country.

There are various studies on Ulysses both in Turkey and abroad, some of which underline problems about nationalism, history, post-colonialism and myth. Joyce uses parody to subvert primarily accepted myths of religious, imperial as well as patriarchal aspirations and powers to prove that all the myths are replaceable and questionable instead of representing absolute facts. Joyce believes that myths have been manipulated and have become ideological instruments which are authoritative. Instead of representations of truth, for Joyce, myths assist the construction of false realities. He suggests that myths concerning religious and cultural issues were forced to the society of Irish, which he considered, was the source of unrest for the Irish. Therefore, he believed that the necessity concerning the subversive approach to myths by which he attempted to break the manipulative deceptions. In this regard, his mythical understanding is closely related to Roland Barthes. Thus, this study uses a Barthesian reading of the employment of Joyce on myths which concludes that Joyce is usually considered a modern/modernist, reading Ulysses through Barthes’ theory as well as perspective implies that he is instead a postmodern writer.

Lastly, this essay has five chapters which are composed of: an introduction, two theoretical chapters, an analytical chapter on Ulysses and a conclusion chapter. Chapter one puts its focus on the ideologically manipulative potential for myths in addition to discussion of the place of Joyce in the twentieth century. It presents Ulysses as work which deals with the issues of Ireland linked to national identification. The chapter also deals with literature, modernism, and specifically the manipulation and employment of myth in modern literature and examples of the potential manipulation of myths over the centuries. The chapter puts focus on two twentieth-century views which are contrasting: the mythical method of T.S Eliot, as well as the concept of myth for Roland Barthe. The chapter concludes that though he wrote in a modern way, James Joyce has a close relationship to Barthes in his mythical understanding and therefore can be seen as a postmodernist writer. In the second chapter, the emphasis is mainly on Joyce’s encouragement as well as methods for jotting Ulysses. The chapter includes political, social as well as historical background of Ireland regarding relation to Catholic Church and Britain and personal information related to Joyce to make apparent why Joyce wrote Ulysses and used a subversive attitude. The personal viewpoints of Joyce regarding politics, religion and nationalism are put into discussion in addition to the relation between Odyssey and Ulysses. Moreover, the chapter has introduced parody to be a device of literature which most fits subversive aims of Joyce in Ulysses. Chapter three is divided into two sections that deal with a Ulysses analysis.

The very first section centres on politics and religion in Ulysses. Stephen Dedalus as subversion for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Homer’s Telemachus as well as Leopold Bloom as Odysseus subversion are analysed. Section two of the chapter deals explicitly with marriage and gender functions and focuses on Leopold Bloom as well as his wife Molly as Homeric Odysseus subversions and Penelope figures. In this section of analytics, Joyce challenges religious concepts, nationality and imperial power through Bloom and Stephen. He subverts and criticises political ‘myths,’ which is part of nationalist and imperial metanarratives, and religious ‘myths,’ which shapes the narrative concerning the cultural marriage and female and male gender functions as an institution about the patriarchal structure in the western tradition. Molly and Bloom’s relationship stands out to be most powerful regarding criticism to the values established of western civilisation of patriarchal. Lastly, the concluding chapter is designated for the entire look at the study as well as outs results. It as well emphasises the postmodernist approach of Joyce in Ulysses in relations to the solution he gives for Ireland. Thus, it puts forward an added time that Joyce is a twentieth-century writer who is much beyond his impact and time in literature with Britain’s hegemony, which they have indulged for centuries, nor with the Catholic church, which is the generator of misery and poverty in Ireland. Even the movement of Irish nationalism is not a solution to the opinion of Joyce because although it appears like an awakening; it is no more than the romantic which longs for history which is long lost. Also, he discovers nationalism in Ireland to be very narrow, intolerant and radical. Instead, Joyce gives a broader horizon for the future of Ireland in Ulysses through throwing off the religious, cultural and political pressure and defining nationalism.

Part 1: Ideological Manipulation of Myths and Subversive Joyce

Ulysses had been published by James Joyce in 1922, which has resulted in being a very debated work of literature since it’s publication. On top of Joyce’s courageous construction of his infamous complexity and novel. Ulysses is great attribution to idiosyncratic interpretation to Joyce of the present day world through handling the modern tendency to the mythical use in literature in this form. Joyce became prominent among his contemporaries with his mythical approach and stopped further the modernism boundaries and paved the path for the postmodern reading and learning his work of literature. Thus, the target of this chapter is to analyse the manipulative approaches ideologically of myths from the early world to the present day and to have the definition of place of Joyce in literature as a twentieth-century writer through focusing on his exceptional treatment to the current tendency towards myths in literature.

Ulysses is the second novel for Joyce, and it has been not only read but also commented on in several ways up to now. The increasing and sometimes colliding remarks on Joyce’s work are the natural results of the wealth it subsumes, in so much so that it enables new readings for the readers who are equipped with modern ways over the time. Ulysses is in a way substantial in articulating ideological and political views of Joyce on Ireland. Considering developing argument of Joyce about Irish people and Ireland in his former worker and the political, ideological, sociological and historical dynamism of the days which Joyce wrote Ulysses, it is expected that Ulysses gives more about Joyce’s look at the ideological and political struggle in which Irish people and Ireland were involved. Therefore, a fresh reading on Ulysses from the ideological and political perspectives implies that the purpose of Joyce in writing Ulysses is ‘expressing his rooted concern for his prose’ (Wang, 2011, p.22). That is to imply, in Ulysses, Joyce rebukes all types of authority which are represented especially by two Ireland masters, the Catholic Church and the British Empire, and the patriarchal western civilisation institutions, which he believes are a true obstacle before the identity of Irish expression. With this purpose in mind, Joyce comes up with a subversive feeling towards myths which reinforces the hegemony which exercises its power in Ireland. Though, he acts contrary to the common tendency towards myths in the present day literature.

Though the present period, where Joyce lived and came up with his works, is regarded to be confined to the first decades of the twentieth century, it can solely be the final part for which Jurgen Habermas calls ‘the project of modernity’ (1997,p.45) which began with the Enlighten in the eighteenth century. About Habermas, the major purpose for the project was to attain ‘the relentless development of objective sciences, of universal foundations of law and morality, as well as of autonomous art’ (Ibid, p12). The project was majorly based on scientific development to attain human victory and freedom and the rationalisation of freedom over the despair of humanity against the natural attributes as well as ‘the irrationalities of religion, myth, superstition’ with an aim of showing ‘the universal, the immutable qualities of all humanity and eternal (Harvey, 1992, p.12). The difference from the previous centuries, in which religious mind had modernism, determinacy which appeared to be intended as similar to the secular movement targeting to nonstop scientific and rational progress for the benefit of humanity. Ideals of liberty, individuality and equality were recommended as the scientific discoveries of all humanity were believed in serving the humankind.

Twentieth-century modern writers, as well as critics, regarded literature generally as an ideological weapon against the fragmentation chaos which was caused by modernism. Their primary goal was to find a safe and stable ground which is far from the disintegration, which was the outcome of the questioning mind which replaced the absolute rebukes to the universal values. T.S. Eliot was known to be most influential of them as well as some of his studies which focused on mythical usage in the literature as an attempt to bring back the authority both in the individual world as well as the societies. With this object at the figure tips, Eliot came up with a mythical method in his well-recognised essays, ‘Individual and Traditional Talent’ (1921) and ‘Ulysses, Myth and Order’ (1923). He had a belief in that the mythical method was ‘a step to making the present world possible for artistic work’ (Eliot, 1988, p.178).

Mythical manipulation with the ideological purposes was probably never a present-day discovery. On the contrary, it is a throwback to the transference of the myths from the oral tradition to a form which is written. Though, outside the ideological sphere as well as original sense, myths were the stories which had exceptional value for the community where they were passed from one generation to another and the community value which they were told from one age to another and sometimes they were able to perform in ritual form. They normally remarkable events which supposedly happened in the past. Therefore, myths survived through representing or retelling because they mark important touchstone in the existence of the community.

Structuralism, which normally originates from the linguistic studies of Saussure at the start of the century, led to a fresh look at the myths and language. Ferdinand de Saussure is a real major figure in the development of the present day theory of linguistics. In contrast to linguistic of the nineteenth century, ‘Saussure concentrated…on the functions and patterns of language in use in the present day, with the emphasis on the way meanings are established and maintained and on the functions of the grammatical structures’ (Barry,2002, p.41). The theory of Saussure radically changed and challenged the idea whose language shows the world around as well as the absolute truth. The traditional language understanding has assumed that ‘there was a natural link between a word with the thing, a given correspondence between two realms. Our language laid bare for people on how the world was, and this could hardly be questioned’ (Eagleton, 2005, p.93). Rather, this widespread notion, Saussure was a suggestion that language is a construct which gets meaning through its elements in relation with one another and therefore tries to construct the world we live in. Furthermore, the meaning is kept by convention though it is arbitrary. Alternatively, ‘a word may be exchanged for something different….Its value thus not fixed since one simply states that it can be ‘exchanged’ (Saussure, 1959, p.115). Also, it is constitutive of the ‘language constitutes our world, it does not simply record in any way or label it. Meaning is normally attributed to the idea or object by the human mind, as well as expressed or constructed through the language: it is not already in the thing.’ (Barry, 2002, p.43). In the meaning of Myth and Myth itself, Levi-Strauss drives his point home. He defines structuralism as ‘an attempt to get an order behind what it appears to be in disorder to us’ (Levi-Strauss, 2001, P.3)

Part 2: Joyce’s Motivation and Method for Ulysses

As he was writing Ulysses, Joyce was living in self-exile which is far from Ireland, as from 1902 with his move from Ireland to Paris up to the time when he died. He family and he had difficulty conditions of living during those years, and the decision of Joyce of self-exile had essential reasons in his way and massive effects on his literary career. Thus this chapter targets at analysing motivation for writing that James Joyce had in Ulysses and his choice of parody to be a subversive method in the construction of national epic in Ireland, both of which are related closely with the reason behind his decision of self-exile. As Joyce was working on Ulysses, his thoughts concerning religion, politics as well as Irish identity, which he there before had expressed to his previous works, were growing to maturity. Unlike the majority, he was not devoted Catholic nor a blind nationalist.

Part 3: Analysis of Ulysses

Joyce placed Odyssey of Homer in the background of Ulysses. In reality, the plot of the story as well as its main characters have true implications and references to the text of Homer. Though, in contrast to Odyssey, Ulysses is a long story which happens in the present day Dublin. Also, its plot structures hardly follow the Homeric sequence of the flow of the events, and it either uses or lacks some details or characters, which led to differences between the two texts on top of the style of their writers. Also, following the myth of Homeric can create the impression that Joyce submitted to the authority of Odyssey as being one of great text which shaped the western culture. Also, one can think that the work of Joyce was an attempt to restore the authority from Homeric one more time in the name of order restoration. In addition, he can be claimed to lean on the classical text because he saw its authority as one of the ways of guaranteeing success to his literature as well as all the conclusions which would be in reference to suggestions and opinions of T.S. Eliot both in ‘Ulysses, Myth and Order’ and ‘Tradition as well as the Talent of an individual.’ A close reading which enhances one to follow the employment of Joyce of Homeric myth in his subversive style, which is the proof to the opposite of views of Eliot, in spite the fact that the undeniable similarities are at first glance.

This paper investigates the mythical subversion by using parody in Joyce’s Ulysses to criticise religious domination, cultural and imperial hegemony represented by the Catholic Church, the patriarchal institutions of western civilisation in Ireland and British Empire in Ireland. Joyce primarily targets these mentioned institutions because he believes that they are in the forefront in the promotion of ‘myths’ about political and religious ideas and the issues linked to gender and marriage roles in Irish society. He not only directs firm criticism at the issues Ireland is facing about the ‘myths’ but also gives the values and systems he subverted. Therefore he aims to rewrite an epic in Irish and also define a new identity for Irish. The utilisation of myths by Joyce is usually taken as part of the critical modern theory which is outlined by T.S. Eliot in his mythical method. The method of Eliot is by principle of the mythopoeic thought which is based on the assumptions which the truth is universally taken for granted as well as monogenic because its validity can hardly be challenged nor questioned.


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