T. S. Eliot, ' Ulysses, Order and Myth’, in The Dial, LXXV (Nov. 1923), pp.480-83; rep. in Robert Deming, ed., James Joyce: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1970 [Vol. 1], pp.268-71.

Bibliographical details: T. S. Eliot, ‘Ulysses, Order and Myth’, in The Dial, LXXV (Nov. 1923), pp.480-83; rep. in Mark Shorer, Josephine Miles & Gordon McKenzie, eds., Criticism: The Foundation of Modern Literary Judgment (1948) [q.pp.]; Seon Givens, ed., James Joyce: Two Decades of Criticism (1948, 1963), pp.198-202; Robert Deming, ed., James Joyce: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1970 [Vol. 1], pp.268-71. See further essay-selections, infra.

Mr Joyce’s book has been out long enough for no more general expression of praise, or expostulation with its detractors, to be necessary; and it has not been out long enough for any attempt at a complete measurement of its place and significance to be possible. All that one can usefully do at this time, and it is a great deal to do, for such a book, is to elucidate any aspect of the book - and the number of aspects is indefinite - which has not yet been fixed. I hold this book to be the most important expression which the present age has found; it is a book to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape. These are postulates for anything that I have to say about it, and I have no wish to waste the reader’s time by elaborating my eulogies; it has given me all the surprise, delight, and terror that I can require, and I will leave it at that.

Amongst all the criticisms I have seen of the book, I have seen nothing - unless we except, in its way, M. Valéry Larbaud’s valuable paper ['James Joyce’, in Nouvelle Revue Française, XVII, April 1922, 385-405; sect. 4 as ‘The Ulysses of James Joyce’, in Criterion, 1, 1 (Oct. 1922), pp.94-103, and Preface to Gens de Dublin, 1926, incl. in Deming, Vol. I, pp.252-62 as No. 118] which is rather an Introduction than a criticism - which seemed to me to appreciate the significance of the method employed - the parallel to the Odyssey, and the use of appropriate styles and symbols to each division. Yet one might expect this to be the first peculiarity to attract attention; but it has been treated as an amusing dodge, or scaffolding erected by the author for the purpose of disposing his realistic tale, of no interest in the completed structure. The criticism which Mr Aldington directed upon Ulysses several years ago seems to me to fail by this oversight - but, as Mr Aldington wrote before the complete work had appeared, fails more honourably than the attempts [268] of those who had the whole bok before them. Mr Aldington treated Mr Joyce as prophet of chaos; and wailed at the flood of Dadaism which his [Aldington’s] prescient eye saw bursting forth at the tap of a magician’s wand. Of course the influence which Mr Joyce’s book may have is from my point of view an irrelevance. A very great book may have a very bad influence indeed; and a mediocre book may be I nthe event most salutary. [.] Still, Mr Aldington’s pathetic solicitude for the half-witted seems to me tocarry cerain implication about the nature of the book itself to which I cannot assent; and this is the important issue. he finds the book, if I understand him, to be an invitation to chaos, and an expression of feelings which are perverse, partial and a distortion of reality.

[Quotes ‘The Influence of Mr James Joyce’, in English Review, XXXII, April 1921, pp.333-41, and Literary Studies and Reviews, 1924, pp.197-207; given in Deming, Vol. I, pp.186-88 as No.93, p.268-69.]

I think that Mr Aldington and I are more or less agreed as to what we want in principle, and agreed to call it classicism. [...] We are agreed as to what we want, but not as to how to get it, or as to what contemporary writing exhibits a tendency in that diretion. We agree, I hope, that 'classicism’ is not an alternative to 'romanticisim’, as of political parties [...] on a "turnout-the-rascals" platform. [...] One can be "classical", in a sense, by turning away from nine-tenths of the material which lies at hand, and selecting ony mummified stuff from a museum [...] Or once can be classical in tendency by doing the best one can with the material in hand. The confusion springs from the fact that the term is [269] applied to literature and to the whole complex of interests and modes of behaviour and society of which literature is a part; and it has not the same bearing in both applications. It is much easier to be a classicist in literary criticism than in creative art - because in criticism you are responsible only for what you want, and in creation you are responsible for what you can do with material which you must simply accept. And in this material I include the emotions and feelings of the writer himself, which, for that writer, are simply material which he must accept - not virtues to be enlarged or vices to be diminished. The question, then, about Mr Joyce, is: how much living material does he deal with, and how does he deal with it: deal with, not as a legislator or exhorter, but as an artist?

It is here that Mr Joyce’s parallel use of the Odyssey has a great importance. It has the importance of a scientific discovery. No one else has built a novel upon such a foundation before: it has never before been necessary. I am not begging the question in calling Ulysses a novel; and if you call it an epic it will not matter. If it is not a novel, that is simply because the novel is a form which will no longer serve; it is because the novel, instead of being a form, was simply the expression of an age which had not sufficiently lost all form to feel the need of something stricter. Mr Joyce has written one novel - the Portrait ; Mr Wyndham. Lewis has written one novel - Tarr. I do not suppose that either of them will ever write another “novel.” The novel ended with Flaubert and with James. It is, I think, because Mr Joyce and Mr Lewis, being “in advance” of their time, felt a conscious or probably unconscious dissatisfaction with the form, that their novels are more formless than those of a dozen clever writers who are unaware of its obsolescence.

In using the myth, in manipulating a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity, Mr Joyce is pursuing a method which others must pursue after him. They will not be imitators, any more than the scientist who uses the discoveries of an Einstein in pursuing his own, independent, further investigations. It is simply a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history. It is a method already adumbrated by Mr Yeats, and of the need for which I believe Mr Yeats to have been the first contemporary to be conscious. It is a method for which the horoscope is auspicious. Psychology (such as it is, and whether our reaction to it be comic or serious), ethnology, and The Golden Bough have concurred to make possible what was impossible [270] even a few years ago. Instead of narrative method, we may now use the mythical method. It is, I seriously believe, a step towards making the modern world possible for art, toward that order and form which Mr Aldington so earnestly desires. And only those who have won their own discipline in secret and without aid, in a world which offers very little assistance to that end, can be of any use in furthering this advance.

End


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