Richard Kain, Fabulous Voyager: James Joyce’s Ulysses (Chicago UP 1947).

Chap. 1: Talking About Injustice
Let us turn for a moment to a brief survey of the conditions of modern society. The entire world is today witnessing the convulsive death throes of the political and economic beliefs of the last century. The future of capitalism and of liberal democracy seems now to be at stake; and again the student of cultural history is amazed by the uncanny prescience of writers who long ago sensed the imminence of the present catastrophic changes in society. Ignoring the revolutionary spokesmen of the nineteenth century, as early as 1900 Thomas Mann had examined with diligence [8] the decline of bourgeois standards of value in Buddenbrooks. In 1912 an obscure German scholar. Oswald Spengler, penned the title of his philosophical masterpiece, The Decline of the West, published in the momentous month of July, 1918. From 1912 to 1924 Thomas Mann probed with increased powers of poetic sensitivity the problems of a young man of the prewar generation, Hans Castorp of The Magic Mountain. During these years a similar task was undertaken on a colossal scale by Marcel Proust in France; and during these years Joyce wrote his panoramic Ulysses, depicting the disintegration of moral and philosophical values.

The intellectual finds that the long-vaunted integrity of man, the keynote of humanism has suffered from the depredations of evolutionary biology, of normal and abnormal psychology, and of materialist interpretations of history. Humanism has been discredited, so often has it been used to defend reactionary politics, authoritarianism, and the economic status quo, while a vigorous naturalism and relativism in philosophy and literature seek a new basis for humane values. Likewise has the neatly geometrical Newtonian universe - the world view of classical physics and astronomy - been shattered by concepts of relativity, the quantum theory, wave mechanics, and the principle of indeterminacy. Marx, Darwin, Freud, and Einstein have brought into question bourgeois standards of value.

In his penetrating Introduction to the volume, books That Changed Our Minds, Malcolm Cowley finds that the works selected by contributors as the most significant of recent years have one trait in common. [9] Though ostensibly on diverse and seemingly unrelated subjects-logic, metaphysics, cultural history, psychology, economics, and sociology-the works of Darwin, Marx, Veblen, Freud, Bergson, and others agree in refuting the accepted faith in rationalism. Nineteenth-century liberalism was based on the supremacy of human reason, and its freedom from economic, national, or racial prejudices. From it stemmed the hopes for continuous social and economic progress, the belief in popular education, reform, democracy. It is a matter not of cynicism but of clear-eyed observation to remark that these hopes are open to widespread qualification today.

Of the three major writers of the twentieth century - Marcel Proust in French, Thomas Mann in German, and James Joyce in English literature - Joyce appears to be the one who faced most unflinchingly the decadence of bourgeois society. Marcel Proust retired to the nostalgic, dreams of a social pattern from which he had been exiled by ill-health - a society which was itself rapidly passing away - and labored to render the aesthetic impressions left upon his memory. Thomas Mann grappled courageously with the data of science and society, hoping to retrieve from destruction some of the values of a world that was passing, and closed his masterpiece with a pious hope that his faith in the brotherhood of man might somehow be realized. James Joyce alone felt the searing brilliance of 'time’s livid final flame’, on which Stephen reflected throughout Ulysses. With microscopic exactitude Joyce revealed the inherent contradictions and shortcomings of modern civilization. It is my purpose to [10] analyze and explain in detail his findings and the skill with which they are rendered.

In many ways Joyce was unusually qualified by temperament and circumstance to proceed with this necessary task of social analysis, necessary in the sense that no satisfactory social order can be successfully reared upon the dry husks and hollow shells of outworn beliefs. Raised under the strict dogmas of Catholicism and subjected to the discipline of a Jesuit education, he was plunged from the metaphysics of the Middle Ages into the practical exigencies of modern life. Thus, comparatively insulated during his early years from the basic contradictions of modern society, he found them all the more glaring once they were exposed to his eyes. The situation inherent in so much satiric literature of the past - the visitor from a foreign land examining the customs of an age - was exemplified in the biography of Joyce. The young author, emerging from his scholastic education in 1902, was indeed a modern Rasselas, leaving the Happy Valley to judge the world.

Jesuit education not only provided Joyce with this perspective but was a source of additional isolation. In Joyce’s excellent study of his mental development, A Portrait of the Artist, Stephen feels that his education, so assiduously cultivated, was itself an object of indifference or contempt in modern society:

It wounded him to think that he would never be but a shy guest at the feast of the world’s culture and that the monkish learning, in terms of which he was striving to forge out an esthetic philosophy, was held no higher by the age he lived in than the subtle and curious jargons of heraldry and falconry. (AP309) [11]


Another feature of Joyce’s life deserves mention. One may question whether it is ever entirely possible to break away from the Catholic church. Readers of the Portrait will recall the urgent necessity to defend his position which obsessed the hero; an equally urgent necessity undoubtedly motivated the writing of the book. Stephen defends himself on the grounds of personal independence. The note occurs again and again. In refusing to sign the petition for the banning of Yeats’s play, Stephen responds to his schoolmates quietly: “You are right to go your way. Leave me to go mine.”(AP333) “I shall express myself as I am,” he answers another plea for conformity. (AP217) And in rejoinder to Cranly’s efforts to return him to the fold of religion:

- Did you believe in it when you were at school? I bet you did.
- I did - Stephen answered.
- And were you happier then? - Cranly asked softly - happier than you are now, for instance?
- Often happy - Stephen said - and often unhappy. I was someone else then.
- How someone else? What do you mean by that statement?
- I mean - said Stephen - that I was not myself as I am now, as I had to become. (AP293)

Levin says wittily that Joyce lost his religion but kept his categories (Introduction to James Joyce, 1943, p.25) but the matter is not quite so simple. Cranly remarks to Stephen in the Portrait that “your mind is supersaturated with the religion in which you say you disbelieve,” (AP213) and in the same discussion Stephen confirms this interpretation:

- I imagine - Stephen said - that there is a malevolent reality behind those things I say I fear. (AP217)

Now to renounce one’s faith with misgivings such as these is to create within one’s self a constant tension, a tension out of which a forceful art will be wrested. Far removed from a complacent acceptance of belief, Joyce, like Dostoevski before him, will be acutely aware of the ambivalence of the human mind, of the drawing-power of the forces which he wishes to reject or escape. Joyce’s view of life will be that of an unhappy and homesick exile.

An exile in fact, too. In addition to the strains of uncertain disbelief will be those of loss of faith in his country. It has often been remarked that, though Joyce removed himself physically from Ireland, all his artistic work was devoted to the country he rejected. Again one finds the condition of aloofness and distance, so necessary to vital social analysis.

Ireland was in other respects a happy accident of Joyce’s birth, for there the inconsistencies of modern economic and political practice were aggravated by a hated imperialism, centuries old. A revealing passage in the Portrait apropos of a British teacher at University College, clearly shows this instinctive revolt from all things connected with the master-country:

- The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit My soul frets in the shadow of his language. (AP221)

A national humiliation so long ingrained is bound to confirm one’s innate tendencies to revolt and to sharpen one’s eyes to injustice, chicanery, and hypocrisy wherever they are found. Nor was the rising Irish nationalism any more to the young Joyce’s [13] liking. He could never forgive the betrayal of Parnell. Whether it was attributable to provincial morality or to cowardice, it was unforgettable. Tim Healy, the politician who succeeded Parnell, was to Joyce little better than a traitor. It is said that he was the subject of a youthful polemic - “Et Tu Healy?” - written by Joyce at the age of nine. He appears in Ulysses as one of the hue and cry who pursue Bloom in a nightmare. (U171) In Finnegans Wake, in a characteristic triple pun, Dublin becomes Healiopolis (FW24) Egyptian home of the embalmed phoenix (Phoenix Park in Dublin was the scene of terroristic murders in Joyce’s youth), as well as the city of the careerist politician.

Strict religious discipline, rejection of faith, geographical exile, and a strong sense of economic exploitation and political tyranny - add to these the natural independence and sensitivity of the artist. The conventional slogans of society were to Stephen merely wooden swords. (AP231) But they had a malignant power, too - an unseen, but nonetheless effective, ability to suppress and censor self-development. Conformity itself was dangerous. Stephen speaks of his fear of “the chemical action which would be set up in my soul by a false homage to a symbol.” (AP287) Injustice can never be condoned. A diary entry at the end of the Portrait is as passionate as it is brief - “He said Bruno was a terrible heretic. I said he was terribly burned.” (AP294)

The cost of such an attitude is loneliness, but there is also an ardent faith, a consciousness of mission. Stephen realizes this fully. Conversing with a college friend, he says:

When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets. - (AP238)

In an eloquent, yet uneasily self-conscious, statement of his artistic creed, the young Stephen asserts:

I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can (AP291)

When the Portrait was written, it was still possible for Joyce to be optimistic about the reception of his work and the message he might bear to mankind. Grandiloquently, Stephen concludes his diary of the birth of the artist with the words: “I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.” (AP299) Yet other disillusionments were to follow. The lengthy haggling over the publication of his relatively inoffensive volume of short stories, Dubliners. took its toll of his patience. Herbert Gorman’s biography of Joyce recounts the tedious details of this process. All the author’s delicacy of style, insight, and sympathy were overlooked; a few questionable phrases and political allusions were all that mattered to the publishers. The novelist was certainly justified in regarding it as one more sign of the impossible stupidity of the bourgeoisie.

Joyce never returned to Dublin after 1912, when he tried in vain to have his publishers release the volume. His books have been banned in Ireland; his native land has exiled him more fully than he was ever comfortable in exiling himself from it. Then, in 1914, when [15] he was ready to start on Ulysses, the first World War began. Here was the cataclysm which revealed on an immense scale the inequities and inconsistencies of modern civilization. Here, indeed, was “the ruin of all space, shattered glass and toppling masonry, and time one livid final flame.” Isolated in neutral Switzerland, Joyce consumed himself in the writing of an encyclopedic novel of modern life.

The complex personality of Joyce awaits a definitive biographer. To his friends he seemed jocose and flippant, little given to introspection, yet all his work is confessional. To what degree does it reflect subconscious motivations as well as the external causations here cited? The prurience may well be a form of inverted puritanism, the cynical acceptance of commercial values (as when Stephen demands payment for his writings in Stephen Hero (182); the Portrait (229) and Ulysses (211) a painful sham, the scorn for country and church a desperate gesture. Like D. H. Lawrence, Joyce seems to have been fascinated by what he hated and repelled by what he loved. Is his psychological fiction, like Lawrence’s, a series of psychological fictions, in the Freudian sense of the word, the disguised manifestation of latent personal tensions and desires? Or, to draw a closer analogy, the Joyce who embraces “silence, exile, and cunning” as his weapons and who builds his theory of static art seems more akin in spirit to Flaubert, whose artistic discipline was a bastion against a world he despised. Between the poles of Lawrence and Flaubert. between confession and repression, lies Ulysses. [16]

Alienated from homeland, church, bourgeois society, local politics, and Empire allegiance, Joyce centered his masterpiece in the story of two homesick wanderers. The satiric imaginary travels of Gulliver, Candide, and Rasselas have here their modern Counterpart, just as Bloom finds his ancient prototype in Odysseus, legendary voyager of the past. Indeed, as we shall see, one day in Dublin, June 16, 1904, is but a brief segment of that journey of man we call “life.” The path of Everyman through space and time to infinity is the ultimate mystery. Man, finally, is the fabulous voyager. (pp.18-16.)

[End Chap. 1]

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