Media and Textuality in Ulysses

external image Joyce_Y166_1of24.jpg


Textuality is the quality or use of language. Textuality considers the social and historical context of a text and views the text as a fluid and unstable artifact. Textuality takes into account the play between authorial intent and editorial corrections or interferences. For example, Martha Clifford’s letter to Henry Flower says, “I called you naughty boy because I do not like that other world” (5.245). The apparent malapropism “world” was initially printed as “word” in the Little Review. In "Proteus", the telegram to Stephen saying, “Nother dying come home father” (3.199) was printed “Mother dying come home father” in all editions of Ulysses until Gabler’s. And in an ironic reversal of mistaken prints, Bloom shows indignation over his name being misspelled “Boom” on the list of mourners at Paddy Dignam’s funeral in the Evening Telegraph, but his name actually retains its proper spelling in the first edition of Ulysses. This correction erases the newspaper’s affront and leaves no reason for Bloom to be irritated (Creasy, 45). Joyce’s aberrations in spelling have no doubt been difficult for publishers to reconcile, though they are an essential dynamic of the text. These “mistakes” inform our understanding of character and the circumstances surrounding them. Case in point, Bloom’s outsider status is underscored by the newspaper’s incorrect spelling of his name. As we see in “Aeolus”, Bloom is an associate of the men who write for and publish the Evening Telegraph. However, he isn’t part of their inner circle. In fact, these men don’t have a high regard for Bloom. When the professor tells the editor that Bloom is on the telephone, he unceremoniously replies, “Tell him go to hell” (7.672). The paper’s error shows both Bloom’s worth to his colleagues and his attitude toward their work: “nonsensical howlers of misprint” (16.1267). All this signified by the omission of one letter. A publisher’s decision to override manuscript diminishes meaning in such passages. As Roy Gottfried observes, “Joyce would want his text free of unintentional errors so that he could have it filled with intentional ones” (Creasy, 48).

The textual quality in Ulysses is generally termed “high modernism” which Margot Norris defines as “vernacular language as a form of musical poetry that offers an address to class, gender, and regionality” (378). You can read more about textuality here.

How the Print History of Ulysses Complicates the Textuality

Detail from the Rosenbach manuscript of Ulysses
Detail from the Rosenbach manuscript of Ulysses

In the edition used for this class, Gabler made roughly 5,000 corrections from the 1932 edition. Many of these involved changing one character. Kenner cites this example: “So now you know what I will do to you, you naughty boy, if you do not wrote” (5.252-253). Bloom then mocks this verb usage in his mind. It is easy to see why a British proofreader would correct this, but Joyce took great pains for just such jokes directed at the woman’s lack of education or the slip of her ring finger (the “o” and the “i” are neighbors on the keyboard). “Joyce meant to assert final control over every mark on the final printed page, clear down to the dot with which Ithaca terminates” (74). This attention to detail requires us to pay close attention as well; it requires us to wonder what the text is actually doing. “Joyce delights in leaving us such queer things we may misinterpret, as if to keep alive in us an awareness traditional fiction is at paint to lull, the awareness that we are interpreting” (77).

The organic quality of language and text is exemplified by their ability to be physically broken down. In Hades, the decomposition of language comes to mimic the organic breakdown of the human body after death. In Hades, there is an instance where language and humanity decomposing are directly related, with the use of the gramophone to record the message “Kraahraark! Hellohellohello amawfullyglad kraark awfullygladaseeagain hellohello amawf krpthsth” (6.65-66). The physical refusal of the recording to stay in mint-condition has a humanlike quality associated with the recording. As time passes, and temporality is experienced, it would only make sense that the voice of a human, transcribed by Joyce, would change. The layers of textuality and media here are many, seeing as decomposition is also a thematic overture in Hades. The breakdown of the recording is effective in the transition from Hades into Aeolus. Taking place in a printing shop, the atmosphere of Aeolus becomes permeated by letters being the building blocks of the printing press. Not only is Joyce manipulating letters to become the story, but they are being manipulated to describe another type of text in the background of the chapter. Immediately, the text is focusing on the urban space, getting closer with each of the captions, “IN THE HEART OF THE HIBERNIAN/METROPOLIS” (7.1-2), “THE WEARER OF THE CROWN” (7.14), “GENTLEMEN OF THE PRESS” (20), and “WILLIAM BRAYDEN, ESQUIRE, OF OAKLANDS,/SANDYMOUNT” (7.38-39). The delineation brings back the idea of transmigration from Proteus, “God becomes man becomes fish becomes barnacle becomes goose becomes featherbed mountain” (3.477-479). The transition in captions in Aeolus from one body to another is not based on nature as in Proteus, but instead on a metonymic foundation, the singular human representing the larger Dublin urban space. All parts matter within the urban space, and the sounds created by the machines at the printing press, the “Sllt” (7.175-178) not only represents the machines themselves, but the noise that they are creating in order to interact with the individuals of the press. Joyce gives character to the machines, due to their importance in the textuality in Ulysses. The individual letters on the page break down to become sounds that manipulate the setting to become chaotic, reinforcing the notion of the press billowing out hot air in the form of gossip and throwaways.

Views on How To Approach Ulysses

Textuality and Sound

external image pageheadleft_works.jpg

Often we don’t know how to read Joyce. Hugh Kenner gives this advice: “We become Joyce readers the way we become newspaper readers: by practice” (72). Think about the foreign language immersion trips, we must live with the text of Ulysses, in all its oddities.
Vincent J. Cheng’s essay “The Twining Stresses, Two by Two: The Prosody of Joyce’s Prose” points out “how striking and remarkable the sound effects and rhythms of Joyce’s prose can be” (391). Joyce was influenced by History of English Prose Rhythm, which suggests prose rhythm is best when it is varied and divergent. Cheng asks us to consider this line from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: “Her bosom was as soft as a bird’s soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some dark plumaged dove (171). He cites this as an example of “‘fine writing’ in which the prose rhythms are supple, periodic, often paratactic, by rhythmically varied. Notice also the use of chiasmus (the literary technique of inversion Joyce used to tie the end of Portrait with the beginning) where “slight” is repeated.
Cheng finds a “metrical identity” in such lines that echo “the Old English alliterative, strong-stress meter” being brought back into use by Joyce, Rudyard Kipling, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, who famously said that poetry should be as well written as prose. This alliterative style is conducive to prose because it requires at least four stresses per line and an unlimited number of “unstressed or weakly-stressed syllables… so line length can vary greatly (my italics).” Also, the lines are usually broken up via a pause and the stresses, or in the case of the line from Portrait cited above, the subjects, are “twined and tied back to each other” (394).
Joyce’s interest, and therefore Stephen’s, in poetic meter is hinted at early on in Ulysses. “Inshore and farther out the mirror of water whitened, spurned by lightshod hurrying feet. Whitebreast of the dim sea. The twining stresses, two by two” (392). The image of waves “are themselves words of a poetic (and alliterated) line”: “wavewhite wedded words swimming on the dim tide.”
Not only is the actual text of Ulysses interested in sound and rhythm, but the two great subjects of the novel may very well be sight and sound. We hear the representation of the surf at Sandymount by reading “wavewhite wedded words” (I think of Air’s “Alone In Kyoto” that closes Talkie Walkie), but we also read the sound of a cats’ speech, Molly’s sleep-saturated “Mn” in “Proteus”, as well as “the flatulence of speech itself. Transliterated as ‘Pprrpffrrppfff,” the fart reminds us of the puffing, spitting, wheezing, spluttering, obscenity of voice, the slurp, gurgle, smack of breath, lips, tongue, teeth, saliva” (Ellmann, 385). Language, high or low, is only sound signifying “the visceral noise that both facilitates and interferes with the communicative function of speech” (Bloom wonders if the cat understands him better than he does the cat).

Looking at Ulysses through a Metatextual Lens

It would behoove us to consider the self-references that are employed throughout Ulysses; in doing so we can further unpack the text as it was constructed by James Joyce as auteur, and ultimately deconstructing it in a similar way that Joyce instructs the novel to do unto itself. Metatextual, or better known as metafiction is largely associated with Modernist Literature (and Post Modernism), yet can be observed in earlier works of art, such as Homer's Odyssey, which ironically, Ulysses parallels. Two paramount inquiries to ask and dissect when looking at Ulysses as self-reflexive are:

1.) HOW is Ulysses self referential?

2.) WHAT are possible motives behind Joyce's utilization and treatment of Ulysses as a metafictional novel?

Let us tackle question number one by looking at some examples in the novel that remind the reader that Ulysses, in itself, is fictional, and furthermore a text (an artifact, if you will). Although, there are many instances in the novel where it calls attention to itself, we will look at a few examples:

The novel calls attention to itself through the construction and structure that Joyce applies in episodes such as "Aeolus" in which the text is exploited as a newspaper with headlines like "ORTHOGRAPHICAL" (7.164), "SAD" (7.291), and "CLEVER, VERY" (7.673). This particular episode can be seen (as discussed thoroughly in class) as a gesture, by Joyce, to call attention to the persuasiveness and rhetorical effectiveness of language and power. Here, we see Joyce reminding the reader that he has employed the text in the way he saw fit, in order to remind the reader that there is a filter, an outside source, a middle man, between word itself and the receiver of such words.

Another episode in which Joyce uses unconventional form in text as to reflect the novel's artificiality is in "Circe." The entire chapter is presented as a play (with stage directions). This not only calls attention to the fictionality of the text, but also points to the novel's own subconscious. Within the chapter, there are references to things that happened prior in the novel through the experiences of both Stephen and Bloom, yet they seem to bleed together in a way that forces the reader to refer back to each character's experience; in doing so, it appears as if each character is having hallucinations that rely on knowledge of past experience, even though they were not present themselves. For example, J.J. O'Molloy appears in "Aeolus" speaking to Stephen about Seymour Bushe (7.748) and then soon after is speaking to Myles Crawford and Stephen " . . . soultransfigured and of soultransfiguring deserves to live" (7.771), yet in "Circe" we see O'Molloy acting as Bloom's attorney during one of Bloom's hallucinations as "(He [O'Molloy] assumes the vine head, foxy mustache and proboscides eloquence of Seymour Bushe) and declares " . . . soultransfigured and of soultransfiguring deserves to live" (15.999-103). The most telling passage in this cyclical journey comes about in "Circe" when J.J. (hmmm, perhaps a play on initials from Joyce?) O'Molloy states "If the accused could speak he could a tale unfold - one of the strangest that have ever been narrated between the covers of a book" (15.951-953).

We have in episode "Circe" one of the most bold self-reflexive utterances by Joyce in the novel, when Lynch declares "The mirror up to nature" (he laughs) (15.3820). This utterance is followed by a stage direction "(Stephen and Bloom gaze in the mirror. The face of William Shakespeare, beardless, appears there, rigid in facial paralysis, crowned by the reflection of the reindeer antlered hatrack in the hall)" (15. 3821-3824). The reader is reminded in this moment that in the reflection of Bloom (as an Irish Jew) and Stephen (who has returned to Ireland after exile and no longer is engulfed in Catholicism), both see England's national poet (Shakespeare) staring back, stupefied. Here, Joyce brilliantly reminds us that art is art through the artist, the signified, and lastly, the interpretation of art by the viewer; full circle, we see Joyce calling attention to Ulysses as an artifact, by reminding the reader that the characters are a reflection (connected by intertextuality) of art and artists alike (Shakespeare, for example).

That brings us to inquiry number two: WHY would Joyce want to interrupt the reader's suspension of disbelief?

Joyce's ingenious work of art, known as Ulysses, is executed through unconventional form and experimental structure; Joyce has created (birthed, if you will) a timeless piece of literature that deserves the attention of the authorial process Joyce undertook. In his employment of metatextuality, he not only advises the reader to defer their suspension of disbelief intermittently, but also positions the scholar as part of the puzzle he has spawned, in order to have his art be ever evolving. Perhaps, it is paramount to note the quote at the beginning of Don Gifford's Ulysses Annotated to better understand the layers Joyce saw in his novel and of himself "I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of insuring one's immortality" (Joyce).

Language and Textuality As Active Agent in Ulysses

In many ways, Ulysses can be viewed as a novel about textuality itself. As the novel progresses, there is a growing sense that language takes on its own agency; that it is, in fact, the language and literary style(s) that direct(s) the course of events in the story. This runs counter to the accepted notion that literary style is designed to reflect the action, to illuminate and clarify it. Joyce repeatedly uses language to disrupt the narrative, to obfuscate and blur events within the narrative, and to reverse the relationship between narration and events by having the text itself take a leading role in charting the course of action within the story. This is manifested in different ways in different episodes. I have chosen two to focus on in detail: “Aeolus” and “Sirens.”

(waves over to shady back alley littered with empty bottles and smelling faintly of urine)

Follow me!


Characters come into contact with different media: adverts, letters, songs, etc. We in turn as the reader are helped along by Joyce through the characters to understand the words on the page and how they then formulate to a clearer idea. “The intended meaning is […] not the psychological intention of the author, but the injunction of the text. What the text wants, is to orient our thought according to it. The sense of the text is the direction which it opens up for our thought” (Ricoeur 148). By following the train of thought of Bloom for instance in part five entitled Lotus-Eaters and his processing of the letter from Martha (5.240-260) in connection to an advert (5. 144-147), new directions of thought are opened up. This direction, given by Joyce through the characters, is to follow along certain words or phrases that then lead to an end interpretation of the characters themselves. Ultimately “the understanding of a text is not an end in itself and for itself; it mediates the relation to himself of a subject who […] would not find the meaning of his own life” (Ricoeur, 145). Giving Bloom his end thoughts on his own sexuality in regards to the media he has processed (5.567-572), and allowing for the reader to objectively take in this end conclusion in their own way.

Media as Mediation

One way of thinking about media is thinking about it as mediation. One particular definition of “mediation” may serve our purposes: “an activity which expresses, either indirectly or deviously and misleadingly (and thus often in a falsely reconciling way), a relationship between otherwise separated facts and actions and experiences” (Williams 207). Perhaps the letters from Milly and Martha could be seen as “misleading” mediations. We privilege speech over writing, in large part because writing is a utterance where the utterer is absent, a ghost. This absence of presence between the writer and the reader opens up greater possibility of miscommunication, intentional or otherwise.

The act of mediation consists of two parties being reconciled together again into a union of peace and harmony. In order for there to be harmony, there must first have existed chaos. In this case, however, mediation doesn’t necessarily take place between two people, but also between two different points of view and authors. We see prime example of this in Scylla when Stephen passionately argues the plot of Shakespeare’s Hamlet as that of reconciliation and loudly exclaims, “There can be no reconciliation (…) if there has not been a sundering” (pg. 160, line 399), which of course happens amidst a debate on Shakespeare’s plays and other areas of his life, such as his marriage to Ann Hathaway.
Beyond the media characters used as examples of reconciliation (such as Shakespeare to Ann Hathaway), the characters in Ulysses are working towards the same goal. Stephen and Buck are trying to come to terms together; Bloom is trying to reconcile whatever is going on with Molly, Bloom and Buck have issues to resolve, even reconciliation of religion take place between Catholicism and Judaism (Stephen and Bloom).

A lot of language involving different media is also being thrown around in this chapter, verbally, internally, and written down in telegrams and newspaper advertisements. The arguments and conversations that seem to take place specifically around Shakespeare’s plays, however, appear to draw on other media to back up the arguments or simply to fuel them. For example, John Eglinton pokes fun at Stephen right off the bat, implying that Stephen intends to write his own version of Paradise Lost, and leading into Hamlet: “Have you found those six brave medicals, John Eglinton asked with elder’s gall, to write Paradise Lost at your dictation? The Sorrows of Satan he calls it” (pg. 151, line 19). This could possibly be read as Joyce’s own desires to rewrite literature placed onto his character Stephen, or Stephen’s own scholarly view of himself. In any event, this debate of literature cannot take place without referencing other pieces of literature or authors.

For more on Ulysses and Shakespearean Textuality, follow this link!

Works Cited

Cheng, Vincent. “‘The Twining Stresses, Two by Two’: The Prosody of Joyce’s Prose”. Modernism / modernity. Vol. 16 #2
Creasy, Matthew. "Manuscripts and Misquotations: Ulysses and Genetic Criticism". Joyce Studies Annual. (2007): 44-66.
Ellmann, Maud. “The Music of Joyce’s Vernacular Voices.” Modernism / modernity. Vol. 16 #2
Gifford, Don, and Robert J. Seidman. Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce's Ulysses. Berkeley: U of California, 1988. Print.
Kenner, Hugh. The Mechanic Muse. Oxford University Press. New York City, 1987.
Norris, Margot. “Joyce’s Noises.” Modernism / modernity. Vol. 16 #2 pp 377 -382
Ricoeur, Paul. “What is a Text? Explanation and Interpretation” pp 135-150. PDF.
Williams, Raymond. “Mediation.” Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. New York. Oxford University Press, 1976. PDF.