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Studies on Joyce’s Ulysses

Jacqueline Genet
Wynne Hellegouarc’h

Joyce’s demystification of the ‘magical beguilements’ of The Sirens

Brian Cosgrove

Texte intégral

1According to legend, the Sirens are bewitching females who, by means of their ravishing song, seduce men – or heroes – from their proper course and lure them to destruction. They bring together music (or singing) and sexual temptation: or, given the powerful emotional appeal of music, we might say that they bring together sentiment and sexual temptation. Central to the legend is their ambivalence: they combine compelling beauty with certain destruction. If they are envisaged as mermaids – and that, apparently, is how Joyce envisaged them for the purposes of the Sirens episode in Ulysses – they then emblematise that dualism in a form traditionally significant (and perplexing?) for the male consciousness.

  • 1 Ulysses: the corrected text, ed. Hans Walter Gabler et al., with a new preface by Richard Ellmann (...)

2In Chapter XII of the Odyssey, the music of the Sirens is treated briefly: the episode is one of a series of tests or ordeals that the hero must pass through unscathed. It is not in the nature of Homer’s narrative to linger over possible ulterior significance. In the Sirens episode in Ulysses, however, ulterior development insistently claims our attention (however much style or technique is “foregrounded”). I want to argue that in Joyce’s Sirens episode one major concern is to demystify music (thereby, perhaps, denying its sentimental appeal), and at the same time demystify women or female sexuality. These reductions may in turn be regarded as twin aspects of the demythologisation of the sirens themselves: for these are, after all, not the creatures of legend, but the barmaids Lydia Douce and Mina Kennedy, and possibly the “frowsy whore”1 whom Bloom encounters towards the end of the episode (legend allows for either two or three sirens). And all of these demystifications may be placed under the general rubric of “irony”.

  • 2 Letters of James Joyce, 3 vols. (vol. I, ed. Stuart Gilbert (1957; repr. New York, 1966); vols. II (...)

3Writing to Harriet Shaw Weaver in August 1919, Joyce, in a phrase that combines the sexual with the musical, speaks of “the seductions of music beyond which Ulysses travels” in the Sirens episode2. The phrase may be taken further to indicate liberation, release from the importunities that the Sirens represent. If we see those importunities primarily in musical terms, then it is Joyce as well as his Ulysses who is to “travel beyond” them. Georges Borach reports a famous comment by Joyce on June 18, 1919: he has just finished the Sirens chapter. “I wrote this chapter,” he tells Borach, “with the technical resources of music”. But he then adds this:

  • 3 Portraits of the Artist in Exile: Recollections of James Joyce by Europeans, ed. Willard Potts (Du (...)

Since exploring them in this chapter, I haven’t cared for music any more. I, the great friend of music, can no longer listen to it. I see through the tricks and can’t enjoy it any more.3

  • 4 The edition of Doctor Faustus (1947) cited is the translation by H.T. Lowe-Porter (1968 ; repr. Pe (...)

4It is a complaint that Joyce repeats to Harriet Shaw Weaver one month later (“Since I wrote the Sirens I find it impossible to listen to music of any kind ...”: Letters, I, 129): like Thomas Mann’s Adrian Leverkühn in Doctor Faustus4, Joyce has apparently seen beyond the technical trickery of music to an essential vacuity. It is clear that, for Mann, Adrian’s predicament is a representative modern one: at this late stage, art is self-consciously or self-reflexively aware of the burden of its own outworn conventions. “Why”, asks Leverkiihn, “does almost everything seem to me like its own parody? Why must I think that almost all, no, all the methods and conventions of art today are good for parody only? ” (Doctor Faustus, p. 131-32). Parody parades technique as virtuosity, while affirming the nugatory or empty nature of such virtuosity. As Adrian’s devyll puts it in Chapter Twenty-five, the danger for the artist lies in the possibility that his compositions become “nothing but the solving of technical puzzles”: and that way lies the “aristocratic nihilism” of parody (Doctor Faustus, p. 233, 235). One could argue that such aesthetic virtuosity as is evident in parody is meant to purge art of its dead conventions: but the nihilistic tendency must be present as the interim danger, whether the modern artist in question be Leverkiihn or Joyce.

5Sirens – “a fugue with all musical notations”, as Joyce described it to Borach (Potts, p. 72) – is clearly parodic of the musical form; and like much of Ulysses, it thrives on that parody. Joyce, however, was capable of expressing misgivings as to the consequences of that artistic avidity that the Faustian scale of his ambition might promote: and not just in the Sirens episode. In a candid confession to Harriet Shaw Weaver, he writes as follows:

The word scorching has a peculiar significance for my superstitious mind not so much because of any quality or merit in the writing itself as for the fact that the progress of the book [Ulysses] is in fact like the progress of some sandblast... each successive episode, dealing with some province of artistic culture (rhetoric or music or dialectic), leaves behind it a burnt up field.
(Letters, I, 129).

  • 5 James Joyce, Dauiel Defoe, ed. from Italian manuscripts and transl. by Joseph Prescott (Buffalo, 1 (...)

6Yet for all the misgivings, there is no sense that Joyce might be ready to abandon his chosen schema. The negation that Joyce here recognises may be the price of power, but such is his devotion to the aesthetic imperative that it is a price he is more than willing to pay. The aesthetic will in such manifestations can hold in manageable form what otherwise might be an unstable nexus of feeling. It is Joyce as well as his Ulysses who successfully “defies and transcends the magical beguilements of music” (a suggestive judgement on Daniel Defoe in Joyce’s 1912 Trieste lecture).5

  • 6 Suzanne Langer, Philosophy in a New Key: a Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite and Art (1942; 3 (...)
  • 7 Aaron Copland, Music and Imagination (1952; repr. New York, 1959), p. 74. The James quotation is f (...)

7One question that suggests itself at this point is whether in fact music can be demystified in this way: unless, that is, there is a wilful determination to accomplish that. In her Philosophy in a New Key, Suzanne Langer grapples with the problem of significance in music; and while she wishes to retain the notion that music entails logical expression, she also argues that music contains a significance for which there is no linguistic equivalent. Possessing its own “symbolic forms”, music “articulates subtle complexes of feeling that language cannot even name, let alone set forth...”6 Music, in fact, presents to our language-centred consciousness, in the most challenging form, the radical idea that something “can be known which cannot be named : ”for “music articulates forms which language cannot set forth” (ibid., p. 232-233). Thus the musicologist J.A. Hüller, writing in the mid-eighteenth century, holds that “it is quite impossible to name everything fascinating in music, and bring it under definite headings”; while for Richard Wagner, “orchestral language” serves to express “just what is unspeakable in verbal language...” (cited in Langer, p. 235). In our own century, Aaron Copland confesses that he feels “more at home with the unsystematic approach”, especially in the field of music: for it is in music in particular that we must “keep open what William James calls the ’irrational doorways... through which... the wildness and the pang of life’ may be glimpsed. The systematic and the irrational are mutually exclusive...”7

  • 8 George Steiner, Real Presences (London, etc., 1989), p. 217-18.

8Most recently, George Steiner, in Real Presences,8 has pleaded with his usual eloquence the case for regarding music as transcendent of “logical structures or verbal expression”. Music “rebukes the arrogance of positivism, of the demand for a quantifiable, for a psychologically evidential or sociologically mapped explanation of things”; it “puts our being as men and women in touch with that which transcends the sayable, which outstrips the analyzable”.

9If we accept any or all of these statements, then we must wonder whether Joyce’s systematic deployment of language in Sirens in an attempt to recreate musical form is not necessarily a vain undertaking: it is a futile essay in the translation of the untranslatable, foredoomed to failure, issuing inevitably as parody, as the mechanics of language approximate not to music – the meaning of which is ’unspeakable’ – but to the mechanics of music. But an important purpose has been served: for one the reduction from music to mechanics has been effected and, in Joyce’s case, accepted, then the rejection of music (with its seductions thus analytically exposed) becomes comparatively easier. But this music is a parodic distortion (or ironic reduction) of what we feel music truly is. Suzanne Langer may be permitted the last word:

... this explanation of music as a high abstraction, and musical experience as a purely logical revelation, does not do justice to the unmistakably sensuous value of tone, the vital nature of its effect, the sense of personal import which we meet in a great composition every time it is repeated to us. Its message is not an immutable abstraction, a bare, unambiguous, fixed concept, as a lesson in the higher mathematics should be. It is always new, no matter how well or how long we have known it, or it loses its meaning; it is not transparent, but iridescent, its values crowd each other, its symbols are inexhaustible.
(Langer, p. 239).

10Joyce’s claim, however, is precisely that the musical, having become under his aesthetic insistence transparent, has indeed lost its meaning. We must enquire further into the possible motivation of that aesthetic will (or presumption). In the remark to Georges Borach (part of which I cited earlier), what strikes us most is the way in which the demystification of music is directly linked with the other major demystification – that of women. Joyce refers to the fugal form of the Sirens episode, the presence, too, of an operatic quintet, and then proceeds as follows:

The barmaids have the upper parts of women and the lower of fish. From in front you see bosom and head. But if you stand behind the bar, you see filth, the empty bottles on the floor, the ugly shoes of the women and so on – only disgusting things.
(Potts, p. 72).

11This is not quite King Lear’s

Down from the waist they are Centaurs,
Though women all above.
But to the girdle do the gods inherit,
Beneath is all the fiend’s
(IV.VI 123-26);

12but a blatant dualism is potentially or provisionally present in Joyce’s mermaids, as it is actively and obsessively present in Lear’s centaurs. Joyce’s ironic reduction looks, we assume, away from Lear’s tragic abyss to the sanity of the comic; yet, as a necessary resolution of the dualism, such an ironic reduction must be made, and Joyce is not to permit himself to be “a dupe of the angelic side of women”. So it seemed to Louis Gillet: and what makes Gillet’s comment all the more interesting is that it occurs in a context in which Gillet, considering Joyce’s passion for singing, notes his curious reservations about the attractiveness of the female voice:

He set little value on feminine voices, neither the soprano, nor the mezzo, nor the contralto found any favour in his hard-to-please ears; he always detected in them something imperfect, as if an impure expression of nature gave itself away even in this most immaterial form. He was not a dupe of the angelic side of women... here again one can find a classical pessimist, a determined misogynist.
(Potts, p. 195).

13Joyce’s resistance to the “maginal beguilements” of music is intimately connected with a refusal to be the “dupe of the angelic side of women”; there is, in the Sirens episode, a recurrent interplay between music and (female) sexuality, and both are to be simultaneously demystified. Such are the full theoretical implications of Joyce’s extended comment to Georges Borach; though what remains to be seen is the extent to which those theoretical possibilities are actualised in the writing itself.

14The Sirens episode, as its theme and title require, is obsessively concerned with music, particularly singing; what makes the sexual reference unavoidable – what justifies it, if such justification is necessary – is the brief appearance of Blazes Boylan in the Ormond bar just prior to his illicit assignation with Molly. Boylan has a quick drink with Lenehan, but is impatient to be gone:

- Wait a shake, begged Lenehan, drinking quickly. I wanted to tell you. Tom Rochford...
- Come on to blazes, said Blazes Boylan, going. Lenehan gulped to go.
- Got the horn or what? he said. Wait. I’m coming.
(U, p. 219).

  • 9 Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (1959; rvd. ed., New York, etc., 1982), p. 460: hereafter cited as El (...)

15At a concert in Zurich in 1919, shortly after he has completed Sirens, Joyce amused his companion Ottocaro Weiss by “describing the obscene implications of each musical instrument in turn”9. In the case of Boylan’s horn, something of a reverse process is indicated: initially obscene, the word horn can return us to the comparatively more innocent world of music. But whichever direction this interplay takes, it is recurrent throughout; and the counter-movement from the innocently musical to the sexual is (with the assistance of further double entendre) established as early as the short prelude of tuning up section:

Tiny, her tremulous fernfoils of maidenhair.
Amen! He gnashed in fury.
Fro. To, fro. A baton cool protruding.
(U, p. 211).

16The constantly imminent double entendre – as with horn or baton-may make the reader tread warily through his shifting text: but it also alerts him to the pleasurable perception of unexpected connexions of the kind we associate with it. Thus Bloom on the inadequacies of the female voice, as instanced by M’Coy’s wife: “They can’t manage men’s intervals. Gap in their voices too. Fill me. I’m warm, dark, open” (U, p. 232). Or the male singers themselves become conscious of the possible parallels:

- Sure, you’d burst the tympanum of her ear, man, Mr. Dedalus said through smoke aroma, with an organ like yours.
In bearded abundant laughter Dollard shook upon the keyboard. He would.
- Not to mention another membrane, Father Cowley added...
(U, p. 222).

17The main focus, however, is on female sexuality and its possible implication with the musical – sometimes rather deliberately insisted upon, as in Bloom’s reflection as he observes Lydia Douce listening to “The Croppy Boy”: “Body of white woman, a flute alive. Blow gentle. Loud, three holes all women” (U, p. 234).

18It is, in fact, through this pragmatic and reductive consciousness of Bloom that most of the evaluations are rendered. Bloom prudently resists the blandishments of music, as the exigencies of his own personal predicament require: much of the music is an invitation to nostalgia or melancholy (“All is lost now”, U, p. 224) and Bloom cannot afford to yield to the depression of spirits that Molly’s betrayed might provoke. His strategy must be (as he observes himself in a totally different context, with reference to Richie Goulding’s backache pills) to “Stave it off awhile” (and one assumes there is no need to point to the musical pun in stave). The staving means allowing the singing to fill in a possible hour of vacancy at that time of the day, without taking it as seriously as its own insistent appeal would demand. “Music hath charms” (U, p. 230), charms of a seductive kind which would lure us away from reality; a point made in the episode not by Bloom but by the narrative voice commenting on Simon Dedalus’s high note in M’appari:

It soared, a bird, it held its flight, a swift pure cry, soar silver orb it leaped serene, speeding, sustained, to come, don’t spin it out too long long breath he breath long life, soaring high, high resplendent, aflame, crowned, high in the effulgence symbolistic, high, of the etherial bosom, high, of the high vast irradiation everywhere all soaring all around about the all, the endlessnessnessness..........
(U, p. 226-27).

19It is an interestingly ambivalent passage. It may contain the implicit recognition that language cannot after all capture or re-create the musical effect (cannot speak the unspeakable); or, as the language progressively empties itself of meaning (“all soaring all around about the all”), it may be meant (and be taken) as an ironic reflection of the musical note’s essential meaninglessness. At the very least, the language remains warily independent of the musical charm it is supposed to be describing: just as Bloom cannily refuses to be taken in by any claim to transcendent meaning music might appear to make, and instead reduces it to manageable proportions. It is all simply a matter of mathematics:

Numbers it is. All music when you come to think. Two multiplied by two divided by half is twice one. Vibrations: chords those are. One plus two plus six is seven. Do anything you like with figures juggling. Always find out this equal to that ... Musemathematics. And you think you’re listening to the etherial. But suppose you said it like: Martha, seven times nine minus x is thirty five thousand. Fall quite flat, it’s on account of the sounds it is.
(U, p. 228).

20It is essential to Bloom’s situation that his own prudently analytical thought-processes be allowed free play: and to Bloom, once he has left the Ormond, music appears as a “kind of drunkenness”, a narcotic that holds its enthusiasts spellbound, cutting them off from salutary thought-processes: “Thinking strictly prohibited” (U, p. 236).

21Bloom has his own exigent reasons for demystifying music and holding onto his own wary consciousness (“Music. Gets on your nerves” (U, p. 236): for him, “Love’s Old Sweet Song” is not an excuse for sentimental self-indulgence but (if he is alert enough to heed it) a reminder of the unsentimental coupling of Blazes and his wife. (In Sirens, “Love’s Old Sweet Song” appears only as “love’s old sweet song” (U, p. 225), but increasingly it becomes the ironic motif of Molly’s adulterous liaison).

22In both Bloom’s meditation on Musemathematics, and the narrator’s attempted description of Simon Dedalus’ high note, there is one significantly shared preoccupation: that is, a suspicion of the etherial, the disembodied (highlighted in the narrator’s “etherial bosom”, which we accept less as oxymoron than as plain contradiction). To counterpoise any such etherialisation, Bloom’s mind is brought to bear on the obvious pun in “Chamber music”:

It is a kind of music I often thought when she. Acoustics that is. Tinkling. Empty vessels make most noise. Because the acoustics, the resonance changes according as the weight of the water is equal to the law of falling water.
(U, p. 232).

  • 10 Clive Hart, “James Joyce’s Sentimentality”, Philological Quarterly, XLVI (1967), 521.

23We shift, inevitably, from Bloom to his creator here, recalling the title of Joyce’s first book of poetry which, as Clive Hart reminds us, “whatever its origin, is plainly urinary in overtone...”10 The suspicion of the ethereal in music, and the flight from that to the reliably physical, culminates in Bloom’s own irresistible musical utterance at the climax of the episode, the blatant rectal song of the body, the most famous fart in literature: Pprrpffrrppffff (U, p. 239).

24I argued earlier that the demystification of music is implicit in the whole ambitious technique of Sirens: what Joyce in effect offers is a parodic distortion or ironic reduction of the musical, more obvious in some sequences than in others. I take it, for exemple, that the following is parodie of a certain kind of closure in, say, Mozart, especially perhaps in an overture:

Bald Pat who is bothered mitred the napkins. Pat is a waiter hard of his hearing. Pat is a waiter who waits while you wait. Hee hee hee hee. He waits while you wait. Hee hee. A waiter is he Hee hee hee hee. He waits while you wait. While you wait if you wait he will wait while you wait. Hee hee hee hee. Hoh. Wait while you wait.
(U, p. 230).

25Given the implications of Joyce’s statement to Borach, we might expect the demystification of women to be equally in evidence; but this, in fact, is not really the case. The revelation of the lower nature of Joyce’s mermaids is somewhat perfunctory. “Bronze by gold” (U, p. 211), caught occasionally in the “Bright light” of the window or reflected in “the barmirror gildedlettered” (212), Lydia and Mina possess an initial charm; but their conversational exchanges rapidly bring them within the range of the all-too-human:

- O saints above! miss Douce said, sighed above her jumping rose. I wish I hadn’t laughed so much. I feel all wet.
- O, miss Douce! miss Kennedy protested. You horrid thing!
(U, p. 214).

26If the contrast here is meant to be ironic, then one must record one’s feeling that there is a certain lack of tension. Equally, the perception of “disgusting things” behind the bar promised in the comment to Borach is only briefly presented. Bloom sees “real beauty” in Lydia’s eye as she listens to “The Croppy Boy”; her bosom heaves with the “breath that is life”; and the rose she wears on her satiny dress-front carries the rich sensuous charge of feminity. If Bloom changes his perspective, however, he can, as he realises, see a different picture:

See her from here though. Popped corks,
splashes of beerfroth, stacks of empties.
(U, p. 234-35).

27But curiously the actual text has toned down the “disgusting things” mentioned to Borach: the presentation is less vigorous, more neutral. The introduction of the “frowsy whore with black straw sailor hat askew” towards the end of the episode (the sailor hat presumably a trophy from one of this siren’s victims) is more blatant, but perhaps too blatant; though when Bloom observes that she looks “a fright in the day. Face like dip” (U, p. 238), we are bound to recall a similar comment made by Joyce at the Ritz in Paris in 1922. When his attention was directed to a famous beauty passing by their table, and he was told that she was accessible only to the rich and famous, Joyce tartly informed his company: “She would look very different at five o’clock in the morning without the dress and makeup” (Ellmann, p. 381n.).

28More interesting, however, in the Sirens episode than this possible deflation of feminine beauty is an ironic reduction of sentiment that glances both at women and music. Thus in Bloom’s mind, the tenderness potentially present in the singing of M’appari finds its proper expression in a vocabulary that is obviously sexual:

Tenderness it welled: slow, swelling, full it throbbed... Throb, a throb, a pulsing proud erect...
Bloom. Flood of warm jamjam lickitup
secretness flowed to flow in music out, in desire,
dark to lick flow invading. Tipping her tepping her
Tapping her topping her ... Tup. To pour o’er sluices
pouring gushes. Flood, gush, flow, joygush, tupthrob.
Now! Language of love.

  • 11 The vocabulary here may owe something to some of the sexually-charged utterances in Shakespeare’s (...)

(U, p. 225-26).11

29“Love’s Old Sweet Song” (sentimental version) is really, always and ever, “love’s old sweet song” (unsentimental – sexual – version): and when Joyce turns his full ironic gaze on the potential self-deception in this contrast, his glee in the unmasking process is unmistakable. This is, again, Lydia giving all of her compassionate attention to the fate of “The Croppy Boy” (in a passage which elaborates the prelude’s briefer reference to a “baton cool protruding”):

On the smooth jutting beerpull laid Lydia hand, lightly, plumply, leave it to my hands. All lost in pity for croppy. Fro, to: to, fro: over the polished knob (she knows his eyes, my eyes, her eyes) her thumb and finger passed in pity: passed, reposed and, gently touching, then slid smoothly, slowly down, a cool firm white enamel baton protruding through their sliding ring.
(U, p. 235).

30This is the passage that follows on immediately from Bloom’s realistic perception of “popped corks, splashes of beerfroth, stacks of empties”; and – pace Joyce in his comments to Borach – it is in this beerpull passage rather than in Bloom’s perception that the real ironic reduction occurs. No dupe of “the angelic side of women”, Joyce is likewise undeceived by the sentimental disguises the female sexual nature will assume. His most ironic treatment of such sentimental disguise is to occur subsequently in Nausikaa: in the meantime, in Sirens, the expose of that kind of sentimental disguise can be taken as merely one comparatively small aspect of the more sustained ironic resistance to the sentimental appeal of music.

31Looking back over what I have just written, I am conscious of a certain tendentiousness or single-mindedness in my argument. One possible further question is this: given that there is a highly problematic aspect to Joyce’s attitudes to both women and sentiment, is it necessarily the case that these must be imported – in a duplicative way – into his text? Or is there not, rather, something in the very nature of the text – something we might indicate by such terms as therapeutic, liberating – that turns potential personal inadequacy into textual capital, artistic gain?

32If Joyce’s own attitudes are profoundly dualistic, it need not follow that the text is trapped in that dualism: it may, rather, be a flight from it. Given a culture – the Irish Catholic – that establishes an impossible polarity between Virgin and actual biological woman, the artist is bound to register the related tensions even as he strives to resolve them. Thus, if music / sentimentality is polarised by sexuality, then the artist may deploy his irony not to collapse the higher into the lower, but to bring them into playful – or humorous – conjunction. The “sonnez la cloche” episode in Sirens seems to constitute some such point of playful reconciliation. At Lenehan’s urging (though primarily for Boylan’s benefit), Lydia Douce strikes her own note:

Bending, she nipped a peak of skirt above her knee. Delayed. Taunted them still, bending, suspending with wilful eyes.
- Sonnez!
Smack. She set free sudden in rebound her nipped elastic garter smackwarm against her smackable a woman’s warmhosed thigh.
(U, p. 219).

33This is a music that far from pointing to the etherial (whatever that might be) derives its resonance from its intimate involvement with the warmly female physical. The movement is towards inclusiveness rather than opposition: and if we return to re-read the sequence about Lydia’s hand on the beerpull, we may now have to ask whether a similar inclusiveness is not potentially present. The phallic caress, that is, need not cancel the pity (U, p. 235); the irony need not be reductive/destructive, but promote a humorous (and tolerant) extension of awareness. In the letter he wrote to Harriet Shaw Weaver in July, 1919, Joyce remarked: “The elements needed will only fuse after a prolonged existence together” (Letters, I, 128). Can we apply this in the most general terms to Sirens As we make our retrospective response to the episode, are we not primarily aware of a rich panorama of character and episode, enlivened by dialogue, humour, and song?

  • 12 The precise implications of Friedrich Schlegel’s concept of irony have been much debated: some use (...)

34If such is the case, then the irony in the piece may be deemed more Schlegelian than Flaubertian. In Friedrich Schlegel’s type of irony, the ambition is for a playful incorporation of the totality of our experience, the good-humoured acknowledgement of our inescapable paradoxes: such irony enjoys its deflationary privileges, but is not activated (as it sometimes seems Flaubertian irony may be) by a sour disillusionment (the hidden motive, perhaps, behind the inflation of the claims of Art and the assertion of the aesthetic will at the expense of, rather than in response to, the muddle of existence.)12. Any such possible sourness of tone may be banished by humour: and insofar as Joyce’s ironic strategies are subservient to such humour, imminent negation is held in check. Whatever masks – in the Nietzschean sense – the young and not-so-young Joyce was moved to adopt, the most successful and humane mask of the practising writer is that of humour.

35Yet we must ourselves avoid sentimental conclusions, if the humour is truly a mask, then it is still a mask called forth by severe personal exigencies; if negation and disillusionment are held in check, they are also held in reserve. The dilemmas posed by ironic consciousness are not – and were not always for Joyce – to be so readily resolved in the facility of laughter. As the text, after its temporary dissolution in laughter, reconstitutes itself, the tensions may return to plague the interpreter.


1 Ulysses: the corrected text, ed. Hans Walter Gabler et al., with a new preface by Richard Ellmann (Penguin Modern Classics, 1984), p. 238: hereafter cited as U.

2 Letters of James Joyce, 3 vols. (vol. I, ed. Stuart Gilbert (1957; repr. New York, 1966); vols. II and III, ed. Richard Ellmann (New York, 1966), I, 129. Hereafter cited as Letters.

3 Portraits of the Artist in Exile: Recollections of James Joyce by Europeans, ed. Willard Potts (Dublin/Seattle, 1979), p. 72: hereafter cited as Potts.

4 The edition of Doctor Faustus (1947) cited is the translation by H.T. Lowe-Porter (1968 ; repr. Penguin Modern Classics, 1985).

5 James Joyce, Dauiel Defoe, ed. from Italian manuscripts and transl. by Joseph Prescott (Buffalo, 1964), p. 22: “The realism... of this writer defies and transcends the magical beguilements (le magiche frodi) of music.”

6 Suzanne Langer, Philosophy in a New Key: a Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite and Art (1942; 3rd. ed., Cambridge, Mass., 1969), p. 224, 222. Hereafter cited as Langer.

7 Aaron Copland, Music and Imagination (1952; repr. New York, 1959), p. 74. The James quotation is from The Varieties of Religious Experience.

8 George Steiner, Real Presences (London, etc., 1989), p. 217-18.

9 Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (1959; rvd. ed., New York, etc., 1982), p. 460: hereafter cited as Ellmann.

10 Clive Hart, “James Joyce’s Sentimentality”, Philological Quarterly, XLVI (1967), 521.

11 The vocabulary here may owe something to some of the sexually-charged utterances in Shakespeare’s Othello and The Winter’s Tale. For Tup, see Othello, I, i, 88-89 (“an old black ram / Is tupping your white ewe”); while sluices recalls The Winter’s Tale, I, ii, 194 (“she has been sluic’d in’s absence”).

12 The precise implications of Friedrich Schlegel’s concept of irony have been much debated: some useful elucidation will be found in Hans Eichner, Friedrich Schlegel (New York, 1970), Anne K. Mellor, English Romantic Irony (Cambridge, Mass., 1980), and Raymond Immerwahr’s article in The Germanic Review, XXVI (1951). Such irony can be interpreted, in the first instance, as a means of expressing the paradoxical nature of the world and of human experience. Faced with the world’s bewildering plenitude and the recurrent paradoxes in experience, we require a flexibility of response to match and meet such multiplicity. That flexibility is provided by irony which, for Schlegel, co-exists with a fluid comic sense, allowing the author a playful freedom. Thus Schlegel envisages a humane and playful author-God behind the works of Cervantes, Shakespeare, or Goethe: the author of Wilhelm Meister, for example, is one who seems “to smile down from the heights of his spirit upon his masterwork” (cited by René Wellek, A History of Modem Criticcism, 5 vols., II (London, 1955), 15).
It is this awareness of art as play, and of the artist’s capricious freedom, which marks one essential distinction between Schlegel’s ironic author and Flaubert’s: Schlegel’s ironist is free to indulge his sense of humour in a manner quite alien to Flaubert’s pitiless and impassive creator (“Homer, Rabelais, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Goethe”, Flaubert informs Louise Colet, “seem to me pitiless” (impitoyables: Gustave Flaubert, Correspondance: Nouvelle Edition Augmentée, 9 vols. (1926-33), III (Paris, 1927), 322: August 26, 1853). It is not surprising that Henry James, writing in 1893, felt obliged to ponder the lack of “ultimate good-humour” in Flaubert: how, he wondered, “can art be so genuine and yet so unconsoled, so unhumorous, so unsociable?” Flaubert, in his “extraordinary singleness of aim”, presents us with “the artist not only disinterested but absolutely dishumanized” (James, Selected Literary Criticism, ed. M. Shapira (1963; repr. London, 1964), p. 148, 141, 140). Flaubert’s absolutist sense of Art, and his ascetic dedication to that ideal, may appear all the more extravagant and misplaced if we think by contrast of Schlegel’s ironist who can commit himself irrevocably to nothing, least of all perhaps to the fictional creations of one’s own mind (for irony becomes, for the author, finally self-reflexive, turned against himself and his own imperfect medium).
The importance of Flaubert as an influence on Joyce has, one should add, been thoroughly documented: see, for example, Richard K. Cross, Flaubert and Joyce: the Rite of Fiction (Princeton, 1971), as well as relevant sections of Frank Budgen’s James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses.


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