James Joyce: Ulysses
The archetypal novel of high modernism, James Joyce’s Ulysses attempts to synthesize the life of a city, the afterlives of previous literary styles, and the entirety of the Western canon as it stood in the early twentieth century. Since its original publication when it was serialized in the Little Review from March 1918 to March 1920, Ulysses has churned up debates about obscenity, obscurity, gender, sexuality, censorship, technology, urban life, money, ethnicity, good modernism, bad modernism, pop culture, high culture, the ethics of the encyclopedic, the shape of history, and the limits of literature itself. Nominally the story of a single day in Dublin—June 16th, 1904—Ulysses adapts the structure of the Odyssey in order to follow the intertwined wanderings of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, the unheroic heroes of this modern epic. Joyce’s Dublin is a complexly woven tapestry of labor, desire, language, violence, birth, and death. In many ways, Ulysses demands to be read socially, and in terms of questions with decidedly social dimensions: What are the uses—and abuses—of modernist difficulty? How does one read a novel? And how does one read this famously forbidding experimental novel? What does Ulysses have to tell us about the strange affinities among modern politics, aesthetics, and cultural forms?
In this course, we’ll read the entirety of Ulysses, of which Joyce notoriously boasted that he wanted “to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book.” Taking this remark as our origin point, we’ll ask what, exactly Ulysses pictures—and also what we, as readers, can possibly reconstruct out of that image. What does it mean to read Ulysses in our current cultural moment? And why has this novel proven such fruitful ground for literary theory? We’ll pursue these questions through the text of the novel, an investigation of the world of Ulysses’s composition and reception, its immediate material and intellectual contexts, and the uses to which scholars have put this voracious experiment. Supplementary texts are likely to include selections of Derrida, Eliot, Ellmann, Freud, Kenner, Kristeva, Lacan, Pound, and Woolf.
June 04 — June 25, 2017