2. The Hegemony of New Critical Modernism

James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

The same consequences for modern narrative and narrative analysis flow from the Joycean aesthetic Stuart Gilbert adopted at the beginning of James Joyce's 'Ulysses' as the key to proper interpretation:

In his earlier autobiographical novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce, through the mouth of Stephen Dedalus, defines the qualities which, in his view, give aesthetic beauty to a work of art.
"'It awakens, or ought to awaken, or induces, or ought to induce, an aesthetic stasis, an ideal pity or an ideal terror, a stasis called forth, prolonged and at last dissolved by what I call the rhythm of beauty.'
"'What is that exactly?' asked Lynch.
"'Rhythm', said Stephen, 'is the first formal aesthetic relation of part to part in any aesthetic whole or of any aesthetic whole to its part or parts or of any part to the aesthetic whole of which it is a part.'"[46]

As Stuart Gilbert notes, Joyce's formulation is not original, but derived from Coleridge and ultimately from Aquinas. What makes this definition of beauty paradigmatic of New Critical modernism is neither its derivation, however traced, nor the thoroughness and skill with which Joyce encodes this structure into Ulysses. Its discursive significance lies in the fact that Gilbert, with Joyce's well-publicized approval, quoted Stephen's definition as the "key" to Ulysses. A text and a method meet in the collusion of writer and critic. The result is a paradigm of both the modern novel and modern criticism. The "key" makes no mention of the strength of Joyce's narrative--the sequence of words upon the page which makes Ulysses and then Finnegans Wake a pleasure to read without a knowledge or postulated existence of any aesthetic whole. The "key" functions to redirect the reader. Instead of following the horizontal, narrative chain of events and associated images, the reader is instructed to seek out a "rhythm of beauty," pursuing a "vertical" oscillation between part and whole, whole and part.[47] This rhythm substitutes for the "aesthetic stasis" of an omniscient comprehension toward which it aims. That is, the meaning of the text seeks to come to rest in a point of view, a vision of totality, which can only lie outside the text, in the mind of the author or the mind of the reader.[48]

Gilbert moves quickly to make this point, in the process quite literally "naturalizing" the totality envisioned by the author and critical reader:

One of the simpler aspects of this technique--a device which, for all its apparent artificiality, exactly resembles Nature's method--is the presentation of fragments of a theme or allusion in different parts of the work; these fragments have to be assimilated in the reader's mind for him to arrive at complete understanding. "It is a truth perpetually," as Herbert Spencer remarked, "that accumulated acts, lying in disorder, begin to assume some order when an hypothesis is thrown among them." Several such hypotheses are not so much "thrown" as disposed with artfully concealed art amid the welter of accumulated facts in Ulysses. Moreover, again following Nature's method, Joyce depicts only the present time and place of the times and places that are passing, a rapid flux of images. "Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges into the past." It is for the reader to assemble the fragments and join the images into a band. [49]

A more complete concise statement of the principles of New Critical modernism, the techniques of writing and reading with which it has valued itself and reevaluated the literary past, cannot be found. Of the two tasks set for the reader by the writer, the assemblage of a visionary aesthetic whole, a "complete understanding" of the synecdochic nature of the text's fragments, has already been mentioned. The second task is to reconstruct residually a chronological narrative of the information of the text's narrative, piecing together Stephen's and Bloom's biographies. Ulysses has stimulated the production of concordances and chronologies as well as symbol by symbol guidebooks. Thus, everywhere the reading of Ulysses is turned away from the surface flow of its narrative. Its meaning is bound to a contemplative omniscience outside the text, and the wanderings of Bloom are bound to the mythic past or biographically reedited to reveal the linear "band" of a simple life story.

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