2. The Hegemony of New Critical Modernism
T. S. Eliot: Ulysses, Order, and Myth
Before attending to the imaginative consequences of the critical and literary consensus Gilbert and Joyce forged in 1930, we would do well to consider its direct inspiration: T. S. Eliot's 1923 essay, "Ulysses, Order, and Myth." Eliot's Dial essay makes clear that the paradigmatic New Critical novel was to seal narrative's fate. Writing before Gilbert and Joyce, Eliot entered the critical discourse that represents and so legitimates changes in the novel's form as historical necessity:
In using the myth, in manipulating a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity, Mr. Joyce is pursuing a method which others must pursue after him. [....] It is simply a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history. It is a method already adumbrated by Mr. Yeats, and of the need for which I believe Mr. Yeats to have been the first contemporary to be conscious. It is a method for which the horoscope is auspicious. Psychology (such as it is, and whether our reaction to it be comic or serious), ethnology, and The Golden Bough have concurred to make possible what was impossible even a few years ago. Instead of narrative method, we may now use the mythical method.
Eliot's enthusiasm for the mythic method is evident. In his hands, the mythic method doubly imprisons narrative in symbolic structures. First, Bloom's wanderings are situated as part of a "panorama." Following Joyce's narrative is preliminary to the act of sitting back, reflecting, taking it all in. Meaning obtains when reflection constitutes a single point of view upon this "panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history."
Second, the "continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity" draws together past and present narratives as manifestations of a single, transhistorical mythic (un)consciousness. Eliot presents the choice of the classical narrative base as almost arbitrary, "simply a way" among others, provided the chosen narrative be sufficiently ancient that it may be construed as naive, instinctual, and culturally rudimentary. Mere parallel construction is not sufficient. To this the obscurity of Robert M. Coates ambitious parody of mythic method, Yesterday's Burdens, continues to testify. Based upon Poe's "Man of the Crowd," Coates' story of Henderson refuses to resolve into a single focused point of view, or even a single narrative line--the narrative deviates and circles upon itself and New York City with parenthetical alternatives of phrasing and sentence, culminating, or not, in two conclusions. Only when subsequent analysis can draw upon psychology and anthropology to discover the symbols of an instinctual point of view may the New Critical psychic/symbolic/mythic "parallel" be completed. Caught between conscious and unconscious points of view, the actual narrative techniques of both the archaic myth and the modern parallel may be neglected--overdetermined, narrative ceases to be a critical problem.