The Mosaic Bloom:
Parody As A Reflection of Personality in James Joyce's 'Ulysses'
Throughout 'Ulysses', James Joyce reflexivly parodies his own characters and situations, often by parodying the works of others. This is present from the very first episode, where Stephen's actions in the Martello Tower burlesque Hamlet's speechifying. As Joyce describes 'Ulysses' as a 'comic novel', this is hardly surprising. The parodic elements, though, are not just used for humor. Through their constant use and form in the novel, they add and expand to the internal world of the book. Most signficantly, they reflect the multiplicity of discourses that shape and mirror the conciousness of modern man. Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, and the various supporting characters reveal more of themselves through their interactions with the mockery going on around them, and that mockery introduces more layers into the text. This is aptly represented in the 'Eumeus' episode, as glossed by Stuart Gilbert:
The technic of this episode, gigantisim, at first produces the impression of a series of merely parodic effects. At intervals the narration is taken out of the mouth of the nondescript vulgarian and becomes mock-heroic, Gargantuan, pseudo-scientific, or antiquarian in style. This technic often amounts to parody, but it is parody of a special and ppropriate kind. The method here is the inflation of certain themes to bursting-point, or the projection of Cyclopean shadows of human forms on the sides of a cavern. Thus an early allusion to the apperacne of the Citizen is followed by the 'gigantic' description of him, distended to monstrous dimensions.1
The technique of the episodes fit with the schema of the book, the internal thoughts of the characters, and the external realities of their situations. Thus, in Cyclops an argument in a pub is, in some sense, clear: the the positions are clear and who is speaking is clear. Though the Citizen is unnamed, his position is firm: he is the Nationalist, inveighing against the Outsider Bloom. The grotesque parodies, while undermining his words, do not undermine his role: he may be strange as a legendary Irish hero, but he is still an Irish hero. Likewise, Bloom's vision of redemption fits with his own character: Jewish, overblown, slightly rediculous. The parody is concious of itself as parody, and the styles are easily identified. In their length, many of the parodies could be standalone articles for a satirical journal (once again fitting in with the jovial, though slightly sinister, atmosphere of the pub). All through the book characters have been made to look faintly ridculous, faintly exagerrated versions of themselves (indeed, this can be seen as a major theme of the book).
The narration is not entirely 'taken out of the mouth? of the Citizen, though-- it comes, as does the rest of the book, from his own mind and his self-image. We are witness to the boozy self-confidence and parochial nationalism that makes any beer-hall man an orator. In the process of this gigantism, though, we also see the rhetoric's source. Its like the old computer phrase: Garbage In, Garbage Out. What is being said is an exagerrated parody of the Citizen's own rhetoric which is itself informed by those discourses with inform him. He reads a passage of translated Irish myth; in his drunkness he tries to reflect it through allusion but Joyce spits it out whole for everybody to see.
In a complex narrative world we can reinforce our belief by writing scholarly analyses or fanzine articles that analyze the underlying assumptions of the world, whether they concern Irish history or matter replicators. Encyclopedic writers like James Joyce, Faulkner, Tolkien or Gene Roddenberry Creator of 'Star Trek evoke this kind of response by the encyclopedic detail and intricacy with which they present their fictional creations. Such immersive stories invite our prarticipation by offering us many things to keep track of and by rewarding our attention with a consistency of imagination.2
The parodic elements in 'Ulysses' contribute to the process of magnification/identification. The book is 'deep'-- there is more then the surface action, and 'parody', loosly defined, is part of that. Its also part of the self-reflesivity-- not only is Joyce parodying himself, but he is parodying his own characters and his own influences. This is part of what Umberto Eco describes as a 'closed universe':
In all of these cases, the system of suggestions does not go beyond the book to suggest a possible Absolute, a Verb as it was for Mallarme. The multiple suggestions are systematically linked by internal relationships. It is true that there are many exits, that the same symbol can send us back to the Trinitarian model, to the Homeric paralellel, to the technical structure of the chapters, to the minor key symbols that strategically support the frame of the book without ever interjecting a definate rule as to how to interpret it. Nevertheless, the reader is always compelled to look for his interpretation within the book. The book is a labyrinthic territory where it is possible to move in many directions and to discover an infinite series of choices; but it is at the same time a closed universe, a cosmos beyond which there is nothing.3
Let us take what Eco says as true: that everything in the book is linked to itself, to everything else, to the characters, and to the scehma as the novel of a whole. We will examine this, then, as a coherant work of linked nodes; every choice has a purpose and every choice can be decoded. What does this say for the end of the 'Cyclops' epsisode, quoted below?
You never saw the like of it in all your born puff. Gob, if he got that lottery ticket on the side of his poll he'd remember the gold cup, he would so, but begob the citizen would have been lagged for assault and battery and Joe for aiding and abetting. The jarvey saved his life by furious driving as sure as God made Moses. What? O, Jesus, he did. And he let a volley of oaths after him.
-- Did I kill him, says he, or what?
And he shouting to the bloody dog:
-- After him, Garry! After him, boy!
And the last we saw was the bloody car rounding the corner and old sheepface on it gesticulating and the bloody mongrel after it with his lugs back for all he was bloody well worth to tear him limb from limb. Hundred to five! Jesus, he took the value of it out of him, I promise you.
When, lo, there came about them all a great brightness and they beheld the chariot wherein He stood ascend to heaven. And they beheld Him in the chariot, clothed upon in the glory of the brightness, having raiment as of the sun, fair as the moon and terrible that for awe they durst not look upon Him. And there came a voice out of heaven, calling: Elijah! Elijah! And he answered with a main cry: Abba! Adonai! And they beheld Him even Him, ben Bloom Elijah, amid clouds of angels ascend to the glory of the brightness at an angle of fortyfive degrees over Donohoe's in Little Green Street like a shot off a shovel.4
To the extent that these passages are reflexsive they are reflexsive of recurring motifs in the book-- Bloom's strange religioius status as the only member of his 'Tribe' in the story-- as the representative Jew-- which leads to many Mosaic paralellels. They also, to some extent, keep seriousness at a distence-- the book is one one level, a comedy, and the parody keeps that tone. If 'Cyclops' was told naturalistically, much of the novel's qualties would be lost. We would have the simple diadicitism of a an anti-Semite harrying a Jew, a situation excerbated by various misunderstandings. Psychological depth would have to come from internal monologue or external sources.
By using parody, though, Joyce does several things simultaneously. He shows us quite graphically the discourses that inform the characters' thoughts and actions. The above scene, for instance, is (in form) like of a Biblical passage and an an Irish comedy. It exagerrates a simple action (Bloom's expulsion from Barney Kiernan's pub) to the point of absurdity, and in doing so links to the rest of the novel.
Its not just the act of exagerration and parody thats important, though: its the way its used in the episode. By being so constant and so long, each parodic scene reinforces the internal world of the characters (though within each scene there are bits that connect to the rest of the novel). To put it bluntly: these men are big talkers. They are drunk, and they're making lots of stuff up. The narrarator reflects that by taking the idea to its insane conclusion (as he does with other characters in other parts of the book).
This construction, though, is a deconstruction. The Citizen may appear big to himself, but when he is reduced to the sum of all his influences he acquires a humourous character. This humor is mitigated, though, by the many beautiful passages in the parodic sequences. Joyce shows his humanistic side here by allowing a bit of the glory of all of it to shine through. Yes, the Citizen cannot live up to his Irish heroic ideal, but he can be reflected in fragments of that ideal. Bloom, though at first unsuited to the role of Elijah, has his status as hero of the novel reconfirmed by the end of the episode. If his revolt against the Citizen is initially mocked by the narrarator it is, in a sense, vindicated-- he rides out on the chariot.
The main purpose of the parody, though, seems to make this sort of interpretation impossible. The text is slippery, and there are points where it seems obvious that Joyce is simiply having fun with language, making up strange names for tree-brides because he can. This is not to denigrate it-- language is a wonderful thing, and Joyce uses it with extrodinary suppleness. By weighing everything down with meanings, though, he may be freeing himself up for some 'meaningless', Buck Mulligenesque fun (one gets the sense that Gogarty/Mulligan would not have tolerated Joyce had he not a sense of humor). It is impossible to tell because we are acusomted to thinking of everything as having a Vicoian recursivness. The figure of the trees may be a gag based on a newspaper story Joyce read, but it may also be the Wood of Suicides from Dante's Inferno or a prefiguration of Molly Bloom's transformation into Gallus-Tellus, the Earth Goddess.
Another such transformation is explicated in the 'Eumaeus' chapter, where Bloom and Stephen, in meeting a sailor, find themselves confronted by another aspect of Odysseus, the wanderer whose voyages unknowingly underpin their day:
The redbearded sailor, who had his weather eye on the newcomers, boarded Stephen, whom he had singled out for attention in particular, squarely by asking:
-- And what might your name be?
Just in the nick of time Mr Bloom touched his companion's boot but Stephen, apparently disregarding the warm pressure, from an unexpected quarter, answered:
The sailor stared at him heavily from a pair of drowsy baggy eyes, rather bunged up from excessive use of boose, preferably good old Hollands and water.
-- You know Simon Dedalus? he asked at length.
-- I've heard of him, Stephen said.
Mr Bloom was all at sea for a moment, seeing the others evidently eavesdropping too.
-- He's Irish, the seaman bold affirmed, staring still in much the same way and nodding. All Irish.
-- All too Irish, Stephen rejoined.5
Here, once again, we see the multiplication of personage, symbol, and point of view that allows for the encylopedic effect of the novel. Bloom is Bloom, yes, but he is mirrored in the sailor, returning home after a long absence-- and this mirroring becomes self-reflexsive. The readers, with acces to the schema, know that Bloom is Ulysses and that the sailor is yet another aspect of him. Bloom, however, does not know that. Part of the humor of the Eumaeus chapter is seeing Bloom and Stephen, because of their drunkeness, tired state, and status as characters in a book, unaware of the drama in which they play a part.
This is most accuratly represented in the scene with the Italians, where Bloom assumes they are speaking a very romantic speech while they are merely arguing about money. There is a bit of the opposite here-- none of the characters can see the whole picture.
This ties into something which Modernism tried to address: the position of man in a society without the certainties of religion and politics. Bloom and Stephen flounder, trying to position themselves in hiarchies of their own making. Part of the parodic effect is these imperfect mimicings. At the end of the 'Cyclops' episode, for example, Bloom identifies with the prophet Elijah and renames himself approrpiately. In other parts of the novel Bloom is a Mosaic figure (in the ?resembling Moses? sense, though the other meaning applies) or is transmuted into ?Henry Flower? or an anagram of his name. He is seeking some stable identity for himself.
The author/narrator mocks him in his efforts, though, by presenting Bloom with so many models (some he can grasp, such as Moses while some, like the Dantean paralellel escape him) that he is never sure who or what he is. This is accutly rendered in the 'Circe' episode, where Bloom becomes multi-gendered, multi-voiced, and multi-faceted. He is lost, utterly unstable, and in 'Eumaeus' this reaches its end. When conciousness is stripped away in the late hours of the night who were are is often revealed (or so it seems) and in this phantasmagoria semi-dream Bloom is revealed as many things. Trying to grasp his own self is like grasping Stephen's 'fourworded wavespeech'-- it can't be done. There is, simply, too much.
1. Gilbert, Stuart, ?James Joyce's Ulysses?. Peregrine Books, Bristol: 1963 pg 239
2. Murray, Janet H. ?Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace
Press: 2000. pg 110-111
3 Eco, Umberto. ?The Middle Ages
of James Joyce?.Hutchinson Radius: 198. pg 54
4. Joyce, James. ?Ulysses
?. Text from http://www.robotwisdom.com/jaj/ulysses/cyclops2.html
(unsure of edition; used this text for ease of citation)