By C. George SANDULESCU, London
(This book was published by A Wake Newslitter Press in Colchester in 1979.)
Even before the turn of the century a new approach to the writing of fiction was making itself manifest in Europe. It developed along the line of limiting and even completely suppressing overt interventions by the author, with the attention mainly focused on the characters’ inner life. During the years of the First World War and afterwards, this tendency gained in scope, and several novelists working independently in different countries of Europe produced novels evincing a manifest break with so far established fictional tradition. But it was only in the early twenties especially after the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922 that the profound implications of this new direction began to make themselves more generally felt, and the sources and early beginnings were more clearly detected.
As this tendency dominated the experimental novel of the twenties and the thirties of the present century, it is well worth a closer scrutiny and analysis. One of its most striking characteristics is the writer’s assumption of what Leon Edel called the mind’s-eye view, his growing emphasis on the inner working of the human mind, the novelist himself becoming, as it were, an explorer of the country of the mind, but concurrently receding his omniscient presence as far into the background as was esthetically possible within the conventions of the genre. This endeavour provided fiction with a new method of writing – to become gradually known under the name of ‘stream of consciousness’ –, the practical consequences of which were quite considerable in the sense that it brought about a great change in novel writing, revolutionising the art and giving birth to new techniques and a renewed use of existing devices.
It is practically impossible, I suppose, to deny the fact that the period since about 1880 had been one of unprecedented technical experiment in the novel. The names of Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Proust, Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Faulkner are irrefutable proofs in support of that statement; such novelists have not only turned the novel into a serious art form, but also explored its possibilities beyond previously set boundaries, and considerably broadened its horizons. And once the novel became a serious and acknowledged art form in its own right, the novelist, in his turn becoming fully conscious of his craft, the concern with the internal organization of the novel becomes manifest and innovation in character presentation has the upper hand.
The shift that revolutionized the art of fiction providing new purposes as well as a new perspective and technical means started with Henry James. He was the first to object to authorial intrusion in the form of editorial asides and devised his post-of-observation method to bypass it; by doing so he not only laid particular emphasis on the characters’ inner life in the past-present-future perspective, but also increased the reader’s active participation. It is not an exaggeration to state that James shares these preoccupations with Joseph Conrad, whom he greatly influenced, and with Proust; and it is these very features that will form the core and starting point of Joyce’s aesthetic strategy. In fact, all these aspects are crystallized in the conception of aesthetic distancing and point of view. It is this very question of both distancing and multiple points of view in relation to reality that is handled in an interesting way by Ortega y Gasset in his book The Dehumanization of Art: and Notes on the Novel.
To distinguish between the emotion one feels in a ‘lived’ situation and aesthetic emotion, Ortega expands on the idea of aesthetic distance. Let us imagine, he says, a human situation – a death-bed scene for example, when those present include the widow, a doctor, a reporter, and an artist. All see the event in a different way; as many points of view, so many diverse angles of vision. Which in the last analysis are the most reliable and faithful ? Any
choice must obviously be arbitrary. But at least we can distinguish the degrees of emotional involvement in the event. The widow will be the most deeply engaged in the situation; hers will be the ‘lived’ human reality. The doctor and the reporter will be less involved since theirs is primarily a professional concern. The painter will be involved least of all; he will be primarily concerned, qua artist, with mass, texture, colour, light and shade.
In this scale, the degree of closeness is equivalent to the degree of feeling participation; the degree of remoteness, on the other hand, marks the degree to which we have freed ourselves from the real event, thus objectifying it and turning it into a theme of pure observation. (1)
As the widow and the artist have different perspectives on the same event, which results in different degrees of emotional involvement, so different perspectives are possible as between the reader and the work of art.
This, I think, is the essence of the problem that links the writers of stream-of-consciousness fiction – James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner – to their direct but widely different predecessors Henry James, Joseph Conrad and Marcel Proust. They all shared the same preoccupation with fiction as a serious art form, but it was James Joyce who took a decisive
step in a different direction, adapting rather than rejecting the preoccupations of his predecessors to his own purposes.
With James Joyce multiple perspectivism became all-pervading. Its essence was the constant shift in the angle of vision, supplemented by shifts at all other levels: in addition to rapid switching from one mind to another, there are rapid changes of scenery derived from episodic construction, doubled by parallel and almost simultaneous use of direction and indirection in rendering the characters’ thoughts, and reinforced by the use of parody and pastiche as a stylistic illustration of yet another type of change in the angle of vision. This linguistic perspectivism creates what might be called ‘telescope-microscope’ effects, brought about by his sudden and unexpected placing of word or phrase under the magnifying lens and making it radiate with a brilliance that lends it an emblematic aura over the whole stretch of statement.
It is this kaleidoscopic richness, so far insufficiently discussed and not systematically analysed from a consistent point of view, that makes Joyce’s Ulysses an important and seminal work. It not only brought fiction closer to the realm of poetry, but its permanent emphasis on the angle of vision, subordinating formal composition, and strengthened by the symbolic structure, made it be both praised and attacked, and its author appreciated and blamed for his extreme eagerness to put everything in this ‘chaffering allincluding farraginous chronicle’ (U, 554) .
It is for these and many other reasons that Ulysses in T.S. Eliot’s opinion ‘the most considerable work of imagination in English in our time’, and he starts his famous essay on Ulysses by stating – this
I hold this book to be the most important expression which the present age has found; it is a book to which we are all indebted and from which none of us can escape. These are postulates for anything that I have to say about it ... (2)
Ezra Pound in his turn paraphrased the first line of the Odyssey to suit his very high assessment of Joyce’s novel. (3)
From quite a different angle, Ulysses has been called ‘the novel to end all novels’ precisely for the reason that it went so deep into the character and presentation of character that, in this respect at least, certain critics (4) have advanced the remarkable but unfounded view that it has exhausted the possibilities of the genre. This is not the place to enter into a discussion of this subjective statement, but one thing is certain: Ulysses is noted, and has even become notorious, for the extreme depth of character presentation.
And in this connection it is necessary again to emphasize Joyce’s conception of his craft as always subordinated to delineation of character. In his passionate concern to aim at the perfect fusion between matter and manner, looming gigantic behind Joyce are the outstanding figures of the nineteenth-century novel – Stendhal and Flaubert –, whose concern for the novel as a conscious art form and the supreme importance of style is well known. These two basic aspects of their conception found in Joyce not only a worthy and staunch supporter, but also a daring innovator.
Morton D. Zabel in the rather ambiguous title of one of his books emphasizes the close relationship between craft and character as follows:
Craft and Character has the appearance of an equation ... There is a profound and inescapable connection between what the artist essentially is (quite apart from any personal information, legend or reputation that may attach to him) and the work he produces. (5)
In this study I will take the terms to have the same appearance of an equation, but change the values ascribed to each without altering or modifying the validity of the equation as a whole. Rejecting Zabel’s reference to the artist’s personality as immaterial and in a sense already postulated in the work of art, the terms should be exclusively and directly applied to the work itself in order to emphasize the close, indissoluble relationship between character delineation and the technical means provided for the purpose by the craft of fiction. It is the harmonious blend with mathematical precision of the two terms in this latter Flaubertian sense that made the work as a whole successful.
Consequently, a study of character and monologue in Joyce’s Ulysses will be a study of the contribution of artistic method as embodied in specific means with a view to achieving the pregnant emergence of character, an undertaking performed against the background of both genre conventions and their rejection.
1.1 Method of Approach in the Present Study.
Existing criticism (not exegesis) of James Joyce is largely unsatisfactory, among other things, not only because of its impressionistic approach, but also because of its inconsistency of method. The first and most important outcome of this is the chaos in terminology, leading to fanciful classifications and contradictory statements.
The method of approach adopted in the present study can be defined as an attempt to adapt the approach evolved by the New Criticism – exclusively for the study of poetry – to the study of stream-of-consciousness fiction, linking it to recent research in the field of literary style – both prose and poetry –, undertaken on a modern linguistic basis.
In point of fact, the New Criticism was basically concerned to apply close and rigorous analytical methods to lyrical poetry, but did practically nothing with regard to prose and the novel. In an essay entitled ‘The Under-standing of fiction’ (6), John Crowe Ransom asks the question “To what extent can the understanding of poetry be applied to the understanding of fiction ?” . But starting from a wrong concept of context he applies intensive methods of analysis to selected passages of prose, which, in his opinion, are to act ‘like fictional analogues of lyrical moments’. This approach to fiction is vulnerable as to method in more points than one: leaving aside the highly controversial aspect of the selection of prose passages for analysis, Ransom spoils the method by applying close textual analysis to a translation – sixteen lines from War and Peace.
Ransom’s view of fiction is one of passages of ‘plain prose’ serving as a context for ‘concentration effects... requiring an exceptional prose and tax- ing the stylistic resources of the artist; they are as such the prose equivalents of true or short poems’.
The failure in the adaptation of methods is obvious: New Criticism failed in the analysis of fiction mainly on account of having refused to alter and modify its procedures and methods to suit the requirements and peculiarities of another literary genre. The lack of flexibility also failed to bring character into the picture. Along this line, W.J. Harvey is right when stating that ‘characterization is often a quality of the whole book and nearly always a quality of long passages of the prose continuum’ (7), thereby clearly implying that the methods of the New Critics, if preserved as such, were inapplicable to fiction.
It is at this stage that the contribution of modern stylistics comes in. The question of context in literature as a major topic of systematic investigation had been taken over from linguistics, and applied to the literary text by Michael Riffaterre, Stephen Ullmann, Roman Jakobson, and Thomas Sebeok (8).
I do not intend to go deeper into the meaning and significance of stylistic criticism; I shall merely say of it that by the application of intensive methods of analysis, mainly to the language aspect of the literary text, stylistic judgment manages to spectralize critical statements in a far more objective way than is usually possible, not only making them more explicit but also more solidly grounded.
Stylistic analysis and assessment had a long standing tradition with regard to Romance languages and literatures, particularly as embodied in the work of Charles Bally, Leo Spitzer and others, but was slightly less manifest and streamlined to the same extent in the field of English literary studies (9).
It is only due to a structural approach to the literary text developed in recent years in Britain and the United States that it has gained considerable impetus with regard to English and American literature (10). Extremely interesting to note is also the fact that in the same way in which the New Critics concentrated exclusively on lyrical poetry, modern stylistics focused its attention mainly on prose. This line was started by Leo Spitzer of course, and lately continued by Damaso Alonso, Amado Alonso, Helmut Hatzfeld, Stephen Ullmann.
It has often been stated that stylistic analysis should deal with language and imagery to the exclusion of anything else. But the point of view adopted here is rather that stylistic criticism is not only a field of study in its own right, but also and more importantly, a method of approach to the literary text and the phenomenon of literature, taking language as a starting point, but unlimited in its capacity of aesthetic generalisation on that basis. As Helmut Hatzfeld puts it in one of his articles, ‘stylistic analysis coincides with literary criticism in its objective form’ (11).
On the other hand, and now exclusively from the literary point of view, the literary critic and historian should necessarily not only verify but ground his assertions on close and careful reference to the text, making use of all categories and concepts at his disposal which can throw objective light on a work of literature, no matter whether they come from the side of the New Criticism or from the side of linguistics, via stylistics.
Some of Ransom’s remarks with regard to fiction may be taken as valid when purely traditional fiction is under consideration. But given the lyrical and deeply poetic capabilities as well as the anastomosis of form and content in stream-of-consciousness fiction, Ransom’s negative verdict may well fall to pieces and some of the methods, procedures and categories of New Criticism will become particularly useful. For the time being, most reliable for a textual approach will prove the categories of texture and structure.
On the other hand, linguistics and stylistics will provide the category of Context, in order to counter Ransom’s fragmentary and incomplete approach.
Stephen Ullmann’s opinion that the context for the analysis of fiction should be the whole novel (12), and not just fragments and extracts selected on a subjective basis, is the only tenable, analytically comprehensive, and fairly rewarding particularly in an instance when a texture-structure interplay is at stake. It should be pointed out, however, that given the extremely long stretches of text that a whole novel offers, there will be a series of practical difficulties to overcome.
But with stream-of-consciousness fiction, and with James Joyce in particular, the practical difficulty will be sidetracked by the fact that the Joycean text has been subjected to such minute and detailed analysis, and every word indexed and commented upon in an endless list of commentaries worked out from the most varied angles of vision and judgment that the only thing left at present to crown it all is to produce a ‘Variorum’ edition of Ulysses, in the best tradition of Shakespearean editorial work in order to summarize and systematize it all. In other words, the position of Ulysses is different from ordinary fiction in the tremendous amount of pioneering work already performed. Various meanings can be, and have in the course of time been, attributed to texture and structure, at various levels of abstraction and generalization, and from different angles of approach. Here for instance is an extended quotation to show the meaning W.J. Harvey ascribes to them at a crucial moment in his book on Character in the Novel:
The four categories with which I shall deal are Time, Identity, Causality and Freedom. [...] These categories control and regulate experience, so that if a novelist convinces us that his handling of them is truthful, then there is a good chance that the particular experience he portrays as the end-product of these categories will also strike us as true to life. The texture of the created fictional world – the society portrayed, the values assumed, the emotions rendered – may be alien, but the shape of that world will be familiar. [...]
To sum up: experience may be seen in terms of texture and structure. The texture of our lives – manners, morals, passions, thoughts – is structured by those regulating principles I have called constitutive categories. Mimetic theories which relate art to life only in terms of its texture are precarious, since this texture is infinitely varied and liable to rapid historical change. Therefore, we must attempt a mimetic theory in terms of the structure of experience. Structure is relatively stable; only in terms of it does the texture of life make any sense. Such is my thesis and the main object of this book.(13)
Structure and texture are here applied not to the work of art but to life itself, to human experience. That too can be defined in these terms.
On the other hand, texture particularly, can be analysed at the most concrete linguistic level; for instance, this is what John A. Nist does in his analysis of the structure and texture of Beowulf (14); he does not give anything approaching a definition of texture but he handles the concept in a discussion of the graphemic system, paying considerable attention to allographs in relation to graphemes, and giving tables of distinctive acoustic features. This in turn provides the basis for a descriptive assessment of the alliterative pattern of Beowulf; metric too will fall under the heading of texture.
It is therefore easy to see that Harvey’s interpretation of texture and Nist’s definition of the same term represent two extremes on a rather wide scale of possible definitions.
But neither of them is the meaning I propose to use in the present study. The above quotations have been useful and proved their points for two reasons: in addition to illustrating a multiplicity of meanings that can be ascribed to these terms, and the possibility for application elsewhere, the former instance also pointed to their correlative character.
And it is in correlation that they should be defined, not outside the work of art, as above, nor in the abstract as in a dictionary definition and treatment, but within the work of fiction itself on the basis of the function they perform there, turning chaos into order, and an amorphous mass of language into a finished artistic whole.
It is at this stage that the contribution of New Criticism in the handling of these terms becomes extremely useful; and taking into account the way these concepts were used in the assessment of lyrical poetry, to adapt tem for use with reference to fiction and the stream-of-consciousness novel.
By general definition, texture suggests the appearance or consistency of something woven, and the concrete images associated with it are web, tissue or network. It directs attention to the constituent bricks rather than to the overall construction. According to John Crowe Ransom, “The independent character of the detail is the TEXTURE of the poem, and it ‘depends’ from the logical argument in a sense, though not closely determined by it” . Primarily viewed at a micro-context level, it therefore reinforces, though in hardly recognizable fashion, the general statement that form and content are inseparable in poetry . This is the basic reason for which, in Ransom’s opinion, texture from the point of view of prose discourse is a ‘luxury’; his statement was obviously made having in view traditional fiction exclusively, and that accounts for the fact that Ransom’s concept of texture has so far been given little application in the study and theory of fiction.
But stream-of-consciousness fiction in general, and the novels of Joyce in particular, forms a case apart, for it closely verges on poetry, and lyricism has most often been a feature ascribed to it.