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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bloom's Dublin as Stephen's Emerald City

In the Joyce-Ulysses group, another participant, Charles Scanlon, has for a while been suggesting, speaking in generalities rather than specifics, that Leopold Bloom is Stephen Dedalus's literary creation. That Charles has not been specific does not mean he is wrong. It only means that he has not made an argument that could expect to convince, or at least give pause to, most of those readers of Ulysses who don't share his intuitions.

I continue to share Charles's intuitions, at least to the extent of viewing Bloom as being plausibly interpretable as an imaginary figure--whether deliberately OR involuntarily imagined by Stephen. I have just begun the project of amassing the evidence that supports my intuitions, and I have shared some of my findings so far in this blog.

My working hypothesis, based on my own prior discoveries about Hamlet, is that Joyce wrote Ulysses so as to be plausibly and validly interpretable in AT LEAST two radically different ways--one being what I call the "overt story" which is what the reader gets when you take what you read at face value in terms of apparently realisic action being taken as realistic; the other being what I call the "shadow story", which is what the reader gets when you work on the assumption, which is
suggested obliquely in so many ways in the text, that Stephen has in some way imagined all or many of his interactions with Bloom.

In that regard, my most recent discovery two days ago of the multifaceted allusion to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in Ulysses is an example, for an obvious reason. In Baum's original novel, it is not made explicit that Dorothy has dreamt the whole Oz episode. However, that is a very plausible inference from Baum's sly presentation
of the shift from Kansas to Oz, and then back again at the end. That is, it appears to me, why the screenwriter of the 1939 classic film took that germ of an idea and ran with it, creating a whole "real world" frame for the Oz episode, which shows that the fantasy characters in Oz are "metamorphoses" of real world people from Dorothy's real life.

But one more important point--there is ALREADY an excellent book, which I have now had the chance to read through, which, in an interesting way, sees Ulysses as having a similar structure, although the book makes no mention of The Wizard of Oz. It is a book which addresses the general theme of Bloom's character as in significant part an imaginary figure--and its title is _Ulysses and the metamorphosis of Stephen
Dedalus_ by Margaret McBride, published in 2001.

It is not surprising that it was almost entirely ignored by the Joyce critical community, because if it were engaged with, it would require a radical realignment, indeed a paradigm shift, of thinking from the prevailing dogmas of Joyce criticism. McBride obviously lacked the professional muscle to get more attention.

What McBride's book has, however, which Charles has not articulated (yet), is a great deal of specific textual and allusive evidence, presented very calmly and lucidly and in very readable prose, with no theoretical jargon. It essentially argues that Joyce has shown us Stephen in the act of writing Ulysses, and McBride sets her argument in the context of Joyce criticism, showing how she has picked up on "dicta" by Edmund Wilson and others and has taken THEIR vague intuitions and
extended them to a logical conclusion. She did not use the word "ouroboros", but that is what her argument tends toward, I think, a circular structure, where events reported in the latter part of the novel can be construed as providing the inspiration to Stephen to REWRITE the events reported in the BEGINNING Of the novel.

So, for those with curiosity and an open mind, take a look at McBride's book. Even if you don't ultimately agree with its central claim, you will at least understand better why you don't agree.

Cheers, ARNIE

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