Ulysses, Order and Myth

Ulyssess-1967-filmAnthony Domestico at berfrois:

Published in The Dial in November of 1923, T.S. Eliot’s essay “‘Ulysses,’ Order, and Myth” is a rare opportunity to see one of modernism’s giants grappling with one of modernism’s greatest works. Having met Joyce for the first time while delivering a pair of old shoes on behalf of Ezra Pound on August 15, 1915, Eliot received each new episode from Joyce’s work as it became available[1]. Eliot previously had commented on the necessary “crudity and egoism” of Joyce’s writings in the Athenaeum of July 4, 1919 and had praised the “Oxen of the Sun” episode as an exposure of “the futility of all English styles” following the book’s publication in 1922.[2] His review in The Dial, however, was his most sustained and considered commentary on Joyce’s work, his method, and its broader implications for modern fiction and the novel form itself.

In his review, Eliot claims Ulysses to be “the most important expression which this present age has found,” a “book to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape.”[3] From the very beginning, Eliot indicates the significance of the novel to its specific time, to the particular conditions and communities of the modern age. The most important innovation of Joyce’s technique, Eliot claims, and the one that makes it such a seminal work for the modern writer, is “the parallel [of the work] to the Odyssey, and the use of appropriate styles and symbols to each division.” Eliot praises this “method,” as he calls it, as not merely “an amusing dodge, or scaffolding erected by the author for the purpose of disposing his realistic tale,” but instead “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”

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