James Joyce's Ulysses - Balancing Information in Ithaca
"I hold this book [Ulysses] 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. " T.S. Elliot
In the midst of 'Ithaca,' the climactic second to last episode of Ulysses, James Joyce provides the necessary information for calculating how much excrement, in pounds, is produced annually by the entire population of Ireland (p. 718). The type of information offered is not, however, the most shocking quality of the narrative. Instead, it is the amount of information Joyce presents to the reader that comes as a shock. 'Ithaca' is the only episode in Ulysses which offers too much information. Other episodes offer a distinct lack of information for understanding the text's meaning. In 'Lestrygonians,' for example, recognizing Bloom's sighting of Blazes Boylan is key to understanding Bloom's feelings. Boylan, however, is identified only by his "straw hat in sunlight," a reference to description presented 100 pages earlier in the novel (p.p. 92, 183). The shocking wealth of information offered in 'Ithaca' acts as compensation for the rest of the novel's ambiguity and difficulty. The information allows the reader to draw thematic conclusions that would not have been possible without an increase in the amount of information offered. Not all the information in 'Ithaca' is helpful, however. While some of the information allows important conclusions to be drawn, much of it seems trivial and out-of-place. Information like that offered regarding human excrement serves two purposes. It adds immense enjoyment to what could otherwise be a grave a serious episode. Perhaps more importantly, trivial facts provided by Joyce defend the general lack of information that exists throughout the rest of the novel.
The fact that Joyce titled his novel Ulysses but edited out the episode titles we still use today creates several major dilemmas. To what extent is Ulysses simply a modern retelling of The Odyssey? How important are the links that can be drawn between the two novels? The information-rich narrative of 'Ithaca' helps resolve these dilemmas. As Bloom and Stephen return to Bloom's house, a great deal of links are established with The Odyssey. Like Odysseus, Bloom enters his house through a "stratagem" (p. 668). Stephen is link to Telemachus as he helps lock the door to the house (p. 669). Bloom, like Odysseus, fumigates his house sees that his furniture had been moved (pp. 675, 705). Stephen and Bloom witness a celestial sign as they pee, much like the appearance of Athena in the climax of the battle between Odysseus and the suitors (p. 703). Joyce strengthens the importance of The Odyssey to his novel through these connections, which often employ the same language used in Homer's epic. Both Bloom and Odysseus "corrugate" their brow as they look over the state of affairs before them (p. 675). This is only a...