Ulysses, Modernism, And Myth: An Exploration Of The Modernist Approach To Mythology

3507 words - 15 pages

Upon first reading Ulysses by James Joyce, it may seem as though Joyce is creating chaos, but to read this text without looking deeper into it does not do it justice. Each word on the page is significant to understanding the novel as a whole, and it is when one reads the text with this in mind that its true significance emerges. It also helps to have knowledge of Homer’s epic the Odyssey. Without at least some familiarity with the original epic poem, Ulysses becomes impossible to fully grasp. The other tool to understanding it is familiarity with Modernist thought and theory, as framed in the wake of World War I. Though the novel takes place before the War, it was published in 1922, just a ...view middle of the document...

Instead, he calls for authors to take the archetypes by which the world may be understood and to “make them new,” to use Ezra Pound’s phrase. Instead of using the same story over again, he wants authors to rework these archetypes so that they will have meaning for the reader at that time. This is exactly what Joyce does. He does not simply retell Odysseus’ journey home using a steam boat instead of a ship; he recreates the epic poem into a Modernist rendition, using the archetypes of the original work in a modern way, and it is through reading his work that the Modernist approach is fully flushed out. Joyce knew that those who were to read Ulysses would not be moved by a story of making sacrifices to the souls of the dead, but they would be moved by the story of men going to their friend’s funeral.
In the introduction to The Modern Tradition: Backgrounds of Modern Literature, the authors highlight several varying ideas about what the Modernist approach to mythology is. The first view point they start with is their own. They state: “Myths are public and communicable, but they express subliminal mental patterns that come close to the compulsive drives of the unconscious,” (Ellmann and Feidelson 617). Myths reflect the underlying “collective unconscious,” to use Jung’s term, that permeates society, and in Modernist literature it seems as though the “stream of consciousness” style of writing is the manner in which some of the issues between the conscious and the unconscious are worked out. Though the reader may not share the same doubts or fears as Molly Bloom, the process she goes through shows the need for the conscious to work out the issues contained within. It seems that often in these passages that though the focus is on the conscious’ ramblings, the unconscious has a chance to push things forward, in order that they might be dealt with. So, allowing the conscious and the unconscious to be on display in writing allows the reader to really take that myth into herself and to make it her own.
Ellmann and Feidelson also give attention to the Modernist author Thomas Mann and his ideas about mythology.
The Freudian psyche […] is nevertheless a human arena where man makes his own conditions—as is even more apparent in the collective unconscious of Jung. Myths claim the same kind of psychological reality. Known or unknown, they lie within us; we fancy ourselves original, but are really imitating or performing, for life is a steady mythical identification, a procession in the footsteps of others, a sacred repetition. Yet this world of man is reborn through us; we remake it at every turn. It is at once passively experienced and actively created, at once historic and prophetic, timely and timeless. (Ellmann and Feidelson 620)
In their summation of Mann’s approach, they draw on the idea of the “collective unconsciousness” again. They also seem to allude to the concept of the archetype, even if they never use the term itself. Even though a story...

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