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Hugh Kenner’s Ulysses

Thursday, September 17, 2009; 01:37 am Leave a comment Go to comments

The model for Hugh Kenner’s critical novel Ulysses, based on the eponymous novel by Mr. James Joyce himself, follows from a framework constructed by Kenner in which he attempts to show the reader how to read the novel in more or less the same manner that he imagines Joyce actually wrote it.  It would be helpful to keep in mind Mr. Kenner’s situation as a modernist critic, having completed not only a dissertation on Joyce, but also having produced essays on some of the widely known samples of the modernist literary movement, such as T.S. Eliot, Samuel Beckett, and Ezra Pound.  As a side note, apparently Kenner decided to study literature because a childhood battle with influenza caused him substantial hearing loss, which I guess is as good of a reason as any.  Let’s just hope he doesn’t go blind I suppose, but then maybe he could do something culinary-related.  Anyway.  One of the main themes Kenner discusses throughout the work is the conflict concerning the Homeric and classical parallels (let’s not forget Dante and Aquinas shall we) with the modernist concept that these frameworks are insufficient on their own for Joyce to use to fully address the fragmented experiences and emotions present throughout Ulysses and to provide for him a vehicle in which to write the work.  Many of Kenner’s chapters in his work address this classical/modernist problem with titles such as “Uses of Homer,” “The Hidden Hero (Dedalus),” and “Lists, Myths.”  With this structure, Kenner’s analysis follows, more or less, in the form of a general-to-specific model.

Kenner relies heavily on Joyce’s life from early on in his childhood through his attempt to function in the city of Dublin as he gets older.  Because of this, Kenner often uses and references Joyce’s earlier works, especially A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Kenner seems to obsessively circle back to the context of Joyce’s life in order to flesh out the idiosyncrasies of the text in more depth.  This critical work on Ulysses would definitely not be for the first time reader.  It would, however, be helpful for a reader attacking the text perhaps for the second or third time, as the work’s function in relationship to Ulysses is mainly expansive.

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