John Gordon’s “Obeying The Boss in ‘Oxen of the Sun’”
Gordon, John. “Obeying The Boss In “Oxen of the Sun”.” ELH. 1991. Jstor. Web. 27 October 2009. <w ww.jstor.org>.
I’m going to focus on section I of III because it is most pertinent to our discussions of Oxen, and because II and III are more opaque than Joyce. Gordon’s examination of Oxen of the Sun revolves around refuting the common claim that style dictates the action in this chapter, in favor of his own interpretation that “events generate style” (4).
Gordon goes through section by section and dissects the action, at each turn trying to prove that the action is the reason for the style, and not vice versa. While he does in fact prove very convincingly in all of his studies of the lines that action and style and action are in fact tightly linked, he fails to show causality one way or another. One of Gordon’s arguments centers around Bloom’s awakening (from just having fallen asleep in the last chapter, also mirroring how a fetus comes into sharper relief as a baby and out of the womb). Gordon’s claim as usual is that Bloom’s awakening is the reason for the murky language and confused references to objects (“is that beer?”). However, though he presents a compelling account of how action and style in this case are related, Gordon provides no reason as to why action is dictating style and not the other way around.
Similarly, Gordon’s description of the gothic Walpole scene does a very good job of describing how the action and style are related, but not how they interact with one another. Gordon’s entire argument consists of this: he first describes that Mulligan was describing how Haines appeared at a party and spooked everyone with talk of the black panther of his nightmares. Gordon begins the next sentence after this description by stating, “Hence, the ‘Walpole’ voice,” and leaves his analysis at that. His claim that Buck’s description begs a gothic voice is made, but not at all justified.
Gordon continues in this way for the rest of the article, but although he fails in his original purpose of disproving the belief that the style generates the action, he does incidentally provide a very good scene-by-scene breakdown of what happens and why. As such, this article should be read not for the argument, but as a companion to Oxen of the Sun if the reader needs help understanding what’s going and the link between style and action. Even if the reader were familiar with the episode and how style functions in it, Gordon’s in-depth look at Oxen would probably provide a few new insights and deepen one’s understanding of one of the more difficult episodes in Ulysses.