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Questions in Eumaeus and Ithaca

Monday, November 9, 2009; 02:01 am Leave a comment Go to comments

I want to start off with a particular question that I thought was great, and then we’ll move into broader themes. In Eumaeus, page 516 line 695, “– And what’s the number for? Loafer number two queried,” which works absolutely perfectly with the theme of the episode, which as I understand it is wasted words and poor writing. It shows that the narrator has a self-awareness and is perhaps even criticizing his/her own writing, or that the characters have a sense of the writing (I’m thinking the latter is less likely). This flows nicely into my next point – the use of this question as something more than just establishing a power relationship points to the upcoming shift in the role of questions.

In Eumaeus, I cheered because I noticed the questions were starting to get directly answered, and with pretty detailed informative responses too. As a reminder, at the beginning of the book questions were rarely answered at all, then at the middle they were answered but substantively, and now finally we’re starting to get information from questions, as it should be. Eumaeus, however was just a light preview of Ithaca and the total shift in the role of questions to not only functioning as information-gatherers, but also to propelling the plot along as well.

Although this is a significant change, there is some bit of (what I supposed to be) Joyce’s commentary on the use of questions in the earlier episodes. That takes the form of the numerous questions that only function to obtain truly useless information. So even though I had originally thought that questions were now being used “properly,” it turns out that Joyce is sticking to a theme here, and seems to saying that even when questions are used to obtain information, a lot of that will be totally useless. To sum up my thoughts so far – the primary function of questions is in fact to establish power relationships, and when they are used to gain information one usually has to sift through a lot of excess to get at the heart of the answer.

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