A Rock n' Roll Ulysses

A Rock n' Roll Ulysses
In a letter to Carlo Linati, James Joyce wrote, ?Each adventure [in Ulysses]. . . should not only condition but even create its own technique? (Dettmar, from Joyce, 143). Written nearly three decades before ?long players? (phonograph record albums) were to invade the marketplace, Ulysses stylistically resembles a pop album (or the other way around). Ulysses was composed of eighteen ?adventures? that created their own technique. The same principle applies to pop albums, which contain separate and distinct tracks that musically reflect the lyrical content (or parody that content). One album that is as stylistically challenging to the conventions of pop music as Ulysses was to the novel is The Beatles? eponymous 1968 album (commonly referred to as The White Album). Albums are generally composed of a group of songs from one recorded group of sessions (anywhere from one day to years) that carry separate narratives within each. Across an entire album, the songs can change singers, styles, points of view (first, second and third person voices), and even include songs written by other songwriters. The first album to sell a million copies was Elvis Presley?s self-titled debut album in 1956, over a decade after the end of World War II. In both date and concept, the album is a postmodern invention and artifact. Many theorists assume postmodernism was initiated at the conclusion of World War II, after the introduction of the atomic bomb by the United States to the rest of world.
Just as ?the bomb? erased one hundred thousand living ?narratives? with one plausibly fictive hot flash of light that was indeed real, postmodernism claims that ??history? and ?reality? [are] no longer possible, since both have been ?textualised?? (Selden and Widdowson, 174). Some of the stylistics of postmodernism include hybridity, non-linearity, the questioning of identity, self-reflexivity, excess, and the telling of the unspeakable. These stylistic modes, however, are not exclusive to postmodernism, and combinations of some of these styles exist in numerous books written prior the end of the second World War. Notable texts before this period using ?postmodern? techniques include Sterne?s Tristram Shandy (1767), Carroll?s Alice?s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), Joyce?s Ulysses (1922), and Woolf?s The Waves (1934). If James Joyce?s Ulysses is viewed as the crowning achievement of ?high modernism,? yet contains some of the stylistics of postmodernism, then what exactly is modernism? Before comparing a ?masterwork? like Ulysses to any pop album, I will concede that the pop album (in most cases) does not carry stylistic diversity or density, the philosophical and socio-political arguments, or the detailed characters that Ulysses does. There are instances where pop albums try to carry a storyline (these albums are known as concept albums). Famous examples include Tommy by the Who (1969) and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie (1972) (this title is often misapplied to the Beatles Sgt. Pepper?s Lonely Hearts Club Band 1967). Since the album is a time constrained unit (the average album lasting forty-five minutes), there is not enough time to fully convey the issues dealt with in a novel, particularly Ulysses. But stylistically, The White Album is a rock n? roll Ulysses. Just like its novelistic predecessor, The White Album expands on its prescribed genres, pop and rock n? roll, while simultaneously discarding established definitions of rock n? roll. What Ulysses and The White Album share in common as literature is their ability to tackle new genres, blend genres with ease, mock the genres they are appropriating, and advance their respective artforms by using (or abusing) the genres they handle using these tactics. James Joyce?s Ulysses is often acclaimed as a landmark text of ?high modernism,? as well it should be, with its exact and often brutally frank descriptions of internal thought and perception. A postmodern reading of the text (especially of the chapters that are written in Joyce?s ?secondary style?) has been argued by some critics, but due to the novel?s status as representing the peak of ?high modernism? and its publication date of 1922, the postmodern reading has proven to be problematic. In order for a new artistic movement to begin, the norms of that particular field need to be questioned, embraced and simultaneously overthrown: so for modernism to transform into postmodernism, certain shifts had to occur. The intellectually elite leanings of modernism (for instance, Eliot?s use of Greek in ?The Waste Land?) were eschewed for an embracement of pop culture (for instance, Ginsberg?s allusions to the Beatles and Bob Dylan in his poetry). Critic R. B. Kershner states, ?As the poet Andrei Codrescu put it, where the modernist Pound had commanded ?Make it New,? the postmodernist imperative is ?Get it Used?? (76). Ulysses inconveniently fits into both of these categories, with its NeoHomeric narrative and its continued references to street songs and the trashy novels of Charles Paul de Kock. Despite Joyce?s unintended premonition of postmodern writing techniques in Ulysses, prominent postmodern critic Linda Hutcheon neglects to mention Joyce once in her book The Politics of Postmodernism. Another postmodern critic, Brian McHale, once viewed Joyce ?as strictly a modernist precursor of postmodern writing,? according to Joyce scholar Kevin J.H. Dettmar (14). But in McHale?s second book, Constructing Postmodernism, he reconsiders Ulysses? postmodern credentials, describing the second half of the book as a ?discursive parallax? compared to the first half?s ?parallax of subjectivities? (52). What McHale is referring to is the ?two halves? of Ulysses. The first ten chapters of Ulysses (excluding ?Aeolus?) are often considered the first stylistic half of the novel. In the first half, most of the words accounted for emerge from the subjectivities of the various characters (predominantly Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom). Joyce?s adherence to internal or external dialogue by distinct subjectivities is commonly referred to as his ?initial style.? One notable exceptions occurs at the end of ?Scylla and Charybdis? (lines 9: 893-934), when the text is written in the format of a play to mirror the conversation of Stephen, Buck Mulligan and other intellectuals about Shakespeare. The second half of Ulysses includes the ?Aeolus? chapter, and the last eight chapters of the novel. The second half of the novel is best described by Brian McHale as a ?parallax of discourses.? In this half of the book, the action of the novel is shaped more by the discourse employed by Joyce than by the actual events in the narrative. Each chapter in the second half of Ulysses represents a new style, ?creating its own technique.? Critic Karen Lawrence says, ?The resources of subliterature (journalism, magazine fiction, melodrama) and nonliterature (science) are plumbed by Joyce and used for his own purposes? (10-11), showing how Joyce could ?make it new? and ?get it used.? Joyce?s extracting and insertion of various types of discourse into the second half of Ulysses shows its postmodernity in its mixing of genres and its collapsing of the distinctions between high culture and pop culture. The modernist first half of the novel expands on the narrative tradition of the novel with its representation of the consciousness (of Dedalus and Bloom). In the postmodern second half, traditional novelistic conventions collapse, leaving Joyce with many more possibilities to expand on existing notions of the novel. After reading the ?Ithaca? chapter of Ulysses, it is entirely plausible to assume that Joyce had written professional scientific discourse. Joyce is essentially known as a creative writer (novelist, poet, playwright), but in ?Ithaca,? he duplicates the vernacular of the scientific:
What concomitant phenomenon took place in the vessel of liquid by the agency of fire?

The phenomenon of ebullition. Fanned by a constant updraught of ventilation between the kitchen and the chimneyflute, ignition was communicated from the faggots of precombustible fuel to polyhedral masses of bituminous coal, containing in compressed mineral from the foliated fossilised decidua of primeval forests which had in turn derived their vegatative existence from the sun, primal source of heat (radiant), transmitted through omnipresent luminiferous diathermanous ether. (550) Similarly, The Beatles, a rock n? roll band, recreate the sound of a flapper dance-band in ?Honey Pie,? and they create a piece of musique concrete a la Karlheinz Stockhausen in ?Revolution 9.? On ?Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,? the Beatles appropriate the beat and instrumentation of Jamaican ska music. Jean-Francois Lyotard wrote, ?Modernity is constitutionally and ceaselessly pregnant with its postmodernity? (Dettmar, 48). Inherent in postmodernity is the ability to deconstruct history, particularly literary history. If modernism is the parent of postmodernism, then the latter?s traits should be visible on the skin of modernity. The way Joyce ?exploited? genres in Ulysses and the way The Beatles do the same on The White Album are both excellent examples of Brian McHale?s notion of ?parallactic discourse.? McHale writes, ?The parallax of discourses and the worlds they encode [are] not a characteristic structure of modernist poetics; but it is characteristic of postmodernism? (55). The eighteen chapters of Ulysses and the thirty songs on The White Album represent a vast array of styles. Despite the segmentation into chapters or songs on these works, Joyce and the Beatles do not hesitate in trying to represent more than one style in each ?segment.? The most prominent chapters in Ulysses that apply stylistic hybridity are ?Cyclops,? ?Oxen of the Sun? and ?Nausicaa.? ?Nausicaa? is separated into two parts, the first being about Gerty McDowell, the second about Leopold Bloom (starting at 13:771). The first part of the chapter is written in the tone of a B-romance novel. Her deodorizing of an outhouse is rendered by Joyce in an inflated style: Everyone thought the world of her for her gentle ways. It was Gerty who turned off the gas at the main every night and it was Gerty who tacked up on the wall of that place where she never forgot every fortnight the chlorate of lime Mr Tunney the grocer?s christmas almanac, the picture of halcyon days where a young gentleman in the costume they used to wear then with a threecornered hat was offering a bunch of flowers to his ladylove with oldtime chivalry through her lattice window. (291) This romantic rendition of Gerty makes her trip to the outhouse seem heroic. The incongruity between the content and the form in this section of the ?Nausicaa? chapter illustrates Joyce?s experimentation within certain genres to achieve a new form of literary expression. A similar incongruity occurs on The White Album in ?Back in the U.S.S.R.? The music, particularly the background vocals during the middle eight, are reminiscent of the Beach Boys. The lyrics are a parody of Chuck Berry?s ?Back in the U.S.A.? The funtime sentiment of Chuck Berry and the blissful California visions of the Beach Boys are mocked in the song. Paul McCartney sings, ?All the way the paper bag was on my knees / Man I had a dreadful flight.? Vomiting was not part of the vernacular of Berry or the Beach Boys. Making reference to the Beach Boys? ?California Girls,? McCartney sings about Russian women from various locales. In the middle eight he sings, ?Those Ukraine girls really knock me out / They leave the West behind / And Moscow girls make me sing and shout / And Georgia?s always on mind.? Considering The White Album was released in 1968 during the Cold War, ?Back in the U.S.S.R.? is a bold parody on not only of American pop music icons, but of Western masculine notions of female beauty. With the sound of a jet, ?Back in the U.S.S.R.? turns into ?Dear Prudence.? Even though the album contains thirty songs, there are five instances on the album where there is no empty space left to distinguish one track from another (?Back in the U.S.S.R.? to "Dear Prudence, ?Wild Honey Pie? to ?While My Guitar Gently Weeps,? ?I?m So Tired? to "Piggies, ?Rocky Raccoon? to ?Don?t Pass Me By,? and "Cry Baby Cry to ?Revolution 9?). Though it is easy to recognize the new tune, the songs are linked by sound effects or studio chatter, rather than by similar musical cadences (as on side two the Beatles? next album Abbey Road 1969). The blurred transitionality between these tracks recalls the ending of the ?Wandering Rocks? chapter of Ulysses, where Joyce introduces scenes and characters (Miss Kennedy and Miss Douce) to be explored in the next chapter, ?Sirens,? or the ending of the ?Lestrygonians? chapter, where Bloom heads to the library, which is the setting of the next chapter, ?Scylla and Charybdis.? These examples of blurred transitionality question the separation of novels or albums into discreet units and question the limitations of these units. By bringing together two or more separate units, be it chapters or songs, Joyce and the Beatles are experimenting with hybridity. Hybridity is in abundance in the ?Cyclops? chapter, where Joyce intertwines the main narrative of the chapter with thirty-three sections of parody (according to Joyce scholar Don Gifford). The nameless narrator of the chapter impacts the discourse in the chapter, representing a ?one-eyed view? (like the Cyclops Polyphemous) that is exagerrated and vulgar. In the following passage, Joyce exaggerates a newspaper story covering a large public event: The delegation, present in full force, consisted of Commendatore Bacibaci Beninobenone (the semiparalysed doyen of the party who had to be assisted to his seat by the aid of a powerful steam crane), Monsieur Pierrepaul Petitepatant, the Grandjoke Vladinmire Pokethankertscheff, the Archjoker Leopold Rudolph von Schwanzenbad-Hodenthaler, Countess Marha Viraga Kisaszony Putrapesthi, Hiram Y. Bomboost, Count Athanatos Karamelopulos, Ali Baba Backsheesh Rahat Lokum Effendi, Senor Hidalgo Caballero Don Pecadillo y Palabras y Paternoster de la Malora de la Malaria . . . (252) This passage (along with the thirty-two other parodic scenes) is juxtaposed with the narrative of the ?Cyclops? chapter, in which the nameless narrator of chapter states about Bloom, ?And then he starts with the jawbreakers about phenomenon . . .? (250). The nameless narrator criticizes Bloom for his wordiness. Joyce, the intrusive author, contradicts the nameless narrator by producing thirty-three burlesque sections of ?jawbreakers? in the chapter. Joyce mocks nationalists (like the narrator) and numerous types of discourse in ?Cyclops,? ranging from legalese and sentimental fiction to spiritual pamphlets and history books. The Beatles tackle the discourse of recorded sound in ?Revolution 9.? The track shows the Beatles going beyond rock n? roll for influence, as the song was heavily influenced by avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. ?Revolution 9? begins with a snippet of a presumably abandoned folk song by McCartney (?Can You Take Me Back?) and some inaudible studio chatter, followed by the repeated phrase, ?number nine,? which is taken from examination tapes for the Royal Academy of Music (MacDonald, 233). Among the sound effects included in ?Revolution 9? are Sibelius? Seventh Symphony, fragments of outtakes from previous Beatles? songs (such as ?A Day in the Life? and ?Revolution?), audience applause and laughter, football game chants, fire, gunshots, and the voices of John Lennon, Yoko Ono and George Harrison. This quite ambitious track does not have any recognizable song structure, and displays a hybridity of disarray. Another example of hybridity on The White Album is the song ?Happiness is a Warm Gun,? a track with a structural complexity that can be compared to the ?Oxen of the Sun? chapter of Ulysses. Both are ?historical surveys,? attempting to fuse together history (Rock n? roll and the English language respectively) and mix different elements from this history to recreate gestation, and both do so with large amounts of obscurity. John Lennon has said of the song, ?It?s sort of a history of rock and roll? (Robertson, 77). But the comparison between ?Oxen? and ?Happiness? is not wholly sound, because if Lennon?s assertion is taken at face value, then it follows rocks conception inversely, from the future to the present to the past, unlike ?Oxen,? which starts at the beginning and heads towards the future. ?Oxen of the Sun? begins with the phrase ?Deshil Holles Eamus? repeated three times, imitating the incantations of early Roman priests. As Joyce works his way through the chapter, the text progresses chronologically from one style to the next. The texts adherance to various styles problematizes plausibility. When Haines appears with ?a portfolio full of Celtic literature in one hand, in the other a phial marked Poison,? can this be taken at face value? (336). The portfolio of literature is plausible because Haines? hobby is collecting Celtic literature. But does he really have a ?phial of poison?? By chapters end, the language, according to Joyce in one of his letters, has ?a frightful jumble of pidgin English, nigger English, Cockney, Irish, Bowery slang and broken doggerel? (Gifford, 441). Joyce, again, dips down into popular culture and inserts slang, to end the chapter on a prophetic postmodern note. In the first part of ?Happiness is a Warm Gun? (from 0:00-0:45), the music resembles what the Beatles would do eventually on Abbey Road (1969), so this part looks to the future. The lyrics are quite obscure (?A soap impression of his wife which he ate / And donated to the National Trust?). The second part of the song (0:45-1:12) lyrically owes its debt to the drug influenced music of the psychedelic era (?I need a fix ?cause I?m going down?). The third part (1:12-1:34) is the most obscure musically, repeating ?Mother Superior jump the gun? four times, possibly making musical references to James Brown, recalling the obscurity in certain passages of ?Oxen of the Sun.? Lennon called his girlfriend (soon-to-be wife Yoko Ono) ?Mother Superior.? With that bit of knowledge, the lyric has sexual connotations, but otherwise remains obscure. The last part of the song (1:34-2:43) mostly resembles the early doo-wop songs of the mid to late fifties (like ?Earth Angel?) while lyrically paying homage to Chuck Berry and simultaneously parodying him, focusing on the warmth of a gun rather than the power of an automobile. Both ?Oxen of the Sun? and ?Happiness is a Warm Gun? consider historicized textuality in the creation of their ?narratives,? and both present historical surveys of the mediums within each are working. The creation of ?Happiness is a Warm Gun? resembles a famous incident involving James Joyce and Samuel Beckett during the writing of Joyce?s Finnegans Wake. Beatles publicist Derek Taylor said, ?John [Lennon] said he had written half a song and wanted us to toss out phrases while Neil [Aspinall] wrote them down? (Turner, 157). Lennon?s acceptance of contingency in the creative process is another hallmark of postmodernism, championed by William S. Burroughs, who ?cut-up? texts to create new ones. During the writing of Finnegans Wake, Joyce?s eyesight was failing him, so he dictated parts of it to friend and writer Samuel Beckett. During one of the sessions, Joyce was reading and somebody knocked on the door. Joyce said, ?Come in,? so Beckett scribbled it down. Upon rereading, Joyce noticed that ?Come in? was not supposed to be there, but as Richard Ellmann states, ?[Joyce] was quite willing to accept coincidence as his collaborator? (Dettmar, 169-70). One source of parody for both Joyce and the Beatles is self-reflexivity. It is often assumed by readers that the world presented within the text is realistic. When the author undermines this assumed realism, the reader becomes hyperaware that s/he is reading/listening to a text. In Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus (who might or might not be Joyce?s fictional doppelganger) makes a note to himself in ?Scylla and Charybdis,? to ?See this. Remember? (158). Is it Dedalus who is writing Ulysses? In ?Wandering Rocks,? Mulligan says of Dedalus, ?He is going to write something in ten years? (205). Since Ulysses takes place June 16, 1904 and Joyce started writing the text in 1914, the possible correlation between Dedalus and Joyce is given more evidence. In the ?Penelope? chapter, Molly is disgusted with Joyce?s punctuationless style, saying ?O Jamesy let me up out of this pooh? (633). This is the funniest moment of self-reflexivity in the novel. The Beatles make references to their own songs in two songs on The White Album, ?Glass Onion? and ?Savoy Truffle.? In ?Glass Onion,? Lennon proposes to the listener to ?look through a glass onion? rather than the ?psychedelic? Beatles songs from the previous year. The song makes allusions to ?Strawberry Fields Forever,? ?I am the Walrus,? ?Lady Madonna,? ?The Fool on the Hill? and ?Fixing a Hole.? By claiming ?the walrus was Paul,? Lennon makes reference to bandmate Paul McCartney and the rumors circulating at the time that McCartney was dead. Harrison?s ?Savoy Truffle? makes reference to another song on The White Album, ?Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.? By preferring the ?Glass Onion? over the older songs, and by mentioning another on the album ?we all know,? the Beatles are, in a sense, using self-reflexivity to self-advertise, showing that a song is not just a song, but a piece of property that can make its owners money. If modernism finally allowed authorial presence into a text (known as self-reflexivity) through stylistic intrusion, then postmodernism expanded on this notion by allowing the author to point out to the reader (or in this case, listener) that the reader is reading a book. One complaint about The White Album by rock critic William Ruhlmann is that ?the musical facility is amazing but also seems near-parodic? (amg). Like any excellent example of postmodernity, The White Album redefines its genre with a half-serious half-tongue-in-cheek attitude. Kevin J.H. Dettmar claims that James Joyce takes this same attitude with his writing in the postmodern chapters of Ulysses and in Finnegans Wake. Dettmar refers to critic Mikhail Bakhtin?s concept of the carnivalesque to illustrate his point. Bakhtin states, ?Carnival discloses [certain] traits as the best preserved fragments of an immense, infinitely rich world? (Dettmar, 174). Since the fool is the star of the carnival, Dettmar says, ?Of Joyce?s two major works, the first takes place on the day when its hero is cuckolded . . . while the second is a ?funferal? based on the Irish wake or funeral merrymaking? (174). Julia Kristeva?s notion of postmodernism is that ?modernism and postmodernism exist not as alternatives (modern/postmodern), but as the two ends of a continuum of writing (modern→postmodern)? (Dettmar, 217). The two works discussed in this paper, Ulysses and The White Album, show the timelessness of postmodernism, while revealing the constraints of such categorizations. Despite Kristeva?s idealistic continuum, postmodernism is generally designated as a solitary era in the history of literature (1945-present). I think her notion can be extended prior to modernism to include works such as the aforementioned Tristram Shandy and Alice?s Adventures in Wonderland, and given enough ambition, can be applied to the works of Homer and even the Bible. Another breakthrough resulting from the influence of postmodernism was the broadening of the literary canon in the academy. A patriarchal reading list once dominated by the likes of Shakespeare, Pope, Henry James and even Joyce has expanded, now including everything from film to children?s literature. This paper has shown how the album can be included into this canon as a piece of predominantly postmodern literature. Artists ranging from Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin to Nirvana and Bikini Kill provide lyrically and musically an immediate access to the cultures of their times, as well as to the period and genre known as postmodernism.

A Rock n' Roll Ulysses 8.1 of 10 on the basis of 3637 Review.