I keep returning to James Joyce's _Ulysses_. Despite what the massive industry of bourgeois aesthetics and poetics has hitherto d...

James Joyce: Some Quick, Informal, Nocturnal Notes || Azfar Hussain

5:29 AM Editor 0 Comments

I keep returning to James Joyce's _Ulysses_. Despite what the massive industry of bourgeois aesthetics and poetics has hitherto done to the canonization of Joyce (Derrida, too, loved Joyce, as Derrida even loved Marx or at least some of his ghosts!), I find this Irish trickster and tropester—James Joyce—politically active, engaged, and significant on more scores than one.

For instance, after having read a pop manual called _Guerrilla Marketing_ by Jay Conrad Levinson, an undertaking in which he provides a cartography of hundreds of guerrilla marketing strategies, I once returned to _Ulysses_ and thought that _Guerrilla Marketing_ might be read as a random, right-wing bricolage of watered-down paraphrases of Joycean tropes, tenors, and texts—ones that, on the other hand, constitute Joyce's own brand of what I wish to call "guerrilla semiotics."

What, then, is this damn thing called "guerrilla semiotics?" I'll provide my own spin. To put it quickly and roughly: "Guerrilla semiotics" for me enacts and mobilizes—as well as defers and withdraws—cycles of the production, exchange, distribution, and consumption of signs to launch attacks on received or hegemonic assumptions, meanings, metaphors, or signs at unpredictable moments.

And signs? With V.N. Volosinov—author of that groundbreaking Marxist semiotic work called _Marxism and the Philosophy of Language_—I, too, would submit that signs are not neutral; that they are material and ideologically inflected.

Now let's think of Bloom's (Joyce's character in _Ulysses_) theory and practice of advertising. Bloom does not merely work for an ad company but he also designs ads. His designs seem to be responding quite well to the tenor of his own discourse that re-inscribes his attachment to figures of circulation, exchange, cyclicity, and renewal. I vividly recall his bicycle poster. It condenses both bicycle and the spectator into twin synecdoches, while his ad for Keys appropriates the political and religious metonymy of keys and re-anchors it to another semiotic register. Both stimulate the refiguration of the viewer and instigate an exchange of symbolic currency.

While enacting this exchange, however, Joyce also suggests how both the bicycle and the key are more meaningful for consumption than otherwise, when they all "fall" outside the logic of capital. I know this needs more elaboration, but I'm trying to make a point at a very rudimentary level here. That is, Bloom enunciates his theory of motion: "good ads" should arrest attention, convince, and decide, and an ideal "ad" should even stop time despite the "velocity of modern life."

Stopping time? Which time? What time? Where? Joyce tangentially points to the temporality of money (or money-time)—one that carries within it the blood of laborers globally and locally. Finally, in _Ulysses_, when the sign (or the "Ultimate Signified?") "God" slips into a combination of letters which one begins to read backwards as in a retroactive reading (say as "Dog"), one immediately comes to have at least a feel of Joyce's guerrilla semiotics. There are of course numerous instances of this kind in Joyce, ones that trigger signification at some odd, unexpected, and unpredictable moments that an entire range of capitalist strategies—their remarkable resilience notwithstanding—cannot immediately appropriate or assimilate into their own circuits of signs.

We need, yes, guerrillas of different kinds—among many other things, of course—to produce "short-circuitings" within systems of appropriation and domination themselves. I'd re-read Joyce further, then.


"It is a mistake for you to imagine that my political opinions are those of a universal lover: but they are those of a socialistic artist."

—James Joyce, 1905

Enda Duffy's book _The Subaltern Ulysses_ raises quite a question: Might an IRA bomb and Joyce's _Ulysses_ have anything in common? I think that question is more a statement than an interrogation sensu stricto. Joyce is at least an anti-imperial guerrilla-'bomber' in _Ulysses_.

By the way, a white frat boy—an English major—told us in a class I taught back at Washington State University (a class in which I used a selection from _Ulysses_): "I wonder if Joyce writes correct and proper English." Joyce himself provides an answer: "Syntax? No syntax but sin-talks." And it's no news that his "sin-talks"—and what I've called above his "guerrilla semiotics"—certainly unsettle standard, bourgeois linguistic expectations, as does Joyce's fiercely scatological imagination bursting profusely in his jokes on shitting and fucking and money.

And speaking of money, I notice—with deep interest—the ways in which _Ulysses_ implicates the body in language, language in money, and money in everything that circulates: sewage, semen, gossip, letters, telegrams, ads, pop songs, newspapers, commodities, disease, and the literary tradition itself. It seems to me Joyce enacts his "political economy" of bodies, words, and things as the interpenetrating systems of exchange and circulation, which correspond to the wider economic systems of the body politic.

Also, one marks the ways in which Joyce shows how the economies of word and flesh correspond to the Odyssean themes of exile and return that structure the action of _Ulysses_. Further, think of Molly Bloom's rhapsody in "Penelope"--one that accomplishes what Stephen Deadalus calls the "postcreation" by morphing the flesh into the word. Indeed, Joyce's "sin-talks" traverse quite a range and prevail.

"So, baghdad...and the arab in the ghetto knows better." That's from James Joyce's _Finnegans Wake_. And mark this from _Finnegans Wake_ again: "In the name of Annah the Allmaziful, the Everliving, the Bringer of Plurabilities, haloed be her eve, her singtime sung, her rill be run, unhemmed as it is uneven!"

As I've been working on my piece that explores, among other things, Joyce's interest in the Arab world and in Arabic literature, I've come across a relatively old essay (1998) titled "In the Name of Anna: Islam and Salam in Joyce's _Finnegans Wake_—an essay that arguably demonstartes how Joyce in his _Finnegans Wake_ deliberately fashions a transgressive "secular" version of the sacred Quran. I'm not really sure about the strength and validity of this argument. But, then, I clearly see that Joyce makes "writerly" use of the two books of Arabic literature that enjoy universal renown—the Quran and the _Arabian Nights_.

Also, it's no less interesting that Joyce enthusiastically familiarized himself with some tenth-century Arab writers and even philosophers, among whom particularly outstanding was Abu Hayyan Ali ibn Muhammad ibn al-Abbas al-Tawhidi (that's quite a name!). His work called _Al-Risala al-Baghdadiya (The Baghdad Epistle)—as some Joyce scholars have suggested—is quite remarkable for its structural and thematic affinities with _Ulysses_. Indeed, I'd love to explore those affinities to see what it means for Joyce—both aesthetically and politically—to "al-Tawhidize" part of his magnificent _Ulysses_


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.