"I hold this book [Ulysses] to be the most important expression which the present age has found; it is a book to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape. " T.S. Elliot
In the midst of 'Ithaca,' the climactic second to last episode of Ulysses, James Joyce provides the necessary information for calculating how much excrement, in pounds, is produced annually by the entire population of Ireland (p. 718). The type of information offered is not, however, the most shocking quality of the narrative. Instead, it is the amount of information Joyce presents to the reader that comes as a shock. 'Ithaca' is the only episode in Ulysses which offers too much information. Other episodes offer a distinct lack of information for understanding the text's meaning. In 'Lestrygonians,' for example, recognizing Bloom's sighting of Blazes Boylan is key to understanding Bloom's feelings. Boylan, however, is identified only by his "straw hat in sunlight," a reference to description presented 100 pages earlier in the novel (p.p. 92, 183). The shocking wealth of information offered in 'Ithaca' acts as compensation for the rest of the novel's ambiguity and difficulty. The information allows the reader to draw thematic conclusions that would not have been possible without an increase in the amount of information offered. Not all the information in 'Ithaca' is helpful, however. While some of the information allows important conclusions to be drawn, much of it seems trivial and out-of-place. Information like that offered regarding human excrement serves two purposes. It adds immense enjoyment to what could otherwise be a grave a serious episode. Perhaps more importantly, tri...
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...hat the reader can easily be drawn too far into the light of meaning. When too much information is presented nothing is asked of the reader. This in turn diminishes the intensity of reader experience. In 'Ithaca,' Joyce provides a glimpse of the perfectly balanced narrative: one which offers enough information for a comfortable understanding while leaving the space for an intense, individually-based, reading. It is only when this balance is struck, between information and the lack there of, that the reader can benefit from the softest, most revealing light.
Works Cited and Consulted
Arnold, Armin. James Joyce, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., Inc, 1971.
Gifford and Seidman. Notes for Joyce. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1974.
Joyce, James. Ulysses. New York: Modern Library, 1992.
Loehrich, Rolf. The Secret of Ulysses. Folcroft, PA: Folcroft Press, 1969.
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