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Modernism and the Ordinary$
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Liesl Olson

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195368123

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195368123.001.0001

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Joyce and the Realism of the Ordinary

Joyce and the Realism of the Ordinary

(p.33) Chapter One Joyce and the Realism of the Ordinary
Modernism and the Ordinary

Liesl Olson (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines James Joyce’s depiction of ordinary experience, beginning with his youthful hero-worship of Henrik Ibsen. Inspired by Ibsen’s poetics of the everyday, Joyce’s early writings attempt to represent life “as we see it before our eyes,” as evinced by the fragments known as “Epiphanies” and extended in later writings even as Joyce leaves his theory of epiphany behind. Epiphanies are linked with a desire to aestheticize experience, one of Stephen Dedalus’s dominant tendencies, but this desire is dangerous largely because it extracts the individual from a context of community and civic commitment. Alternatively, the depiction of banal, daily routines in Ulysses demonstrates how Joyce’s everyday does not evade historical conditions. Ulysses is also attentive to the limitations of the everyday, acknowledging the inability to trace and catalogue every fact of an individual’s life. The lists in Ulysses aim to record the variety of ordinary things that flood experience, while gleefully acknowledging realism’s defeat. The list introduces a more modest ordinary style than the epiphany: the equality of the list works against the desire to read and interpret particular moments (in a life and in a novel) as more or less important.

Keywords:   James Joyce, Henrik Ibsen, epiphany, realism, lists, Ulysses

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