Flashback Friday: “A Eumaean Return to Style” by Sam Slote

*First published in 2005 edition of Hypermedia Joyce Studies

Despite the seemingly impenetrable sheen of Joyce’s stylistic eclecticism in his later works, there is typically a level of appropriateness, often ironic, between the chosen form and the immediate subject matter. In other words, style is aligned with action. A trivial example of this could be found in Joyce’s Paris flat, where he kept a picture of Cork in, suitably enough, a cork frame.

Bass and Co Pale Ale Bottle

A more substantial example comes in “Oxen of the Sun,” the most stylistically dense episode in Ulysses, with Bloom’s momentary reverie in front of a bottle of Bass beer, which is expressed in and amplified by an ecstatic prosody borrowed from De Quincey. The parodied author thus matches the subject. John Gordon cogently argues that within this passage, beyond the thematic appropriateness, “the inner world of Leopold Bloom’s buried preconceptions and the outer world of the conversations and events going on around him combine in his consciousness to generate their images, the order in which those images occur, and the logic according to which one image mutates into another.”

Gordon demonstrates how the De Quincey inset concatenates Bloom’s internal thoughts with apperceptions of external events. One can isolate, at least to some extent, these external events because they are repeated in the subsequent inset, which is written in the style of Walter Savage Landor’s Imaginary Conversations of Literary Men and Statesmen–itself an appropriate style to render the various simultaneous conversations between Stephen, Costello, Mulligan, Lenehan, and Lynch. For example, at one point Stephen says “You have spoken of the past and its phantoms” (U 14.1112-13), and this is echoed in the De Quincey inset by the line “Twilight phantoms are they” (U 14.1083).


An important qualification here is that the Landor inset is not an objective reportage of conversations, but rather a textual operation performed upon conversations, just as the De Quincey inset is a textual operation of Bloom’s little mental lapse. Both insets distort what they report. Indeed, Joyce actively remarks the characteristics of this mode of textual operation with the line “Parallax stalks behind and goads them” (U 14.1089). Elements within the De Quincey inset are parallacticaly enmeshed with echoed elements in the Landor inset. Additionally, the De Quincey inset begins with something like a description of its underlying textual mechanics: “The voices blend and fuse in clouded silence” (U 14.1078). The inset could be described as the adumbration of the clouded silence in Bloom’s dazed mind in which are merged the voices of those around him.

With these preliminaries aside, I’d like to turn to the inset that follows Landor. Various critics, following from Gifford, incorrectly identify this inset as being in the style of Thomas Macaulay. However, the Macaulay inset does not begin until the subsequent paragraph. As a matter of fact, as James Atherton has noted, this interstitial paragraph is written in the insouciant style of “Eumaeus.” In this way, the Bloomian literary style, or prose pose, is anthologised into the canon of English literature as is presented in “Oxen.”

The inset begins:

However, as a matter of fact though, the preposterous surmise about him being in some description of a doldrums or other or mesmerised which was entirely due to a misconception of the shallowest character, was not the case at all. The individual whose visual organs while the above was going on were at this juncture commencing to exhibit symptoms of animation was as astute if not astuter than any man living and anybody that conjectured the contrary would have found themselves pretty speedily in the wrong shop (U 14.1174-81).

This passage exhibits many of the charming florilegia of Eumaean style: loose sentence structure, awkward grammatical accord, misplaced subordinate clauses, periodic periphrasis, and a mismatched mixture of pretentious and colloquial expressions. A turn to Eumaean style here is entirely ironic in that Bloom’s astuteness is asserted in an less-than-astute manner. Instead of being limpid, the assertion of Bloom’s mental clarity is limp.

From a genetic perspective, the “Eumaeus” inset is problematic since its composition possibly precedes the textual style it riffs. With all the other insets in “Oxen,” Joyce was working from pre-existing texts that had been anthologised and canonised. (Obviously the funforall at the end of the episode is a special case.) In this instance, Joyce was imitating something that didn’t quite yet exist. The “Eumaeus” inset appears in the two extant drafts of “Oxen” that precede the Rosenbach copy, both of which were composed between February and April 1920. Already in October 1916, Joyce claimed to Harriet Shaw Weaver that he had written out part of the last three episodes (LII 387) and so some form of “Eumaeus” pre-existed the composition of the “Eumaeus” inset in “Oxen.”

In 2001, a new “Eumaeus” draft was auctioned at Sotheby’s. This draft precedes the other extant “Eumaeus” draft (Buffalo V.A.21) and is written in three distinct textual strata, each one in a different-coloured ink. The base stratum of black ink only registers a Eumaean style in a very inchoate manner. Stylistically, it’s only modestly awkward. The revisions imposed upon this base stratum, in red and green inks, are substantially more Eumaean. Eumaean style was thus the result of compositional evolution and accretion.

Internal evidence suggests that the black ink stratum at least post-dates the composition of “Cyclops” since it already contains the reference to Garryowen (U 16.1790-91). Most likely, the black ink stratum was written in the second half of 1920, copied from whatever early (circa 1916) draft had existed. Therefore, the black ink stratum at least indicates an early stage in the development of Eumaean style even though it post-dates the composition of “Oxen.”

In distinction, even the earliest draft of the “Eumaeus” inset in “Oxen” is considerably more Eumaean in style than the black ink stratum of the early “Eumaeus” draft. Indeed, the second draft is already quite close to the final text. And so, when Joyce began work on the Nostos episodes in earnest in late 1920, he was turning or returning to a style that he had begun in 1916 and had refined earlier that year whilst working on “Oxen of the Sun.” One could therefore say that, appropriately enough, the composition of “Oxen” served as a matrix (ie womb) for Eumaean style. I will return to this point shortly.

Apparently, at the time of its composition, the “Eumaeus” inset is a parody without an original in that it repeats something that is not entirely pre-existent. The echoes between the De Quincey, Landor, and “Eumaeus” insets that Gordon describes function in an analogous manner. The reader first encounters elements within the De Quincey narration of Bloom’s thoughts only to “hear” these elements again in the subsequent insets. In other words, in the text the echoes precede the noise.

For example, the object of Bloom’s gaze is described in the De Quincey inset in a suitably phantasmagorical manner:

“It floats, it flows about her starborn flesh and loose it streams, emerald, sapphire, mauve and heliotrope, sustained on currents of the cold interstellar wind, winding, coiling, simply swirling, writhing in the skies, a mysterious writing till, after a myriad metamorphoses of symbol, it blazes, Alpha, a ruby and triangled sign upon the forehead of Taurus” (U 14.1104-9).

This echoes Stephen’s remark at the end of the Landor inset:

“The lords of the moon, Theosophus told me, an orangefiery shipload from planet Alpha of the lunar chain would not assume the etheric doubles and these were therefore incarnated by the rubycoloured egos from the second constellation” (U 14.1169-73).

In a sense, Stephen’s comment is a kind of etheric double for Bloom’s vision, an echo played in a mock-Theosophical register. But only lexical elements get repeated between these two insets.

The “Eumaeus” inset, on the other hand, proposes a seemingly simple and phenomenological corrective for this astrological apparition:

“During the past four minutes or thereabouts he had been staring hard at a certain amount of number one Bass bottled by Messrs Bass and Co at Burton-on-Trent which happened to be situated amongst a lot of others right opposite to where he was and which was certainly calculated to attract anyone’s remark on account of its scarlet appearance. He was simply and solely, as it subsequently transpired for reasons best known to himself, which put quite an altogether different complexion on the proceedings, after the moment before’s observations about boyhood days and the turf, recollecting two or three private transactions of his own which the other two were as mutually innocent of as the babe unborn” (U 14.1181-90).

This excerpt is thoroughly Bloomian: rational, empirical, helpful, secretive, and somewhat disorganised. The new datum provided here literally triangulates the ruby Alpha of Bloom’s vision into the logo for Bass beer.

Interesting story on the label itself and the source of the photo here.

This passage also remarks the convoluted temporal dynamic between these insets with the convoluted phrase, “as it subsequently transpired … after the moment before’s observations about boyhood days.” The attempt to establish a cogent chronological sequence is upset by a cumbersome accretion of temporal qualifiers. Notable in this excerpt is the elision of Bloom’s earlier thoughts of Bridie Kelly, the prostitute with whom he had had his first sexual experience (U 14.1063-71), which is referred to here simply as “a private transaction.” The “Eumaeus” inset does therefore provide a “different complexion” to the scene, but one that is also a partial perspective subsumed within a parallactic vista. A different way of looking at this is as textual metempsychosis: each inset–Lamb, De Quincey, Landor, and “Eumaeus”-re-imagines the same scene into different styles with different perspectives or complexions.

I would like to now address the question of clarity–certainly an odd thing to ponder?– propos “Oxen of the Sun,” an episode which even seasoned Joyceans call obscure. As “Eumaeus” works as a kind of good-natured, limp-wristed rebuke to the Quaker grammarian Lindley Murray, I shall turn to him first. For Murray, clarity (or perspicuity, as he styles it) is achieved, or rather, effectuated through accord and ordination. Each sentence must be composed of the proper words in the proper disposition and concord, combined to express a unity of statement: “But most of all, in a single sentence, is required the strictest unity. For the very nature of a sentence implies that one proposition is expressed. It may consist of parts, indeed, but these parts must be so closely bound together, as to make the impression upon the mind of one object, not of many.

For Lindley Murray–and Mme. Olivier, my first English teacher–the rules of grammar establish accord and ordination and are thus the foundation of clarity. Murray concludes his treatise by saying, “Did we always think clearly, and were we, at the same time, fully masters of the language in which we write, there would be occasion for few rules. Our sentences would then, of course, acquire all those properties of clearness, unity, strength, and accuracy, which have been recommended.” In other words, the rules of grammar supplement an ineluctable mental insufficiency of clarity. According to Murray, clarity is coordinate with and coordinated by codifiable rules. Conversely, lax obedience of rules tends towards a lack of clarity, as can be evinced in the disjointed ramblings of Eumaean style.

Enter Wittgenstein.

The particular grammatical quirks trademark to Eumaean style can be characterised as a language game. A basic definition of a language game from Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations is that it is a delimited set of learned or created protocols not always susceptible to codification. The protocols for “Eumaeus” involve distortion of grammatical norms, often for humorous effect, and “with apologies to Lindley Murray” (U 16.1475). For Wittgenstein, language games are eminently labile and fungible and cannot be reduced to a calculus, or a single over-arching grammar, such as he had essayed in the Tractatus (an argument can be made that Wittgenstein caricatured the Tractatus in the Investigations, but that’s another story).

In Ulysses, there are many language games, large and small, funky Eumaean ramblings being just one example. Part of an overall language game for Ulysses is sketched out in the two schema. Joyce explained this system to Carlo Linati, to whom he sent the first version of the schema, “Each adventure (that is, every hour, every organ, every art being interconnected and interrelated in the structural scheme of the whole) should not only condition but even create its own technique. Each adventure is so to say a person although it is composed of persons–as Aquinas relates of the angelic hosts” (LI 147). Like Murray’s definition of an ideal sentence, each episode in Ulysses is a singular unity (“a person”) that subsumes and consists of distinct, inter-related parts (“composed of persons”).

Joyce’s comment that each adventure conditions its technique also applies to questions of micro-structure within Ulysses: Gordon’s observation that the style of each literary inset in “Oxen” corresponds to the action it narrates is but one example of such appropriateness on a micro-structural level. Indeed, “Oxen” presents us with one of the more complex structures in Ulysses in that it consists of two distinct but interlinked language games: the literary and the embryological, an historical survey of English literary styles and the nine-month gestation of a foetus, which Joyce had sketched out separately on two notesheets, one at the British Library and one here at Cornell. Indeed, the “Eumaeus” inset–which falls in the ninth month of the embryological framework–participates within this second language game with the description that Bloom’s companions know as much of his thoughts “as the babe unborn” (U 14.1190).

Joyce’s letter to Linati is valuable not for the schema he enclosed but rather for the suggestion that Ulysses is, in part and only in part, a collection of different language games. Each episode has its own rules, its own technic as Joyce styles it on the schema, but each episode also fits within the larger pattern of book in terms of types of correspondences. The repetitions between the De Quincey and Landor insets in “Oxen” that Gordon identifies are but one example of a small scale Ulyssean language game. The self-reflexive remarking of language game protocols that I have described would also be another kind of language game.

Like the blended and fused voices of the De Quincey inset, the different orders of language games in Ulysses are not unadulterated as they merge and inter-mingle, as we have with the “Eumaeus” inset in “Oxen.” The closing section of “Wandering Rocks” contains two additional examples of stylistic prolepsis. Gerty MacDowell’s activities during the viceregal cavalcade are rendered in a suitably Nausicaan voice (U 10.1205-11). And Miss Kennedy and Miss Douce appear in the cavalcade list in a manner that is entirely compatible with both the synchronous treatment of disparate events that is the language game of this episode and the fugal repetition of events that characterises “Sirens” (U 10.1197-99; 11.65-66). In other words, this brief passage simultaneously follows the protocols of two different language games.

Joyce and Proust. Notes on their meeting (and source of photo).

One of the overall orders of language game in “Oxen” is the stylistic imitation of English writers. But what rapport does style enjoy with language games? Since I assume that most people attend Joyce colloquia to hear about Proust, I will turn to Proust here for some provisional answers. Proust essayed his own version of “Oxen of the Sun” with a suite of pastiches of various French authors, an exercise in styles, first published in Le Figaro in 1908-1909 and collected in the 1919 volume Pastiches et Mélanges.

Photo from here.

These imitations are remarkably effective and cannot merely be called caricatures; in a very real sense in these pastiches Proust inhabits the styles of the writers he imitates. Style is something Proust thought about extensively. In Contre Sainte-Beuve, which is contemporaneous with the pastiches, he writes that style is “not in words, it is not expressed, it is all between words.” This would imply that style has an odd rapport with grammar; like grammar, style is concerned with the selection and disposition of words, but not strictly on a level of codification and ordination.

For Proust, the single most salient quality of style is originality. This quality is inseparable from the writer’s personality; each artist has their own style, evident across their works, even to the point of monotony. This level of individuation finds expression through grammar without being subservient to grammar. Subliminally, style arises out of an idiosyncratic employ of grammar. In a 1919 essay on Flaubert, Proust writes that “there is a beauty in grammar… that has nothing to do with accuracy.” He goes on to delineate subtle grammatical irregularities in Flaubert’s writings in order to argue for their sublime pertinence. He concludes by stating that Flaubert’s grammatical singularities manifest a new vision of the world. At one point, Proust goes so far as to claim that Flaubert’s use of certain verb tenses, pronouns, and prepositions is as revolutionary as Kant’s philosophical system. Joyce was apparently less sanguine about Flaubert’s grammatical oddities: Ellmann reports that he was pleased as punch to have found three faults in the Trois contes. For Proust, unlike Murray, the beauty of writing lies not in perspicacity but in individuality. Style is grammar made aesthetic, a subtly individuated deviation from grammar. Even minimally, style by definition deviates from and distorts grammar.

In short then, precisely by being individual and unique, style must always be multiple: for there to be style, in the singular, there must be styles, in the plural, a plurality of modes of deviating from grammatical strictures. Furthermore, by being individual, a single style must always be susceptible to imitation and parody (assuming, at least, a certain modicum of technical competency). “Oxen of the Sun” is thus an almost inevitable corollary to Saintsbury’s anthology.

Bernard de Fallois remarked a propos Proust’s pastiches that “There is therefore no great difference between a pastiche, which consists of creating in another’s register, and a work of art, which consists of creating in one’s own.” This is exactly what Joyce is doing in “Oxen of the Sun.” Each inset, with its own style, is an individual language game, the protocols for which Joyce “learned” (so to speak) whilst amassing representative citations for each author from various anthologies such as Peacock and Saintsbury. But furthermore, in general, style is a language game that can be registered through deviations from a normative grammar, such as has been codified by the likes of Murray.

With the “Eumaeus” inset, rather than diverge from grammatical strictures in an imitative manner, Joyce introduces a style that deviates from grammatical decorum for the sake of deviating from decorum. Instead of parodying a specific, individual literary style, as he does in the other insets, Joyce turns a parody of grammar into a style. Instead of imitating a single author, Joyce instantiates lapse. Lapsus and a concomitant lack of perspicuity becomes style. In this way, Eumaean style is literally the single most plural style in Ulysses. The “Eumaeus” inset contains within its single, brief paragraph the possibilities of all the other styles parodied in “Oxen” in that each style is already a kind of game of grammatical deviation. Lindley Murray would no more recommend De Quincey’s style than he would Bloom’s. Therefore, if “Oxen” is the matrix for “Eumaeus” then “Eumaeus” is also the matrix for “Oxen” in a kind of foetal Möbius strip, like something out of Aristotle’s Masterpiece. Eumaean style thus remarks that style is always errant in the home that is language. And home is always different from itself, as Bloom discovers upon his return to 7 Eccles Street, after a day of wandering, only to find his furniture “translocated” (U 17.1281).


© Sam Slote, 2005