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Chapter 4 - Contesting Wills: National Mimetic Rivalries, World War and World Literature in Ulysses

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 June 2021

Joe Cleary
Affiliation:
Yale University, Connecticut
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Summary

The 'Scylla and Charybdis' episode of Ulysses makes questions of personal and national literary rivalry its topic. Stephen Dedalus’s wrestling with Shakespeare’s Hamlet in front of a skeptical audience in the National Library acts out the dramas of mimetic rivalry and anxiety of influence that are the chapter’s theme. Here, Joyce reflects on the nature of literary production and on national and international literary competition and consecration. The episode compresses a compendium of irreverent earlier Irish readings of Shakespeare into Stephen’s performance and transacts Joyce’s ongoing rivalry with his own Irish contemporaries, this articulated in a ghostly or doubled timeframe that counterpoints the 1904 Dublin of the novel’s setting to the 1922 Paris of Ulysses’ eventual triumphant publication. 'Scylla and Charybdis' satirizes the liberal humanist sentimentalism of the Goethean concept of weltliteratur. Weltliteratur, in Ulysses, consecrates the texts it elevates into a cosmopolitan supranational system that claims to be neutrally above the national field and its melancholy petty obsessions; nevertheless, national rivalries are essential to world literary systems and even when, maybe especially when, they are elevated to 'world classics' canonical texts are made to serve some political purpose.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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