James Joyce's Ulysses: The Ephemerality of Style in "Oxen of the Sun"
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In the “Oxen of the Sun” episode, Joyce’s manuscripts reveal a systematic appropriation from canonical texts to produce a profile of style as gestation. Focusing on his adaptations from Sir Thomas Malory in the construction of Mina Purefoy’s labor narrative, I will argue that Joyce presents style as a method of social construction. Previous scholarship has focused on systematically categorizing Joyce’s citational phrases, particularly of note being Robert Janusko’s excellent The Sources and Structures of ‘Oxen of the Sun,’ in which he argues that the Malory parody in the chapter contains, through “the power of the word,” the essence of Le Morte d’Arthur. Thus, Janusko refers to style as essential and concrete, where the physical word (containing both diction and grammatical structure) serve to present societal consciousness. However, Joyce’s conglomeration of literary styles, I will argue, serves to demonstrate the ephemerality of style, where the literary form and the written word are nothing more than garments that enclose, and often restrict, the essence of consciousness, i.e. belief and thought. For example, when the Malory parody describes medical instruments in terms of the fantastical and imaginary (dragons and dwarves and the like), Joyce shows the extent to which we exchange the garments of earlier texts with our own, appropriating not just the language but the ideas and thoughts, reconfiguring them to fit our own social contexts. This new historical approach, drawing on the recent NLI collection, as well as selections from the Buffalo Collection, the Rosenbach Manuscript, the British Notesheets, and the Joyce Collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin, is imperative to an understanding of Joyce’s reception of these older texts and his play with the ephemerality of style.
Corb, Hunter (2017). James Joyce's Ulysses: The Ephemerality of Style in "Oxen of the Sun". Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. Available electronically from