(U) Episode 3: “Proteus,” ~pp 37-51.

What They Are Saying, Episode 3

Are Stephen’s fragments of consciousness “getting along nicely in the dark?” Schopenhauer would think so. He believed that creativity depended on shutting out all that suggests ineluctability.

In “Joyce’s Ulysses, A Schopenhauerian and Freudian Reading” (academia.com, 2007), Stephan Rowntree proposes that darkness of a kind is essential to creativity. According to Rowntree’s interpretation of Schopenhauer, man’s inner life originates in a duality of focus on the external world. On a “willful” level, creativity is blocked since man’s inevitable self-interest hijacks the train of thought. It is through the suspension of self-interest that willessness sparks creativity. Then the creative urge wriggles free. Willlessness “…cannot (emerge) with biological or psychological strivings, but rather with aesthetics apprehension….” If Schopenhauer and Rowntree are correct, Stephen’s musing in snippets separates him from his prejudices and anti-creative learned lessons. 

Willlessness offers escape from the prisons of the material world and biological imperatives. Then logic may be temporarily suspended to enter a creative state. While writing Ulysses, Joyce had to satisfy the practical needs of feeding his children and paying his considerable bar tab. His insistence on maintaining some degree of creative integrity complicated financial realities.

 Joyce tried to balance the worldly with the worldless. Faulkner may have been less willing to bend to the mundane. Scott Fitzgerald was far more amenable. If there is just one fountain of creativity, it must rest outside the artist in some platonic plain, in some spark of divinity, or some Jungian spring of the collective unconscious.

The application of Freud’s theories to Ulysses centers exclusively on the stream of consciousness as the three protagonists’ free association: 

Through the process of repression, censorship impedes unwanted imageries from gaining access to the conscious. Free association in analysis, and stream-of-conscious in writing, allow for the expression of images in a narrative, or as in Ulysses, inner narrative. 

Knowing about repression doesn’t help when considering the origins of creativity in Schopenhauer. For Freud, all is self-interest tempered more or less by the superego. Sigmund would leave us with only recycled repressed memories. Only the ability to accept now what we formerly rejected remains. As we said, Jung offers the option of a universal body of primordial knowledge.

Of the options, the most appealing is Schopenhauer’s. But the solution becomes harder to accept after reading Rowntree’s summary: “Of course this disinterested disinterestedness has consequences for Schopenhauer’s theory of disinterestedness, pushing back the notion of disinterested aesthetic to a higher order disinterestedness’ that precede the first order disinterestedness. “

Much like contemplating the omphalos, eh?

2 thoughts on “(U) Episode 3: “Proteus,” ~pp 37-51.

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Elis.

      My intent is not to do what has been done excellently elsewhere. Gifford has created great notes; Gilbert offers a great summary of each episode. My purpose is to bring together what various great commentators have said about themes and symbols in the work. I am available to discuss specific questions with any reader who cares to leave a Comment as you have been kind enough to do.

      I read somewhere that only 7% of those who begin reading Ulysses finish the book. If I can improve the numbers of those who see the website to a 6% success rate, I would be very happy.

      I greatly value what you have said. You can be sure that I will continue to think about your comment.



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