What They Are Saying, Episode 2
In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell shows in mythologies from the Navajo, through the Norse, beyond the Punjab and back around to the Polynesian how lessons of success under duress are taught by quests that share the same steps. There are fourteen steps. I won’t suffer you through them all here. One of Campbell’s teachings is that these shared lessons preach the universality of human thinking.
In modernity these seminal paths are individual rather than cultural. Every breathing human treads heroic paths, some without the support of shamans, to teach them ancient ways. My sister’s neighbor worked in The World Trade Center on 9/11. Her neighbor suffers PTSD daily it seems. She drags herself from bed on days when the world is loud and threatening. It’s a heroic act. Marie does it alone. She is a modern day hero. To a greater or lesser degree we are all on the path of Campbell’s hero (the call to adventure, refusal of the call, supernatural aid, the crossing of the first threshold…). This is the basis of Humanism, and Humanism is one central theme of novel.
The “how” of Humanism is represented to a degree in the Modernist School of Literature. It begins with historiography revisiting facts in light of modern perspective. In Asli Molaci’s paper “Analyzing Elements of Modernism James Joyce’s Ulysses” it is said Ulysses is the exact opposite of a return home. That is true in the physical sense, but I might suggest that we revise the adage to “Home is where the art is.” Only the context of the Odyssey need change.
I have not found a definition of a school or period of art that I found perfectly satisfactory. Modernism is said to have taken root during the Industrial Revolution. That makes for a nice tie to the common man but the gap between the loom and the books to too long. Modernism is said to generally have political interests. That doesn’t work well with the two foremost Modernist writers, Joyce and Faulkner. We could stretch our context saying that being apolitical is very political, or that might be coy.
Other features of Modernism include using vocabulary in non-traditional ways, creating portmanteau words and twisting nouns into verbs. Whatever measures are applied, they are irrelevant. What does seem to be important is that the plots, the context and the vocabulary better serve the stories of the everyperson in everylife treading the everyquest as an everywhere. Another helpful way to look at Joyce’s Modernism is the assessment of Richard Begam when analyzed by Michael Siegal (“IS MODERNISM REALLY TRANSNATIONAL? ULYSSES , NEW COSMOPOLITANISM, AND THE CELTIC TIGER.” University of Minnesota Press, 2015):
Whether the accounting is parochialism versus modernism, nationalism versus internationalism or provincialism versus metropolitanism, Joycean and modernist critics have traditionally held the local and the global in opposition. Begam’s challenge to this illustrates a similarity between the recent cosmopolitan turn in Joyce studies and the transnational turn in Modernist studies. It doesn’t seem that a reader could be both a Bloomist and a Nationalist. Bloom does seem to have at least a small scorn for provincial red-headed curates like Larry O’Flynn.