Linguistic Experimentation in James Joyce's "Ulysses". A Journey into the Joycean Language Labyrinths

Textbook, 2022

126 Pages












Many attempts have been made to assimilate the enormous linguistic revolution set by Joyce althrough Ulysses. Nonetheless, it is not that much easy to cope with the innovative aspects of the experimental and pioneering linguistic techniques involved especially by those who are not qualified enough with the pervasive side of Joyce' linguistic experimentation. The linguistic features of Ulysses are entirely new, innovative and often misunderstood. The moment it has been published it has stirred up so many critics to comprehend what Joyce has achieved altering the traditions of narrative writing once and forever. This book aims at surveying the most outstanding dimensions of Joyce's aesthetic employment of language and investigating some of the technical difficulties ascribed to such an artistic employment.

The book falls into six chapters: the first chapter provides readers with an access to the major questions addressed by the book. The second chapter is an introduction in which general views are given concerning four ideological scenes that paved the way for the emergence of linguistic experimentation in the early years of the twentieth century The third chapter investigates the linguistic properties of three techniques in the novel: Indirect Interior Monologue, Direct Interior Monologue, and Soliloquy.The fourth chapter complements the third by bringing in more techniques that are said to be experimental such as Free Association, Scenic Montage, Stylistic Montage, Typographical Technique, and Rhetorical Technique.

The book is supposed to be a journey into the brilliant ways by which Joyce had leaped into a creative and genius employment of the artistic potentialities of English. As for the fifth chapter, it introduces linguistic refrain as a further experimental technique in which Joyce has gone so far in his experimentation trying to hold up the divergent psychological impressions. The sixth chapter sums up the whole study by giving a concise sample of the aspects of linguistic experimentation in the novel concluding the most prominent dimensions of Joyce's novel aesthetic use of language.

Khalid S. Hussein

Iraq 2003


At first sight, the average readers of Ulysses would find it an incomprehensible farrago, part sense and part nonsense. They could find the novel requiring too much concentration and ingenuity to be read in long stretches, the language seems to dissolve into a confusing incoherence, the style is so difficult to see how the experimental deviation of ordinary prose could be carried further. For many readers, the text of Ulysses is apparently so incoherent that even English readers find it almost impossible to understand, or even unreadable. Nevertheless, a careful study of the novel may show that the writing is deliberate, highly organized and perfectly lucid though it is indeed difficult. It follows that one should wonder why Joyce resorts to such an ostensible incoherence which most likely daunts all casual readers of Ulysses.

Ulysses seems incoherent and almost impossible to understand since Joyce has manipulated language in such a way as to depart from the established orthodox rules of English-use. I argue that this departure is due to three forms of language-employment:

1. deviation of formal syntax
2. psychological and dramatic employment of syntactic constructions
3. musical treatment of language.

This book is but one tiny attempt to investigate Joyce's experimental aesthetic use of language through exploring the following:

1. The dimensions of linguistic experimentation revealed by the techniques of stream of consciousness in Ulysses
2. Some of the linguistic as well as technical difficulties of stream of consciousness being realized in the novel.

Such an exploration is hopefully intended to naturalize Joyce's bizarre use of English by restoring some of the missing contexts that could help readers recontextualize most of the problematic and incomprehensible portions of Ulysses. Therefore, this book would be hopefully of value for all the attentive readers of Ulysses whether they were native or foreign, particularly those who are interested in the aesthetic and rhetorical functions of English, involving the employment of the language at a full stretch throughout the novel.

A classification of the techniques would be proposed involving two major classes: Developed Traditional Techniques, and Innovated Experimental Techniques with certain further subclasses, each with representative quotations from Ulysses to be fully analyzed. The analysis would be carried out in terms of the three hypothesized forms of linguistic experimentation mentioned above. So long as linguistic experimentation overshadows the traditional sense of coherence, the passages chosen from Ulysses appear to be the most likely incoherent ones althrough the novel. Accordingly, the extent of breaking away from accepted linguistic rules and practices, and the most marked apparent incoherence constitute the major criteria of selecting the passages discussed in this book.

Due to the wide space of the Joycean studies, our book is intended to mainly focus on the following technical problems in the novel taking into consideration their relation to the aspects of linguistic experimentation in particular:

1. The transition from the consciousness of one character to another and its relation to direct and indirect speech
2. The nature of consciousness and its relation to tense and sentence-structure
3. The uniqueness of consciousness as a matter of personal impression more than public systematization and its relation to textual coherence.


The early years of the twentieth century were undoubtedly an epoch of formal experimentation in all arts when modernism in poetry, drama, painting, sculpture, architecture, and music took the form of a breaking away from accepted rules and practice (Bradbury, 1976: 9). The term experimentation itself is widely used to identify new and distinctive features in the subject, forms, concepts and styles of literature. In its most general sense, experimentation involves a test or a trial carried out in a certain way which departs from the formal or accepted norms of a particular field of knowledge . Linguistic experimentation is, however, not an exception, though it is divergent due to the fact that it indicates any tendency to experiment with language departing from the formal or accepted rules of language-use.

It is truly difficult to ascribe the emergence of linguistic experimentation to certain comprehensible and clear-cut reasons; nevertheless, one has indeed to wonder about the motives that have led to an increasingly overwhelming preoccupation with the experimental usage of literary language. Many attempts have been carried out to explore the nature of the reasons behind such an overwhelming indulgence in the experimental employment of syntax, sentence-patterns, and word-formation processes without much conformity to the formal and widely-recognized traditions of English language manipulation.

It is, therefore, believed that a rapid survey of certain relevant key scenes, concerning the ideological background of the twentieth century, is of great value.


The unprecedented radical and rapid changes in the twentieth century have agitated a pervasive sense of loss, disillusionment, and even despair (Abrams, 1998: 5). It was a period that witnessed a series of revolutionary orientations in science, technology, economics, literature, . . ., etc. Being everywhere, the creep of the modem values encompassed politics as well as religion, though they were less radical in so far as the other scenes are concerned. On the one hand, Capitalism, with its politic consequences, enhanced "the hollowness of modern society", and confined its creative powers extremely to the productive premises of the industrial mill. On the other hand, the religious reformations and dissensions brought forth a kind of moral emptiness that the modern man entangled desperately with (Stephens, 1997: 2).

Throughout such a problematic period, the modern artist sought to liberate himself "from the constraints and polite convention"; thus, they set out to inject their works with an overwhelming atmosphere of "disintegration and alienation of humanity". The utter sense of being alienated from the established order has weighed down man's ability to cope with any stable belief or even to seek" a remedy for the uncertainty of the modern world" (Abrams, 1998: 2-3):

I believe, O Lord, help my unbelief. That is, help me to believe or help me to unbelieve? (Joyce, 1949: 202)1

The loss of belief, or non-religiousness, has been signified by adopting a passive perspective in regard of God or the artist as the creator of his work. The dramatically changeable surrounding has shaken faith in attempt to ascribe this world to an apparent divine will. There has been a tangible absence of God and artist amplifying the moral emptiness, futility, and anarchy as the most prominent features of the ideological scene at that time. The confidant God vanished among the struggling movements of uncertainty thrilling the theological security of the common individuals. What is more, the author appeared to be hidden, just like God, behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence indifferent, paring his fingernails. (Joyce, 1988: 219)2

Though it is absolutely not enough to cover the religio-political framework of the twentieth century in such an abrupt exploration, it sounds relevant to bind the two with the scenes to be examined in this chapeter. Moreover, the pragmatic premises of the modern western society stimulated many attempts to find out substitutes for religion which seems no more qualified to meet the wakeful needs to a secular God. The gap of the spiritual emptiness was huge and unbridgeable; hence, there was an urgent need to seek salvation, or remedy of the fragmentary being of the modern man3.

The modern political ideologies also stirred up a massive resentment and dissatisfaction with the "economic inequalities, the hypocrisies, the social anachronisms of English life" (ibid: 292). Politics, with such drastic qualities, provided an inspiration for the artist to express his/her rejection with various attempts of "improvisation and experimentation" (Stephens, 1997: 1).

The outcome of the global application of such political systems caused societies downfall and the economic competition as sustained by its political premises. It has brought with it the destructive consequences in the aftermath of World War 1: "the mass killing and absolute disregard for human life imposed their heavy shadows upon the temper of the modern artist" (Abrams, 1998: 1). Yet all this would be meaningless if it has not stirred up afresh and exciting experiments with language, forms, and techniques.


It is indeed difficult to properly appreciate linguistic experimentation without understanding the social factors influencing the status of time as one dimension experienced by the modern Man. As a result of the social and technological developments the meaning of time has been radically changed. This change, in turn, triggered certain "repercussions upon man's thinking about himself and his orientation in the modern world" (Meyerhoff, 1960: 106).

Under the effect of the industrial and technological revolution during the last two centuries, certain radical and material changes have been abruptly initiated. The economic maxims of consumption and production have invaded the intellectual texture of the modern man who was surrounded by the abundance of new visions and values of the progressive life. Thus, to be abreast of the rapid, material development, is to exploit time to its limits, to make use of "every fleeting moment "(ibid: 108). A totally new social significance of time has been reworked in the modern unprecedented changes of the economic premises of production: "Time was the essence, and of supreme value, because it produced things of value in terms of the market and the material conditions of life" (ibid.).

The contemporary man still says: "Time is money". Time is reflected as being a crucial measurement of the productive speed. The norms of the economic success are identified by the temporal span such a success consumes. Time is equated with money because the process of production consumes time. The more time it consumes, the more commodities are produced, and commodities mean money. What is more, motion is the norm rather than the exception whether it is mechanical, biological, or even intellectual. It follows that time is the chronology of motion that evaluates its various changeable physical properties, and "the price it can fetch in the market" (ibid: 107).

Such a new assessment of the physical time, in terms of its quantitative, and cumulative unities has been associated with enormous changes in the social structure. The social resources are confined to the cage of the foreshortened but invaluable time, it is the norm by which one can measure "the wages paid according to hourly rates, the loans and interest due at fixed intervals" (Daiches, 1958: 85-87). This materialistic perspective of time has created an increasing anxiety about the running on moments in order to set up a productive system of fully exploited temporal span.

The interpretation of time in terms of consumption and profit has another controversial side which is configurated through an urgent claim to neglect time as soon as it is worn out or consumed. It would be, then, useless to look backwards upon a dead past with no value to the beneficial premises of productivity (Meyerhoff, 1960: 108), i.e., it would be worthless just like a consumed commodity which the moment it was consumed it would be thrown away as a waste-paper.

The ambivalence in the evaluation of the dimensions of time is the basis for the enlarged temporal gap in which the links between one's own past and present have often been disrupted. The modern orientation has been devoted to understand and appreciate present at the expense of past. Surrounded by such an incomprehensible atmosphere in which past is accused of being useless and trivial, the modern man has required a special effort, skill and training, or a peculiar frame of mind to keep in touch with the personal past, "to reconstruct one's own personal biography according to a coherent unified, and significant pattern" (ibid: 109-10).

The past is difficult to reconstruct because of the rapid succession of the social changes. It is viewed as being "ground to pieces by such inexorable changes" (ibid.). One is no more capable of identifying oneself with the scattered scratches which the passed flux of events leaves on the abstract state of the memory which is exerted by recording the extravagant and incomprehensible changes. This paradoxical situation stands out as a precursor of the intellectual alienation the modern artist suffered from. Accordingly, the artist has questioned the certainties of the social values concerning the transitional evaluation of present and past (Abrams, 1998: 1).

One's self-image is no more identified with the passed away experience due to the lack of the fixity, stability, and relative permanence of the social structure. Such a dynamic structure has made the temporal perspective in the personal lives of individuals so fore-shortened. It was an inevitable consequence of the current invading concept of "a perpetual present... defined by the consumption of goods and the instrumental use of human beings themselves"(Meyerhoff, 1960: 110).

The exaggerating assertion of the "social utility" (see Stead, 1980: 119) has evoked certain personal repercussions reflected by the motif of the individual as "a complete stranger, . . . displaced person, without a past and generally without a future" (Meyerhoff, 1960: 113). The alienation of the modern artist, in its broadest sense, is due to the fact that he no more belongs to his society since " the rules applicable to men in society do not apply to him because he is outside and different in virtue of his being an artist . . ." (Daiches, 1958: 97). Hero's alienation, or the cracks opened in the social identity and intimacy, was stimulated by a complex set of sociological symptoms such as "economic insecurity", and "social mobility or instability" (Meyerhoff, 1960: 112).

The manifestations of present are considerably exotic to such an extent that the individual is urgently led to seek an out let. To bridge this gap of disintegration, the individual directed his attempts to identify himself with "something that seems forever lost" ( Ibid: 113). Caught within the social and ideological context of temporal fragmentation besides the beneficial assessment of the present, the artist is judged solely by the extremes of material success he can achieve, produce, and accomplish.

The issue of the artist's usefulness proceeds very far of our current concern, though one may dare saying that the artist's function in the society is worked out to satisfy the public's interest. He, if successful, should function as "something of a popular entertainer" (Stead, 1980: 119). Such an orientation of confining the artist's interest to the present requirements enhanced the past uselessness being an accumulation of worn out pieces. This, in turn, stirred up a serious conflict within the intellectual life of the modern artist who feels" uneasy and anxious of the furious scenes of the progressive life" (Meyerhoff, 1960: 117).

The literary treatment of this type of enigma has been assimilated through a skillful elaboration of certain techniques such as stream of consciousness, free association, temporal montage, . . . etc. There have also been radical contributions to the complementary relation between society and the aesthetic use of language, they are revealed as a means of escape from any attempt to trivialize the individual's past experience (Stead, 1980: 99), and to treat the blatant fragmentization of time in the consciousness of the modern man.


By the early years of the twentieth century, most writers have been well acquainted with the ideas of Freud, Jung, and William James. The experimental techniques which constitute the substantial body of contemporary literature are undeniably and intimately interwoven with certain techniques and findings in psychoanalysis (Wilbur, 1979: 69).

The evidence of a direct influence of psychoanalysis upon the work of individual writers is not too difficult to find. Joyce, for example, throughout his unique conversations with Arthur Power (1978: Passim), exposes the most considerable evidence of such a mutual influence. He is, most likely, one of the prominent figures in the elaboration and perfection of the techniques at work. He has had direct contacts with the head-quarters of the International Psychoanalytic Movement in Zurich during the writing of Ulysses, so it seems that he has been quite familiar with the writings of Freud, and other psychological analysts (ibid: 82).

As one division of the human mind, consciousness is approached in terms of its responsibility of the vast majority of our behavioral manifestations. It constitutes together with the unconscious undercurrents the identity of our personality (Selden, 1990: 222). To condemn the social image of the perpetual present, as experienced by the individual within the context of the market and the material conditions of life, most experimental writers have devised certain techniques to assimilate such a problematic atmosphere. They attempted to recapture their own sullen past by rewinding the ribbon of the worn out impressions. This presupposes another attempt to revitalize the structure of memory at the expense of the overwhelming present which would be forshortened into a few hours within which the past may extremely extend to a whole life time and beyond (Meyerhoff, 1960: 25-26).

The reconstruction of the individual's entire past requires to be carried out in a way that exhibits a sense of continuity and unity of the personal identity. Furthermore, it should be balanced against the stumbling block of the complex psychological nature which distinguishes the personal past as being the consciousness of memory. The past differs from the future as it can be touched or configurated by a vivid imagination throughout the records it leaves deep down in memory, whereas the future is something invisible, intangible. It has no records to be manipulated, rather it can be anticipated on the basis of what has happened. Therefore, there is no memory of future: "I know who I am by virtue of the records and relations constituting the memory which I call my own, and which differs from the memory structure of others." (ibid: 43).

The realistic envisage of the records in question presupposes an objective treatment and comprehension of the prominent psychological features of consciousness and its relation to time. Consciousness as experienced by William James (1955: passim) exhibits the quality of elastic nature, flowing river, or continuous flux. This peculiar strategy of handling the way consciousness moves across the multiple levels of memory may be expressed more precisely by the dynamic interpretation of the extending scope of events which may have the metaphoric properties of a flood (Meyerhoff, 1960: 22).

Confronted by such dramatic properties of a constantly changing stream of consciousness, some writers tried to cope with the dilemma of how they "can step into the same river twice, since new waters are constantly rushing by" (ibid: 29), i.e., how they can reconstruct their own past by getting it back if the impressions, stored up in their memory concerning such a past, are always different, conditioned and shaped by their present itself. When faced by such a problematic and perplexed question, the modern novelist has recognized the increasing challenge set by modern psychology to think of consciousness on one level or intellectual plane (Daiches, 1958: 87).

The individual's mental make-up cannot be framed within one clear-cut shot. It is no more convenient to imagine the consciousness "as moving in a straight chronological line from one point to the next" (ibid.). In other words, we do not think on one plane, but on many planes at once:

It is wrong to suppose that we follow only one train of thought at a time, there are several trains of thought, one above another. (Gilbert, 1969: 25)

Accordingly, man's consciousness must be imagined "as altogether fluid, existing simultaneously at several different levels" (Daiches, 1958: 87). Thus, the presentation of a logical succession of events within the scope of a story becomes unsatisfactory and unreal: "People are what they are because of what they have been"(ibid.).

Modern literature has abundantly and repetitiously played upon such a theme throughout the works of prominent figures in the literary scene. The radical findings of modern psychology have engaged the best minds in the history of "the intellectual novel" (Bradbury, 1976: 65). Most writers have adopted a new premise of envisaging consciousness as a continuous stream consisting of the retrospection of what has already flown and the anticipation of what has not yet flown. Moreover, there has been a general agreement that the classical style, which is sufficient for the demands of experienced life of human beings is no more adequate (Power, 1978: 73-74). Human beings are surrounded by all kinds of unmatched mystery, and governed by those subterranean psychological forces and hidden tides which have been described by Freud as being "imprisoned fumes" (Lieber, 1990: 121).

The literary repercussions of such psychological investigations and minute analyses of the character's states of mind were ineluctable to such an extent that sometimes the literary works seem to be sheer pedantic psychological reports. Therefore, most experimental writers have initiated certain stylistic innovations to bring their focus inward and explore the human consciousness. Their styles, generally speaking, reveal the distorting faculty of the sub-conscious mind through a distorting (or deviating) language and syntax (Friedman, 1955: 237). The apparent rambling series of phrases and expressions overlap with the multiple existence of consciousness, forging a linguistic mimicry of the psychological reality.


After any explosion of philosophical activity, the writer is always expected to cope with the eternal problem of what to do with this new knowledge, how to assimilate the new horizons and pathways of the intellectual development through an alert aesthetic manipulation of everyday language. Under the influence of the new philosophical treatment of time, the whole literary orientation of the grammatical time has been radically changed. The temporal linear unity of the traditional grammarians fails to accommodate the supposed fragmentization of temporal existence and self. The grammatical representation of time, or tense, by a chronological line divided into certain abstract points becomes illusive and specious (Daiches, 1958: 87). Such a theoretical line stands as a deviation or a falsification of the realistic multiplicity of time.

Two influential philosophical doctrines have forged a strange configuration of time: Bergson's ingenious discovery of duration as a new perspective of dealing with time, and William James's specious present as a new term projected into the technical terminology of the concept of time (Korg, 1980: 199). Thus, the essence of the grammatical time is viewed as being flexible and out of the overwhelming spatial restraints of the modern civilization (Meyerhoff, 1960: 15).

Bergson's original notion of duration was the point of departure for a theory devoted to undermine the physical concept of time as a common-mistake to think of it in terms of the accumulative units spatializing time into the tangible space (Bergson, 1960: 130-5). Such a theory has made him a very influential thinker in the intellectual revolution which has laid the ground for the consequent linguistic experimentation in modern literature. "Duration simply means that we experience time as a continuous flow" (Meyerhoff, 1960: 14), i.e., one should not convert the physical dimensions of quantities into the continuous flow of time. This fluid essence of time cannot be measured by separate, distinct, and successive movements which always remain separate "like points on a chronometer" (ibid: 15).

Moreover, the experience of the specious present has been introduced in order to describe the aspect of breadth, extension or duration of the temporal dough (James, 1955: passim). This provided the philosophical scene with a cute opposition to the abstract points of the physical time as a composition of discrete intervals. Within the context of the rational domain of philosophy, the traditional concept of present as one distinctive modality of time is just an abstract extension of the past which vanishes within the mist of future in the memory. That is to say, the concept of duration as proposed by Bergson (1960: 130-5), entails the temporal stretch throughout the present which is a blend of memory and expectation, before and after, past and future.

The realization of such philosophical concepts of time demands an elastic mental capacity to avoid the vagueness and imprecision of the familiar concepts the laymen used to. A close affinity of this type of objective facts with modern literature may be shown by the striking tendency of the modern novelist to reconstruct his/her self-image through the imaginary visions of memory (Meyerhoff, 1960: 48). The act of recollection proceeds on a timeless background since it could occur all at one at consciousness regardless of time or place. With such a characteristic in mind, recollection as an act becomes beyond time and place. The possibility of reconstructing one's own past life is susceptible to occur at any time as it is not fixed by any specific or predetermined date (ibid: 54-56 ).

What has been mentioned above indicates that the consciousness should be seen as a fluid which oozes over several different levels at one time. It follows that different impressions or mental records are always co-present or synchronical, that is, they can be envisaged as being released from the chronological order of time or as being "situated outside the scope of time" (ibid: 56).

To depict consciousness as a configuration of various impressions which co-exist at the same temporal dimension is to twist the inflexible referential capacity of the formal constructions of language. There should be a precise accommodation of language to translate the rational and abstract discourse into certain literary and linguistic techniques, symbols, and images (Leonard, 2002: 220). The aesthetic reconstruction of the self, after all, requires to be based on legitimate and empirical observations even if such observations seem to be radical and ineffable in terms of the possible manifestations of the literary language.

Consequently, the twentieth century was truly a time of outstanding and remarkable achievement throughout a daring disregard of tradition and radical departure ascribed to linguistic experimentation. The modern artist has toiled his creative powers to overcome such religio-political, social, psychological and philosophical atmospheres absorbing a striking realistic capacity to break away from the traditions and conventions. All this has been done linguistically through experimentation that triggered novel aesthetic techniques of linguistic employment.


Technically the most striking feature of Ulysses is Joyce's use of stream of consciousness with its technical corollaries of interior monologue, soliloquy, free association, scenic montage, stylistic montage, . . . etc. Joyce's medium in Ulysses is in fact a combination of eighteen techniques sorted out in a virtuous linguistic way. The structure of the novel as a whole is divided into three main divisions, subdivided into eighteen chapters, each of which with its own style and technique (see Gilbert, 1969).

The meaning of Ulysses is extremely located in the techniques of its various chapters and the decisive, minute nuances of language use (ibid: 20), for each technique is capsuled and studded with mere exercises of "verbal frankness" (ibid: 19) and an utmost scientific precision and employment of words, diction and syntactic constructions.

Joyce's constant attempt to verbalize as objectively as possible the mental processes led to experimentation which was often striking especially on the linguistic level (Mitchel, 1976: 101). Consequently, Joyce began throughout Ulysses to forge an accurate handling of language, on the one hand, as an embodiment of character's various mental make-up, and on the other hand, as an end by itself.

Such a dramatic employment of language creates a versatile type of discourse whether in terms of the exploited techniques or the aspects of linguistic experimentation involved within. The freedom Joyce took with language itself, namely, his love of puns, neologism, and words for their own sake, as well as the liberties he took with syntax, punctuation, and grammatical structure made for an unusually plastic and flexible text (ibid: 104).

The language of the novel seems to wave across the mental backgrounds of the treated characters, ranging from logical to illogical, enhancing the technical identity of narration, and revealing character's location within the preverbal level of consciousness (Humphry, 1954: 17). Sometimes the language seems to dissolve into drowsy incoherence as the character's mind relaxes "under the influence of sleep and weariness" (Reeves, 1974: 47). The linguistic modifications allowed by Joyce were radical to such an extent that "the distinction between chaos and order is cancelled" (Todd, 1989; 138). Joyce frees himself most completely from the restraints of linguistic conventions, he plays with most linguistic levels and readily integrated words and phrases from other languages: "Bald he was and a millionaire, maestro di color che sanno" (34).

Although this book has been dedicated to explore the aspects of linguistic experimentation throughout Ulysses, one cannot exclude the experimental dimension of the techniques manipulated. Each technique involves its own linguistic corollaries, elliptical code, referential pronouns, discontinuities, short cuts and syntactic structures suggested by a delusive truncated syntax.

The technical profusion of Ulysses may indicate the right of the author to vary his style to suit his own particular needs within a single work. However, it does not mean that the aspects of linguistic experimentation ramify, equally, in all the techniques employed along the novel, leaving alone the fact that a full examination of Joyce's "asyntactical prose" (Korg, 1980: 165), in a novel of the length and complexity of Ulysses would fill a long series of bulky books.

The following account would be an attempt to concentrate upon those techniques which seem to be over-burdened with linguistic deviations, modifications and revolutionary innovations with which the traditional English syntax is exclusively unaffected and the formal rules of English grammar may not be applicable any more.


Joyce uses interior monologue principally in the earlier episodes of Ulysses. Nevertheless, Fehr was struck by Joyce's absolute perfection of interior monologue as a technique due to the very fact that " two-thirds of the entire work consisted of die parole interieure" (Mitchell, 1976: 16). The technique is said to be traditional in the sense that it is not quite novel as it is sometimes alleged to be. Even Joyce traces it back to a French writer, named Dujardin, though it was strikingly perfected by him (Mitchell, 1976: 91). Levin (1977:94) stresses the fact that Joyce "tried to give the unspoken, unacted thoughts of people in the way they occur. But he is not the first one to do it. He took it from Dujardin".

In its most general sense, stream of consciousness fiction is "a type of fiction in which the basic emphasis is placed on exploration of the pre-speech levels of consciousness for the purpose, primarily, of revealing the psychic being of the characters" (Humphrey, 1954: 4) This exploration could be handled by certain elaborated techniques, interior monologue is just one of them. In his long analysis of interior monologue, Dujardin derives the following concise definition:

The internal monologue, in its nature of the order of poetry, is that unheard and unspoken speech by which a character expresses his inmost thoughts, those lying nearest the unconscious, without regard to logical organization-that is, in their original state-by means of direct sentences reduced to syntactic minimum, and in such a way as to give the impression of reproducing the thoughts just as they come into the mind. (1961: 54)

The traditional way of revealing the mind of the fictional character was presented by Dujardin when he employed such a technique in his novel Les Lauriers Sont Coupes (Levin, 1978: 83). A great deal of time and energy has been devoted to the task of defining the ways of presenting the mental life. Although Dujardin was the first to use interior monologue, Joyce was the first to introduce the technique into the modern novel in its most meaningful, creative and objective sense (Mitchell, 1976: passim). This apparent paradox can be resolved through a careful scrutiny of the prominent characteristics of the experimental employments of the technique concerned. In his most extended theoretical treatment of this technique, Robert Humphrey (1954: 32) distinguishes two basic types of this technique:


Dujardin's original experiment of interior monologue is a sustained monologue in the present tense, without incident or consequence, of a naïve young man taking a beautiful actress out to dinner, interrupted by occasional fragments of dialogue and a few necessary stage-directions in the first person" (Levin, 1978: 83). Such infrequent monologue tends to be carefully hidden by indirection.

The external defining characteristics of indirect interior monologue can be seen through the expression of thoughts in the third person by the reporting clause and the tense is usually changed to the past (Humphrey, 1954: 34). Novelists, other than Dujardin, continued to express thoughts in the traditional manner, prefacing them with the reporting clause "he thought", and enclosing them in quotation marks. In such cases the presence of the intervening reporter is evident in the sense that the character's thoughts appear to the readers through the filter, as it were, of the narrator-reporter, the events are largely seen through his eyes and the passages given over to his point of view are written in a style of his own (see Benstock, 1982).

As an example of Joyce's pure manipulation of such a technique, the following passage taken from the thirteenth section of Ulysses could be examined:

Then canon O'Hanlon handed the thurible back to father Conroy and knelt down looking up at the Blessed Sacrament and the choir began to sing Tantum ergo and she just swung her foot in and out in time as the music rose and fell to the Tantumer gosa cramen tum. Three and eleven she paid for those stockings in Sparrow's of George's street on the Tuesday, on the Monday before Easter and there wasn't a brack on them and that was what he was looking at, transparent, and not at her insignificant ones that had neither shape nor form (the cheek of her!) because he had eyes in his head to see the difference for himself. (343)

Within the context of the section involved, the passage is presented by the narrative voice in the third person, though the passage is not prefaced by the reporting clause "she thought". The recurrence of certain pronouns, "she just swung her. . . she paid for those..., etc. ", identifies the narration as third-person narration that admits for the narrator to exist in the text anonymously without being personalized. A further constraint upon the narration is the usual withdrawal of tense into past," handed... knelt... began swung... rose...fell... paid,...etc."

The narrator of this passage is supposed to be the author who visualizes Gerty's memories, aspirations and visions through simple syntactic structures and a minimum of non-finite verbs as a verbal revelation of her simple psychological being. No allusive syntactical ellipses, moodless sentences are also totally avoided. The profusion of conjunctions between the clauses may indicate the vivid consequence of her thoughts and her simple-mindedness. Every character speaks in his or her own voice or idiolect; therefor, the reader should be able to distinguish such deliberate linguistic differentiations without a need to mention the name of the speaker. Thus, throughout Ulysses, Joyce creates given linguistic identity and corollaries of Gerty's language which is full of "sentimental cliches, with loose-hung sentences running off into bathos to express her anxious mind to retain carefully ordered forms within her language" (Mac Cabe, 1981: 125).


What has been said so far establishes the very fact that indirect interior monologue is just a rudimentary form of the direct interior monologue. Joyce's refusal to be confined within the role of the traditional storyteller, and to play the narrative game according to the already established rules, and his determination to bend everything to the law of his own will are reflected in his revolutionary innovation of the direct interior monologue. The traditional employment of the technique as an immediate transcription of the pre-logical or even pre-verbal mental processes has been rejected as being an artificial presentation of the stream of consciousness in its linear exposure: . . . though the analytic method may give a partly false or artificial presentation of the stream of consciousness, the silent monologue is just as artificial and just as false. (Gilbert, 1969: 25)

To record the flow of consciousness by means of words and phrases is to depict it as if it were a continuous horizontal line. The psychological examination of our inner consciousness has shown that this presentation is essentially false. The complexity of our mental make-up entails the multiplicity of our conscious life. Thus, the traditional horizontal framework of narration holds no more for the psychological reality. It should be shattered and the basic progressive chronology of events should be disrupted as well.

The difficulties of the technique involved, namely its inability to accurately reproduce thought in a form truly corresponding to psychological reality, urged Joyce to develop, enlarge and enliven such a technique in a radical manner. The most striking psychological observation assimilated by Joyce was his recognition of the various levels of verbalization at which actual thought goes on (see Mitchell, 1976).

In real life our thoughts may vary from orderly presentations in sentences we speak aloud, to freakish, almost incoherent murmurings of the subconscious. Such a psychological chaos of our normal and abnormal states of mind is reflected by Joyce through a tricky linguistic chaos. Joyce employs the interior monologue to handle as accurately as possible these psychological variations using different aspects of linguistic experimentation such as: giving page of unpunctuated flowing night thoughts, representing hallucinations dramatically, and reproducing normal thought by means of short elliptic sentences (see Beach, 1960).

The various signs and aspects of such a breakdown of language are utilized to amplify and extend the possibilities of indirect interior monologue, representing the thoughts of the characters directly and without any intervention on the part of the author who is grammatically absent due to the absence of the so-called reporting clause (Selden, 1990.323), i.e., he conceals himself behind first person narration or as Jakobson (1971: 74) puts it "he is able to reply to a real or imaginary addresser when he is, or imagines himself to be, the addressee of the message", and the tense remains the natural one for the situation, exhibiting other attributes of actual thought particularly its seemingly incoherent nature.

Among the most famous sections of Ulysses was the final direct interior monologue of Molly Bloom. Yet it was only one formulation of the technique. With its extremely privileged structures, omitting all punctuation, the final section is made memorable even in visual terms (Mitchell, 1976: 26): it consists of eight long unpunctuated, but paragraphed, sentences of about 5,000 words each (Friedman, 1955: 238).

Nonetheless, the structural principle of these sentences is one : each sentence involves a number of coordinated main clauses, and each main clause is structured out of a number of subordinate clauses. In order to show how far Joyce's sentence-structure is complex, one may diagram the structure of one main clause of the first sentence which consists of 414 subordinate clauses distributed across eighty-six main clauses:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

This main clause is coordinated with the following one by but, and so on.

Hence, one of the most profound results of such a radical linguistic representation or equivalence of the random flux of Molly's spontaneous thought is the recognition that a page of text could make a visual as well as a verbal impact upon the reader (Mitchell, 1976: 100).

The linguistic characteristics of the first few lines of such a painstaking direct interior monologue can be examined in the following:

Yes because he never did a thing like that before as ask to get his breakfast in bed with a couple of eggs since the City Arms hotel when he used to be pretending to be laid up with a sick voice doing his highness to make himself interesting to that old faggot Mrs Riordan that he thought she had a great leg of and she never left us a farthing all for masses for herself and her soul greatest miser ever was actually afraid to lay out 4d for her methylated spirit telling me all her ailments... (698)

Such a fragment of the unspoken monologue of a drowsy woman can be regarded as a fantasia of reminiscence (Gilbert, 1969: 329). It is an immediate discourse since from the very first line we are posted within Molly's mind by her own voice. She presents herself as direct, immediate rendering of unsorted, unuttered thoughts without any narrator to mediate between character and reader. The narration is that of first person in which the author vanishes absolutely from the scene. The tense of narration is ranging from the past"he never did a thing like that"; progressive past"he was dying on account of her", to present"the woman hides it ", according to the natural temporal magma of the situation concerned.

At its face value, the text seems incoherent since first person narration which is deceptively matter-of-fact (Benstock, 1982: 19) provides the facts without directions. The context is obviously assumed without being stated, thus, the attentive reader must supply for himself the principles that govern the contextual setting of action in the text in order to make a sense out of it, otherwise, he would find himself adrift in the linguistic rambling of Ulysses.

Moreover, there is a general lack of conjunctions. Punctuation marks are suppressed as well as apostrophes "he s... we d... I d... I m...etc." The aim could be to create a visual impact upon the reader under the influence of run-on sentences; is and various verbal auxiliaries are relatively infrequent because of the telegraphic syntax of such a monologue as configurated by twisting the traditional syntax into startling patterns of Joyce's own making. The mental restlessness and caprice are indicated by the linguistic manifestations of the movements of Molly's thoughts which seem to be capricious and subject to no law.

There is no dominant interlocking structure since sentences are more varied and gain in length and complexity. The passage, as a whole, is just a preliminary small part of the first sentence of the monologue. This diversity of sentence-structure, which one might call structure in expansion, is such that the grammatical constructions within the whole monologue cannot be reduced to a basic pattern. There are still some recurrent features manipulated by Joyce to dramatize consciousness movement. Gilbert (1969: 341) shows that a close examination of Molly's interior monologue indicates certain words which, wherever they recur, seem to shift the trend of her musings and might be called the "wobbling-points" of the monologue. Such words are "woman", "bottom", "he". "man", after each of these there is a divagation in her thoughts.

Words are not the sole indicators of these "wobbling-points" of the monologue. Joyce exploited even the syntactic-structures for the purpose concerned, for example, non-finite clauses are used to dramatize the rapid shift from one thought towards another: ". . . combing out their pigtails for the day . . . ringing the angelus they ve nobody combing in . . . clattering the brains . . ."(740). This outstanding employment of the (-ing participle) non-finite clauses as a means of syntactic compression verbalizes two psychological features: first, the personal privacy of consciousness emphasized by the omission of the subject and finite-verb form though both should be recoverable from the context by the attentive readers. Second, the ongoing flux of stream of consciousness which is favorably expressed by the compressed syntactic construction of (-ing participle) owing to the fact that it indicates incomplete or constantly changing activity.

Linguistic deviations and words fusion can be regarded as further visual indicators or signs of movement which one might see in the following examples:

I can see his face clean shaven Frseeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeefrong that train again weeping tone once in the dear deacad days... I hate that istsbeg comes loves sweet ssooooooong... (722) With Molly's getting asleep, her interior monologue turns into illogical language of a dream sequence:

The alarmelock next door at cockshout clattering the brains out of itself let me see if can doze off 1 2 3 4 5 what kind of flowers are those (740) Henceforth, the mental discontinuities and short cuts of Molly's thoughts are suggested by fragmentary truncated syntax, exaggerating the use of non-finite clauses, moodless sentences and elliptical constructions which are used effectively to condense the discourse with an evident breakdown of the subject predicate form: ... then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will yes. (742)

Such an interior monologue functions as a kind of mental shorthand. As soon as we have grown familiar with its elliptical code, its difficulties can be mastered without too much effort, otherwise, it would dissolve into a complete incoherence if read out of context by a hasty reader. Many of the innovations of Ulysses had no clear precedent in any literary writing (Mitchell, 1976: 99). Besides, the novel utilizes a mixture of both: the direct and indirect interior monologues in the first and third person narratives already discussed.

The following passage is one of the considerable passages of Ulysses, taken from the beginning of the section in which Stephen is shown pacing the shore, it may seem a very good example of the technical mixture mentioned above:

Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearingtide, the rusty boot Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs. Limits of the diaphane. But he adds in bodies. Then he was aware of them bodies before of them coloured. How? By knocking his sconce against them, sure. Go easy. Bald he was and a millionaire maestro di color che sanno. Limit of the diaphane in. Why in? Diaphane, adiaphane. If you can put your five fingers through it, it is a gate, if not a door. Shut your eyes and see.

Stephen closed his eyes to hear his boots crush crackling wrack and shells. You are walking through it howsomever. I am, a stride at a time. Avery short space of time through very short times of space. Five, six: the nacheinander. Exactly: and that is the ineluctable modality of the audible. Open your eyes. No Jesus! If I fell over a cliff that beetles o'er his base, fell through the nebeneinander ineluctably. Iam getting on nicely in the dark. My ash sword hangs at my side. Tap with it; they do. My two feet in his boots are at the end of his legs, nebeneinander. Sounds solid: made by the mallet of Los Demiurgos. Am I walking into etemity along Sandymount strand? Crush, crack, crick, crick. Wild sea money. Domini Deasy kens them a'. Rhythm begins, you see. I hear. A catalectic tetrameter of iambs marching. No, agallop: deline the mare. Open your eyes now. I will. One moment. Has all vanished since? If I open and am forever in the black adiaphane. Basta! I will see if I can see. See now. There all the time without you: and ever shall be world without end.

They came down the steps from Leahy's terrace prudently, Frauenzimmer: and down the shelving shore flabbily their splayed feet sinking in the silted sand. Like me, like Algy. coming down to our might mother. Number one swung lourdily her midwife's bag, the other's gamp poked in the beach. From the liberties, out for the day. Mrs. Florence Mac Cabe, relict of the late patk MacCabe, deeply lamented, of Bride street. One of her sisterhood lugged me squealing into life. Creation from nothing. What has she in the bag? A misbrith with a trailing navel cord, hushed in ruddy wool. The cords of all link back, strandentwining cable of all flesh. That is why mystic monks. Will you be as gods? Gaze in your omphalos. Hello, Kinch here. Put me on to Edenville.Aleph, alpha: nought, nought, one. (33-35)

The first paragraph of the passage is written in a pure first person narrative whereas the first sentence of the second paragraph is narrated by a more traditional third person narrative. Suddenly, in the second sentence, the reader is put in direct contact with Stephen's mind. In mixing his techniques in such an oscillatory manner without preliminaries Joyce presented the text with a great tendency to disregard the comfort of the reader.

The casual reader would find such a passage completely incoherent since the section from which this passage is taken begins with an ambigious statement: "Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes.", what character is involved? where is he? Or what is he doing?

This passage illustrates one of the difficulties of Stephen's interior monologue because the reader has to reconstruct the scene and identify the speaker from hints thrown out. Beach (1960: 413) illustrates that in such a section "Stephen is engaged in trying out the principles of Aristotle's psychology with his feet and his eyes". However, the readers are never told that. They must deduce all that from the terms themselves if they have any philosophical background and from the allusion to Dante's phrase for Aristotle, "maestro di color che sanno", or " master of those who know" (ibid.).

The German words, "nacheinander", "nebeneinander", "Frauenzimmer", may indicate Stephen's fondness of Aristotle's philosophy as expressed by German commentators. Thus, the pronoun he in "But he adds in bodies", "he was aware of..."," Bald he was..." refers to Aristotle. Moreover, Stephen is given to addressing himself in his imagination in the second person narration which is almost unknown except with Joyce's writings; and so it is assumed that the pronoun you in"you are walking through it howsomever" refers to Stephen Dedalus. The readers are left again to work out the reference of the two possessive pronouns in: "My two feet in his boots are at the end of his legs,...", which refer to Stephen's friend in the first section - Buck Mulligan - whose boots have been borrowed by Stephen (Leonard, 1993: 4).


1 James Joyce, Ulysses,4th ed. (London: The Bodley Head ,1949). All references to the novel are from this edition and only the page number will be parenthetically cited in subsequent quotations.

2 James Joyce, A portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 3rd ed. (London: Heinemann Books, 1988).

3 Wilson (1966:269) surveys three substitutes for the lost religious faith: Art, Imperialism, and Liberalism. It is outside the scope of this study to go further and investigate such three routes of Escapism; however, they embody the randomness and weariness of the modern individual's theological background.

Excerpt out of 126 pages


Linguistic Experimentation in James Joyce's "Ulysses". A Journey into the Joycean Language Labyrinths
Catalog Number
ISBN (Book)
linguistic, experimentation, james, joyce, ulysses, journey, joycean, language, labyrinths
Quote paper
Khalid Shakir Hussein (Author), 2022, Linguistic Experimentation in James Joyce's "Ulysses". A Journey into the Joycean Language Labyrinths, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Linguistic Experimentation in James Joyce's "Ulysses". A Journey into the Joycean Language Labyrinths

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free