Metamorphosis in Ulysses and “The Ideal Giant”

I was reading Wyndham Lewis’ “The Ideal Giant” first, and thinking of it in relation to the “Proteus” episode of Ulysses, which also appears in this edition of The Little Review. Although the two pieces are in many ways quite different, there were several things that struck me as similar, and it did not surprise me to find the two pieces together in the same magazine.

We discussed in class how the “Proteus” episode is centered on the idea of metamorphosis.  There are countless examples of all different kinds that occur in the episode. One kind in particular is the metamorphosis of a thing- something in the physical world- into a thought that exists in the mind. I think my favorite example of this is the same one we discussed in class. Stephen listens to the sea as the waves come onto the beach, and in his mind the sounds take shape into images. Then, “It flows purling, widely, flowing, floating foampool, flower unfurling” (Joyce, 41). Stephen observes something in the physical world and then thinks about it, and as he does so it grows into something new. There is a metamorphosis. Not only is the thing being changed from the physical world to the mental, it is also changing because of the associations Stephen makes.

Although he deals with it differently, I believe Lewis was also aware of and writing about a similar kind of metamorphosis. The scene’s two characters, Kemp and Fingal, are on the topic of lies and art. Kemp says, “This meticulous sense will induce a man to describe very carefully something he has seen, if he describe it at all, and to suffer if, from laziness or other motive, he has slurred or misrepresented. This is the common base of wisdom and beauty. It is the famous generic madness at the bottom of genius.” Then he continues, “The transference is so complete in creative life of any sort. Reality is the “thing which is not,” for the creative artists” (Lewis, 6-7). In this instance, a person is capable of actively or purposefully changing something- forcing the metamorphosis, by describing it and misrepresenting it. It seems to me though that a “creative mind” lives in a sort of misrepresented state, where everything has been changed. Everything is subject to go through a metamorphosis and be changed in the mind of an artist. In this way I think this is connected to “Proteus.” Nearly everything Stephen sees is changed in his mind into something else, leading him to a new thought, a new idea, etc.  


One thought on “Metamorphosis in Ulysses and “The Ideal Giant”

  1. ktb067

    I find this concept really, really interesting. It is so true that the artist has the capability to metamorphose just about anything. On an even wider scale, all of humanity does this. How often does a sentence, description, etc. get misconstrued, because the speaker/writer has a different concept of the idea than the listener/reader? This also brings up the impossibility of precision in language, something that I believe we mentioned Joyce struggling with. It’s essentially impossible to accurately translate thoughts into writing.


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