There And Back Again

One of the clear themes of the Aeolus episode is motion, but a particular kind of motion. More particularly, it is concerned with un-linear motion, like cyclical, back-and-forth, etc. Joyce seems to be fixating on a concept of time in which “progress” or forward motion is apparent but impossible. The Aeolus episode itself obeys this idea, as we start at the base of Nelson’s Pillar and end up there too. As I was reading through the October 1918 issue of The Little Review, I noticed that John Rodker’s “Prose Poems” take up this theme as well. It is a little bit different than the paralysis theme that was evident in the Hades episode; here, the subject is allowed to move and explore their environment, but that exploration is always limited, obscured, or controlled in some way. For example, “Theseus” retells the story of the Greek hero who ventures into the labyrinth to slay the minotaur. In it, Rodker recasts the hero as a more modern figure, full of anxiety and uncertainty, who “[walks] wearily, dreading surprise at each moment” (9). Theseus uses his own two feet to move through the labyrinth, but this seeming freedom to progress is constrained in several ways: by “the brass door of the labyrinth [clanging] behind him”, the utter darkness into which he ventures, and his unfamiliarity with the layout. His course is not really under his control, much like Bloom’s.

The second prose poem “Dancer” compares the human body to a gyroscope, and instrument characterized by motion that is always centered around an axis, a visual definition of the circumscription of freedom: “The trunk twists like a reed upon the sinister lake of dynamism made by buttocks–yet revolves about them. From each heel the marvellous upthrust makes the buttocks topple from one side of the strut to the other” (10-11). Here the body is both a machine and a part of nature, capable of both twisting and back and forth of motion–yet none of the motion describes involves translation: it all involves either rotation or movement with a zero net change in position. This is very clearly in line with the story of Odysseus being blown back right where he started from after almost reaching Ithaca. Furthermore, the 3rd prose poem “God” portrays God as a dramatist working on a play which, once it becomes popular, multiplies itself and is performed all across the world every night at 8 o’clock: “On the Continent at varying times the same scene was enacted, The same sort of theatre was filled with the same sort of people who were shown the play exactly as it had been written, word for word” (11). This reminded me of the place that the newspaper industry holds in this episode, responsible for disseminating to the public all of the pressing stories of the day. In the poem, the Dramatist pays no attention to the production of his current, popular play, because he is busy writing a new one, just as the editors of a daily newspaper must write tomorrow’s stories the day before they happen. The theme here, I think, is not so much paralysis as it has been so far, but of a more cyclical kind of motion, like the kind of motion the mythic method involves.

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