James Joyce was born in Dublin in 1882, into a middle-class Irish Catholic family; he died in Zurich in 1941. He rejected Irish life “in toto“ but at the James Joycesame time he set all his novels in Dublin. He spent nearly all his adult life abroad, choosing voluntary exile in Trieste, Zurich and Paris; this mobility favoured his openness to the influence of other intellectual traditions. As a result of his interest in experimentation, he created a new kind of dream language, a mixture of existing words, inventive word combinations and non-existent words.

For the sake of convenience, Joyce's literary production is usually split into two period, the turning point coinciding with the writing of Ulysses. The first period is marked by a realistic technique and by a language that reflects everyday speech (Dubliners). The second period sees the transition from a somewhat traditional approach to a stage of experimentation, rich in symbolism and allegory; the language rejects logical sequence and conventional syntax (Ulysses, Finnegan's Wake). The prose becomes music and the “interior monologue“ means to get the raw thought as it comes out from the coscience (“stream of consciousness“).

Joyce thought that the artist ought to be “invisible“ in his works, in the sense that he must not express his own viewpoint. He should instead try to express the thoughts and emotions of other men. He uses the literary technique of  “Epiphany“: an intense moment of emotion, a sudden revelation that brings the Joyce's art further the realism.


The novel  takes as its material a single day (June 16, 1904) and begins with Stephen Dedalus (Telemachus) that is wandering the streets in search of a home; he meets Leopold Bloom (Ulysses) who “adopts“ him. At home, awaiting the wanderers, is Molly Bloom (Penelope).

Among other things, a novel is simply a long story, and the first question about any story is: What happens?. In the case of Ulysses, the answer might be Everything. The novel is based both on the trivial details of everyday life and the inner life of the characters. And thanks to the book's stream-of-consciousness technique almost every variety of human experience is crammed into the daily events of a single day, which makes Ulysses not just an experimental work but the very last word in realism: with Joyce the literature has for object only her own material, the language.   

In his use of  “interior monologue“, Joyce employed a variety of devices, such as lack of punctuation, puns, onomatopeic words, flash-back, similes, metaphores, story-in-the-story.

Both characters add their glorious intonations to the music of Joyce's prose: Dedalus's accent of a freelance aesthetician and Bloom's wistful sensualism (and naive curiosity).


It is virtually impossible to summarize Finnegans Wake without doing injustice to its complexity. The book's circular structure is only the most conspicuous of the techniques Joyce uses to disrupt traditional linear narrative (Finnegans Wake famously opens with the second half of the sentence that starts at the very end of the book). In his early notebooks, Joyce had already pointed out that Aristotle's famous dictum was wrongly translated as “art is an imitation of nature“; it should be “art imitates nature“. This crucial difference explains the poetics of Joyce's last work, which is a much more radical and dynamic form of 'process mimesis' than the reality effect created in naturalistic novels. It is a dazzling attempt to make words coincide again with what they once stood for, as in the case of the hundreds of river names. By “flooding“ the text with river names, he tried to make it flow. As a result, the Wake is the only literary experiment that is its own mainstream.


The "time school" novelists attempted to recreate that complexity of time consciousness by means of the stream-of-consciousness technique. Its essence was the assumption that the significance of man's existence can be found in the mental processes rather than in the external world. Consequently, the writer's goal was to represent the endless flow of consciousness rather than describe the objective reality. Joyce had extensively employed the stream of consciousness technique in Ulysses. By skillfully entering the minds of his characters he managed to render their mental processes with such verisimilitude that many readers have commented on the novel seeming at times more real than reality. Although the action of Ulysses describes the course of a single day, the coexistence of the consciousness of the characters' past, present and projected future enables the reader to understand fully the characters in the context of the formative events of their lives. As Molly Bloom lies in bed, her past, present and future ceaselessly flow together. She recalls and relives past events, but she also hears "Georges church bells" and plans to check her husband's fidelity the next morning. Her thoughts form a continuum in which there are no temporal divisions: it is an eternal present where differentiated time zones do not exist ("there is a future in every past that is present" [Finnegans Wake 496.35-36]). 

Temporality is further explored in Finnegans Wake, although the exploration takes a different form. Joyce's last book does not attempt to re-create everyday reality of in the way Ulysses does. Instead, Joyce creates a reality of his own. His new reality is completely freed from the rational logic which dominates our waking state. Instead it resembles the logic of the dreaming mind, or the working of consciousness, where images are subject to constant movement and transformation. In place of realistic characters, in Finnegans Wake Joyce creates types: "Mister Typus, Mistress Tope and all the little typtopies". The spatiotemporal interaction in Finnegans Wake, not only conveys the idea of time without boundaries between the past, present and future, but it also expresses the relativistic fusion of time and space into a timespace continuum.

Percorso interdisciplinare di paola zanzi anno scolastico 2004-2005 liceo scientifico "G.Oberdan" Trieste


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