Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cracked Looking Glass of the Servant

In the first spidoe Stephen points to Buck's mirror and says, "It is a symbol of Irish art. The cracked looking glass of the servant." This idea of art can be applied to the novel as a whole. Ulysses focuses not on historic royalty, the larger-than-life warriors, but on the servants, the commoners. Stephen calls himself, at one points, a servant of three masters.

His looking glass, then, his (and maybe therefore Joyce's?) art, is not reality but his reflection of reality. The novel's theme of parallax is exemplified in this metaphor. The mirror's imperfections and cracks are likened to different perspectives, different fragments of thoughts. The traditional epic has one narrator, but the importance Joyce places on the cracks of the mirror show in his choice of narration; the narrative displays multiplicity, seemingly disjointed ideas from various characters, and includes as question/answer episode, a hallucinatory episode, an episode written like a screenplay, etc.

When reading the line about the cracked looking glass I thought of a line in a T.S. Eliot poem I'd read for a previous class... "These fragments I have shored against my ruins." I'm probably missing a good bit of his meaning, but I took the fragments to be in the same vein as Joyce's cracked mirror, the fragments being different experiences. The modernist writers seem to be focused on the idea of reality as subjective. The idea of producing meaning from fragmentation, from a piece of the whole, is also exemplified in the book's structure- the twenty-four hour setting.

That's what I make of Stephen's line. I'm hesitant about it, however, because I don't understand why Joyce would say it's a symbol of Irish art, instead of a symbol of modern art, or simply art in general.


Adam Stoller said...
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Adam Stoller said...

Very insightful! I think the reason Stephen refers to the cracked mirror as a symbol for “Irish art” is because while a mirror reflects the world, its principle function is to reflect the person looking at it. Despite Stephen’s lack of artistic success, we learn in Episode 17 that he processes the world as “the artistic” and we know from previous chapters that he identifies with Ireland (683).