Tuesday, April 1, 2008

"Ineluctable Modality of the Visible": Perception and Reality

An individual's perception and its relation to the concept of "reality" is a theme that has been explored throughout philosophical history. Plato's well-known "Allegory of the Cave" is perhaps the earliest work to touch on it, and Joyce, in his efforts to create "the modern epic," does the same throughout Ulysses. Given the content of "Episode 2: Nestor," it is only fitting that Joyce immediately address his protagonist's own opinion on the matter. "Nestor" is rife with Stephen's considerations as to history's certainty: "Time has branded them and fettered they are lodged in the room of the infinite possibilities they have ousted. But can those have been possible seeing that they never were? Or was that only possible which came to pass?" (Joyce, 25) As Stephen teaches, it occurs to him that his concept of reality is framed by the limitations time applies to the otherwise infinite nature of the universe, and wonders if there can ever be any definitive or objective history. Stephen's employer, Mr. Deasy, simplifies the issue, claiming that "All history moves towards one great goal, the manifestation of God." (Joyce, 34) Of course for Stephen, for whom God is nothing more than "A shout in the street," (Joyce 34) this narrow viewpoint does not exactly hold water.

As Stephen and Joyce's readers leave the school and enter episode 3, they become immersed in a tumultuous whirlpool of Stephen's scholarly (and not-so scholarly) considerations. This phrase, "Ineluctable modality of the visible," upon which the reader is launched into the third episode of Ulysses, offers some degree of insight as to Stephen's own philosophy concerning the unanswerable quandary of reality and perception. With this single phrase, Stephen asserts the power of perception as the ultimate and undeniable reality.

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