Early in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen presents an impressive version of his full name and address. Situated on the flyleaf of his geography textbook, the nine lines situate him within the general organisation of space to which the textbook introduces the pupils:
On the opposite page, his friend Fleming has written the following verse, which appears rather conventional and perhaps a little sobering in comparison:
The difference is striking between the two presentations of Stephen’s location and identity. In Fleming’s version, Stephen is part of a series of groups: a national community, a community of pupils, and a community of believers, not forgetting the linguistic community within which he is identified by Christian and family names, thus additionally including him within religious and familial subgroups of the national community. Revealingly, all the lines of Fleming’s little poem are strictly aligned on the same left-hand margin. On the other hand, Stephen’s topographically centred version presents a veritable Stephen-centric cosmology, with an enlarging succession of concentric circles that underline Stephen’s predominant position at the centre of an eventually infinite ensemble—the universe. Whether in his class or in the universe, Stephen is always the prime element, one who, contrary to Fleming’s portrait, does not appear to be determined by residential, national or religious imperatives. Revealingly, whilst Fleming, perhaps defiantly, identified Ireland as the pupil’s nation, Stephen appears to bypass the nationalist debate altogether and envisages nothing but Europe as the first wider circumference containing within it Ireland, whose national, colonial, or semi-colonial status is not even mentioned. More importantly, his approach is only factual, spatial, and geographic, entirely eschewing the complementary temporal (“expectation”) and transcendental (“heaven”) dimensions with which Fleming chooses to close his quatrain. Centrality is both the formal and the thematic focus of Stephen’s lines, imposing upon his readers the certainty that, whatever scale one would wish to consider, he presides—rather than resides—at the centre.
Traditionally, the Bildungsroman and Künstlerroman genres entail a reversal of the interaction between the individual and collective levels: whilst socially the group is conceived as centrally located and the individual or artist as marginal and therefore rejected by the group, the novel tends to overturn this situation by focusing on the marginal individual or artist, and by rejecting the social group in the margins of its narrative. At first reading, this appears to be the configuration in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and a quick analysis of the two pages in the geography textbook only confirms this conclusion. However, Stephen’s topographical centring of his list, which amounts to playing with the size of the margin on both sides of the page, while emphasizing his position at the centre and as the prime element, also points at writing as a way round the traditional dichotomy between group and individual, centre and margin. With his regular left-hand margin, Fleming has produced but a conventional piece of poetry, imperfectly rhyming and with a faulty metrical pattern, as emphasized by the varying size of the margin on the right-hand side. The transcendental verticality of Fleming’s worldview contrasts with Stephen’s all-encompassing and self-controlled cosmology, which playfully employs the variations of margin length on both sides to underline its vivid egocentric statement. The typographical expression of the central/marginal dialectics seems to bear larger cosmological, and even metaphysical, consequences. Further, in the specific case of Stephen’s geography textbook, these larger questions may only be broached when quoting and confronting the two variants: it is through the asymmetry between the two opposite pages that readers will inject meaning, feeding the larger margins of these two proto-poetic statements of Stephen’s identity with their own reflections—or marginalia. An unconventional and critical attitude towards these two pages is in fact immediately encouraged by Stephen’s own playful method of reading: “He read the verses backwards but then they were not poetry. Then he read the flyleaf from the bottom to the top till he came to his own name. That was he: and he read down the page again” (P 13). Thus alternating backward and forward readings, Stephen will eventually be led to metaphysical and religious questionings, his own marginal thinking figuratively filling up the margins of the pages with reflections that, we suspect, are very distant from the daily preoccupations of the other pupils in his form.
The broader question of the marginality or centrality of discourse, both as reflecting the possibly marginal position of a character in relation to a group, and as sometimes reflected in the typographical centre and margins of the printed page, is one that activates the readers’ reflection in many ways throughout Joyce’s work. In A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man, before being perceived as a rejecting or demanding entity by the older Stephen, the group appears as a linguistic community to enter, a coded ensemble of words to be mastered, almost as one would crack a riddle. Just as the child in the beginning of Dubliners “puzzled [his] head to extract meaning from [old Cotter’s] unfinished sentences” (D 3),(3) Stephen as a child is found puzzling his head over mysterious phrases and words for which he does not possess the linguistic or cultural deciphering code: what is Mr Casey’s “birthday present for Queen Victoria” (P 25), for instance, that got him three cramped fingers? Stephen progressively learns to grasp and phrase to himself the linguistic quality of his own queries: “What did that mean about the smugging in the square?” (P 42), he asks, or “Why did Mr Barrett call his pandybat a turkey?” (P 28). The ritual quality of language is not lost upon Stephen. As if words were a magic wand giving him entry into the centrally located group, on the margins of which he was until then relegated, Stephen’s mantra-like repetition bears an almost religious intensity: “Words which he did not understand he said over and over to himself till he had learned them by heart: and through them he had glimpses of the real world about him” (P 58). The group, in all its linguistic mastery, stands at the centre, whilst Stephen is positioned in the margin, trying to enter by gradually assimilating the coded language that seems the cement of the group’s unity: words are points of entry into the group, passwords to its centre.
Disagreements come to further complexify the situation, with the realisation that there may be no unanimous position on any subject matter, that the centre itself is neither unique nor univocal. In relation the this now heterogeneous centre, the artist as a small boy discovers a Bakthinian type of polyphony: when a small group of “fellows” are discussing why and how some of the pupils were caught, envisaging several possibilities, a new speaker suddenly intervenes and puts them all on the same level: “Athy, who had been silent, said quietly: / —You are all wrong” (P 38). Stephen seems generally confused by this kind of talk, lost in the midst of the other knowing pupils, overhearing conversations with awe and “afraid to speak” (P 40). He is again, however, resorting to the magic, poetic power of language to solve the quandaries posed by these conversations:
The magic of sound, through which the pandybats give their own soothing, flowing answer to the riddle of who will be the captain of the cricket team, is probably made even more vivid by Stephen’s broken glasses, which reduce the size of the other members of the group (“the fellows seemed to him to have grown smaller,” P 41): acoustic perceptions compensate for visual impairment, helping to develop his own, poetic inner speech. Stephen, however, realises at the same time that the magical, spiritual link between signifier and signified may also be shattered: just as the words of the prefect of studies (“lazy idle little loafer,” P 51) do not fit the child they are addressed to, traditional images themselves may be doubted: “Tower of Ivory, they used to say, House of Gold! How could a woman be a tower of ivory or a house of gold? Who was right then?” (P 35). Thus the budding artist discovers, besides the fallibility of religious men, religious discord. But in the process he also gets an intimation of the essence of tropes and metaphors, and this is among the first hints in the novel that the polyphonic—or cacophonic—rendering of group speech can inspire creativity, just like the backward reading of Fleming’s conventional verses earlier inspired Stephen’s metaphysical reflections. Stephen’s fascination with language is thus immediately coupled with consciousness of the group as a source of contradictory information and ambiguity. Polyphony and polysemy are a hindrance, but also what makes wordplay possible, once they cease being perceived merely as obstacles or borders between margin and centre that may be crossed in one direction only. The Russian theoretician Lev Vygotsky has shown that inner speech develops in each person through a gradual process of internalisation of group—or external—speech. According to Vygotsky, the egocentric speech of the child will evolve at first via a conversational, dialogical process with the people around him, and then progressively migrate inwards to become the inner speech of the adult’s thoughts.(4) This model offers convincing insights into the parallel development, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and elsewhere in Joyce’s work, of narrative and stylistic techniques meant to render on the one hand inner speech, on the other group conversations. More particularly, by referring to Vygotsky’s theories, we come to realise that, as the child’s struggle with language in Clongowes tends to prove, these two literary endeavours should perhaps not be separated, that they could only have progressed together, complementarily, and consequently that they should not be envisaged or studied independently.
From the first epiphanies recorded by the young Joyce—or by his avatar in Stephen Hero—, the voices encountered in the community have always vied with that of the individual: the dramatic and lyrical epiphanies coexist next to one another, their specificities and idiosyncrasies rendered perhaps even more remarkable by this juxtaposition.(5) If in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen and his idiosyncratic, individual voice appears to win the day by asserting his central position while retaining his marginal views, a closer, more ironic reading may also point to the external and internal dialogism undermining Stephen’s opinion. In other words, Stephen’s constant perspective and stylistic mastery over the narrative does not stop readers from hearing the valid statements of his friends’ words, expressed in long dialogic conversations especially in the second half of the book, nor from appreciating the subtle irony and stylistic excesses (that predilection for chiasmus for instance), subverting his own words almost everywhere in the book. The very choice of free indirect style instead of a first-person narration implies that, whatever the degree of sympathy readers are led to feel for the main character, he is always a third party whom a narrator evokes in third person, speaking to readers directly, “over his head” as it were. Joyce’s experimentation with these two modes of narration is already evident in Dubliners of course, with its first three stories in first person in which readers are led to sympathise with the child narrators a lot more than they will in the later stories. Even in “The Dead,” Gabriel’s perspective is followed and thoroughly rendered, but a certain play between sympathy and irony is definitely at work, particularly at the end of the novella. Such dialectical tension is pursued on a larger scale in A Portrait, where there remains always a degree of distanciation embedded within the narrative technique itself, encouraging readers to take whatever is said, and however brilliantly or lyrically it may be expressed, with a measure of irony. In that sense, even though Stephen is constantly at the centre of A Portrait, he remains in the margin of its narrative technique, someone who is talked, thought and written about, at the very same time as he is talking and thinking and writing.
It may be a shortcut, but it strikes me that, in Finnegans Wake, the lone voice of interior monologue, which has been so impressively mastered in Ulysses, has become very marginal indeed, the contamination of other voices and languages attacking the central text as if they now openly refused to stand quietly in the margins. The lyrical explosion of group speech and gossip in “Anna Livia Plurabelle” for instance, significantly begins with a typographically centred text:
The group’s inquisitiveness, their demand for information—and for information specifically about the individual—have become, not only the new typographical centre, but also the focus of the writing effort. They are Joyce’s main inspiration, it seems, together with a playful representation within the text of the readers’ own curiosity.
Having posited the broader question of the marginality and centrality of discourse in Joyce’s work taken globally, I shall now examine how it unfolds in two successive episodes of Ulysses, “Sirens” and “Cyclops,” where it seems that Joyce’s formal experiments aim particularly at rendering gossip and the collective voice of the group, or perhaps of what Hélène Cixous called “the municipal character” of Ulysses.(7) For this purpose it will be useful to revert to genetic matters and to what genetic critics say of the various stages of composition of these two episodes. The first study I will make use of is Daniel Ferrer’s description of the earliest draft discovered for “Sirens,” which appears in a notebook just after a draft of “Proteus.” The most striking feature of this draft is that it does not contain Bloom, nor in fact the musical technique that has come to be associated with the chapter. Ferrer even surmises that the original technique of “Sirens” seems to be a regression to Dubliners, away from the style developed in the first three chapters in Ulysses: “After the dense and claustrophobic subjectivity of the Telemachiad, did Joyce want to move to a more impersonal, dialogue-oriented presentation to change the lyric for the dramatic mode?”(8) It thus appears that “Sirens” was at first an experiment in dialogical, dramatic technique, and that the fuga per canonem—or fugal technique that has lately been confirmed as being the compositional method for the episode(9)—may have been thought of only at a later stage as a way round the problem of expressing concomitant, possibly discordant voices: in a fugue, voices chase one another, until eventually, like superimposed notes on the stave, they produce the linguistic equivalent of a chord, a portmanteau word. Interestingly, in the chapter as we now know it, it is only Bloom’s arrival—and his marginal viewpoint, or “hearpoint” rather—that allows the deployment of all the potentialities of such linguistic experiments: in the final cry of the Martha aria (“Siopold!” U 11.752), the singer of the song (Simon) is conflated with the character singing in the libretto (Lionel), and with the marginal listener sitting in the next room (Leopold). Ferrer surmises that it is only with Bloom’s arrival in the draft that Joyce started developing the contrapuntal musical technique, or in other words the stylistic and rhetorical work that eventually makes a linguistic fusion such as “Siopold” possible.(10) The parallel development of both Bloom’s subjective inner speech and a polyphony of voices is a notable feature of the composition of “Sirens,” which must be kept in mind as we consider the marginal/central dialectic in the episode.
Bloom’s marginal position in the episode is self-evident and even spatially marked: he is sitting in the adjacent room at the Ormond, an unseen ear-witness to the conversation and the singing taking place in the bar and music-room. He also becomes, together with Molly, the topic of the central group’s gossiping conversation. Such marginality is underlined by Bloom’s connection with two other peripheral figures that do not participate in the conversation proper, and who nevertheless make essential contributions to the musical construction of the episode—the deaf waiter and the blind stripling. Pat the deaf waiter waits mutely, and his name recurs rhythmically to allusively emphasise Bloom’s status as a cuckold who is also waiting—waiting for Boylan to leave the Ormond and meet up with Molly, and waiting for his wife to have an affair before he will eventually return home. Conversely and complementarily, the blind stripling’s “tap”—which reverses the waiter’s name “Pat”—marks the pace of Boylan’s approach to Molly, or perhaps of Bloom’s phantasm of this approach. The marginal status of these two impaired characters serves to underscore Bloom’s own, but revealingly they come to lose their marginal status through the musical stylistic technique, as they progressively invade the text to take centre stage:
Playing with a limited number of syllables, Joyce produces a throbbing crescendo of ascending rhythm, a succession of mostly iambs (“He waits”) and anapaests (“while you wait”) sounding almost like a drum score. In similar fashion, the at-first quiet and unobtrusive “tap” of the blind stripling progressively fills whole lines of text, as “with a tapping cane [he] came taptaptapping” (U 11.1234). His marginal impairment paradoxically turns into a liberating flight of tap-dancing that accompanies Bloom’s escape away from the sirens’ song, as if the emphasis on rhythm and beat countered the lyrical, romantic predominance of melody in the Ormond. Eventually the blind stripling’s “tap” becomes a “tip,” the sign that Pat has been paid his due for waiting, but also perhaps that what usually stands at the extreme border—or tip—is now about to enter the centre, bypassing in the process those who thought they could stand there as if by birthright. At the end of the episode, the blind stripling’s arrival at the Ormond both undercuts the previously central characters of the bar conversation, and, through verbal echoes of Pat’s motifs, achieves a meaningful reunification with the deaf waiter’s presence:
The final laughter unites the two marginal characters—the one that cannot see, the one that cannot hear—and appears to proclaim their victory, before Bloom’s final fart, or farting finale.
At first reading, the situation and composition seem utterly different in “Cyclops,” as Joyce in his effort to express collective speech obviously opted for the opposite of musical harmony and blending of voices. In this chapter also, however, a minimalist dramatic method characterised the first narrative draft. Genetic criticism proves again helpful here. As Michael Groden has noted, the original draft for “Cyclops” begins, unexpectedly, with a passage of what Joyce called “gigantism”—these stylistic parodies with rich implications for central/marginal dialectics: “Dialogue soon follows, but much of it is not linked to any particular character. In fact, characters tend to be largely undifferentiated, with much of the dialogue attributed to a speaker identified only by a dash or an X rather than by a name.”(11) Groden’s article incorporates his findings from the manuscripts recently acquired by the National Library of Ireland to the remarkable work he has already done on the composition of Ulysses: in this instance, he is in fact commenting the “Cyclops” draft long-available as part of the Buffalo collection.(12) The second half of the draft, part of the new NLI collection, reveals that the overbearing narrator, or “Nameless One,” who opens the final version of the chapter as we know it and imposes himself so forcefully throughout, is in fact but a late addition in the compositional process. It is to him we owe the differentiation between speakers and their identification by names. In other words, here again Joyce’s first idea for the chapter was centred around the words of the group, both in the form of the conversation in the pub and of the stylistic parodies exposing the clichés and mythologies around which the group reaches, or would reach, a consensus. Both in the restricted sense of the group of speakers at Barney Kiernan’s and in the larger sense of the national community, the group, with its excluding, intolerant propensities, has been identified by most as the key concern in the chapter. Thus, in the passages of “gigantism,” the butt of the parody is never precisely identifiable: the caricature always targets a collective writer, or even a fashion, recognisable in time or genre or medium, but never a single writer. There are minutes of parliamentary debates or of political organisation meetings, nineteenth-century transcriptions of orally transmitted legends, newspaper coverage of public events, accounts of verse recitation, legal trial records, prayers, etc., but rarely can one specific author be identified, as is the case, for instance, with the parodies in “Oxen of the Sun.”(13) What is definitely recognisable, however, is Joyce’s critique of the texts around which the group reaches a consensus, and particularly the romanticised version of the national legendary past conveyed by the Irish Renaissance movement.(14)
Another of Groden’s observations that I wish to probe further is that Joyce’s original dialogues for “Cyclops” contained no identification of speakers. This is in effect what can be found at times in the final version of “Sirens,” and it constitutes a Joycean technique already employed in the first dramatic epiphanies: individual speakers’ identities are not stressed, at times not even mentioned, because the point seems to be to bypass the limitations of individual characterisation and psychology in order to experiment with the almost spontaneous generation of speech by the group. Narratorial interventions, even the limited mention of characters’ names, would only hinder a writing process that seems focused on recovering the dynamics of group conversation. Here is for instance the bit of gossip concerning Molly in “Sirens”:
These seven lines of dialogue are provided without any identification of the speakers involved, nor any narratorial interruption or explanation. Beyond its multiple heads and voices, the group seems to blend together and generate language collectively, as an autonomous entity, through a subtle dosage of interruption and completion of each previous cue: the Christian name “Marion” is followed with the maiden name “Tweedy”; the adjective “alive” brings up the set phrase “alive and kicking”; and the substantive “daughter” summons the title of Gaetano Donizetti’s opera, The Daughter of the Regiment, one particularly fit to evoke Molly’s life and love trysts in Gibraltar. Every other line both interrupts and completes the previous one, slightly altering the answer that could have been expected; and the next question launches another pun and another allusion, to feed both the gossipy nature and the verbal richness of the conversation. Interruption is indeed a key concept when it comes to gossip, and a thin line to tread: how much will one speaker allow the other speaker to say? How much does he want to hear and learn, before he brings up his own witty, possibly salacious contribution? Revelations will feed other conversations, but to the detriment of his own place in the current exchange. Typographically speaking, the moment when one speaker decides to interrupt another determines the size of the right-hand margin after the latter’s last line: thus the “interrupter” reduces the other character’s central text, thereby imposing first his margin length, and second his own text at the centre of the next line. The more the exchange progresses through interruption, the larger the right-hand margins. When Joyce’s witty group conversations are at their best and fastest, this is visually identifiable by the expanding margin on the right hand side of the printed page.
The connection between margins and Joyce’s inspiration in rendering polyphonic exchanges brings to mind the idiosyncratic spatial organisation of Joyce’s drafts, whereby the handwriting, as it comes down the page, progressively shifts further and further to the right, leaving a gradually expanding margin on the left, one that later additions—or marginalia—will come to expand into another, better version of Joyce’s first draft. Michael Groden even remarks that at times the additions come to so much clutter the pages, with lines and symbols drawn in all directions to connect words to the central body of the text, that it becomes next to impossible to follow.(15) Groden’s surmises that the poor state of the writer’s eyesight may have explained the spatial organisation of his manuscript pages: Joyce suffered from myopia, which forced him to see primarily in limited patches, and from attacks of iritis that tended to blur and obscure his entire visual field; eventually glaucoma would further reduce his field of vision.(16) It is worth wondering how much such visual impairment could have also fuelled his bold experiments with language, not only as he experienced them in the writing process, but also as he wished the readers to experience them on the printed page.(17)
In the final version of “Cyclops” are to be found passages of dialogue similar to the one quoted above from “Sirens,” except the overbearing narrator rarely refrains from intervening, be it only by punctuating each line with the identification of its speaker. Even when this is obviously not required for the comprehension of the dialogue or for the recognition of the speakers, narratorial interjections such as “says Joe,” “says Bloom,” “says the citizen,” “says he,” and the even more redundant “says I,” are lavishly and systematically provided, like a constant reminder of the narrator’s control of the conversation. Most of the time, his presence is also made conspicuous through peremptory interventions, as when he cuts a character, providing his own—in fact unvoiced—retort. “Talking about new Ireland he ought to go and get a new dog so he ought” (U 12.484-85) is one of the numerous reactions to the Citizen’s nationalistic zeal, none of them in effect voiced. More interesting in grammatical terms is the retort the Nameless One makes to J. J.’s “In my opinion an action might lie”: “Who wants your opinion? Let us drink our pints in peace. Gob, we won’t be let even do that much itself.” (U 12.1073-74). This unspoken utterance is in fact addressed in second person to J. J. as if it were part of the dialogue, but like all the mean-spirited remarks about the citizen, his dog, or anyone else at Barney Kiernan’s, no one but the readers ever partake of this wit: whilst his sarcastic vein is at its best as a narrator, as a speaker in the pub the Nameless One reverts to generally accepted and relatively mild, and rare, interventions. His explicit condemnations are reserved for readers, to whom he even remains safely anonymous.
In complement, the “Cyclops” narrator’s vicious representation of the other characters’ words stems from his technique for reporting speech. The citizen and Bloom are both equally targeted in that manner, and the stylistic markers of contempt recur throughout the episode: sentences begin either with “So” or “And,” which introduce a long enumeration, sometimes made up of clichés, and often completed with an overwhelming use of the progressive form and with many awkward repetitions. Interestingly, these long enumerative sentences are never punctuated properly with the numerous commas one could expect, except in the end just before the final witty anticlimax: in other words, the narrator’s words get properly punctuated, but the part of the sentence that renders the other speakers’ words is quite a mouthful to utter. With such stylistic markers, the narrator succeeds in undermining the others’ discourse, conveying the impression that it is but an endless stream of identical points, of which this is but an extract. He is both reporting speech and signalling that this speech is not deserving of the readers’ attention. It is in this mode that he renders Bloom’s scientific developments: “And then he starts with his jawbreakers about phenomenon and science and this phenomenon and the other phenomenon” (U 12.466-7), in which clumsy repetitions are particularly tight. A few lines down comes the citizen’s probably eloquent speech on the history of Irish nationalism, rendered as an unpunctuated and awkward series of clichés:
Be it only with the absence of punctuation in such a long period, the oral style identified with the narrator paradoxically goes against the normal functioning of oral speech: reading such quotations aloud is in fact impossible without providing additional punctuation. By reporting speech in this manner, the narrator therefore leaves the characters no chance to be convincing. Once more, the “Nameless One” finds himself in the position to choose at which moment he will interrupt the meaningless enumeration and get the last word, as in the previous example with the final quip about Garryowen. In the following lines, he glosses Bloom’s refusal to get a drink: “So they started arguing about the point, Bloom saying he wouldn’t and he couldn’t and excuse him no offence and all to that and then he said well he’d just take a cigar. Gob, he’s a prudent member and no mistake” (U 12.435-7). The repetition of “and” replaces the dashes and hesitations of real dialogue, whilst the narrator’s “no mistake” seems a direct reply to Bloom’s “no offence.” Incidentally, we may note that the “Nameless One” himself, with all his cowardly silent comments and sarcasms, is a far more “prudent member” of the group than Bloom ever will be.
The role of the “Cyclops” narrator is particularly intriguing in contrast to Joyce’s habitual narrative technique and refusal of narratorial interventions in dialogues. Probably following the usage of French nineteenth-century novelists, and particularly the influence of Flaubert, whose free indirect style and narrative strategies he seems to have copied, Joyce even eschewed the use of inverted commas—or “perverted commas” as he was wont to call them(18)—, a move which posed serious problems with the first publication of Dubliners, as the London publisher, Grant Richards, refused to print the collection without quotation marks to present direct discourse.(19) Richards believed readers would be confused without them, which indeed may be the very aim of bypassing this traditional framing of quoted discourse by a narrator who is in a position to quote other characters—unsettling readers through the very absence, not so much of a master narrative, but of a master of the narrative.(20) In “Cyclops,” Joyce does not resort to this traditional manner of asserting the narrator’s control of others’ speech. The “Nameless One,” however, achieves a particularly overbearing presence without being granted the use of inverted commas, through stylistic markers which in effect function as linguistic quotation marks: by reporting speech in an outrageously biased manner; by punctuating each line, when he quotes, with character identification which would traditionally be accompanied with inverted commas; and by interrupting speech, whether direct or indirect, whenever he wishes. The process is comparable to that of the gossipers’ interruptions in conversation, except he is granted the capacity to interrupt throughout the chapter: he is the one who decides when to cut a line and what size the right-hand margin may finally be, so that potentially any sentence may become his cue for another sarcastic quip.
If Bloom indubitably constitutes the most easily detectable marginal entity in “Cyclops,” in contrast to the central group conversing in the pub, the narrator’s position in that respect is double: from the first lines readers may feel his central role and overwhelming presence in the episode—“the weight of [his] tongue” (U 12.4), as he puts it very early in the chapter, which he wishes the chimney-sweep to feel, except he will not in fact say anything to him. As we will soon realise, the chimney-sweep incident is but the first instance of this cowardly yet revengeful narrative technique. One of the most revealing phrases by which the “Nameless One” marks his control over the other characters’ speech, as well as his smirking superiority, may well be “don’t be talking” (U 12.242 and 12.692), which I have used for my title. It is both a set phrase—and in this sense it functions in fact as an antiphrasis—, and one that should be taken completely literally: through his narrative control, the “Nameless One” does not really allow the group to talk or permit their speech to hold centre stage. Since he often reports the other speakers’ words by using progressive forms, “don’t be talking” in effect means “don’t talk”—except he would not wish this command to be executed as it would take away from him the narrative control he relishes. Which is why in the end “don’t be talking” is but a set phrase. By holding sway over the central core of the dialogue, and delimiting its margins, the narrator is also compensating for his insignificant status and cowardly silence in the conversation—his actual social marginality. Such marginality is extremely different from Bloom’s, since it conceals itself at the very core of the group instead of coming to terms with its eccentricity. “Don’t be talking” is therefore the ambiguous formula through which the “Nameless One” expresses his ambivalent dependence on the characters in his narration, the fact that he may only hold centre stage as a narrator as long as he has the others’ conversation to dismissively report.
In a final ironic twist, the overbearing narrator is in his turn interrupted, as the passages of gigantism create an additional level of dialogism in “Cyclops,” one that further complexifies the narratological question of centre and margin. As mentioned previously, from the manuscript it appears that these passages were Joyce’s original inspiration for the episode. In the final version, however, they appear to come second, not only chronologically but also logically, and always retain a parenthetical quality, as if they were marginal extrapolations, each suddenly born from one element in the main narration. Their relation to the Nameless One’s words is ambivalent. On the one hand, their parody of consensual discourse functions in parallel to the narrator’s subversion of the group’s conversation. On the other hand, they escape his grasp, introduce other, just as anonymous narrators, who come to pervert and interrupt his narration at times which he obviously has not chosen, opening narrative gaps which he does not even seem to notice, let alone control. In effect, these interruptions make it impossible for him to get the last word, as he is wont to do with all other speakers or narrators: he tends to intervene less and less towards the end of the chapter, and Bloom’s final apotheosis completely escapes his narration. Bloom ascends into the heavens, defying gravity, together with the “weight of [the narrator’s] tongue,” and does so “like a shot off a shovel.” The latter is an ambivalent, polysemous formula, but may be a last allusion to the chimney sweep and his gear from the opening paragraph of the chapter: if he never got the weight of the narrator’s tongue either, this final shovel may well be a roundabout, ironic manner of giving him the last word in the episode. In a sense, “don’t be talking” is also what those passages of gigantism are saying to the narrator, regularly pushing him back into the margins where he comes from, to impose their own, marginal and eccentric narrative status.
In this paper I hope to have broached the larger question of the expression of group or collective speech in Joyce’s work, and suggested how it functions by playing on the tension between group and individual, centre and margin, both in social, narratological, and even typographical terms. There was not enough space here for evoking within that frame the national (or semi-colonial) status of Joyce’s Ireland,(21) nor the linguistic question of Hiberno-English; but when Stephen comments in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man on the “so familiar and so foreign” quality of the “acquired speech” English is for him (P 205), he seems to be positing marginality at the very core of the language he uses, of the raw material of his writing. As a marginal and incomplete conclusion, however, I would like to point to the tension conveyed by what may be the two key expressions of the “Cyclops” narrator’s strategy—“the weight of [his] tongue” and “don’t be talking”—evoking both the overbearing weight of controlling discourse and the refusal to let such discourse hold sway as well as centre stage. In Joyce’s work, it seems that the risk is always that discourse, if allowed to hold centre stage, to reign alone, should become too consensual, too sure of itself, serious, pompous: the risk in other words is gravity, both as centripetal force and as seriousness. Joyce’s centrifugal and eccentric manner always aims at exploding such gravity, but it is also always gravitationally driven back to collective speech as a source of inspiration.(22) Such back and forth movement encapsulates the dialectic tension between centre and margin that may constitute the ultimate attraction in Joyce’s writing.