How James Joyce Interprets Knowledge

Ezra James
12 min readDec 12, 2022

James Joyce is considered one of the most innovative writers in history in large part due to his dense and carefully crafted masterpiece Ulysses. Despite publishing only six major works during his lifetime — a play, a poetry collection, and four novels, Joyce managed to uncover and collect through fiction what amounts to an encyclopedic knowledge of various topics and synthesizing them around his art. The explorations he embarked upon gives us a glimpse into a unique form of thinking, one that demonstrates the depths arts can reach in the psychological expressions of our being. In his work we may find an intricate and elaborate conception of our understanding of knowledge, using and interpreting practically every available information relevant to a discussion, and transmitting them through clever and profound forms of expressions through his plot and characters.

To better understand Joyce’s process, we must first distinguish the peculiar way he approached literature. While the conventional sentiment was one of entertainment, Joyce saw the educational value of the medium. Novels and poems did have their academic value, but it was restricted to a certain form and process, with very little ground of interpretation beyond the conventions. They go through a rigorous process of interpretation and criticism where the metrics rarely deviate from the standard and there’s little room for innovation. It’s a problem that has plagued the academics for centuries, with very few figures able to overcome the stigma.

If we are to look at the state of the world during the time Ulysses was conceived, it is one filled with accelerating breakthroughs in technology and knowledge. In the chapter titled Science in James Joyce in Context, Mark S. Morrison outlines the environment around the scientific community, with advanced theories on physics and chemistry taking hold of the zeitgeist. This scientific movement, Morrison postulates, is among the many factors to consider when discussing how Joyce’s art came into effect.

According to Morrison, Joyce used science by engraving it within a character’s composition:

“Joyce uses the scientism of his age as a mode of psychological insight and character development in Ulysses. Bloom’s and Stephen’s minds are both colonized by a wide range of scientific and…

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Ezra James

Absurd journalist and essayist from the outskirts of Shambhala.