Week 1 (1 of 8) Daedalus, Gargoyles, and Criticism

One of the last entries featured in the March 1918 edition of The Little Review–the issue to first publish Joyce’s paramount Ulysses–is a complaint. Under a striking, centered typeface, Anderson and Pound ensure the word “Criticism” is not only apparent but inflated, with the complaint itself ridiculing The Little Review for publishing “pointless eccentricities and gargoyles” (59) for the last many issues. Where the editors ensure they “make no compromise with the public taste” (Anderson and Pound), its inclusion as the sole piece of criticism within the issue, alongside episode one of Ulysses, acts a glaring touchstone for the magazine’s purchase on both owning and breaching convention. 

Episode one of Ulysses may rely on traditional allusions, but its narrative style, stream of consciousness, and juxtaposition of everyday to epic is anything but conventional. Daedalus’ name is contradictory, his inner voice is interruptive, and his metaphors are disrupting (for instance, his comparison of the green pool of bile to the green body of water). In Daedalus’ ubiquitous experiences, like in his observation of the sea as he reflects on his mother’s loss, these strained metaphors elevate the ordinary to degrees of artistic grandiosity, though they are often ones of contradictory fragmentations: the everyday, now the epic, the once mundane–even the weird and gross–now high art. 

Perhaps the reader, whose initials show M.S.E, while attempting to insult The Little Review, stumbled on something far more profound–Ulysses as a kind of literary gargoyle. In architecture, gargoyles traditionally serve a utilitarian purpose: they prevent erosion from the common rainstorm, diverting water away from less stable walls. In doing so, the gargoyle manufactures an inventive storm drain, its mouth plunging water onto the storm-ridden streets, further diverting aesthetic blemishes into a show of architectural beauty. The gargoyle, often a distorted creation of monks, saints, animals, and depictions of evil, juxtaposes classical tradition to the unpleasant and in so transforms utility (the everyday) into dynamic spectacle. Both in its distortion of tradition (blending conventional figures into strange amalgamations) and its diversion and subsequent elevation of the ordinary (rain into makeshift fountains), the gargoyle remains a fitting symbol for this issue, Joyce likewise playing into this paradox. Mulligan’s mannerisms are Mercury’s winged hat; Stephen is Daedalus; the swimming boys, the Ubermensch, and so on. 

One can almost see Ezra Pound nodding his head in selecting this criticism to conclude such a critical issue of this magazine.