Reading Nietzsche in James Joyce's Ulysses
41 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2012 Last revised: 22 May 2012
Date Written: April 15, 2011
James Joyce had not yet begun his most productive years of writing when he first became acquainted with the thought and work of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, a man whose deep skepticism about traditional perspectives on life and the world likely spoke to some of the young writer’s own concerns and experiences. By the time Joyce began writing his celebrated modernist epic, Ulysses, he possessed a well-developed and nuanced grasp of several fundamental components of Nietzsche’s thought: not only did he understand the concepts of the “death of God”, the Ubërmensch, and eternal recurrence, but he also grasped the way that they fit together in Nietzsche’s philosophy, and their larger implications. It should not be surprising, then, that these ideas find their way into Joyce’s epic novel. In this paper I suggest the value of reading Ulysses through a Nietzschean interpretive frame, and explore the role that Nietzsche’s thought plays in the novel. Specifically, I discuss the ways in which Nietzsche’s ideas contribute to a new understanding of Ulysses' characters and artistic shape, and show how this understanding helps provide us with a better sense of James Joyce, both as an artist and as an individual.
Keywords: Nietzsche, James Joyce, Ulysses, Literature, Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, Ubermensch, death of God, Zarathustra, self-overcoming, eternal recurrence
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