The nameless one
The first word of Cyclops comes as a shock. With no
indication of quotation, the chapter begins, "I was
just passing the time of day with old Troy of the D. M. P."
All preceding chapters have been narrated in the third person,
but now the telling is hijacked by a fictive character, an
aggressively mean-spirited barhound. His stream of palaver is
entertaining (hilarious when read by Stephen Rea!), but
readers learn little more about him than that he is a
"Collector of bad and doubtful debts," and he never receives a
name. Joyce underlines the anonymity by bringing him back in Circe
as "THE NAMELESS ONE." Intriguingly, this is the title
of a poem that he loved to recite, written by a 19th century
Irish poet whom he greatly admired.
By one measure, Cyclops crosses a Rubicon. Thus far,
Ulysses has consistently used third-person narration,
albeit shot through with interior monologue and free indirect
style––what Joyce called the "initial style" of his book.
After the first six chapters, newspaper-like headlines (in Aeolus),
brief dramatic scripts (Scylla and Charybdis),
chopped-up space and time (Wandering Rocks), and
chopped-up words and phrases (Sirens) work strange
twists on the formula, but the underlying style of narration
remains intact. In The Odyssey of Style in Ulysses
(1981), Karen Lawrence notes that the twelfth chapter kills it
off, ushering in a dizzying array of new techniques for the
remainder of the novel. But after the defamiliarizing
strangeness of Sirens, Lawrence observes, "the
sudden appearance of this [new] person is, for the most part,
reassuring. No matter how 'limited' a point of view he
represents, the presence of a definitive narrative self is
The absence of any name or story attached to that self,
however, keeps the comfort level far from Dickensian. Ulysses
teems with unknown or barely known people: actual Dubliners
hiding behind pseudonyms, characters like "Martha
Clifford" who may be concealing their true identities,
mysteries like the man in the macintosh, dimly
recognized "whatdoyoucallhim" people, nameless workers in
business establishments, nameless people on the streets (the
"boy for the skins" and the "smaller girl" beside him, the
"blind stripling," the "whore of the lane," the "onelegged
sailor"). To have the narration of an entire chapter
commandeered by such a shadowy presence is disconcerting, and
Joyce does not follow the traditional strategy of encouraging
readers to identify with the speaker by giving him engaging
qualities. The narrator's chief personal characteristic seems
to be a snarling contempt for nearly everyone in the bar and
on the planet.
In Circe Joyce briefly reincarnates the man's voice
via hallucination, when a jury of Bloom's peers convenes.
Eleven are acquaintances who have been with Bloom during the
day, but the twelfth spot is filled by "the featureless
face of a Nameless One." When this man speaks, it
becomes clear that he too has been around Bloom on June 16.
Picking up on a theme of cuckoldry introduced a few lines
earlier, he says, "Bareback riding. Weight for age. Gob, he
organised her." The alert reader will recall the Cyclops
narrator responding to Bloom's remark that Blazes Boylan
is "an excellent man to organise" Molly's concert tour:
"Excellent. / Hoho begob says I to myself says I.
That explains the milk in the cocoanut and absence of hair on
the animal's chest. Blazes doing the tootle on the flute.... That's
the bucko that'll organise her, take my tip." Another
"tip" in Cyclops concerns the Gold Cup
nod supposedly given to Bantam Lyons: "he told me Bloom gave
him the tip. Bet you what you like he has a hundred
shillings to five on." This detail too returns in Circe:
"(Snarls.) Arse over tip. Hundred shillings
Perhaps Joyce made his churlish narrator anonymous in order
to evoke a hazy pub world of men dissolved in alcoholic fumes,
but by calling him The Nameless One he paradoxically
encouraged readers to seek out a particular identity, because
this is the title of one of James Clarence Mangan's
better-known works. Mangan (1803-49), a Dubliner, was a major
poetic talent––Yeats considered him a genius, and Joyce
praised him extravagantly in an early lecture––but he led a
doomed life, drinking heavily, using opium, suffering
homelessness and sickness. He died poor, emaciated, and
troubled. The Nameless One describes this fusion of
existential misery and imaginative exaltation:
...Tell how his boyhood was one drear night-hour,
How shone for him, through his griefs and gloom,
No star of all heaven sends to light our
Path to the tomb.
Roll on, my song, and to after ages
Tell how, disdaining all earth can give,
He would have taught men, from wisdom’s pages,
The way to live.
And tell how trampled, derided, hated,
And worn by weakness, disease, and wrong,
He fled for shelter to God, who mated
His soul with song....
Tell how this Nameless, condemned for years long
To herd with demons from hell beneath,
Saw things that made him, with groans and tears, long
For even death.
Go on to tell how, with genius wasted,
Betrayed in friendship, befooled in love,
With spirit shipwrecked, and young hopes blasted,
He still, still strove....
And tell how now, amid wreck and sorrow,
And want, and sickness, and houseless nights,
He bides in calmness the silent morrow,
That no ray lights....
Nothing of this poetic persona bears any resemblance to the
man who narrates Cyclops, but it is hard to imagine
Joyce attaching its title to him without some underlying
purpose. Did he intend simply an ironic contrast between
Mangan's highminded romanticism and the narrator's reductive
cynicism, or does something ally the two figures? Joyce echoes
Mangan's verses five more times in Ulysses, all but
one of them in Cyclops where the poet's language adds
to the overblown hibernophilia of the parodic intrusions.
Could Joyce's opinion of Mangan have changed so radically from
1902 to 1919 that he chose to associate him with a venomous
drunk in whom no embers of poetic, political, or spiritual
idealism glow? It is easy to imagine him relinquishing his
early feeling that bohemian self-abandonment is the natural
milieu of the romantic artist, but difficult to imagine him
abandoning his poetic conviction so radically.
Thanks to Jamie Salomon for helping me think about the issues
raised in this still unfinished note.