Nameless one

Nameless one

In Brief

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.

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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 comforting" (101).

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 to five."

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.

John Hunt 2023
Drawing by Levi Weinhagen. Source: