Joyce’s Nietzschean Ethics

Sam Slote

Joyce_s Nietzschean Ethics
ISBN: 978–1–137–36622–1

Joyce_s Nietzschean Ethics



Chapter 1
“James Overman”: Joyce Reading Nietzsche

Chapter 2
Ecce Auctor: Self-Creation in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Chapter 3
Aufhebung Baby: Auto-genesis and Alterity in Ulysses

Chapter 4
Joyce’s Multifarious Styles in Ulysses

Chapter 5
Also Sprach Molly Bloom

Chapter 6
The Gay Science of Finnegans Wake




When writing a book about ethics, proper and judicious acknowledgments ought to be made. Fortunately, in my case such a task is a joy rather than a burden. I am grateful to all my friends, colleagues, and students for all they have provided me and I would not wish it to be otherwise. But of course, all the inevitable errors remain mine and mine alone.

The Joyce world provides many joys beyond the reading of Joyce’s works and these include the companionship of many genial types, some of whom I would like to thank for their help, inspiration, and example: Derek Attridge, Valérie Bénéjam, Murray Beja, John Bishop, Ron Bush, Tim Conley, Matthew Creasy, Luca Crispi, Vincent Deane, Jed Deppman, Daniel Ferrer, Anne Fogarty, Andrew Gibson, Michael Groden, Judith and Richard Harrington, Clive Hart, Declan Kiberd, Terence Killeen, Geert Lernout, Laurent Milesi, Andrew J. Mitchell, Vike Plock, Jean-Michel Rabaté, Fritz Senn, André Topia, Dirk Van Hulle, and Michelle Witen. A special thanks goes to David Hayman, my graduate school supervisor, whose work on Joyce (and Beckett) continues to inspire me. Special thanks also goes to Philip Kitcher, with whom I discussed portions of this book, to Finn Fordham for numerous helpful suggestions, and to James DiGiovanna, whose work on Nietzsche provided me with some conceptual starting-points for this present work.

I find myself to be truly fortunate to be at Trinity College, Dublin, with such wonderful colleagues and students. Among my colleagues I would like to thank Peter Arnds, David Berman, Terence Brown, Brian Cliff, Helen Conrad-O’Briain, Nicky Grene, Darryl Jones, Jarlath Killeen, Stephen Matterson, and Eve Patten. Working with PhD students is multidirectional and I can only hope that they have benefited working with me at least as much as I with them and so I would also like to thank Robert Baines, Philip Keel Geheber, and Alison Lacivita.

Beyond families of work, my own family has provided me with sustenance of both the physical and metaphysical kinds. And so I will close this section by thanking my mother, my sister, and my father, whom I miss dearly. And to my lovely wife Ivana and my son Leslie, named after my father, I dedicate this book, even the pages Leslie chewed on while I was (trying to) write and revise it.

Chapter 4

Joyce’s Multifarious Styles in Ulysses

In an obituary of Richard Rorty published in the Los Angeles Times, Crispin Sartwell disapprovingly cited Rorty’s maxim “Truth is what your contemporaries let you get away with saying” as evidence of relativism gone amok.1 Because Sartwell’s obituary appeared online, this particular iteration of this line was subsequently reprised in numerous articles and essays on Rorty, many approving, even though it is not actually something Rorty ever wrote. InPhilosophy and the Mirror of Nature he did write, “The aim of all such explanations is to make truth something more that what Dewey called ‘warranted assertability’: more than what our peers will, ceteris paribus, let us get away with saying.”2 Rorty’s line is considerably more nuanced than Sartwell’s miscitation and, indeed, means almost the opposite of what Sartwell claims it does. However, the miscitation is in effect a self-fulfilling prophecy precisely in being re-cited by others: apparently, citing (or misciting) Rorty is what your contemporaries, or perhaps our peers, let you get away with saying.

The problem that Rorty identifies—which is glossed over in Sartwell’s miscitation in a nontrivial manner—is whether the truth can be more than what our peers will, ceteris paribus, let us get away with saying. Can there be a truth that withstands and survives the perpetuation of misreadings and misapprehensions? This question is central to Nietzsche’s epistemology. In his early essay “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense,” he asks, “What is truth?,” to which he answers:

A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms, in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, decorated and which, after lengthy use, seem firm, canonical and binding to a people: truths are illusions that are no longer remembered as being illusions, metaphors that have become worn and stripped of their sensuous force, coins that have lost their design and are now considered only as metal and no longer as coins (WEN, 257).

According to Nietzsche, truth is an illusion that we buy into, an illusion that we forget is an illusion because of some kind of suspension of disbelief. This is not to say that the truth is merely just what one can get away with saying, rather that the truth might only be available to language in a manner that is complicated by rhetorical effects.3 Indeed, Nietzsche is being quite canny in his formulation, since he is not quite saying that “I know what the truth is; the truth is just a metaphor, just a lie.” Instead he uses a numismatic metaphor to illustrate the concept that the truth is just a metaphor. Paul de Man points out this apparent contradiction quite elegantly: “A text like On Truth and Lie, although it presents itself legitimately as a demystification of literary rhetoric remains entirely literary, rhetorical, and deceptive itself.”4 No single perspective can be privileged automatically. This is why Nietzsche promotes genealogy (or rather genealogies, since these are, by necessity, plural) as an alternative to a monolithic historical account. In the absence of an unequivocal truth, a multiplicity of perspectives and styles can allow for a “truth” that is more than simply what one’s contemporaries (or peers) will allow or condone: “the moreaffects we allow to speak about one thing, the more eyes, different eyes, we can use to observe one thing, the more complete will our ‘concept’ of this thing, our ‘objectivity,’ be” (GM, III§12). The point here is not to construct a functional equivalent of some objective “God’s-eye-view,” but rather to concatenate multiple perspectives in a parallactic manner in order to arrive at a more nuanced perspective, a perspective that nonetheless remains fallible and provisional. The “multifarious art of style” (EH, 265) is thus ethically charged, since the acknowledging of multiple perspectives respects “truth” more than any single overriding hypostatic dogma.

About the author:

Dr Sam Slote B.A. (Wesleyan), M.A., Ph.D. (Wisconsin-Madison), F.T.C.D.Associate Professor, Director of Research

Research and Teaching Interests

slote-2My primary field of work is in James Joyce studies. I have co-edited five volumes on Joyce: Probes: Genetic Studies in Joyce (1995) Genitricksling Joyce (1999); How Joyce Wrote Finnegans Wake (2007); Renascent Joyce (2013); and Derrida and Joyce: On Totality and Equivocation (2013). My annotated edition of Ulysses was published in 2012 by Alma Classics; it contains 9,000 all-new annotations to Joyce’s text. I have also written a book on Joyce and Nietzsche, entitled Joyce’s Nietzschean Ethics (2013). Much of my work is informed by Genetic Criticism and, accordingly, much of my work since I’ve been at Trinity involves the collection of new Joyce manuscripts that the National Library of Ireland acquired in 2002 and 2006. Since 1999 I have been one of five Contributing Editors for the ongoing ‘Finnegans Wake’ Notebooks at Buffalo series.

I was one of three academic coordinators for the 2008 International James Joyce Symposium at the Université François-Rabelais in Tours, France and I was one of the organisers of the 2012 International James Joyce Symposium, which was hosted by both TCD and UCD. In 2009 I was elected to a six-year term as a Trustee of the International James Joyce Foundation.

In addition to my work on Joyce, I have published on Beckett; Deconstruction; Genetic Criticism; Translation Studies; Modernism; Nabokov; Woolf; Proust; Borges; Dante; and Mallarmé.

I am interested in hearing from prospective graduate students who are considering working on Joyce or Beckett.

At Trinity I teach the following courses: at the Freshman level I am the convenor for ‘Theories of Literature,’ and give several lectures for ‘Introduction to Modernism;’ at the Sophister level I teach a year-long course on Joyce, ‘Ulysses in Contexts,’ as well as other courses that change from year to year, past examples including courses on Beckett, Nabokov, Sebald, and irony. I also teach a course on Joyce for the M.Phil. in Irish Writing as well teach several seminars for the M.Phil. in Comparative Literature. I am also the director of the Samuel Beckett Summer School.


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