Point of View in Ulysses: a critical application of Palmer’s approach to the representation of consciousness

McGrath Wilkinson, David William George (2012) Point of View in Ulysses: a critical application of Palmer’s approach to the representation of consciousness. Masters thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Joyce’s Ulysses is a novel that has proven notoriously hard to pin down in terms of what is going on at any given point. Viewpoints shift throughout, and at times even appear to merge into one another. Previous approaches to point of view in the novel have tended to use one of a number of discrete analytical approaches, looking primarily at explicitly marked indicators of either consciousness or deixis. They have ignored sources of information about fictional minds that are not explicitly cued as such, such as those found in the adverbs used to describe characters’ speech, or in narrative descriptions of their actions. My contention was such analytical approaches, focusing on explicitly marked depictions of consciousness in novels (for which Ulysses is famous), might be strengthened by looking at generally ignored, more subtle indications of mental functioning, in order to provide a fuller picture of what is going on in this complex work. All indicators of consciousness are seen as valid within this approach; it is therefore one that incorporates any example of situated mental functioning to be found in the novel.

Drawing upon potentially any indicator of mental functioning, within a more holistic overview of consciousness in the novel, was found to provide a fuller, yet still linguistically focused account, and one which was also more cognitively salient. It is derived in part from Palmer’s ideas regarding how characters’ situated mental functioning might be tracked, using non-standard indicators of consciousness. Such information, Palmer has suggested, is stored in continuing consciousness frames for characters that then feed into embedded narratives for them. This is then stored within their overall ‘fictional’ encyclopaedias for the text in hand. This is a subsection of readers’ much larger ‘internal’ encyclopaedias, which contain all of the knowledge they possess; this is narrowed down to only the most relevant elements by the text itself i.e. through a text-driven process, and then stored in discrete ‘’fictional’ encyclopaedias, specific to the current text. Palmer’s ideas were then developed in terms of ideas developed by Fludernik and others, and also current thinking within cognitive science. My contention is that a reader will subjectively enter the text at any indication of mental function, in order to understand it from a first person perspective within such a consciousness frame. This point I have termed ‘subjective centre point’.

These are relatively new approaches to analysing point of view in novels, and this is the first time such ideas have been applied to Ulysses, which has, however, attracted the attention of a good deal of traditional approaches to this topic. By applying a variety of ideas to a selection of episodes from Ulysses, it was shown that these non-standard indicators of consciousness, when incorporated within a more eclectic approach to subjectivity in the novel, deepened the insights afforded by looking at explicitly marked subjective elements of the text alone. The logical extension of this is to incorporate further approaches that will enable fuller, more truly holistic, analyses to be undertaken.

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