Pastiche, farce, and imitation flood Ulysses at 4:30 p.m, around the time Blazes sleeps with Molly Bloom, and at the time that Leopold Bloom’s watch stops. Why does Joyce change his approach to the novel at this point? An old question, but one that needs to be thought through by any reader; here’s one attempt.
Two of the crucial elements of the novel as a literary form: domesticity (with Homer composing an ur-novel, the epic of hospitality and home life) and a private, individual experience of time (which is not to say simple or ahistorical; but historical time is anchored to a private experience of time in the novel).
Not I think experimentation for the sake of experimentation; not a revolt against naturalism or realism. Ulysses is about being a spouse, a parent, a child—but most of all about being these while living in a city, as a citizen; and also what it means to be a citizen in a cosmopolitan city, a city in an empire, with multiple diasporas, and with local, national, and international spheres of concern.
Stephen admires Aristotle; Bloom knows him. Joyce might have taken seriously the claim Aristotle makes in The Politics that man is a social animal first, prior to being individual (and Stephen would have certainly known Aquinas’ restatement of Aristotle in his treatise to King Hugo 2 of Cyprus). What this means for Aristotle is that language is social, a necessity of civilized life in the polis, and man is born into and subject to it. But novelists need not know or admire Aristotle to encounter the reality behind his insight.
The novel (as a form) can be read as a struggle, at least from Austen through Scott through Dickens through Eliot to accurately represent, find a form of narration that does justice to, Aristotle’s insight. (An additional complication: societies have histories, rather than stories. Scott and Eliot aspire, among the British, do justice to history in doing justice to society too.)
Joyce meets the challenges by his own lights. In the first half of the novel, as much of the social and historical is absorbed into and refracted through a language of individual consciousness as possible, or else swirls around (as in the Ormond) their consciousnesses through the consciousnesses of others; in the first half of the novel, many voices are accommodated, the pressures of social life and social language on Stephen and Bloom are real.
But after 4:30, Joyce shows that the novel can survive as a vehicle for exploring life as a citizen, resident, a son, and a husband, without tethering itself to domestic experience or a private experience of time. Hence the act of infidelity and the stopped watch. Neither of these matter much to Bloom, who rewinds the watch and seems prepared to get on with his married life without any fuss. In the sense that Joyce can get on with his novel too, not turning it into a tragedy, not moralizing the infidelity, neither matters much for him either; they reveal Bloom’s equanimity and strength of mind. But in so far as both are symbolically charged for what a novel means, they matter to Joyce a great deal more. After the watch stops and after the infidelity, he can go about writing a different sort of novel.
The individuals, Joyce and Stephen, are now the targets rather than the cannonades of language. And imitation, farce, and pastiche let the novel take aim detached from their or any private or individual experience of time and place.
Imitation, farce and pastiche are not the same. I do not mean to conflate them. But they commonly depend on borrowings, distortions, and echoes from far beyond the scope of these characters’ lives, and crucially from beyond Joyce’s own voice and moment in history. Their effectiveness in serving Joyce’s purpose depends on the reader’s feeling that they are in some sense imposed.
Imitation, farce, and pastiche meet and answer the residents of the city, Stephen and Bloom included, but they do not meet or answer the residents in their homes or at the hours of their choosing. At times, as with Gerty, they come sympathetically near; at times they remain ironically far.
But always, we are reminded, by the distance from other forms of language that necessarily accompany imitation, farce and pastiche, that these are uses of language that have shape and life beyond the consciousnesses of the characters in the novel, and, most boldly, the identity or voice of the author/narrator. As a consequence, the styles do not simply represent the voices or perspectives of the city; the styles (imitation, farce, pastiche) also reinforce the distance between language as a social, shared, inherited entity and language as an individual experience among many speakers, even as they follow and speak to and of those individuals.
It rarely feels like novelistic narration, in the way that the first portion of the novel feels like novelistic narration, because that narration proceeds by conventions of private time and domestic talk. The alternative to his own earlier novelistic narration that Joyce finds is not language of public life: it is language of private, individual experience from the other side; the second half of Ulysses—until, of course, the final book—is a novel turned inside out.