Journal of Romance Studies

Joyce, Husserl, Derrida: calculating the literary infinite

Journal of Romance Studies (2007), 7, (3), 27–45.

Abstract

In this article, I try to show that Joyce’s weird mathematical calculations in the Ithaca episode of Ulysses present, despite many errors, an equivalent of textual infinity. This concept of the infinite is a ‘Homeric correspondence’ with the bow and arrows with which Ulysses kills the suitors in the Odyssey. To achieve this, Joyce had to read Bertrand Russell on mathematics carefully. A detour through Derrida’s close reading of Husserl on the origin of geometry shows that the invention of infinity was not limited to mathematics but also included geometry. The gnomon with which Dubliners opens thus sends us back to Euclid, and hence to a new ‘barrier of infinity’ – a term deployed by Hermann Broch in his fiction and in his commentaries on Joyce. Not only do most modernist writers posit (consciously or unconsciously) a certain concept of the infinite, they also allow readers to transcend it by providing a sense of what it means to calculate the literary infinite.

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Rabaté, Jean-Michel

Rabaté, Jean-Michel