Telescopic Modernism: Ulysses, the Stars, and South Africa

Thursday, 14 November, 2013 - 14:00

Presented by Cóilín Parsons

When the inauguration of the Maclean Telescope at the South African Observatory was delayed for almost 3 years because of a flaw in the lens fingers were pointed at the workers in Grubb's Telescopes in Dublin. They were accused of sabotaging the lens as an act of pro-Boer, anti-British defiance. These same Boers feature heavily in Joyce's Ulysses, set as it is in the immediate aftermath of he Second Anglo-Boer War, as do telescopes and the stars. In this paper I turn to a historical and materialist reading of the term parallax, so prominent in Ulysses, and ask whether the place of South African imperial politics and the star-gazing tendencies of Leopold Bloom may not be read together to offer a new reading of Ulysses  as a novel that is telescopic in vision. Joyce, I argue, attempts not just to describe the enclosed totality of Dublin in June 1904, but to engineer a new kind of long-distance, or global imagination that is given material expression in the figure of the telescope.

Dr. Cóilín Parsons is Assistant Professor of English at Georgetown University. Prior to teaching at Georgetown he lectured in English at the University of Cape Town and at Columbia University. He writes on Irish literature, post colonialism, and modernism.