Poetics of passage in modernist reconfigurations of Odysseus

Slabbert, Talitha (2017-12)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2017.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: While the prevalence of the figure of Odysseus in Western literature has been much studied, insufficient attention has been paid to its associations with epistemology, and to the semiotic potential of the navigator-hero’s contest with the sea in figuring the relation between the episteme and the world it seeks to know. This thesis draws on Hans Blumenberg’s notion of “absolute metaphor” and Giambattista Vico’s notion of “poetic wisdom” to argue that Odysseus – in his ineluctable association with the image of the sea – serves, for modernist authors, as a means through which to represent the uncertain and difficult movement of existence and interpretation in the early 20th century, and that it becomes, for certain authors, an exceptionally intelligible means through which to figure their own hermeneutic ventures. The primary examples of this self-implicated hermeneutics studied in this thesis are Ezra Pound’s The Cantos and on James Joyce’s Ulysses, but, in order to contextualise these authors’ respective reconfigurations of the navigator-hero, I commence with a survey of some of the most influential reconfigurations of Odysseus that lead up to the 20th century, and of the disparate inflections given to the figure according to the epistemological attitudes of different authors and of their various historical contexts. This groundwork includes a consideration of the epistemological specificities of the 19th century, as the matrix from which the self-conscious hermeneutics of modernist literature would emerge. This project ultimately aims to lead to a more nuanced understanding of the way in which the figure of Odysseus operates within literature, and to an appreciation of the protean semiotic resources which it presents to authors, given its long history and its association with the similarly resonant image of the sea. In this thesis, I go on to reconsider Horkheimer and Adorno’s influential – but potentially reductive, if taken as absolute – claim that Odysseus is essentially a literary instantiation of Enlightenment reason on its trajectory towards a final disenchantment of the world. Instead, it is the argument of this thesis that the figure tends to exceed the specific configurations it is given, subtly destabilising – and potentially enriching – authors’ intended meanings through the inflections and the echoes of the multiple other configurations associated with it. As such, the figure operates in the milieu between determinate meaning and meaninglessness, providing authors with a provisional vehicle for their hermeneutics, a sort of poetics of passage through which to navigate an ‘oceanic’ and unhomely modernity.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Alhoewel die voorkoms van die Odusseus-figuur in Westerse literatuur al baie oorweeg is, is daar onvoldoende aandag geskenk aan sy epistemologiese assosiasies, asook die semiotiese potensiaal van die seevaarder-held se stryd met die see in die uitbeelding van die verhouding tussen die episteem en die wêreld wat dit poog om te ken. Met verwysing na Hans Blumenberg se konsep van die “abosolute metafoor” en Giambattista Vico se verwoording van “poëtiese wysheid” stel dié tesis dit dat Odusseus – in sy onwrikbare assosiasie met die beeld van die see – vir Modernistiese outeurs dien as ’n middel waardeur die verloop van die bestaan en die interpretasie binne die weerbarstigheid van die vroeë twintigste-eeu uitgebeeld kan word. Verder word dit vir sekere outeurs ’n beeld wat hulle hermeneutiese ondernemings op ’n besonder verduidelikende manier vervat. Die primêre voorbeelde van dié self-betrekkende hermeneutiek wat hierdie tesis ondersoek is The Cantos van Ezra Pound en Ulysses van James Joyce, maar om die outeurs se hervatting van dié seevaarder-held deeglik te kontekstualiseer, sluit ek ’n oorsig in van party van die hervattings van Odusseus tot en met die twintigste eeu, sowel as die uiteenlopende verwesentlikings van die figuur volgens die epistemologiese sienings van die betrokke outeurs en hulle verskeie historiese agtergronde. Hoofsaaklik beoog die projek ’n meer genuanseerde verstaan van die manier waarop die Odusseus-figuur in literatuur funksioneer, asook ’n beter waardering vir die proteïese semiotiese bronne wat hy aan outeurs bied gegewe sy lang geskiedenis sowel as sy assosiasie met die eweneens kultureel-resonante beeld van die see. Dit sou lei tot ’n heroorweging van die stellings – moontlik ’n reduksie as hulle absoluut geag word – van skrywers soos Horkheimer en Adorno, wat meen dat Odusseus bowenal ’n literêre verwesentliking is van ’n Verligtingsrede wat afstuur op die finale onttowering van die wêreld. Vervolgens stel dié tesis dat die Odusseus-figuur neig om spesifieke definiëring te oorskry, wat lei tot ’n subtiele destabilisering, of selfs ’n verryking, van die outeurs se voorgenome bedoelings deur die infleksie en weerklinking van die talle ander vergestaltings wat daarmee geassosiëer word. Vervolgens behoort die Odusseus-figuur tot die milieu tussen voldonge betekenis en betekenisloosheid, en dien hy vir outeurs as ’n voorlopige hermeneutiese weg, ’n poëtika van deurgang waardeur die "oseaniese" en ontheemde moderniteit genavigeer kan word.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/102606
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