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Homer, Turko, Little Harry: Cultural Memory and the Ethics of Premediation in James Joyce’s Ulysses

  • Astrid Erll


This article addresses narrative ethics from a media and memory studies perspective. It discusses the ethics of premediation in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Premediation is a forward-facing, generative dynamic of cultural memory: the medial preformation of imagination, experience, storytelling, and action. I first explore Ulysses’s mimesis of premediation, showing how in the Calypso episode, Bloom’s imagination is premediated by Orientalist stereotypes, and how in the Ithaca episode, Stephen’s ballad of Little Harry Hughes exposes the premediating power of age-old anti-Semitic narratives. Both episodes reveal the ethically problematic dimension of premediating schemata, which often operate non-consciously. But they also hint at the possibility of critical reflection, of “turning around upon one’s schemata” in the psychologist Frederic Bartlett’s sense. In a second step, I discuss the novel’s references to the Odyssey as a case of premediation, showing how new concepts of memory and mediation can elucidate this famous case of intertextuality. I argue that the particular presence of Homer in Ulysses — not as remediation, but as premediation — marks modernism’s new temporal regime, where tradition is used to tell new stories and thus turns into a future-oriented and enabling resource. Discussing the dynamic of premediation both on the level of narrative representation and in the novel’s intertextual relations, this article explores the potentials of a memory studies concept for the fields of (ethical) narratology, Joyce studies, and classical reception studies.



May 2019: Astrid Erll is Professor of Anglophone Literatures and Cultures at Goethe-University Frankfurt (Germany) and founder of the Frankfurt Memory Studies Platform (FMSP). Her research fields include memory studies, narratology, media studies, and transcultural studies. Erll is general editor of the book series Media and Cultural Memory (with A. Nünning, de Gruyter) and author of Memory in Culture (Palgrave, 2011). Recent publications are Audiovisual Memory and the (Re)Making of Europe (Image & Narrative 2017, ed. with A. Rigney) and Cultural Memory after the Transnational Turn (Memory Studies 2018, ed.with A. Rigney). In her current research project, she studies the afterlives of the Odyssey.



Last updated on 06/13/2019