Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Michael Groden


This project investigates the cultural impact of the various technological innovations that appeared around the turn of the twentieth century, and how modernism contends with the increasing presence of technology in everyday life. It focuses on the work of James Joyce, whose attitudes toward technology differ significantly from many of his contemporaries, and on his novel Ulysses, which takes place in metropolitan Dublin and features many of the everyday technologies of the early twentieth century.

The first chapter examines the relationship between technology and the vitalist theories of Henri Bergson and Hans Driesch, arguing that the popularity these theories enjoyed arose from anxieties about the eroding barrier between the human and the machine. The principal characters in Joyce’s novel stand on opposite sides of the vitalist debate.

The second chapter describes how the gramophone troubled traditional associations between the voice and the living breath as the guarantor of the presence of an authentic, living speaker. It looks at how various inventions provided metaphors for, and promoted belief in, supernatural phenomena like telepathy and metapersonal memory, arguing that Joyce’s understanding of the “uncanny” side of technology leads him to satirize such enthusiasms in Ulysses.

The third chapter opens by considering the gendering of mass culture as opposed to high art, and looks at the role pornography plays both in Ulysses and in the reception of Joyce’s novel. It investigates how mechanical reproduction complicated the traditional associations between women, nature, and technology, and how these complications prompted a turn toward more physical and vitalistic conceptions of masculinity.