‘The noise of voices’: ‘Oxen of the Sun’ and Information Theory



To account for the stylistic diversity of Ulysses, numerous critics have devised theories regarding the narration of the novel. David Hayman argues for the stylistic unity of Ulysses by positing the presence of an “arranger” with a meta-point-of-view. Hugh Kenner, on the other hand, accounts for the multiplicity of styles by conceiving of two narrators who blend the voices of the characters into their own, famously dubbing this practice the Uncle Charles Principle. More recently, Margot Norris addresses this issue from the stance of Possible Worlds theory, discussing the effect of the “narrative consciousness[es]” on the construction of the fictional world. All of these theories presume the hypothetical presence of some narrating agent or agents, with distinct voices, points of view, and “consciousnesses.” Yet “Oxen of the Sun,” the episode most splintered by shifting narrative positions and radically diverse styles, challenges this concept of narrating agents. Indeed, the stylistic virtuosity of “Oxen” resembles a textual network in cybernetic terms, displaying narrative characteristics of pattern/randomness, signal/noise, entropy/information. While critics such as Louis Armand and Daniel Ferrer have used cybernetics to analyze hypertextuality and the working of the content of the narrative, I examine cybernetics on the narrative level itself. My paper thus assesses the narration of “Oxen” not through a traditional notion of narrator or narrative consciousness, but through cybernetics, informatics, and network theory.