Widely considered a hermetic text of avant-garde modernism for its inaccessibility to the “common reader,” James Joyce’s magnum opus Ulysses is literally esoteric with allusions to Kabbalistic concepts, terms of Hindu cosmology, Trinitarian heresies, and Continental mystics; quasi-ironic references to Dublin Theosophists; the protagonist Leopold Bloom’s Freemasonry; and structural use of Platonic/Aristotelian metaphysics. However, the esotericism of Ulysses is not confined to the text’s cavalier allusiveness. Nor is the religious origin of Joyce’s art merely part of the personal mythology of the author, a relapsed Catholic, whose Eucharistic aesthetic endeavors to “transmut[e] the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life.” This article argues that esotericism is a fundamental principle underlying the composition of Ulysses, its envisaged relationship with the “implied reader,” and its larger socio-cultural ramifications. It explores the literary esotericism of Ulysses as analogous to religious esotericism with reference to: the idea of the book as cosmos with the chaotic “word” as its prima materia; its archetypal/symbolic consciousness; the idea of infinity as a hermeneutic principle; manifestation of the ideas of initiation and secrecy as hermeneutic challenges; the self-imposed antithetical character of avant-garde modernism vis-à-vis the mainstream; and the possibility of deciphering a Joycean “vision.”

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