In the “Oxen of the Sun” episode of Ulysses, James Joyce dramatizes the evolution of English prose styles by creating a stylistic matrix for gestation. This article links the episode’s stylistic evolution to the historical development of liberal thought about autonomy and self-determination, reading Joyce’s styles as rhetorical gateways to liberal discourses on statehood, politics, socioeconomics, national health, and sexuality. In the immediate historical context of national agitation in Ireland, the episode’s bodily tropes of reproduction, birth, emergence, and break dislocate the rhetoric of national conception, providing a critical insight into the development of liberal thought, particularly into the contradictory blend of progressive and regressive thinking from which liberal notions of autonomy and self-determination have emerged. By demonstrating how the stylistic evolution in “Oxen” moves through a series of breaks, the article relates Joyce’s disruptive tactics to the aesthetic practices of the historical avant-gardes, showing how the affinities with the avant-garde in “Oxen” work on the level of form, content, and imagined life praxis. The main argument at stake is understanding how Joyce creates a literary position of being in advance by way of engaging critically with biopolitics and the liberal discourses on national and social advancement.

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