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"Who's he when he's at home?":
Re-reading Joyce and Modernism
University and academic presses are turning out a huge volume of meta-critical material these days. Most of these companions, anthologies, or guides to criticism are aimed at undergraduate as well as more specialist readers, and it could be argued that their focus on single, well-established periods or authors does not generally demand much innovative research or writing from those that produce them. Inevitably, the vast amount of criticism devoted to the works of James Joyce (only Shakespeare has inspired more essays and books) has become a prime target for such treatment. Joyce is unquestionably canonical as well as formidably obscure, and was at the forefront of debates about "theory" in Britain and France; historicist approaches to his work, focusing on topics such as censorship, popular culture, and colonialism have proliferated more recently. However, Joseph Brooker's Joyce's Critics: Transitions in Reading and Culture, a handsome volume in a new series on Irish Studies and Culture from the University of Wisconsin Press, demonstrates that work which modestly proposes to survey earlier criticism can on occasion be more insightful and useful than many a supposedly original monograph. Brooker's is not the first full-length account of Joyce criticism (Geert Lernout has already written on The French Joyce, and [End Page 505] Joseph Kelly's Our Joyce: From Outcast to Icon is concerned with the American Joyce industry), but it is the most comprehensive and judicious. In particular, it will be genuinely indispensable for any graduate student who is contemplating working on Joyce (or modernism in general).
Jean-Michel Rabaté is already a distinguished Joycean, and a pioneer of the so-called "genetic" reading of Joyce, which is based as much on the author's "avant-textes" (notebooks, drafts, and proofs) as on the printed versions of the books. He has an alternative take on the current near-saturation of the market for introductions to Joyce in this edited volume, Palgrave Advances in James Joyce Studies. Avoiding essays devoted to individual works or to the more familiar themes of Joyce criticism, Rabaté asserts that his contributors will stress "the organic and quasi-systematic nature of a work grasped as globally as possible. Joyce's works and life obey an organic logic, and . . . this logic opens up on a general problematic hinged around the discovery of a new type of writing" (1). While what could fairly be described as Rabaté's Derridean emphasis is apparent here, the essayists in fact take rather divergent approaches to questions of gender, genre, science, politics, and geography (among others) in the collection. Some do summarize the state of research in a given area, but most offer complex new arguments as well. Many offer a view of Joyce that is postmodernist in a recognizably American style (ten of the twelve writers are based in North American universities). This is somewhat at odds with the much more explicitly political recent work on Joyce in Britain and Ireland that Brooker addresses in the final chapter of his study.
Brooker begins Joyce's Critics by stating that the "excessive" quantity of writing on Joyce has become one of "the definitive facts about the writer" (3). It is therefore a considerable achievement for Brooker to have found a meta-narrative, largely based on how "the reading of Joyce has invoked and involved place and nation" (6), which enables him to engage in a detailed analysis of such key figures as T. S. Eliot, Harry Levine, and Richard Ellmann without...