Joyce on the Threshold is a collection of essays from the Seventeenth International James Joyce Symposium held at the University of London in 2000. While the millenium was not the stated theme of the symposium, Timothy Martin, one of the book's editors, asserts in the introduction that the sense of living "in a liminal moment, of standing between eras, exercised a significant influence on the program." Martin and coeditor Anne Fogarty have brought together fourteen essays from the conference that address the themes of marginality and liminality in Joyce's work; these essays explore the thresholds between genres, styles, nations, sexualities, and languages. The essays are organized into four general topics: marginal figures and subjects in Joyce's work; Joyce's liminal identity as an Irish writer; Joyce's positioning at the threshold of modernism, both historically and stylistically; and a final section on material subjects typically considered marginal (copyright law, translation, and the rare book and manuscript market). The scholars chosen for the volume reflect the international focus of the conference. [End Page 124] Every essay is lucid and thoroughly researched, as is typical of work published in the Florida Joyce series.
As the section topics indicate, the editors have chosen essays that define marginality very broadly; while this allows for a range of papers that probably represent the symposium well, it does occasionally make for a disjointed volume. The essays do not coalesce around a focused set of issues or questions. Essays on such diverse topics as copyright and Joyce's exploration of the Kabbalah, while equally impressive, have little to do with each other; taken together, they can stretch a term like "marginality" beyond meaning. Katharina Hagena's "Towers of Babble and of Silence," a provocative argument about the function of the tower in Ulysses, has little connection to the overall topic of marginality. The result is an important collection, but one that will be most useful for specific essays, rather than as a contribution to the study of marginality or liminality. It reads more like a journal issue than a coherent book, which is often true of collections drawn from conferences.
The essays on marginal characters or subjects in Joyce's work offer the most provocative readings of Joyce's texts. Building on earlier work on Ulysses, Karen Lawrence explores how Joyce's use of the flaneur straddles modernity and nostalgia to produce a more ideologically flexible and unstable representation of the flanerie than most postcolonial scholars of the subject have previously argued. Mary Lowe-Evans's reading of Freddy Malins's "holy" function in exposing the ideological conventions that trap the other guests in "The Dead" is a particularly fine example of how a focus on "marginal" characters can recast a story. And Lowe-Evans's focus on a text other than Ulysses is welcome (half the essays in the volume focus primarily on Ulysses).
The essays focusing on Joyce's Irish marginality are particularly strong. Drawing on David Lloyd's notion of adulteration, Andrew Gibson argues that Joyce uses "style as revenge" in the "Oxen of the Sun" chapter of Ulysses to critique the imperialist and nationalist politics of the English anthology. P. J. Mathews's analysis of the Dubliners stories that originally appeared in the Irish Homestead complicates the standard reading of Joyce's antagonistic relationship with the Irish Revival. Mathews reconstructs the relationships among the Irish Agricultural Organisation, the Gaelic League and the Irish Literary Theatre and argues that "the coalescing of these three movements … brought about a new, if loosely bound, consensus that worked to provide a radical alternative to old-style parliamentary politics." By exploring Joyce's connection with the cooperative movement, Mathews undoes the traditional [End Page 125] dichotomy posed between Joyce's radicalism and the revival's conservatism, revealing the common ground between Joyce, Horace Plunkett and John Millington Synge, as well as points where Joyce diverged from the movement, especially on issues of gender and sexuality.
One of the most interesting and unusual essays in the collection is...