- Reading ‘Dubliners’ Again: A Lacanian Perspective
About fifteen years ago Dubliners began to attract increasing attention after having languished, critically speaking, in the shadow of the modernist canonical giants A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses and the enormously demanding Finnegans Wake. By comparison, critics had viewed Dubliners as relatively straightforward. But the application of such postmodernist perspectives as feminism, psychoanalysis, and new historicism to Joyce’s writing enabled critics to recognize previously unnoticed aspects of Exiles and Dubliners. They discovered, for instance, that the writerly techniques through which Joyce composed Ulysses and the Wake also appeared in these earlier works. Leonard’s Reading ‘Dubliners’ Again: A Lacanian Perspective arrives at the crest of this rediscovery of Dubliners and demonstrates once again how much we have yet to learn about this elusive collection of Joyce’s stories.
As his title indicates, Leonard reads Dubliners through the ideas of Jacques Lacan, showing readers that we know less about these stories than we had thought we knew and that Lacan’s notions provide exceptional access to aspects of the stories we might otherwise have been less able to approach. Leonard is committed to Lacan’s dictum that “‘[m]eaning must not be revealed to [the subject], it must be assumed by [the subject].’” The larger project to which his book contributes, Leonard declares, is that “what must be learned in the classroom is not what the book means but how the subject produces meaning when confronted with whatever resists immediate comprehension.” Toward this end, Leonard explores the gaps, silences, elisions, deferred actions, self-delusions and false consistencies that he sees as the dominant discourse of Dubliners. [End Page 371]
Opening Reading ‘Dubliners’ Again with a justification for his use of Lacan, Leonard devotes a chapter to each of the fifteen Dubliners stories and concludes with a chapter that examines the pedagogical assumptions with which he has worked. Despite the volume of criticism already published on Dubliners, Leonard continuously enables his readers to see the stories with fresh vision. Equally valuable are the clarity and accessibility of his explication of the most complex Lacanian concepts and the insights into Joyce’s stories he reaches through their application. Leonard explains the objet a, for instance, as “any object people invest with their desire and presume to be the lost object they need to complete themselves”; the Other is “the fantasized place to which subjects direct the question of their identities. It is the place where the subject presumes that knowledge and certitude reside because this place guarantees the authenticity of the ideal mirror image.”
Dozens of passages exemplify the level of insight into Joyce’s stories Leonard reaches through applying Lacanian notions. In discussing “Araby,” for instance, he notes that it is Mangan’s sister’s representation in the boy’s narrative as the Woman and her absence from it as a woman that makes his story of himself possible. The story, Leonard declares, “is not about the loss or gain of this or that object, it is about the impossible structure of desire for both the masculine and feminine subjects.” In his reading of “Clay,” Leonard notes that:
The narrator begins his story with the moment when Maria is granted permission to “go out,” and ends it with Joe’s breakdown when he cannot locate the corkscrew. For the narrator, this is the parameter of the story: Maria breaks out and Joe breaks down. Maria has not been able to let Joe “have his way” because what he wants is not the satisfaction of desire but the confirmation that he possesses the symbol of desire, the Phallus. In the end, a man (masquerading as masculine) must turn to a woman (masquerading as feminine) and ask her to tell him what she is taught to pretend to know—where the corkscrew is.
Apart from his Lacanian readings of these stories, Leonard offers superb close readings of passages. He shows, for instance, what Eliza’s slip in verb tense while talking about the dead Father...