- The Subaltern “Ulysses”, and: Shaw And Joyce: “The Last Word In Stolentelling”
Enda Duffy’s The Subaltern “Ulysses” comes on like a firebomb lobbed into the crowded building of the Joyce industry, the most potent attempt to reclaim Joyce politically from the high modernist humanism of Joyce studies, particularly in America, since Colin MacCabe’s James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word of 1978. Building upon ideas articulated in the 1980s by W. J. McCormack and Fredric Jameson, Duffy presents Ulysses as a novel of economic consumption and potentially [End Page 883] reified personal relationships played out amid a Dublin that is, as city, a late-colonial metropolis, and, as mise-en-scène, the stylistic effect of the late stages of European imperialism. Duffy claims that Ulysses covertly reflects Irish political realities of the time of its writing—that it is, indeed, “the text of Ireland’s independence.” It is the first post-colonial novel rather than the monument of metropolitan high modernism that it has been understood to be, this latter the effect of Joyce’s strategic figuring of himself as a member of the “metropolitan mandarinate” rather than as an open nationalist. Duffy approaches Ulysses as a mass of materials in tempore belli, juxtaposing the stylistic and material effects of Joyce’s chapters against contemporary historical events in the progress towards Irish independence. The fractured rhetoric of “Sirens,” for instance, emerges as a reflection of the chaos of the Easter Rising, the surrealism of “Circe” from the birth pangs of the civil war. To undergird his reading of Ulysses as cultural document, Duffy juxtaposes the novel against other cultural documents of late-colonial and postcolonial Ireland that are as heterogeneous as they are startlingly disjunct from the usual contexts for Joyce’s work: a wall advertisement soliciting Irish informers against insurgency and terrorism, a photograph of a man with a neck tumor whose pose mirrors the conventions of Victorian portraiture, the trial of Roger Casement, and anecdotes and memoirs that demonstrate the doubly abject status of women—victims of both empire and patriarchy—in Northern Ireland.
Duffy often articulates powerfully a radical shift in critical approaches to Joyce. His analyses of the ways in which stereotypes act within colonial states as mirrors of imperialist modes of knowledge, or the ways in which commodity culture in a colonial capital such as Dublin creates a fundamentally different ontological interrelationship with the figure of the flaneur than that represented by other monuments of European modernism, open important political and economic perspectives upon an often-scrutinized text. Yet his argument is frequently overly rhetorical, often obfuscating. Duffy is fond of a Chinese-box mode of argument that tends to submerge Ulysses under mountains of other cultural and theoretical materials: the recapitulating “Envois” appended to several chapters are necessary to help the reader trace the often baroque arguments that precede them. The relevance of some of Duffy’s external documents is not always clear. Conan Doyle’s “The Blue Carbuncle” is at best an opaque window [End Page 884] upon the economics of commodity and knowledge in “Sirens,” and Duffy’s willingness to cite postcolonial authors from Asia and Africa to illuminate Joyce’s Ireland threatens at times to homogenize the political particularities of colonial struggles in different cultures. At times, as well, he accepts too eagerly Jameson’s schematization of the stages of representation upon different modes of capitalism, building his own rhetorical superstructure upon a theoretical base that could use more rigorous investigation.
Too often, indeed, Duffy’s Joyce serves primarily to illustrate various theoretical economic and social constructs without detailed exegesis from the text: Ulysses as such is frequently lost to critical view. And Duffy’s most provocative arguments at times raise unanswered questions. Some moments, particularly those based upon a Foucauldian sense of the colony as site of surveillance, open compelling but debatable insights. Could it be, as Duffy claims, that the mode of “Ithaca” is that of the...