restricted access James Joyce and the Art of Mediation (review)
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Reviewed by
David Weir. James Joyce and the Art of Mediation. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1996. 235 pp.

David Weir organizes James Joyce and the Art of Mediation into an introduction that defines the term of mediation, six chapters that develop how mediation operates in Joyce’s works from Stephen Hero through Ulysses, and an afterword that extends this development to Finnegans Wake. By the phrase “Joyce’s art of mediation,” Weir has in mind notions such as the writer’s integration of “contrary narrative modes” and the mixing of “logical, objective structures with psychological, subjective reality.” One of Joyce’s “key artistic procedures” and a “generative idea” for his critics as well as for Joyce, mediation differs from philosophical dualism and Hegelian synthesis, Weir claims, though it is related to both. Like dualism, mediation depends on “some pair of opposites that need mediating”; it differs from dualism in bringing those opposites into dialogue rather than leaving each irreconcilably opposed to the other. Like synthesis, mediation brings into play the opposing pair, but unlike it, mediation does not result in resolution into a “higher” containing unit. Mediation, in Joyce’s art, is the dynamic and ongoing negotiation of inner and outer worlds as well as of competing narrative styles and structures.

Weir understands mediation as operating through a series of forms and structures that develop successively in Joyce’s fictions: epiphany, gnomon, chiasmus, and “organic narrative.” Epiphany, for Weir, is Joyce’s first effort at aesthetic mediation, a way, in his earliest fiction, of making the insignificant significant. Chapter 1 explores several different senses in which Joyce uses the term epiphany, proposing that as Joyce’s career developed, “he became less interested in the epiphany as an isolated form in itself and more interested in the epiphany as a way of mediating life and drama.” Chapter 2 relates epiphany to the symbolist tradition of correspondence, from which it arose, and shows Joyce’s use of what Weir terms “epiphanic correspondence” in Portrait and Ulysses, the correspondence of emotions within the self to images in the world.

In chapter 3, Weir develops notions about the gnomon, the first of three figures he sees Joyce using as mediating structures. The gnomon structures Joyce’s works both in its simpler sense as incomplete parallelogram and in the more complex sense, derived from Euclid’s [End Page 513] Elements, in which gnomonic structure refers to the capacity to expand toward the infinitely large and shrink toward the infinitely small. As an example of the former sense, Weir observes that Joyce’s omitting to write the passage where Eveline travels from her home to the dock where Frank waits to take her away imitates Eveline’s own failure to take the larger journey with Frank. As an example of the latter sense, Weir demonstrates how both gnomonic reduction and expansion of physical spaces in “The Dead” mirror emotions that Gabriel experiences. For instance, Gabriel’s movement from room to corner of a room to embrasure to window shows his recovery from ego-bruising experiences. As Weir writes, “By moving into ever smaller spaces, Gabriel succeeds in isolating himself from that which most undermines his arrogant ego—other people, mainly women.”

In chapter 4, Weir works with chiasmus, the second of the mediating structures, especially in relation to Portrait, demonstrating Joyce’s use of this figure as rhetoric, as narrative structure, and as metaphor. In chapter 5, Weir develops the notion of organic narrative as the third mediating structure, focusing on sexuality as narrative paradigm. In his discussion of “Nausikaa,” Weir traces the rhythms of tumescence and detumescence; in that of “Scylla and Charybdis” as well as Portrait, he examines Stephen’s equation of artist and androgyny, noting that Stephen resists in theory his own practice of equating androgyny with homosexuality. Weir continues his examination of “Scylla and Charybdis” in chapter 6, noting the centrality and some problematics of this chapter to Ulysses. For instance, though Bloom plays the Odyssean role for much of the novel, Weir observes that Joyce gives Stephen the role in this chapter. In part, the chapter shows how this reversal involves a mediation that Stephen as...