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Christine Froula. Modernism’s Body: Sex, Culture, and Joyce. New York: Columbia UP, 1996. 316 pp.

Modernism’s Body is a magisterial book on Joyce and modernity, destined, I believe, for canonical status in the vast expansion of Joyce studies, where a new book seems to be spawned every minute. Froula provides strikingly new and persuasive readings of Joyce’s oeuvre, centered on the issues of self-portraiture as a form of cultural critique. At the heart of her study is the assertion that readings of the artist’s subjectivity in Joyce’s texts have fixated too heavily on oedipal paradigms, missing entirely what Freud would consider an earlier psychosexual stage, the narcissistic one. Exploring the narcissistic erotics of Joyce’s autobiographical writings about artist-figures allows Froula to discover layers of perverse identification with the maternal feminine buried palimpsestically beneath the formation of oedipal subjectivities. These identifications in turn “vivisect”—take apart, disclose the interior workings of—the masculinist culture upon which the exclusions of the feminine and female subjectivity are based. For Froula, Joyce’s ironic/parodic self-portraiture accomplishes a brilliant psychopolitical critique of phallocentrism and a buried connection with maternal origins as the genesis of his art. Familiar passages in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake take on whole new meanings in her probing analyses, informed throughout by a sophisticated weaving of feminist, deconstructive, psychoanalytic, formalist, textual, historical, and biographical reading strategies. Modernism’s Body is an exciting book.

Froula’s book belongs in the tradition of feminist readings of modernism and modernity that insist upon the defining place of gender in the discourses of rupture. Like Alice Jardine in Gynesis, Froula locates in Joyce’s self-portraiture the processes by which the meanings and textual play of “woman” unravel the master narratives of Western metaphysics, religion, and aesthetics. More than Jardine, however, Froula revisits psychoanalytic (in both Freudian and Lacanian forms) and Derridean theory from a revisionist feminist standpoint to uncover ways in which those theories, like Joyce’s texts, are complicit in as well as deconstructive of phallo(go)centrism. Moreover, Froula goes well beyond most feminist discourse on Joyce that tends to fall into some all-too-familiar ruts—performing either a critique of his gynophobia/misogyny [End Page 447] or an embrace of his écriture féminine. Instead of simply attacking or defending Joyce, Froula argues that his texts are both symptoms and brilliant diagnoses of the psychodynamic processes and consequences of a patriarchal repression of the feminine and the maternal. As such, they both participate in and unmask the construction of masculinity in the interlocking cultural formations of church, state, family, and letters.

Skillfully avoiding biographical reductionism, Froula breaks the self-portraiture of Joyce’s reflexive fictions into three chronological periods associated with conventional narrative scripts: the first, a form of initiation, centered in Stephen Hero and Portrait; the second, a form of quest-romance, articulated in Ulysses; and the third, a form of self-parody and narcissistic return to his earlier scenes of writing, accomplished in Finnegans Wake. In focusing on these main texts, Froula nonetheless draws extensively on Exiles, Dubliners, and Joyce’s letters and manuscript materials.

Feminist psychoanalytic theory, especially in narrative studies, has extensively used the concept of the preoedipal to examine female subjectivity, but Froula uses this notion of the child’s early love for and especially identification with the mother in relation to the formation of masculine subjectivity. Joyce, she argues, successively engages in forms of self-portraiture that diagnose the son’s early rejection of his maternal identification and the adult artist’s attempt to escape the limitations of paternal identification by returning to his repressed female-identified self. In rewriting scripts of initiation, quest-romance (especially the Odyssey ) and narcissistic origin (especially Genesis), Joyce demonstrates how “the law of gender” requires the suppression of the mother as the powerful origin of life and the concomitant repression of the male’s female self.

Froula’s approach leads to some startlingly original readings of such familiar Joycean scenes as the bird-girl in Portrait (not just the oedipal muse, but the buried female...

Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 447-449
Launched on MUSE
1998-06-01
Open Access
No
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