If there is a future in every past that is present Quis est qui non novit quinnigan and Qui quae quot at Quinnigan's Quake! Stump! His producers are they not his consumers?—James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, 496.35–497.2
Of the many legendary quips which Joyce produced regarding his writing, no doubt the most infamous was his boast that Ulysses would keep the scholars scrambling for centuries. Even more than the apparent accuracy of this prophecy, what seems particularly striking in Joyce's claim is the implicit caricature of the literary critic. Though clearly uncomplimentary as much as condescending, nonetheless, if given a positive spin, Joyce's portrait reveals a figure and a field that are constantly in flux. In "Modernity, Drafts, Genetic Criticism," Christina Froula frames her discussion by reflecting on the "shift of critical attention from the classic notion of the work of art as 'monumental and stable' to its conception as 'movement, action, creative gesture, solidified ephemera'" (113) by which "the work of art comes to be understood [End Page 204] as a function of histories both cultural and natural" (114). Froula's conception of the shifting view of texts in the twentieth century as "a function of histories both cultural and natural" might be similarly applied to the emergent shifts in the form and function of literary criticism in the twenty-first century. Looking to scholarship on Joyce—the modernist equivalent to Shakespeare Studies as a critical "industry"1 unto itself—provides a singular perspective on these shifts within the current state of textual studies while also raising pointed questions as to the future of literary criticism.
Gian Balsamo's Joyce's Messianism: Dante, Negative Existence, and the Messianic Self and Dirk Van Hulle's Textual Awareness: A Genetic Study of Late Manuscripts by Joyce, Proust, and Mann, though disparate in their methodologies and seemingly unrelated in their focus, in fact, share a common concern with textual becoming. For Van Hulle, the pursuit is genetic becoming; whereas, for Balsamo, the focus is genealogic and existential becoming. Despite these subtle variations, both projects fulfill the Deleuzian precept that "writing is inseparable from becoming" in their engagement of timely—or even, some might say, trendy—trajectories not only within the sphere of Joyce Studies but within the field of literary criticism in general (225).
Given Balsamo's focus on "negative existence" and his meticulous investigation of Joyce's predominately Judeo-Christian influences from the past, my underscoring of becoming is perhaps unexpected. Nevertheless, one of the great strengths of Balsamo's careful study of the "Dantesque framework" in Joyce is his expert articulation of how Aquinas, Augustine, and Paul (as well as Chomsky, Derrida, and Vico) emerge, or become, newly resonant and relevant in Joyce's texts (11). Though Mary Reynolds's Joyce and Dante: The Shaping Imagination (1981) laid much of the hermeneutic groundwork for this pairing, Balsamo's study builds on the more recent scholarship on Joyce's Dantean influences theorized in Sam Slote's The Silence in Progress of Dante, Mallarmé, and Joyce (1999); Lucia Boldrini's Joyce, Dante, and the Poetics of Literary Relations: Language and Meaning in Finnegans Wake (2001); and Jennifer Fraser's Rite of Passage in the Narratives of Dante and Joyce (2002). Aiming "to write a Joycean chapter in the history of the irreducible separation between the existential experience of factical life and the ordinary representation of human existence," Balsamo provides valuable insights for Dante and Joyce scholars alike in his demonstration that Joyce's resurrection of tropes from the Inferno or Paradiso are not merely allusive but rather transformative (20).
Beginning with the figure of Gabriel Conroy in Dubliners, Balsamo offers the most in-depth consideration of Stephen Dedalus in both Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, before...