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  • Transatlantic joyces
  • Scott W. Klein
Cheng, Vincent J., Kimberly J. Devlin, and Margot Norris, eds. Joycean Cultures/Culturing Joyces. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1998. 294 pp.
Brannigan, John, Geoff Ward, and Julian Wolfreys, eds. Re: Joyce: Text, Culture, Politics. New York: St. Martin’s, 1998. xvii + 282 pp.

The edited collection is by nature a vexed genre, the more so when the collection emerges from the papers offered at a conference. The result risks imposing an ex post facto organization on materials assembled miscellaneously by definition, and for the nonparticipant runs the risk of speaking in a slightly dated accent without the compensatory frisson of reenactment. Such collections can offer insights into the shape of a discipline, however, which is sometimes clearer after the passage of a few years. Joycean Cultures/Culturing Joyces and Re: Joyce, which draw upon papers offered at the 1993 California Joyce Conference and a 1996 conference in Dundee, emphasize critical pluralism, while positioning “culture” as the dominating leitmotif among other critical perspectives. Not all conceptions of culture are equal, though, and the collections demonstrate the complementary strengths and occasional pitfalls of Joycean criticism on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as displaying trends and resistances within their respective intellectual communities. [End Page 1007]

The editors of Joycean Cultures/Culturing Joyces declare an ambitious program in their introduction, presenting a Joyce “more mutable than monolithic, plural rather than singular, less an authorized Joyce or author of Joyce, than many Joyces germinating.” The image is somewhat misleading, for it suggests that multiple versions of the author thrive as a quasi-biological function of Joyce himself, multiplying within the media or “cultures” provided by that supreme fiction, the disinterested professoriate. More usefully, the editors see their contributors “rethinking assumptions about historical agency and the material determinations that shape cultural possibility” while ultimately moving beyond the implications of Joyce’s early twentieth-century culture to “explor[e] the germinating effects of Joyce’s texts on our contemporary cultural life.” The collection begins with a thematically related group of essays on culture, language, and pain, and ends with a cluster of essays on art, fashion, and popular culture. In between are a series of more freestanding essays, including, notably, Carol Schloss’s work on the relation between the schizophrenia of Lucia Joyce and the composition of Finnegans Wake; Bonnie Kime Scott’s treatment of Jane Heap’s role in the Little Review obscenity trial over Ulysses; and John Whittier-Ferguson’s study of Joyce’s manipulation of his political image while revising the proofs of Herman Gorman’s biography (this essay, however, is already available as part of Whittier-Ferguson’s Framing Pieces [1996]). All of these essays add to the range of Joycean knowledge, even if they derive from more conventional historical and biographical scholarship than the editors seem predisposed to admit, and only Scott’s essay openly draws conclusions about the relevance of its subject to contemporary cultural debate (in this case, the role played in obscenity law by appeal to the “vulnerability” of the young female mind). Only one essay, R. B. Kershner’s “The Culture of Ulysses,” addresses culture qua culture in its largest senses, exploring Joyce in the context of Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, and exploring Ulysses’s mixture of high and low cultural resisters, the twentieth century’s most important aesthetic feature.

Other essays understand Joycean culture as either predominantly academic or political. Susan Stanford Friedman’s “Reading Joyce: Icon of Modernity?” suggests abandoning efforts to resolve incompatible visions of Joyce within gender studies, arguing instead for replacing totalizing approaches to Joyce’s politics with the tracing of shifting [End Page 1008] political dynamics within his texts. Cheryl Herr’s “The Silence of the Hares” juxtaposes Finnegans Wake and the contemporary Irish paintings of Dermot Seymour, teasing out a theory of peripherality in both Joyce and contemporary Irish culture, an angle of vision commensurate with and produced by Ireland’s marginal colonial history. These, and a pair of essays on illustrations of Ulysses, are the most effective in the collection. Others, mainly by younger scholars, suffer at times from narrowness of focus, a too ready assumption of theoretical truisms...

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