Modern Fiction Studies 46.2 (2000) 533-535
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Joyce through the Ages: A Nonlinear View
Britain, Ireland, and Continental Europe
Michael Patrick Gillespie, ed. Joyce through the Ages: A Nonlinear View. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 1999. xii + 215pp.
This is a collection gleaned from a 1997 conference on Joyce. Though it suffers from the usual faults of such collections, it has genuine critical merit. First, one of the faults: nothing ties the essays together. Michael Patrick Gillespie's introduction maintains that the volume is structured by chaos theory. But only Peter Mackey's essay treats chaos theory, and the connections with the other pieces are unconvincing. This is, however, a minor flaw. Almost all the essays include new scholarly information or interpretive insights. They form a valuable addition to Joyce criticism, and will be of use to professional Joyceans and newcomers alike.
The first chapter, by Gillespie, disputes the distinction between history and fiction. This is a challenging essay, and Gillespie is right to stress the continuity of these disciplines. However, he passes too quickly over differences--in the pervasiveness of truth claims (in fiction, they [End Page 533] tend to govern a small number of characters or events only), in features of the overall project or aim, and in standard evaluative criteria. These are important for understanding why fiction is usually not history, but also why it sometimes is history.
The second essay is Jean Kimball's clear overview of Joyce's relation to psychoanalysis. Much of the piece recapitulates Kimball's own previous work, and many points are undeveloped as she refers back to that work. However, she concludes by treating a previously unknown essay on buttock fixation that appears to have exerted a significant influence on Joyce's portrait of Leopold Bloom.
Mackey, in the next essay, first summarizes the non-technical part of chaos theory. He stresses that it undermines prediction by multiplying unknown causes and concludes that it vindicates free will. This is a non sequitur. To say that we do not know causes is not to say that they don't exist. Nonetheless, Mackey uses this conclusion to present Bloom as an existential hero who makes small choices with potentially large consequences--an appealing interpretation.
Roy Gottfried sets out to periodize Joyce's writing. He sharply distinguishes the adolescent period of 17 to 23 from the adult period that follows, with Joyce being abstract in the former and concrete in the latter. One could argue, however, that in the concrete writings, Joyce is instantiating the earlier, abstract principles, not renouncing them. Still, Gottfried's use of periodization is suggestive, as are his particular observations.
Pericles Lewis adopts an innovative approach to Joyce on nationalism and race. However, the argument rests on a supposed ambiguity in Stephen's phrase about "the uncreated conscience" of his race. Lewis notes that "uncreated" may refer to God. But this has no consequences for Joyce's usage. After all, "absolute" is used to refer to God. But if Jones calls Smith and "absolute bumbler," he is not saying Smith is God.
The sixth essay is a fine, illuminating psychoanalytic piece by Michael Begnal. Subjecting several passages in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to careful textual scrutiny, Begnal discloses recurrent masturbatory fantasies and patterns of erotic attachment underlying moments of apparent aestheticism.
Following this, Tara Williams gathers fascinating material from Irish folklore on changelings, showing that Joyce drew on this material in Leopold's fantasies about Rudy. These fantasies tacitly endow Rudy with talismans to protect him against infant death--a previously unnoticed [End Page 534] point that renders the images more comprehensible, and more moving.
Heyward Ehrlich presents an informative exploration of Joyce's relation to Mangan, with particular emphasis on the Orient, a valuable and timely topic. However, Ehrlich may overestimate Joyce's identification with the East. In considering Joyce's homology relating Ireland and England to Rome and Teheran, Ehrlich takes Joyce to be linking Ireland with Iran. But the phrasing parallels Ireland with Rome. Joyce's homology is more plausibly...