restricted access Polyphony and Memory in James Joyce's Fiction
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Modern Fiction Studies 46.4 (2000) 984-988



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Polyphony and Memory in James Joyce's Fiction

Beryl Schlossman


John S. Rickard. Joyce's Book of Memory: The Mnemotechnic of Ulysses. Durham: Duke UP, 1999. x+240 pp.

R. J. Schork. Latin and Roman Culture in Joyce. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 1997. xiv + 318 pp.

R. J. Schork. Greek and Hellenic Culture in Joyce. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 1998. xvi + 340 pp.

From his reading of Vico, if not Hegel, James Joyce knew Mnemosyne as the goddess of Memory, the mother of the Muses. John S. Rickard's book on Joyce's mnemotechnic in Ulysses and R. J. Schork's books on classical culture throughout Joyce's writing (including a range of genetic writings as well as letters and all the published works) present two kinds of critical response to the challenge of modernism and to our understanding of memory. Rickard focuses on ideological and theoretical questions of memory as they appear in the avant-garde novel that Ulysses represented at publication, before Joyce took us overboard into the sea of language in Finnegans Wake. Schork's relation to memory is less direct but poignant in its urgency: his approach to Joyce's rewritings of classical antiquity is philological, interpretive, and comparative, rather than theoretical. His focus is applied intertextuality. The results cannot be ignored [End Page 984] by anyone interested in understanding how Joyce was, as Finnegans Wake tells us in so many words, married to reading and writing.

Rickard seeks to understand a cultural framework that invokes a range of theoretical topics and approaches concerned with memory, a vast topic that leads the author to Bergson and Proust as well as to questions of evolution, widely diverging psychoanalytic theories, and modern philosophy. The topic demands substantial attention for readers concerned with Joyce's world as well as with his aesthetic rendering of it. Memory occupies Schork as the impact of the literatures and cultures of antiquity on a writer seeking to compete with Dante and Shakespeare in a new aesthetics of allusion, citation, and layers of language. Joyce's baroque modernism is a discursive machine that Jacques Derrida aptly rechristens the grammophone; it has something to say about everything that can be revealed through language. High life and low life, the sacred and the comic, meet on the library steps and in other places. Literature in the secular contexts of modernity (as opposed to literature written in antiquity's sacred contexts, for example, Greek tragedy or Augustine's Confessions) is an object constructed as verbal art rather than as cult value or catharsis. Literature does not claim to offer a cure for anything, even if one believes in talking cures in church or on the couch.

Secularization in Joyce begins with the absorption of Greek into Latin, on the continental side, and with the absorption in Celtic Ireland of the druids' mysteries into Christianity. Two words, a spoken one and a subtitle on a screen of memory, are said in Latin and Greek, and subtitled in Joyce's English, in the two books by R. J. Schork, whose readings range from the classics to modernism. Latin culture is there from the beginning, in Irish Catholic forms, in Jesuit education, and in the romance languages and literatures that Joyce knew well. In Western European language and culture, Greek culture is as omnipresent as Latin, but what Joyce knew of the Greek world and how well he knew it are substantially different from Joyce's intimate knowledge of Latin culture. Schork gathers together the materials of two classical traditions, Latin and Greek, that encode memory in an oeuvre that turned Balzac's ambition (to say everything about everything--everything relevant to the cultural and historical moment of the Human Comedy) back toward the pre-Cartesian baroque forms of Rabelais, its highs and lows, as Charles-Albert [End Page 985] Cingria points out in a review essay on Ulysses. As Rabelais's popular French was historically marooned by Port-Royal's reformation of the French language, so the classical tradition that Joyce knew...


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