restricted access Re-effectuating Joyce
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MFS Modern Fiction Studies 47.2 (2001) 458-464

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Re-Effectuating Joyce

David Herman

Derek Attridge. Joyce Effects: On Language, Theory, and History. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000. xviii + 208 pp.

Drawing together essays composed during the period 1984-1999, Joyce Effects explores James Joyce's four major works of fiction, Dubliners (1914), A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Ulysses (1922), and Finnegans Wake (1939). In the author's characterization, the essays assembled in the book center around "the effects produced by [Joyce's] work, when it is read with the attention and commitment it demands"; these effects are remarkable for "their intricate construction, their subtle phrasings, their play with conventions and expectations, their engagements with the twists and turns of history, their often hilarious exposure of prejudice and pomposity" (xiii). In turn, building on arguments developed in his 1988 study, Peculiar Language, Attridge suggests that literary works such as Joyce's produce the effects they do because of their "semi-submerged situation, [being] half in and half out of the determining circumstances" (xiv) whose impress they bear, but which they also stage in a more or less critical and reflexive way. Hence, as the author notes, Joyce Effects can be construed both as a book on Joyce's characteristic themes and techniques and also as a book on the nature of "the literary" as it is manifested in (and questioned by) Joyce's texts. Joyce's work warrants a study with this dual profile because his fictions [End Page 458] have so powerfully influenced both modernist and postmodernist modes of--and theories about--literary production. Although there may be grounds for quibbling with some of author's specific claims about the forms and functions of Joycean discourse, overall the essays gathered in the volume reveal a rare blend of lucidity and subtlety, cogency and complexity. Intelligent and erudite without being esoteric, Joyce Effects testifies to its author's long engagement with and expertise on Joyce's work. The book also demonstrates Attridge's ability to use Joycean discourse as a basis for (re)framing broad literary-theoretical questions--questions of crucial importance not just for Joyce scholars, but also for anyone interested in exploring the interconnections between literary, cultural, and political practices as they unfold in time and space.

The autobiographical first half of the introduction, "On Being a Joycean," evokes the kind of literary education that the author received as a high-school and university student in South Africa in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In this institutional context, dominated by the interpretive methods and reading preferences of F. R. Leavis and D. H. Lawrence, Joyce's work simply had no place. As Attridge puts it, "[t]he powerful Lawrentian/Leavisian model, premised on a moral earnestness and an attachment that left little room for the playful ingenuity or the foregrounding of linguistic and literary conventions, for effects of the Joycean kind, fostered in students an appreciation of strenuous verbal engagements with perennial human dilemmas but did so at the cost of rendering them impervious to the pleasures and insights of a large body of literary writing" (2). This mid-century marginalization of Joyce's writing contrasts sharply with the scenario described in the final chapter of the book, "Envoi: Judging Joyce," where the author reflects on the mismatch between the current "cultural hegemony" (171) of Joyce's work and the values embodied in the fiction itself. How, Attridge wonders, can Joyce's preeminence in the cultural arena be squared with his sympathy for the underdog and his evident distrust of authority, whether sacred or secular? Restating in other terms Hans Robert Jauss's argument that certain texts can help change the horizon of expectations in which they (among other works) are subsequently interpreted, Attridge notes that the Ulysses of 2000 is something quite different than the Ulysses first published by Joyce. The novel is now something less alien, less exogenous to dominant cultural and interpretive norms, than the book [End Page 459] that first exploded on the scene in 1922, resulting in what may in fact be "an excessively...