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MFS Modern Fiction Studies 48.3 (2002) 766-768

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Book Review

Gestural Politics:
Stereotype and Parody in Joyce

Christy L. Burns. Gestural Politics: Stereotype and Parody in Joyce. Albany: SUNY, 2000. vii + 224 pp.

As a child growing up in Dublin at the end of the nineteenth century, James Joyce was captivated by popular forms of entertainment: song, pantomime, vaudeville comedy, slapstick humor, theatrical melodrama, and penny-paper romance. Cheryl Herr, in Joyce's Anatomy of Culture, and Brandon Kershner, in Joyce, Bakhtin, and Popular Culture, have offered salient assessments of the impact of popular Victorian art forms on Joyce's modernist sensibility. In the 1970's, Lorraine Weir called attention to Joyce's avid interest in Marcel Jousse's "evangelical pantomimes" on view in Paris in the late 1920's. In Gestural Politics, Christy L. Burns has resuscitated Jousse's Christological notion of gestural meaning, amalgamated with Jacques-Dalcroze's eurhythmics and influences of Dublin street mime and music, to reveal a passionate political aesthetic at the heart of Joyce's avant-garde experimentation. Turning to Jousse as a formative influence on the Wake's radical progress, Burns shows how Joyce's most farraginous text defies critical archetypologies suggested by Plato's eidos, Brunonian contraries, Viconian imperialistic historigraphy, Jungian archetypes, and traditional characterology.

Burns's Gestural Politics is an ambitious study that grapples with many of the critical paradigms that have dominated Joyce criticism over the last two decades: issues of sexual/textual politics, stereotypes and [End Page 766] irony, nationalism and colonialism, as well as Lacanian psychoanalysis. Boldly, Burns challenges and complicates traditional definitions of parody by gleaning from Stephen Hero and Ulysses traces of an art of gesture that amalgamates materiality with meaning, body with spirit, sense with essence. Parody, she insists, takes physical form in Joycean embodiment. Drawing on Judith Butler's premise of subversive performativity, Burns anatomizes Nietzschean notions of power and subordination, Hegelian constructs of Master-Slave coordinates, and Derridean deconstructions of mime and style. Taking a cue from Derrida's intoxicating Spurs, she traces a fascinating "heterotics" of female desire in Joyce's work, from the ventriloquization of female voices in Portrait and Ulysses, to the eventual liberation of feminine erotic wordplay in Finnegans Wake.

In chapter 2, "The Art of Gesture," Burns subtly unpacks the clinamen, or mark of differentiation that distinguishes Joyce's cunning gestures of irony, satire, and parodic representation. She situates Stephen's Aristotelian theory of art in Portrait within an ingenious frame of gestural aesthetics that culminate in explosive parodies of sexual aggression in the "Circe" episode of Ulysses. In chapters 3 and 4, "The word is my Wife" and "In the Original Sinse," Burns makes her most original contribution to Joyce scholarship by rereading the linguistic and erotic strategies of Finnegans Wake through innovative lenses of gestural aesthetics. As Joyce progressively highlights the linguistic materiality of the logos at play, female voices erupt in the text with gestures of erotic liberation that defy male patterns of aggression through a babbling wavespeech of sensuous pleasure allied with a fluid, feminine unconscious. On the way to the Wake, Burns fashions provocative interpretations of Stephen's Shakespeare theory in "Scylla and Charybdis," as well as the ventriloquized voices of Gerty MacDowell and Molly Bloom in Ulysses. But it is in her analysis of transgressive sexualities parodically exposed in Joyce's Wakean world that Burns constructs her most interesting theories of sexual/textual politics. By eliding indistinct language, that is, parapraxes and verbal misrecognitions, with sexual ambiguity and perversity, she subtly reveals the linguistic liberation suggested by moments of homosexual panic, narcissistic lesbian indulgence, and agonistic frustrations of homosocial desire. Carefully balancing textual perversity and narcissistic art in dialectical relation to paranoiac aggression and disidentification, Burns schematizes the intriguing psychoanalytic extremes of Joyce's mock-Freudian parody. [End Page 767]

In chapter 5, "In the Wake of the Nation," Burns extends her definition of gestural politics to offer an implicit analysis of Joyce's idiosyncratic response to contemporary Irish nationalism. Reading the dialogue of "Cyclops" and the Wakean language of...


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