- Joyce and the G-Men: J. Edgar Hoover’s Manipulation of Modernism
Claire A. Culleton's wonderfully pop title Joyce and the G-Men suggests this will not be a book devoted to literary arcana but to some sort of contest or face-off between Joyce and the Federal Bureau of Investigation–the kind of melodramatic encounter that has long been the generally accepted narrative for the interaction between literary modernism and the repressive forces of conventional society. In her book, Culleton, with the aid of considerable research, traces the continuing efforts of J. Edgar Hoover and others to monitor and oppose artists and social activists whom he saw as dangerous or immoral or who simply disagreed with his rather restrictive notion of mainstream American values.
The project started when Culleton, having attended an alternative music concert, sent away for materials suggested by the activist singer (1-5). These, it turned out, included the singer's suggestion that everyone should check to see whether the F.B.I. had a file on him or her and two Freedom of Information Act forms. Culleton filled out one of the forms for herself and, in a gesture that will surprise no Joycean, filled out the other for Joyce, only hesitating over the blank in which she was supposed to describe her relationship to the subject (1-5). More than three years later, having first responded to a phone call from the F.B.I. asking for proof that Joyce was dead, she received twenty pages from a variety of files in which Joyce was mentioned, as well as the claim that there was no file on Joyce per se (1-5). Nearly all the pages were heavily blacked out by Bureau censors. Culleton began to request the files of Joyce's friends and acquaintances, and then of other literary and artistic figures (1-5). Gradually, her thesis emerged: "J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI grew to contain and thereby structure expressions of literary modernists" (10).
There is not much specifically about Joyce in the book, yet everything Culleton discusses is important for our understanding of Joyce and his social and cultural milieu. The separate chapters highlight a group of interrelated themes that are not generally treated as part of the same discipline, and indeed the fact that this book as a whole can be regarded as significant for our understanding of a literary figure shows the considerable impact of the cultural studies movement and the turn to history of the past fifteen years in literary criticism. Unlike much of that work, Culleton's does not particularly show the influence of Michel Foucault, Mikhail Bakhtin, Michel de Certeau, Jean Baudrillard, or other theorists whose ideas can be used in deploying various historical narratives. Instead, she comes out of the American pragmatic tradition, depending upon archival research (such as the [End Page 380] F.B.I. files and materials from the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center library) to support her more general claims.
Culleton's first chapter discusses Hoover's professional rise, his ideology, and his efforts to challenge modern writers whom he regarded as degenerate. The second narrows the focus to modern literature and its connection to Hoover's "antiradical hysteria" (10). The third chapter discusses what Culleton terms Hoover's
processing of Americans, especially his use of technological apparatuses as he tried to manipulate and control the masses through regular radio broadcasts, pop culture novels, comic books, special appearances, pamphlets, articles, and so forth. . . . America's most famous "top cop," Hoover had the public and the media eating out of the palm of his proverbial hand.(11)
In the fourth chapter, Culleton considers the American labor movement in the early part of the twentieth century, arguing that Hoover's active opposition to left-wing movements came to include an opposition to any sort of radicalism. And it is undeniable that much of modernism was eventually associated with "progressive" writers, such as the early John Dos Passos, John Steinbeck, and Theodore Dreiser...