- Reviewed by
Modestly entitled Reading Joyce's "Ulysses," Daniel R. Schwarz's latest book hovers uneasily between a number of possible reading strategies and explicatory aims. Schwarz proposes to right the recent critical tendencies towards discussing Ulysses in terms of what he feels to be a dehumanization of Joyce's universe as well as an overemphasis on language and style (he particularly takes issue with Karen Lawrence's The Odyssey of Style in "Ulysses"). Instead, he attempts to establish the characters as Joyce's primary means of signification, insisting at the same time that his own humanistic approach can account for the same facts as do reader-response criticism, narratology, or deconstruction.
Schwarz's readings in Ulysses are traditional and do not very markedly go beyond what Stanley Sultan (The Argument of "Ulysses") proposed two decades ago. The book is obviously designed as a textbook for students and has little to offer to the Joycean critic. Schwarz offers numerous discussions of Gabler's changes in the text, most of which (in spite of an initial disclaimer) are favorable. He also has some very perceptive comments on Molly, who emerges as a common, gossipy, vulgar Irish housewife as well as acquiring great symbolic significance on the basis of her sensuality, practical commonsense, fairness, and emotional involvement with the world. Jewish arcania and generally the explication of references to the Haggadah are another area in which Schwarz goes beyond standard treatments of Ulysses. In particular his careful analysis of how Bloom maps on to Elijah as well as some other shrewd observations deserve mention. Schwarz provides a good discussion of Masonry and of the bestial imagery, and his treatment of Rudy, who usually receives short shrift, is delightfully balanced and understanding. However, I find his bibliography less than satisfactory because it ignores a great deal of Joyceana published since 1980 (for instance, Richard Brown's relevant James Joyce and Sexuality ), and his continuous references to Gifford and Seidman are disturbing: surely the students would have this reference work at hand? [End Page 687]
Schwarz's methodology leaves even more to be desired. His use of critical concepts is at best unclear and mostly misleading. Thus Schwarz tries to absorb metaphors, images, parallax, epiphany, and bathos under the one term metaphoricity, equates metaphors with signifiers (but characters are also signifiers in quest of the book's meaning), and uses the vaguest of terms for narrative processes. This lack of precision and focalization prevents any serious discussion of poststructuralist concepts and must throw the student audience into complete confusion. Indeed, Schwarz's results do not suggest more than a desire to pay lip-service to current ideologies.
The drawbacks of Schwarz's traditional approach are demonstrated in his treatment of Mulligan, who on account of his presumed homosexuality is considered to be a "false signifier" for Stephen, an example he should beware of. (Swinburne's "perverted" [!] sexual practices emerge as a contagious disease that is transmitted to Mulligan through his verse.) This goes hand in hand with a denunciation of Stephen's intellectual sterility as apparent from his disquisitions in "Scylla," and Schwarz makes some good points on how Stephen's sexual immaturity (a way out of which will be shown to him by the mature Bloom) hinders his artistic development. Joyce's personal beliefs are also belabored a number of times without any but conjectural evidence in this section. By the time Stephen and Bloom eventually meet, Schwarz's argument about homosexuality gets into serious trouble because now he has to insist (against equally valid allusions in the text) that there is no suggestion of homosexuality between Stephen and Bloom. Indeed, Wilde—allusions of whom were first cited in support of Mulligan's sexual orientation—now suddenly reappears as a positive figure, his disgrace becomes transformed into a crucifixion, and a set of references to androgyny as the foundation for artistic creativity and inspiration establish Bloom as Stephen...