The title of Zack Bowen's "Ulysses" as a Comic Novel seems to announce a work founded upon a critical commonplace, but in fact the study illuminates a range of approaches that extend far beyond familiar interpretive responses. Bowen presents his well reasoned and insightful observations tied to the concept that far too many readers fail to appreciate the comidic qualities of James Joyce's epic novel. At the same time, Bowen avoids prescriptive alternatives. In fact, by underscoring both formal and contextual features characterizing the narrative discourse, he offers those attentive to its subtleties ample dialectic opportunities for expanding upon their own responses to Joyce's narrative strategies.
Although he begins with an acknowledgement of the formative impact of the work of Suzanne K. Langer and Francis Macdonald Cornford upon his own comedic theory, Bowen quickly adopts a more open approach, leaving to his readers the option of elaborating or eliding his observations to whatever degree they choose. Readers will in fact find a wide range of epistemologies functioning inherently within the framework of many of Bowen's putatively simple or obvious conclusions. Their presence gives his study both a sophistication and an accessibility that makes it valuable to a broad spectrum of readers.
Throughout "Ulysses" as a Comic Novel Bowen foregrounds the elemental features of comedy in a sure, clear fashion. His disciplined thoughtful close readings remind us of the significant impact of comedic elements upon the structure of the narrative discourse. He traces for example, elements of humor as they recur from Rabelais, through Cervantes and Sterne and reassert themselves in Joyce's prose. In confronting twentieth-century sensibilities with aesthetic experience spanning four hundred years, Bowen invites us to consider the variety of imaginative responses inherent in the tension created between expectations and variations. Bowen sees things in Ulysses that many other readers consistently miss because (like Fritz Senn) he does not hesitate to show an interest in apparently mundane or banal features of the work or to integrate that interest into a rigorous critical interpretation. At the same time his approach allows ample room for the reader to develop his or her own theories.
Thomas F. Staley, in his preface to the inaugural volume of Joyce Studies Annual, reminds us of his pioneering work twenty-seven years ago as founding editor of another scholarly journal—one that has had a profound effect upon the study of Modern literature—James Joyce Quarterly. Indeed, the aims of Joyce Studies as articulated by Staley—to "encourage essays devoted to all areas of Joyce scholarship from textual to cultural, from bibliographical to critical, from theoretical to biographical"—resonate with the same intellectual vigor that has made JJQ an [End Page 306] essential source of scholarly information and critical interpretation relating to Joyce. One can confidently expect a similar achievement from Staley's most recent project, for both the list of advisory editors and the roster of initial contributors resonate with a number of the names most responsible for the Quarterly's success.
Even with this foundation, however, some may question the need for another publication devoted solely to the works of Joyce when a plethora of journals like James Joyce Quarterly, The James Joyce Literary, The James Joyce Broadsheet, and A "Finnegans Wake" Circular already exist. The first issue of Joyce Studies will, I believe, put to rest all misgivings. A steady, judicious blend of openness to innovative ideas and respect for proven epistemologies stands as the hallmark of this issue and will, I am sure, characterize the subsequent annuals that appear from Texas. One can hardly overestimate the value that students of Joyce's writings will derive from Staley's editorial experience—now spanning nearly three decades. His choice of essays highlights an instinctual sense for important critical insights and an awareness of the need to...