- Joyce in Context
Joyce in Context is the latest of a long and fairly distinguished line of James Joyce conference volumes; it is based on presentations given at the 1989 James Joyce Conference in Philadelphia. Since this was not one of the International Joyce Symposia, the volume is dominated by contributors from the United States—although the contributions from international scholars (those by Fritz Senn, Denis Donoghue, and the Chinese translator of Joyce, Professor Di Jin) are particularly good. Perhaps the most striking feature of the volume is the number of contributions from younger scholars. The editors, both well-established Joyceans in mid-career, deserve credit for attempting something other and better than rounding up the usual suspects.
Cheng and Martin give as rationale for their title that "much critical interest now centers on the way in which the 'literary' text is derived from, reflects, responds to, is illuminated or even exposed by, or interacts 'with' other texts," or "con-texts." The essays themselves have been grouped into four divisions: the Modernist Context, the Context of the Other (which includes mostly feminist essays), Contexts for Joyce (Joyce and the Irish Revival, Lacan, Homer, and cartoons), and a grab-bag category entitled "Re-reading Joyce: Joyce in His Own Context."
In what is potentially the most substantial of the essays, Denis Donoghue examines one variant of a leftist case against Ulysses, put most forcefully by Fredric Jameson. This argument is that Ulysses is politically regressive because it invests the modern world of alienating culture with a deceptive halo of meaningfulness. In a related move, Leo Bersani attacks Joyce's use of interior monologue as a way of conservatively reinscribing the bourgeois subject, a charge often made by Marxists as well. "Marxists have never been able to avoid the snobbery of thinking that their soliloquies are fine," Donoghue comments acerbically, "but that mine are sordid functions of late capitalism." Marshaling Levinas as well as Deleuze and Guattari, Donoghue sketches an elaborate counterargument with implications for our understanding of representation. Unfortunately, along the way he seriously misreads a recent Jameson essay, throwing his entire argument into question.
Among other notable essays in the collection, Vincent Cheng explores the neglected topic of Joyce's relationship to Ford Madox Ford, while Brian Shaffer imaginatively applies Freud's concept of the "narcissism of minor differences" to several of Joyce's characters. Colleen Lamos in a brief but elegant survey of feminist discussions of Joyce points out how many of them recuperate the very idea of sexual difference they set out to question; worse, they often wind up suggesting that Joyce, or Bloom, or both, are better women than women are. In the same section are intelligent essays by two of the best defenders of Joyce's feminism, Bonnie Kime Scott and Suzette Henke. [End Page 179]
Garry Leonard offers a Lacanian perspective on the problem of history in "Nestor," suggesting that the public narrative we call History and the personal narrative we create in generating our own subjectivity are reciprocally related. In one of my favorite essays, Dan Schiff explores the cartoon figures that appear in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake; among his discoveries is the fact that, despite their appearance in guidebooks, Mickey and Minnie Mouse are not characters in the Wake. Fritz Senn and Bernard Benstock, both of whom explore Joycean catalogues, are as intriguing as ever.
The essays are not uniformly successful, of course. Theresa O'Connor is erudite in Irish and comparative mythology, but when she discusses "Joyce's dialogized Grail myth," my Bakhtinian soul rebels. Nor am I convinced by Roy Gottfried's rather strained argument that in Dubliners the style of "scrupulous meanness" to which Joyce aspired was in fact a parody of Irish Literary Revival writers like Standish O'Grady. Finally, I was surprised to find that during Ian Crump's analysis of Stephen's esthetic theory and the epiphany in particular, nowhere does he mention any of the classic work on that subject by Morris Beja and others. Still, these are quibbles; Joyce in Context...