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"Stoop," "please stoop," moans an intrusive voice early in Finnegans Wake, but James Joyce neither stopped work on the Wake nor lowered the level of his esoteric handling of his material, and neither have Joyce scholars, veterans and newcomers alike. What is most impressive about recent books on Joyce is the degree of accuracy that now obtains, offering few of the blunders and howlers that used to delight nasty book reviewers. Nor would anyone familiar with the scholarship of Fritz Senn ever expect a crumb of inaccuracy when dealing with any fact of the Joyce canon: Joyce's Dislocutions is hardly likely to disappoint anyone seriously committed to the subject. In three decades at his loom Senn has rarely if ever dropped a stitch, and his almost exclusive devotion to Joyce has given him a field of specialization that is quite unique. Those who have been reading Senn through these decades will find the collection of his essays an indulgence in delicious déjà vu, with just enough revisions and recasting to make the familiar exciting.
Senn is a genial but toughminded professional Joycean, and his Preface allows few concessions to attitudes that are not congenial to him. "I concentrate—aware of the hazards that physicists discovered for their own experiments—on Joycean energies . . . dynamisms, motions, kinetics," he announces, adding, "My approach [End Page 784] is textual, pedestrian, extrapolatory." Immediately after, he flashes his antlers and insists on the strength of standing alone: "Any resemblance to theories, especially currently relevant ones, is likely to be accidental: I have read few of them and understood none. The list of thinkers, scholars, philosophers, theorists, structuralists, inter alia that I have not used, not even named, is longer and more impressive than the persuasive roll-call of reputable names that some of our colleagues manage to cram into the shortest of their presentations." (Perhaps he meant to add, "living or dead.")
The degree to which Senn guards his exclusiveness can only be tempered by time, because these essays span at least twenty-five years and are not necessarily his "final intentions." "I left untouched," he states, "those passages that now seem to suggest that I then believed in such things as Homeric 'parallels' or even in the presence—or utility—of demiurgic beings like narrators, arrangers, catechisers, or hallucinators that, according to the best authorities, seem to haunt Joyce's prose. I did not believe in those entities even then, but was simply, and uncritically as we all do some of the time, following terminological convenience." In prefatory assertions such as these Senn deconstructs his own contentions, adding himself unmistakably to that roll call of reputable names.
If Senn bristles at the intrusion of recent theorists into the Joycean enclave, he also objects to the long-standing American hegemony, especially in the form of monolingual Anglo-Saxonism, calling up a prestigious "roll call of early perceptive readers" that he finds "proportionally impressive, especially in an early stage; that is, before Americans reclaimed him for the English-speaking world." Few of these European pioneers, however, could match Senn's prodigious command of languages, and his subtitle, Essays on Reading as Translation, hardly prepares the new reader for the constant cross-referencing of Ulysses, for example, with the body of translated versionspm—French, German, Danish, Swedish, Italian, Spanish, etc. At the heart of Senn's misgivings is the suspicion that the ear of the English reader, especially of Finnegans Wake, may have a native advantage but loses much more by not possessing the European's command of languages and open investigative curiosity. The contention is a shaky one, as witness the Wake, "She that will not feel my fulmoon let her peel to thee as the hoyden and...