- Re-Viewing Classics of Joyce Criticism, and: Joycean Occasions: Essays from the Milwaukee James Joyce Conference
In her "Introduction" to Re-Viewing Classics of Joyce Criticism, Janet Egleson Dunleavy recalls, with a belated sigh, the early decades of Joyce studies "when the variety of ideas to be examined was limited only by curiosity, imagination, and a reader's willingness to find new puzzlement, insights, and delights on every page." Surely where Joyce is concerned willingness, imagination, and curiosity still count for a good deal, even in that crowded critical territory. And in any case—as this collection of essays suggests—once Joyceans feel they've exhausted the primary texts, they will still have one another's work to occupy them.
Re-Viewing Classics of Joyce Criticism assembles some of the most distinguished Joyce scholars to examine the "pioneer texts" of their predecessors. The essays vary in detail and tone, but in general each summarizes the background out of which a particular study developed, discusses its contemporary reception, reviews its contents and method, and evaluates the text's enduring contribution to the field. Patrick A. McCarthy's essay on Stuart Gilbert's James Joyce's "Ulysses": A Study (1930) is a model of the form. McCarthy is especially enlightening on the issue of historical context (a strength of the whole volume), pointing out that Gilbert's "emphasis on order and control was a response to critics who regarded Ulysses mainly as a formless, chaotic outpouring of experience." He discusses thoroughly the limitations of Gilbert's approach but concludes that, despite these, "few books have done as much as Stuart Gilbert's to direct their readers' attention to the beauty and integrity of Joyce's masterful novel."
The essays are consistently intelligent and engaging, they avoid nitpicking, and they are willing to challenge questionable critical assumptions without undermining their high regard for their subjects. If anything, the writing is too well-mannered, too reserved. Indeed, with the exception of Suzette A. Henke (writing on Our Exagmination round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress) and perhaps Morton P. Levitt (writing on Harry Levin's James Joyce), the writers seem to lack a certain enthusiasm that Joyce himself often inspires in critics. There are, additionally, small imbalances of focus; the discussions of Ellmann and Kenner, for example, are among the shorter of the contributions.
Still, what emerges is just what the volume's editor describes: "an introduction to the history of Joyce studies as well as to the foundations of much modern criticism." The essays succeed in giving some shape to a vast and rapidly expanding critical field.
In the presence of the primary texts, Joyceans seem to respond with a verve that they apparently find difficult to muster when writing about one another. Though its appearance is belated (the Milwaukee Joyce Conference having taken place in 1987), Joycean Occasions is a welcome contribution to the field, a collection of spirited explorations of the Joyce canon. Patrick A. McCarthy opens the volume with a lucid and intriguing discussion of "Reading in Ulysses," of the ways in which certain characters—especially Bloom—model our own reading habits when we come to Joyce's novel. Suzette Henke is again especially lively, writing on "Joyce's New [End Page 962] Womanly Man." Even the freight of critical jargon in the essay can't suppress the energy of her style and the quality of her perception, particularly in her discussion of the "Circe" episode of Ulysses. Zack Bowen's contribution on "Comic Narration" has since appeared as a chapter in his book, Ulysses as a Comic Novel; it offers an insightful complement to existing studies of shifting narrative technique in the novel, arguing that "as the focus shifts to more linguistic variation, the tone of the book becomes more playful and less seriously tragic or painful."