restricted access Joyce, Bakhtin, and Popular Culture: Chronicles of Disorder, and: Missed Understandings: A Study of Stage Adaptions of the Works of James Joyce (review)
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Reviewed by
R. B. Kershner. Joyce, Bakhtin, and Popular Culture: Chronicles of Disorder. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1989. 338 pp. $34.95.
José Lanters. Missed Understandings: A Study of Stage Adaptions of the Works of James Joyce. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1988. 253 pp. No price given.

The recent 1989 Joyce Conference in Philadelphia confirmed my sense that there are two distinct but interacting worlds of Joyce criticism. One is composed of professional Joyceans who see Joyce as the central figure in the literary—and their own professional—universe. They may adapt recent theoretical figures to their subject and produce panels on such subjects as "Joyce and Lacan," "Joyce and Derrida," or "Joyce and Bakhtin;" the theoretical models become a kind of braille to which one puts one's critical fingerprints to find confirming shapes in Joyce's texts. Or they may burrow deeply in Joyce's background to find possible sources for his texts. They have panels on such subjects as Joyce and computers. They comprise the Joyce industry that takes a back seat to no other academic cottage industry in organizing conferences, and publishing its proceedings, or in producing journals. Although the best of this work is exceptional, much of it is of the genre of academic moling. Members of the second group are more likely to see Joyce as a major figure in the modernist tradition or in the history of the novel and to see him within a contextual framework; they are more likely to be generalists and traditional humanists, concerned with hermeneutical questions of what texts mean, interested in the relationship between form and content—story and discourse—and desirous of making respectful use of whatever work done by the Joyce industry that they find useful. If they are senior scholars, they may have also often written extensively on other subjects. If they use a theoretical perspective, it is more likely to be directed at a problem in reading or understanding a particular motif or narrative pattern. They may be attracted to the enigmas of Joyce's textuality or, if traditional humanists, they may be concerned with relationships among characters, what the plot enacts, or the process of mimesis by which anterior reality becomes art. For the humanists, reading Joyce is not so different from reading other major writers, and they see his work among a tradition of novelists, epic writers, and Irish figures. The books under review are productions of the Joyce industry and will be, for the most part, of interest to that group.

The appeal of Bakhtin to diverse critical schools depends in part on the polyvocal quality of his work. In his stress on heteroglossia as an essential quality of texts, his work appeals to those stressing the textuality of literary works and their intratextual and intertextual implications. But in his stress on the anterior worlds that produce diverse linguistic systems that contend within a text, he is a refuge for those who believe in the necessity of studying the process of mimesis. Thus Bakhtin is an enabling theorist for those who wish to have mimesis or textuality—hermeneutics or rhetoricity—and for those who would reconcile the two contending positions. Furthermore, in his attention to the diverse cultural systems in a linguistic system, Bakhtin has appeal to those who wish to see a literary work as deriving from a multiplicity of cultural origins; as Kershner nicely puts it in his useful study, Joyce, Bakhtin, and Popular Culture, "For Bakhtin, both written and spoken language and inner monologue are made up of a great variety of conflicting variants—'languages' of officialdom, vernaculars, occupational jargons, technical, literary, and subliterary languages, all polyphonically resounding." [End Page 798]

Joyce would seem a fertile soil for the application of Bakhtin's theories, but, in fact, despite Bakhtin's wide reading in the tradition of English fiction, he never mentions Joyce. Although it is hardly news that Joyce was immersed in middle-class Irish culture, Kershner shows systematically how Joyce draws upon multiple sources in popular culture in Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. At his best, he shows us how a text is transformed once we...