I was pleased to see a review of my 2008 book, The Incarnation of Language, in the latest issue of the James Joyce Quarterly, Vol. 47.1 (Fall 2009), 161-64. After I read it, though, I was not so happy but not only because the reviewer doesn't like the book. I was disappointed by factual errors and oversights in the review that, I feel, misrepresent the intention of the work. I would like to respond to these and also share some experiences about writing a book on Joyce as a young academic on the job market.
The reviewer claims that I was mistaken in attempting to bring Joyce and Edmund Husserl together at one point because Husserl's Logical Investigations was published "three years after Ulysses" (162). This work, however, was published in German (which Joyce read) twenty-one years before Ulysses appeared (a second edition was issued in 1913). The reviewer also suggests that I overlooked such central concepts as epiphany, but there is a section of over twenty pages on the notion of epiphany in the book. I should say that the review is essentially a review of sections from one chapter of the book. It cites the names of writers referred to in the introduction but says nothing about the general argument and completely ignores the argument of the most important first chapter and also that of chapter four, while there is only a sentence or two on chapter three.
The reviewer refers to the Wake lines regarding Shem's writing "over every square inch of the only foolscap available, his own body" (FW 185.35-36) and reads my words on the passage too selectively, thereby misconstruing their meaning: "O'Sullivan's attempt to read the passage in theological and phenomenological terms—rather than in the polyvalent, secular light this scatological (rather than eschatological) section of the Wake invites—is typically blinkered" (163). The beauty of these lines from Joyce is, as I state in the book, that they can be both scatological and eschatological. The reviewer's own one-sided interpretation here of Joyce seems also to run "theological" and "phenomenological" together and to suggest that neither of these ways of writing or interpreting can be "polyvalent" or "secular." My reading of Joyce, even in this quotation, clearly states that both a theological and a secular—or a "religious" and an "authorical"—reading is possible. The review seems to suggest that I have privileged the religious in Joyce to the exclusion of all else. As I state clearly in the introduction and first chapter, however, I regard Joyce as using sacred mysteries and religious language for descriptions of the secular.
Because the reviewer overlooks the central argument of the book, [End Page 319] I believe I should briefly restate it here since it is something I spent a great deal of time on and, indeed, the book would be very confusing without knowledge of the first chapter. It is my contention that when Joyce studies stray into phenomenology or even into theory they most typically refer to the work of Jacques Derrida. Derrida likes much of Joyce—though, I believe he sees language and signification very differently—and I provide readings of all Derrida's work on Joyce in the book because I believe it is important to note that his philosophy arises out of a very different tradition. My lengthy first chapter explores in a very detailed manner how Derrida's early philosophy and his readings of Husserl clearly move away from an interest in an "embodied sign" and into what he comes to a call an "incarnation of sorts." I explain in chapter two how Joyce studies are often disinclined to examine the difference between Joyce and Derrida. This is the phenomenological and philosophical ground on which the book rests, and, if it is overlooked, then the reader will, of course, be confused.
There is one point, however, that the review raises in relation to chapter three that I must explain, for it states that there are not always enough close readings of certain texts. The reason for this will be of particular interest to Joyce...