- Joyce’s Renascence
In their introduction to Renascent Joyce, Daniel Ferrer, Sam Slote, and André Topia argue that the collection’s examination of the relationship between James Joyce and the Renaissance enables us to identify “a renascent Joyce through a Renaissance Joyce,” a distinction that is crucial to the study’s overall goals. One might expect a study entitled Renascent Joyce to be a periodized examination of the Renaissance’s influence on Joyce, and to be sure, the first half of the text does place Joyce in conversation with thinkers such as François Rabelais, Giordano Bruno, and William Shakespeare. However, the study’s aims are more ambitious than merely “to document a source or to compare for comparison’s sake.” Instead, the contributors to Renascent Joyce are primarily concerned with establishing Joyce as a renascent figure himself, a person whose embrace of “the refusal of dogmatic thinking, the drive toward universality, the belief that language is not a transparent medium and that form should reflect content, and a writing informed by sheer exuberance” enable him to keep the Renaissance spirit alive three hundred years after the period’s conclusion. In so doing, Rena-scent Joyce provides a compelling new way to examine and understand Joyce’s literary innovation, a revolutionary spirit that not only reignites the past in the early twentieth century, but whose subsequent rebirths productively engage our present and thus highlight Joyce’s continued significance. [End Page 425]
While Renascent Joyce is not explicitly divided into sections, it essentially follows three distinct paths, the first seeking to examine the relationship between Joyce and the key players and ideals of the Renaissance. Here, Phillipe Birgy’s opening essay provides an effective introduction to the collection as a whole. Through his examination of the “many traces of the revival of a Greco-Roman spirit” in the “Telemachus” and “Aeolus” chapters of Ulysses, Birgy not only highlights Joyce’s ambivalence towards a Hellenic revival in his present, but he also reads Joyce’s ability to forge “dialectic[s]” between contradictory discourses in a manner that eschews “all attempts at periodization positing and constructing a neo-renascent spirit” and instead “recognize[s] a continuity between what is authoritatively given as a series of separate and competing spirits, essences, or principles.” Jonathan Pollock and Federico Sabatini follow Birgy’s chapter with two fascinating examinations of Joyce’s specific relationship to Bruno, a critical commonplace of Finnegans Wake scholarship that is given refreshing new light by their specific focus on Bruno’s writings on atomism. Specifically, both chapters not only contend that atomism carries an aesthetic dimension, but they also highlight how the Wake’s embrace of linguistic chaos and contradiction makes it an exemplary “experiment in atomist aesthetics,” to use Pollock’s words. This provides a fascinating new way to couch Joyce’s use of Bruno’s coincidence of contraries as an integral element of the Wake’s and its author’s renascent spirit. Finally, Tracy Eve Winton reads the Wake alongside Rabelais’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili to highlight stylistic similarities between the texts that reveal both works to be “cosmogonic dreams” in which “the hero’s metaphorical descent or fall into the underworld” culminates in a “plunge back into the phenomenal world, though now adumbrated by the dream.” The description of the Hypnerotomachia may go on a bit too long, but Winton’s overall juxtaposition of Rabelais and Joyce still provides an intriguing way to reframe Joyce’s linguistic experimentation as “both an awakening and an effective wake of the imagination” without succumbing to a reductive attempt to establish a concrete Rabelaisian influence. And this accomplishment holds true of the initial essays as a whole: they effectively use Joyce’s fascination with Renaissance writers as a lens to reconsider his works and thus provide a more nuanced way to couch Joyce’s relationship to the period.
The next set of essays focus on the specific relationship between Joyce and Shakespeare. François Laroque examines the multiple Shakespearean puns in the Wake, arguing that “Joyce is systematically [End Page 426...