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For this reviewer at least, Jeffrey Drouin’s James Joyce, Science, and Modernist Print Culture has been a hotly anticipated book ever since he published work from the project, an essay on “Wandering Rocks,” in Hypermedia Joyce Studies in 2009. That essay was an effortless synthesis of key trends in Joyce studies and the new modernist studies including genetic criticism, literature and science, periodical studies, and a determined expansion of the modernist canon (in the recuperation of the figure of Dora Marsden as a key influence on Joyce and on modernism more generally). Drouin’s full-length monograph certainly sustains that promise, while in the meantime the trends in question have become even more central to these fields. While, as Drouin clearly shows in the introduction, past accounts based on loose conceptual affinities between the new physics and modernist texts have been superseded by historicist work, James Joyce, Science, and Modernist Print Culture places the field on an even surer footing. Drouin’s readings of Joyce’s engagement with science are structured by a holistic view of the scientific content that appeared alongside Joyce’s serially published fictions in The Egoist and The Little Review. I have yet to see the work of the Modernist Journals Project put to better or more sustained use than in Drouin’s model of literature and science, as he close reads popular science by Arthur Eddington, Bertrand Russell, and lesser known authors, articles by modernists such as Ezra Pound and Marsden, and even advertisements.
Therefore, while this might at first seem to be a book on Joyce and science, the work, at every stage, is a cross-section of modernist cultural production around science, especially the Einsteinian revolution. Throughout the volume Drouin is particularly good on what relativity meant for modernist humanist and individualist philosophies; he reminds us that when news of Einstein’s revolution broke in 1919, “the first popular accounts almost universally explained the relativity theories according to their humanist import,” but that Marsden’s Egoist had quietly absorbed the insights of relativity theory into its individualist celebration of the human against social institutions and traditions at least two years earlier (7, 54). A particular path Drouin follows that has hitherto gone unexplored is the connection made in modernist circles between Einstein’s and Freud’s valuing the subjective and the individual, involving slight, often deliberate scientific inaccuracy in relation to both men. Further, “‘[n]on-material’ science … was perceived to restore individualism and self-determination” by rejecting straightforwardly determinist Victorian science and its influence on literature (10). Indeed, Beckett, during the period of Joyce’s greatest influence upon him, famously critiqued the causality of Balzac’s novels as an “enchaînement mechanique, fatal, de circonstances.”1 Drouin’s prologue and first chapter addresses this modernist culture of science most directly, through a consideration of Pound’s theories of the novel and science as they participated in a wider conversation about fiction’s place in modernity taking place in the little magazines, in articles by authors including T. S. Eliot, Richard Aldington, Harriet Shaw Weaver, Wyndham Lewis, and May Sinclair. Drouin contends both here and in the subsequent chapters that these debates shaped Joyce’s fictional practice for the rest of his life.
The second chapter of the volume is a more fully fleshed out version of the article that so impressed me in 2009; in this chapter, Drouin’s critical apparatus supports a bravura close reading of the “Wandering Rocks” episode. One small criticism of the volume is that close reading is often somewhat circumscribed, contained (or apparently contained) within its own special section of each chapter; here, the section is called “A Close Reading of ‘Wandering Rocks,’” as though close analysis were not happening elsewhere. This section shines, bringing its scientific [End Page 698] focus into contact with Joyce’s manuscript drafts and his anticolonial politics; it is truly a transformative reading of the episode. No longer will we locate Einsteinian science only in “Ithaca”; we will be more ambitious...