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21 James Joyce, Climate Change and the Threat to our‘Natural Substance’ FIONA BECKET A cloud began to cover the sun wholly slowly wholly. Grey. Far. ( Ulysses) This essay considers whether the conditions of anthropogenic climate change – transhistorical, indifferent to the survival of species and, in relation to human life, indifferent to the claims of deterministic categories such as gender, class and race – can produce a meaningful critical practice. It assumes the prevalence of environmental reference in Joyce’s work, but asks whether the protean, ‘Circean’, poetics of disembodiment and re-embodiment in James Joyce, in particular, can usefully modify, supplement or challenge the presuppositions of environmental poetics and literary ecology. As we acquire an increasingly detailed awareness of the environmental consequences of global capitalism, we also take on board the fact that capitalism’s priorities overwhelmingly obstruct the implementation of effective solutions (however remedial these ‘solutions’, there are too many short-term interests to be protected). The imperative within literary ecology (for this reader) is to connect with the rich field of the symbolic and approach that which exceeds the symbolic, that which is most threatened by ecological catastrophe, which Slavoj Žižek has called our ‘natural Substance’.1 In this context, in this essay, examples from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake identify the principal aspects of a Joycean poetics, set alongside examples from John Cowper Powys (with his vision of a ‘vivisected’ earth) and, mid-twentieth century, J.G. Ballard’s fictions of climate change. Ultimately, aspects of an ecology inflected by Deleuzean/Guattarian ‘geophilosophy’ are signalled in the hope of exposing the barest traces of an ethics of reading. Kate Soper articulates a commonly held position when she describes Joyce’s resistance to ruralism (in which she included Celticism) as decidedly political, ‘motivated by a desire to expose the bigotries masked by Irish nationalism and its mythical status as a pure, indigenous cultural legacy’, and highlights the fact that, despite his understanding of the ‘mythologising functions and regressive effects of nationalism’, he nevertheless developed in Ulysses ‘an essentialist and mythologising conception of the feminine (as earth-bound, cosmic, cyclical, the representative of humanity in its reproductive immanence)’.2 Nevertheless, it is easy to accept at face value, as the title of this volume suggests, that there is an eco-Joyce, and that ecomight be a prefix that one could usefully attach to any, or a range of, writers so named, perhaps to insert them unproblematically into a familiar and recognisable framework of understanding that would add to the ways in which their works can be seen to ‘read’ the relations between the habitually dichotomised categories of nature and culture. To assume so is to presuppose that the politics and cultural theories of ‘environmentalism’ and ‘ecology’, or ‘literary ecology’, are already written, and that they have achieved a coherence which renders available newly wrought or adapted versions of the self, the body and world (totalising categories, all), re-appropriated and re-presented for straightforward critical consumption. That is far from the actual situation (and how thankful we might be for that). If Joyce’s concentration on the urban is an aspect of his critique of the enlightenment project (about man, nature, and perception) that is not the last word that can be uttered about Joyce’s environments. Joyce’s odyssey, let us call it his geodesy, comprehends the ethical force of environments, those which surround us, comparable to the ethical force of language in positing degrees of difference that challenge repressively certain categories of thought and value: at the beginning of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Stephen thinks, ‘But you could not have a green rose. But perhaps somewhere in the world you could.’3 Throughout his works Joyce refers to environments , not as background but, as often as not, poetry and song, mediated forms of language that challenge Stephen’s egocentricity in terms of an often ironic ecocentricity: Shelley’s ‘Art thou pale for weariness/Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth’ (PAYM 88); the ‘fragrant’ verses of Horace, ‘as though they had lain all those years in myrtle and lavender and verbain’ (163); Nashe’s ‘Brightness falls from air’ (211) which Stephen has misremembered, transformed to the image of lice (‘His mind bred vermin’ [211]). Throughout A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Stephen’s moral, ethical, reflections are mediated by reference to non-human nature, most effective, 22 ECO-JOYCE...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781782050735
Related ISBN
9781782050728
MARC Record
OCLC
882713144
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-04
Language
English
Open Access
No
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