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Critics concerned with the socioeconomic forces that shape human relationships with nonhuman nature have found an academic home within the fields of environmental justice, urban ecocriticism and the intersection of the two, which is often termed social ecology. While contemporary studies in this field explore literary texts that give voice to the more obviously environmentally charged issues of watershed supplies and air pollution, a study of an early twentiethcentury text such as Dubliners is a helpful reminder that especially since the industrialisation of European cities, economic place has always shaped the human perception and understanding of built and natural environments. Situated within the broader theoretical framework of place studies as communicated through the work of scholars such as Michael Begnal, this study explores Dubliners through the more focused lens of urban ecocriticism. Specifically, this essay examines the human ambulatory interaction between the characters of Dubliners and the cityscape of Dublin, an urban landscape that failed to sustain human needs of economic viability. This essay argues that the characters’ economic isolation is more than merely reflected in the physical terrain of their stories; it is the lens through which they perceive their relationship to their built environment, thus shaping all processes of self-actualisation. As an ecocritic, my experience with literary texts is largely defined by my connection to their material preoccupations, the way the characters swallow the air and the force of their boots upon the riverbank. I’m interested in the way that plot evolves in relation to its changing environment, how the metaphors embody a human conception of the land and enact the confluence of culture, nature and imagination. As a scholar of Irish studies, my preoccupations are inevitably bound to island topography, to colonial and postcolonial identities, and to how cultural inscriptions represent and invade human experience and ‘Clacking Along the Concrete Pavement’: Economic Isolation and the Bricolage of Place in James Joyce’s Dubliners CHRISTINE CUSICK 159 interactions. For most of my professional career, the dialogue of these interests has meant that I study the Burren and the Connemara strands through the verse of gifted poets such as Moya Cannon and Mary O’Malley, the limestone and the lore of the Aran Islands and Connemara through the cartography and nonfiction of writers such as Tim Robinson, and the visual frames upon the Donegal landscape through photographers such as Rachel Brown. For artists such as these, the materiality of experience and of historical resonance is undoubtedly negotiated by nonhuman nature, by ecological environment , which of course includes human movement and interaction but which in comparison is rightfully and clearly viewed in the context of its ecological magnitude. And so, I am in one sense surprised that I find myself writing about a figure such as James Joyce, a writer whose legacy I admittedly find daunting and whose concern with ‘environment’ is, on the surface, largely removed from my critical and imaginative sensibilities as a scholar and as a writer. And yet, when I examine more closely how my conceptions of Irish place studies have evolved, I see that Joyce’s work and topographies have lingered as an inarguable force. It is hardly surprising that Joyce is the first Irish writer that I encountered , by way of an ambitious high-school English teacher who entrusted Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to sixteen-year-olds. Joyce’s construction of scene and place were secondary to my fascination with his stylistic narrative ambition, his psychological precision and of course his unabashed literary talk of sex. When years later I encountered Dubliners for the first time, it was, as for so many readers, the haunting glow of the gas lamps and the gritty honesty of human characters passing one another along concrete paths that became a part of my understanding of how language shapes place. And while I left Dubliners as a subject of critical engagement, it continues to enter my classroom in various forms. A year ago, while I was teaching Dubliners to a seminar of upper-class English majors, a student asked me how James Joyce, an urban writer largely concerned with human nature rather than with nonhuman nature, influences my work in Irish ecocriticism, and I was given reason to pause. As the good ones always do, this student’s question stayed with me, forcing me to examine what it is about Joyce that I hold onto, that I return to, in my work. His philosophical questions enter my critical analyses and his images have...

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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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