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It is in a country unfamiliar emotionally or topographically that one needs poems and maps. Clifford Geertz This essay argues that James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’ engages fundamentally with theories of evolutionary biology, and that this previously unconsidered aspect of the story offers important insights into how we might profitably approach this and other works by Joyce. I reference the work of contemporary ecocritics in order to draw out the discussion that Joyce stages in ‘The Dead’ regarding the relationship between knowledge and embodiment on the one hand, and, concertedly, the relationship between space, culture and the inescapable biologism of our existence on the other. For Joyce, as for contemporary evolutionary biologists and environmentally engaged critics, knowledge evolves, in large measure, out of a dialectic relationship with the world around us – including the natural, physical environment – and even the most complex social and informational circuits have to be worked through a cognitive apparatus that is both knowable and unknowable, that is produced in the present and in an irretrievable past, that is conscious and unconscious and that represses at least as much as it acknowledges. Joyce, I argue, structures the closing scenes of ‘The Dead’ compellingly around the relationship between embodiment and cognition. However, it is not simply the case that Joyce is trying, in this story, to confirm the validity of arguments about evolution; nor is he suggesting that we are animals before we are humans (whatever that might mean). Rather, ‘The Dead’, especially in its concluding stages, works to show, through Gabriel, that human consciousness is produced by, and is also productive of, a variety of concerted and discordant desires, pulsations, affects and compulsions. Environment and Embodiment in Joyce’s‘The Dead’ ROBERT BRAZEAU 213 In her essay ‘‘‘The Esthetic Instinct in Action”: Charles Darwin and Mental Science in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’, Sandra Tropp demonstrates that Joyce was well versed in the fields of biological and evolutionary science, was himself a reader of Darwin and, further, that he was aware of the works of contemporaries like Bain and Allen, both prominent evolutionary theorists and philosophers of psychology. Tropp’s detailed exegesis of Joyce’s explicit reference to, and implicit discussion with, the works of these thinkers in Portrait is compellingly argued and thoroughly researched. For Tropp, in fact, the theory of beauty espoused in Portrait, which is, of course, central to the text, derives primarily from intertextual references to Darwin, Bain and Allen. As Tropp convincingly argues, ‘the entire conversation with Lynch about aesthetics is suffused with allusions to Darwinian science, beginning with the perception of man’s animal nature’.1 She then goes on to chronicle the numerous ways in which Darwinism and evolutionary science suffuse themselves into Portrait, including, and this will be significant for my purposes here, Joyce’s rendering of people in animalistic imagery.2 Tropp’s argument resonates throughout my reading of ‘The Dead’, which, by drawing attention to Joyce’s interest in the biological substrate or rhythm of human behaviour and knowledge, rests on a reading of Joyce as not simply interested in the sciences of evolution and cognition, but, rather, as interested in these in a way that we could now call ecocritical. There are, in fact, a number of arguments about time, subjectivity and the environment explored in ‘The Dead’, where Joyce thematises many of the behaviours associated with species survival: eating, drinking, procreation, living in groups and, as I will show, wayfinding, cognitive mapping and seeking out preferred environments. My focus here will be on the evolving cognitive demands that modern culture and society force upon Gabriel Conroy and how, in Joyce’s story, all knowledge emerges, first and foremost, out of our cognition of, and embodied experiences within, space. Throughout the story, we see Gabriel managing the informational demands of his various environments poorly, but the cause of this may not be personal shortcoming so much as the shifting complexity of the social and cultural terrain. He has no way of knowing what the evening will hold for him as he shakes the snow off his shoe tops in the entryway to his aunts’ house in Usher’s Quay, but he does reveal a strong antipathy to change and a relatively poor ability to adapt as the challenges of the evening present themselves. In ‘The 214 ECO-JOYCE Dead’, Gabriel remains very much out of step, or out of rhythm, with his own time, his wife, his extended family and his nation...

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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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