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Joyce, Genealogy, Intertextuality

From: Dublin James Joyce Journal
Number 4, 2011
pp. 51-71 | 10.1353/djj.2011.0011

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What have intertextuality and genealogy to do with each other? This essay suggests, with reference to Joyce, that intertextual theory might fruitfully be understood as an attempt to undermine the dominance of genealogical thinking in literary criticism. Coined by Julia Kristeva at the dawn of post-structuralism, intertextuality retains structuralism’s rejection of the diachronic approach to literature. Like structuralism, intertextuality is founded upon a certain scepticism about the value of historicist interpretations — readings that are either determined by, or seek to determine, literary histories. Intertextual theory evinces and enjoins caution about genealogical frameworks that organize, or rather constitute, knowledge about literature in terms of precursors and successors, sources, influences, canons, and traditions. This essay argues that Joyce’s radical intertextuality, and the musings about descent and lineage that are represented and encoded in his works, together perform a thoroughgoing interrogation – which is ultimately neither a contestation nor a validation – of genealogy as a mode of thinking about literary relations.

Some preliminary definitions are in order. Two sets of distinctions are called for: the first between genealogy and influence, the second between influence and intertextuality.

Genealogy and influence are closely imbricated critical concepts. In literary terms influence is the traditional determinant of genealogy: when an influence is discovered or posited between authors, a genealogy has in effect been named. Hugh Kenner’s Flaubert, Joyce and Beckett: The Stoic Comedians,1 is an example of a genealogical alignment outlined on the basis of an influence.

Influence and intertextuality differ more significantly. Influence is defined by agency and causality, and pertains to authors rather than to texts. In Susan Stanford Friedman’s words, ‘It presumes a source, an origin, an agency that flows into or acts upon another’.2 It emphasizes the importance of the precursor at the expense of the successor. Intertextuality, by contrast, takes a bird’s eye view of the relations between texts, exploding the binary and diachronic structures that sit at influence’s conceptual heart. Whereas influence functions within what Clayton and Rothstein call ‘dyads of transmission’,3 intertextual theory envisages literature as a domain of ‘meshing systems,’4 as a realm of infinite connectivity.

The theory was given its first formulation by Julia Kristeva, who in 1966 emblematically stated that ‘any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations: any text is the absorption and transformation of another’,5 and by Roland Barthes, who echoed this in his equally emblematic assertion of 1968 that ‘the text is a tissue of quotations’.6 Advocates of the more established notion were undeterred. Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence, published in 1973, remains the most forceful — though by no means the only — expression of committed adherence to ‘influence’ as a superior hermeneutic tool.7 Disregarding the emphasis of Kristeva and Barthes on impersonality, Bloom’s theory of poetic influence or ‘misprision’ focuses on Oedipal relations of ‘misreading’ between ‘strong poets’ and their monumental precursors.8 Bloom’s conception of literary relations as a domain structured on the template of Freud’s archetypal family romance — as a sphere of impassioned, agonistic, patrilineal, genealogical struggle — rests on shaky premises, but there are elements within it, such as the dominant trope of literary precursors as father figures, which speak to Joyce’s own fascination with paternity and genealogy.

This essay unfolds in three parts. It begins by explaining what it is about Joyce’s intertextuality that makes it ‘radical’. It goes on to consider his texts’ thematic and metaphorical treatment of genealogy. Finally, it outlines how these two facets of his art anticipate, and perhaps partly inflect, post-structuralism’s engagement with these matters.

Joyce’s Radical Intertextuality

Critics have long been aware of the extraordinary nature of Joyce’s intertextuality. There is broad consensus with Brandon Kershner’s view that

more than the work of any other major author, Joyce’s writings are permeated by quotations, citations, literary allusions, and other traces of texts or voices.9

Finnegans Wake is the paradigmatic case in Joyce’s works — perhaps in all Western literature — of the kind of pervasive, radical intertextuality with which this essay is concerned. This intertextuality is reflected in an extensive archive of manuscript material (perusable in the James Joyce...


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