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"Ulysses" (New Casebooks Series) (review)

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 44, Number 3, Spring 2007
pp. 592-595 | 10.1353/jjq.2008.0007

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What is a literary casebook for? In law and medicine, casebooks serve as models for professional training, intended to demonstrate the interrelationship between deduction and induction in their respective fields. The same should be ideally true for a literary casebook, which aims for instruction and emulation, and—if it is well conceptualized—should be useful both to beginners and to seasoned scholars. Editors of casebooks often gather in one place classic examples of criticism on a given topic, allowing the dialogue between them to remain editorially implicit. Others bracket a subject text with essays intended to demonstrate a range of critical approaches, which are often treated as mutually exclusive. Such useful compilations as Derek Attridge's and Mark A. Wollaeger's recent casebooks on Joyce take the former approach, while the latter is typical of those many pedagogical volumes that present examples of theory that are nominally exemplary, but that too often reduce a plurality of discourses to the stark singularity of "the" deconstructive approach, "the" psychoanalytical approach, "the" postcolonial approach, and so on. Collections of essays on Ulysses, moreover, tend to present themselves as a series of parallel investigations, each chapter of Joyce joined in lockstep by an accompanying chapter of exegesis.

Rainer Emig's casebook on Ulysses tries to blend the latter two approaches, with equivocal success. Under the series mandate of "select[ing] a sequence of essays which will introduce the reader to the new critical approaches to the text" (ix), Emig chooses not to parcel out each episode of Ulysses to a single critic but rather to provide a series of essays which roughly follow the flow of Ulysses's episodes without being bound by them. Instead, as Emig's introduction promises, the essays focus on what he calls the "small universes" of Ulysses (2), deftly unweaving the novel's interrelations of small and large, the ways in which "[i]ts universes are relational and relative, of reduced size and plural rather than monolithic" (20). The introduction implies that the essays to come will invoke an interplay of microcosmic and macrocosmic approaches to Ulysses, while also providing a guide to the many forms of contemporary critical inquiry, asking "both narrow and wide questions about the human subject and its place within the universes of language, meaning, and power" (26).

This is a promising structure, but one soon realizes that this editorial coherence obtains more in literary theory than in practice. Admirably, Emig chooses his essays from lesser-known sources—many pieces here will be unfamiliar (some, however, such as Mark Osteen's chapter on "Oxen of the Sun," Clara D. McLean's on "Nausicaa," and Ewa Plownowska Ziarek's on "Circe," are already available in edited volumes on Joyce). The promised themes of language, meaning, and power mingle with recurrent motives of ghostliness and haunting, and upon the flows of both bodies and language. The finest essays, such as Osteen's account of the various forms of gendered labor in "Oxen of the Sun"—childbearing, writing, masculine physical and financial labor—and Michael Murphy's dense consideration of paternity and writing in "Proteus," repay detailed consideration, while others, such as Michael Stanier's juxtaposition of the linguistic avantgardes of "Penelope" and "Sirens," defamiliarize Joyce's text for even the most veteran reader of Ulysses.

Yet while many of the individual essays are incisive and engaging, they make an odd lot as a whole. Paradoxically, they lack overall thematic coherence while also being too much of a theoretical piece. The first essay in the collection, Richard Lehan's "James Joyce: The Limits of Modernism and the Realms of the Literary Text," asks the most macrocosmic questions of all the essays here, analyzing Ulysses in a comparative novelistic context by subsuming the traditions of Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, and Thomas Mann as well as the range of symbolism, naturalism, and modernism. But Lehan soon turns to the history of criticism of Ulysses, defending the novel as a modernist rather than a postmodernist text and questioning the validity of poststructuralist criticism of Joyce as an anachronistic importation into criticism of the epistemology of Finnegans Wake. One may grant the validity of some of Lehan's objections, but in this...



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