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"Whole Only Holes Tied Together": Joyce and the Paradox of Summary

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 47, Number 2, Winter 2010
pp. 231-245 | 10.1353/jjq.2011.0015



Joyce's writing is at odds with the fairly common critical view of modernism as a totalizing aesthetic, and thus it eludes and resists summary. When we speak of his work "as a whole," I argue, we are grasping at incomplete, contradictory, and multiple narratives of (to varying degrees) counterfactual persons and events, and we ought to reflect on the force of this "qualifying consideration" that Ulysses calls "the total sum of possible losses." However vexing, the inability to take Joyce "all in all" liberates the reader from the prospect of interpretation as a determinately teleological (and so very possibly oppressive) act.

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