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Die Joyce-Rezeption in der Deutschsprachigen Erzählliteratur Nach 1945 (review)

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 47, Number 2, Winter 2010
pp. 315-318 | 10.1353/jjq.2011.0013

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At first glance, the second definite article in the somewhat misleading title of this fruitful study may give one the impression of promising more than is actually offered, since, indeed, the bulk of the book concentrates on four novelists: Wolfgang Koeppen, Arno Schmidt, Uwe Johnson, and Wolfgang Hildesheimer. This apparent shortcoming, however, turns out to be the work's major asset because, undeniably, the most remarkable examples of Joyce's literary impact on later novelists are those cases of a productive or creative reception in which writers continue the lineage initiated by Joyce by grappling with the principles of his narrative procedures. Accordingly, the central question raised in this study is "[i]n what manner did the experiment Ulysses help these writers to develop narrative concepts and creative intentions of their own?" (24). In view of such a task, Maren Jäger's selection of authors is both representative and, arguably, optimal because it skillfully combines an understanding of the common forces motivating these writers with an explanation of their diverse reactions to the problems confronting them as they pursued their individual artistic aims.

In the introduction, we are given a concise survey of the development of the first wave of German Joyce-reception (prior to 1945). This survey, based on the comprehensive reports provided by Robert Weninger and Wolfgang Wicht, primarily serves as a foil for hammering out the specific characteristics of the second wave (after 1945). It also occasionally draws attention to certain points worth elucidation, such as Jäger's outline of Kurt Tucholsky's productive assimilation of Joyce (14). Regarding the second wave, the author is fully aware of the problems inherent in what might be called "indirect" Joyce reception, problems characteristic of a period in which it became increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate clearly between the influences emanating from Joyce's oeuvre and its echoes in the mass-media (22-23). In this context, she also briefly notes the role of the other arts in this process of reception, as well as the conspicuous dependence of much postmodern thought on Joyce's pioneering achievements. Methodologically, however, Jäger explicitly declares that, instead of subscribing to theories rooted in the hermeneutics of suspicion, her approach "primarily orients itself toward the use of language practiced by the authors themselves. For these authors, 'writing-reading,' ([according to Julia] Kristeva), is not a process beyond creative subjectivity" but, rather, their very own manner of reading and (re)writing Joyce, driven by the endeavor "to translate their personal experience of his narrative practice into literary works of art that enable readers to gain significant insights of their own" (25). In this context, Jäger convincingly argues that this mode of communicating with the text makes the reading of Ulysses "truly poietic" (25). Briefly then, by its sharp awareness of the irreducible individuality of literary texts, this study is a fine specimen of an emergent "New Aestheticism" guided by principles aptly described as "Theory 2.0" by Peter Barry.

The four comparative case studies forming the book's core assemble a vast body of biographical information closely interwoven with textual analyses illustrating each writer's specific reaction to Joyce. These meticulously documented observations gain additional weight by the book's instructive constellation of authors, which widens the scope for disclosing the typical features of different kinds of influence. Since limited space forbids a separate evaluation of each chapter, it may suffice here to stress those points at which Jäger reaches beyond the purview of former studies on this topic. In taking exception to the omission of Wolfgang Koeppen in Weninger's survey, Jäger ventures on a scathing review of the extant attempts to show the extent of Koeppen's recourse to Joyce, since these undertakings practically resulted in the unsurprising conclusion that Koeppen was less radical than Joyce (39). Contrary to such commonplaces, Jäger's strictly text-based subchapter 2.2, "The Wandering Rocks Episode in Ulysses as a Hypotext of Tauben im Gras" (Pigeons in the Grass, Koeppen's first post-war novel), enables readers to form their own opinion of the reasons why Koeppen felt obliged to refrain from following Joyce in every regard...



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