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Manliness Doubly Bound: From Parnell to Joyce

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 49, Number 1, Fall 2011
pp. 159-167 | 10.1353/jjq.2011.0122

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Joseph Valente's densely argued, path-breaking study of the cultural dynamics of manliness in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Ireland and England deserves to be as widely read and discussed as his earlier seminal work on the queer dimensions of Joyce's writing. Reading this rewarding and challenging book is like trying to swallow the ocean, a fulfilling experience, but there is always so much more to take in. The book's strategies merge the "fine-grained historicism" (121) of Irish Studies with formalist insights about genre, a highly developed sensitivity to the play of literary language and to structural homologies, and a deep knowledge of humanistic theory from A to Z, Theodor Adorno to Slavoj Žižek, and in between: Louis Althusser, Frederic Jameson, Jacques Lacan, and Claude Lévi-Strauss, all significant but not distracting presences. Valente subtly sketches a revisionary interpretation of the Irish Literary Renaissance and key aspects of its literary aftermath. The revisionary reading keeps in view the double bind that the ideal of manhood created for the Irish because of their situation as metrocolonial (a signature concept in Valente's writings that he has invoked for two decades). Future scholars of the period will need to respond to the book's trenchantly revisionary readings of literary texts and cultural processes.

Valente's skeptical perspective finds in Joyce its closest counterpart among the authors he interprets. Joyce constitutes an extended moment of anti-ideological irony in this history of Irish literary manhood because of his skeptical reaction to the Irish tendency to succumb to the double bind and its self-defeating effects. The lengthy final chapter will be required reading for Joyce scholars because it provides strong-minded interpretations of the Christmas dinner scene in A Portrait, several stories in Dubliners, and episode 12, "Cyclops," in Ulysses in light of the dynamics of manliness that Valente establishes compellingly in earlier chapters. Although the Joyce chapter can be read as a freestanding discussion, it is better understood in relation to the book's earlier close attention to Charles Stewart Parnell and to the generation of Irish writers that preceded Joyce.

Valente pursues his multifaceted argument in an introduction, five chapters, and an epilogue. The introduction, "The Double Bind of Irish Manhood: Historical Backgrounds and Conceptual Horizons," moves from gender to geopolitics to bring out the double bind of male gender identity under empire. The ideal of manhood, in particular, the manhood of the metropolitan gentleman, "strong passions strongly checked" (3), involved the reciprocally correcting alignment of male appetite and self-discipline through a dual articulation of animal and spirit, innate and constructed. The double aspect of the ideal resulted in a discordia concours, that is, a contradictory yoking and "impacted dialectic" (2), used against colonial peoples to characterize them as unfit to be free. Valente convincingly sketches the distressing effect of the double bind in Ireland's metrocolonial cultural situation (that is, on the fringe of the metropole, similar racially to the British, but unfree) because of feminizing and bestializing stereotypes. Specifically, the exercising of restraint in bringing moral force to arguments for greater Irish autonomy was treated as weakly feminine, while physical force was considered proof of bestiality. In either case, the ideal of manhood and fitness for freedom for both individual Irish people and the Irish at large was kept out of reach. Here and in the first chapter, Valente's canny commentary on political cartoons brings the argument into crisp, striking focus.

In the first chapter, "The Manliness of Parnell," concerning Parnell's rise and fall, Valente takes excellent advantage of nearly two dozen cartoons to establish Parnell's ability to embody the ideal in his public persona for the benefit of the Irish. Memorably comparing Parnell to Spike Lee's version of Malcolm X, Valente explains how Parnell gave their manhood back to the Irish by seeming "to possess something akin to a Home Rule of the soul" (34). In one of the book's high points, Valente interprets the visual rhetoric of pro-Parnell cartoons as reproducing Parnell's verbal rhetoric, his "dynamic of manly sublimation" (43). This chapter and the introduction prepare substantially for the later discussion of...

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