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Joyce Studies in Italy 11: James Joyce, Metamorphosis, and Re-Writing ed. by Franca Ruggieri (review)

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 49, Number 2, Winter 2012
pp. 382-386 | 10.1353/jjq.2012.0001

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Most of the essays collected in this issue of Joyce Studies in Italy originated in the Second James Joyce Graduate Conference in Rome in 2009 and are “meant to draw attention to the assumption that Joyce’s work is the extreme artistic embodiment of two specular conditions, of metamorphosis in real life and of rewriting in art,” as the editor puts it in her foreword (9). As a whole, the series of articles by both dyed-in-the-wool and novice Joyceans includes a number of significant new readings as well as some rather uneventful ones. Apart from this, the collection is a sloppily, seemingly randomly edited affair.

The notions of metamorphosis and rewriting are happy hunting grounds for Joyce scholars, of course. As Franca Ruggieri suggests, “[m]etamorphosis . . . is the very emblem of existence and of the life of the world,” and it easily connects with the notion of rewriting, “when the artist transforms and widens the already fluid borders of reality and of its first writing” (9). This is the third stage in a synthesis suggested by Ruggieri in which writing—“the act by which human memory attempts to interpret, fix and memorize that infinite process of change and progress in nature and in mankind”—is the first but in which the second stage is conspicuous, to say the least, by its absence (9).

The collection is introduced by two forays into Joyce’s writing, setting the tone for the work: Sam Slote’s “Stephen’s Nietzschean Ethics,” which pivots on the idea that “[t]he artist’s act of representation is inherently self-involved and self-absorbed” (18), and a reading of Joyce’s modernity in terms of Walter Benjamin’s 1934 essay “Technological Reproducibility” by Richard Brown.1 Both are, unsurprisingly, thorough pieces. Slote’s chapter profitably invokes the tautology of the artist as the creator creating the artist (17), gravely put forward in Joyce’s 1904 essay “A Portrait of the Artist” and satirized in Finnegans Wake.2 Slote’s final words set the tone for the two themes addressed in the collection: “according to [Friedrich] Nietzsche, you create your own hypostasis, you create your own hypostasis out of yourself. In this way our creations become our truths and our truths circumscribe our creations. But this is a dynamic process, not something [with] an end-point, but rather something that continually evolves” (21)—the “[b]ut” is, I think, redundant here, since Slote’s article suggests exactly that. Alexandra Emmanuel also takes up the Nietzschean approach; in “The Eagle and the Serpent: Wit, Wisdom, and Nietzschean Egoism in James Joyce’s ‘Stephen Hero,’” she focuses not precisely on the philosopher himself but on “some little-known aspects of the early modernist reception” of him (37). Emmanuel’s article, while suffering from an overly long introduction and some rather speculative starting points (“we cannot know for sure whether Joyce had any direct contact with the radical spirit of the [little-known fin-de-siècle periodical] Eagle and the Serpent”—44), does provide some interesting insights on the interface between Joyce, modernist egoism, and Nietzsche.

A number of essays in the collection are dedicated to connections between Joyce and other writers. Philip Keel Geheber writes about the differences and similarities between Molly Bloom and Émile Zola’s Nana, the protagonist in the French naturalist writer’s eponymous 1880 novel.3 Geheber’s comparison exposes “some of the subtler ways Joyce satirizes and indicts standards of gender differentiation in turn-of-the-century Dublin” (68). The ways in which women’s bodies are foregrounded by their creators and in which, subsequently, they become part of the collective (male) consciousness, with all of the contemporary sexism that entails, are themes thoroughly explored here. Relevant, moreover, is Geheber’s mapping of Molly’s trajectory throughout her presentation in Ulysses towards “some degree of liberty, which [Joyce] cannot grant earlier characters like Eveline or Mrs. Kearney” (74). Ivana Milivojevic draws parallels between two specific chapters in Danilo Kiš’s Hourglass and the “Ithaca” episode,4 arguing that the form of the episode provided Kiš with a matrix enabling the author to create a “narrative mind” (Hugh Kenner’s term) by...

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