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Modernism's Body: Sex, Culture, and Joyce (review)

From: Modernism/modernity
Volume 4, Number 2, April 1997
pp. 218-220 | 10.1353/mod.1997.0021

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Modernism/Modernity 4.2 (1997) 218-220

Book Review

Modernism's Body: Sex, Culture, and Joyce

Modernism's Body: Sex, Culture, and Joyce. Christine Froula. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. Pp. 332.

In Modernism's Body, Christine Froula discovers that one of the things Stephen Dedalus forged in the smithy of his soul was an uncreated feminist consciousness; she goes on to show how he used it to challenge the patriarchal laws of sex and gender. Her reading of Joyce rests upon his exploration of masculine psychohistory, rather than his more problematic representation of feminine character. Making original departures from Oedipal theory, Froula studies the male artist's effort to recover a lost identification with the mother. Her psychohistory of Stephen/Joyce tracks this reappearing, vivisective artist through distinct phases of self-feminizing. He moves from initiation rites premised on symbolic wombs in A Portait, to quest narratives leading to "his whore of a mother" in Ulysses, to an exposure of the patriarchal myth of creation, aided by daughters/doaters of inversion in Finnegans Wake.

The Genesis myth has fascinated Froula since her 1984 study of Ezra Pound, To Write Paradise. Getting beyond Genesis requires the recognition that this myth of origins, in which Eve is born of Adam, usurps the ontological priority of the female formerly reverenced in Minoan-Mycenaean culture. Similarly, the power of the womb is denied by psychoanalytic theories of castration anxiety, based on the mother's "lack" of a male genital organ, and compensatory fetishism. Joyce attends to the symptoms of the male artist as he attempts to recover the maternal identification denied him by Freudian psychology, as by culture in general. By demonstrating the effects of the laws of sex and gender upon his self-vivisective artist, Joyce invites the sort of feminist critique carried forward by Froula.

One way of appreciating the nature of Froula's complex project is to set it in the context of existing feminist studies. Indeed, scattered in Froula's extensive notes is a valuable bibliography of Joycean feminists, sustaining a conversation with many of them. She acknowledges Margot Norris's work with Joyce's realistic woman characters in Joyce's Web (1992), but I would also credit Norris with tracking the Joyce/Stephen through increasingly self-critical versions in this superb and complexly theorized work. Norris is more willing than Froula to pursue models of feminine writing, finding that Joyce weaves and unravels the social text in a mode that is both modernist and feminine. Froula also situates her project in relation to Cheryl Herr's work, Joyce's Anatomy of Culture (1986), though she seeks to temper its supposed "social determinism" (4). One of the most important trends in recent feminist study has been to detect the performative nature of gender, and particularly feminine gender in Joyce. Froula sustains this, as do Kim Devlin, Patrick McGee, Garry Leonard, and Richard Pearce's collection, Molly Booms: A Polylogue on "Penelope" and Cultural Studies (1994). But by inserting Joyce/Stephen into feminine positions, she is clearly more interested in personal than cultural history.

If readers are interested in the historical backgrounds on women's suffrage and education, Froula sends them to works such as my Joyce and Feminism (1984). Despite some interest in Ibsen, shared with many studies of Joyce's feminist contexts, Froula leaves history largely to the side in a psychomythic method that looks for transcendent narratives of psychology, literature, and painting. With the notable exception of comparisons between Joyce and Woolf, Froula is little concerned with other modernists of either sex. In writing a chapter on "Myths of Female Origins" as one of several possible feminist approaches to Joyce (James Joyce, 1987), it was obvious to me that Joyce was one of many modernists writing beyond Genesis. He was joined, not just by Woolf, but by such memorable revisionists as H. D. and Djuna Barnes, in a tradition sustained by Hélène Cixous.

On another feminist front, Froula encourages a theoretical rethinking of psychoanalytic, deconstructive, and French feminist readings of Joyce, shifting her attention from desire to identification. In James Joyce and the Politics of Desire (1990), Suzette Henke goes over many of the...

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