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James Joyce (review)

From: Modernism/modernity
Volume 18, Number 1, January 2011
pp. 187-188 | 10.1353/mod.2011.0003

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Scholarly companions and study guides to James Joyce's work are published consistently. In 1990 Cambridge University Press issued its Cambridge Companion to James Joyce—by now a classic in Joyce scholarship with the second expanded and revised edition published in 2004. To match the Companion's textual focus on Joyce, CUP issued, in 2009, the equally useful collection of essays James Joyce in Context. As its title suggests, this volume emphasises—in addition to paying minute attention to Joyce's biography and to the assorted critical readings of his oeuvre—the political and contextual resonances in his writings. Together these two companions provide a comprehensive and instructive critical take on Joyce. Now the Irish Academic Press has brought out another introductory guide to the works of one of Ireland's most significant literary giants. Although it is marketed foremost with a student readership in mind, this new collection of essays is, as the publisher's website attests, supposed to appeal to Joyce novices as well as his more conversant critics.

Given the saturation of the Joyce criticism market, I was curious to see what kind of innovative and fresh perspectives this new companion would and could offer. Would the volume attempt to reclaim Joyce as a writer with a distinctive Irish agenda? The fact that the collection appeared in the publisher's Irish Writers in their Time series would have made such an outline feasible. Fortunately, though, the editor has resisted limiting the critical agenda in such a manner by opting for a more stratified approach to Joyce's texts. That said, the array of included articles appears, at first glance, disappointingly conventional: chapters on Joyce's biography and his works are paired with three essays that pay a passing nod to Joyce's ongoing significance in different branches of literary criticism: Joyce and theory, Joyce and his socio-political context, and Joyce and reception history. Together these essays are supposed to engage, as Sean Latham's introduction states, "Joyce's disparate modernities, each holding a distinct and carefully ground prism up to the works in order to reveal their dazzling richness" (12).

The stakes are high, therefore, and as with every other collection of essays, this one is only partly successful in its effort to offer new insights into Joyce's writings. David G. Wright's essay on Dubliners, for instance, helpfully reviews the main interpretative avenues that critics have taken in reading Joyce's 1914 collection of short stories. But Wright matches this overview of the well-known critical paradigms with the convincing thesis that Joyce's early experiences with censorship and reluctant publishers spurred "an evolving strategy" of "parodically rewriting an existing text" (45–46), which he maintained throughout his writing career. Especially rewarding is also Miranda Hickmann's contribution on Joyce's so-called minor works that gives welcome attention to Chamber Music (1907), Giacomo Joyce (published posthumously in 1968), and Exiles (1918) and reads these texts not as marginal literary attempts but as significant contributions to Joyce's intellectual development as a writer. "Taken together," Hickmann argues, "these three texts trace a progression of Joyce's thought over the multiple facets of a single problem – about forms of desire and love, how they should be defined […], and how they are best served by social arrangements" (98–99). Further contributions by Kevin J. H. Dettmar on A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Michael Groden on Ulysses (1922), and Tim Conley on Finnegans Wake (1939)—all of them carefully researched and lucidly written—complete the line-up of introductory essays to Joyce's work. First-time readers of Joyce's texts will find much to gain from these scholarly and perceptive pieces.

Christine van Boheemen-Saaf's follow-up article introduces the second cluster of essays, which reviews critical perspectives conventionally applied to Joyce's works. His relationship to (post-)structuralist theory is thereby the focus of Boheemen-Saaf's remarks, focusing on critical appropriations of Joyce's works by such theorists as Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-François Lyotard. Katherine Mullin, in the subsequent essay, offers an erudite reading of Joyce's controversial depiction of the human body. The...



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