- Ulysses in Critical Perspective
James Joyce criticism, and particularly that on the author's single most celebrated work, Ulysses, can hardly be said to be in short supply. All the more reason, then, for the appearance from time to time of a volume that attempts to stand back and take stock, surveying the [End Page 232] critical landscape surrounding Joyce's seminal text and pointing the way forward. "Ulysses" in Critical Perspective, edited by Michael Patrick Gillespie and A. Nicholas Fargnoli, is the most recent and, to my mind, most successful of such attempts. Prior to the appearance of this collection, the editors observe, the last one to explore a "variety of perspectives based on a [wide] range of approaches to Ulysses" was Bernard Benstock's 1989 Critical Essays on James Joyce's "Ulysses." It is therefore high time for a reaccounting and reassessment of Ulysses criticism—both a sense of what has been achieved and a sense of where this criticism will take us next.
Gillespie and Fargnoli's volume consists of nine chapters divided into three parts. Part One, "The Words on the Page," consists of two chapters: John Paul Riquelme's consideration of Joyce's styles as forms of memory, as explored through the prism of the Eumaeus episode of Ulysses; and Margot Norris's discussion of the history of narratological approaches to Joyce's novel. Part Two, "Perspectives of the Readers," consists of three chapters: Sheldon Brivic's examination of linguistic criticism, construed in the broadest sense, of the Bloomsday Book; Kimberly J. Devlin's account of the history of gender criticism of the novel; and Joseph Valente's focus on the "continuing history" of "Ulysses and Queer Theory." Part Three, "Pre- and Post-Publication," consists of four chapters: Gregory Downing's investigation of pop cultural approaches to Joyce's novel; Ira B. Nadel's examination of historicist criticism of Ulysses; Michael Groden's take on the textual and genetic criticism of Joyce's epic; and William S. Brockman's study of the "bibliography of Ulysses." Collectively, these nine chapters, all written in lucid and engaging prose, cover the most important avenues of Ulysses criticism of the past quarter century.
While all of the volume's chapters do a good job of illuminating their respective critical areas, I find the chapters by Norris, Nadel, and Brockman to be particularly useful and interesting. In her chapter, "Narratology and Ulysses," Margot Norris argues that "While narratological theory has offered critics precise concepts and taxonomies for understanding the unusual storytelling styles and devices in the novel, Ulysses, in its turn, has challenged the field and offered interesting test cases for refining its concepts." Norris does a superb job of surveying the evolving criticism, revealing sometimes hidden connections between theories and describing in coherent and engaging terms the parameters of the debate carried on over the past decades by such critics as Franz Stanzel, S. L. Goldberg, Hugh Kenner, David Hayman, [End Page 233] Erwin R. Steinberg, Wolfgang Iser, Karen Lawrence, Monika Fludernik, Richard Pearce, and others. Norris also offers her own assessment of where narratological research on Ulysses will take us next, never losing sight of the extent to which Ulysses "reads" narrative theory as much as narrative theory helps us "read" Ulysses and "illuminate the treasure trove of human understanding in the discourses that make up Joyce's" encyclopedic text.
In his chapter, "Historicizing Ulysses," Ira Nadel paints a comprehensive portrait of the myriad and disparate contributions made by historicist criticism to our understanding of Joyce's text. Specifically, his chapter asks the questions: "What has historicism brought to Ulysses? How has new historicism, cultural materialism, or the construction of social memory elaborated our understanding of the novel?… What, in short, is the impact of the historicist agenda on Ulysses and the survival of the text?… Has the critical project of historicizing significantly reconfigured Joyce's work?" Nadel answers these questions in his deft discussion of the still-evolving debate that has been forged over the years by such critics as Frederic Jameson...