- Textual Awareness: A Genetic Study of Late Manuscripts by Joyce, Proust, and Mann
A practical problem faced by both scholars of comparative literature and scholars of genetic criticism alike is one of volume. A single literary tradition already provides ample material for research and work, yet a comparatist must negotiate between numerous literary traditions. Similarly, a single [End Page 106] author’s published works can usually provide a critic with ample material, yet a genetic critic gleefully opens up an author’s archive of preparatory manuscripts, thereby increasing the quantity of texts to be analyzed by potentially several orders of magnitude. This would be why there are so few studies of comparative genetics. To gain competence in the study of one author’s manuscripts is already no mean feat, to do the same for three authors from different literary and critical traditions is ambitious, to say the least. In this provocative and insightful book, Van Hulle deftly analyzes the work in progress of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, and Mann’s Doktor Faustus in terms of how these three authors are variously conscious of a poetics of process during the composition of their works and, concomitantly, how this poetics can be educed through reading their manuscripts.
Van Hulle begins with brief overviews of the development of textual criticism/genetic studies in the French, German, and Anglo-American domains. Although his overall methodology is more in line with the French critique génétique, he makes much use of Anglo-American and German theories of the text. Such critical miscegenation is entirely appropriate for this project since Van Hulle demonstrates how each of the three works he discusses, in their respective encyclopedic manias, opened themselves to a broader horizon of textuality through citation and appropriation. Likewise, while textual studies in France, Germany, England, and North America have developed on their own tracks, they have made contact at various times, each influencing (or infecting) the other—Hans Walter Gabler’s synoptic Ulysses being a prime example in that Gabler followed from French and Anglo-American theories just as much as German ones. Like the three texts Van Hulle discusses, genetic criticism is itself a process that has evolved through contact and contingency. Furthermore, the fundamental tension Van Hulle identifies in the composition of these three texts is between project and process and there is a likewise tension between the teleological and the ateleological within the three critical traditions he investigates. The dominant trend in both Anglo-American and German textual studies has been towards establishing stable critical editions (although the valences of such editions have been far from constant), whereas la critique génétique is primarily concerned with textual instabilities. As Van Hulle demonstrates, this difference can be split in genetic editions—such as the Flammarion edition of the Recherche, edited by Bernard Brun—that present the evolution of the text(s) without hypostasizing itself into the definitive text.
Essentially, Van Hulle reads the Recherche, the Wake, and Faustus as all being modulations of Beckett’s unnameable’s final paradox of progression, [End Page 107] “I can’t go on. I’ll go on”. For Proust, this can be evinced through the constant modulations and reformulations of the scope and content his work underwent. By shuttling discrete textual blocks around the breadth of his book, Proust deferred the completion of a work whose end he was always still writing towards. For the Wake, this self-reflexiveness comes about, in part, through Joyce’s incorporation of the numerous criticisms leveled against his work in progress into that very Work in Progress. In a neat reformulation of Beckett’s much-quoted chestnut about the Wake is not about something, it is that thing itself, Van Hulle writes, “Joyce’s writing never explains, but applies what it is about” (109). Van Hulle draws parallels and contrasts between Joyce’s and Mann’s methods of working with notebooks while writing. Both used notebooks to cull and...