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Poetics Today 22.3 (2001) 671-689
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Comparative Literature, Yale
Neil R. Davison, James Joyce, Ulysses, and the Construction of Jewish Identity: Culture, Biography, and “The Jew” in Modernist Europe. New York and London: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 305 pp.
Christine Froula, Modernism’s Body: Sex, Culture, and Joyce. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. 316 pp.
Joseph Kelly, Our Joyce: From Outcast to Icon. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998. 287 pp.
Karen Lawrence, ed., Transcultural Joyce. New York and London: Cambridge University Press, 1998. 247 pp.
Joseph Valente, ed., Quare Joyce. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998. 297 pp.
Paul Vanderham, James Joyce and Censorship: The Trials of Ulysses. New York: New York University Press, 1998. 242 pp.
In the wake of disputes about the literary canon, the political, cultural, and ethical implications of literature have come to the fore as topics of critical attention. John Guillory’s influential Cultural Capital (1993) alerts us to the question of what kind of acculturation takes place when texts are “colonized” by a particular discipline or a methodology within a discipline. We find that the texts we teach are not simply paragons of artistic merit or exemplars of particular literary developments but that the texts themselves [End Page 671] and the presentation of the texts are fraught with ideological implications. As Guillory (1993: ix) says, “Literary works must be seen as the vector of ideological notions which do not inhere in the works themselves but in the context of their institutional presentation, or more simply, in the way in which they are taught.” As “cultural capital” then, many literary texts are in flux according to their usefulness in making certain points or in covering certain ideological terrain. The question for teachers and critics becomes one of determining which set of possible meanings should be emphasized and addressed.
The work of James Joyce lends itself particularly well to a variety of critical and pedagogical approaches, and Joyce criticism continues to adapt to current scholarly interests, finding new issues to discuss as the intellectual terrain changes. In a recent article, Vincent J. Cheng (1997: 84) passes in review recent Joyce scholarship from Emer Nolan, Terry Eagleton, Seamus Deane, and himself and muses, “We have constructed what I should call the ‘political’ or even ‘postcolonial’ Joyce as a response to the ‘canonical Joyce’ of earlier decades.” While asserting the relevance and viability of the postcolonial Joyce as an object of study, Cheng (ibid.: 93) also notes, “To construct a ‘postcolonial Joyce’ does not in any way displace or erase the canonical, high modernist Joyce, but merely expands the academic terrain Joyce covers.” That said, Cheng addresses the argument that no progressive political purpose is served by including Joyce in the field of postcolonialism because his work is so firmly entrenched in the academic study of modernism. From this perspective, the expansion of Joyce beyond the boundaries of high modernism into other areas of study poses a kind of imperialism, but Cheng insists, as any Joycean might, that rigid boundaries are not helpful with texts as complex and culturally rich as the Joyce canon. Reading Joyce as a paradigmatic modernist infiltrating postcolonial discourse stakes out new terrain for the ongoing reevaluation of canonical modernism, while reading Joyce as a postcolonialist permits an immigration of new concerns into the always somewhat amorphous concept of modernism. It is with issues such as these in mind that I have undertaken to review several recent books that place Joyce in various cultural contexts. My aim is to get a sense of how critics “do” Joyce at the present time, a time in which the dominant theoretical approach addresses the ways human subjects are constructed by culture. Our sense of this constructedness has implications for how we construct our readings of our cultural icons.
Developed from essays written for the Fourteenth International James Joyce Symposium held in Seville, Spain, Transcultural Joyce, in editor Karen Lawrence’s words, “seeks to describe the ‘afterlife’ of Joyce and his texts as they are carried metempsychotically across cultural, linguistic, national, [End...