In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

BOOK REVIEWS fundamental critical abilities. In the case of both Weir and WhittierFerguson , the books under review here feed expectations that both will produce excellent interpretive work for years to come. Michael Patrick Gillespie ________________ Marquette University Joyce & Epiphanies Vivian Heller. Joyce, Decadence, and Emancipation. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996. ix + 191 pp. Cloth $29.95 Paper $12.95 VIVIAN HELLER provides a welcome new assessment of James Joyce's oeuvre in relation to the changing status of epiphanies across his works. Heller characterizes her study as a reassessment of the position of Joyce's texts in the long-standing debate over whether modernism is "a symptom of decadence or a sign of emancipation," an opposition she pursues in terms of whether Joyce's texts can be said to be "feeding on social regression" or "enlightening the reader." Heller reads Joyce's epiphanies as the points at which the tension between regression and enlightenment is most fully engaged. If Stephen in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man defines "epiphany" as a moment of "luminous silent stasis," Heller emphasizes the degree to which the effects of such moments of arrested narrative are made transformative for the reader as well as for Joyce's characters. In the context of Joyce's narratives, epiphany becomes a regressive movement that enables a liberating response. Heller argues that, as the work of epiphany demonstrates, Joyce's texts cannot finally be called either decadent or emancipatory because for Joyce the two terms work dialectically rather than oppositionally . Nevertheless, Heller clearly champions emancipation as the winning synthesis, asserting from the beginning that "Joyce remains faithful to the possibility of emancipation" (her emphasis). Heller locates the presence of decadence in Joyce's texts in representations of paralysis, a state of arrest that describes both the predicament of Joyce's Dublin subjects and the textual effect he uses to evoke that content (through such devices as ellipses and repetition). She locates emancipation in the shifting relation of character, artist and reader to epiphanic confrontations with that paralysis. Heller devotes one chapter to Dubliners, one chapter to Portrait, and three chapters to Ulysses, before making gestures toward Finnegans Wake in her conclusion . She traces what she sees as an increasingly emancipatory deployment of epiphany across these works. 487 ELT 40:4 1997 As she reads it, the stories that comprise Dubliners are marked by negative epiphanies which serve to diagnose social paralysis, providing insight to readers while leaving characters trapped in their paralysis. In Portrait, while Stephen experiences his epiphanies as absolute moments of spiritual insight, Joyce relativizes that absoluteness. He ironizes Stephen's solipsistic relation to art and world by presenting a series of contradictory epiphanies, as well as by performing an effacement of authorial mastery by speaking from the ironized inviolability of Stephen's budding artistic perspective. Heller emphasizes, however, that Joyce nonetheless celebrates even Stephen's solipsistic epiphanies as formative to the artist's sensibilities (for, Joyce implies, only through such aesthetic estrangement is an artist's "individuating rhythm" born). In Ulysses, Heller argues, Joyce more emphatically positions emancipation as the open-ended narrative process generated from an exhaustion of literary decadence. For instance, in "Oxen of the Sun" the structuring metaphor of gestation insinuates a parallel between the gestation and birth of a child and the gestation and birth of an infant language, as represented by the pidgin dialects that dominate the final paragraphs of the chapter. Rebirth is thus generated out of "the accelerated decay of authority" represented in what Heller suggests is the chapter's degenerate rehearsal of past literary styles. In "Circe," a chapter widely recognized for its reiteration and rearticulation of elements from previous chapters, Ulysses feeds on its own past styles. Epiphany is emancipatory insofar as it represents the possibility for characters (and even more so for readers) to "shoulder the burden of their own history" rather than to "blindly repeat the past." For Heller this means that when Bloom has a vision of his dead son Rudy at the end of "Circe," he "unburies his son" in a way that revises his relation to his past. Epiphany as such is "the discovery of a passional use...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 487-490
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.