- Joyce, Imperialism, & Postcolonialism
As Leonard Orr emphasizes in his introductory essay for this volume, “From High-Modern Aesthete to Postcolonial Subject,” for the past decade-and-a-half or so, a considerable number of critics have read Joyce’s works as “postcolonial” or “semi-colonial” texts. Orr also points out this hermeneutic strategy has been deemed problematic by some, in particular those who believe adopting such an approach means continuing to devote a disproportionate amount of “discursive space” to “previously canonical modernist writers” at the expense of commentary on the work of those historically more marginalized by Western culture. Considering what is at stake, what might be gained or lost by reading Joyce’s fiction through the lens of postcolonial studies, Orr reframes several of the questions others have raised: To what extent and in what ways can Joyce be categorized as a postcolonial writer, if at all? How might one go about relating his work to that produced by postcolonial authors from other cultures? Finally, how has postcolonial studies informed the manner in which we now approach “the modernist canon”? The essays in Joyce, Imperialism, and Postcolonialism, according to Orr, “in different ways” take up many of these “serious matters.” While this is to an extent an accurate statement, having finished the volume, one might be left wishing that the contributors had addressed these undeniably important issues more frequently, directly, and comprehensively and from a more consistently innovative theoretical perspective. Moreover, although Joyce scholars may indeed discover nuggets to mine here, the book is so poorly edited that the credibility of almost everything within it is diminished.
Five of the seven critical pieces in this anthology deal, at least to some extent, with topography, geography, cartography, or the travelogue; in other words with the ideological impact and implications of describing, measuring, and naming places. The first essay is Allan H. [End Page 509] Simmons’s “Topography and Transformation: A Postcolonial Reading of Dubliners,” the major contention of which is, in a nutshell, that the narrative structure of Joyce’s short story collection is duplicitous. On the one hand, the book appears committed to portraying colonial Dublin in a wholly authentic manner. On the other hand, it contains “a subversive covert narrative” that functions to undermine “hegemony” by revealing a “range of postcolonial counterstrategies to colonialism.” Thus, for Simmons, the reference to the gnomon at the beginning of “The Sisters” evokes colonial Ireland. Just as the “absent parallelogram in the gnomon defines a shape by lack,” Ireland is perceived as an absence by “its conquerors and betrayers” while at the same time its “absence … fragments the symmetry of the parallelogram on whose form the identity of the gnomon depends.”
The essays by Jon Hegglund and William C. Mottolese are more informative and more venturesome. According to Hegglund, the “Ithaca” chapter of Ulysses has been largely ignored in postcolonial readings of the novel, an oversight he seeks to remedy in “Hard Facts and Fluid Spaces: ‘Ithaca’ and the Imperial Archive.” Adopting the term invented by Thomas Richards, Hegglund proposes that the form of the chapter parodies the “imperial archive,” an imaginary “ideal repository of knowledge” in which all kinds of information “about the empire could be ordered and systematized.” “Ithaca,” he asserts, exhibits a “hydrographical imagination” that runs counter to readings informed by “the topographical imagination,” readings in which Joyce’s text is assumed to be “a totalizing archive of factual knowledge about Dublin on June 16, 1904.” Having pointed out the ways Joyce’s references to water suggest that all knowledge is fluid rather than solid, and having drawn our attention to Leopold Bloom’s interest in the “geopolitics of water,” Hegglund concludes by arguing that through “his balancing of water with land, the hydrographical with the topographical imagination,” Joyce manages to conceive a possible “Irish identity that avoids both the Scylla of imperial co-option and the Charybdis of exclusionary nationalism.”
In “Traveling Ulysses: Reading in the Tracks of Bloom,” Mottolese endeavors to demonstrate that “travel discourse” plays an important role in Joyce’s text and that...