- Manuscript Genetics, Joyce's Know-How, Beckett's Nohow
Genetic criticism seeks to clear away the theoretical underbrush of, for example, new critical "fallacies", poststructuralism, and deconstruction, while tracking a widened path back from published text through surviving drafts — and then forward through this expanded terrain — in a quest for fuller meaning and understanding than the published work alone can provide. In the imagery wielded in Manuscript Genetics, Dirk Van Hulle seeks to navigate the treacherous waters that lie between "positivism and intentionality, the Scylla and Charybdis of literary theory" (24), while simultaneously "bridging the gap between [. . .] the 'proletariat' of scholars and the 'aristocracy' of critics" (42). Yet genetic criticism has a certain affinity with new criticism: "Since any attempt to look inside a writer's mind is doomed to fail, genetic criticism does not try to reveal what an author wanted to write, but focuses instead on what he has written" (3) — only the well-wrought urn has become less a static and finished product and more a dynamic and unfolding process, so the corpus of a writer's work now expands to include all surviving writings as well as what poststructuralists and deconstuctionists view as "the aporias and instabilities of texts" (43).
For genetic critics, literary modernism is the golden age because writers like Joyce and Beckett, aided and abetted by librarians and archivists, have done so much to insure the survival and preservation of their manuscripts. As Van Hulle writes, "[t]he process of writing is the focal point of genetic criticism", but the notion of "process" is what can be read and inferred from all extant documents, culminating with the final, authorized text. The goal is both to elucidate how works came to be and to expand the concept of what the works are: "I aim to demonstrate that the composition process is an integral part of what these authors' works convey" (2). The product is as implicit in the product as vice versa.
With Joyce, Van Hulle examines only Finnegans Wake. (He doesn't say whether he thinks his methodology could apply as well to other Joyce writings.) Not intending to make this difficult text more accessible to non-experts (and he doesn't; this is a book for specialists), his examination [End Page 92] of Joyce's copybooks, notebooks, drafts, manuscripts, letters, and diaries makes obvious that it had, unsurprisingly, an extraordinarily complex genesis. By its very nature, Finnegans Wake is particularly suited to Van Hulle's approach. Joyce's working title, "Work in Progress", combines product and process, emphasizing that it is both at the same time. For example, as Van Hulle demonstrates, Joyce "decomposed" Wyndam Lewis's hostile criticism of "Work in Progress" in The Art of Being Ruled by including bits of it into the revised text that became Finnegans Wake, while from "even [. . .] generally positive evaluations" of "Work in Progress" "Joyce extracted only the negative remarks" to incorporate (84). This Joycean text that never ends because of its Viconian recorso became, both substantively and structurally, more "liquefied" during the process of its composition: "Joyce's work in progress [. . .] already contained a quite 'fluid' chapter on ALP, but had not yet been conceived as a 'riverrun' in its entirety". "Lewis's fulmination against Bergson's fluidity and 'Heraclitus' famous flux'" helped make it so (81). Van Hulle traces the evolution of "narrative kernels" (59) and "relatively small textual units" (72) in Finnegans Wake in order to demonstrate how words themselves liquefied, ran into each other, assumed new shapes, and gradually became "the main character of 'Work in Progress' as Joyce detached his lexical material from its conventional referentiality" (83).
For all the differences between Joyce and Beckett, and between their writings, they share a preoccupation with the "dynamics of the writing process" (133), "composition and recollection" (128), "the paradox of composing by means of decomposing" (158). Van Hulle finds a "homophony of 'no' and 'know' [. . .] repeatedly exploited by both Joyce and Beckett" and Beckett's equivalence of Joycean...