- A Retrospective, Recycled Volume
It would be an understatement to describe Karen Lawrence's new book as not altogether new, for—as she acknowledges—all but one of its thirteen chapters have been published elsewhere. Chapters one- four are extracts from her well-known first book, The Odyssey of Style in "Ulysses" (Princeton University Press, 1981), chapters five-eleven originally appeared in journals or essay collections, and chapter twelve is a revision of her introduction to another volume. That leaves the final chapter, written in collaboration with Paul Saint-Amour, as the only one that is not already in print. Publishing a series of essays from several points in the career of a widely admired Joyce scholar has obvious benefits: for example, it provides ready access to Lawrence's work by young scholars who might not realize how much The Odyssey of Style has influenced discussions of Joyce's styles, and the selections reflect (and sometimes comment on) trends in Joyce criticism over the past three decades. On the other hand, I wonder if it is wise for presses and libraries to spend limited funds on a volume of recycled scholarship, no matter how good, instead of focusing on new books, including those by younger scholars.
My question is prompted by a recent article aimed at new Ph.D.s who should consider how much of a dissertation they may safely publish in journals without harming its chances of publication in book form. (See Leonard Cassuto, "From Dissertation to Book," The Chronicle of Higher Education, 57.38 [3 June 2011], A37-38.) The author notes that "Editors may disagree about precisely how much to publish from your manuscript, but they all agree there is a ceiling on the number of articles you should excerpt from a book in progress—and it's ordinarily no more than two." If Karen Lawrence were at an early stage in her career, this book would have little chance of being accepted, containing as it does [End Page 124] six times the recommended maximum of previously published scholarship. The rules are different, of course, for senior scholars—precisely those who do not need to publish in order to earn tenure. Moreover, for those who want to follow the trajectory of Lawrence's career, rather than just to read her scholarship, this book serves a special purpose. The question is whether it is good enough to justify its duplication of so much readily available scholarship. The answer, I think, is that it is good but not good enough.
Among the book's strengths are its comments on Joyce's style, especially in Ulysses. Take, for example, these passages, drawn from the many I've underlined in my copy: "Prose like 'he cried thickly' and 'he said contentedly' is the unsophisticated prose of fourth-rate fiction; a novel that begins this way parodies its own ability to tell a story. Even in the first chapter of [Ulysses], Joyce begins to turn novelistic convention into novelistic cliché, and it is here that the reader glimpses language beginning to quote itself, its characteristic activity in the latter half of the book" (20); "It seems to me that in 'Sirens' there is a special poignancy to the gap between sound and written language: Joyce shows us in the chapter that no matter how hard the writing may try to capture the living music of Dublin, the text, like all texts, is silent" (36); "The performance in 'Eumaeus' consists of Joyce's refusal to revitalize cliché, his insistence on using the worn-out style to tell the story" (50); "In 'Ithaca,' lyrical passages of the type parodied in other chapters of Ulysses are left to stand without becoming parodic" (56); "That 'A Painful Case' begins with the words 'Mr James Duffy' identifies the story itself as a case-file bearing the name of its subject as if on a folder's protruding tab" (186). As these observations indicate, Lawrence has a keen eye for whatever makes Joyce's prose so arresting.
The best chapters, in my judgment, are those...