- Who’s Afraid of James Joyce?
Who’s Afraid of James Joyce? is not your usual single-authored book with a specific focus and interrelated concerns. It offers instead a tour though Karen R. Lawrence’s most astute essays on Joyce with a varied theoretical backdrop (Karl Marx, Hélène Cixous, Jacques Derrida, Georg Lukács, Edward Said, Julia Kristeva, Jean Laplanche, Fredric Jameson, and Emmanuel Levinas) and a full engagement with a range of Joycean specialists. Even those who have read most of these pieces upon initial publication will be happy to find them now collected between two hard-back covers. The volume is a reminder of Lawrence’s critical insight and originality and a tribute to the breadth of her intellectual interests.
The four opening chapters derive from Lawrence’s first book, The Odyssey of Style in “Ulysses,” a work that focused on the “drama of the writing” in Joyce’s text.1 She argues that the opening six episodes establish a narrative norm that is gradually abandoned for multiple stylistic masks and distortions. These often conjoin literary language with more subliterary ones—the headlines in “Aeolus,” the Victorian ladies’ magazines in “Nausicaa,” the clichés in “Eumaeus,” and the scientific prose in “Ithaca.” The narrative norm is unique in itself, not only in its use of stream of consciousness but also in its association of diction with character, its syntactic experiments, and its stylistic tics—such as the “adverbial mania” in “Telemachus” (21).
Lawrence’s examination of the breakdown of this narrative norm in “Wandering Rocks” traces the episode’s subtle quirks: its dispassionate tone, its excessive meticulousness, its lack of causality and connection between events, its mechanical quality, its numerous elongated sentences, and its narrative exploration of potentialities. “Despite the chapter’s apparent simplicity,” she concludes, it “anticipates the bizarre narrative activity of the chapters to come” (34). She demonstrates an elaborate example of this in the more obvious quirks of “Sirens”: the abbreviated transcription of reality in the overture, the reduction of sound to its written equivalent (flatulence as “Pprrpffrrppffff”—U 11.1293), and the ongoing experimental linguistic play that nearly usurps dramatic action. The subsequent chapters on “Eumaeus” and “Ithaca” provide additional anatomies of stylistic innovations: the encyclopedia of received locutions in the former and the cold, hard, catechismic record of phenomena in the latter.
The following section on “Compromising Letters: Joyce, Women, and Feminism” shifts from narrative techniques to political issues. [End Page 359] It is, in part, a history of the role of women in building what is often called the Joyce “industry,” particularly the International James Joyce Foundation, and a study of Joyce’s attitudes toward women, both fictional and real. The chapter on “Joyce and Feminism” explores some of the problems with the conjunction of the two words themselves. It provides a nicely nuanced tracing of critical assessments—both hostile and positive—of his representations of various women (Molly Bloom most prominently); the impact of authorial male desires on the very process of writing; Joyce’s fascination with a “secret” language of women; and the various roles—mother, wife, spinster, object of fantasy—to which women are relegated in his texts. The evidence Lawrence draws on is extensive, including Joyce’s dreams about women (once again, actual and created) and some of the letters that he wrote to and about them over the course of his career. Her insights are admirably complex.
“Joyce and Feminism,” I believe, is one of the strongest chapters in the book, in part because of Lawrence’s understanding of some of the paradoxes inherent in the author’s relationship to women. The claims that female characters, such as Molly, are reduced to mere bodies, for instance, are complicated by Joyce’s growing awareness (manifest in some of his dreams) that his representations are always beyond his control and not to be contained as simple “matter.” They are infused with personal feelings, such as hubris, fascination, envy and desire. In using the Wakean trope of the artist’s...