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Reviewed by:
  • Proust, Mann, Joyce in the Modernist Context
  • Daniel Shea (bio)
Proust, Mann, Joyce in the Modernist Context, by Gerald Gillespie. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2010. xiii + 375 pp. $44.95.

The problems that defining modernism poses to the open-minded scholar are, like the "mistakes" recast by Stephen Dedalus as "portals of discovery," potentially illuminating (U 9.228, 229). Trying to force modernism into a single unifying theory will only result in either a lengthening series of exceptions as the scholar is forced to acknowledge insufficiency or the reader's growing realization that much is left out of the discussion. Gerald Gillespie's Proust, Mann, Joyce in the Modernist Context, now in a second edition, remains one of the most important studies of modernism precisely because of its resistance to, even an impatience with, the lure of a unifying theory, which has enabled the author to engage modernists through their own encyclopedic fullness.

Indeed, the specter of "theory," particularly anything resonating [End Page 549] with "postmodernism," runs throughout the text and serves as an important corrective to the modernist scholar: theory is presented as fundamentally lacking as an enlightening concept or as a useful means of engaging the fullness of Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, and others. Postmodernism's distrust of meaning has too often moved readers away from the important realization that figures like Proust, James Joyce, and Thomas Mann were not wrestling with problems of representing signifiers but with deeply felt human experiences in a universe becoming increasingly—and paradoxically—more transparent and opaque. One of the most basic questions teachers pose to students in a class on modernism is how one represents what it means to be human in a universe that is increasingly inhuman. This text poses a vital claim for the importance of authors' aesthetic rendering of the human narrative: no matter how urban or absurd (read: Kafkaesque) the world becomes, the need to aestheticize it narratively marks us as human.

In the second edition, Gillespie expands the original text's range in two significant directions. First, the study traces modernism through a series of cultural tectonics over a literal map, colliding Catholicism and Protestantism along European axes of North/South and East/West and suggesting a sort of geographical determinism. Thus, subtle charges of Eurocentrism and an over-simplification of the historical processes of inter-European colonialism were leveled at texts. In a similar way, the first edition's construction of the New World as an imaginative extension of an unfallen Europe was, perhaps, more valid for Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, but the same Edenic construction seems a less than compelling reading of Mann and Joyce, for whom the New World, specifically the United States, was a significant political and economic presence. The Joseph and His Brothers tetralogy and Doktor Faustus could only be completed in the political safety of Princeton University and the Pacific Palisades among Mann's fellow expatriates,1 and support from John Quinn and Edith McCormick clearly marks the New World as its own authentic source (of money) for Joyce.

Subsequently, the new edition elides the limits of this New/Old World dichotomy and moves to engage the postcolonial dimension of the postmodern in a more thorough manner, specifically through the aesthetic of magical realism. The study, however, firmly reminds the reader that much of what the world admires about the antirealism of the postcolonial is modeled firmly on European precedents. Better still, Gillespie gives us a brief image of Gabriel García Márquez on a Greyhound bus in 1961 touring Faulkner country before beginning [End Page 550] Cien Años de Soledad.2 Clearly, readers disposed to see the postcolonial perspective as an indigenous response to European hegemony—as a vital liminality or a necessary alterity speaking to the privileged (in effect, European) center—will find little satisfaction here.

The more significant change is a new penultimate chapter presenting a welcome elaboration of the function of the mythic within the historical ("to cope with a heritage," as the text puts it—306). The essay and the palimpsest—or the personal exploration and the shared re-written historical narrative—are "twinned," as Gillespie...


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