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Reviewed by:
  • “Ulysses,” 732: Romanul Romanului by Mircea Mihăieş
  • Arleen Ionescu (bio)
“ULYSSES,” 732: ROMANUL ROMANULUI, by Mircea Mihăieş. Iaşi: Polirom, 2016. 1016 pp. 89.00 RON.

Mircea Mihăieş’s “Ulysses,” 732: The Novel of the Novel was one of the most acclaimed books in 2016 in Romania;1 it received the accolade of “book of the year,”2 and its author, a prominent literary critic and professor of English literature at the University of Timişoara, was designated “writer of the year” by the Writers’ Union.3 As any Joyce scholar might guess, the “732” in the title refers to the number of pages of the first edition of Ulysses, which Mihăieş found “one of the few incontestable things concerning the book” (41).4 While calling this project “The Novel of the Novel” seems to hint at a metanarrative of critical imagination, the reader soon discovers that the book is a difficult balancing exercise, mixing idiosyncratic critical and factual historical reflections that prolong the Joycean odyssey with a meandering tale of the making of Ulysses, its structure, and its later textual mishaps.

In one of the several interviews given during the book’s gestation and after its publication, Mihăieş insisted that his novel was addressed to “the cultivated general public,” students, young people, and literature aficionados who would be inclined to give up reading Ulysses since teaching institutions and cultural publications had both “lost their gift of speaking of literature as a fundamental means of expressing humanity.”5 Thus, his book wishes to “compensate for the suicidal superficiality of too many ‘new school pedagogues.’”6 This may account for his repeated use of the term “Joyceologists” (joyce-ologi), a jibe at the Joycean establishment, which is clearly not the intended recipient of his novelistic venture. This finds further confirmation when he glibly dismisses Jacques Derrida’s “Ulysses” Gramophone: Deux Mots pour Joyce, whose “interpretative delirium” goes so far that “even the minimal correct intuitions of a psychological nature collapse in ridicule and unbearable grandiloquence” (819), regardless of the fact that many generations of Joyce scholars have benefited from poststructuralist insights and new modes of reading and critical inquiry.7 For Mihăieş, “deconstruction” seems to be a term worth recycling merely as a cheap, popular marker, as, for instance, in relation to “Oxen of the Sun”: “In the mirror, the end of the episode is a sample of contemporary slang of linguistic deconstruction inspired by the freedom of speech registered in Joyce’s Dublin” (660).

Accordingly, as stated by Horia Roman Patapievici at the book launch at the Gaudeamus Book Fair on 19 November 2016, this mammoth, purposefully reader-friendly commentary on Ulysses uses in-text references in MLA style so as not to bother the reader with notes, despite concluding with a “Critical References” section. Although at first sight, this extensive bibliography seems fairly up-to-date, including [End Page 374] titles published as recently as 2015, the ad-hoc scattering of scholarly acknowledgments feels more like the author is paying lip service to an academic convention, since the major critical props are vintage classics like Richard Ellmann’s Joyce biographies (JJI and JJII) and “Ulysses” on the Liffey, Frank Budgen’s The Making of “Ulysses,” Stuart Gilbert’s James Joyce’s “Ulysses”: A Study, the Gilbert and Carlo Linati schemata, Don Gifford and Robert J. Seidman’s “Ulysses” Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” and Michael Groden’s “Ulysses” in Progress, as well as several studies by Hugh Kenner.8 In this respect, it is surprising to see, for instance, that, despite Mihăieş’s psychologizing propensity in many of his textual extrapolations, there is an overall dearth of more current references in this area (such as Luke Thurston’s excellent James Joyce and the Problem of Psychoanalysis), and certainly not much beyond Mark Shechner’s time-honored Joyce in Nighttown: A Psychoanalytic Inquiry into “Ulysses” and Suzette A. Henke’s work.9

This is where one needs to place Mihăieş’s magnum opus within the specific cultural and intellectual Romanian context, plagued for an inordinately long time by a lack of exposure to more contemporary forms of western...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1938-6036
Print ISSN
0021-4183
Pages
pp. 374-380
Launched on MUSE
2018-06-15
Open Access
No
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