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  • Joyce and Heidegger:Appropriations of the Past Toward a New Philosophy of Transcendence
  • Donovan Irven (bio)


Critics have long argued, to various ends, that Stephen Dedalus the character carries autobiographical marks of James Joyce the man (Gorman 1924; Gilbert 1955; Budgen 1960; Kenner 1955; Ellman 1983; King 1999; Larrissy 2006). While such arguments may have gotten off to a bad start due to critics' early tendency to obsess over Joyce's explicit or incidental expressions of inspiration—as William M. Schutte (1957) argues—they do, nevertheless, provide the grounds from which we can explore the metafictional nature of Stephen Dedalus across several works as he attempts to construct his own unique artist-persona. Stephen's work of self-creation should be read as a process of transcendence, one with serious philosophical implications that are expressed throughout Joyce's literary project. It will be shown how Stephen appears as a character divided against himself, and the question for us as we face this struggle is how Stephen's particular fissure expresses an opportunity for transcendence, and especially the way in which Stephen himself is portrayed as performing a transvalued transcendent movement that is best understood as one carried out toward a horizon in time. These [End Page 487] philosophical transvaluations of the concept of transcendence bring Joyce's writing about Stephen into relation with another figure, that of Martin Heidegger. Stephen Dedalus, in his struggle, in his attempt to understand himself and his own being as a self-creator, is a singularly ontological character in Heidegger's sense of a being whose own being is an issue for it (Heidegger 2010). While there is recent criticism interpreting Joyce's depiction of Stephen through Shakespeare (King 1999; Dällenbach 1989), there has been very little concern for the way in which Joyce depicts Stephen's particularly historical struggle as fundamentally tied to his unique philosophy of history—a philosophy that this essay shows to be derived from a synthesis of Aristotle and William Blake and which radically transforms the concept of "transcendence" into a fundamentally immanent and horizonal phenomenon. This philosophical historicism, and the weight that it places on the creation of a new language as a sign of historical movement and self-overcoming, is another point of concurrence between the philosophical aspect of Stephen's character and the work of Heidegger, particularly his Dasein analysis. In many ways, the analysis of Stephen's struggle reveals a remarkable anticipation of Heidegger's Dasein analysis, and the philosophical value of literature in its own right, in its own language.

To show that Joyce uses his depiction of Stephen as a foil by which a unique philosophy of history can be articulated, I will proceed in three steps. First, I will show the role of Blake in Joyce's depiction of Stephen's developing philosophy of history. Second, the same must be done for the importance of Aristotle to this budding philosophical view. The third step involves a synthesis of Blake and Aristotle, carried out by Stephen as he matures in a philosophy that recognizes the ontological significance of history in determining possibilities of transcendence, a concept thereby transvalued into a temporally immanent transcendence—just as we see in Heidegger's work. I will clarify Joyce's philosophical historicism through a close reading of Stephen's struggle to transcend the predetermined identifications offered within his own historical situation, and demonstrate throughout my analysis that Joyce the modernist actually prefigures the important philosophical insights usually associated with postmodern theory, and with Heidegger in particular; a name curiously absent from the landmark 1996 collection Joyce and the Subject of History. Finally, after Joyce's philosophy of history has been laid out according to the three steps above, and the nature of he and Heidegger's transvaluation of transcendence [End Page 488] has been elucidated, I will show how Joyce projects these philosophical insights onto the turmoil Stephen experiences as he tries to reconcile himself to his historical context, a struggle that is carried out between the poles of Stephen's understanding of Blake on the one hand and Aristotle on the other. By depicting Stephen as...


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pp. 487-515
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