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  • Joyce's Ghosts: Ireland, Modernism, And Memory by Luke Gibbons
  • Katherine O'Callaghan
JOYCE'S GHOSTS: IRELAND, MODERNISM, AND MEMORY, by Luke Gibbons. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015. 286 pp. $45.00 cloth, $34.94 paper.

The specters that haunt James Joyce's texts are not indicative of nostalgic excursions into the past. Rather, writes Luke Gibbons in [End Page 441] Joyce's Ghosts: Ireland, Modernism and Memory, "[t]he point of ghosts is to remind us that the past may materialize in the present" (190). Ghosts, for Joyce, Gibbons suggests, represent as yet unfulfilled possibilities that continue to haunt and to interrupt. These are neither the supernatural ghosts of graveyards and haunted houses nor the ghosts that haunt, as Emily Dickinson reminds us, the brain's corridors.1 Skepticism versus belief is not the issue at stake here either: "It is not that Joyce comes down decisively on one side or the other, designating ghosts as either psychic states or ethereal beings, but that certain traces of memory have a force independent of the minds that recall them" (125). It is at the intersection of three subcategories—Ireland, modernism, memory—that Gibbons locates the power of these revenants. They are designated as inherently Irish, symbolic of, or perhaps formed by, a culture hurtling into modernity without a firm narrative grasp of its traumatic past. Gibbons attributes "the ghosts that haunted Joyce" as belonging "not to the séances of late Victorian spiritualism" but, borrowing a phrase from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, "to the 'broken lights' (P 195) of Irish myth and tradition" (134). This genre of haunting is differentiated from the Gothic, which Gibbons identifies as emerging in those cultures that "have given up the ghost and no longer succumb to haunting" (xiii). Indeed, in Irish literature and, perhaps to a lesser extent, in elements of Irish cultural life, the necessity of designating ghosts as either something emanating from psychic states or as supernatural entities is rarely demanded. A culture that can believe, like Mrs. Kernan in Joyce's "Grace," in "the banshee and in the Holy Ghost" (D 158), can also mentally host both an otherworld and an afterlife. J. M. Synge's Riders to the Sea, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne's Dancers Dancing, the monologues in Conor McPherson's The Weir, to name a few examples, all manifest the late Siobhán Kilfeather's insight (which appears as one of the epigraphs of Joyce's Ghosts) that there is "an extra dimension apparent in many works of Irish fiction."2

The importance of James Joyce's Irish cultural heritage and its extraordinary influence on all of his texts were notably absent from much of the first strand of critical response to his work. Gibbons rightly places this book as a part of a corrective to the absence and explains, "Dublin and Irish culture did not just provide local color or background to innovations in form that Joyce acquired elsewhere (from European modernism, or the international avant-garde): they were constitutive of his most advanced stylistic achievements" (28). Dublin and Irish culture instead offered Joyce a textual fabric capable of articulating porous temporal and spatial paradigms. For Gibbons, "the boundaries between inside and outside, past and present, come apart in Joyce's Dublin" (186), a concept explored in relation to what is generally articulated as the "stream of consciousness" technique [End Page 442] of Joyce but is here reassessed as an aspect of "vernacular modernism" (79). Gibbons draws on the work of Tom McCarthy, who makes the compelling argument that "[p]eople should desist, once and for all, from using the term 'interior monologue' to describe the novel's outbreaks of unassigned first-person narrative. This is not interior monologue: it's exterior consciousness, embodied (or encorpsed) consciousness that has ruptured the membrane of conventional syntax" (4-5).3 This external consciousness, in Joyce's Ghosts, is one that is belated, immanent, which is profoundly unsettling, but also demands recognition so as to open a future of greater hopefulness (Gibbons makes fruitful use of Judith Butler's consideration of Sigmund Freud's distinction between mourning and melancholia4). Gibbons refers...


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