- Reframing "A Portrait of the Artist": Joyce and the Phenomenological Imagination by Stephen McLaren
Recent developments in web-based and what has been called "predatory" publishing frame Stephen McLaren's study Reframing "A Portrait of the Artist." McLaren acknowledges difficulties that took ten years to overcome before securing a publisher (xi). In those years, a frenzy of academic presses were spawned that promised to streamline the publication of a young scholar's book. Readers may be familiar with emails from seemingly reputable publishers soliciting manuscripts. McLaren can hardly be faulted for succumbing to Common Ground Publishing LLC and its offer of a book contract. Here was an Australian academic power couple helping out a fellow countryman. [End Page 233] To be sure, I sympathize with many of the appeals of this turn in the industry; academic publishing should be cheaper, more inclusive, more accessible, more international, and more interdisciplinary. The underbelly of this trend in academic publishing and the questions surrounding conference fees, solicitation, and the legitimacy of peer review are beyond the purview of this review. McLaren's book, however, certainly could use some heavy trimming and a recasting of the structure and scope of his topic. By applying the work of one theorist primarily to one literary text, McLaren's book has the scope and approach of a standard, significant scholarly article. His use of Edmund Husserl's phenomenology produces a trove of insights into Stephen Dedalus's consciousness as he recognizes the limitations of ideology and attempts to cultivate his own unique, artistic voice, yet many of the early chapters feel like a dissertation laying the background to establish authority.1 Instead, McLaren might have expanded his phenomenological reading to cover Joyce's oeuvre or an array of other modernist authors' works.
McLaren structures Reframing "A Portrait of the Artist" in three parts and what he considers to be seven interpretive frames. Through a phenomenological lens, he pursues the artistic impulse relevant to A Portrait through the "operations" of biography (xxvii), composition history, and close reading. He stresses the phenomenological dictum to question assumptions of judgment and perception. The first part recognizes identity as an ongoing construction; the second examines self-activation; and the third part, surprisingly, deploys Mikhail Bakhtin's notion of the chronotope to see the novel as a process and then applies Husserl's vision of habit and the phenomenological imagination to Joyce's novel.2 McLaren acknowledges that his "framing" conceit (xxvii) was inspired by another book to come out of Australia, Gale MacLachlan and Ian Reid's Framing and Interpretation.3 The idea is that through Joyce's use of coincidence and other techniques, A Portrait provokes the reader in narrative and contextual frames to see with new eyes the putative laws of nature and other assumptions. The problem is that McLaren's frames likely could all be considered phenomenological. The ancillary frames are really just standard contexts of a critical study of a novel that do not contribute much to Joycean studies. As he states, "no framing choice is quite innocent or objective, and each comes at the expense of alternatives" (xxxi).
The prologue and introduction set forth most of the argumentation linking Joyce's works with Husserl's. Stressing Joyce's search for meaning and significance, McLaren champions the utility of Husserl's methodology since the issues of A Portrait are "predominantly phenomenological in tenor" (xvii). Joyce's early writings evince the major axioms of phenomenology, defined by McLaren as the following: "eschew all assumptions, return attention to 'the things themselves,' [End Page 234] explore objective and subjective experience beyond our habitual perceptual frames" (xxvi). This new intention of consciousness to direct a priori attention to specific objects and concepts creates a Husserlian dialectical "ongoing process towards essence" (xix). Stephen's aesthetic theory and the growth of his consciousness culminate in his experiencing Husserl's Lebenswelt ("lifeworld"—xvi) at the end of A Portrait. McLaren could question phenomenology itself more and put Husserl's work in...