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  • The Exile and the University in Exile:Betrayal as Work in the Writings of James Joyce
  • James Alexander Fraser (bio)


In beginning this article on the topic of "loyalty," I found myself pondering the connections between the works of James Joyce—the subject of this article—and the formation of The New School (and, eventually Social Research) in 1919. I don't know of any evidence that Joyce paid particular attention to The New School, and I don't intend to argue that Joyce's works should be read as a direct response to the school's formation (or vice versa). But the discourses and concerns that shaped the school's formation are particularly Joycean ones: the proper place and form of "loyalty," its connection to conceptions of "freedom," particularly academic freedom, and the relationship between those institutions that claim authority to enforce the common good and those individuals who reject that authority as a form of self-perpetuating stagnation. In thinking of Joyce and The New School together, I suggest, we might begin to trace the outline of a shifting conception of intellectual freedom in the early twentieth century.

To seasoned readers of Joyce, the features of The New School already read like a Joycean checklist. "From its start," Robert Jackall claims, "The New School was a self-consciously marginal institution" [End Page 743] (Jackall 1987, 276). Its founders were, Arthur Vidich suggests, "committed to social reform, social criticism, cosmopolitan internationalism, and cultural modernism" (Vidich 1987, 276). These principles of self-conscious marginality, which Joyce would amplify in his case to a self-stated "exile" from Ireland; distrust of inherited tradition, which in Joyce's case manifested as a rejection of both the Catholic Church and Revivalist attempts to restore Ireland to a precolonial cultural tradition; and disregard for institutional authority—as well as the principles of anticonservatism, antinationalism, and antiprovincialism—are all at the center of Joyce's literary activities.

The image that The New School cultivated for itself as "outcast[s]," "subversive, unconventional, and radical, if not revolutionary" was precisely the positioning that Joyce adopted for himself consciously and publicly throughout his writing career (Vidich 1987, 276). He was a writer who thrived—personally and artistically—on the idea that he was against, outside, or beyond the cultural and intellectual mainstream. But, as was true of The New School, this "outsider" status was more than narcissistic self-heroizing. Joyce valued this position precisely because he viewed it as a necessarily parrhesiastic position; it was only by standing outside one's community, Joyce argues, that one might "speak freely" to and about one's community.

The larger part of this article will concern Joyce's only play, Exiles, in which the protagonist, Richard Rowan, is faced with the same kinds of ethical and political choices The New School founders faced: Could they meaningfully critique a system from within that system? For Joyce and for those founders, the answer is, ultimately, no. The absolute freedom of the individual—even when that freedom might practically harm others—is justified for Joyce not solely by its benefits to the individual. Narcissistic self-care is transfigured, paradoxically, into a force for the common good; disloyalty is remade as a form of deeper loyalty, discommunity as a form of deeper community, and individuality as a form of deeper interrelation. The freedom of the individual from the strictures of the many is seen as a way to save the many from the tendency to stagnation that was akin to self-harm. [End Page 744]

In the early stages of composing his collection of short stories, Dubliners, Joyce "diagnosed" the failure of his inherited community as a kind of physical ailment. As he put it to his brother: "What's the matter with you is that you're afraid to live. You and people like you. This city is suffering from hemiplegia of the will" (S. Joyce [1958] 2003, 247). In a more famous remark, he followed the completion of the first of the stories that would be included in the collection by writing in a letter to his friend Constantine Curran: "I call the series Dubliners to...


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