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New Directions In Joyce Criticism

ISSUE:  Winter 1979
Jamesjoyce: The Citizen and the Artist. By C. H. Peake. Stanford. $16.95.
James Joyce: The Undiscover’d Country. By Bernard Benstock. Gill and Macmillan. $21.50.
Joyce’s Ulysses and the Assault upon Character. James H. Maddox, Jr. Rutgers. $14.00.
Joyce’s Notes and Early Drafts for Ulysses. By Phillip F. Herring. Virginia. $42.50.
Ulysses in Progress. By Michael Groden. Princeton. $13.50.

AS we enter the seventh decade of Joyce criticism, scholarship continues to flourish. The past two years have JL jl witnessed a monumental number of publications on Joyce. Surprisingly, there is no surfeit. The academic dialogue is ongoing, and each new critical interpretation seems to expose a further hiatus in knowledge. Confronted with the labyrinthine mysteries of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, readers delight in the gratifications of lucidity.

In his preface to James Joyce: The Citizen and the Artist, Charles Peake laments the “symbolic and far-fetched criticism” that has come to sanction an eccentric orthodoxy in Joyce studies. Peake is committed to trusting “Joyce’s own comments, theorizings, and schemes,” whenever possible, as tools of scholarly interpretation. He turns back to the evidence provided by Joyce’s early fiction, critical writings, and Collected Letters.Using materials that have been available for half a century, he arrives at original conclusions.

Peake deftly examines the stories in Dubliners as mosaic portraits of the city’s general paralysis, reflected in an epidemic of that “hemiplegia of the will” diagnosed in Stephen Hero.The citizens of Joyce’s Dublin are trapped by apathy and alcoholism. Hence the plight of Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.Peake interprets Stephen’s narcissism and artistic detachment not as satirical traits but as signs of a “redemptive egotism.”

In Peake’s estimation, the whole of Ulysses moves toward a physical and psychological convergnce of the citizen and the artist, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, This meeting and subsequent relationship is the primary thematic and structural principle in the novel. The complexities of the work serve traditional literary values: they “are made to strengthen and sustain the action, and to enrich and extend its significance.”

Peake carefully locates Ulysses within the Odyssean framework that Joyce revealed to Stuart Gilbert. He brings to the study of Homeric correspondences a wealth of observation and a judicious concern for detail. Joyce’s schema, he tells us, should not be treated as a diagram but as “a set of partially cryptic memoranda referring to certain submerged patterns.” Thus the physiological analogies in the novel reiterate Joyce’s earlier diagnosis of the Irish body politic as diseased or dysfunctional. The arts of the episodes corroborate debilitation by exposing a city in which every art and science has become decadent or trivial. Peake suggests that “like Flaubert, Joyce was using colour-words as a shorthand to plot out overall effects he wanted to achieve in the styles of the various episodes.” Similarly, the symbols listed for each chapter operate as catchwords to indicate the ruling spirit or motif.

The heart of Peake’s accomplishment lies in his explication of narrative technique in individual episodes of Ulysses.His discussions of “Sirens,” “Oxen of the Sun,” “Ithaca,” and “Penelope” are especially noteworthy. There is a great deal of learning and intelligence behind this study, though its most provocative insights are sometimes couched in a belabored analytical style.

The work concludes with two rather thin and disappointing chapters devoted, respectively, to the “moral development” of Joyce’s characters and to the moral implications of Finnegans Wake.The quixotic scholar is striking at windmills. He fails to realize that Joyce no longer needs ethical defense. Peake cannot escape a note of condescension as he professes tolerance for Bloom, whom he judges a resigned cuckold, physically timid and ingratiating. The author seems to be patting Joyce on the back, insisting that “we were often as bad ourselves.”

In James Joyce: The Undiscover’d Country, Bernard Benstock shares a number of Peake’s critical assumptions. Both scholars return to Joyce’s early canon as their analytical base. Benstock limits his perspective to Joyce’s own words, concentrating “as few Joyceans have, on the bald statements inartistically incorporated by the young Joyce in the Stephen Hero fragment.” Like Peake, he focuses on the artist-citizen polarity and its partial resolution in Ulysses.

Benstock’s work provides an admirable corrective to the more esoteric studies that refuse to recognize the peculiar Irishness of Joyce’s writing. Though most readers pay lip-service to the Dublin background, few have undertaken a serious examination of the political struggle that tormented the artist. Unlike W. B. Yeats and George Russell, Joyce eschewed the Celtic literary revival. His political consciousness was apparently frozen at the historical moment of Parnell’s death. Like Simon Dedalus, Joyce never forgave his countrymen for their betrayal of the Chief, though he felt equal disdain for the British imperialists responsible for Parnell’s defeat.

Joyce publicly denounced the provincial aspirations of the Irish Renaissance. Though he set out to master the British literary heritage, he remained aware that English would always be for him an “acquired speech,” a tongue inherited from the conqueror. Despite his admiration for Blake, Defoe, and Ben Jonson, Joyce expanded his aesthetic horizon to include the works of continental masters like Homer, Dante, Ibsen, Flaubert, and Hauptmann. In Finnegans Wake he finally cast off the linguistic bondage of his ancestors by creating a new speech—an innovative language of puns, neologisms, and portmanteau words.

Benstock scrupulously re-creates the political, religious, and cultural struggles that spawned Joyce’s talent and provoked his artistic exile.The Undiscover’d Country stresses the profound significance of Stephen Dedalus’s contempt for arrogant priests, cabbage-sweating constables, Gaelic athletes, sanctimonious virgins, and ardent Hibernicists, Yeats could glorify the Irish peasants in Celtic hagiographies, but Joyce apparently saw in the “redrimmed horny eyes” of the peasant an embodiment of the Firbolg menace—the hopeless ignorance and blind chauvinism of a Milesian clan located beyond the Pale. Throughout Ulysses, Joyce gleefully satirized the imaginary world of Celtic mythology that captivated so many of his contemporaries, Rebelling against the myopia of turn-of-the-century Ireland, he fashioned a self-conscious expatriate creed that ordained him high priest of modern European literature.

Joyce’s Ulysses and the Assault Upon Character by James H. Maddox is a work of exceptional interpretive clarity. Maddox sets out in search of the unnamed, noumenal center of Ulysses in an attempt to reveal the “soul” of the three principal characters. He shows how Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom join Moses, Sinbad, and Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker in the mythic scaffolding that Joyce perceived as the historical crux of human experience.

The excellence of this work can be ascribed to the rigor and perspicacity of Maddox’s literary analysis. His explications of “Scylla and Charybdis,” “Circe,” “Eumaeus,” and “Ithaca” are particularly outstanding. The entire book is graced by a witty, absorbing, and felicitous style that offers pure delight to the Joyce connoisseur.

My one cavil is almost negligible. Maddox has organized his chapters in a schematic arrangement that follows the expansion of his critical theme. Readers may find this approach distracting, if not gratuitous, and end by reordering the material chronologically. The latter configuration might prove more satisfying, since the virtue of Maddox’s work resides in his study of narrative development rather than in his exploration of thematic resonances. But this complaint is minor and easily adjusted to the tastes of individual readers.

Phillip Herring’s edition of Joyce’s Notes and Early Drafts for Ulysses is intended to serve as a companion to his earlier volume, Joyce’s Ulysses Notesheets in the British Museum. These two books, along with the Rosenbach facsimile and Michael Groden’s Ulysses in Progress, “ constitute the most complete reservoir of information on the evolution of Ulysses in print.”

The notesheets expose the mind of the artist in fertile gestation. They allow the textual explorer to unweave the web of Penelope and trace the fabric of Ulysses back to classical, Renaissance, and 19th-century sources that fed Joyce’s imagination. The notes served as artistic raw materials—orts, scraps, and fragments out of which the vast mosaic of Ulysses was eventually constructed. Joyce was an ardent bibliophile, a voracious reader, and a compulsive note-taker. As Herring explains, he seemed obsessive in his encyclopedic compilation of notes, “trusting to genius for transforming trivia into the sublime.”

Herring augments the notesheets and drafts with a set of excellent textual introductions. His explanations are detailed, carefully researched, and highly elucidating. He guides the Joycean through an obscure maze of materials and provides illuminating commentary along the way. Herring stresses the impact of Homeric scholars like Victor Berard and W. H. Roscher on Joyce’s conception of Ulysses.He shows that the elusive Macintosh may, in fact, be Hades, the god of death. And he points out non-Homeric correspondences residual in the notes, such as those making Queen Victoria and Nelson’s mistress, Emma Hamilton, satirical avatars of Molly Bloom.

Joyce apparently constructed the “Ithaca” episode around a skeleton of mathematical games and analogies that culminate in the cosmological fusion of Stephen and Bloom. The notesheets indicate a serious interest in Bertrand Russell’s Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy.But mathematics gives way to geography and biblical allegory in the final image of the chapter, when Molly’s rump becomes the “promised land” of Ithacan bliss.

In addition to the notesheets, Herring has edited early drafts of the “Cyclops” and “Circe” episodes, “both as fascinating studies in themselves and as two examples of how Joyce put his notes to use in beginning a chapter of Ulysses.” Questioning the critical value of the Linati and Gilbert schemata, Herring suggests that, paradoxically, “Joyce is a surer guide to Ulysses where he is least intent on instructing—in the notes and drafts we were probably never meant to see.”

Herring detects in “Cyclops” a strong Aeolian wind. He shows that Joyce relied heavily on contemporary newspaper accounts as sources for his political and social parodies. Several of the dramatis personae of “Aeolus” appear in an early version of “Cyclops”; Stephen Dedalus is present, spouting cocky, anti-Semitic witticisms. The draft includes an idiosyncratic Irish poem and a long pub discussion of the Blooms’ conjugal relationship.

“Circe,” like “Cyclops,” evolved as a patchwork of individual scenes. According to Herring, “Circe” constitutes the apex and dramatic climax of the novel. It is not a composite of self-indulgent fantasies but a methodical construction proceeding logically from Joyce’s aesthetic imagination.

Herring’s book is best read in tandem with Michael Groden’s Ulysses in Progress.Using both sources, the curious reader can trace the development of “Cyclops” and “Circe” from initial notes, through successive drafts, to Joyce’s final version of these two pivotal chapters. Such an exercise discloses the magnitude and complexity of Joyce’s multi-dimensional, “layered” composition of Ulysses.It reveals the prolific possibilities out of which the text of the novel eventually was crafted. Contrary to popular belief, the gigantism of “Cyclops” did not spring, fully-formed, from Joyce’s head. The drafts contain a number of false starts and uncertainties that were subsequently deleted. The finished work, Groden tells us, can be viewed as a “palimpsest” of Joyce’s experiments from 1914 to 1922.It was only through a process of constant revision that Joyce began to arrive at clearly-defined, encyclopedic goals.

Both Herring and Groden are knowledgeable and meticulous scholars who have done much to make the textual evolution of Ulysses accessible to a wide academic audience. The two books complement one another and are both of paramount importance to future critical interpretations of Joyce’s work.


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