The Trotskyite Joyce!

Specific Criticism

The Aesthetics of Chaosmos: The Middle Ages of James Joyce.

Umberto Eco
Harvard Books, 1982, ISBN 0-674-00635-6; Paperback $17.95. [

One of Eco’s first published works, this book has gone through numerous transformations. Originally titled “Le poetiche di Joyce” as the final chapter of 1962’s Opera aperta, it was revised and published in 1966 as Le poetiche di Joyce: dalla “summa”al “Finnegans Wake.” The work was again revised and translated into English by Ellen Esrock and retitled The Aesthetics of Chaosmos for a 1982 publication. The present Harvard University Press version of the book, The Aesthetics of Chaosmos: The Middle Ages of James Joyce, includes a slight revision of the Esrock translation as well as a new section called “The Medieval Model,” which includes material from a 1969 lecture at Tulsa University.
From the back of the cover:

For Eco, Joyce’s work is the most powerful, radical, and influential embodiment of tendencies that dominate the literature and art of our time – tendencies eloquently described by Eco in The Open Work. Finnegans Wake in particular is for Eco the “open” work par excellence: it is not about a particular subject, for a wide variety of potential meanings coexist in it – none of them dominant. This modernist text presents a field of possibilities and allows the reader to decide what approach to take.

In addition to providing further illustration of the main theme of The Open Work, The Aesthetics of Chaosmos makes a clear analogy between Joyce’s artistic development, as Eco sees it, and Eco’s own personal history. What interests Eco most is Joyce’s move from a Catholic, Thomist position to the disordered, decentered, anarchic vision of life that characterizes Ulysses and Finnegans Wake and is the central characteristic of an “open” work. Yet Eco finds in Joyce’s mature work a nostalgia for the ordered world of medieval thought that is most notably expressed in the symbolic correspondence underlying the surface chaos of Ulysses; Ulysses, he suggests, is a “Thomist summa turned upside down.” Eco began his own writing career in a “spirit of adherence to the religious world of Thomas Aquinas,” a spirit he subsequently lost. Yet a similar nostalgia has expressed itself in occasional excursions into the Middle Ages, culminating in The Name of the Rose, but also apparent in his interest in semiotics.

Eco revised The Aesthetics of Chaosmos for its first translation and publication in English in 1982. It stands as a lively claim for Joyce’s preeminence in modernist literature, and it also provides a key to Eco’s own literary aesthetic and intellectual development.

James Joyce and the Politics of Desire

Suzette A. Henke
Routledge, 1990, ISBN 0-415-01057-8; Paperback. Out of Print. [
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A book of feminist criticism. From the back cover:

Can Joyce be Reclaimed for Feminism?

How Does his Writing Challenge Received Ideas about Gender Roles?

How do the innovations of Joyce’s modernist writing relate to recent French feminist and psychoanalytical theories? James Joyce and the Politics of Desire offers the first feminist/psychoanalytic reassessment of the Joycean canon in the wake of Freud, Lacan, and Kristeva. Suzette Henke’s discussion of Ulysses, Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist, Finnegans Wake, and Exiles centers around issues of desire and language and the politics of sexual difference, raising the question of how far Joyce’s writings undermine the linguistic certainties which prop up western patriarchal culture.

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James Joyce and the Question of History

James Fairhall

1. Cambridge University Press, 1993, ISBN 0-521-40292-1; Hardcover $59.95. [Browse/Purchase]

1. Cambridge University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-521-55876-X; Paperback $23.00. [Browse/Purchase]

Commentary by Bob Williams:
All that find the works of James Joyce congenial sooner or later so immerse themselves that they inevitably produce valuable considerations. A student of Joyce that has special attainments will be especially favored in the number and worth of those considerations. This is Mr Fairhall’s advantage since he brings to the study of Joyce the discipline of the historiographer and the linguist.
He is very serious about history and begins with a discussion of its epistemological difficulties. For him history is a state of awareness that enables us to snatch freedom from necessity. Joyce too had this aim although, as an artist, it was implied rather than explicit and his progressive and persistent explorations of the limits of language and narration modify the idea of historicity. The severity of his interrogations constituted both an artistic exploration and an attack on the political, religious and linguistic obstructions to his creativity.
Mr Fairhall takes up each historical question in – appropriately – chronological order and carries his examination from the Phoenix Parker murders to the Great War with side-glances at the issues of Irish history from all periods. He covers the park murders as clearly as the confusing testimony allows. He covers the fall of Parnell with some correction to Joyce’s harsh view of the Catholic prelates. His aim throughout is to apply all to the illumination of Joyce and of his work. The two last chapters focus on the effect overall of history and what Joyce made of it with emphasis in the last chapter on Joyce’s especially intimate relationship with language itself.
Although James Joyce and the Question of History covers much of Joyce’s work, it is notably valuable for its treatment of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, both of which benefit from a non-linear examination of this type. The book is brief but richly detailed and filled with provocative insights of great value.

Molly Blooms: A Polylogue on ’Penelope’ and Cultural Studies

Richard Pearce, Editor

1. University of Wisconsin, 1994, ISBN 0-29914124-1; Paperback $24.95. [Browse/Purchase]

2. University of Wisconsin, 1994, ISBN 0-29914120-9; Hardcover $45.00. Out of Print. [Search for a Copy]

According to BookNews, this work offers “a dozen perspectives on the character Molly Bloom in the Penelope episode of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses gleaned from panel discussions in 1987 and 1989. Arranged in such sections as the male gaze, performance, colonialism, and body and disembodied.” If you’d like submit commentary or a review to the Brazen Head, please send us email!

Modernism’s Body: Sex, Culture, and Joyce

Christine Froula

1. Columbia University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-23110443-X; Paperback $21.00. [Browse/Purchase]

2. Columbia University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-23110442-1; Hardcover $42.50. Out of Print. [Search for a Copy]

According to BookNews, this work “argues that James Joyce uses the figure of the artist to transform the perversity he is often accused of into a critique of the culture he both embodies and resists. Especially focuses on the authority wielded over sexuality and gender not only by the church, state, and socioeconomic marriage system, but also by the psychosexual underworld of phantasmic mother/whores, and the symbolic estate of arts and letters. Finds in his three best known novels initiation, quest, and origin myth.” If you’d like submit commentary or a review to the Brazen Head, please send us email!

Joyce, Chaos & Complexity

Thomas Jackson Rice

University of Illinois Press, 1997, ISBN 0-252-06583-2; Paperback $16.95. [Browse/Purchase]

From the publisher:

Thomas Rice compellingly argues that James Joyce’s work resists postmodernist approaches of ambiguity: Joyce never abandoned his conviction that reality exists, regardless of the human ability to represent it. Placing Joyce in his cultural context, Rice first traces the influence of Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometries on Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. He then demonstrates that, when later innovations in science transformed entire worldviews, Joyce recognized conventional literary modes of representation as offering only arbitrary constructions of this reality. Joyce responded in Ulysses by experimenting with perspective, embedding design, and affirming the existence of reality. Rice contends that Ulysses presages the multiple tensions of chaos theory; likewise, chaos theory can serve as a model for understanding Ulysses. In Finnegans Wake Joyce consummates his vision and anticipates the theories of complexity science through a dynamic approximation of reality.

Bronze by Gold

Sebastian D.G. Knowles, Editor.

Garland Publishing, 1999, ISBN 0-8153-2863-X; Hardcover $95.00. [Browse/Purchase]

From the publisher: “The contributors to this volume investigate several themes about music’s relationship to the literary compositions of James Joyce: music as a condition to which Joyce aspired; music theory as a useful way of reading his works; and musical compositions inspired by or connected with him.” The contents include:

1. James Joyce and Dublin Opera 1888-1904, by Seamus Reilly
2. Joyce’s Trieste: Città Musicalissima, by John McCourt
3. Chamber Music: Words and Music Lovingly Coupled, by Myra T. Russel
4. “Mr. Bloom and the Cyclops”: Joyce and Antheil’s Unfinished “Opéra Mécanique,” by Paul Martin
5. Opus Posthumous: James Joyce, Gottfried Keller, Othmar Schoeck, and Samuel Barber, by Sebastian D. G. Knowles
6. The Euphonium Cagehaused in Either Notation: John Cage and Finnegans Wake, by Scott W. Klein
7. Davies, Berio, and Ulysses, by Murat Eyuboglu
8. Noise, Music, Voice, Dubliners, by Allan Hepburn
9. The Distant Music of the Spheres, by Thomas Jackson Rice
10. Bronze by Gold by Bloom: Echo, the Invocatory Drive, and the ‘Aurteur’ in “Sirens,” by Susan Mooney
11. Strange Words, Strange Music: The Verbal Music of “Sirens,” by Andreas Fischer
12. Mining the Ore of “Sirens”: An Investigation of Structural Components, by Margaret Rogers
13. “Circe,” La Gioconda, and the Opera House of the Mind, by John Gordon
14. Parsing Persse: The Codology of Hosty’s Song, by Zack Bowen and Alan Roughley
15. Synthesizing “The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly,” by Daniel J. Schiff

Semicolonial Joyce

Derek Attridge, Editor.
Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-521-66628-7; Paperback $23.00. [Browse/Purchase]

From the publisher:

James Joyce’s fiction constantly engages with an Ireland whose present and past is marked by the long struggle to achieve full independence from Britain. Semicolonial Joyce is the first collection of essays to address the importance of Ireland’s colonial situation in understanding Joyce’s work. The volume brings together leading commentators on the Irish dimension of Joyce’s writing to present a range of voices rather than a single position on a topic which has had a major impact on Joyce criticism in recent years. Contributors explore Joyce’s ambivalent and shifting response to Irish nationalism and reconsider his writing in the context of the history of Western colonialism. The essays both draw on and question the achievements of postcolonial theory, and provide fresh insights into Joyce’s resourceful engagement with political issues that remain highly topical today.

Introduction – Marjorie Howes and Derek Attridge
1. Dead ends: Joyce’s finest moments, by Seamus Deane
2. Disappearing Dublin: Ulysses, postcoloniality and the politics of space, by Enda Duffy
3. ‘Goodbye Ireland I’m going to Gort’: Geography, scale and narrating the nation, by Majorie Howes
4. State of the art: Joyce and postcolonialism, by Emer Nolan
5. ‘Neither fish nor flesh’: or how ‘Cyclops’ stages the double-bind of Irish manhood, by Joseph Valente
6. Counterparts: Dubliners, masculinity and temperance nationalism, by David Lloyd
7. ‘Have you no homes to go to?’: Joyce and the politics of paralysis, by Luke Gibbons
8. Don’t cry for me, Argentina: ‘Eveline’ and the seductions of emigration propaganda, by Katherine Mullin
9. ‘Kilt by kelt shell kithagain with kinagain’: Joyce and Scotland, by Willy Maley
10. Phoenician genealogies and oriental geographies: Joyce, language and race by Elizabeth Butler Cullingford
11. Authenticity and identity: catching the Irish spirit, by Vincent J. Cheng.

Joyces Mistakes: Problems of Intention, Irony, and Interpretation

Tim Conley

University of Toronto Press, 2003, ISBN 0802087558; Hardcover, $50.00. [Browse/Purchase]

In preparation for this review, I was re-reading a chapter of Joyces Mistakes during my morning commute on the F-train. Immersed in one of its passages, I continued reading as I exited the subway and walked along 32nd Street. A rather cheerful doorman – a fixture at the corner of 32nd and 6th – glanced at the spine of the book and called out, “Joyce Meyers! Great book.” Since then, believing me to be a self-empowered born-again Christian, he greets me warmly every time I pass by, often offering a few pleasantries or the occasional word of advice.
Although my new associate remains happily oblivious to his mistake, I have been enjoying our casual relationship, and it’s nice to have a friend on the street who’ll blow his whistle when I need a cab. But I do occasionally ponder a few questions. For instance, do I share responsibility for his error by failing to correct him right away? Does his mistaken assumption invalidate the “connection” between us? Or was it just, as Joyce famously described error, a “portal to discovery”? At the moment, only my “privileged position” allows me to see the irony in his “misreading.” But what if one day I share the truth with him, will we both get a good laugh? Or will he be offended?
In any event, he couldn’t have been more wrong about a right book. Tim Conley’s Joyces Mistakes is a vigorous and often delightful examination of the nature of error itself: What exactly is error? What are its consequences, both intended and unintended? How are error, interpretation, and irony related? Although the works of Joyce provide the bulk of material for his arguments, Conley is clear from the beginning that his study encompasses the whole of art, from abstract painting to pop songs; and perhaps even chance encounters on the street. (I should also mention up front that Tim Conley is a writer for The Modern Word.)
Joyces Mistakes is divided into two main sections, “Writing Error” and “Reading Error.” In the first, Conley surveys the “fault lines” of modernism, suggesting that the aesthetic principles of modernity demand an acceptance of error. Asserting that “failure” is an integral part of the modernist project, which he sees as an ongoing process rather than an isolated era, Conley boldly claims that the “bravest” writers question “not only their own individual authority but that of the act of creation itself.” Through Herman Melville’s failure of totality to Marianne Moore’s failure of compression, Conley arrives at Ezra Pound, whose Cantos proclaim “my errors and wrecks lie about me.” This open rejection of absolute authority finds ultimate expression in James Joyce, whose visionary texts “are not ‘what they are’ but what they are becoming.”
After a brief tour of possible ways of perceiving Joyce – from infallible author to Derridean “event” – Conley uses Joyce to investigate the notion of authorial intention. With his academic groundwork established in the occasionally thorny previous chapters, it is here that Conley truly hits his stride, and his unique voice emerges with clarity and assurance. While avoiding the extreme position of dismissing the author altogether, Conley wisely places intention in perspective to an array of other elements, each exerting its own pressure on the act of interpretation. With a myriad of factors working to undermine textual authority, from the “fickling intentions” of the author himself to the error-prone process of editing, printing and publishing, declaring any text “correct” is simply an impossibility. This, Conley reckons, is a good thing – a multiplicity of meanings creates fertile ground for authors, readers and critics alike. This is not to imply that Conley considers all interpretations to be equally valid, or that the author may be safely declared dead; Conley’s postmodernism is wisely balanced by good old-fashioned common sense, and his lucid arguments are compelling in part because of their underlying sanity.
“Writing Error” closes with “(Sic) of Irony,” perhaps the strongest chapter in the book, and a good example of Conley’s penchant for punning titles. Recognizing that our current cultural climate is “one of virtually automated cynicism,” Conley examines the different manifestations of irony, naturally focusing on that which arises from the communication gap between author and reader. He contends that error and irony form the poles of a thriving dialectic, an either/or relationship positioned within various interpretational frameworks. Finding this dynamic to be essential to the continuing vitality of literature, Conley prescribes irony as a necessary destabilizing agent, occasionally required to inoculate texts against petrification. Joyce in particular was acutely attuned to this need, and works like Ulysses and Finnegans Wake deliberately defuse attempts to coerce conclusive meaning from their pages: “Joyce forces us to err and, consequently, compels us to be ironic about it.” With so many interpretations available, to state that the text “means” something is to fall into its trap: “every word of, on, or about Joyce is ironic in that it wrongs every other word of, on, or about Joyce.” That Conley’s book is yet more words of, on, or about Joyce does not escape his attention – in fact, one gets the distinct impression that he delights in adding to this tumultuous hall of mirrors. Even the title of the book is a self-reflexive irony functioning at multiple levels: a nod to the “missing” apostrophe of Finnegans Wake, a wink to those who will find irony in a mistake in the title of a book about mistakes, and a nudge to those who understand that the previous folks “don’t get it.”
The next section is preceded by a whimsical interlude of sorts, an exercise in spontaneous writing preserved with all its mistakes and typos intact. Calling it a “meditative experiment” on the “bumpy relationship” between temporality and text, Conley spends a few pages channeling Beckett’s Unnamable, writing freely “in the now” while “thinking about Joyce.” After these “intermittences of sullemn fulminace,” Joyces Mistakes continues its discussion of error by turning to the reader.
Somewhat more conversational than the previous sections, the three chapters of “Reading Errors” are basically an extended meditation on reading Finnegans Wake, written in a style that combines intellectual precision with an almost impish sense of amusement. After a discussion on “coming to terms” with the Wake through accepting one’s anxieties about the work, Conley examines the variety of ways that different readers interact with the book, from crazed prophesy-seekers to “gracehoper” critics. Conley half-jokingly describes Finnegans Wake as being virtually alive, a text that enters into a symbiotic relationship with its readers even as it “indoctrinates” them to new modes of reception. In a remarkable one-line description of the Wake, Conley suggests that “Finnegans Wake is a consciousness seeking another, perhaps greater consciousness.” He points out that the text of Finnegans Wake is inherently interrogative, posing its questions and riddles to the reader while evading answers and resolutions. In this way, the Wake mirrors the very process of reading itself, including misreading and interpretation, providing the reader with the opportunity to “recognize his or her own cognitive abilities” and to “test one’s own humanity, errors and all.” It’s a very animated and insightful discussion, sprinkled with savvy quotations from Finnegans Wake and sparkling with Conley’s wit. Like all the best critics who write about actually reading and enjoying the Wake, Conley understands not only its literary merits, but its enchanting humor and warmth as well.
After the chapter of “Erroneous Conclusions,” the book ends with a small appendix called “Quashed Quotatoes,” a rogues’ gallery of misquotations by Joycean critics and scholars. It is both an amusing and somewhat audacious way to conclude – after all, this is Conley’s first academic book on Joyce, and one might think he’d do well to respect his elders. But Conley’s style is so cheerfully disarming, his “quotatoes” seem more an expression of sympathy for fellow travelers than a pedantic list of corrections. This is not to suggest, however, that Conley is soft. On the contrary, he is quite opinionated, and he expresses his points throughout the book with admirable verve and self-confidence, especially when refuting other critics. Although generous with his praise (Michael Groden, Derek Attridge, and John Bishop figure highly), Conley is not afraid to point out contradictions and sloppy thinking, and occasionally he exposes the flawed core of another’s argument through a few drops of acid wit. Happily, Conley’s ironic commentary extends to himself as well. His dry sense of humor is a welcome and constant presence throughout the book, whether he’s engaging in clever wordplay, pointing out the quirks of academia, or making droll observations about his own “authorial intentions.”
And as for my doorman, this Christmas he’s getting his very own copy of Finnegans Wake.

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Go To:

Joyce Criticism Main Page – Back to the main criticism page, where you will find the standard Brazen Head menu.

Notes and Annotations on Dubliners & PortraitGuides and criticism on Joyce’s first two works.

Notes and Annotations on UlyssesGuides and criticism on Ulysses.

Notes and Annotations on Finnegans WakeGuides and criticism on Finnegans Wake

General Criticism – General literary criticism or commentary on Joyce and his works.

Biography: Life and Times – Biographies about Joyce, or books about Ireland during his epoch.

The sissymusses and the zossymusses in their robenhauses quailed to hear his tardeynois at all – Send email to the Great Quail – comments, suggestions, corrections, criticisms, submissions . . . all are welcome!

–Allen B. Ruch
15 July 2003