Theorizing the place of politics and gender in Joyce
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Copyright © 1999 by Eileen O'Halloran, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.
Jones, Ellen Carol, ed. Joyce: Feminism/Post/Colonialism. European Joyce Studies . 8. Atlanta, GA and Amsterdam: Rodophi 1998.
- Eighth in a well-respected series titled European Joyce Studies edited by Fritz Senn, Joyce: Feminism/Post/Colonialism is a valuable addition not only to Joyce studies but also to feminist, postcolonial and nationalist thought. It's a large collection -- the eleven essays range from 13 to 40 pages each -- with a theoretically dense introduction, by editor Ellen Carol Jones ("Borderlines"). Jones has published numerous articles on Joyce and Virginia Woolf and edited Feminist Readings of Joyce (1989), a special issue of Modern Fiction Studies.
- Jones provocatively argues that we should read Joyce "otherwise," a strategy she defines as
a labor of reading at the borders of knowledge, at the uttermost boundaries of the symbolic. It is a supplementary strategy of reading discursive doubleness . . . to effect a process of transference that reveal the 'deep psychic uncertainty of the colonial relation itself' " (21).
In keeping with Jones' approach, many of this collection's essayists read Joyce through the work of feminist, postcolonial and poststructuralist theorists, especially Homi Bhabha, Gayatri Spivak, and Jacques Derrida, aiming to uncover fissures, contradictions and ruptures in his texts. It is impossible to do justice to such an extensive collection of essays and thus I will examine central issues this collection raises as a whole.
- Joyce: Feminism/Post/Colonialism is primarily concerned with Joyce's relation to history, and, more specifically, how to assess the significance of nationalism, politics, and gender in Joyce's oeuvre . As Patrick McGee notes in "Masculine States and Feminine Republics: Finnegans Wake as Historical Document," these questions reflect a contemporary critical return to history in Joyce studies. This historical approach addresses the oversights of earlier readings that were dismissive of Joyce's politics and his relation to nationalism, an error also addressed by recent book-length studies by Emer Nolan, Enda Duffy, James Fairhall, Vincent Cheng, and others.
- The appropriate interpretive strategies for correcting these errors of omission are not obvious. For example, Jones asks, "How does Joyce's art document the very ambiguity of the historical context?" (7). Ambiguity is a key word in this volume, as it is for readers of Joyce, especially of Finnegans Wake. As David Spurr points out in a fascinating essay, "Fatal Signatures: Forgery and Colonization in Finnegans Wake," Joyce's relation to a historical context is "always already destabilized" (248). Despite this caveat, some authors set out to posit a relationship -- not a direct parallel -- between a historical figure and a Joycean character: McGee links Michael Collins to Shem in Finnegans Wake and Susan de Sola Rodstein connects Robert Emmet and the Cyclops episode, especially the Citizen figure. They illustrate just how tempting and productive it is nonetheless to uncover sources and references in the texts, all the while noting their unstable referential value.
- Susan de Sola Rodstein addresses the complexity of Joyce's relationship to nationalisms (her emphasis) in "Back to 1904: Joyce, Ireland, and Nationalism," and perceptively asks if "Joyce's elliptical use of nationalist mythologies neutralizes or intensifies the violent effects of Irish history in which the past is continuously present?" (183). However, the collection occasionally lapses into the same monolithic notions of Irish nationalism that it aims to undo, reinstating narrow interpretations of Irish nationalism even as selected essays argue for more complexity.
- Another central aim of this collection is deconstructing the Manichean allegories of colonizer/colonized and civilian/barbarian through recourse to the Hegelian master/slave dialectic. As Enda Duffy writes in "Molly's Throat," Manicheanism is a powerful paradigm but it is "built upon an assumption that the original relation between colonizer and colonized is wholly oppositional, rather than in any sense dialectical" (233). The essays also examine, to a lesser degree, how the postcolonial is constructed in opposition to modernity, how the national turns into racial prejudice, and why the intersections between and among the feminine, colonial/postcolonial, and national have often been overlooked in critical discussions. Just as postcolonial and nationalist studies benefit from interrogation of these overlapping and competing discourses, Joyce studies also profits from this collection's analysis of the intersections between feminism and colonialism, feminism and post/colonialism, feminisms and nationalisms.
- In "Northsiders," James Fairhall, author of James Joyce and the Question of History, foregrounds the notion that "the incubus haunting the back room is Ireland's history as a colonized country" (43). Although Fairhall occasionally makes some broad generalizations about Ireland, Irish nationalism, and "Irish people," his essay is perceptive in its comparisons between Joyce's fiction and that of contemporary Irish writer Roddy Doyle. Contributing to the collection's unstated goal of deconstructing binaries, Fairhall suggests that "the Citizen and Major Tweedy -- the Irish Nationalist and the British Imperialist -- are ideological brothers under the skin. Their binary, essentialist world-views are mirror images of each other" (47). Fairhall, among other essayists in this volume, complicates our understanding of the usually much-maligned Citizen, an approach that is in line with Emer Nolan's recuperation of the Citizen in James Joyce and Nationalism Fairhall adds to this collection a focus on advertising, capitalism and consumerism--building upon the special issue of James Joyce Quarterly, Joyce and Advertising. He considers consumerism not only in Ulysses, where Bloom spends much of the day pondering the price of goods and window shopping, but also in Roddy Doyle's fictional Barrytown where, Fairhall argues, American popular culture threatens to overtake the north side of Dublin. He notes that capitalism and the ideology of American-accented international popular culture have replaced colonialism, nationalism, and Catholicism -- a discussion that would be especially provocative with reference to Luke Gibbon's essay on the media and Irish culture in Transformations in Irish Culture.
- The question of agency, especially female agency, arises frequently in this collection. This focus enhances historicized interpretations of Molly, Gerty, the two washerwomen of Finnegans Wake, and Bloom. The interest in female agency is also closely related to the volume's concern with undoing what Duffy terms the "defeatism of Manicheanism" (235). Duffy claims greater agency for the colonized and particularly for the female subaltern as self-fetishized diva with his reading of Molly as one who is "fully aware of the limitations that being in Ireland imposes upon her as a consumer" (244). Gregory Castle refers to Gerty when he argues that "a reading that seeks to liberate the female subaltern might see a more active form of agency here" (125) because "[b]y virtue of her ability to compose herself, Gerty possesses agency" (126). His "Colonial Discourse and the Subject of Empire in Joyce's Nausicaa" is an insightful commentary on the colonial Bildungsroman.
- While several essayists examine how minority cultures construct political and personal agency, a question arises concerning the liberatory potential of that agency. Castle's and Duffy's articles serve as correctives to critics who find Gerty and Molly lacking in agency while Peter Hitchcock's essay, "Joyce's Subalternatives," questions the status of the two nameless washerwomen in Finnegans Wake. In order to interrogate Joyce's relation to the subaltern subject, he offers his own examination of the subaltern and what he calls "the subalternative." He argues that the "[v]ery presence of the washerwoman in the text provides a form of narrative agency" (34) yet qualifies that agency by noting that "Otherness is no haven for the subaltern" (40).
- Several essays, such as Gerald Doherty's "Imperialism and the Rhetoric of Sexuality in James Joyce's Ulysses," address the complexity of Joyce's relationship to colonialism, especially in terms of mapping the imperial and colonial erotic onto a female body. As Doherty notes, "[w]ith James Joyce, however, the situation is more complicated since his Irish identity was already a colonized one" (211). Most essays complicate Joyce's role as colonial and postcolonial writer, one who reinstates and resists imperial paradigms, reinscribes and estranges the languages of a totalizing imperial and colonial culture even as he reorients the axis of power. For example, "Behind the Veil: James Joyce and the Colonial Harem," by Carol Schloss, "Imperialism and the Rhetoric of Sexuality in James Joyce's Ulysses" by Gerald Doherty, and "'Araby': Women's Time and the Time of the Nation" by Ramjana Khana complicate interpretations of Joyce's own Orientalism. The subject of Joyce's Orientalism is also addressed in a special James Joyce Quarterly issue, "Reorienteing Joyce."
- There's room in a collection subtitled Feminism/Post/Colonialism for even more strident investigations of the links between gender and colonialism. Moreover, in light of Ireland's unique status as a "First World Country, but with a Third World memory," according to Luke Gibbons (3), there is more room for further interrogation and more judicious handling of such consistently repeated terms, "the Other," "the subaltern," "hybridity" and "hybrid text." Yet the questions the collection raises regarding history and gender are insightful and far-reaching. Ranjana Khana poses a particularly useful question in " 'Araby': Women's Time and the Time of the Nation": why do critics favor "trans" as opposed to "post" when discussion the national construct. Khana wonders if it is problematic to abandon the "post" in favor of the "trans" and argues that it is necessary to acknowledge the "simultaneous construction and tension between the two" and to be wary of abandoning the local in favor of the global context, especially in relation to Joyce.
- In such an ambitious collection, there are inevitably some points of disagreement. Fairhall's James Joyce and the Question of History is criticized as somehow stabilizing a notion of history and historical interpretation (272), a notion that is contrary to the premises Fairhall establishes in his introduction. Other minor squabbles include erroneous information such as the listing of County Clare as Clare County (62n), or fixing female personifications (down to hair color) of Ireland as "the blond Kathleen Ni Houlihan" and "her darkhaired other, Erin" (265). But Joyce:Feminism/Post/Colonialism is as interesting and provocative as its title suggests, building upon earlier Joyce and postcolonial scholarship, offering new insights, and opening up space for further interrogations of the intersections between Joyce studies, gender studies and postcolonial theory. .
- Fairhall, James. James Joyce and the Question of History. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993.
- Gibbons, Luke. Transformations in Irish Culture. Cork: Cork UP, 1996.
- Leonard, Garry and Jennifer Wicke, eds. Joyce and Advertising. Spec. issue of James Joyce Quarterly 30.1 (1993).
- Nolan, Emer. James Joyce and Nationalism. London: Routledge, 1995.
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