Re/Joycean Mistakes, Misprisions, and Modernist Contexts

By Henke, Suzette | English Studies in Canada, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Re/Joycean Mistakes, Misprisions, and Modernist Contexts


Henke, Suzette, English Studies in Canada


2004 was a celebratory year for Joyce enthusiasts, many of whom (including myself) made a pilgrimage analogous to a modernist haj to congregate in Dublin en masse for the Bloomsday centenary celebration on 16 June :2004, the hundredth anniversary of the day immortalized in Joyce's Literary. (1) Literary legend claims that 16 June 1904 marked the first time that lames Joyce and Nora Barnacle stepped out together and took a stroll along the Dublin canal bank, where this bold Galway lass proceeded to "make a man" of young Jamesy. The sacred date is annually celebrated by Joyce aficionados, who delight in organizing serious symposia and scholarly conferences, as well as bibulous banquets, in commemoration of Bloomsweek. (2)

Recently, a number of Irish writers complained about the legendary status attributed to the sacred text of Ulysses in the modernist literary canon. In the year 2000, critics and publishers touted Joyce's monumental text as the greatest novel in English in the 20th century, and readers welcomed a new millennium amidst cheers of jublilation over the book's canonical status. At the end of the 20th century, no serious contenders had appeared to challenge the work's centenary status, and Joyce, as deceased author and post-structuralist author-effect, proved to be the winner of this particular Gold Cup race, despite the insistence of many common readers that such an inscrutable text should merit the Throwaway prize. Some contemporary Irish authors echo that sentiment in a series of recent news stories, complaining that Joyce's glittering prizes have diminished the illumination of their own literary lights, and that far too much fuss has been made over a bulky, laborious experimental work so dependent on extraneous Baktinian heteroglossia that a good portion of the text should have been edited out and left on the cuttingroom floor. The book is too long and unwieldy, they insist. (3) These brash anti-Joycean sentiments struck me as somewhat uncharitable and curmudgeonly--at least, until I had begun reading Tim Conley's treatment of Joyces Mistakes. (Toward the middle of the book, Conley points to the deliberate suppression of the apostrophe in his title, perhaps in emulation of Finnegans Wake, and chides those readers who failed to notice this prominent omission or who casually dismissed it as typographical error).

Joyce is purported to have once quipped that he had self-consciously littered his fiction with so many puzzles, riddles, paradoxes and inconsistencies that his modernist literary production would keep the Professors busy for centuries. Recent studies by Tim Conley and Gerald Gillespie seem to reinforce Joyce's prophecy, as each seeks to add yet another critical dish to the tantalizing fea(s)t of Joycean interpretation. Conley engages in a self-indulgent recasting of post/post-structuralist analysis, and Gillespie attempts to expand the modernist contexts of Joycean production in the time-honored tradition of humanist scholarship. Entrenched in historically antagonistic camps, these oppositional texts add an ingenious menu of sometimes overcooked information and analysis to the seemingly replete banquet of Joyce scholarship.

Let us, for a moment, concoct a Borgesian fantasy. Imagine the protagonist Stephen Dedalus, in collusion with the stage Irishman Buck Mulligan, collaborating on a critical text spoofing academic interpretations of Joyce's Ulysses. Both Buck and Stephen would have to have made a brief detour from Oxford and Paris, respectively, via Canada and the University of Toronto. The result of their authorial collusion might exude the "true scholastic stink" of Aristotle and Aquinas, seasoned with spicy bits from Foucault and Derrida. Such a Mulligan stew cooked up for scholars might well resemble Joyces Mistakes.

Conley's first mistake, it would seem to the ingenuous reader, is refusing to offer an "Introduction" to his book on Joyces Mistakes. As a reader who has spent a quarter of a century laboring in the bog of Joyce studies, I tried to approach "Re: Cognizing Error" with an open mind, only to meet disappointment in this first chapter's self-conscious refusal to delineate what the rest of the book might be about. …

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