Dubliners' Dozen: The Games Narrators Play

Dubliners' Dozen: The Games Narrators Play

Dubliners' Dozen: The Games Narrators Play

Dubliners' Dozen: The Games Narrators Play

Synopsis

"Traditional readings of Dubliners have entrapped themselves in easy identifications with the narrator in the stories, who acts as the mouthpiece of what "Joyce" wanted to say about the Irish and about Ireland. With "paralysis" as the key term in his diagnosis, the narrator draws the reader into harshly judgmental stances toward the stories' characters. Recent critics of Dubliners, however, have distanced themselves from such facile identifications, viewing the stories as "writerly" rather than "readerly" texts. Using strong overarching theories, such as Lacan's, they explore the techniques through which the narrator produces these reductive effects. Instead of settling for a single theory, Dubliners' Dozen by contrast, applies a different contemporary theoretical lens to each of the stories. In opting for an array of theoretical vantage points, Dubliners' Dozen employs "microtheories," which are small knots or junctures in larger theoretical structures: Foucault of confession and power-knowledge, Barthes on Italian opera and on narrative contracts, Freud on identification, Lacan on metaphor, Derrida on mimesis, Genette on narrative embedding, and Ricoeur on bound and wild images." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

Although they generated fine critical insights, and dissected basic narrative patterns, traditional readings of James Joyce's Dubliners have not evaded one seductive lure: deceptively easy identifications with what seems like the author's own stance. Because at first sight, Dubliners looks like a classic realist text, it itself baits the trap. When Joyce presented his "nicely polished looking glass” in which the Irish can have "one good look at themselves, ” he seems at least partly oblivious to how facilely the mirror metaphor itself may be appropriated. Its assumption of a world already in place—solid, fixed, transparent to the look it reflects—solicits close reflexive interpretations, which take the author's own word at face value. Indeed the "special odour of corruption” that, Joyce suggests, "floats” over Dubliners is the same nasty effluvium traditional readers fastidiously inhaled as they pored over the stories. A too-close identification with the narrator entrapped them in a preconception of what "Joyce” wanted to say about Dublin and its inhabitants. By transcending the characters' own blinkered vision— recreating superior ethical vantage points from which to look down—the narrator colludes with the reader, triggering the same highly judgmental stances, repulsions, and condemnations. In this sense, the celebrated "scrupulous meanness” of the style does not work, because its refined ambiguities leave implicit much that needs to be made more explicit if the mirror image itself is to be challenged. For traditional readers, the "polished looking-glass” returned paradoxically only their own scrupulously overpolished critical egos. For them, reading Dubliners incited the same hyperactive superego activity as writing it did for Joyce himself when he (jokingly) alludes, in a letter to Stanislaus, to the "perverse devil of my literary conscience sitting on the hump of my pen” (Selected Letters, 90, 79, 83, 110).

Thus—to take one example—virtually all traditional readings take Joyce's blanket term "paralysis” with Dublin itself at the hub and the whole Irish nation at the periphery less as a provisional . . .

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