Reading Joyce Politically

Reading Joyce Politically

Reading Joyce Politically

Reading Joyce Politically

Synopsis

In the first book-length study of a "Marxist" Joyce, Trevor Williams takes as his starting point Joyce's assertion that Dublin was a "paralysed city". He identifies those power structures within its civil society and private relationships - so clearly drawn by Joyce in Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses - that lie at the heart of that paralysis. More importantly, however, Williams shows how in Joyce the paralysis is always provisional, and explores the ways in which Joyce's characters do indeed demonstrate means of resistance to the British state, to class distinctions, to clerical hegemony, and to power imbalances in familial and sexual relationships. In the process, Williams reviews the early criticism leveled against Joyce by the left, in particular by the First Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934. He also engages contemporary Joyce critics, including Fredric Jameson, Franco Moretti, and Terry Eagleton, many of whom have attempted to redress the leftist attacks on Joyce and to,demonstrate his relevance to a postcolonial critical approach. Throughout, Williams asserts the constant need to make literature relevant. In part, this book was inspired by his students, who in 1991, at the outset of the Gulf War, demanded to know how they could justify reading Joyce when, simultaneously, people were being killed. Williams's answer, formulated in the first chapter, is to argue that reading Joyce, who was keenly aware of the impact of unequal power relations, is not only justifiable but relevant, legitimate, and necessary. Unusually free of the dogmatism and economism so frequently associated with Marxist literary criticism, Williams's reading of Joyce draws from the "humanist" tradition of Marxism and from contemporary feminist thinking in what is ultimately a blend of provocative theory and close textual reading. It will be of interest to Joyceans, literary theorists, and anyone who

Excerpt

Trevor Williams's political reading of Joyce is primarily a materialist interpretation of colonialism, economics, commodification, anti-Semitism, sexism, clericalism, and other oppressive hegemonic forces that were (are) so much a part of Irish existence that they rarely call attention to themselves in Joyce's work even though they appear everywhere. For most Joyce readers being Irish means being anti-British, anticapitalist, antiupper class, and occasionally even anticlerical, and so we need to be reminded just how political the concerns of Joyce's characters really were. For the most part Williams presents a new, remarkably perceptive reading of the situation and clarifies Joyce's ambiguous role as mediator between his aesthetic concerns and didacticism regarding the economic, colonial, and ecclesiastical, gender-dominated bondage in which his characters live.

The study goes a long way to debunking the old critical shibboleth, fostered by Joyce himself, that he was not a "political" writer, a notion that his character/surrogate, Stephen Dedalus, belles with his pledge to write "the uncreated conscience of his race." Since Foucault and the rise of gender criticism, the definition of "political" has been expanded to cover most social activity and pronouncement, and Williams affords his readers a substantial spectrum of Joyce's representation of Dublin's politics.

Zack Bowen, Series Editor . . .

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