James Joyce and Victims: Reading the Logic of Exclusion

By Sean P. Murphy | Go to book overview

1

Introduction: James Joyce and the Logic of Victimage

ALTHOUGH A RELATIVELY RECENT NEOLOGISM, VICTIMAGE DENOTES ideas that have long been literary and historical subjects. Works as diverse as Sophocles' Antigone (442 or 441 B.C.E.), Shakespeare's King Lear (1608), Mary Wollstonecraft's "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” (1792), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), and D. M. Thomas's The White Hotel (1981) concern themselves with the cultural processes of victimization and scapegoating. The unique works of the moderns challenge the limits of dominant philosophical, political, and economic systems, especially in light of the horrors of World War I. After the Great War, moderns contend with the revelation that neither the myth of historical progress nor the principles of Enlightenment Rationalism can ameliorate irrational personal and cultural forms of violence. Well before modern artists and theorists sought to clarify connections between history and anthropology, speech acts and identity, words and meaning, aggressivity and epistemology, victimage and violence, as well as linguistics and mastery, Humpty Dumpty and Alice, two literary characters, debate these very concepts in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass (1872):

"When I use a word, ” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

"The question is, ” said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

"The question is, ” said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master— that's all.” 1

In the same spirit that Lewis Carroll questions meaning and mastery, textuality and reality, in his "looking-glass, ” James Joyce questions human agency and language, mastery and victimage, in

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