James Joyce and Victims: Reading the Logic of Exclusion

By Sean P. Murphy | Go to book overview

2

Subjectivity and Totality in Dubliners

JOYCE OFTEN EXPLICITLY OR IMPLICITLY TESTIFIED TO THE ROLE ART plays in the material world of civil society and in the immaterial realm of desire. On one such occasion, Joyce expressed his indignation concerning the printer's objections to certain sexual and verbal obscenities in the Dubliners manuscript. He wrote to Grant Richards, the publisher of Dubliners:

It is not my fault that the odour of ashpits and old weeds and offal hangs round my stories. I seriously believe that you will retard the course of civilisation in Ireland by preventing the Irish people from having one good look at themselves in my nicely polished looking-glass. (Letters I, 63—64).

Although his claim about the course of Irish civilization may sound hyperbolic, Joyce advocates in his hyperbole an ideological function of art that contradicts the Aestheticism (l'art pour l'art) so popular during the second half of the nineteenth century. Because art enjoys relative autonomy from many interconnected components of civil society (religion, State, economics, and family, for example), the Irish can look at images of themselves as presented in realist texts with a certain distance. To be sure, Joyce's realism— that is, the way in which he employs a self-identified "scrupulous meanness” in his stories as a means of reporting the details of Dublin, its citizens, and its institutions—aims to close the gap between self and text as well as self and city. Joyce's careful depiction of a reality that is not his "fault” aims to include readers in the lives of characters who haplessly experience oppression through no fault of their own. So where can one assign blame for a society that creates paralysis, alcoholism, and oppression?

With insight and verve, Joyce calls to consciousness the specific institutions so important to people's desires, identities, and ulti

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