The Literary Development of James Joyce - from “Portrait” to Finnegans Wake

The following is an extract from the longer article on James Joyce first published in The New Dictionary of National Biography (2004) and afterwards in book-form as James Joyce in OUP’s VIP series (2007). To reach that article in its totality, click “Back to Index”, above.

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On 7 January 1904, Joyce wrote in one day an Ur-text of the Portrait of the Artist, intended as a contribution to John Eglinton’s new journal Dana and refused by the editor as unintelligible to him.

The “1904 Portrait” essay is meaningless in any other context than that of Joyce’s artistic and imaginative development and even in that context it is febrile and obscure. At the outset he speaks of the human personality as ‘a fluid succession of moments’ and suggests that this debars literary portraiture of the kind that retails ‘beard and inches’; he promises a better way of conveying identity ‘through some art, by some proces of mind as yet untabulated, to liberate from the personalised lumps of matter that which is their individuating rhythm, the first or formal relation of their parts.’ The importance of this declaration is that it links his Aristotelian interests with his search for a literary form that would chart the reality of psychological life, which he here describes as ‘the curve of an emotion’. It would be many years before he began to approach that point when, in a bold revision of his interminable autobiographical novel (the remnant of which appeared posthumously as Stephen Hero in 1944), he adopted the method of character-specific style, moulding the narration to the mentality, age and emotional state of his central character. In 1904, however, the nascent autobiographical alter ego was hardly more than an explosion of literary and psychic self-importance who ends by proclaiming: ‘Man and woman, out of you comes the nation that is to come, the lightning of your masses in travail; the competitive order is employed against itself, the aristocracies are supplanted; and amid the general paralysis of an insane society, the confederate will issues in action.’ There is a clear implication that James Joyce himself would ‘give the word’ to ‘the multitudes, not as yet in the wombs of humanity but surely engenderable there’, serving Ireland as Jesus of Nazareth had served the Christian world.

In writing out the conviction that ‘life is such as I conceive’ across the two hundred thousand words which Joyce assured Ezra Pound he had written before grinding to a halt in 1913, a panoply of christological images were made to serve as pointers to the messianic substance of the artist: dovelike girls doubling as divine accessories at a Jordanian baptismal scene and even the choice of venue for the ‘first’ epiphany: Eccles Street, Dublin. (Sir John Eccles was the original landlord but the coincidence with Latin eccles. serves Joyce well enough to found his new aesthetic church there.) Possibly, too, the ‘Hero’ in the title - a point often debated by Joyce commentators - owed something of his origin to the ‘Hero as Man of Letters’ in Thomas Carlyle’s famous lectures; for, like Carlyle’s hero, he was the ‘the intense centre of the life of his age to which he stands in a relation than which none can be more vital’, as Stephen holds of the true poet and himself. The exant portions (Chapters XV to XXV) roughly correspond to the last chapter of A Portrait dealing with Stephen’s days at the University College, Dublin and are full of opinions about his educators and his peers not included in the later version. Anti-clericism reaches an extraordinary pitch in the passage where he compares the priesthood of Ireland to ‘black tyrannous lice’ who imposed ‘[c]ontempt of human nature, weakness, nervous tremblings, fear of day and joy, distrust of man and life, hemiplegia of the will’ on the people in their power. In contrast to his supine contemporaries at college whom he correspondingly describes as ‘terrorized boys, banded together in a complicity of diffidence’, he would ‘live his own life according to what he recognised as the voice of a new humanity, active, unafraid and unashamed.’ It is not an effective writing: in addition to the obtunding effect of so much rhetorical declamation, the novel suffers from a radical instability of tone. It is impossible to know what the author understands - or expects his reader to understand - by the account that he gives of his literary manner at the date of the events recounted: ‘Stephen’s style of writing, though it was over affectionate towards the antique and even the obsolete and too easily rhetorical, was remarkable for a certain crude originality of expression.’ The trouble is that the style of Stephen Hero is entirely of a piece with it.

By way of relief from such an arduous task, Joyce assembled a collection of ‘Elizabethan’ poems which he called Chamber Music on a scatological hint from Gogarty when they were jointly in earshot of a micturating prostitute. He was later to remark that he wrote them ‘as a protest against myself’ - though escape from the self-professed egoism of Stephen Hero might be a more accurate description. Arthur Symons placed one such poem (‘Silently, she is combing’) in the Saturday Review on 8 April 1904 - thus bearing out George Moore estimate of Joyce’s poetical character. During the summer of 1904 he began a set of ‘epicleti’ for The Irish Homestead, a newpaper of the Irish Co-operative Movement fostered by Horace Plunkett and “Æ” (George Russell), which would eventually comprise the stories of Dubliners (1914). If Russell wanted something ‘simple, rural, live-making [with] pathos’, what he got was a subtle, damning exposé of the network of hypocrisy and deception, tyranny and abuse, moral cowardice and self-contempt which Joyce regarded as the symptoms of ‘spiritual paralysis’ in Ireland, Dublin being ‘the centre of paralysis’ in his moral geography of the island. This was a term which he explicated in Stephen Hero, where it stands in the first instance for ‘general paralysis of the insane’ - though properly pareisis - that is, syphilitic infection. (It was Thomas Carlyle who coined the phrase ‘spiritual paralysis’.) Joyce’s stories “The Sisters”, “Eveline” and “After the Race” appeared over the pseudonym ‘Stephen Daedalus’ in issues of journal for 13 August, 10 September and 17 December 1904 before the editor H. F. Norman rumbled the writer’s subversive bent and terminated the agreement. Joyce’s sense of exclusion led him to write “The Holy Office”, a verse pamplet in which he plotted his relation to the literary revival and the Catholic-nationalist purists of the period, styling himself ‘Katharsis-Purgative’ in jejunely Aristotelian terms: ‘Thus I relieve their timid arses / Perform my office of Katharsis’.

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In Trieste, as before in Pola, he had much time to write and produced more nine stories for the Dubliners collection as well as a spate of letters to Stanislaus closely describing his life with Nora, his growing affinity with irredentism and socialism, his reading and literary progress - all scrupulously preserved by his brother. He was flush enough in June to have “The Holy Office” printed once again for distribution by Stanislaus in Dublin. The birth of Giorgio on 25 July 1905 brought domestic strains obliquely reflected in “A Little Cloud”, but the ‘legal fiction’ of paternity released in Joyce a new consciousness of self which would lead inevitably to the abandonment of the Dedalian persona and the adoption of a mentality more like that of Leopold Bloom. Giorgio was deceptively entered as ‘ legittimi’ when a year old, the prescribed time for registration of births in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Not long after the delivery of her first child, Nora found herself taking in laundry while Joyce began to fall into drinking ways again, purportedly as a form of contraception. In this climate of increasing hardship, he embarked on a series of money-making schemes including a plan to extract Nora’s share of her grandmother’s legacy from her family in Galway, a concerted effort to win a multi-part puzzle contest in the London magazine Ideas, and a new attempt to make a living as a singer involving lessons with a Triestino teacher and composer Giuseppe Sinico (who remained unpaid and unwittingly bestowed his name on the tragic central figure of “A Painful Case” in Dubliners). In October the plan to bring Stanislaus to Trieste as a family support came to fruition. The tension that would inform the arrangement throughout its duration was apparent from the moment they met at the station when Joyce announced that he was broke and demanded the change from Stanislaus’s travel funds which he had ingeniously provided in instalments at the various way-stations on the journey. (Artifoni, his brother’s prospective employer, was the source of the money in the form of an ‘advance’.) In the years ahead the Joyces kept a strangely Irish household of two brothers and a wife, Stanislaus acting as his ‘brother’s keeper’ at endless sacrifice to himself until separated by the First World War, after which he turned into a resentful memorialist of this time of parti-servitude to literary genius in which he was content to be his brother’s ‘whetstone’ (as Joyce called him). In February 1906, the Joyce menage removed to an apartment at via Giovanni Boccaccio on the outskirts of the city, this time moving in with the Francinis, by then established in Trieste as well.

By the end of 1905, Joyce had completed nine short stories in addition to the three already published in The Irish Homestead and since revised - notably “Eveline” which greatly profited by familiarity with the mind and idiom of Nora. On 3 December 1905 he sent twelves stories to the English publisher Grant Richard who agreed to publish them as a collection in a letter of 17 February 1906, thus setting in motion an eight-year saga which Joyce later described as the ‘fiasco’ of Dubliners. Encouraged by the publisher’s undertaking, he quickly added two more stories, “Two Gallants” and “A Little Cloud”, while carefully revising “A Painful Case” and “After the Race”. On 23 April Richard wrote to say that his printer had red-pencilled the epithet ‘bloody’ in “Two Gallants”, and in ensuing exchanges further objectionable passages were noted including aspersions on the Prince of Wales and - more likely to offend the censor - sado-masochistic hints in “An Encounter”. Richards seems to have read this story with fresh eyes before revoking the agreement in September 1906. In letters to the publisher that summer, Joyce took the opportunity to vindicate his stories as a ‘first step towards the spiritual liberation of [his] country’ (20 May 1906), adverting to the civilising effect of the ‘nicely-polished mirror’ in which he had protrayed the ‘centre of paralysis’ that was Dublin. In the same spirit he disowned responsibility for the ‘odour of ashpits and rotting cabbages’ which hung about his stories on the grounds that no true artist dares ‘alter in the presentment what he has seen or heard’ (5 May 1906) while condemning the censorship laws of England. On 19 October 1906, Richards - who had recently re-established himself after bankruptcy - regretfully confirmed his decision not to proceed. In the interim, Joyce engaged an international lawyer who drew a blank from the Society of Authors on his account. Writing to inform Arthur Symons of Richards’ breach of contract, he was encouraged to submit his poetry collection to Elkin Mathews, as he did in early October 1906. Meanwhile, at the Berlitz School, Artifoni was obliged to tell his English teachers that there were no funds to support summer teaching as a result of embezzlement by his office manager Bertelli. After gleaning references from friends including his father’s friend Tim Harrington and his pupil Roberto Prezioso, the editor of Il Piccolo della Sera, Joyce applied successfully for a post in the international banking-house of Nast Kolb and Schumacher based in Rome. Abandoning their furniture to repossession and Stanislaus to his fate in Trieste, the Joyce’s reached Rome via Ancona on 1 August 1906, remaining there for a fraught seven months that would tax his resources, nerves, and marriage more than any other period of his self-styled ‘exile’ so far.

The Joyces first settled at via Frattina but were evicted in December and moved to fifth-floor rooms 51 at via Monte Brianzo (the second being added by Nora). Hours at the bank were long and the work entirely unsympathetic. Unsurprisingly, since his trousers had worn through, Joyce was upbraided for his appearance and asked Stanislaus to draw an advance from Artifoni for their replacement. He also touched the English consul for 50 lira and found a private pupil before taking on part-time hours at the École des Langues in late November 1906. He dined out much and drank out no less often without coming to like the Eternal City any better, comparing its denizens to a man who makes his living by exhibiting his grandmother’s corpse. No progress was made with Stephen Hero at this time, and his interest in the Dubliners stories - which John Long rejected in February 1907 - began to wane. “A Painful Case” and “After the Race”, in particular, now seemed to him poor stuff. In Trieste he had contemplated a collection called Provincials to fellow Dubliners; yet in Rome, he conceived several new stories in the urban vein: “The Last Supper”, “The Street”, “Vengeance”, “At Bay”, “Catharsis”, and one other to be called “Ulysses”. This would concern Mr. Hunter, Joyce’s good samaritan in Nighttown during the summer of 1904, and was apparently sparked by his indignation at the ranting anti-semitism that Oliver St. Gogarty, then recently married into a Galway county family, had published in Arthur Griffith’s paper Sinn Féin. It never ‘got forrarder than the title’; by Christmas, however, Joyce was working on a “The Dead”, a final story for the stalled collection. This classic example of the genre was inspired by a growing sense that he had underrated the tradition of hospitality in his native city and would supply a redemptive air at the end without in anyway diminishing the emphasis on ‘paralysis’ that governs each story of the collection. News from Dublin of a theatrical riot against Synge’s Playboy of the Western World in January 1907 came as a distraction, causing him to feel like a man who ‘hears a row in the street and voices he knows shouting but can’t get out to see what the hell is going on.’ His work on “The Dead” would not be resumed until he returned to Trieste.

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In A Portrait Joyce had brought to its furthest development the ‘embryological’ method of tracing the development of his hero’s ‘soul’ that he had dimly glimpsed in the “1904 Portrait” essay. A good deal of pseudo-Aristotelian pondering of quidditas and entelechy - the latter a term that was to exercised Thomas Mann in Doctor Faustus also - stood between the first halting steps in this direction and its convincing achievement. In the end it was a stylistic rather than a philosophical invention. In successive chapters of A Portrait of the Artist, the style follows the contours of the young man’s mind as he embraces by turns religious ardour and literary aestheticism and finally discovers in himself the capacity and the will to ‘forge in the smithy of [his] soul the uncreated conscience of [his] race’. This sentence, serving as a climax in the last chapter of the novel, is very like another that Joyce actually wrote to Nora during his struggles with George Roberts in 1912 when he spoke of ‘creating a conscience’ of this ‘wretched race’ despite the perfidy that surrounded him. A Portrait embodies the idea of the artist as a hero - in fact, ‘the hero as man of letters’, in Thomas Carlyle’s famous phrase. To draw out the line of his own artistic development any further, however, Joyce had to wrench himself free from the unlimited egoism of Stephen Dedalus. It is for that reason that he told Frank Budgen, during the writing of Ulysses, that Stephen has ‘a shape that can’t be changed’: in other words, by 1914 (at the latest) he was already a dead letter. It is difficult to know exactly when Joyce arrived at this new estimate of the character whose creation and development had engaged him for ten years before he penned ‘1904-1914’ at the bottom of the last page of A Portrait. Certainly there are signs in that text that he regarded the messianic self-exaltation of his alter ego as a dangerous show of hubris. What other intention could he have had, for instance, when he counterpointed Stephen’s moment of destiny on Dollymount Strand with the off-stage cries of his fellow school-boys: ‘Look out!’ ‘Oh, Cripes, I’m drownded!’ These ironic cries comically foreshadow the ‘lapwing poet’ that Stephen will become in the opening chapters of Ulysses where he is to to be met with more in the character of Icarus than the masterful ‘old artificer’ Daedalus. (Likewise, the veiled etymological precision of ‘Cripes’ - from corpus Christi -suggests a lethal messianic mission.)

Yet, along with the shift in values that brought Leopold Bloom into existence as a counterbalance to the youthful hero, the abandonment of a privileged standpoint from which the social world could be surveyed and judged, plunged Joyce into an epistemological maelström. He was, of course, never seriously tempted to adopt the narratorial voice of an urbane, knowing author - the standpoint conventionally espoused by the gentleman English author. Besides its inherent factitiousness as an intellectual posture, such a position would be fatal in a writer who was neither English nor, in the received sense of the term, a gentleman. (Joyce explicitly declared that he had nothing to learn from the English novelists.) Somewhat to the contrary: the fissional structure of the colonial world from which he sprang dictated that the only authentic representation of reality in language must follow the contours of a divided world, a riven Logos. In Ulysses, he played out the logic of this inheritance in an absolutely remorseless manner. None of Joyce original supporters - Pound, Eliot and Miss Weaver - were able to accept that stylistic experimentalist should be taken so far and there was a parting of the ways after the “Sirens” chapter in which his fuga per canonem struck Pound as wilful and absurd. Joyce on the other hand was perfectly earnest in his perception that what we know as reality, like religious doctrine, is founded ‘on the incertitude of the void’ - the void being the phenomenal diversity of human perceptions, points of view, Weltanschaungen, habits of expression, intentionalities and ideolects. This idea, in its intense relativity, is not sustainable without a corresponding belief that the relativised order of experience stands in some way for an underlying spiritual unity which is only accessible through the multiplex channels of living language. Just as A Portrait led out into the radically socialised world of Ulysses, Ulysses led on to the cosmic universe of Finnegans Wake, in which all diversity is bound up again into a vast system of correspondences: mythic, stereotypical, accidental, homophonic, but always testimony to the ‘continual affirmation of the human spirit’. The plot and execution of Ulysses makes it clear that the human spirit can be affirmed by two means, thought and action; and by two types, the artist and the citizen. When, in the penultimate chapter, Joyce represents Stephen and Bloom at the moment before parting pouring out their ‘sequent, then simultaneous urinations’ by the faint glow of a bedroom window, he is able to square the circle by demonstrating that what seems divided is actually united and what seems united is perpetually falling into division. Significantly, the two are standing in the garden, dimly lit by ‘[t]he heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit’ - an arrangment that recalls the end of Dante’s Purgatori, which is marked by a similar astrological allusion: ‘ Puro, e dispto a salire alle stelle [purified and prepared to ascend to the stars].’ At the same time the faintly limned presence of Molly in the position of a moon - and hence triggering the question: ‘what special affinities appeared [...] to exist between the moon and woman?’ - serves as a symbol of the eternal female whose sensual affirmation in the last word of the novel (‘yes’) stands for the continual exitus et reditus of human love, ‘the word known to all men’. From that symbolic trope to the ‘vicus of recirculation’ that governs Finnegans Wake is but a difference of technique, not of conception.

From late 1917 Ezra Pound’s preferred literary venue was the Little Review edited by Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, and it was this journal which brought out Ulysses in between March 1918 and December 1920, serialising rather more than thirteen of the eighteen chapters of the novel in monthly issues with hardly an intermission. There is no doubt that the process of serialisation itself contributed to the rapid complexification of stylistic methods that bestowed on Ulysses its contemporary character as the work of literary experimentalism par excellence. In each episode Joyce plainly sought to carry formal invention further than before and was increasingly obliged to explain to his patrons and supporters the reasons for those methods which were so much at variance with the Pound’s promotion of him as the nearest thing we have to Flaubertian prose in English’. In August 1919, Joyce wrote to Miss Weaver: ‘I understand that you may begin to regard the various styles of the episodes with dismay and prefer the initial style’, continuing: ‘But in the compass of one day to compress all these wanderings and clothe them in the form of this day is for me possible only by such variation which, I beg you to believe, is not capricious.’ In September 1920, he took up the case for the defence again: ‘[ Ulysses ] is my epic of two races and at the same time the cycle of the human body as well as a little story of a day’, adding: ‘[i]t is also a kind of encyclopaedia. My intention is not only to render myth sub specie temporis nostri but also to allow each adventure (that is, each hour, every organ, every art being interconnected and interconnected and interrelated in the somatic scheme of the whole) to condition and even to create its own technique.’ June 1921 found him still struggling to justify the daunting texture of the novel: ‘The task I set myself technically in writing a book from eighteen different points of view and in as many styles, all apparently unknown or undiscovered by my fellow tradesmen, that and the nature of the legend chosen[,] would be enough to upset anyone’s mental balance.’ In speaking with Frank Budgen, Joyce nevertheless insisted that though the methods were complicated, the thought was always simple.

Apart from his governing theme - the necessary place of love in human society - a leading sign of this was his steady adherence to the robust idea of a Homeric parallel, taking the simplified narrative in Charles Lamb’s The Adventures of Ulysses as a template for a very modern novel. Behind this lay a very real conviction that Odysseus, not Jesus Christ (or any other hero) was the proper model for modern man: sceptical yet able, longing for home when away and aching to wander when at home; uxurious but not immune to erotic stimulus and female blandishment. Such a conception involved an imaginative and occasionally jejune review of the Odyssey and all related texts, in antiquity and later times. Hence Joyce was studiously interested in the researches of Victor Bérard among other pioneers of modern archaeology and classical exegesis. At times his hermeneutic method was unashamedly whimsical as when he turns the brand that Odysseus employs to blind the one-eyed giant into a ‘knockmedown cigar’. At times it he parlayed questionable etymology as when he glossed Odysseus’s name as ‘Outis’, No-man, and hence ‘Everyman’, or read the the term ‘syphilis’ as deriving from swine-love (su philos - rather than the etymologically orthodox syn phileis) for purposes of the “Circe” episode; but all of that simply demonstrates that he kept his gaze fixed on the image of a kind of modern man who, though unaided by anything more dogmatically assured than his own temperate belief in the superiority of kindness to cruelty, tolerance to hatred, and pacificism to war, can face life’s challenges with adequate understanding and practical assurance. Framing this idea in the “Ithaca” chapter, Joyce proffered his most ingenious, perspicacious and light-hearted contrivance when he places Leopold Bloom in the predicament of a man who has left his latch-key in his other trousers and must therefore resort to letting himself in at the unlocked kitchen door by dropping into the front area of his terrace house. Just when Stephen is affirming his own nature as ‘an animal proceeding syllogistically from the known to the unknown and a conscious rational reagent between a micro- and a macrocosm ineluctably constructed upon the incertitude of the void’, Bloom finds himself ‘comforted’ by the apprehension ‘that as a competent keyless citizen he ‘had proceeded energetically from the unknown to the known through the incertitude of the void.’

The serialisation of Ulysses commenced in issues for March, April and May 1918 with the opening chapters (“Telemachus”, “Nestor” and “Proteus”) that send Stephen Dedalus off on his hegira from the Martello Tower in Sandycove, where he has slept, to the school in Dalkey where he teaches for the last time and onwards to the city, ‘walking into eternity along Sandymount Strand’. “Calypso” and “Lotus-Eaters”, appearing in June and July, introduced the reader to Leopold and Marion Bloom (the latter at first a mere pronoun in the former’s mind), starting the day at their terrace house in Eccles Street, and subsequently traced Bloom’s trip across the city to the Westland Row post office to collect a letter from his clandestine correspondent Martha - who writes revealingly ‘I do not like that other world’ for ‘ other word’ - before following him into the precincts of the Turkish Baths at Lincoln Place adjacent to the Trinity’s College Park. It is in the course of the second episode that Bloom accidentally pronounces the name of the race-horse Throwaway that is to win the Ascot Gold Cup in the hearing of Bantam Lyons, who therefore promulgates the rumour that Bloom has had the ‘hot tip’ up his sleeve all day. The “Hades” episode, set at Glasnevin Cemetery where after a cab-drive with several other mourners Bloom attends the funeral of Paddy Dignam, was published in September 1918; “Aeolus”, in which he visits the newspaper offices on an advertising errand and crosses paths with Stephen for the first time, appeared the month after. “Lestrygonians”, the lunch-time episode in which Leopold traverse the commercial centre of Dublin observing all around him before consuming a sandwich and burgundy in Davy Byrne’s on Duke Street, appeared in January-March 1919 and was the first episode to raise real misgivings about the ‘arsthitic’ tendency of Ulysses, as Pound called it - though to Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf were beginning to think the author ‘low-bred’ and a ‘literary corner-boy’ for all his self-evident genius. “Scylla and Charybdis”, printed in April-May 1919, takes Stephen Dedalus to the National Library where, much as Buck Mulligan has foretold in the Tower, he ‘proves by algebra that Hamlet’s grandson is Shakespeare’s grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father’. In sober truth, he tries to demonstrate that the playwright’s narratives were spun from his own entrails and that - as Stephen later asserts under the form of a rhetorical question: ‘What went forth to the ends of the world to traverse not itself [...] which it itself was ineluctably preconditioned to become[?]’ The same process of artistic self-realisation presumably applies to Stephen while no alert reader can miss the smuggled allusion to Leopold Bloom - Joyce’s second alter ego - in the commercial traveller of Stephen’s unwitting formula.

”Wandering Rocks”, serialised in June-July 1919, is a tour-de-force exercise in literary logistics by means of which sundry characters including Stephen, Bloom, Simon Dedalus, Corny Kelleher, the Lord Lieutenant proceeding to Sandymount to open Mirus’s Bazaar, and the blind stripling make their dutiful and undutiful hegiras from point to point across the city, carefully timed by Joyce with a sort of literary stop-watch. He actually sought to know from friends in Dublin how long the different itineraries would take and the chapter is one of those in which his intense reliance on Hely Thom’s Dublin Directory for 1904 is most tellingly apparent. In “Sirens”, printed in the August and September issues, stylistic experimentalism begins in earnest. Moving as the chapter must seem in the light of Bloom’s anguish over the assignation between his wife and Blazes Boylan just then occurring, or in the way Joyce makes songs and arias that clung around the hearts of Dubliners of his father’s class do the work of transmitting that anguish and its erotic counterpart, the technique of fuga per canonem which dominates the chapter remains a transparent artifice based in a questionable analogy between the musical and literary arts. It was, however, the suffuse eroticism - focussing on all the attributes and activities of lips - that alarmed some contemporary readers and thrilled others. “Cyclops”, appearing between November 1919 to March 1920, is a brilliant parody of Irish nationalism in the personage of Michael Cusack, founder of the GAA (here called ‘the citizen’) and the Irish-Ireland mania of which he is a prime representative. The thersitic manner of the unidentified narrator and the ‘gigantism’ of the mock-heroic passages in which the heroic style of ancient Irish legends are subjected to hilarious and heterogeneous inflation, amounting to a satire on ill-judged Celtic and Catholic enthusiasms, serves ideally to frame Bloom’s honest if simplistic advocacy of ‘love [...] the opposite of hatred’ as a redemptive force in human societies, and hence a critique of narrow nationalism.

After “Cyclops” came “Nausicaa”, serialised in April to August 1920. Joyce commenced the chapter in Zurich and continued it in Trieste following his removal there in October 1919. Following a period of three weeks during which he neither read, wrote or spoke (by his own account), he resumed working on the chapter in November and finished it in time for his thirty-eighth birthday in February 1920. The episode centres on Gerty McDowell, a crippled girl (like Marthe Fleischmann) who leads Leopold Bloom on through the ‘wondrous revealment’ of her ‘nansook knickers’ and other attractions from the lingerie department. For this portrait of Irish-accented feminine false consciousness, Joyce evolved the technique that he characterised in a letter to Frank Budgen as a ‘namby-pampy jammy marmalady drawsery ( alto là) style’, examples of which he solicited from Aunt Josephine in the form of novelettes and hymbooks sent from Dublin. The “Oxen of the Sun”, coming next, remained on hand until May 1920 when he rewrote an earlier version that he had sent to Pound in October 1919. Published in September to December 1920, the episode proved to be the last serialised portion of the novel. In it Joyce took Stephen and Bloom to the National Maternity Hospital on very different pretexts and there enacted the embryological development of English. The pastiches that Joyce wrote of successive samples in George Saintsbury’s A History of English Prose Rhythm (1912), doubled as tenors for the narrative in which the medical students argue the pros-and-cons of contraception and other matters obstretical and historical in their common room before reeling out to the dives of Nighttown. The result is a literary fabric which he frankly admitted to be the ‘most difficult [...] to interpret and to write’ in his odyssey of style so far. It is also the most resolutely Aristotelian. T. S. Eliot thought of it as a revelation of the ‘futility of all styles’ - a judgement related to his own conviction that the ‘mythic method’ of Ulysses was intended as ‘a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history’. It is far from certain that Joyce shared this High-Church fretting about the relativism which he visited on the English language.

The composition of “Circe” - a Walpurgisnacht in which Stephen and Bloom confront their inner demons in the brothel quarter of Dublin-engaged Joyce from June 1920 to December 1920, spanning the period of his removal with his family to Paris in October 1920. Along with the remaining three chapters of the novel it was not to appear in print until the publication of the completed novel in February 1922. “Eumaeus” follows Stephen and Bloom from Nighttown to the cabman’s shelter where questions of history and politics visit their tired minds. It is, in effect, Joyce’s nearest approach to Bouvard et Pecuchet of Flaubert in the novel, a sampler of clichés and misleading information from the social and political consciousness of contemporary Ireland together with peculiarly Joycean vision of Charles Stewart Parnell and the Invincibles. “Eumaeus”, “Ithaca” is conducted in cathetical form - a jejune encyclopaedia crossed with family charades and tinged with cosmological awe. It brings Stephen and Bloom to the kitchen of Bloom’s house, where cocoa is consumed before the younger man goes out into the night to become (presumably) the author of Ulysses ten years after. In “Penelope”, Joyce created a virtually unpunctuated stream of consciousness in which the unexpurgated contents of her mind flow around the days events and those of earlier days, finally returning to Leopold who she recalls choosing because he ‘understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him.’ Her life-affirming ‘yes’ added in October 1921, is therefore conditional but none the less an affirmation for all that. After long meditation, Joyce had written Ulysses in four years, most of it in Zurich during the First World War - giving Tom Stoppard grounds for the retort he puts in the novelist’s mouth in Travesties (1974), where he rebuts the usual question about his contribution to that event with the answer, ‘I wrote Ulysses. What did you do?’

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In February 1923 Joyce showed signs of bestirring himself for a new writing when he sorted out twelve kilos of notes for Ulysses. About this time he also commenced a notebook later published as Scribbledehobble (1961), consisting largely of unused material recuperated from the earlier writing under headings based on the titles of his earlier works or parts therefore. It was to be the first of nearly seventy such compilations which would go towards the making of “Work in Progress” and now known as the Finnegans Wake Notebooks. Though Joyce may had shown Valéry Larbaud a very early draft of the “Tristram and Iseult” passage of the Wake in March 1922, it was not until 10 March that made a formal departure in writing a sketch of the “King Roderick O’Conor” episode - the so-called “First Fragment” of Finnegans Wake - on 10 March 1923, writing to Miss Weaver on the morrow, ‘ Il lupo perde il pelo ma non il vizio. ... the leopard cannot change his spots’.

[…]

The most conspicuous innovation of Finnegans Wake is its use of ‘dream-language’, in fact a constant layering of multi-lingual puns in successive drafts which produces a fabric rich in semantic possibilities but generally impenetrable to the ordinary reader. After Ulysses, Joyce believed that he had ‘come to the end of English’, and there is some room for the idea that he intended to challenge or dismantle the psychic authority of the language in whose ‘shadow’ Stephen Dedalus’s soul ‘frets’ in A Portrait of the Artist (‘English punned to petery pence’, in Wake -parlance). Yet this intention could not have sustained him over the seventeen years of “Work in Progress” without a corresponding belief in the revelatory power of the syncretic methods that he applied to all languages and cultures in all their phenomenal variety. Joyce’s methods are demonstrably modern having more to do with philology and psychoanalysis than with symbolism and magic but they are none the less informed by a sacral relation to language as a kind of ‘broken heaventalk’ in which truth subsists in a dismembered way. He was unorthodox in his beliefs but he used the terms ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ in passionate and meaningful ways and he did not accept the premises of a vacuous form of relativism. Finnegans Wake is patently the most relativistic of all literary texts, yet it is also the most absolute in the sense that it genuinely engages in an attempt to reconstruct ‘the reality of experience’ from its disparate elements by means of a vast system of correspondences which, if developed to the uttermost, might produce the result that ‘the owl globe wheels in view’ - a representation of humanity whose first claim to truth is its completeness considered as a ‘selfbounded and selfcontained’ entity whose ‘soul’ or whatness ‘leaps from the vestment of its being’ (to echo Joyce’s youthful aesthetic terminology). In order to effect this - or something intellectually and emotionally continuous with it - Joyce adopted in his last work the framing conception of a dreaming subject, one H. C. Earwicker, a publican in his inn at Chapelizod, Co. Dublin, who happens to be a reincarnation of Finn MacCool, or any other patriarchal figure with a no less archetypical wife/lover, sons, daughters and even customers, each of whom contain within themselves reincarnations of the same myriad kinds. Like Joyce and his own family, they would be multi-lingual and dream in all the languages of Europe and beyond. No one language would be privileged - unless it be Hiberno-English by reason of its comic vibrancy and its possession of a lyric strain not found in standard English. Just as his characters would simultaneously employ different languages, they would occupy different times and places in the same (or opposite) person. The text itself would be the dream of Earwicker or Finn MacCool asleep in the landscape, as Joyce variously represented it. As a naturalistic idea this has limited plausibility; as a hermeneutic principle, it falls far short of explaining the textual and meta-textual structure of the novel at all important points. Who is dreaming Finnegans Wake ? is not ultimately a rewarding question; yet it does point to the fundamental innovation, which is to let language itself constitutes the reality of experience and to invest the utmost effort in the exploration of that thesis.

Having accumulating unused material from Ulysses in a large notebook (VI.A), Joyce began writing on 23 March 1923 with the earliest version of an episode called ‘King Roderick O’Conor’ - ultimately pp.380-82 of Finnegans Wake - and this was rapidly followed by ‘Tristan and Isolde’ (pp.384-86), ‘St. Kevin’ (pp.604-06), and ‘The Colloquy of St. Patrick and the Druid’ (pp.611-12). He then produced ‘Mamalujo’ (2.iv) as a framing chapter for the revised version of ‘Tristan and Isolde’ All the eight sections of Book I were written consecutively during 1923 excepting 1.i and 1.vi, which were added in 1926-27. In the interim, he worked on the ‘Four Watches of Shaun’ (3.i-iv), comprising the third of four book of the completed work. The writing of Book II and emendations to other sections occupied him throughout 1926-38. This accounts for the bulk of the time he spent on “Work in Progress”, though much of it was taken up with difficulties of health, failing eyesight, family problems including, signally, the mental illness of his daughter Lucia and the growing alienation of former supporters. As with Ulysses, a great deal of labour was expended preparing sections for publication, though with Finnegans Wake the relationship between the various textual stages is even more anomalous than in the former case. For one thing, there was no fair copy with the result that various levels of accretion in notebooks, drafts, typescripts and corrected proofs now held at the British Library or Buffalo University Library look less like successive revisions than phases in a definite method that treats the printed galley more as the beginning than the end of the process of composition. Many of the resultant episodes were published in avant garde magazines including transatlantic review (April 1924), Criterion (July 1925), Navire d’argent (October 1925), and transition (April 1927-April/May 1938). Others appeared as premium pamphlets: thus Anna Livia Plurabelle (New York 1928; London 1930); Tales Told by Shem and Shaun (Paris 1929), Two Tales of Shem and Shaun (London 1932), and Haveth Childers Everywhere (Paris and New York 1930; London 1931) - nor were these the final state of the texts in question. Given such a history of textual development, the Wake begins to seem less like a ‘book about something than that thing itself’ , as Samuel Beckett wrote of it in 1929. In one respect the final text of Finnegans Wake is, however, staple. Both the Viking Press and the Faber editions share the same text and the same pagination and the only difference in the transmission history is the inclusion of Joyce’s handlist of errors, included as pp.629-43 at the back of early printings, at different dates (1950 in London and a decade later in New York).

The title of the book - which was kept secret - was taken from an Irish-American ballad about Tim Finnegan, a drunken bricklayer who falls to his death from a ladder but returns to life when accidentally splashed with whiskey at his wake, exclaiming, ‘Soul to the devil, do ye think I’m dead?’ The song had been a party piece of the author’s in childhood. Around this slight armature, with its evocative suggestion of reincarnation and eternal return, Joyce constructed a vast edifice of corresponding myths and narratives culled from the length and breadth of literature and tradition. Some of the material is hallmark Irish (‘Macool, Macool, orra whyi deed ye diie?’), and some of it Judaeo-Christian (‘Mister Funn, you’re going to be fined again!’), but other sources as various as The Egyptian Book of the Dead, examined in E. A. Wallis Budge’s edition of 1895, and the comic-strip banter of Mutt and Jeff, provide an astonishing symphony of human voices from all times and places with the general object of constructing a universal history. In that relation Joyce draws his chief inspiration from the Renaissance thought of Giambattista Vico, the late sixteenth-century Neapolitan philosopher who divided human history into divine, heroic and human ages followed by a ricorso (or return), setting the whole cycle in motion once again. (The fact that the cycles were started by a thunderclap suited his own superstitious mind.) In Finnegans Wake these ages correspond to the four books which comprise the whole work as well as internal cycles within them. At the same time, the Wake is structured by the idea of interdependent and mutually-generating opposites which he derived from Giordano Bruno (the subject of a book-review he wrote in 1903) and from Samuel Coleridge, who wrote (as he knew): ‘Every power in nature or in spirit must evolve an opposite as the sole condition and means of its manifestation; and every opposition is, therefore, a tendency to reunion.’ How much credence Joyce attached to these theories can be judged from his remark on one occasion that he employed them as trellises only, while on another he asked Frank Budgen to take care not to cast him in a ‘true believer’ mode in an article about him. It is nevertheless clear that Joyce kept in mind the possibility of ‘totalisating’ human history through literary art in such a way as to capture the ‘whatness’ of humanity in a multi-lingual, trans-temporal, cross-cultural, polysemous text constructed by means that fly in the face of ‘cutanddry grammar and go-ahead plot’, as Joyce himself averred.

Such a conception implies that the central ‘characters’ of the work will be representative of human life in a more comprehensive way than the usual particularity of literary realism - and naturalism in particular - admits. Joyce achieves this by making his characters archetypal while locating them in a dense matrix of disparate and even contradictory literary and historical allusions. At the centre of the Wake stands Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (HCE) with his consort Anna Livia Plurabelle (ALP), respectively embodied by the Hill of Howth and the River Liffey in a mythopoeic Irish landscape that equally serves to symbolise the generative principles of male and female in a world of flux as promontory and sea, stone and water, phallus and vagina. At the centre of the book, in the “Night Lessons” chapter, Joyce presents a chart of ‘the whome of your eternal geomater’ which doubles as a map of Ireland and a diagram of the dynamic and often hostile relations between genders, siblings and (more problematically) between fathers and their daughters. While testifying to the fascination of graffiti and offering a parody on W. B. Yeats’s gyres in A Vision (1925), this diagram is also the final term in Joyce’s engagement with the philosophy of Aristotle whom he saw as rather more a ‘metaphysician’ than a ‘biologist’, claiming that it was ‘in the higher applications of his severe method that he achieves himself.’ What he achieves, in this view, is adequately represented by a sentence that Joyce copied from De Anima into his “Paris Notebook” of 1903: ‘The most natural act for living beings [...] is to produce others like themselves and thereby participate as far as they may in the eternal and divine’. With this premise in mind, Joyce was able to regard human sexuality as the real grounds of eternal (or at least a recurrent) life and hence the metaphysical formula of existence.

The events that befall the Earwicker family in the Wake primarily concern a sexual misdemeanour committed by HCE in the Furry Glen of Dublin’s Phoenix Park. This involves two girls and three soldiers, who are geometric counterparts of Issy, on the one hand,and Shem and Shaun on the other. Just as Issy becomes her mother, so the boys will become their father, though only by the expedient of overthrowing him by catching him with his pants down - as they do in Joyce’s fable ‘How Buckley Shot the Russian General’ (a favourite of his father). At the heel of HCE’s disgrace, ALP defends him in a letter written by Shem the Penman and carried by Shaun the Post, and this disinterred by a hen scratching in the midden in the orthodox archaeological fashion - an event that synonymous with the discovery of the ‘litterage’ of the Wake itself. In this general scheme of things, it is clear that HCE is a male principle that readily bifurcates into the internecine order of his warring sons while Issy serves as the sexually attractive principal through whom the sons are reattached to the generative source of life (variously a ‘deltic biangle’ or ‘modder ilond’). It is of course through loss of innocent that these necessary processes in the chain of reproduction are effected - a felix culpa, in theological terms. The Wake follows St. Augustine in treating the Fall as a ‘happy fault’, but differs from him in identifying immortality with sexual reproduction: ‘Phall if you will but rise you must in a secular setdown phoenish’. Vico’s conception of ricorso finds its formal expression in the unfinished phrase on the last page (‘.. along the’) which flows ‘by a commodius vicus of recirculation’ into the opening phrases on the first (‘riverrun by swerve of shore. ..’), thus forming an ‘Endless Sentence’ which itself embodies both salvation and damnation for humankind. Within this envelope, Joyce constructed the 8-4-4-1 pattern of sections (or chapters) which makes up the four-part architecture of the book. It is, finally, a somewhat arbitrary structure and there is no good reason why the first Book should be twice as long as the two that follow other than that the scope of material in hand permitted it to be so.

From a relatively early date in the process of composition Joyce was able to say, ‘I have the book fairly well planned out in my head’ (21 May 1926), and he frequently insisted that the labour of composition was like tunnelling through a mountain from two sides, implying a general symmetry between the four latter sections of Book I and those of Book III, with corresponding episodes in each. Hence, for instance, ALP’s soliloquy at the end of Book I (“Anna Livia Plurabelle”) is balanced by HCE’s soliloquy at the end of Book III (“Haveth Childers Everywhere”) while “The Mookse and the Gripes” in 1.vi (Q11) is a companion piece to “The Ondt and the Gracehoper” in 3.i. In view of such correspondences, one critic has been able to urge that the chief structural feature of the text is a ‘simple equilibrium of two symmetrical half-arches supporting a keystone of greater complexity’ - the keystone being the barely penetrable chapters of Book II. The first four chapters of Book I are devoted to the demise of HCE. Firstly, his fall is narrated under the form of numerous cognate episodes - Eden, Babel, Wall Street, Tim Finnegan, and so forth (1.i). The ensuing three deal with his crime, his betrayal and his burial in ‘the best Lough Neagh pattern’ (1.ii, iii & iv). The fifth section (1.v) offers a palaeographers account of ALP’s letter or ‘mamafesta’ and contains a pastiche of the Sir Sullivan’s preface to The Book of Kells serving equally as a caricature of Finnegans Wake itself. The sixth (1.vi) poses twelve conundrums of great ingenuity and varying length, including the Joycean fable of “The Mookse and the Gripes,” in part a riposte to Wyndam Lewis’s ‘Analysis of the Mind of James Joyce’ ( Blast, 1924). In the next section (1.vii), Shaun - more in the character of Stanislaus than Lewis - offers a portrait ot the artist in which the character of Stephen Dedalus is aspersed as a ‘supreme prig’ while the Wake itself is disparaged as an ‘epical forged cheque’ comprised of ‘once current puns, quashed quotatoes, messes of mottage’. Shem has the final word, however, when he lifts his ‘lifewand’ and makes ‘the dumb speak’. In the last section of Book I (1.viii), Joyce achieved a widely-acknowledged tour de force with a ‘chattering dialogue’ between two washerwoman across the Liffey, as he explained to Miss Weaver in a letter of 1924. The scandalous failings of HCE is the main topic of their conversation and, by the time the episode was revised, it would include the names of more than five hundred rivers.

The first half of Book II concerns the children, initially engaged in a charade-cum- matinée performance (2.i) and afterwards at their obstetrically-minded homework (2.ii). The third section, set in the public house (2.iii), features two more Joycean fables - ‘The Norwegian Captain’ and ‘How Buckley Shot the Russian General’. It also frames Joyce’s response to the invention of television and the splitting of the atom (respectively ‘the bairdboard bombardment screen’ and ‘the abnihilisation of the etym’ by ‘the first lord of Hurtreford’ - viz., Ernest Rutherford). In the last section of Book II (2.iv), the story of Tristan and Isolde is retold by the four evangelists (‘Mamlujo’), who hover above the lovers’ boat in the form of seagulls, each connected with one a different province, as their accents begin to reveal. These voyeurs also represent the Four Masters (compilers of the seventeenth-century Irish Annals) and, as such, all important redactors of hot-blood conquests. The section ends with the tragical history of ‘King Roderick O’Conor’, last high-king of Ireland, whose fertile lands were confiscated by mail-clad knights. More significantly, perhaps, his ‘babel tower and beamer’ is reduced to ‘diversed tonguesed’, signifying the cultural disorder of a colonised realm. This was the first episode to be written and, as such, reveals how fundamental is the condition of cultural hybridity as this has been experienced in Ireland to the ground-plan, and indeed the inspiration, of Finnegans Wake.

Book III traces the passage of Shaun the Post ‘backwards through the events already narrated’ while ‘rolling up the Liffey in a barrel’, as Joyce told Miss Weaver (24 may 1924). The first section (3.i) contains ‘The Ondt and the Gracehoper’ (pp.414-19), a revisitation of the quarrel with Wyndam Lewis following the publication of his hostile portrait in Time and Western Man (1927). In the next (3.ii), ‘Jaun’ preaches moral hypocrisy to Issy and falls ignominously to earth from his ‘soapbox’ while Issy turns to the more romantically - interesting Shem (‘Coach me how to tumble, Jaime’). As ‘Yawn’ in the third section (3.iii), the eponymous postman is stretched out at the Hill of Uisneach, a druidic centre of ancient Ireland: hence he comes to act as conduit for contesting Irish voices from St. Patrick to Parnell until, at last, revealed as HCE. (The final passage was published as Haveth Childers Everywhere in 1930). In the fourth watch (3.iv), the children of HCE witness a ‘culious epiphany’ as their father, wakened in the night, attempts sexual intercourse with his wife and fails (‘You never wet the tea!’). After this, the lowest ebb, Joyce takes his universal history back to dawn with the Ricorso (Book IV). The chapter is conceived as a stained-glass window through which the sun rises at the pagan equinox. St. Patrick, in legend associated with that juncture in the calendar, contends with the Archdruid Balkelly, in whom Bishop Berkeley and Johannes Eriugena are equally mixed. Pantheism gives way to monotheism when the missionary ignites the Pascal fire, bringing in a new cycle, just as life begins again when ‘dawnfire’ touches the ‘tablestoane ath the centre of the great circle of the macroliths’ at Tara (or, more exactly, Newgrange). In spite of these masculine enactments of the idea of rebirth, it requires ALP’s soliloquy at the end to usher in the new cycle of birth, marriage and death, as she does with her imperative call: ‘Finn, again!’

[...]

In view of the uniquely complex development of James Joyce’s literary texts in notebooks, manuscripts and typescripts, along with the author’s practice of composing extensively on the printers’ galleys, the study and appreciation his art calls for an exacting examination of the written and printed materials involved at every stage. Voluminous materials of this kind have been dispersed throughout libraries and collections in Ireland, Britain and America. Many of Joyce’s papers are now held at the Lockwood Memorial Library of New York State University at Buffalo, together with the Joyce family portraits. Among these is the manuscript of Stephen Hero, which was edited and introduced by Theodore Spencer in 1944 and revised by John J. Slocum and Herbert Cahoon to incorporate some additional pages supplied by Stanislaus Joyce in 1956. The fair-copy manuscript of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was presented to the National Library of Ireland by Sylvia Beach, while a definitive edition of the novel based on it was published in America in 1964 (1968 in the United Kingdom). The Ulysses manuscript which Joyce sold to John Quinn after a triplicate typescript had been produced from it remains intact at the Rosenbach Institute in Philadelphia. After her offer to permit the repatriation of her husband’s body was turned down by the Irish government, Nora Joyce ensured that Miss Weaver would donate the manuscript of Finnegans Wake to the British Museum rather than to the National Library of Ireland. In order to make the sum of such materials available to scholars, notebooks, manuscripts, typescripts and corrected galleys for all of Joyce’s work have been published in black-and-white facsimile by Garland Press as The James Joyce Archive (1977-79). A colour facsimile edition of the “Finnegans Wake Notebooks” at Buffalo is now in progress. (ed. V. Deane, D. Ferrer & G. Lernout, 2002- ).

Joyce’s essays, lectures, extant notebooks and reviews were edited by Ellsworth Mason and Richard Ellmann as The Critical Writings in 1957. The poetry collections with sundry shorter writings including the 1904 ‘Portrait Essay’ were collected by Ellmann as Poems and Shorter Writings in 1990, a further critical compilation being issued by Kevin Barry as Occasional, Critical and Political Writings in 2000. A volume of Joyce’s letters was edited by Stuart Gilbert in 1957 with two further volumes and a Selected Letters appearing under the hand of Richard Ellmann in respectively in 1966 and 1975. (Joyce’s so-called ‘black letters’ to Nora of 1909 are printed in the latter only.) In 1984 the Garland Publishing Co. (NY) issued a controversial ‘A Critical and Synoptic Edition’ of Ulysses, edited by Hans Walter Gabler on the basis of a hypothetical ‘genetic text’ comprising every variant in working manuscripts, typescripts, complete editions and serial publications whether within the direct line of textual transmission or not. The validity of this method and the authenticity (or even accuracy) of the result has been widely disputed and conservative readers still adhere to the corrected Odyssey Edition and its successors as bearing the imprimatur of the author. Finnegans Wake was has never been reset though Joyce’s corrections (which Maria Jolas carried out of wartime France) were applied to the Viking Press and Faber editions in the 1950s. (In both instances the pagination and font are identical with those in the 1939 editions and each other.) In March 2000 a ‘lost’ typescript of the “Circe” episode of Ulysses was purchased by the National Library of Ireland for $1.5m dollars at auction in New York. The papers rescued from the Joyces’ flat in Paris in Autumn of 1941 were lodged in the National Library of Ireland, as agreed, and became available for inspection by scholars fifty years later. A further body of papers in the possession of Paul Léon (including the lost ‘Paris Notebook’ of 1904) was acquired by the Irish government in 2001. Since the beginning, Dublin has inevitably been the major place of pilgrimage for Joycean scholars and in 1967 the first Annual James Joyce International Symposium was there. A James Joyce Centre was established at 35 North George’s Street, Dublin, adjacent to Belvedere College, in the 1990s. Plaques set in the pavement mark the major points in Joyce’s Ulyssean hero’s itinerary on Bloomsday in the modern city and Joyce himself has featured on an Irish banknote in an image by Robert Ballagh.

James Joyce’s standing as a major writer in world literature was established in his lifetime, and following the Second World War his promise to ‘keep the professors busy’ was widely realised in American and British universities. The ‘guide’ to Ulysses that Joyce had himself provided through the books of Frank Budgen and Stuart Gilbert made that novel less off-putting than it might otherwise have been for many educated readers. Thus heralded, Ulysses could be treated either as a modernist and experimental text offering a new vision of society and a new method of literary representation, or as a classical affirmation of the humanist principles deemed to underlie all great literature. Hence, those among the first generation of ‘Joyceans’ who devoted themselves to the arcana of the texts-symbol and motif, structure and significance, mythic parallels, and psychoanalytical hypotheses sat comfortably with those who exalted Leopold Bloom as the modern Ulysses, ‘an all-round man’ and ‘a keyless competent citizen’.

Finnegans Wake was a more daunting challenge, but the work of early exegetes made it clear that, for all its complexity, it shared the same world of literary and popular consciousness as its readers. Archetypal readings dominated the early reception of the book yet, like Ulysses, it seems to require an immense amount of local knowledge also (albeit the stage was as wide in other respects as all of European culture and world history). To glean sufficient Irish background became a badge of honour for the rapidly-growing tribe of Joyceans. There was a distinct element of cultural tourism in all of this since the establishment which embraced Joyce was, predominantly, Protestant and Anglo-American. Joyce’s agnosticism was, of course, a help. That his mind was ‘Irish’, ‘Catholic’, and even ‘medieval’, thus seemed less important than the fact that he conceived of the world of culture as a huge jigsaw of interlocking pieces in which no one narrative, still less one national tradition or one religious dispensation, easily prevailed. In this way he came to represent a syncretic view of human culture that began to dominate the increasingly liberal and sceptical orthodoxy of Western democracies in the second half of the twentieth century (Ireland remaining, for most of this period, confessional state in its political constitution and social mores).

By the 1960s Joyce’s reputation stood at the apex of a pyramid of international renown with modernism, humanism and psychoanalysis at its intellectual foundations. With only the Soviet realists standing out against him, he was hailed as an intrinsically democratic writer and hence served as friendly writer in the climate of Cold War cultural politics even though the actual contents of his works (and, to a great extent their manner), were at odds with prevailing ethos of Western society at many material points. Thus Joyce posthumously managed to become both the epitome and the antithesis of cultural conformism though all the while a writer centrally respected for the magnitude of his talent and the scale of his achievement.

In 1926 Mary Colum had told Joyce that Anna Livia Plurabelle was ‘outside of literature’, to which he had replied, ‘it may be outside literature now, but its future is inside literature.’ That he proved right illustrates the coincidence between his idiosyncratic form of innovation and an anti-conventional impulse at the heart of much critical thought in the late-twentieth century culture. From the 1960s onwards the ‘deconstruction’ of bourgeois certainties in ethics and belief increasingly characterised intellectual life first in Europe and then in America. Joyce’s affinity with the ‘Revolution of the Word’ made him an ideal literary talisman and it was as the battering-ram of post-structuralism that he first figures in the writings of Jacques Derrida and others who discovered in ‘la jouissance de Joyce’ an image of their own rebellion against the fixity of language and meaning which allows the bourgeois world its claim to epistemological authority, and underwrites its self-image as a historical society at the apogee of human progress.

For anti-authoritarian movements with more explicitly political agendas such as feminist and gay studies, the connection between the wish-list and the texts themselves was intrinsically unstable. If écriture feminine was the very definition of Joyce’s way of writing from ‘Penelope’ onwards, Molly Bloom was nevertheless the creation of a writer who did not seem to accord intellectual dignity to women, whatever grandeur he attached to their sensual vitality and however highly he prize their amenity to mythopoeic elevation in the quasi-divine capacity of domestic Gea-Tellus. Certainly Joyce believed that women’s liberation was the central revolution of the twentieth-century (as he told Arthur Power), but if he valued their subjectivity and regarded union with them as a necessary measure for the creative imagination, it did not mean that he endowed them with a plenitude of artistic power in their own persons. While gay studies finds in Joyce’s exploration of gender-difference and altereity an effective argument, there are no homosexuals in Joyce’s writings other than the perverted figure at the centre of the early story ‘An Encounter’. In certain obvious ways, the love-affair between Joycean criticism and liberationist schools of thought was always destined to be short-term.

The rise of post-colonial studies in the 1990s provided a more rewarding means of analysing Joyce’s subversive attitude towards the dominant form of Anglophonic culture - an attitude readily ascribed to him by Anglo-Saxon contemporaries whether inside or beyond the avant-garde movement. The point was epitomised by H. G. Wells when he wrote to Joyce: ‘While you were brought up under the delusion of political suppression I was brought up under the delusion of political responsibility.’ The difference indicated here is, of course, a national one. Turning to the question of style, Wells admitted his desire to keep ‘language and statement as simple and clear as possible’, hence implying that Joyce to the contrary was inspired by Fenian malice towards the well of English undefiled. Joyce offers some support for this by means of a counter-reformational thrust in Finnegans Wake where he appears to describe the linguistic outcome of the book as ‘[o]ne sovereign punned to petery pence’. In fact the differences instanced by Wells are very real. Where his ideal is ‘a big unifying and concentrating process’ resulting in a kind of ‘progress not inevitable but interesting and possible’, Joyce dismisses progress as the self-aggrandising fantasy of Shaun-types who exercise power through the abuse of language. It is clear today that Wells’s talk of ‘increase of power and range by economy and concentration of effort’ is the stuff of textbook imperialism (as his History of the World, for all its liberality, reveals on every page). From this standpoint, the difference in their outlooks is actually that between the coloniser and the colonised no less than that between between enlightenment and modernist epistemologies, or that between Protestant and Catholic, as Wells openly concedes.

Joycean criticism began - like Joycean biography - in the hands of American scholars whose arrival in Ireland to investigate his formative conditions had something of the character of an anthropological expedition. Richard Ellmann’s biography treated the actualities of Irish literary life within the larger body of western literary values as can be seen in the way that he glosses Joyce’s great discovery in Ulysses in terms of the word ‘love’ in all its human ramifications. It is a view which sets Leopold Bloom - sceptical, kindly, ordinary, imaginative, human against the nationalist ‘citizen’ of the ‘Cyclops’ chapter - an embodiment of prejudice, bitterness, and hatred of the Anglo-Saxon. Ellmann goes so far as to cites the Irish nationalists who fought for independence as examplars of those traits in the Irish national character least like the liberal secularism that Bloom (and, by implication, Ellmann himself) embodies.

In this way teams are formed with Joyce and Anglo-America on one side and Irish separatists on the other. Not surprisingly, recent Irish criticism has been much concerned with repudiating Joyce’s Bloomian pacificism (if it is such) while emphasizing the the ‘fenian’ sympathies of the novelist in his incidental writings. This allies them with post-colonial critics everywhere who argue that colonial peoples can attain authentic self-representation only when they shed the chains of imperial hegemony and, if possible, the language which sustains it; it does not, unfortunately, consolidate their bond with James Joyce, the chief writer to emerge from Catholic-nationalist Ireland at any time in its history. While the idea of Joyce as an eccentric Irishman or, at least, a writer of genius at a tangent to the main line of national development (if not actually the colonial remainder) has obvious attractions, it is also possible to accord him a great measure of ethical sense and political precedence in the context of the European union. In any case, some further thinking about the underlying issues of colonial, anti-colonial and post-colonial thinking is in order before the convincing repatriation of James Joyce can be completed.

It is clear that, in spite of the desires of Irish separatists at any period, post-colonial cultures are generally forced to acknowledge their own hybridity thereby ending up more like Bloom than Michael Cusack. Equally, in modern Irish society, Bloom stands nearer to the consensual view than the fenians of Ulysses. Joyce undoubtedly offered a difficult thistle for Irish nationalists to grasp in urging that the half-Jewish and half-Irish advertising agent with a foothold in at least three religious camps is the best kind of modern Irishman. More than that: he clearly meant to antagonise those whom he had accused of circulating ‘the pap of racial hatred’. In this sense, Ulysses bears the stamp of his own subtly rebarbative personality and his own inveterate resistance to the encroachments of religion, nationality and language - and also, in a germane sense, of family. (Here we must bear in mind that Joyce’s personal resistance to the dictation of Irish familism so so intense that his biographer Richard Ellmann - writing his introduction to James Joyce in 1959 - inadvertantly substituted ‘family’ for ‘language’ in the list of those three ‘nets’ that Stephen Dedalus promises to elude in A Portrait of the Artist.)

Post-colonialism, properly conceived, suggests an open approach to Joyce that allows for the best response to the facts of text and context. Yet -isms are only limited guides to works as complex as this author and the worlds that he inhabited in structure and significance. There is much in Joyce that both eludes liberal humanist and post-structuralist ways of thinking while supplying much to one or the other kind of reading. Joyce’s ‘medievalism’, which critics have often put aside as an unfortunate relic of his Irish Catholic (and, more specifically, Jesuit) education, is a case in point. This consisted in the incessant effort to make the intensely relative facts of reality and consciousness correspond in some large symbolic way to a unified image of reality. In view of an evident lack of engagement with this impulse, it is arguable that truly ‘Joycean’ criticism has never yet been attempted, though that may seem trivial in comparison with what has been achieved. Certainly, if truly Joycean criticism is to be written, it must be primarily grounded in the context of Irish literary history and the Irish cultural experience.

It has often said that the Joyce’s experimentalism placed him in the vanguard of anti-bourgeois thinking yet, if so, it also placed him in an anomalous yet fertile relation to contemporary Irish nationalism. Ironically, in the light of the divergent courses of James Joyce and the modern Irish nation, his art carries forward the cultural project of the revivalists vis-à-vis the English canon and the values that it supposedly embodies in a far more radical way than any of his Irish contemporaries in literature or in arms. Joyce effectively overcame that canon by ignoring it. He professed that he had ‘nothing to learn’ from the English novelists and made Flaubert and Ibsen his primary models. This did not signify an allegiance to one or other continental tradition so much as a commitment to what he called in 1904 ‘a process of mind as yet untabulated’, that is, an imaginative activity which disintegrates norms and standards in its attention to the sheer ‘whatness’ of experience and language.

The post-colonial concept of hybridity is the most accurate response to this as reflecting the essentially provisional methods of the writer, in this respect specially adapted to an intrinsically unstable reality in this respect perfectly adapted to a reality which is radically unstable which affords no easy foothold to the consensual style of the liberal conscience - hence Stephen Dedalus’s insistence on ‘the incertitude of the void’. Positioned on the periphery of a powerful cultural formation such as English national literature, Joyce was well placed to discover the endless fissuring of experience in its received versions and conventional forms. At the same time he disdained the concrete alternative of an essentially reactive ‘national’ ideal which preoccupied his Irish coevals as well as those who came after.

It was thus that Joyce differed from those Irish contemporaries who wrote the orthodoxy of the revival and especially its Irish-Ireland wing comprising the Gaelic League and Sinn Féin. Hence the double-aspect of his literary character: on the one hand he stands as a conservative exponent of the idea of literary value in the face of national chauvinism; on the other, he is more radical than any nationalist in dismembering the cultural hegemony upon which the colonial state is founded. That Joyce saw so deeply into the social, psychological and linguistic nexus that constituted the worlds (greater and lesser) into which he had been born was the measure of his intellect. That he constructed a literary universe which admits of trespass and benefaction, abasement and transcendence, individuality and comity, is the measure of his humane art. That he conceived and executed an entirely new form of writing in which waking and dreaming minds throw up an integral vision of the world as word is the measure of his genius.

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Select Bibliography
Samuel Beckett, et al., Our Exagmination round His Factification for an Incamination of Work in Progress (1929)
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  • David Spurr, Joyce and the Scene of Modernity (Florida UP 2002)
  • Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes, Joyce in Art (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2004)
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  • Eric Bulson, Cambridge Introduction to James Joyce (Cambridge UP 2006)
  • Finn Fordham, Lots of Fun at Finnegans Wake (Oxford: OUP 2007).

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