- James Joyce by Patrick Parrinder
Cambridge, 262 pp, £20.00, November 1984, ISBN 0 521 24014 X
- James Joyce and Sexuality by Richard Brown
Cambridge, 216 pp, £19.50, March 1985, ISBN 0 521 24811 6
- Joyce’s Dislocutions: Essays on Reading as Translation by Fritz Senn, edited by John Paul Riquelme
Johns Hopkins, 225 pp, £22.20, December 1984, ISBN 0 8018 3135 0
- Post-Structuralist Joyce: Essays from the French edited by Derek Attridge and Daniel Ferrer
Cambridge, 162 pp, £20.00, January 1985, ISBN 0 521 26636 X
Patience is a mark of the classic, according to Frank Kermode. ‘King Lear, underlying a thousand dispositions, subsists in change, prevails, by being patient of interpretation.’ It follows that a work of art is not a classic if it insists, apparently, on being read in one way. By that criterion, Ulysses would appear to be a classic. Joyce relentlessly explicated it, and gave his fans the authorised version of its structure, but the user’s manual doesn’t limit the ways in which the book may be read. Nothing said about Ulysses seems to spoil it. But Finnegans Wake lacks this imperturbability: it seems to demand to be read in one way, and nobody knows what the way is. Obstinate rather than patient, it holds out against every effort of good will. Nothing Joyce said about it is much help.
Patrick Parrinder’s book is a fairly straightforward introduction to Joyce, based on two congenially related emphases. The first is that Joyce’s work as a whole, and Ulysses in particular, feature ‘a poetics of the body’. In a letter of 1921, Joyce told Frank Budgen:
Penelope is the clou of the book ... It begins and ends with the female word yes. It turns like the huge earth ball slowly surely and evenly round and round spinning, its four cardinal points being the female breasts, arse, womb and cunt expressed by the words because, bottom (in all senses bottom button, bottom of the class, bottom of the sea, bottom of his heart), woman, yes ... Ich bin der Fleisch der stets bejaht.
I am the flesh that always affirms: Parrinder happily takes Joyce’s word for that sentiment. ‘The central subject of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake,’ he maintains, ‘is the celebration not of artistic but of ordinary human fecundity.’ I don’t see that one excludes the other.
Parrinder’s second notion is that the poetics of the body is mostly seen in the carnival and grotesquerie that Joyce shares with Rabelais. Bakhtin is the main authority for this emphasis, but Parrinder uses him misleadingly, I think. In Rabelais and his World, Bakhtin describes Medieval and Renaissance carnival as a social practice, performed beyond the pale of the authority it mocked: it thought of itself as the nature nearly suppressed by culture. The ‘Circe’ chapter in Ulysses, which gives Parrinder most of his evidence, is quite a different thing, it doesn’t imply a social practice which it offers to articulate. So it is misleading to say that Bloom is a Lord of Misrule, as if the phrase referred to a social or public role he could be said to play.
Putting these two ideas together, Parrinder reads Ulysses as a realistic novel, complete with characters and plot. He thinks Bloom a pretty solid citizen – ‘No artist has paid a greater tribute to bourgeois man than did Joyce in the creation of Bloom’ – and presents him looking forward to a peaceful and prosperous future ‘in which Western bourgeois civilisation has been tempered with a mild dose of international socialism’. Like many other critics, Parrinder makes Bloom sound older than his 38 years – he refers to his ‘time of life’ as if he were nearly over the hill. His account of Molly Bloom gives her several more lovers than the book by my reading, indicates, unless he means her admirers. Sometimes his commentary sounds like the report of a Marriage Guidance Counsellor – ‘He and Molly must face their problems of sexual adjustment as solitary individuals cut off, to a great extent, from the social continuities around them’ – and while he thinks the marriage can be saved, he recommends prudence on both sides.
He surrounds the book with standard affiliations – Vico, The Master Builder, a bit of Freud – and he reasserts the bearing of carnival and riot. ‘Finnegans Wake exhibits the grotesque body through mythology, totemism and pornographic fantasy.’ But in the end he shakes his head and thinks the book ‘an experiment which may, at some points, have gone astray’. I don’t think Parrinder would claim that his reading of the Wake is especially new, but on Joyce’s work as a whole, he is vigorously interesting and helpful.
Vol. 7 No. 9 · 23 May 1985
SIR: Denis Donoghue has taken the part for the whole in saying that I read Ulysses as a ‘realistic novel, complete with characters and plot’ (LRB, 18 April). In fact, as stated in the preface to my James Joyce, I specifically avoided using the term ‘novel’ to describe Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Ulysses does have characters, and a plot based on the Odyssey – who ever doubted that? – but my chapter from which Donoghue’s citations are taken is part of a polyphonic reading of the book, examining its generic status and some of its stylistic and symbolic structures. Donoghue himself seems committed to an oversimplified realistic reading when he suggests I have exaggerated the number of Molly’s lovers. I was careful to speak of Molly’s ‘ideal list’ of lovers, and the sentence to which Donoghue must be referring reads as follows: ‘The life-story she tells herself (the mature equivalent of Gerty’s dream of dark strangers) consists of an apostolic succession of lovers: Mulvey, Bloom, Gardner, Boylan, and (should the opportunity arise) Stephen Dedalus.’ Molly doesn’t claim to have had full sexual intercourse with Mulvey and Gardner, but she describes sexual activity with both men. In any case, her list should not be confused with the 25 supposed admirers (excluding Gardner) named by the catechist in the ‘Ithaca’ episode. The 25 I take to be a reflection or refraction of Bloom’s darkest suspicions.
A broader issue that Donoghue raises is whether the analysis of carnival and grotesquerie in Bakhtin’s study of Rabelais is really applicable to Joyce. It is true that the Medieval and Renaissance carnival was a public performance, whereas Bloom’s adventures as Lord of Misrule are offered as expressionist fantasy, reproducing the privatisation of modern life. But the ‘Circe’ episode of Ulysses implies the practice of popular drama as found in the pantomime and the music hall and (by extension) in the brothel, the courtroom and the séance. Elsewhere Joyce draws extensively on written ephemera such as newspapers, advertising slogans, sentimental fiction and pornography. His appetite for urban popular culture and its adulterated languages seems to be strictly comparable to Rabelais’s interest, as Bakhtin reconstructs it, in the Renaissance carnival; indeed, my response to reading Bakhtin was to wonder if he had not been writing (in Aesopian language) a contribution to the understanding of Joyce’s type of Modernism. But to view both Renaissance carnival and modern entertainment as forms of social licence which can then be cannibalised, as it were, in a certain type of high literature is not to deny the reality of historical and cultural change.
Vol. 7 No. 11 · 20 June 1985
SIR: The discussion between Denis Donoghue (LRB, 18 April) and Patrick Parrinder (Letters, 23 May) in your pages concerning the actual or virtual adulteries of Molly Bloom is a complex and interesting one that has recurred in criticism of Ulysses over many years. I tried to explain this recurring disagreement in my book James Joyce and Sexuality, reviewed by Donoghue along with Parrinder’s book. Since Professor Donoghue wrote that the word ‘infidelity’ had some ‘occult meaning’ in those parts of my study in which I treat these questions, I feel that I ought to offer the following by way of clarification.
As I see it, the character of Molly’s relationship with her so-called admirers is made deliberately uncertain in Ulysses and for good reasons. From the list in ‘Ithaca’ it is possible to distinguish clearly between Molly’s past boyfriends (like Mulvey), Bloom’s rivals for her hand (John Henry Menton) and such casually encountered figures as the ‘farmer at the Royal Dublin Society’s Horse Show’. Even in Molly’s affair with Blazes Boylan, where a full, adulterous sexual act might seem unequivocally to have taken place, Joyce punctiliously describes a contraceptive intent and practice that makes it incomplete in the strictest casuistical sense. William Empson was, of course, quite right to add Stephen Dedalus to the list of so-called lovers. When is an adulterous sexual act, an adulterous sexual act and when is it not? That is the riddle that Joyce’s presentation of the sexual lives of Leopold and Molly Bloom in Ulysses seems to pose and it is surely posed as a deliberate affront to the church morality that needed to distinguish precisely between such acts in order to build an unwieldy edifice of matrimonial law.
Narrow definitions of infidelity are conspicuously broadened in the situations Joyce chose to fictionalise and it is for this reason that I feel justified in talking of Gabriel’s concern over his wife’s ‘infidelities’ in the way that puzzled Donoghue in his review of my book. It is not quite good enough to say that insignificant incidents are blown up into full-scale adulteries by Bloom’s ‘darkest suspicions’, as Parrinder says in his letter. It is in situations presented outside of the refracting consciousness of individual characters that such issues seem to crop up in Ulysses and elsewhere in Joyce’s oeuvre. Neither Parrinder nor Donoghue will need to be reminded of the relevance here of Exiles, which investigates Richard Rowan’s jealousy (or rather his lack of it) so intently, whilst deliberately obscuring from the audience the nature of any act that took place between Robert and Bertha about which Richard might conventionally be jealous. I should add that an analogous broadening of definitions underpins my discussions of onanism as pertaining to Joyce, which also seemed to give Professor Donoghue some trouble. Rather than offer an explanation here. I would respectfully refer your readers to the relevant chapters of my book where these questions and others are aired in full.
University of Leeds