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A Companion to James Joyce’s Ulysses

Wednesday, September 16, 2009; 08:57 pm Leave a comment Go to comments

A Companion to James Joyce’s Ulysses
Editor: Margot Norris
Series editor: Ross Murfin
The avowed purpose of this installment in Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism is two-fold: first of all, to provide students with “an avenue into the novel” as well as to explore Ulysses through five critical approaches, Deconstruction, Reader-Response, Feminist and Gender, Psychoanalysis, and Marxist (back cover). Thus, the primary emphasis of the work appears to be an introduction to critical theory directed towards possible interpretations of Joyce’s text, samples of lenses through which to view Ulysses.
The introduction, compiled by editor Margot Norris, admits from the onset the difficulty of divorcing Joyce’s life from his works and vice versa. The biographical section juxtaposes Joyce’s childhood marred by little money and his perennial difficulties with being published with his eventual, some would consider monumental, success. The examination of the Critical History of Ulysses begins with a lengthy discussion of the interplay between Homer’s Odyssey and Joyce’s text. From there, Norris moves chronologically from contemporaries of Joyce up to criticism in the early nineties. A thread which weaves its way throughout A Companion is the idea that Ulysses is a “poetic chameleon” which can be adapted to any mode of critical analysis (31). Along the way, key theoretical stops include analysis of “poetic craft,” absences and silences, “avant-garde linguistic experiments,” style, and politics, culminating on a interdisciplinary note, emphasizing the current trend in producing aids for reading and teaching Joyce (30-4).
The remainder of the book elaborates on five different theoretical methods of looking a Ulysses. The first, Deconstruction, argues for the “undecidability of meaning for all texts” as the article by Derrida, the father of deconstruction, posits that Ulysses is “an unaddressed postcard” allowing any reader to follow any path through the text (62, 241). Appropriately named Reader-Response Criticism examines the outward Homeric parallels that blend with the inward personal lives and experiences of the characters from the point of view of the reader. Feminist and Gender Critique examine Stephen and Bloom as challenging the traditional view of the hero, while the Psychoanalytic approach discusses the “auditory and optical mnemic residue” or memory traces which exist in connection to Bloom’s experience of the name Mary (179). Finally, Marxist Criticism views literary works as “material products” with “historical contexts,” analyzing Joyce’s work as “collapsing the boundary between personal and social” in its discussion of everything from “family secrets to bodily functions” (214).

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