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Gestural Politics by Christy Burns

Thursday, September 17, 2009; 01:44 am Leave a comment Go to comments

Christy Burns’ Gestural Politics addresses Joyce’s portrayal of women, homosexuals, and Irish nationalism. Burns covers all of Joyce’s writing in her analysis, but focuses mainly on Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake. In the introductions, Burns states her aim for the book when she says, “I am here proposing to re-open the question of Joyce’s textual politics, focusing particularly on an ambivalent gesture in his works that moves between conscious artistic intentions and unconscious desires, between social commentary and pleasurable diversion, between ambitious universals and humorous disruption of their more arrogant claims” (1). As Burns delves deeper into her goals, it becomes clear that she believes that much of the negative criticism of Joyce is caused by misinterpretation. More specifically, Burns argues that many of the believed stereotypical comments in Joyce’s writing are actually Joyce mocking the stereotypes. Additionally, Burns includes some analysis of Joyce’s use of humor from his various writings throughout the book.
Gestural Politics is split up into five main sections. The first section discusses Joyce’s use of parody and how it can possibly be misconstrued as stereotyping. The next two sections cover Joyce’s treatment of women and homosexuals in his writing. Then Burns looks at Joyce’s complex handling of the Irish; Burns argues that this complexity results from Joyce’s conflicting feelings towards his homeland. In the final section, Burns examines how, through parody, Joyce is able to create characters that are “both generally recognizable while locally particularized” (142). However, this final section concentrates primarily on Finnegans Wake, and therefore may contain points that do not carry over to the study of Ulysses.
Overall, Gestural Politics can be useful to anyone looking to explore Joyce’s stereotypes, or his use of parody and humor. Burns offers a unique and challenging voice on these topics that will most likely differ from much of the other literature covering these popular aspects of Joyce’s work.

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