Friday, September 7, 2007

Ulysses: En-Gendered Perspectives: Review

Posted on Amazon US today. Yeah, I know, the title makes it sound either intriguing or boring. Following Clive Hart & David Hayman's often dull "James Joyce's Ulysses: Critical Essays" (1974), this 1999 collection follows suit a quarter-century later with feminist, queer, performative, colonialist, familial, gustatory, and consuming modes supplanting earlier psychoanalytical, historical, and textual scholarship. I cannot say I found more pleasure in the po-mo sequel, ed. by Kimberly Devlin & Marilyn Reizbaum, but neither did I waste my time.

The contributors are major scholars; some featured in a complementary essay collection devoted to "Penelope," Richard Pearce's edition of "Molly Blooms" five years earlier (also reviewed by me on Amazon & this blog last month). Garry Leonard takes on mockery, heresy and those troublesome white corpuscles in a typically thoughtful essay on "Telemachus," Robert Spoo examines genderized history in "Nestor," Cheryl Herr excavates "women's ways of knowing" from what's been deemed old wives' tales of discovery in "Proteus." Gynecology (male) vs. midwifery (female) takes a dichotomy in the chapter and shows how this epistemological distinction separates "patristic knowledge" from the marginalized tales of milkmaids and their croned cronies. Given these are Stephen's chapters, scholars have considerable ingenuity to test their theories on what seems unpromising material, but all diligently unearth much-- this being Joyce's inexhaustible work-- to back up what are generally sound, if unsurprising and commonsensical (such is the skill of veteran critics) conclusions about the author striving to further his modernist rebellion while being a prisoner of his early 20c mindset. Logical enough times three.

Carol Schloss looks at what many scholars have peered into, Milly & the Mullingar photo shoo, for "Calypso." Maud Ellmann takes what many would see as a mere factoid, that of skin disease, and builds a reading of "Lotus-Eaters"; Devlin dismantles the en-gendering of death in "Hades." Patrick McGee's wise virgins hum industriously in "Aeolus," Karen Lawrence differentiates legal from pulp fiction in the mastications of "Lestrygonians," Joseph Valente in characteristic fashion goes on too long compared to his peers in navigating "perils of masculinity" in "Scylla & Charybdis," and pioneering Joyce feminist Bonnie Kime Scott takes a similar course to chart "diversions from mastery" amidst "Wandering Rocks." With the exception of Valente's overstuffed essay, I found these entries again solid, if largely stolid.

Jules Law on "Political Sirens" ambitiously traps the male gaze and the female contempt for such; Reizbaum adopts her book on the "Judaic Other" to study "Cyclops"; John Bishop takes apart "a metaphysics of coitus" into the coupling forms and aspired contents of "Nausicaa" Enda Duffy takes his book on subalterns and colonialism into condensed and therefore rather overwhelmingly dense analyses of that formidable text "Oxen"; Margot Norris on "Circe" manages to compress a series of vignettes on critical issues into her overview of "Circe." It's shorter than I anticipated, and does not exactly flow from sub-topics set out, but in a manner suited to the form of the chapter Norris brings up an array of valuable observations.

Colleen Lamos has published elsewhere on Joyce and queer theory, like Vicki Mahaffey. Here they take on respectively "Eumaeus" & "Ithaca," and given the challenges these chapters offer, emerge with respectable reactions to doubling and panic that build on contemporary peers in erudite and often inventive fashion suited to these far-ranging fictional texts. Christine van Boheemen's "Penelope" thoughts remind me of Norris' approach-- given the richness of such chapters, both scholars choose to offer a judicious sampling of perspectives rather than attempt a comprehensive reading that would require far lengthier room to roam within.

So, this summarizes much of what has replaced the types of criticism, often male-dominated, in the Hart & Hayman anthology. The attention given women, queer theory, labor, domesticity, and perception attest to the interest in the social construct of the body, the fringe categories, and the inverted presences which preoccupy many recent critics. One wonders in another quarter-century what new issues will excite Joyceans who will further research gathered here, as the cycle moves on.

(Blog image: Fionnula Flanagan's 1985 video "James Joyce's Women")

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