Reading Joyce Politicallyby Trevor L. Williams
"For most Joyce readers being Irish means being anti-British, anti-capitalist, anti-upper class, and occasionally even anti-clerical, so we need to be reminded just how political the concerns of Joyce’s characters really were. . . . [This] study goes a long way in debunking the old critical shibboleth, fostered by Joyce himself, that he was not a
"For most Joyce readers being Irish means being anti-British, anti-capitalist, anti-upper class, and occasionally even anti-clerical, so we need to be reminded just how political the concerns of Joyce’s characters really were. . . . [This] study goes a long way in debunking the old critical shibboleth, fostered by Joyce himself, that he was not a ‘political’ writer, a notion that his character/surrogate, Stephen Dedalus, belies with his pledge to write ‘the uncreated conscience of his race.’ "--Zack Bowen, University of Miami
"Provocative, wide-ranging, and gracefully written . . . glows with intelligence. It is the work of a socially responsible critic without a shred of showiness or self-indulgence. . . . I think this book will help change the way we read Joyce, for good."--R. Brandon Kershner, University of Florida
In the first book-length study of a "Marxist" Joyce, Trevor Williams takes as his starting point Joyce’s assertion that Dublin was a "paralysed city." He identifies those power structures within its civil society and private relationships--so clearly drawn by Joyce in Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses--that lie at the heart of that paralysis. More importantly, however, Williams shows how in Joyce the paralysis is always provisional, and explores the ways in which Joyce’s characters do indeed demonstrate means of resistance to the British state, to class distinctions, to clerical hegemony, and to power imbalances in familial and sexual relationships.
In the process, Williams reviews the early criticism leveled against Joyce by the left, in particular by the First Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934. He also engages contemporary Joyce critics, including Fredric Jameson, Franco Moretti, and Terry Eagleton, many of whom have attempted to redress the leftist attacks on Joyce and to demonstrate his relevance to a postcolonial critical approach.
Throughout, Williams asserts the constant need to make literature relevant. In part, this book was inspired by his students, who in 1991, at the outset of the Gulf War, demanded to know how they could justify reading Joyce when, simultaneously, people were being killed. Williams’s answer, formulated in the first chapter, is to argue that reading Joyce, who was keenly aware of the impact of unequal power relations, is not only justifiable but relevant, legitimate, and necessary.
Unusually free of the dogmatism and economism so frequently associated with Marxist literary criticism, Williams’s reading of Joyce draws from the "humanist" tradition of Marxism and from contemporary feminist theory in what is ultimately a blend of provocative theory and close textual reading. It will be of interest to Joyceans, literary theorists, and anyone who still believes that to read Joyce is not only justifiable but relevant, legitimate, and necessary.
Trevor L. Williams is professor of English at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, and the author of numerous articles on Joyce’s work.
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