The Cracked Lookingglass: James Joyce and the Nightmare of History
There are basic problems, and if we can't solve them we should hold off on theorizing. To begin at the beginning, what was Father Flynn's "great wish" for the boy in "The Sisters"? The uncle thinks he knows, but is he right? Can we be sure? How? And how about the beginning and end of "An Encounter"? How do they fit together? What is the specific import to the boy in "Araby" of the shards of conversation between the salesgirl and the Britishers? Can we (or Eveline) be certain of Frank's motives in her story? If not, what relevance do they have? And how in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man do Stephen's use and understanding of art evolve? In what crucial respects do they fall short of the understanding a careful reader of the novel can attain? What in Ulysses does Buck Mulligan have in mind when he demands "twopence for a pint" (of what!)? And in what ways are Bloom's ruminations about things like "mity cheese" that "digests all but itself" and saltwater fish ("Why is it that [they] are not...") crucial to the novel?
There are bigger questions. What roles do all the accidental occurrences play? Do they heighten or diminish causality and probability? What are the functions of allusion and stylistic experimentation? Is/are there any overriding significance/s to the whole? Is there a didactic component in Joyce's writing? If so, is the didactic element a flaw in his art? What is the relationship between art and instruction--in Joyce and in general? Is good didactic art a contradiction in terms?
These latter questions are enticing, but to speculate, theorize, deconstruct, or decontextualize Joyce's works with regard to them without a firm understanding, and perhaps even answers to, the vital though sometimes seemingly trivial former questions is to abrogate critical responsibility and relinquish what one of the formative giants of the twentieth century has to say to us. When relevant, the former are almost always answerable, and the mundane answers, often surprising, are frequently crucial not only for answering the latter questions but for fresh insight into both Joyce's world and our own.
By mapping routes to the revelations such mundane "facts" yield, The Cracked Lookingglass establishes a firm base for future interpretations of Joyce's stories from Dubliners through Ulysses. It approaches his works as "fictional histories," grounding its "examplary" readings in relationships among the underlying facts of Joyce's created worlds. The study presents both a method of inquiry and, as examples of its fruit, some of the ways in which the apparent undiscoverables of Joyce's fiction disclose new and indisputable insights into his characters and stories, and through them our world. The approach opens avenues of access to the depths of Dubliners; to the assessments of art, religion, and human relationships in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; to the necessitous underpinnings of Joyce's experimentation in Ulysses, the ground and justification of his uses of "psychocasual chance," the "mythical method," and the seemingly gratuitous stylistic experiments that mirror our lives and suggest new directions for them.
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