John Paul RIQUELME. 1983. Teller and Tale in Joyce's Fiction.
Oscillating Perspectives. Baltimore and London. The Johns
Hopkins University Press. 270 pp.
(This book Review by C. George SANDULESCU (Monaco) was published in Études Irlandaises, December 1985, No. 10 Nouvelle Série, pages 321-324. Université de Lille III, "Pont de bois", B.P. 149, F-59653 Villeneuve d'Asq, France.)
The central concept in Riquelme's study -- in addition, of course, to the TELLER & TALE correlation -- and complementary to it, is that of Oscillating Perspective, which occurs evenly and persistently throughout. From it derive quite a few other subsidiary constructs,such as ambiguity, ambivalence, coalescence, fusion, metalepsis, reversal, etc. (SEE The Index).
Chapter One, alliteratively entitled "Twists of the Teller's Tale: Finnegans Wake", opens up with the superb epigraph "No longer the artist, he has himself become a work of art", which is a quotation from Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy. Incidentally, there is a plethora of epigraphs throughout, which with the passing of pages begin to weigh heavy upon the reader -- with two, or even three (the flyleaf ! ) of them at the beginning of every chapter, or subchapter.
Taken as a whole, the book is quite explicit: though overresorting to a few holdall terms, such as style, context, etc., the text is indeed self-explanatory. Thus, it is carefully pointed out that --
Joyce provides the reader in various ways with the means for
achieving [...] a viewpoint for reading that vacillates between
mutually defining poles, just as our perception of the relation
between figure and ground in some optical illusions may shift.
It is precisely there that lies the great merit of the book -- in its ability to draw parallels and establish analogies with a fairly wide range of exact sciences, such as mathematics, physics, and even present-day linguistics, to say nothing of the psychology of artistic perception. The first six Figures occurring in the text (pages 12 and 27), for instance, acquaint the reader with Möbius-strip research, on the basis of information largely derived from a 1968 issue of Scientific American -- a most respectable source . . . Then in Figure 7 (page 41), significantly captioned "Rabbit or duck ?", and borrowed from E. H. Gombrich's Art and Illusion (1960), the author makes a fundamental point:
As so often in the Wake, we find one story nesting within the
language of another. The result of the superimposition resembles
the relationship of figure to ground in some optical illusions or the
seemingly double image in the drawing of duck and rabbit . . .
In fact, it is worth pointing out from the start that though discussing the WHOLE of Joyce's prose work, the study goes flagrantly against traditional chronological practice, and starts with Finnegans Wake, the very last item of Joyce's literary productions: for it is the micro- and macro-structures of that particular book that are that are discussed within the frame of reference of Möbean geometry:
in reading the Wake our movement forward is always a moving
back toward our origin, which we may reach unexpectedly, and
the movement involves a fluctuation of orientations, an
oscillating of perspectives. (page 26)
The discussion of the Wake is by far the most valuable analysis of all Joyce's works considered here, particularly so the FW data analysis derived from the plain Bérard-originating statement "Odysseus was not a Greek, but a Phoenician" (page 31). Passing from the Wake to A Portrait and then plunging even further into the more rugged areas of Stephen Hero (which comes afterwards !) proves to be a quite bathetic experience. It is at that point that the perceptive reader may start thinking that the FW opening gambit may have been a near-fatal mistake on the part of the author: the book will be mainly remembered for its first fifty pages, which are quite, quite remarkable. In essence, one tends to get the clear impression that the critic would have done well to draw the line at Finnegans Wake . . . For in spite of his strenuous efforts to find common denominators to Joyce's narrative procedures everywhere under the blanket term of the above outlined yo-yo perspectivism, Riquelme goes far too far, far too quickly: again, in spite of his quite remarkable qualities as an analyst, he achieves the astonishing feat, quite paradoxical in itself, of giving the impression, when all is said and done, of remaining to a large extent on the surface, and not touching the real essence of the issue. This unwanted effect is basically due to two distinct reasons: on the one hand, Joyce's individual literary pieces are so widely different -- "style" in one is NOT "style" in another -- that they cannot possibly be bracketed together for symmetric discussion, precisely as Riquelme does, without a lot more elaborate theoretical preliminaries (than Riquelme himself ever dreams of). On the other hand, the theoretical instruments required for one work may not be at all suitable in the analysis of another: whereas a plain spade may be enough for one work (say, Stephen Hero), the electronic microscope may become the imperative analytic tool for another.
However, from among the outstanding merits of this remarkable book, I would like to point to the following: first, it provides a text-oriented approach of the best quality to the whole of Joyce; secondly, the author never rambles into unnecessary remarks: he always remains supremely relevant. The reader discovers with amazement a vast amount of converging evidence, particularly on the topic of books, writing and printing, which is interpreted as fundamental subject-matter for the whole of Joyce:
printing terms become primary metaphors as well as literal
descriptions for the making of his books. (page 18)
Last but not least, and particularly in this Gablerian day and age of so-called genetic research, manuscript evolution and diachronic text, I am quite relieved to see that John Paul Riquelme's approach is very sane and solid: for him -- the text is the text is the text. No manuscript frills or other pretences ! And this is no trivial detail: it is a major prerequisite of the analysis, allowing him, as it does, to make such a wide range of theoretical statements.
The demerits of the book are trivial by comparison. There is sometimes a tendency to overanalyse, for instance in the Edgar Poe discussion (pages 30ff). Derived from it, there is also the danger of occasional exaggeration with touches of semantic indeterminacy (e. g. on partnership, page 35); on thought into language, page 73); on the teller's language, page 195, etc.). It is a real pity that the book carries no full-fledged bibliography at end of volume (for further analysis !) from entangled notes and an incomplete index . . .
It is a pity again that the numerals discussed in the text ("Joyce was without doubt aware of the allusive potential of these numbers" (page 31)) -- especially the significance of 3, 4, and 8 (page 97), the inherent implications of 12 (page 37), the associations behind 6, 18, and 24 (page 31), of 17 (page 98), of 19 (pages 40, 53, 98) and finally 20 (page 183) -- did NOT find their way into the Index. For such and other valuable information the conscientious reader sees himself obliged to start drafting his own index (as I incipiently did in the above lines). One standard linguistic notion -- that of idiolect -- is grossly misspelt as "ideolect" (even in the index !), though it occurs in its correct form at least once, on page 89, an instance which -- quite paradoxically -- is NOT taken up in the index . . . In fact, for such a prestige publishing place as Johns Hopkins, there are far too many misspellings and misprints: langauge (page 33), consiousness (page 54, chaps for chops (page 56), and lead for led (page 64).
In spite of these minor points, Riquelme's book should certainly be hailed as one of the major achievements of the year in Joyce studies. With minor formal corrections, it might stand, at least the first fifty pages of it, as a book of reference and source of inspiration -- e. g. the Möbius strip geometry -- for future research.