1985. Book Review: Derek ATTRIDGE & D. FERRER.eds.1984. Post-Structuralist Joyce.
By C. George SANDULESCU, Monaco.
(This book Review by C. George SANDULESCU (Monaco) was published in Études Irlandaises, December 1985, No. 10 Nouvelle Série, pages 315-317. Université de Lille III, "Pont de bois", B.P. 149, F-59653 Villeneuve d'Asq, France.)
Derek ATTRIDGE & D. FERRER.eds.1984. Post-Structuralist Joyce.
Essays from the French. Cambridge U. P. 162pp.
There are at least two basic kinds of structuralism -- the inclusive and the exclusive, i. e. structuralism-us, or structuralism proper, and structuralism-them, or post-structuralism. The latter variety has appeared and developed within the theory of present-day literary criticism, coming from the more integrated discipline of contemporary theoretical linguistics. For it was N. Chomsky first in 1957, and then more extensively in 1965, who rejected the structuralism of Ferdinand de Saussure (by retaining some of Saussure's constructs under modified labels), and then in 1968 taking his distances from the structuralism propounded in phonology by Roman Jakobson of Harvard & MIT.
In short, the later variety of the trend preserves some of the tenets, notably the rigour of the method, concurrently imposing dynamism (cf. "generative"), or other pragmatic factors (cf. "reader-orientation", phenomenology, hermeneutics, etc) upon the initial approach.
The book under scrutiny is a collection of seven articles, most of them published in French in the early and mid-seventies in the Paris literary journals Poétique (three articles), Tel Quel (one article), and Change (one article). Jacques Derrida's 1982 Centenary talk at the Centre Pompidou, concluding the volume, and coEditor Ferrer's own contribution have not been previously published, but are to be issued in French in Cahiers de l'Herne. Further, Hélène Cixous's contribution was later turned into one of the chapters of her book Prénoms de personne (1975). These seven research papers are preceded by a comprehensive Introduction by the two Editors, significantly entitled "Highly continental evenements" -- a quotation from Finnegans Wake; this opening text has the manifesto ring of an excellent retrospective programmatic document about it. Not only that it provides a synthesis of past and present institurionalized (under the umbrella of the US Joyce Foundation) and non-institutionalized research on Joyce, but also, which is perhaps more important, places post-structuralism in close relationship to structuralism proper, and outlines their independent and inter-dependent specificities. The theoretical stance of post-structuralism has, viewed in retrospect, developed as a form of dissatisfaction with what was going on in the English-speaking world. The revolutionizing tendency is obvious in the following:
the time has come to take the full measure of [Joyce's] literary
revolution -- to produce Joyce's texts in a way designed to
challenge rather than comfort, to antagonize instead of assimilate. (p.7)
The dissatisfaction with critical work in Britain and the United States and Canada is also made quite explicit:
... in France in the late 1960s and 1970s Joyce's work provided a
a crucial impetus and focus for radical and widely influential shifts in
literary theory and criticism, while in Britain and North America writing
on Joyce remained virtually untouched by these intellectual changes,
even when their effects were being felt in many less obviously
appropriate areas of literary studies. (p. 8)
Then the tone becomes gradually more firm when the retrospective situations in Britain and Ireland are being considered:
... the British academic establishment has proved to be even less
responsive to shifts in European thought than its North American
Dublin remains a very long way from Paris (p. 9) !
What is the real essence of the "radically new approach" (or rather variety of new approaches) ? Here is the answer to this question that the Editors provide in their Introduction:
there is no metalanguage, there is no possible application of a theory to
a text; [...] it is impossible to exert any mastery over [the text] [...]
The aim is not to produce a reading of this intractable text, [...] but on
the contrary to confront its unreadability.
Further, the aim is --
not to produce an indefinite accumulation of meanings, [...] not to
explore the psychological depths, [...] and finally [...] not to reconstruct
the world presented by the text, but to follow up within it the strategies
that attempt a deconstruction of representation. (p.10)
The Introduction ends on a very optimistic note: first, there is the feeling of "a certain programmatic enthusiasm" very much in the air; then, there is the firm conviction that "these essays have not been superseded in any way", more particularly so as the earliest one is full fifteen years old.
Reading the seven essays one must bear in mind that they are translations, and as such, different conditions of acceptance of discourse may apply. For instance, Jacques Aubert's study, entitled quite simply "riverrun", is very easy to go through; at the other end of the scale, obviously, there is Jacques Derrida's "Two Words for Joyce". This last contribution lies far above the average level of difficulty, and this is probably so for two major reasons: the first is that Derrida's work as a whole is largely untranslatable, and this, his first article on Joyce all the more so. Not only that the lecture in question was given in near-untranslatable French, as Notes 2, 3, 9, 11, 12, 14, 15 painfully testify, but also because the original version takes up Philippe Lavergne's Wake, not Joyce's. The other reason of variable (or diminished) readability lies in the fact that all contributors without exception -- even Aubert (cf. plethora of Translator's Notes 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, but particularly 8) and all the more so H. Cixous and J.Derrida -- do pun in their own text while commenting Joyce's own punning. And it must be conceded that the Critics do match the Master. Then the difficulty is quantitatively enhanced by the fact that Derrida's contribution implicitly asks the reader to be familiar with the philosopher's earlier works, such as La carte postale, Introduction to the Origin of Geometry, "Scribble", etc.
But to return to the other contributors. Hélène Cixous focuses exclusively upon the story "The Sisters" for which she provides an updated "explication de texte" from the theoretical angle of vision of "writing governed by ruse". Stephen Heath's article (originally written in French) is more general: he examines the whole of Joyce in terms of strategies of hesitation, and inter-text; he then goes on to establish a spiral rhetoric of parody, pastiche, plagiarism, and forgery, originating in myth and scribenery. Jean-Michel Rabaté comes closest to theoretical linguistics by opening up with a discussion analogous to Chomsky's Turing machines of 1957, before going on into an application of of performatives to Finnegans Wake; the whole is rounded up by an incursion into (mathematical) topology (read: "tropology").
In his study of intertextuality, André Topia deals with the status of the quotation, relating it to Joyce's idiosyncratic subversive variation; in the end he obtains the valuable constructs of a matrix pitched against its echo, singular or plural. D. Ferrer deals exclusively with Circe. The whole volume eludes summary and transcends compression: it makes stimulating reading, though not easy.