JOYCE'S VOICES by Hugh Kenner
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No living critic writing English is quite so supple as Hugh Kenner; here he's described a beautiful loop-the-loop that Stands Ulysses on its head in order that we See it rightly. Threading together Swift, Flaubert, and Joyce, Kenner follows the growth of objectivity in fictional narration through Gulliver's empiricism (""aware of nothing but incremental evidence""), into the devastating factualism that empties out every inch of Charles Bovary, and, finally, to Joyce's stories in Dubliners where ""the narrative idiom need not be the narrator's"" but depends on the personality--""the gravitational field""--of the character being written about. ""Writing fiction,"" Kenner argues, Joyce ""played parts and referred stylistic decisions to the taste of the person he was playing."" By the time Joyce gets to Ulysses, the technique has been refined to allow for a double narrator: one who tells what's going on, and another--""periphrastic, verbose""--whose traffic in clichÉ makes for ""instant myth."" So far so good. Then Kenner surprises. The last four episodes of Ulysses are ""simply, elaborately wrong. . . perverse."" By refusing the reader a narrative handle, Joyce succumbs to the Irish penchant for Pyrrhonism: ""that no one at bottom knows what he is talking about because there is nothing to know except the talk."" Kenner's analysis here is scathingly acute; with his justly renowned wide-angle and cross-cultural lens, he takes in Irish politics and even Irish public sculpture to illustrate the national cynicism and the retreat into style that Ulysses exemplifies ""as though the Royal Mint had been commandeered by the Artful Dodger."" But Kenner isn't done. By being ""elaborately wrong,"" Joyce, it's argued, refuses a ""right"" view of reality, and hence avoids the search for the ""one true sentence"" that hampers Hemingway, the quest for perfection which an author must perforce miss. Joyce avoids it by sidestepping, by writing a book that's ""beyond objectivity""--which is the way we ought also to read it. With the exception of some strained Homer-Joyce paralleling near the end, Kenner's little book is graceful and truly pleasurable.

Pub Date: March 27th, 1978
ISBN: 1564784282
Publisher: Univ. of California Press