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Jahn, Manfred. 1992b.

"Postmodernists at Work on Joyce". James Joyce Quarterly 29.4: 838840.


Two major assumptions that guide Michael Gillespie's approach in Reading the Book
of Himself[1] are (1) that "each work in Joyce's canon invites and sustains a range of
valid but provisional readings" (p. 2); and (2) that Joyce's use of free indirect
discourse [hereafter FID] serves as a generator of such readings.
If readings are only "provisional" then the suggestion, indeed the likelihood, is that
they may one day turn out to be false. A reading that is possible, valid and sustained in
1971, may no longer be so in 1991. This is how "our postmodernist conditioning" (p.
1) provides an escape from the trammels of a linear system of logic and literature.
Plausibly enough, too: we understand why we thought so then, but we do not think so
now, and shall think something else again tomorrow.
Consequently we are occasionally split into two personae: a tolerant, conciliatory,
"both/and" self such as the one that proclaims assumption (1), above, and a more
critical and selective self that, if need be, discards readings, like the "initial response
to Portrait" (p. 81), on the grounds of, for instance, "growing critical sophistication",
a self that refuses to embrace "all idiosyncratic views as equal" (p. 4). In concert,
these two voices sometimes chime like this: "Riquelme's reading [of P] represses
important distinctions which, when taken [End of p. 838] into account, can lead to the
production of equally valid texts" (p. 92). But what an odd statement! Since Gillespie
imputes serious shortcomings to Riquelme's reading, the concluding words should
have been either "equally invalid texts" or else "more valid texts". The word "valid"
itself means little in this context; perhaps we should make a clean breast of it and
proceed from the unqualified, totally provisional status of our readings.
It is even more difficult to accept Gillespie's second assumption. Although FID
purportedly provides most of the grist to his mill, the technicalities and the scope of
the technique are simply taken for granted. There is a most unilluminating one-and-ahalf page appendix on FID, roughly based on McHale,[2] but the main reference
appears to be Bally,[3] a seven-page article of 1912. The "illustrative examples"
which Gillespie lists present a mixture of FID, narrative report, indirect speech and
quoted thought. He remarks that FID "has held the interest of linguists for most of this
century" (p. 12), but he reports no findings and makes no mention of the FID war that
has raged over Ann Banfield's approach.[4] Gillespie uses the term itself, adopted "for
the sake of clarity" (p. 238), without noting its inadequacies or reflecting what is
"free", "indirect" and "discourse" about FID. To complicate matters, Gillespie opposes
"free" to "narrator-bound indirect discourse" (p. 53), unwittingly upsetting the dualvoice hypothesis of FID, itself dubious, but essential to his own approach. The "free"
in FID is usually already taken to mean either "without inquit" (thinkquit) or
"grammatically free/non-subordinate". A multiplicity of readings on the part of
theorists, so welcome in literary texts, has infected and seriously damaged the critical
vocabulary.

Discussing the progress from SH to P, Gillespie offers an arresting close reading of


the FID section that follows Stephen's extemporaneous composition of the ivy poem
("The ivy whines upon the wall ...") in chapter 5 of P:
Did any one ever hear such drivel? Lord Almighty! Who ever heard of ivy
whining on a wall? Yellow ivy: That was all right. Yellow ivory also. And
what about ivory ivy? (P, 179)

This is an "open-ended" comment, Gillespie states (p. 53), which leaves to the reader
"the choice of identifying the source of the voice". And he proposes three alternatives:
a) the narrator, b) Stephen, c) Stephen's friend, Cranly. He also claims that it is exactly
this "indeterminacy" of the passage that activates the reader and makes P "infinitely
more complex" than SH.
But Cranly, for all his surprise value, is out as a candidate. He cannot make this
comment, any comment, actually, because he is not present at the moment. Stephen
could phantasize such a response from Cranly, but that is an entirely different reading,
one Gillespie [End of p. 839] does not consider. Then too, what we know of Cranly at
this stage is that his habitual reaction to Stephen's communications is one of "listening
silence"; just a few lines earlier it is Cranly's "listlessness" that strikes Stephen.
Stephen, of course, is an obvious candidate for the voice that confronts us here. So
one would have expected a substantial argument that the text really "invites and
sustains" other readings, let alone "equally valid" ones. From the context we know
that the poem semi-automatically composes itself from stimuli to which Stephen has
just been subjected. The next sentence after the passage in question reads "The word
now shone in his brain". This really ties it up from both ends of the passage: "the
word" is "ivy", "his" refers to Stephen, "now" to the result of Stephen's reflections.
That leaves, or rather, does not leave, the narrator-oriented reading. If the narrator is a
source, Gillespie notes, relentlessly exploring all avenues, "the passage becomes
ironic". But nothing whatever works for this reading. Certainly not the idea of an
explicit narrator-bound (F)ID. The contextual clues, as shown, all point to Stephen.
Stephen is eating his own words, and that is nothing to be ironic about. The narrator
does not think the poem is good, does he?
Let us see what we have learned by exploring a final example, my own:
a heavy bird flying low through the grey light (P, 22).
"A heavy bird" obviously invites various readings. Perhaps it is an owl, because of the
dusk; it is a likely symbol of erudition. Or an albatross, a sea-bird reminiscent of
ancient mariners. An eagle, a gull, and a goose and their numerous associations must
surely also be allowed into the range of possibilities. What's that? A football? Come
now, you've got to draw the line somewhere!
Notes
[1] Michael Patrick Gillespie, Reading the Book of Himself (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio
State University Press, 1989).

[2] Brian McHale, "Free Indirect Discourse: A Survey of Recent Accounts," PTL:
Journal For Descriptive Poetics and the Theory of Literature 3 (1978): 249-287.
[3] Charles Bally, "Le style indirect libre en francais moderne," GermanischRomanische Monatsschrift 4 (1912): 549-556.
[4] Ann Banfield, Unspeakable Sentences: Narration and Representation in the
Language of Fiction (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982); Brian McHale,
"Unspeakbale Sentences, Unnatural Acts: Linguistics and Poetics Revisited," Poetics
Today 4.1 (1983): 17-45.

[August 21, 2000]