For nearly three quarters of a century, the modernist way of reading has been the only way of reading James Joyce—useful, yes, and powerful but, like all frameworks, limited. This book takes a leap across those limits into postmodernism, where the pleasures and possibilities of an unsuspected Joyce are yet to be found.
Kevin J. H. Dettmar begins by articulating a stylistics of postmodernism drawn from the key texts of Roland Barthes, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Jean-François Lyotard. Read within this framework, Dubliners emerges from behind its modernist facade as the earliest product of Joyce’s proto-postmodernist sensibility. Dettmar exposes these stories as tales of mystery, not mastery, despite the modernist earmarks of plentiful symbols, allusions, and epiphanies. Ulysses, too, has been inadequately served by modernist critics. Where they have emphasized the work’s ingenious Homeric structure, Dettmar focuses instead upon its seams, those points at which the narrative willfully, joyfully overflows its self-imposed bounds. Finally, he reads A Portrait of the Artist and Finnegans Wake as less playful, less daring texts—the first constrained by the precious, would-be poet at its center, the last marking a surprising retreat from the constantly evolving, vertiginous experience of Ulysses.
In short, The Illicit Joyce of Postmodernism explores what happens when the extra-literary pronouncements of Eliot, Pound, and Joyce, as well as Joyce’s early critics, are set aside and a new, “unauthorized” Joyce is allowed to appear. This postmodern Joyce, more willful and less easily compartmentalized, stands as a counterpoint to the modernist Joyce who has perhaps become too familiar.