A greener Joyce.
Eco-Joyce: The Environmental Imagination of James Joyce
Cork University Press, 2014. 39.00 [euro]
At first glance, the title of this new collection, Eco-Joyce: The Environmental Imagination of James Joyce, might appear somewhat contradictory. The built environment of Joyce's "dear dirty Dublin"--in part his response to the ruralism of the Irish Literary Revival--does not immediately lend itself to the environmental turn in current criticism. Indeed, as Anne Fogarty acknowledges in her foreword, Joyce's reputation as an urban writer would seem to be at odds with "an ethical movement concerned with the rescue and preservation of the natural environment" (xv-xvi). Yet as the fourteen essays in this collection, edited by Robert Brazeau and Derek Gladwin, capably illustrate, studying the ecological dimension of Joyce's writing is not only possible, but also richly illuminating for Joyce studies, Irish studies and ecocritical theory itself.
In fact, recent scholarship on Joyce--notably Michael Rubenstein's 2011 study of public works in Irish modernist writing, including Ulysses--paves the way for a fuller consideration of what Brazeau and Gladwin describe as Joyce's "ecocritical consciousness." Since its introduction in the late 1970s, ecocriticism has evolved from an approach focused on human relationships with the natural world to one that also addresses the intersection of environment, language and culture more broadly. So-called second-wave ecocriticism has questioned the very terms "nature" and "environment," for instance, shifting attention away from North American nature writing and towards texts that address both built and natural environments--recognizing, in other words, the interconnectedness of man-made and natural landscapes. Lawrence Buell proposed the term "environmental criticism" in 2005 to accommodate these expanding boundaries, creating a space within ecocritical studies for urban environments like Joyce's Dublin, and for texts that attend in a more general sense to environmental concerns like urban sprawl, resource management and population shifts.
It is only recently that ecocriticism has been deployed within an Irish context, pioneered by Gerry Smyth's Space and the Irish Cultural Imagination (2001). Yet as Derek Gladwin observes in his essay in the present collection, recent ecocritical studies of Irish writing also build on the work of Irish geographers like William Smyth, Kevin Whelan, Catherine Nash, and Patrick J. Duffy and cartographer Tim Robinson, all of whom have addressed Irish environmental issues in their work. In fact, it seems surprising that an Irish, ecocriticism has taken this long to emerge. In Ireland, in particular, the country and the city have been historically linked: agricultural and urban spaces were culturally and economically interdependent, as evident in the pastoralism of much revivalist writing--its celebration of the Irish peasant and the rural West--and in the economic attention devoted to Irish agricultural industries in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. While the myth of a restorative, Romantic natural ideal is largely absent in Joyce's writing, the pastoral is nonetheless present in his urban environment, shadowing and surrounding the cityscape--surfacing in his character's imaginations, in the seascape and shoreline at the city's edge, and in the natural images that pepper Joyce's texts. Moreover, as the editors suggest, Joyce was aware of significant environmental issues, particularly those that impacted Dublin's urban landscape, including waste removal, pollution, urban development and water distribution. An ecocritical approach that recognizes the complex relationships between the natural landscape and the cityscape is therefore germane to Joyce and to the Dublin his writing describes.
To reconsider the writer's work from this perspective, Eco-Joyce assembles both recognized Joyce scholars and new voices, whose contributions to the interdisciplinary collection address topics as diverse as ecological disasters, deforestation, urban water supply and excrement, among others. The collection is divided thematically into four sections, the first of which, "Nature and Environmental Consciousness in Joyce's Fiction," examines Joyce's understanding of the terms "nature" and "environmental," laying the foundation for an ecological reading of his work. Cheryl Herr, for instance, in "Joyce and the Everynight," reconsiders scatological themes in Joyce's fiction in light of the problem of waste disposal in Ireland in the early 20th century. She argues that his texts reflect the filthy waterways and sewers of colonial Dublin, not only in their subject matter--in his scattered references to privies, ashpits, congested street drains and polluted rivers (though, strangely, not their stench)--but also in their form: human waste, in other words, leaves its trace in the language and syntax of Joyce's writing. The history of Irish waste disposal culminates in Finnegans Wake, Herr maintains--Joyce's book of waste, in which "everything is dumped into the Liffey, and all of it is carried off into the textual sea" (52). Fiona Becket and Erin Walsh likewise address environmental themes in Joyce's texts at the sentence level, revealing in their essays key similarities between the practices of literary modernism and ecological discourse. Bonnie Kime Scott's "Joyce, Ecofeminism and the River as Woman," meanwhile, considers Joyce's female gendering of nature in the character of Anna Livia Plurabelle, while Yi-Peng Lai offers a skillful reading of the Tree Wedding scene in the "Cyclops" episode of Ulysses in the context of Ireland's history of deforestation. Collectively, the essays of the first section suggest the need for new narrative forms and modes of representation to accommodate environmental issues, casting both Joycean and modernist formal experimentation in a new light.
The interpretive possibilities suggested in Part I are focused in the second section, "Joyce and the Urban Environment," on the built landscape of Joyce's Dublin. Essays by Margot Norris and Derek Gladwin are especially compelling. Norris's "Negative Ecocritical Visions in Wandering Rocks" identifies a number of "anti-ecocritical world views" in Ulysses, arguing that the extrusion of nature from the text constitutes a discursive "ecological casualty" (114). Her essay replicates the structure of the "Wandering Rocks" episode, juxtaposing references to an historical maritime disaster --the destruction of the steamer General Slocum in New York in 1904--with other ecological disasters, including the Famine. The collision of multiple views "of nature, the body and place" (114) reveals, above all, Joyce's characters' problematic relationships to their environment. In this sense, Gladwin's essay, "Joyce the Travel Writer," serves as an interesting counterpoint by making a persuasive case for Joyce's use of "place-attachment," the practice of "accessing place through personal and cultural experience in a landscape" (177). Reading two of Joyce's articles on the Irish West, published in the Italian-language newspaper Il Piccolo della Sera, Gladwin locates the writer's "environmental impulse" (181) in his emotional, internal connection to the region he describes. The essay offers new insight into both Joyce's geographical imagination, and more broadly, the cultural representation of place in the period. Elsewhere, Brandon Kershner traces the suggestion of "an amoral, animal world" (127) in stories from Dubliners, arguing that nature serves as an horizon or boundary for the characters' actions, while Greg Winston discusses the political ecology of the Vartry Water Scheme, a publicworks project in Dublin that revealed the socio-economic inequalities of the urban water supply. Christine Cusick takes a somewhat different look at the social ecology of Dublin, arguing that Joyce's characters' "perception of the urban landscape is inevitably bound by their financial position against it" (167)--that there is, in other words, a reciprocal relationship between the characters' psychological response to the city and their lack of economic agency. Together with the other essays in the section, Cusick articulates the need for an urban ecocriticism that addresses the city as its own environment with its own ecology.
The four essays of the final section, "Joyce, Somatic Ecology and the Body," blend ecocritical and phenomenological approaches to analyze representations of the body in Joyce's fiction. Eugene O'Brien argues that Joyce's aesthetic theory, as articulated most clearly in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, offers a corrective to the dualism of mind and body. "For Joyce," he writes, "mind and body are fused in their reaction to and aesthetic expression of the world in which they exist." (205-6). Robert Brazeau's essay, "Environment and Embodiment in 'The Dead,"' considers theories of evolutionary biology to demonstrate how "human consciousness is produced by, and is also productive of, a variety of concerted and discordant desires, pulsations, affects and compulsions" (213). Brazeau's reading of Gabriel Conroy's thoughts and behaviors in Joyce's story in light of the complex cognitive demands of modern society skillfully and provocatively reveals how Joyce encourages us to consider our existence in the world as biological beings. James Fairhall's essay returns to the mind-body duality in Ulysses and the Wake, arguing that in both texts, Joyce explores "the limitations and necessities of our existence as spirit-like minds tethered to animal-like bodies" (231). And in the collection's concluding essay, Garry Leonard argues that nature manifests in Joyce as a kind of "correction" that irrevocably alters the directions of life's events for Stephen Dedalus. Exploring two such "corrections" from the natural environment--Stephen's encounter with the "bird-girl" and his epiphany on Sandymount Strand in the "Proteus" episode of Ulysses--Leonard declares that Joyce "is 'green' in a profoundly radical way: Nature is what your body smashes up against if you persist long enough in self-serving, self-delusion" (248). While this section may be slightly less accessible for some readers owing to its denser theoretical approach, it nonetheless pushes the boundaries of ecocriticism in a provocative direction, asking us to consider the dynamic tension between nature and human nature.
Together, the essays of Eco-Joyce energize an emerging Irish ecocriticism, providing a template for future work in this field and aptly illustrating both the relevance and range of an environmentally minded approach. In much the same way that recent transnational comparative studies of Irish writing have benefitted Irish studies generally, opening the field to an array of fresh perspectives, ecocriticism likewise holds the promise of new themes, new contexts and new reading practices. Even for a figure like Joyce, whose writing seems to challenge conventional ideas of nature, the collection prompts readers to recognize issues of landscape, geography and the environment in his work and in other modernist writing. By drawing on a variety of critical outlooks--appealing to Joyceans, modernists, Irish studies scholars, and ecocritics alike--the essays that comprise this volume initiate an exciting new conversation within literary studies and reveal a "greener" Joyce that many readers might have expected to find.
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|Title Annotation:||Eco-Joyce: The Environmental Imagination of James Joyce|
|Author:||O'Dea, Dathalinn M.|
|Publication:||Irish Literary Supplement|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2015|
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