Devlin, Kimberly J. 2002. James Joyce's "Fraudstuff.".
Throughout the twentieth century, the issue of fraudulence has held a central place in discussions of aesthetics. The problem at hand is the nature of reality itself. What is really "real" and what is merely representation? This would become the foundation of James Joyce's development as a literary artist: from his early idealism of the transcendent and self-contained artist-hero fighting against the oppression of church and state, to his later critical, ironic, and self-mocking portrayals of the artist as a "sham." In James Joyce's "Fraudstuff," Kimberly J. Devlin follows this are through Joyce's career, mapping his changing ideas about the role of the artist in the twentieth century. As she writes in the book's preface, "this book will argue [that] Joyce moves steadily away from the early concern with epiphanic self-revelation to an obsessive celebration of selfhood as imposture and sham--and as an ultimately unknowable entity" (xi).
The portmanteau word, "fraudstuff," in Devlin's title comes from Joyce's last book, Finnegans Wake. There are at least three echoing allusions in the word that make it an appropriate touchstone for Devlin: 1) fraudstuff, as in the objects of fraudulence or forgery; 2) foodstuff, as in the cultural consumption of the aforementioned fraudulent objects; and 3) fraudstuff, as in the psychological motivations behind fraudulence and forgery that forms the primary method of Devlin's psychoanalytic approach to Joyce. These areas of inquiry form the basis of Devlin's deconstruction of Joycean identity.
She begins with an interesting comparison of Joyce's young alter-egos: the Stephen Daedalus of Joyce's partially destroyed first attempt at a semi-autobiographical kunstlerroman, Stephen Hero, and the Stephen Dedalus of Joyce's finished and published version, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Illustrating how Joyce's attitudes were changing, Devlin argues that the earlier Stephen emerges as a self-centered, autonomous, egotistical, and transcendent artist, in stark contrast to the later, revised manifestation of Stephen as a cultural sponge completely immersed in, and dependent upon, his time and place. She charts Joyce's ontological revisions of Stephen's characterization from autonomous subject to "an understanding that leads to his representation of subjectivity as inevitably 'fraudstuff'" (2002, 12). Arguing that this change in characterization is centered on "a surrendering of an attempted gaze, a turning away from this authoritarian position, and a clear alignment of Stephen's point of view with the eye--with all its attendant perceptual uncertainties, delimitations, and lacks" (24), Devlin argues that Joyce's construction of Stephen in A Portrait is a "supersaturated subject" (25). This reflects the movement of Joyce's changing attitudes from aesthetic detachment to engagement with his surrounding cultural environment.
In her next two chapters, "Castration and Its Discontents: Gender Acts in Ulysses" and "Female Masquerade and Mimicry: Performances of Womanliness," Devlin turns her attention to the social construction of gender and gender performance as an act of subversion. She begins by analyzing the "castrating gaze" as a viewing position privileged in its ability to detect fraudulence. According to Devlin, the castrating gaze gains its power from its ability to peer through the artifice and masks that we surround ourselves with and expose the lack within. In other words, if Joyce has come to the conclusion that identity is a social construct, that we are merely "supersaturated subjects," or copies of copies, then he is playing on one of our biggest fears: namely, being discovered as a phony, as an actor playing a part. If identity is a performance of veils and masks, what is left when all of the artifice is peeled away? Wherein lies one's real self?
In chapter three, Devlin extends her analysis of performance more specifically to the question of gender and fraudulence. She focuses on two of Joyce's most prominent, and debated, female characters: Gerty MacDowell and Molly Bloom. Gerty, Devlin argues, is caught in the "double bind" created by popular publications and advertisements for women at the turn of the century. This "double bind" consists of the desire (created by advertisements) to commodify one's self for the market of the male gaze, and the desire for female solidarity and independence encouraged by much of the fiction directed towards a female audience. Devlin writes that "[t]he process of self-display is naturalized as the becoming of the 'real' unaffected feminine subject, who--paradoxically--acts herself in order to be herself" (2002, 71). If Gerty represents this feminine double bind, then Molly Bloom represents its subversion. Devlin claims that Molly is a "female female impersonator": she writes that "on the one hand, women may assume and internalize those culturally determined images passively and unconsciously (as Gerty does); but on the other hand, they can appropriate them ironically, manipulate them from an internal critical distance" (82). According to Devlin, the various roles, both male and female, that Molly assumes in her monologue at the end of Ulysses, or more appropriately "polylogue," become acts of subversion undermining the fraudulence of gender performance.
The book's final three chapters, "Surveillant Visions: Bloom and the Police," "Guilty Visions: Bloom, Mary, and Martha," and "The Phobic Body: (Ad)dressing the Corpus of Excess and Lack," extend Devlin's arguments into the realm of policing and surveillance. The first of these chapters is an interesting take on Ulysses as "a police novel--as a novel that engages the issues of scopic surveillance, regulation, and punishment" (2002, 107). In the next chapter, Devlin introduces class into her discussion of fraudulence. She notes the ironically privileged position that lower-class, female domestic workers occupy vis-a-vis the secret information they are privy to with their employers. As such, throughout Ulysses, they form "a countergaze that knows the dirty secrets hidden in many a male Dubliner's bottom drawer" (146). Devlin's final chapter focuses primarily on Finnegans Wake and the role clothing plays in disguising anxiety centered on body perception.
An alternative tide to Devlin's book might have been, James Joyce: Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain. This book is a study of Joyce's portrayal of the human "desire to see more" (2002, 173), and, as such, it constantly takes the reader behind the magical world of smoke and mirrors, of veils and curtains, and attempts to expose the real Joyce operating the controls. Devlin succeeds in pulling back curtain after curtain and exposing the operation of the machinery underlying Joyce's primary texts. This focus on the gaze and the reality of appearances is a hot topic in current Joyce criticism (especially in studies of Joyce and the cinema). Although it is a very interesting study of fraudulence and performance as they pertain to aesthetics and identity in Joyce, this book will probably hold little interest for non-Joyceans. Also, at times, the unwavering emphasis on psychoanalytic criticism takes away from the strength of Devlin's arguments. Overall, however, James Joyce's "Fraudstuff" is an interesting and convincing argument that to understand Joyce, one must first understand how his ideas regarding aesthetics, identity and fraudulence change and become more culturally aware throughout his career.
University of Tulsa
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2003|
|Previous Article:||Wu, Duncan. 2002. Wordsworth: an Inner Life.|
|Next Article:||Ramazani, Jahan. 2001. The Hybrid Muse: Postcolonial Poetry in English.|