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The Politics of Narration: James Joyce, William Faulkner and Virginia Wolfe.

When Rene Wellek and Austin Warren published their seminal Theory of Literature in 1949 literary criticism and theory were in a state of interpretive innocence. The authors revealingly entitled section Ill "The Extrinsic Approach to the Study of Literature" and section IV "The Intrinsic Study of Literature." This third section runs a modest 71 pages, the fourth a formidable 144 pages. The two-to-one ratio reveals the importance that the New Critical generation ascribed to the text, with its seductive rhythms, patterns, imagery, and symbols. What was found outside, such as the relationship between literature and psychology, literature and the other arts, literature and ideas, and literature and society, was declared to be somewhat ancillary, a less than rewarding way of pursuing literary interpretation.

Richard Pearce was educated during this period when the passwords were something like "literary study should be specifically literary" (Wellek's and Warren's words). Since that time he has strayed a bit, especially in his latest book, The Politics of Narration, where he is given to certain postmodern bits of trompe l'oeil, such as hyphenating words - author-ity, author-ial, author-izes, journey-men, em-bodying - and using parentheses - (w)holes. He also has taken on the vocabulary of Bakhtin - so that words like monologic, dialogic,polyphonic, and carnival are everywhere in evidence - and assumed positions and strategies "of feminist critics who have taught us to read the suppressed and subversive stories" (p. 154) hidden in the webbing of a variety of texts. Yet Pearce does hold on to the New Critical verities as he approaches the fiction of three great modernists, joyce, Faulkner, and Woolf, largely through "intrinsic" lenses. He is always a reliable close reader of texts despite the trappings of postmodernism which The Politics of Narration has taken on.

Before turning to the major works of his three exemplary modernists, Pearce skillfully makes his way through two short fictions, Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" and Isak Dinesen's "The Blank Page" - to illustrate the differences between the dominance of Conrad's authorial presence and the more subversive and alternative nature of Dinesen's narrative in which "the authorial voice is only one among many voices that speak, argue, harangue, cajole, mock, and take joy in their contradictoriness" (p. 16). He finds especially seductive the "dialogic" quality of her enterprise as he looks ahead to Joyce, Faulkner, and Woolf, he might have glanced backward at the French Symbolist poets, especially at Mallarme, whose later aesthetics embraced the notions of the blank page, blank spaces, and silences.

As might be expected, the section on Joyce, which moves from Dubliners through Ulysses, is filled with compelling insights. Pearce has been working on the Irish writer for a number of years and has established himself in his 1983 book, The Novel in Motion, and elsewhere as a committed Joycean. He usefully points to holes and disruptions in a number of stories in Dubliners, in which "Joyce was discovering the aesthetic and political power of absence. All the stories depend on what is left unsaid, sometimes on ellipses where we can fill in the meaning, or try to, through active reading and historical scholarship . . ." (p. 35). In identifying "two kinds of holes in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," Pearce surrenders to the seductions of hyphens and parentheses:

There are the holes in the narrative, disruptions. shifts in perspective that embody Stephen's struggle with the language of author-ity and therefore lead to an inclusive sense of (w)holeness. And there are the holes in Stephen's vision, which deny the (w)holeness of self and society. (p. 42)

Pearce finds in Ulysses the full realization of polyphony, of what he calls, with a nod to Bakhtin, "the carnival of stories" (p. 63). When he reaches the Penelope section, he cautiously examines his own fallibility:

. . . as a male reader I feel as limited as I do imagining the community of women standing before the blank page, sunk in deep thought. I understand how I am limited by the language of the fathers. But I also feel this constraint being mitigated by such a positive image of female otherness. (p. 69)

This kind of apologia pro vita sua threads its way through not only Pearce's study but also the work of a number of other male critics who feel constrained by the "language of the fathers."

This "imagining the community of women" helps shape his response to Faulkner, another novelist he has been concerned with for more than two decades. In his 1970 Stages of the Clown he offers a twenty-page chapter on Light in August and returns to this 1932 novel in The Novel in Motion. In The Politics of Narration he enlarges the Faulknerian frame to accommodate full-scale analyses of not only Light in August but also three other major works of the Mississippi writer, The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Absalom, Absalom!. The question he raises in the title of the first chapter of the Faulkner section, "Can a woman tell her story in Yoknapatawpha County?", makes clear the direction he means to pursue. He counterpoints this concern with the notion of the "hovering narrator" which he earlier introduced in The Novel in Motion. He speaks of Faulkner's "hovering presence," which "is ambivalent, troubled, searching, sometimes echoing, sometimes holding back, but never quite giving way to the storytelling voices of his characters" (p. 78). These characters Pearce is concerned with are mainly women, such as Caddy Compson and Dilsey in The Sound and the Fury, Addie Bundren in As I Lay Dying, Lena Grove in Light in August, and Rosa Coldfield in Absalom, Absalom!. The voices of Caddy and Dilsey are not heard while Addie's is heard once, in a single post-mortem monologue - which prompts Pearce to answer his question ironically about whether a woman can tell her story in Yoknapatawpha," . . . yes, as long as she is dead" (p. 95). Lena Grove is deprived of "a voice of her own" virtually as if Faulkner regretted "the threatening voice of motherhood that emerged when he let Addie loose two years earlier in As I Lay Dying" (p. 108). (Pearce's own irreverent and iconoclastic voice is sounded in these passages and others, as he makes the sometimes uncomfortable leap to feminist critic.) Rosa Coldfield, in telling her story, frustratingly "struggles against a dominant discourse" (p. 115) and "loses" (p. 121).

Pearce engages the "politics of narration" in Faulkner with considerable subtlety. Unfortunately, he seems so tied to an agenda that certain things slip through the cracks such as the genuinely comic nature of As I Lay Dying.

Pearce devoted a few pages to Virginia Woolf in The Novel in Motion, but the third section of The Politics of Narration marks the first time he offers her fiction sustained treatment. Just as he turned to the central part of Faulkner's canon so he concentrates here on Woolfs three most realized novels, To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, and The Waves. (There is something agreeably old-fashioned and perhaps politically incorrect about Pearce's tendency to write only about "major" texts.)

With Virginia Woolf Pearce confronts the darling of the feminist critics and he dutifully pays them homage throughout his discussion. Susan Gubar, Sandra Gilbert, Jane Marcus, and Julia Kristeva, for example, are names invoked with some frequency.

In an inventive jeu d'esprit he posits a Virgil Woolf, "Virginia's unborn brother," and shows intermittently how Virgil might have gone about composing To the Lighthouse. Pearce ends this first chapter of the Woolf section with this intriguing sentence: "The struggle between Virgil's and Virginia's stories - or between the classical journey and the story of disruption and relationship - reflects Woolfs struggle with authority" (p. 143). In the course of things he manages an able examination of To the Lighthouse, making some interesting observations, for example, about the middle section, "Time Passes" - as Woolf turns "the center into a hole, an absence, that interrupts the journey, denies it its power to achieve control and unity . . ." (p. 138).

One of the highlights of his discussion of Mrs. Dalloway is the close reading he offers the opening passage of the novel. He comments knowingly about syntax, imagery, narrative, and other formal matters. Pearce's notion of Woolf's "stretching the sentence" contributes significantly to our understanding of her stylistic habits; in a sense he does for Mrs. Dalloway what Erich Auerbach in his Mimesis did for To the Lighthouse.

Pearce had been concentrating on holes in the text in his discussion of Joyce and Faulkner. He notes that "in The Waves, the woman's story comes out of the hole and pervades the entire novel" (p. 157). In this work, we are told, "she developed a new authorial voice that embodied her characters as multiple, existing only in their shifting relations with one another" (p. 169). In a burst of enthusiasm, Pearce sees Woolf achieving in The Waves what no other of his modernist texts has managed: "She undermines all the author-ial conventions, decenters the novel form, replaces the journey-men's story or ambitious text with an erotic text, brings the semiotic rhythm to the surface, and exposes the historical source of political, social, and linguistic author-ity" (p. 170).

The Politics of Narration ends with a three-page epilogue. When Pearce asks himself what is the future of "rebellious texts" which will contest "the authority of the dominant discourse," he responds with the encouraging news that Toni Morrison, Maxine Hong Kingston, and the husband-and-wife team of Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris are on the scene with their "vast decentered and intersubjective fictions of African-American communities, Chinese-American families, and Native-American generations" (p. 173). So the book ends on a politically correct note which would seem to accommodate the present multicultural agenda.

The Politics of Narration is a subtle and challenging study. Pearce knows how to nibble at the edges of recent literary theory without allowing it to overwhelm him. He knows how to deal with holes, alternative voices, ellipses, and subversions without neglecting a New Critical affirmation of the text. An earlier generation had classified many of the novels Pearce deals with, including Ulysses, As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, and The Waves, as stream-of-consciousness fiction; he resorts to a very different vocabulary to account for the narrative and poetic strategies at work. Finally, it might be noted that the critics Pearce relies on to help him explain modernist works, especially those of Faulkner and Woolf - and there are a considerable number of them - are of a different vintage from those who first placed these writers and texts at the nerve center of literary modernism; he never, for example, refers to Frederick J. Hoffman, Irving Howe, Olga Vickery, or Malcolm Cowley on Faulkner or David Daiches, Erich Auerbach, or J. Hillis Miller on Woolf. He obviously feels more comfortable with Bakhtin, Kristeva, Eve Sedgwick, and Jane Marcus as guides.

John J. Clayton, in Gestures of Healing, enlarges Pearce's gathering of modernists to include Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, E. M. Forster, D. H. Lawrence, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway - as well as Joyce, Faulkner, and Woolf. (These are all novelists, he makes clear, "who modeled their work and aesthetics on Flaubert's" [p. 199].) One has the sense that Clayton has taken on too much as he moves from writer to writer in nervous, breathless fashion. He admits in his preface that his "orientation throughout is largely psychoanalytic" (p. ix). Indeed his approach is "extrinsic," fitting Wellek and Warren's category of "Literature and Psychology."

Clayton makes clear that he is a modernist critic ("my own examining lens, itself a modernist lens" [p. 62]) passing judgment on ten modernist writers who found "in their own lives ... chaos and the need to create order" (p. 117). He is intent on examining the circumstances which began with anxiety, alienation, and fragmented selves and ended with gestures toward healing and wholeness. Clayton seems more concerned with writers than with texts. There is little trace of the New Critic in him.

While Pearce turns to Bakhtin and a number of feminists for critical sustenance, Clayton turns to psychoanalysts and psychological critics like Masud Khan, D. W. Winnicott, Heinz Kohut, and Ernst Kris to help him on his way. Even science proves useful, as he confronts chaos theory, especially in the work of James Gleick (Chaos: Making a New Science). "Chaos" seems to be Clayton's favorite word. If there is such a thing as a literary chaologist, he might be classified as one.

Clayton's method through most of Gestures of Healing is to examine his ten modernists under a series of rubrics. A passage such as the following is not uncommon: "The writers who make up the British and American modernist canon - James, Conrad, Ford, Lawrence, Woolf, Joyce, Forster, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner - come from a family surprisingly different from that examined by Freud. It is the mother who is the crucial, controlling, organizing figure" (p. 32). On some occasions he will eliminate one or another from a category, such as: "The one writer who was clearly not an impostor, though more than any other, she experienced the fluidity of self, was Virginia Woolf" (p. 63) or "Joyce, unlike any of the other writers, doesn't express the anxiety of emptiness and the dissolution of the self but rather the anxiety of being flooded with uncontrolled life" (p. 71).

Through the first five parts of Gestures of Healing, Clayton successfully uses this method of moving back and forth among his ten modernists, never losing sight of any of them for very long. In the final part, he offers a chapter each on James, Woolf, and Lawrence; here he is at his best, especially in the fine chapter on Lawrence.

Clayton several times uses the word "premodernist" - which is perhaps a better word than "modernist" for describing his own techniques as critic. He does occasionally hyphenate, as in "real-izer" (p. 13) and "dis-ease" (p. 59), but not with the frequency and enthusiasm of Richard Pearce. He is more comfortable with large, sweeping critical gestures and categories than with finding holes in texts and listening to subversive, alternative narrative voices. The biographical and occasionally even the autobiographical are on display. Clayton enjoys intervening in propria persona. On one occasion he speaks of himself as "an American, an academic man of letters, a Jew, a reader in a postmodern age examining modernism, a white male in a culture that has gone through the experience of feminism. Those partial identities have surely helped shape the contours of my eye/my I" (p. 16). (This is more revealingly personal than Pearce ever gets.) Clayton insists throughout on his role as reader: "As reader, I am built into the gesture of healing" (p. 124). "As a reader, I am rescued as well" (p. 128). "As reader, I am, like these figures, to be entered, opened, transformed. I am induced to open myself to terrible power" (p. 184). He sometimes speaks directly to his writers, as he does here with James: "Why thank you, Henry, I blush as critic" (p. 129). By the time we finish Gestures of Healing, we not only know a good deal about the lives and works of ten modernists but have also received privileged glances at the life and workshop of a stimulating critic. These bits of intimacy on display can prove embarrassing to readers who expect the literary interpreter to remain "indifferent, paring his fingernails" (Joyce's words) rather than perform on stage as a member of the cast.

Clayton offers an impressive ten-page bibliography at the end of his study. Absent from it is the remarkable Novelists in their Youth, in which John Halperin offers portraits of six novelists during their early years. The formative years of his subjects are made up of "obscure hurts" (Henry James's words) and various kinds of psychic disturbances. Two of the six writers dealt with at chapter length are James and Conrad. Family life or the absence of it (Halperin entitles his fourth chapter "Conrad Alone") weighs heavily in the treatment of these two expatriates in Novelists in their Youth. Clayton should certainly acquaint himself with this book if he plans a second edition of Gestures of Healing.

In such a revised edition he should also correct a number of annoying lapses. In his discussion of The Great Gatsby he twice speaks of Jay Gatsby as Jay Gatz (pp. 66 and 69) and once of Nick Carraway as Nick Carroway (p. 125). In the case of Gatsby, he seems to have merged the name he was born with, James Gatz, with the name he was to take on later, Jay Gatsby. On p. 121, T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land appears as The Wasteland. Fredric Jameson's first name turns up as Frederic on p. 132 and James Naremore's last name as Narremore on pp. 213, 223, and 229. In his bibliography (p. 225) he offers as the publisher of Stanley Sultan's 1964 The Argument of "Ulysses" Wesleyan University Press instead of Ohio State University Press. A later edition was brought out by Wesleyan in 1987.

Richard Godden's Fictions of Capital is an even more extreme form of extrinsic criticism than Gestures of Healing. The category of "Literature and Society" is the closest Wellek and Warren come to explaining the contours of this kind of study: it is in their chapter 9 of Theory of Literature, in which they bring into play "the economic approach to literature" and discuss Marxist critics. A degree in economics would indeed be useful in making one's way through the labyrinthine corridors of many sections of Godden's study. His concerns are with production and consumption, sometimes at the expense of literature. His masters are Marx, Lukacs, Adorno, Jameson, Veblen, Brecht, and Habermas. He leans occasionally on Bakhtin's theories of the polyphonic novel and the carnival, just as Pearce does - but with somewhat different results. The homo economicus in Godden writes this sentence: "Bakhtin argues that the polyphonic novel is necessarily a child of capital, and more particularly of its Russian form, since in Russia capitalism's sudden and |catastrophic arrival' caused |an untouched variety of social worlds' to clash" (p. 203).

Godden subtitles his work "The American Novel from James to Mailer." He offers extended treatment of the novels of James, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Mailer - with Mailer getting the lion's share of the attention. Between the Fitzgerald and Mailer sections he offers a curious chapter on Ransom, Tate, and Faulkner, with the fetching title "Iconic Narratives: or, How Three Southerners Fought the Second Civil War." He interestingly justifies the presence of this chapter:

The burden of my earlier chapters suggests that a culture committed to wage labour and its attendant forms of accumulation generates a commodity aesthetics, within which particular narrative options exist for the writer. It should follow that a culture, or a cultural fragment, which resists wage labour and the consequent spread of the shop window, will generate an aesthetics of anti-development. During the thirties the South produced a number of writers for whom the agricultural section of the economy became both a preoccupation and one source of a distinctive poetics (I am thinking particularly of the New Critical interest in the "verbal icon"). (p. 143)

Godden's characteristic metaphorical and stylistic habits are in evidence here. The principal texts considered in this chapter are I'll Take My Stand, Ransom's God Without Thunder, Tate's The Fathers, and Faulkner's Go Down, Moses.

The one writer Pearce, Clayton, and Godden treat in common is Faulkner. Their approaches to the Mississippi novelist could not be more different. The Faulkner Pearce fleshes out is closest to the Faulkner I know. While Pearce and Clayton never mention Go Down, Moses, Godden devotes all his Faulknerian energies to it: "I have rehearsed several examples of a narrative logic which pervades Go Down, Moses in order to suggest that what looks at best like eccentricity and at worst like nonsense, is in fact the product of a habit of mind which, though I hesitate to describe it as regional, does characterize the work of several Southerners during the second civil "war" (p. 159).

The high point of Fictions of Capital for me is the chapter on The Great Gatsby. Godden mentions in his introduction that he sees his book as "several loosely organized efforts to understand how different fictions take their forms from the economic history that is their finally determining context" (p. 11). The contours of Gatsby are more emphatically shaped by economic history, it seems to me, than those of any other text dealt with, even Henry James's The Bostonians and Mailer's The Armies of the Night - which are given extensive and convincing treatment. Godden, interestingly, sees Nick Carraway as Gatsby's inept Boswell, as "the biographer who scarcely understands him" (p. 85). We are told further on that "the biographer Fitzgerald gives us is unable to make Gatsby's social recognitions cohere. He cannot, therefore, recover him as a Brechtian figure" (p. 96). Gatsby himself is revealingly characterized as someone "engaged in economic subversion" (p. 83) and as someone who "markets his face as though he stood in an exclusive window" (p. 87). Godden ends with the intriguing notion that "The Great Gatsby is Nick Carraway's furtive text .... Fitzgerald's literary and moral stature lies in his choice of precisely the wrong biographer, and in his appreciation of the consequences of this choice for the reader" (p. 102). This is all original and suggestive enough to merit Tony Tanner's comment on the dust jacket of Fictions of Capital: "His chapter on The Great Gatsby is the most stimulating and arresting consideration of that novel I have ever read."

Godden is tuned into the latest rhythms of critical discourse. He seems quite at ease with the writings of Derrida, Barthes, Ricoeur, and Kristeva as well as with theorists with a more decisively economic bent. There is also an occasional light touch to his enterprise. He enjoys verbal games. He can often be very clever as in this juxtaposition of Fitzgerald and Mailer: "Like Carraway's Gatsby, it would seem that Mailer springs from the |Platonic conception of himself,' but only after doing time in the state's belly" (p. 244). He delights in the whimsy and leisurely pace of digression: "Prior to an attempt to demonstrate this conclusion, I must intrude yet another methodological interlude" (p. 205).

Godden seems to have some difficulty with the spelling of names. Fitzgerald's Monroe Stahr turns up as Munroe Stahr on p. 22 and his Meyer Wolfsheim as Myer Wolfsheim on p. 94. Hemingway's Frederic Henry appears several times as Frederick Henry beginning on p. 45. On p. 123 Nathanael West's Faye Greener turns up as Faye Greenier. The critic Fredric Jameson's first name appears as Frederic on p. 260, note 27, and elsewhere.

On p. 156 we are told that "Ikkemotubbe was also known as Du Homme/The Man." The fractured French reference is probably to the beginning of the Appendix to The Sound and the Fury where Faulkner speaks of Ikkemotubbe as "a dispossessed American king. Called |l'Homme' (and sometimes |de l'homme') by his fosterbrother ...." Godden's French betrays him on other occasions when deja vu appears as deja vu (p. 155) and the acute accent mark is omitted from Derrida's coinage differance (p. 279).

Godden remarks tellingly on one occasion: "Readers may wonder just how many rabbits one hat can hold" (p. 246). This says a great deal about Fictions of Capital, which never ceases to surprise and delight one with its rhetorical sleights of hand, its verbal conjurer's tricks.

Of the three books discussed here, my own clear preference is for Richard Pearce's. In The Politics of Narration Pearce joins an impressive group of literary critics, such as David Hayman and Clayton Koelb, who know how to use theory yet never ignore a New Critical affirmation of the text. Pearce's discussions of Joyce, Faulkner, and Woolf are invariably stimulating and original, if occasionally too cozy with the paraphernalia of theory. Clayton's turning to psychoanalytic and Godden's to economic underpinnings too frequently blunt the edges of their arguments and make the literary text more elusive than it need be.
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Author:Friedman, Melvin J.
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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