Public talk: Joyce and Critical Theory
I will begin by evoking the James Joyce Symposium that took place in Paris in 1975, a moment marking the inception of a “political Joyce.” After Philippe Sollers called Finnegans Wake a “revolution,” Colin MacCabe followed suit. However, it was felt that this revolution remained too close to a mere “revolution of the word,” the hope of an avant-gardist ethos that Jolas and transition embodied between the wars. A little later, Jacques Derrida called Finnegans Wake a “hypermnesic machine” that contained our future, which suggests a more technological revolution in writing. Can Joyce’s last work be called “revolutionary” at all, and if so, in what sense? Looking back at the influence of the Italian historian Ferrero on the younger Joyce, I will try to recapture a sense of a critical edge never lost by the later Joyce. Joyce’s philosophers tended to be Italian and all saw “myth” as a political tool, which has been expanded by Chiara Bottici’s recent work. As Len Platt amply demonstrated, the Wake aims at destroying any form of racist and nationalist ideology. Here, drawing both on Georges Bataille and on Adorno’s later aesthetics, I will try to go further by contending that Finnegans Wake created a “critical myth.”
Jean-Michel Rabaté, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, co-editor of the Journal of Modern Literature, co-founder of Slought Foundation, is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the author or editor of more than forty books on modernism, psychoanalysis, philosophy and literary theory. Recent titles include Rust (2018), Kafka L.O.L. (2018), Rire au Soleil (2019), and the edited collections After Derrida (2018), New Beckett (2019) and Understanding Derrida / Understanding Modernism (2019). Forthcoming in 2020 are Beckett and Sade (Cambridge University Press) and the collection Knots: PostLacanian Readings of literature and film (Routledge).
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