Jahn, Manfred. 1992b.
"Postmodernists at Work on Joyce". James Joyce Quarterly 29.4: 838-840.

Two major assumptions that guide Michael Gillespie's approach in Reading the Book of Himself[1] are (1) that "each work in Joyce's canon invites and sustains a range of valid but provisional readings" (p. 2); and (2) that Joyce's use of free indirect discourse [hereafter FID] serves as a generator of such readings.

If readings are only "provisional" then the suggestion, indeed the likelihood, is that they may one day turn out to be false. A reading that is possible, valid and sustained in 1971, may no longer be so in 1991. This is how "our postmodernist conditioning" (p. 1) provides an escape from the trammels of a linear system of logic and literature. Plausibly enough, too: we understand why we thought so then, but we do not think so now, and shall think something else again tomorrow.

Consequently we are occasionally split into two personae: a tolerant, conciliatory, "both/and" self such as the one that proclaims assumption (1), above, and a more critical and selective self that, if need be, discards readings, like the "initial response to Portrait" (p. 81), on the grounds of, for instance, "growing critical sophistication", a self that refuses to embrace "all idiosyncratic views as equal" (p. 4). In concert, these two voices sometimes chime like this: "Riquelme's reading [of P] represses important distinctions which, when taken [End of p. 838] into account, can lead to the production of equally valid texts" (p. 92). But what an odd statement! Since Gillespie imputes serious shortcomings to Riquelme's reading, the concluding words should have been either "equally invalid texts" or else "more valid texts". The word "valid" itself means little in this context; perhaps we should make a clean breast of it and proceed from the unqualified, totally provisional status of our readings.

It is even more difficult to accept Gillespie's second assumption. Although FID purportedly provides most of the grist to his mill, the technicalities and the scope of the technique are simply taken for granted. There is a most unilluminating one-and-a-half page appendix on FID, roughly based on McHale,[2] but the main reference appears to be Bally,[3] a seven-page article of 1912. The "illustrative examples" which Gillespie lists present a mixture of FID, narrative report, indirect speech and quoted thought. He remarks that FID "has held the interest of linguists for most of this century" (p. 12), but he reports no findings and makes no mention of the FID war that has raged over Ann Banfield's approach.[4] Gillespie uses the term itself, adopted "for the sake of clarity" (p. 238), without noting its inadequacies or reflecting what is "free", "indirect" and "discourse" about FID. To complicate matters, Gillespie opposes "free" to "narrator-bound indirect discourse" (p. 53), unwittingly upsetting the dual-voice hypothesis of FID, itself dubious, but essential to his own approach. The "free" in FID is usually already taken to mean either "without inquit" (thinkquit) or "grammatically free/non-subordinate". A multiplicity of readings on the part of theorists, so welcome in literary texts, has infected and seriously damaged the critical vocabulary.

Discussing the progress from SH to P, Gillespie offers an arresting close reading of the FID section that follows Stephen's extemporaneous composition of the ivy poem ("The ivy whines upon the wall ...") in chapter 5 of P:

This is an "open-ended" comment, Gillespie states (p. 53), which leaves to the reader "the choice of identifying the source of the voice". And he proposes three alternatives: a) the narrator, b) Stephen, c) Stephen's friend, Cranly. He also claims that it is exactly this "indeterminacy" of the passage that activates the reader and makes P "infinitely more complex" than SH.

But Cranly, for all his surprise value, is out as a candidate. He cannot make this comment, any comment, actually, because he is not present at the moment. Stephen could phantasize such a response from Cranly, but that is an entirely different reading, one Gillespie [End of p. 839] does not consider. Then too, what we know of Cranly at this stage is that his habitual reaction to Stephen's communications is one of "listening silence"; just a few lines earlier it is Cranly's "listlessness" that strikes Stephen. Stephen, of course, is an obvious candidate for the voice that confronts us here. So one would have expected a substantial argument that the text really "invites and sustains" other readings, let alone "equally valid" ones. From the context we know that the poem semi-automatically composes itself from stimuli to which Stephen has just been subjected. The next sentence after the passage in question reads "The word now shone in his brain". This really ties it up from both ends of the passage: "the word" is "ivy", "his" refers to Stephen, "now" to the result of Stephen's reflections. That leaves, or rather, does not leave, the narrator-oriented reading. If the narrator is a source, Gillespie notes, relentlessly exploring all avenues, "the passage becomes ironic". But nothing whatever works for this reading. Certainly not the idea of an explicit narrator-bound (F)ID. The contextual clues, as shown, all point to Stephen. Stephen is eating his own words, and that is nothing to be ironic about. The narrator does not think the poem is good, does he?

Let us see what we have learned by exploring a final example, my own:

"A heavy bird" obviously invites various readings. Perhaps it is an owl, because of the dusk; it is a likely symbol of erudition. Or an albatross, a sea-bird reminiscent of ancient mariners. An eagle, a gull, and a goose and their numerous associations must surely also be allowed into the range of possibilities. What's that? A football? Come now, you've got to draw the line somewhere!


[1] Michael Patrick Gillespie, Reading the Book of Himself (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1989).

[2] Brian McHale, "Free Indirect Discourse: A Survey of Recent Accounts," PTL: Journal For Descriptive Poetics and the Theory of Literature 3 (1978): 249-287.

[3] Charles Bally, "Le style indirect libre en francais moderne," Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift 4 (1912): 549-556.

[4] Ann Banfield, Unspeakable Sentences: Narration and Representation in the Language of Fiction (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982); Brian McHale, "Unspeakbale Sentences, Unnatural Acts: Linguistics and Poetics Revisited," Poetics Today 4.1 (1983): 17-45.

[August 21, 2000]