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James Joyce and the Exilic Imagination
The Florida James Joyce Series
University Press of Florida
Florida A&M University, Tallahassee
Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton
Florida Gulf Coast University, Ft. Myers
Florida International University, Miami
Florida State University, Tallahassee
New College of Florida, Sarasota
University of Central Florida, Orlando
University of Florida, Gainesville
University of North Florida, Jacksonville
University of South Florida, Tampa
University of West Florida, Pensacola
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James Joyce and
the Exilic Imagination
Michael Patrick Gillespie
Foreword by Sebastian D. G. Knowles, Series Editor
University Press of Florida
Gainesville · Tallahassee · Tampa · Boca Raton
Pensacola · Orlando · Miami · Jacksonville · Ft. Myers · Sarasota
Copyright 2015 by Michael Patrick Gillespie
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper
This book may be available in an electronic edition.
20 19 18 17 16 15
6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Gillespie, Michael Patrick, author.
James Joyce and the exilic imagination / Michael Patrick Gillespie.
pages cm — (The Florida James Joyce series)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Joyce, James, 1882-1941—Criticism and interpretation. 2. Authors, Exiled.
3. Exiles’ writings. I. Title. II. Series: Florida James Joyce series.
The University Press of Florida is the scholarly publishing agency for the State
University System of Florida, comprising Florida A&M University, Florida
Atlantic University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida International
University, Florida State University, New College of Florida, University of Central
Florida, University of Florida, University of North Florida, University of South
Florida, and University of West Florida.
University Press of Florida
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Gainesville, FL 32611-2079
For Asher Z. Milbauer
whose insight inspired and guided this work
and whose friendship made it possible
Think where man’s glory most begins and ends,
And say my glory was I had such friends.
W. B. Yeats, “The Municipal Gallery Revisited”
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The Context of Exile: A Critical Introduction .
1. Joyce’s Exilic Self-Conception .
2. Dubliners: The First Glimpse of Ireland from Abroad .
3. Stephen Dedalus’s Lifelong Exile . . . . . . . .
4. Re-Viewing Richard: Nostalgia and Rancor in Exiles . . .
5. Ulysses: Exiles on Main Street .
6. Finnegans Wake and the Exile’s Return .
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“Each exilic experience is as unique as the experience of any human life.”
Perhaps this is obvious, but sometimes it takes a critic with the special
gifts of Michael Gillespie to hit what Lynch would call the “Bull’s eye!” I
have some personal interest in the subject, having left England at thirteen
for the brave new world across the Atlantic, and so does Gillespie, who
glances beautifully at his own family’s part in the Irish diaspora (“when
my grandfather left Achill Island”). So does Bloom, of course, and so does
Joyce, and so do all of us. As the introduction shows, in a far-ranging
study of the exile theme from Émile Zola to John Ford, from Joseph Conrad to Thomas Mann, exile is a “word known to all men.” What Michael
Gillespie brings to the long-worn subject of modernist exile is a double
vision of sharpness and sensitivity, which is at once unafraid to take on
the foolishness of received critical opinion and deeply attuned to the folly
of the human heart. Time and again Gillespie gives us a less cynical, less
hierarchical reading of the text, whether it is in a new validation of the
intensity of Mr. Duffy’s mourning, a new appreciation of the solicitude
of the sisters of Reverend Flynn, or a new and warmer light shone on the
machinations of Mrs. Mooney and Mrs. Kearney. This is a deeply sympathetic reading, but it is also coldly unafraid to tackle the prescriptive tenets of Joycean criticism, from the literary bases for Ellmann’s biographical pronouncements to the standard readings of Stephen’s encounter with
Cyril Sargent in “Nestor.” With this book, Michael Gillespie returns empathy to the center of Joyce’s world, as any reader of Ulysses comes to
understand is its rightful place.
The idea of the book, that Joyce’s personal experience of exile was shot
through with ambivalence about his native Ireland, an ambivalence that
expresses itself in both his life and his work as hostility and sentimentality
in equal measure, is everywhere compelling. The oscillating perspectives
x · Foreword
(Gillespie borrows the term from Riquelme) of rancor and nostalgia perfectly map onto the exilic authors and characters that Gillespie discusses,
and provide the reader with a clear path right to Joyce’s doubled heart.
This book is written clearly and sensibly, unblinkered by theoretical commitments, and achieves exactly what it intends in providing a timely and
useful intervention in Joyce studies. This is an open work in the best sense:
welcoming, evenhanded, and open-minded. What results is nothing less
than a vital regeneration of Joyce’s prose work.
Sebastian D. G. Knowles
In addition to the debt of gratitude I have toward Asher Milbauer, to
whom this book is dedicated, I feel most grateful to my wife Paula and to
our daughters Karen, Leigh, and Ann. Their support has sustained and
made meaningful all that I have done as an academic.
I am grateful to a number of people at Florida International University.
Deans Kenneth Furton, Meredith Newman, Gisela Casines, and Michael
Heithaus have been constant in their encouragement. I have benefited
greatly from the insights of colleagues in the English Department including Debra Dean, Ginny Gathercote, Paula Gillespie, Kenneth Johnson,
Phillip Marcus, James Sutton, and Feryal Yavas.
I have also benefited from the support of colleagues elsewhere including Nancy Curtin (Fordham University), James Doan (Nova Southeastern University), James Fairhall (DePaul University), A. Nicholas Fargnoli
(Molloy College), Anne Fogarty (University College Dublin), Andrew
Gibson (University of London), Thomas Hachey (Boston College), Sean
Latham (University of Tulsa), Vicki Mahaffey (University of Illinois),
Timothy McMahon (Marquette University), James Rogers (St. Thomas
University), and David Rose (Paris).
Finally, I am deeply indebted to my readers, Patrick McCarthy and
John Paul Riquelme, for their rigorous, insightful, and generous assessment of my manuscript. I am also most grateful to Sebastian Knowles,
series editor, who is simply the best book manuscript editor with whom I
have ever worked, to Shannon McCarthy, assistant editor at the University
Press of Florida, who is both insightful and patient. Finally, project editor Nevil Parker and copy editor Ann Marlowe provided crucial insights
during the concluding stages of the project.
The chapter on Dubliners appeared in an earlier form in New Hibernia
Review. The one on Exiles has previously appeared in James Joyce Quarterly. I am grateful to the editors of both journals for permission to reprint
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The Context of Exile
A Critical Introduction
We live in an aesthetic world where comprehension of any form of art
cannot avoid inflection by attitudes that emphasize subjectivity, immediacy, and materialism—in short, in a world conceived as operating without elements that would clearly define a center or its periphery. From that
perspective, any term seeking to encompass a concept that goes beyond
describing an individual’s feelings during a self-contained moment might
seem to overreach. Conventional political, cultural, and social designations may seem at best arbitrary. The boundaries they asserted that made
it possible in earlier eras to distinguish the exile from the society from
which he or she had been cut off no longer enjoy the same legitimacy that
gave them credence in a premodernist society.1
At the same time, ample evidence exists that fundamental issues of the
exilic experience continue to resonate strongly within the postmodern
world. One need only look to scenes in Samuel Beckett’s drama Waiting
for Godot, the literary paradigm of twentieth-century alienation, for an illustration of the continuing power of the exilic condition over individuals
in our society. As Beckett’s protagonists show throughout the play, alienation is inescapable for even the most solitary individuals surrounded by
a void. From the bleak opening—“Nothing to be done”—through their
repeated references to the pain of being alone, Vladimir and Estragon
reiterate how the absence of a larger community, beyond that formed by
their mutual dependence, scars the individual.2
The postmodern way of thinking does not banish exile but rather extends its definition to cover us all. Like the numerous epistemologies that
have preceded it, postmodern thinking sees attitudes of isolation and
alienation as inherent features in the natures of contemporary individu-
2 · James Joyce and the Exilic Imagination
als. More to the point, it sees those feelings coming directly out of a need
for connection with a large social entity.
However one describes that condition, the trauma that comes from
separation from community, concern for the consequences of such marginalization repeats itself in public commentaries from generation to generation, with little variation over changing social contexts. This makes
the impact of liminality on creativity a force to consider as formidable in
any artistic period and no matter what our own interpretive perspective,
for no matter when it occurs—from Oedipus Rex to Lord Jim—exilic images in literature retain a consistent and powerful influence upon how the
reader sees and understands the world surrounding him or her.
Admittedly, some argument is necessary to make the case for reading
Joyce’s works as the product of an exilic experience. He was not a victim
of political persecution, expelled from his native country and barred from
return by threats of death or imprisonment. Nor was he, like many rural
Irish who a half century earlier endured the Great Famine, an economic
exile whose alternative to departure was starvation. Instead, Joyce quite
simply was a displaced artist who left the land of his birth of his own
volition because he felt that he could neither live nor create as he wished
in Ireland. For many readers, this decision may seem indistinguishable
from those made by any number of emigrants who departed from their
homelands at the beginning of the twentieth century and who are not
commonly labeled as exiles, but in terms of a critical understanding of the
canon, that seems to me very much beside the point.
Charting creative influences always proves to be a problematic endeavor, for it rests upon subjective views that do not always carry conviction across a range of readers. One can shore up such an argument if
one keeps the artist’s state of mind in the forefront of all considerations.
Evidence as to the artist’s self-image stands as a far more significant determinant of the applicability of a particular condition than does any other
measure of it.
That becomes a key feature to understanding Joyce’s relation to his Irish
heritage and the motivations that shaped its depictions in his writings.
Biographical details and direct statements made by the author in letters
and conversations make a strong case for labeling him an exile. In the end
the most convincing reason for seeing Joyce as an exile writer comes not
because he fits any received view of the term but because events in his life
made it possible for him plausibly to see himself as one.
The Context of Exile: A Critical Introduction · 3
In the next chapter I will take up in greater detail Joyce’s connection to
the exilic experience. Before exploring the implications of that perspective, however, it is useful to step back and go over the features delineating
the concept of exile as I apply it throughout this study. Establishing the
specificity of my language stands as an important step in justifying the
logic of my approach. I understand that not every departure from one’s
native country is a movement into exile, nor do all exiles view their native
countries in the same way. However, exiles do share certain broad tendencies, and keeping these in mind while reading Joyce’s works can greatly
enhance our comprehension.
First, let me clarify what distinguishes exile from other forms of separation from one’s country. The clearest illustration of the features of exile
emerges in contrasting it with emigration, a related but distinctly different
condition. Overt agency, though a crucial determinant in a narrow understanding of these terms, does not strike me as a definitive feature of the
concept that I am applying in this study to Joyce and to his writings. Indeed, identifying the articulator of the judgment that a person must leave
the country—whether it come as a governmental decision, an economic
exigency, or an individual’s judgment—has less interpretive significance
here than does the individual’s perception of that determination. For that
reason, the psychological, emotional, and even instinctive responses one
makes to the severance of ties with one’s native land stand for me as the
essential components that distinguish the exilic experience. An external
entity may impose the condition that a person’s life in his or her native
country has become insupportable, or the individual may come to that
sense of intolerability from within. In either case, it is the conditions and
one’s perception of them, and not their source, that form one’s sense of
being an exile.
This brings me back to the function of subjectivity in delineating the
process, for it stands as the initial determinant that informs all of the
conclusions that follow. Throughout this study, I read Joyce’s works from
the presumption that individual perception defines to a large degree the
broader context in which the person exists. This point of view implicitly
colors all of the attitudes that Joyce took throughout his writings, and it
becomes an explicit feature informing the narrative, as Joyce’s own discourse makes clear in the initial musings of Stephen Dedalus as he walks
on Sandymount Strand at the opening of the Proteus chapter of Ulysses:
“Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought
4 · James Joyce and the Exilic Imagination
through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read” (U 3.1–2).
The passage offers a compact illustration not simply of Stephen’s efforts
to understand the relationship of imagination and perception but, more
broadly, of how disposition can reshape context in Joyce’s process of creativity. As Stephen aptly demonstrates, interpretation rather than initiation is the key factor in bringing art into existence. More than whoever
initiates a physical change, it is the perceiver of that change—the one who
gives it meaning—who imposes meaning on the environment.
This means that for any understanding of the way exile works in Joyce’s
writing, the most important consideration is that Joyce left Ireland because he felt he was compelled to do so. He became an exile because he saw
himself as such. He defined himself in just the way that Stephen Dedalus
attempted to piece together the world he ran up against. The “seaspawn
and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot” (U 3.2–3) are the artifacts
jumbled together that inhabit the world that Stephen encounters. As he
comes to understand on his walk, it is his imagination that has the power
to identify, classify, and unify them.3 This makes the need to understand
the orientation of imaginative power, not just in Stephen but in his creator
as well, a primary function in any interpretive process. Understanding the
influence of the exilic experience in turn provides important insights for
discerning that orientation. In keeping with my view that the essence of
the exilic experience is essentially psychological rather than physical, I
believe that in any analysis the traumatic elements of this condition need
to be emphasized to distinguish it from other circumstances in which
individuals leave their countries of origin.
Emigration, though often materially similar to exile, has transcendent
components that clearly distinguish it from exile. The emigrant, voluntarily and often eagerly, leaves his or her native home seeking an alternative situation. A young clerk in Manchester in 1845, for example, might
have chosen to leave Britain to go to America seeking a better life, but the
clerk would have made the decision knowing full well that it would be
possible to remain in England in expectation of a reasonably comfortable
situation, and that it would be possible to return home should prospects
abroad prove disappointing.
In direct contrast, exile replaces inclination with compulsion, an animating force that violently initiates the condition and remains an influence on all subsequent actions. In this manner a young farmworker living
on Achill Island in rural Ireland in the same year as the Manchester clerk,
The Context of Exile: A Critical Introduction · 5
seeing widespread starvation after the country’s potato crops had been
devastated by blight, would have been faced with the choice of leaving to
find sustenance in another country or remaining to face dying of hunger.
Either course of action would have been irreversible. Comparing the two
cases makes the distinction between emigration and exile exceedingly
clear despite any similarities in the actual displacement.
Whatever the circumstances surrounding a specific decision to leave,
the reality at the heart of the matter is that exile is thrust upon individuals
who can no longer sustain themselves in the lands that they have considered their homes. Exile may be actively forced on a person, like Ovid’s
expulsion from Rome, or it may be the result of an individual’s self-imposition when no alternatives seem to exist, like Lord Byron’s departure
from England. In every case a perceived threat to one’s existence, defined
in a variety of ways, propels one from one’s country, and the consequences
of displacement—a traumatic separation from the political, cultural, and
social environment—radically reconfigure the way that the individual
conceives his or her public identity.
It is this metaphysical impact of exile on the individual’s consciousness,
considered both in its immediacy and in its long term, that is the most important feature distinguishing the experience. Exile stands as a traumatic
event whose duration and repercussions can hardly be overstated. Not just
the act of being exiled but the enduring experience that unfolds as a consequence of being forced to leave one’s home leads to visceral, emotional
responses at the most fundamental level of understanding and comprehension, evoking sensations of expulsion, sundering, and alienation. An
aura of violation—physical, emotional, and spiritual—surrounds the exile
and inflects impressions of the exilic experience as profoundly as does the
sorrow of separation. Exile quite simply is an event that fundamentally
alters one’s psyche, and its repercussions remain within the individual’s
consciousness for life.
At its heart, exile challenges identity. It does so by altering the individual’s relationship to the cultural context against which the self has been
measured. Exile redefines one’s sense of the world from which one came.
In the process it makes the individual far more deeply aware of dependence upon that world, and it creates sometimes sentimental and sometimes bitter feelings toward that now lost world.
This feeling is particularly evident in a number of writers whose postcolonial views are strongly influenced by postmodern thinking. It is a
6 · James Joyce and the Exilic Imagination
point well worth emphasizing, for it underscores how fundamental human feelings repeatedly trump ideological commitments. Even Edward
Said, whose writings would seem to place him fiercely at odds with sentimentality, presents a softer version of the experience than one might
In a secular and contingent world, homes are always provisional.
Borders and barriers, which enclose us within the safety of familiar
territory, can also become prisons, and are often defended beyond
reason or necessity. Exiles cross borders, break barriers of thought
Said’s prose does not succumb to the sentimentality that shades many
exilic recollections, and his emphasis in the first two sentences focuses
squarely on the claustrophobic qualities of nationhood. However, when
he turns to the experience of exile, his language becomes more lyrical and
a touch of romanticism tinges the exposition that follows. In this stylistic
shift, the description of exile emphasizes it as more emotionally rewarding and more complex than one might expect in a mere materialist recapitulation of the events and the consequences of displacement. There is
an understated but nonetheless powerful heroic element in Said’s account
that presents exile as a transformative and even enhancing condition.
In an essay published in the same year as the article quoted above, Said
reiterates a commitment to this point of view. He comes back to the topic
of displacement as a way of underscoring the deep-rooted, multifaceted
influence of the exilic experience on every aspect of our lives. Said’s description presents exile as anything but a crippling condition. Quite the
contrary, he foregrounds it as an experience that reconfigures individuals
and that leads to broad transformations of their environment. Said goes
on to state unambiguously and perhaps, seeing himself also as a displaced
person, with a sense of self-reflected pride: “Modern Western culture is in
large part the work of exiles, émigrés, refugees.”5
None of these observations can diminish the corrosive impact that
exile exerts, nor are they intended to do such a thing. It is important to
keep in mind that the experience of exile almost always has a profoundly
traumatic or at the very least an insistently funereal quality to it. As Said
himself knew, suffering starkly delineates the separation between theory
The Context of Exile: A Critical Introduction · 7
Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a
native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness
can never be surmounted.6
For Said, unique pain that one must endure, more than anything else, sets
apart the exilic experience.
That, however, is not a sufficient summary of the exilic condition. Despite the directness and the confidence of statements by Said and others
who have commented on the impact—psychological, spiritual, and creative—of the exilic experience, a great deal remains to be engaged when
one takes up the issue of exile and art. Particularly in discussions of the
impact of exile on creative expression, the point on how to understand
expressions of exile embedded in authors’ works remains open to debate.
This is due in no small part to the fact that the conditions that precipitate writers’ exiles and their consequent responses to their displacements
cover a wide spectrum of possibilities. Even the broadest of categorizations regarding the displacement and its aftermath almost immediately
suggest exceptions and provoke qualifications. The challenge to interpretive engagement comes from the diversity of experiences across the lives
of different authors.
These transformative consequences of exile make it inevitable that the
creations of artists who are compelled, for whatever reason, to leave their
native countries will be informed by this condition. At the same time, the
impact of the exilic experience is never simply apprehended by the individual who undergoes it or predictably discerned by others who observe
it. Ann C. Colley, writing about Robert Louis Stevenson’s separation from
Scotland when his health forced him abroad, describes that author’s complex and conflicted attitudes toward the country he left and by implication
hints at its impact on the works he would produce.
Stevenson’s longing for Scotland is especially circumscribed by inversions and oppositions. Pride and mockery, admiration and deprecation permeated his commentary so that he alternately abhorred
and respected, for instance the Victorian gentility of Edinburgh, and
simultaneously esteemed and ridiculed the Scots dialect.7
Considering the life and writings of authors like Stevenson shows that
the emotional, psychological, and spiritual duality that comes out of the
Author Michael Patrick Gillespie Isbn 9780813060651 File size 823.1 KB Year 2015 Pages 192 Language English File format PDF Category History Book Description: FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrDiggMySpaceShare Casts significant new light on Joyces writings by bringing out memorable ways in which the literal experience of exile enabled Joyce to recast retrospectively the exilic quality of living in Ireland, not simply as alienation but as a mixture of rancor and affection that colors the lives in all his fiction. Download (823.1 KB) Joyce And Militarism Medieval Ireland: An Encyclopedia Tense Future: Modernism, Total War, Encyclopedic Form Rewriting Shangri-La: Tibetan Youth, Migrations and Literacies in McLeod Ganj, India The Facts on File Companion to the British Short Story Load more posts