Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

On James Joyce

Occasional Histomat commentator Roobin has written a substantial summary of the most important works of James Joyce over at Lenin's Tomb, in the process helping that site to make a 'cultural turn' of sorts. Whether Lenin's Tomb 'needs' a cultural turn or not is of course quite a touchy issue which I am not going to broach.

I have read next to nothing of Joyce personally,* and while Roobin's post does not rise to the heights of Marxist literary criticism, it does give you a flavour of what Joyce is about, and so is highly recommended on that score. I was particularly fascinated by the reference to the influence of Giambattista Vico, author of Scienza Nuova (The New Science, 1725), in the discussion of Finnegan's Wake. Vico of course influenced the early thinking of several great historians like Jules Michelet, and also great Marxists like Antonio Gramsci, while great Marxist historians like EP Thompson would always also pay their respects to Vico - so the fact that Vico influenced Joyce is I think interesting. On Vico, Trotsky's summary is useful:

The theory of the repetition of historic cycles – Vico and his more recent followers – rests upon an observation of the orbits of old pre-capitalist cultures, and in part upon the first experiments of capitalist development. A certain repetition of cultural stages in ever new settlements was in fact bound up with the provincial and episodic character of that whole process. Capitalism means, however, an overcoming of those conditions. It prepares and in a certain sense realises the universality and permanence of man’s development.

*I do intend to at some point, honest.



At 4:39 pm, Blogger Roobin said...

Which one are you intending to start with? Are you going to read start to finish or pick one out?

At 5:28 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

Well this is the thing Roobin. Being a bibliophile, a few years ago I began to buy up Joyce books (and at one time I think I had the four main ones - Portrait of the artist, Ulysses, Dubliners and Finnegans Wake). I intended to read Portrait first (now I'd quite like to start with FW) but then living in a shared house full of non-bibliophiles who like to read I noticed that the damn book was missing when I went to look for it- and all I can seem to find now are Dubliners and Ulysses. And Ulysses looks about as daunting as Capital Vols 1, 2 and 3 put together. Which leaves me with Dubliners for now, so I guess if I read any it is most likely to be that one...

At 5:35 pm, Blogger Roobin said...

Fate, or circumstance (or Vico's wheels) have left you with a good choice. For one thing, the Dubliners are the supporting cast of Ulysses.

By the way, I have the same thing happen but with records. My books must a load o'carp.

At 10:21 pm, Anonymous a very public sociologist said...

"Roobin's post does not rise to the heights of Marxist literary criticism".

Never mind Roobin, I'm sure Eagleton-like greatness will come your way in the end ;)


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