Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Joyce, James

(1882-1941) Irish writer, long resident in Paris, whose impact on 20th-century literature, especially with Ulysses (1922 France), is perhaps unsurpassed. The influence of JJ upon fantastic and other literature includes his technical innovations and his extreme brilliance of language. This influence is broad but diffuse: many writers have felt it without having encountered his work other than glancingly. Richard Ellmann's observation that "We are still learning to be James Joyce's contemporaries" points up the unassimilability of his genius: Ulysses is still, 75 years later, a radical text.

Finnegans Wake (1924-1932 var chap; fixup 1939 UK) is the work of JJ's that can most usefully be considered a type of fantasy: although Modernist critics long sought to identify it as an essentially "realistic" novel, describing in subjective terms the dream-life of a sleeping Irish publican on a single night, more recent critics have seen it (as well as the later sections of Ulysses) as radically post-narrative, atomizing both character and event in a manner that has much, in various ways, in common with myth, fable and phantasia, but very little in common with the Victorian "Great Tradition" in narrative literature, which JJ wished to explode.

Much of JJ's influence has been technical and superficial: the dream-frame of Earwicker's "nightmaze" has informed the structure of numerous other fantasies, including Norman Mailer's abortive cycle of dream-novels, just as the Wake's circular form is imitated by such Postmodernist works as Samuel R Delany's Dhalgren (1975). Brian Aldiss's Barefoot in the Head (fixup 1969) makes more sophisticated use of JJ's stylistic innovations, while James Blish's "Common Time" (1953) attempts to use JJ's combined strategy of interior monologue, ironically transfigured Quest tale and atomized individuation, all within the compass of a novelette. Richard Grant's (1952-    ) Views from the Oldest House (1989), like Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow (1973), presents narrative consciousness unmoored from ego and dissolving through the landscape, a more significant use of JJ's imaginative universe. That all these works are at least debatably sf suggests that modern fantasy writers, though they have made use of some of JJ's more detachable and less disturbing innovations, are not anxious to become JJ's contemporaries. [GF]

other works: Dubliners (coll 1914 UK); A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916 US).

James Augustine Joyce


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.