I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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The Undead

Terence Killeen
Joyce’s Ghosts: Ireland, Modernism and Memory, by Luke Gibbons, University of Chicago Press, 286 pp, €45, ISBN: 978-0226236179 Readers of a certain vintage may remember the cartoon character Casper the Friendly Ghost (indeed, he may still be around, though I can’t vouch for it). Well, Joyce’s ghosts, as Luke Gibbons reads them, are like that: they are a friendly bunch, non-threatening in general, sociable in the sense that they tend to haunt collectivities rather than individuals, and, very importantly, they speak our language – the haunting is not a lot of mumbo-jumbo, it is in our (Irish, modern) idiom, because these ghosts are familiars, close to us in many ways, different only in being dead, or being at best just (just?) a memory. Across the eight diverse chapters and a lengthy introduction, Gibbons, who is professor of Irish literary and cultural studies at NUI Maynooth, develops an overriding and ambitious project: with Joyce’s work up to Ulysses as his key, to install the spectral, the haunted and the haunter, at the heart of the Irish colonial and postcolonial experience. So the originality of this work is to bring two discourses together: namely, the one which goes under the convenient but perhaps not entirely adequate name of postcolonialism and the currently very active and crowded theory of the ghostly, the revenant (a word that has gained recent prominence in another though not unrelated context) and of memory as “hauntology” (to use Derrida’s stimulating term). Ultimately, the book is not just (just?) about Joyce; its horizon is the broader project that I have just described, and Joyce’s work is the means of bringing it about. This is not to say that Joyce is here a mere tool or lever for the fulfilling of a wider purpose: the book is indeed focused on his work, but it is also true that the ultimate scope is even more extensive than this writer alone. The nature of Gibbons’s project is, very naturally, made most explicit in his twenty-page introduction (plus six-and-half-pages of closely printed notes), called “A Ghost by Absence”. Introductions, as has been noted before this, are strange entities: ostensibly preparatory to and anticipatory of what is to come, they are in fact almost invariably written last and often provide the occasion where a writer finally clarifies his or her project in retrospect. Here also, Gibbons’s introduction usefully brings together the various concerns that animate the…

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