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What Joyce Meant

In response to:

Joyce's Influenza from the October 13, 1977 issue

To the Editors:

I am a little puzzled by Michael Wood’s comments about Joyce’s Ulysses (NYR, October 13). He says that “Joyce’s business is not to lure us into ‘sharing his perspective,’ as Ellmann says. It is to compound our perspectives to the point of dizziness….” This seems to imply that Joyce had an intention he wanted his reader to recognize. But then Wood says that Joyce “leaves the meaning of his work very largely to his readers.” I don’t get it. If Joyce leaves his meaning largely to his readers, what’s wrong with Ellmann deciding to read it his way?

Is it possible that Michael Wood contradicts himself—or, rather, that his use of two kinds of fashionable critical rhetoric (ironic interpretation and open-ended, “free” interpretation) collide?

Gerald Graff

Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois

Michael Wood replies:

Of course it’s possible that I contradict myself, but I don’t think I did on this occasion. My suggestion was that Joyce intended his readers to fend for themselves among a proliferation of meanings. This is not to say that all readings are equal. It is to say that the authority of different readings cannot be tested by referring them back to an idea in the mind of Joyce, or even to a single line of thought in Ulysses. Interpretations of Joyce must make sense of his addiction to plurality. I don’t see what fashion has to do with any of this.

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