Joycean Possibilities: A Margot Norris Legacy

Joycean Possibilities: A Margot Norris Legacy

Edited by Joseph Valente
Vicki Mahaffey
Kezia Whiting

Anthem Irish Studies

Inspired by the work of Margot Norris, this volume takes up her theme of how James Joyce’s works open up a host of new possibilities: for interpretation, for stylistic “iridescence,” for narrative, for other possible worlds, and for gender equality.

PDF, 260 Pages


December 2022

£25.00, $40.00

EPUB, 260 Pages


December 2022

£25.00, $40.00

  • About This Book
  • Reviews
  • Author Information
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  • Table of Contents
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About This Book

This dedicated volume proposes to honor the rich, varied, trenchant, and tremendously influential scholarship of Professor Margot Norris in a series of essays amplifying her illumination of Joyce’s literary oeuvre along with several prominent lines she introduced and investigated. Our title is intended to mark the common denominator running, like Ariadne’s thread, throughout Professor Norris’ many-sided explorations of Joyce’s labyrinth. For Professor Norris, the quiddity of Joyce’s work, its elusive whatness, resides in its secretion of multiple what elses, its opening up of alternative ways of regarding the novels themselves, the readers they address, the narrative or generic forms they destabilize, the world to which they refer, and the heritages they tap. These five categories, in fact—textual plurivalence, formal innovations, possible worlds, emergent histories, and variegated readerships—serve as anchoring points of the collection, each corresponding with one of the significant projects delineating Professor Norris’ esteemed career. Prominent Joycean, Modernist, and Irish study scholars of different nations and generations supply the essays under each heading. 

The first critical section, the textual dimension, will engage with Professor Norris’ exemplary vindication of the hermeneutics of suspicion in her monograph, Suspicious Readings of Joyce’s Dubliners. Joseph Valente, Kezia Whiting and Beryl Schlossman will be toiling in this particular vineyard. The second section, the readerly dimension, will take up Professor Norris’ most recent book, Virgin and Veteran Readings of Ulysses, where she elaborates how the stylistic iridescence that Hugh Kenner identified as essential to Joyce’s writing likewise operates with shifts in the experience (in every sense of the term) of the reader, and how Joyce inscribes that shimmer of interpretive possibility directly into the text itself. Michael Groden, Ellen Carol Jones, and Austin Briggs each contribute an essay on this topic. The third section, the narratological dimension, grows out of Professor Norris’ attention to Joyce’s experiments in narrative and, more broadly, symbolic structure, beginning with her first book on Joyce, The Decentered Universe of Finnegans Wake. Derek Attridge and Valerie Benejan are featured in this subdivision. The fourth section, on alternative realities, enters forthrightly into dialogue with Professor Norris’ recent essays that usher the postmodern “possible worlds theory '' into the orbit of Joyce studies. Gregory Castle, Marilyn Reizbaum and Paul Saint-Amour extend the application of this paradigm to Ulysses and Finnegans Wake respectively. Whereas the first section of the volume deals with the importance of subtext in Professor Norris’ exegetical achievements, the final grouping deals with sub-context, with moments of buried history of the sort Professor Norris addresses in her book, Joyce’s Web. The essayists developing this approach include Maud Ellmann, Ann Fogarty, Michael Gillespie, and Margot Backus.

The volume culminates with an essay by Vicki Mahaffey focusing on the envisioning of and commitment to gender equality that pervades all of Professor Norris’ scholarship and rivets the excavation of a buried past to the imagination of a better future, possibilities missed and possibilities still to be seized.

Hopefully, this roster denotes how the concept of possibility will give the collection, as it has Professor Norris’ research, and as it did Joyce’s literary monuments, a kind of floating foundation (what seismic architects call base isolation), that ensures consistency in and through flexibility. The essays, to shift metaphorical register, speak to one another but in different idioms, each of which Professor Norris herself has helped to make legible and compelling in the several fields where Joyce looms centrally important. Due to the reverence in which Professor Norris is held in the Joyce community, the distinguished reputation of the contributors in Joyce studies and related fields, and the currency of the approaches they take in following her lead, this volume is certain to attract a substantial academic readership. 


“If Joyce contains multitudes of readings shaped by decades of critical approaches, how to make sense of texts and interpretations that both contain and do not contain themselves? Margo Norris solves the paradox by opening Joyce to more and more potentialities; her progressive opening of the critical frame has inspired generations of readers, as this marvelous and exciting collection written by the best scholars in the field amply shows” —Jean-Michel Rabaté, University of Pennsylvania and American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

“Whenever devoted and brilliant Joyceans gather, the sparks fly. In this new volume, fourteen gather to honor one of their best. Margot Norris’s ideas inspire the essays; her example invigorates them; her generosity radiates in fourteen different directions. Virgin and veteran readers alike will find what they need in this book – a compact compendium of what we know about Joyce in the wake of Norris, but also a prismatic catalog of the questions that remain.” —Jed Esty, Vartan Gregorian Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania (author of The Future of Decline, Stanford UP, 2022).

“Margot Norris has been an important, influential, and inspiring critic of modernist literature, especially of James Joyce’s writings—and so it is fitting that a number of prominent Joyce scholars have contributed to this collection of essays honoring her achievements, essays that illuminate and extend her own ideas and contributions.” —Vincent J. Cheng, University of Utah Distinguished Professor.

“This volume brings together a lively and distinguished group of scholars to discuss Norris’s groundbreaking scholarly oeuvre. In a series of suggestive and enlightening essays, these scholars build on her suspicious readings, her considerations of readers’ responses, her ethico-political engagements, and her uses of possible worlds theory to read Joyce in new ways” — Catherine Flynn PhD, University of California, Berkeley.

Author Information

Joseph Valente is UB Distinguished Professor, the University at Buffalo. He is currently Vice-President of the Northeast Modern Language Association. 

Vicki Mahaffey is the Clayton and Thelma Kirkpatrick Professor of English and Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign).

Kezia Whiting recently received her PhD from the University at Buffalo, for her dissertation "Modernist Intimacies." She has published several articles on Joyce, Coetzee and Modernism.


Anthem Irish Studies

Table of Contents

Preface; Part I, Introduction: Margot Norris and the Ideal of Interpretive Possibility; Part II Personal Testimonies; Part III Suspicious Readings; Part IV Joyce’s Webs; Part V The Value of James Joyce: Ethico-Political  Readings; Part VI Possible Worlds; Part VII Epilogue; Index 


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