Book chapter

"Scrupulous Meanness", Joyce's Gift and the Symbolic Economy of Dubliners

ContributorsMacduff, Sangam
Published inEconomies of English, Editors Leer, M. & Puskas, G.
PublisherTübingen : Narr Francke
Publication date2016

In 1906 Joyce informed his publisher that he intended to write “a chapter of the moral history” of Ireland “in a style of scrupulous meanness” with “Dublin for the scene.” Dubliners is famously economical, if not miserly, and Joyce treats his subjects somewhat harshly, but the sparseness of the stories is complemented by richly symbolic passages in which Joyce's poetic gifts shine through. This lyrical-symbolic mode would seem to run counter to the “scrupulous meanness” of Dubliners, but Mark Osteen argues that Joyce reconciles spendthrift habits with bourgeois thrift to create an aesthetic economy of the gift, where loss is gain. This analysis suggests that Joyce's poetic gifts are compensated, both artistically and financially, by putting literary language into circulation. Osteen, Ellmann and others have demonstrated the importance of Joyce's circulating systems, but I will argue that breaks in circulation are equally significant, and that, paradoxically, it is the gaps where language breaks down that put the signifying system into motion. Analysing “Two Gallants,” I will suggest that this paradox provides the key to Joyce's symbolic economy, where the withholdings of textual lacunae become portals of unlimited growth, while the riches of symbolic proliferation always contain a Midas touch of loss.

  • James Joyce
  • Dubliners
  • Symbolic Economy
Citation (ISO format)
MACDUFF, Sangam. ‘Scrupulous Meanness’, Joyce’s Gift and the Symbolic Economy of Dubliners. In: Economies of English. Tübingen : Narr Francke, 2016.
Main files (1)
Book chapter (Accepted version)
  • PID : unige:93958

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