James Joyce and the Modernist Ambition

Published March 1, 2024

Claremont Review of Books

Celebrated novelists, like Olympic athletes or Hollywood starlets, come and go. The lauded artists of a past generation are old hat to succeeding ones, who cannot begin to understand what all the fuss was about. This kind of deflation has befallen many of the great modernist writers who were supposed in their day to represent the absolute cutting edge of literary excellence. Once-trendy masterpieces by erstwhile causes célèbres like Virginia Woolf and Samuel Beckett have been downgraded to museum pieces or passing footnotes. But there is one modernist whose cachet has not ebbed, at least so far—and he has been around a long time. Well into the first century A.J. (After Joyce), the standard bearer of modernism at its most difficult and demanding continues to fly his flag high. How has he managed to endure where others have fallen by the wayside in droves? Does he deserve the continued adulation? Is he as great as they say he is? And who, by the way, are they?

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Algis Valiunas is a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing editor to The New Atlantis, a journal about the ethical, political, and social implications of modern science technology.

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