James Joyce's Parisian Influences

by Julia Nelsen

On September 26, Irish Studies Program director Catherine Flynn celebrated the release of her new book James Joyce and the Matter of Paris before an enthusiastic crowd at City Lights Booksellers in San Francisco. In conversation with Berkeley English professor Kent Puckett, Flynn discussed the significance of the French capital across Joyce's writings, beginning with his first trip there in 1902-03. 

Paris is indeed crucial to Joyce's work, as the place where Ulysses was first published in 1922. But Flynn's study sheds new light on the author's interaction with the city. Joyce, Flynn demonstrates, experienced Paris as a material space of commerce and exchange that triggered both excitement and angst. In response to the pressures of consumer capitalism and its instrumentalization of desire, she shows how Joyce drew on French literary influences to develop an aesthetic of the body. This form of what Flynn calls "sentient thinking," combining thought and sensation, emphasizes taste, smell and touch--traditionally ranked "lower" in the Western cultural hierarchy of the senses. Joyce's style thus reflects the bodily experience of the urban environment in which boundaries break down and identity is felt as fluid, porous, and multiple.

Highlighting the equally central importance of the Irish capital for Joyce, Flynn added that "Paris is a kind of lens through which to see Dublin." His writings, she argues, blend the sensory and somatic elements of the foreign city with the potential and richness of Hiberno-English to reshape the social and spatial context of his native Dublin. Throughout her new study of this canonical Irish modernist, Flynn reveals the important links Joyce shares with the European avant-garde, French literature, and critical theory. 

James Joyce and the Matter of Paris is published by Cambridge University Press (2019).