Volume 26, Issue 1, Fall 2021
Joycean Hermeneutics and the Tyranny of Hidden Prejudice
In order to revise interpretive prejudgments, it is important to first recognize them for what they are. Problematically, the habitual overreliance on deficient prejudgments can make such recognition difficult. An impasse appears: How can one intervene on deficient interpretive resources if those very same resources conceal their deficiencies? I analyze James Joyce’s short story “The Dead,” in which the protagonist Gabriel is highly resistant to internalizing experiences that might otherwise prompt him to revise his interpretive projections. I argue that Gabriel only becomes aware of his interpretive shortcomings after an experience of profound hesitation that allows him to affectively sense the limitations of his prejudice. Drawing from Hans-Georg Gadamer, Kristie Dotson, and Alia Al-Saji, I argue that Gabriel’s experience of hesitation temporarily denaturalizes his deeply entrenched sexism, circumventing the hermeneutical impasse described above. Read in this way, “The Dead” illustrates the power of affective experiences to unsettle highly resilient ways of seeing the world.