James Joyce’s political “prophecies”

Joseph Valente compares nationalism in the 1920's and today, photo courtesy of Casey Cole

“Over the last few decades there has been much discussion of how literary canons evolve over time and which authors rightfully belong to that canon,” Humanities Research Center Director Richard Godbeer during the opening remarks.

Godbeer posed the question of what the “mostly white and male literary greats” have to offer modern curriculum.

Valente spoke of 20th century author, James Joyce’s portrayal of the Whiteboys, an Irish political group that served as an antecedent to the Klu Klux Klan. The modern political climate is not so different from that which fostered the Whiteboys, Valente said, arguing Joyce “prophesied” surrounding the election of President Donald Trump.

Joseph Valente compares nationalism in the 1920’s and today, photo courtesy of Casey Cole

The writing and research process for the work started before the 2016 election, which altered Valente’s perspective, he said.

“I had no idea Trump would actually win,” Valente said. “(I wanted to know) what it was that produced any support for Trump at the time.”

Instead of changing the work to be current with the events popping up in the news, Valente said he decided to focus on the pre-election climate to make the task more feasible.

Through a series of “parodies,” excerpted from Joyce’s works, Valente analyzed the development of the populist movement in 18th-century Ireland, later linking it to the development of similar sentiments in the United States. Populism refers to ideas which focus on protecting “the people” from “the elite,” and can encompass many more specific political ideologies.

“The seeds of populism are disseminated by the middle class,” Valente said.

In the two cases discussed by Valente, populism is motivated by veiled gender issues and more overt racial ones. He said the militarization that’s been seen under Trump symbolizes a masculine aggression. Similarly, the dialogue of the Whiteboys served to emasculate groups they opposed, such as Jewish people.

Valente said the Whiteboys granted “iconic status” to the Irish Peasantry, as the Trump campaign was able to do for America’s heartland many years later.

“Race-consciousness has readily attached itself to populist movements,” Valente said.

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