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The usual: pub phenomenology in the works of James Joyce
Theses and Dissertations
  • Thomas M Keegan, University of Iowa
Document Type
Date of Degree
Degree Name
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Degree In
First Advisor
Herr, Cheryl
First Committee Member
Emery, Mary Lou
Second Committee Member
Peters, John D.
Third Committee Member
Stecopoulos, Harilaos
Fourth Committee Member
Stewart, Garrett

"The Usual: Pub Phenomenology in the Works of James Joyce" attempts to wrest the pub from critical dismissal as a token symbol of paternalistic Irish drunkenness and return it to the center of Joyce's work as the site for his development of a philosophy of being. Read this way, the pub illustrates ways humans come to understand their place in the world through objects, practices, and later, as part of a public entity. The pub also tells the story of modernism's impact on Irish society. Few spaces so deftly render the complexities of the modern Irish position: at the edge of the mechanizing forces of modernity and at odds with the vexing forces of British imperialism.

In Dubliners, Joyce outlines a trajectory for human development that passes through "childhood, adolescence, mature life, and public life." This trajectory parallels the progress of a phenomenological inquiry into being. We begin with those things immediately available to us in childhood. We come to know the world through the objects surrounding us. Our encounters with doors, drawers, counters, and glasses reveal a host of practices that further embroider and define our experience of the world. This assemblage refigures humanity as a nexus of things and practices situated in space. For Irish masculinity in the early twentieth century, the public house often served as a central space for this connection. The pub's public nature illustrates a kind of endpoint in the phenomenological inquiry just as Joyce ends his corpus with a book deeply absorbed in the overlapping soundscapes of a crowded public house. Investigating the how of our existence brings us face to face with other people. Being for Joyce, as it was for Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, and Jürgen Habermas, arises from the speech acts and human contact afforded by publicness. In Joyce's writing, there is no being that is not also a being among other people. I argue that the public house belongs to that set of unique spaces Michel Foucault terms "heterotopias." They are spaces that buck the architectural, political, or spatial norms of the time and in so doing articulate a cultural engagement with being. The dissertation maps outs a Heideggerian account of "equipment" and conjoins it with the inventive sociological theory of Michel de Certeau, the spatial poetics of Gaston Bachelard, and the publics theory of Michael Warner. I close the dissertation with a brief look at the pub's legacy in poems by Paul Durcan and Macdara Woods and the novel The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy. These works continue Joyce's exploration of the pub as a space of memory and futurity, as the presence of expatriates and women in the public house lend new glosses to the practice of nostalgia and rounds respectively.

2, vii, 214 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 206-214).
Copyright 2010 Thomas M Keegan
Citation Information
Thomas M Keegan. "The usual: pub phenomenology in the works of James Joyce" (2010)
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