James Joyce, Harbinger of Contemporary Risk Society

The banks seem to determine our destiny. This did not appear to be the case when James Joyce began his literary career. In the margin of the last draft of Dubliners in 1906, he remarked that he needed a publisher who would be willing to take a risk. James was twenty-four and working in a bank in Italy. He was keeping a notebook on the world of commerce.

“The additions in the margin include several mentions of the word risk,” says Jaya Savige, a Cambridge scholar whose research focuses on the rise of the concept of risk in modernist literature. “You can see the convergence of the language of finance and his own youthful formulation of his artistic project and sensibility.”

In Ulysses, the former insurance broker Leopold Bloom is constantly thinking of the insurability of the individuals he encounters…. The mythical maritime risks that Odysseus faces in his voyages are transplanted into early 20th-century industrial Dublin.

Source: Cambridge Alumni Magazine, Easter 2012, “James Joyce: Artist, Banker” by Mandy Garner


2 responses to “James Joyce, Harbinger of Contemporary Risk Society

  1. Michael Gundy

    Interesting that Joyce uses the word “risk” rather than “uncertainty.” Risk in Joyce’s case implies that there is a statistical or predicable chance that he could find a publisher, rather like the actuarial musings of Leopold Bloom. In reality, it is uncertainty in play. A publisher’s sense of commercial and/or artistic merit cannot be predicted by Gausian mathematics.

  2. Michael: when doubt is left unanswered and probability provides inadequate assurance what else comes in to play? Pluck, belief, stubborness have all lead the way to triumph. Did JJ know he was pretty damn good and some fool would see it too?