Strong and Weak Ties: The Joyce Circle and the Press-Cutting Bureau
In a letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver dated December 18, 1937, James Joyce’s secretary Paul Léon described how Finnegans Wake (1939) in its final phase required multiple accomplices to reach completion:
In Tense Future (2015), Paul Saint-Amour advances the concept of “weak theory”—not only for thinking about the expanding field of modernism, but for finding a response to “[t]hat exemplary strong theory”: total war. The idea of “weak theory” has since taken on critical momentum of its own, with a Modernism/modernity special issue in 2018 putting a name to an array of approaches against symptomatic reading under the umbrella category of “weak,” not to mention the spate of responses that have since appeared on the Print Plus platform. The present cluster brings weak theory back to war. It does so not because it wants to winnow down the manifold critical possibilities already opened up, but, on the contrary, because the pluralized temporality of weakness continues to hold new possibilities for how we read and write about war. “Where strong theory attempts to ride its sovereign axioms to ‘a future never for a moment in doubt,’” Saint-Amour writes, “weak theory tries to see just a little way ahead, behind, and to the sides, conceiving even of its field in partial and provisional terms that will neither impede, nor yet shatter upon, the arrival of the unforeseen” (Tense, 40). Weak theory suggests a temporality of the unformed, the voluminous, and the indeterminate. It is that temporal mode which emerges across the essays in this special cluster, in which we explore the many ways wartime affects, and is affected by, varieties of temporal critique and temporal understanding.
It’s been nearly a year now since the publication of M/m’s special issue on Weak Theory, a year of conversations both here on Print Plus—and, as Aarthi Vadde and Melanie Micir point out, across a range of other professional and para-professional spaces of engagement. Many thanks to all who have taken part! As we bring this Year of Weak Theory to a close with responses from the original special issue authors, we hope and expect that these discussions of issues so important to the future of modernist studies will continue to ripple across the field.
This late entry in our responses to the Weak Theory issue began as the keynote address for this summer’s conference of The Space Between Society, “Staging the Space Between,” at South Dakota State University.