Catherine Flynn

James Joyce and Walter Benjamin and the Matter of Modernity
Spring 2014

Catherine Flynn is Assistant Professor in the Department of English where she teaches British and Irish modernist literature. She is a native of Ireland and came to the United States in 2002 to pursue a PhD in Comparative Literature at Yale University. Previously, she practiced as an architect in Ireland and in Vienna, Austria; she has a B.Arch. from University College Dublin. She was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University’s Introduction to the Humanities Program from 2009 to 2012. She has published articles on James Joyce, Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, Franz Kafka, Marxist literary criticism, Surrealism, and theories of the Avant-Garde. Alongside her book project on Joyce and Benjamin, she is at work with David Wheatley on a scholarly edition of Flann O’Brien’s Cruiskeen Lawn.

In "James Joyce, Walter Benjamin and the Matter of Modernity," Catherine Flynn takes a comparative approach to understanding how Joyce’s formal innovations engage with the problems of the modern capitalist city. Whereas criticism of Joyce has been dominated by the Irish historical context, Flynn’s project understands Ulysses as seeing 1904 Dublin through the lens of Paris, where Joyce wrote and rewrote much of the novel. Flynn reads Ulysses alongside Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, which he began in Paris just after Joyce finished Ulysses there. She views Benjamin’s collection of fragmentary citations, descriptions, and commentaries, assembled to represent modern material culture, as the formal and theoretical counterpart to Joyce’s novel. She argues that Joyce’s novel belongs to a new mode that emerges to represent modern city life: fictions no longer dominated by narrative but preoccupied instead with the description and enumeration of things, for which they improvise new forms.