To resume again...

Joyce avec Lacan — Préface

From Joyce-the-Symptom...

Joyce: Through the Lacan Glass

The Crack

My Dinner with Jacques

Lacan: the End


Next to Nothing

Genghis Chan: Private Eye XXIII

The Woman Who Filled Up the World Because She Didn't Know How to Exist In It


Joyce: Through the Lacan Glass


Patrick Healy

Although it is clear that Joyce had been reading Freud, Jung and Jones early in his career, the general view is that his relation to psychoanalysis was antagonistic. It is known he had copies of Freud's study on Leonardo da Vinci, Jones' on Hamlet and Jung's The Father in the Destiny of the Individual. The texts are important for discussions in Ulysses, but Joyce's preference seems to be echoed in the smiling and slightly sententious remarks of Stephen:

Saint Thomas, Stephen smiling, said whose gorbellied works I enjoy reading in the original, writing of incest from a standpoint different from that of the new Viennese school Mr. Magee spoke of likens it in his wise and curious way to an avarice of the emotions (Ulysses).

Saint Thomas set against Freud. Joyce will continue with negative comparisons to Freud throughout his life. Among the testimonia, the peevish comment to Budgen:

...why all this fuss and bother about the mystery of the unconscious, what about the mystery of the conscious?

Not only did Joyce maintain that Freud had been anticipated by Vico, he remarked to the Danish writer Tom Kristensen:

I don't believe in any science but my imagination grows when I read Vico but it doesn't when I read Freud and Jung.1

It is in relation to Jung that Joyce's most complete hostility is expressed. Jung's essay on Ulysses was considered wounding and rude by Joyce, who asked Daniel Brody why it was so, to be told that one only needed to translate Joyce's name into German. Jung, during his treatment of Lucia Joyce, formed the opinion that Joyce's daughter had become a muse figure for him, and thus confirmed a suspicion which Joyce had formed many years earlier when interpreting a dream of Nora Barnacle: that his daughter was a kind of sacrifice for his own genius. Jung's final view on Joyce, even after a quasi apologetic correspondence, is that his psychological style is definitely schizophrenic, the difference being that an ordinary patient cannot help himself talking and thinking in such a way, whereas Jung avers Joyce wished this to be so.

Joyce's most explicit tilt can be found in the text of Finnegans Wake:

Be who? farther potential? and so wider but we grisly old Sykos who have done our unsmiling bit on alices when they were yung and easily freudened in the penumbra of the procuring room and what oracular compression we have had to apply to them.

At issue is the view of a kind of lascivious patriarchy where the humorless old men orchestrate incest fantasies towards young girls:

...father in such virgated contexts is not always that undemonstrative relative (often held up to our contumacy)...

Both the earlier text of Jung and Freud's Totem and Taboo are questioned by Joyce. The issue of patriarchy is central to the project in Finnegans Wake. The first sounding in Ulysses has been reechoed and dismantled:

Fatherhood, in the sense of conscious begetting, is unknown to man, it is a mystical state, an apostolic succession, from only begetter to only begotten. On that mystery and not on the madonna which the cunning Italian intellect flung to the mob of Europe the church is founded and founded irremovably because founded, like the world, macro and microcosm, upon the void. Upon incertitude, upon unlikelihood, amor matris, subjective and objective genitive, may be the only true thing in life. Paternity may be a legal fiction.

One may cite this as the beginning of a process of disrupting the issue of patriarchy, which one critic has claimed continues throughout the work of Joyce, in which the father is constantly denied, but also reestablished.2 Indeed, one summary view of Lacan's reading of Finnegans Wake is that Joyce abandoned his belief in an Ersatz father, or fake phantasm of the father, and took the third person position of listening to oneself write, rather than the more common second person position of writer to text.3 This is almost, in view of the idea of the third person position, as if Joyce has become his own character, Mr. Duffy in A Painful Case, for whom the third person objectifies his isolation and creates a spurious perfection. Thomas Hofheinz, following Margot Norris, sees Joyce's career in terms of a response to the Irish patterns of alcoholic failure with the failure of the patriarchal nuclear families and especially with their patriarchs.4 But there is a deadly ambivalence which the Wake constantly evokes:

There are sordidly tales within tales...

Are you to have all the pleasure quizzing on me? I didn't say it aloud, sir. I have something inside of me talking to myself.

You're a nice third degree witness, faith! But this is no laughing matter. D'you think we are tonedeaf in our nose to boot? Can you not distinguish the sense, prain, from the sound, bray? You have homosexual catheis of empathy between narcissism of the expert and steatopygic invertedness. Get yourself psychoanolised!

O, begor, I want no expert nursis symaphy from yours broons quadroons and I can psoakoonaloose myself any time I want (the fog follow you all) without your interferences or any other pigeonstealer.

Sample! Sample!

and even misleading directives which seem to suggest some narrative centre,

...the gist of the pantomime, from cannibal king to the property horse being, slumply and slopely, to remind us how, in this drury world of ours, Father Times and Mother Spacies boil their kettle with their crutch. Which every lad and lass in the lane knows...

or, indeed, that there is some possible archaeology,

...this, for instance, utterly unexpected sinistrogyric return to one peculiar sore point in the past,

or, an invitation to a larval genealogy, where the kind of hidden philosophical mythology in language is exposed, and by a loss of faith in grammar, one, as Nietzsche has it, can be rid of belief in God, that the play of larval modalities of words and phrases in the hesitant self-doubting of writing can overcome the death of God... you sing it its a study. That letter selfpenned to one's other, that neverperfect, everplanned...

or, the imagined exegesis of the future,

The prouts who will invent a writing there ultimately is the poeta, still more learned, who discovered the raiding there originally. That's the point of escathology our book of kills reaches for now in soandso many counterpoint words. What can't be coded can be decorded if an aye sieze what no eye ere grieved for...

which results in the very opposite effect; and thus a recent critic can write that Joyce's determined Utopian recuperation of every violence, defeat and loss should be examined in the context of Freud's description of the representational strategies of the dream work. Freud asserts, she says, in The Interpretation of Dreams, that the dreaming mind in pursuit of the fulfillment of ungratified desires, confuses temporalities, converts optatives into present tenses, dispenses with such logical connections as 'if', 'because', 'just as', 'although', 'either-or', and disregards contradictions and contraries.5 Which is taken as a description of Joyce's procedures in the Wake:

We drames our dreams tell Bappy returns. And Sein annews...

Joyce has surely not surrendered anything. His refusal is to create a refuse from the past. The macaronic and the grotesque mediate all of Joyce's positions, and especially the imposture of patriarchy:

...a fadograph of a yestern scene...

One cannot assign to Joyce the neat solution of overcoming the death of God in the symbolic order of language and culture. In Joyce, the Imaginary Order is consigned to a mythos of past and place. The construction or fabrication is not an effort to create some primordial unity to be compared to the insatiable desire-as-lack of the patriarchal symbolic order. The thematics of the fallen patriarchy is dissolved and liquidated in the jouissance of the lapses of language. As Lacan would have it, the verbal slip is the radical facet of the non-meaning which all meaning possesses.

There is no providential order in which Joyce operates a critique, nor does he seek to paper over the void or the existential anguish created by the nihilism of the subjective fiat of creating language. If anything, there is only a piling up of catastrophe. One should not seek to negotiate the hallucinative process of the Wake as appearances which are distantly related either to the compulsion of being a subject as character, or constituting presences.

Indeed talking about the Wake may well only be possible as a via negativa. Where in Lacan the dissolution of the subject is sited in the scopic and constituting gaze, and the Other of the symbolic order is routed through the masquerade (the woman) requiring thus the need for fictions and stories narrated in the form 'as-as,' that is the implicit acceptance of a necessary subjection to the Other, Joyce releases the servitude by the free movement to the ear and the organizing of desire, grammar, the whole paradox of the phallic pantomime, where the Other posing as lack pretends to have lost what wasn't in order to sustain a belief in what isn't that can be discovered, is annihilated in the mobile and amphibology of Joyce's punning fabrications. The endless circulation of significations embroil the reader in a collusive and fictive enterprise.6

Or, as Lacan has it, when the space of a lapsus no longer carries any meaning (or interpretation), then only is one sure that one is in the unconscious. One knows. Truth is made up of ideas. It is, as in Benjamin's Trauerspiel,7 the poetic that determines the essence as name. Thus, the proof of approach is complete immersion and absorption, and in that sense the purpose of the representation of the idea is no less than an abbreviated outline of the image of the world, where the labial apparitions endorse this as metaphor. The paradise of perfect jouissance is where the struggle of communicative significance of words is not necessary.


1. Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983, first revision of 1959 edition), see note, p. 340. back up
2. J. M. Rabate, " A Clown's Inquest Into Paternity: Fathers Dead or Alive in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake," Lacan and Narration, R. C. Davis, ed. (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1983), pp. 73-114. back up
3. E. Ragland-Sullivan, " Lacan's Seminars on James Joyce: Writing as Symp-tom and 'Singular solution,'" Psychoanalysis and... Feldstein and Sussman, eds., (New York: Routledge, 1990), pp. 67-86. back up
4. Thomas Hofheinz, Joyce and The Invention Of Irish History, Finnegans Wake in Context, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), especially Chapter 4. back up
5. Emer Nolan, James Joyce and Nationalism, (London: Routledge,1995), p. 149. back up
6. Patrick Healy, The Modern and the Wake, (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 1992), passim, especially Chapter 3. back up
7. Walter Benjamin, "Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels," GS, I,i (Frankfurt, 1974). back up

Subscribe to Lacanian Ink click here.