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Empire and Pilgrimage in Conrad and Joyce$

Agata Szczeszak-Brewer

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780813035390

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813035390.001.0001

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“A free lay church in a free lay state”

“A free lay church in a free lay state”

From the Cosmogonic Discourse to Sacred Secularism in Joyce's Imagined Community

(p.53) 3 “A free lay church in a free lay state”
Empire and Pilgrimage in Conrad and Joyce

Agata Szczeszak-Brewer

University Press of Florida

Abstract and Keywords

The chapter explores Joyce's texts and analyzes the subjects of cosmogonic discourse and sacred secularism in his community. Joyce's texts, with the help of their reflection of modernist obsession with fragmentation of space, depict not only artificial binarisms inbuilt in colonial as well as religious hegemony but also as an attempt for reclaiming national identity in colonial Ireland as modern forms of a cosmogonic drive.

Keywords:   James Joyce, cosmogonic discourse, sacred secularism, artificial binarisms, religious hegemony, colonial Ireland

In “Ireland: Island of Saints and Sages,” Joyce tells us that “what England did in Ireland over the centuries is no different from what the Belgians are doing today in the Congo Free State” (119). Although there are marked parallels between the colonial status of the Irish and the native tribes in parts of Africa, as I pinpoint in my earlier discussion, the colonized Irish and the colonized African tribes sustained disproportionate forms of oppression due largely to their racial difference. Vincent Cheng and Enda Duffy draw our attention to this distinction. Cheng notes that the discourse about race in Ireland “was inseparable from the ‘Irish Question’ and issues of Empire and Home Rule” (15), partly because the denominators of “race” ranged between “issues of sociology, biology, ethnicity, genetics, lineage, physical typology, animal species,” “social class, status,” and other factors (16). Therefore, the word itself “serves as a blank screen or cipher upon which to encode a culture’s or an individual’s own unacknowledged preoccupations” (17). He returns to Benjamin Disraeli’s 1836 speech in which he describes the Irish as a “wild, reckless, indolent, uncertain, and superstitious race” and as barbarians who “hate our order, our civilisation, our enterprising industry, our sustained courage, our decorous liberty, our pure religion” (qtd in Cheng 20). Duffy states that the Irish occupied “an ambivalent middle ground between the ‘master’ and ‘dark’ races” (43) against whom the colonizers measured their own supremacy. The indistinguishable racial signifiers—even though, as mentioned in the first chapter, there were multiple attempts on the part of the British to produce an image of the Irish as simianized, intellectually and (p.54) emotionally inferior—led to “outright hatred rather than condescension” (Duffy 44), manifested in English jingoism and often undisguised ridicule of the fabricated “other.”

Echoing to a certain degree the motifs in Conrad’s fiction, Joyce’s texts—through their reflection of the modernist obsession with fragmentation of space—portray not only artificial binarisms inherent in colonial and religious hegemony but also an endeavor to reclaim national identity in late colonial Ireland as contemporary forms of a cosmogonic drive. Like Conrad, Joyce exposes the atavistic desire to reach the sacred through appropriation of cosmos in imperial enterprises; Joyce, however, also deals with the subaltern subjects internalizing the ideology of the oppressor in their struggle for independence. Significantly, Ulysses looks at this process from a late colonial and imminent postcolonial perspective (since Joyce wrote it between 1914 and 1921, on the eve of the proclamation of the Irish Free State), even if the book describes a still subjugated nation in 1904. It therefore offers a portrait of the nation anticipating its postcolonial struggle for autonomy, self-sufficiency, and identity independent of the former colonial power and its dialectical rhetoric.

In mythical geography, the only real space is that within the myth, which in turn relies on essential division of space into sacred and profane, proper and improper. As Foucault ascertains in his essay “Of Other Spaces,”1 this split was present in Medieval culture and in its insistence on boundary production and what he calls “emplacement” (1), but it is also ingrained in the modern perception of reality. Modernity is “the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed” (1), where “life is still governed by a certain number of oppositions that remain inviolable” (2). Modernist poetry and fiction, with their tensions between the ahistorical and archetypal models of humanity, on the one hand, and, on the other, the modern, post-Hegelian, historical conceptions, are nevertheless often saturated with unspecified and unrealized nostalgia for the sacred, as Eliot’s Four Quartets exemplifies. Foucault points out that “despite all the techniques for appropriating space, despite the whole network of knowledge that enables us to delimit or to formalize it, contemporary space is perhaps still not entirely desanctified” (2). Moreover, the set of relations which we inhabit “delineates sites which are irreducible to one another and absolutely not superimposable on one another” (2). As I will claim in the second section of this book, it is difficult, and sometimes even impossible, to transgress the boundaries (p.55) between these sites when one embarks on a quest toward the sacred, toward the cosmic center, the fixed identity.

Sacral Nationalism

Discussing the colonization of Ireland, Joyce says that “no one, unless he were blinded by self-interest or ingenuity, can still believe that a colonizing country is prompted by purely Christian motives when it takes over foreign shores, for all that the missionary and the pocket-bible come some months ahead of the arrival of the army and machine-guns” (Occasional 116). Joyce is not sure whether nationality is “not really a useful fiction like many others which the scalpels of the present-day scientists have put paid to” (118), but at the same time, he claims that it “must find its basic reason for being in something that surpasses, that transcends and that informs changeable entities such as blood or human speech” (118). This reason—Joyce seems to imply through his discussion of the mystic theologian Dionysius the Areopagite’s claim that the limits of nations appeared through a divine force, through the workings of God—goes beyond race and even history, and reaches back to the earliest times when a variety of tribes formed one body under the influence of a local god. In other words, it stems from the cosmogonic myth; hence the drive of the powerful nations (like England or Belgium at the turn of the century) to continue the cosmogonic enterprise and to subordinate such notions as “race” or “civilization” to the reenactment of the myth. The “local god” Joyce mentions in the essay turns out to be of a less mystical nature than Dionysius the Areopagite imagined, as Joyce proceeds to talk about the “second-rate and backward” (119) Irish race that, nevertheless, is “the only one in the entire Celtic family that refused to sell its birthright for a plate of lentils” (119). The local god is, then, simply mammon.

But Joyce’s position on nationality and nationalism is more ambiguous. He does admit that nations “like individuals, have their egos” (108) and recognizes that they often attribute to themselves “qualities or glories unknown in other races—from the time when our forefathers called themselves Aryans and nobles to the Greeks who were wont to call anyone barbarian that did not live within the sacrosanct land of Hellas. The Irish, with a pride that is perhaps less explicable, love to refer to their land as the land of saints and sages” (108). He adds, however, in a rather Conradesque fashion, that “it would be easy to make a list of Irishmen (p.56) who, both as pilgrims or hermits and scholars or sorcerers, have carried the torch of knowledge from country to country” (108) and emphasizes Ireland’s “reputation as teacher of spiritual matters” (108), a “school for apostles” (111).2

In Conrad, this kind of discourse serves to expose the ethnocentric assumption of the colonizers that the invasion of other territories is a manifestation of their apostolic right to impose more “advanced” forms of civilization upon chaos. Joyce also mocks the colonizers’ assumption of divine intervention in the lives of “barbaric” peoples when he ridicules Queen Victoria’s excessive emotional stringency and devout behavior in “Cyclops” and when he presents King Edward VII as a laughable womanizer. The king first appears in “Nestor,” when Mr Deasy stares “sternly” at the picture of “Albert Edward, prince of Wales” after preaching to Stephen about the generosity and impartiality of the English (2.266–67). We might assume, having seen Stephen sit “noiselessly before the princely presence” (2.299), that Dedalus is intimidated by the company of the “generous” and “just” Deasy and his virtuous king (2.263). His circuitous reply, however, suggests quiet disapproval of “those big words…which make us so unhappy” (2.264) and a refusal of an intellectually curious Irishman and an aspiring artist to engage in an active political debate which he finds extraneous to his creative effort. But Joyce does not drop the subject of Edward VII here. Let us consider the ubiquitous presence of “the royal initials, E.R.”—for Edward Rex—on “His Majesty’s vermillion mailcars” (7.16–17) all over Dublin, reminding its citizens of their subaltern status, or the king’s apparition in “Circe.” Here, Edward VII wears “a white jersey,” on which—rather incongruously—“an image of the Sacred Heart is stitched,” a markedly Irish-Catholic symbol, “with the insignia of Garter and Thistle” (15.4449–51), one of which is, according to Gifford, the image of St. Andrew bearing a cross (521). The king is also “robed as a grand elect perfect and sublime mason with trowel and apron” (15.4454–55). Gifford tells us that the Masonic apron is a symbol of “innocence and irreproachable conduct” (522). While historically accurate—since Prince Edward was grand master of the Grand Lodge of England—Joyce’s use of an emblem of virtue and incorruptibility and his description of Edward appearing “with the halo of Joking Jesus” (15.4476) in this scene smacks of mockery of the king who has earned his reputation as a womanizer, gambler, and a rather dubious “peacemaker.” In “Cyclops,” the citizen, alluding to the reputation of Edward VII as a philanderer and disputing his title of (p.57) a peacemaker, refers to the king as “more pox than pax” (12.1400–1401), a phrase which Gifford translates as “more venereal disease than peace” (Gifford 360). While Joyce’s implicit references to Queen Victoria’s assertions of her and her nation’s moral superiority hint at his critique of England’s imperial mission as inextricable from the search for the sacred, the presence of Edward VII in Ulysses suggests how fragile, subjective, and often downright deceitful such convictions of moral incorruptibility are.

Joyce, in addition, seems to recognize these convictions in both colonial oppression and resistance to the colonial power. It is no longer only the colonizer who appears to have a sacred motive; the colonized nation has one as well. Joyce would not remain true to his propensity for irreverent humor if he did not mock Ireland’s tendency to perceive itself as the “martyr” or “saint.” Like Conrad, he disrupts commonly accepted definitions of the sacred and the nation.

Even young Joyce seemed to understand the arbitrary divisions between the powerful and the subaltern as a result of the innate drive to triumph over others rather than inherent disparities in characteristics of races; he wrote in his 1898 essay “Subjugation,” possibly a part of his university matriculation course, that “it may be that the desire to overcome and get the mastery of things, which is expressed in man’s history of progress, is in a great measure responsible for his supremacy” (6). He added that “among human families the white man is the predestined conqueror” (Occasional 7). It is difficult to determine whether, according to young Joyce, this “predestination” is a disgraceful sign of the white man’s sense of entitlement and superiority or an indication of the inevitable fulfillment of proper social roles by different races. Hence this remark of an aspiring writer and still-to-be educated student could be either a critique of the white supremacy or an acquiescence to the “natural” dominance of the “superior” race. Joyce’s stance in his more mature writing, however, lends itself to a more substantiated interpretation—though not much clearer, on account of the problematic definition of “race” itself, especially in colonized Ireland.

The Racial Other and the Visual Dilemma

The first chapter of this book addresses the complex character of racial categories and potential difficulties in the comparison between the subjugated African peoples and the Irish, the “blacks of Europe”—a relationship (p.58) nevertheless explored or, rather, constructed by the British to validate their imperial enterprise in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Elizabeth Butler Cullingford notes that, although the socially and politically constructed affinity between the Irish and the Africans proved rather useful for the anti-Celtic agenda of the colonizers, nineteenth-century colonial observers “found it inconvenient that, despite their African pedigree and prognathous facial angles, the Irish remained stubbornly white” (145), preventing British politicians from openly justifying their occupation with the sacred call to carry the “white man’s burden” also on their racially akin neighbors’ territories. When Charles Kingsley described the people of Sligo as “white chimpanzees,” and complained that “if they were black, one would not feel it [dreadfulness] so much” (Kingsley 107), Carlyle’s answer, says Cullingford, to Kingsley’s “visual dilemma” was to “black-lead them and put them over with the niggers” (Cullingford 145).

The imperial establishment presented both Africa and Ireland as either uncultivated and unsophisticated territories (hence the recurring pictures of Africa’s impenetrable jungles and Ireland’s barren swamps) ready to be introduced to order and “civilization” or as treacherous, overpopulated, untamed lands. Sometimes, defying the obviously illogical juxtaposition, both types of description were present at once, to magnify the necessity of the “civilized” British to bring the light of knowledge to these dark, horrifying places. The nothingness, whether physical or moral, had to be filled; the periphery had to become subject to the sacred center; the void had to be transformed into cosmos. In the maps of early modern Ireland, the Gaelic Irish are portrayed as hiding behind their defenses, but we also see “abandoned forts or ruined buildings. In other words, they [the Irish] are gone, the land is now empty and thus open for exploitation” (O’Sullivan 95).

In his essays and fiction, Joyce himself points to the stereotypical picture of the Irish as “strange souls,” “artistically and sexually uninstructed,” “childish spirits, unfaithful” (“Ireland: Island of Saints and Sages” 125), disoriented and mute, dazed by alcohol, and oppressed further by a second form of hegemonic power: the strict rules of the Roman Catholic Church. In “Ireland at the Bar,” he recalls the murder trial of Myles Joyce, a peasant who could not speak English. Public opinion considered Myles Joyce a martyr: “The figure of this bewildered old man, left over from a culture which is not ours, a deaf-mute before his judge, is a symbol of (p.59) the Irish nation at the bar of public opinion” (Occasional 146). Because of the impossibility of meaningful communication between the colonizer and the colonized, so emblematically represented by the passive figure of Myles Joyce,3 the English press “act as interpreters between Ireland and the English electorate” (146), solidifying, conveniently for the English, the imperial point of view of the Irish “as criminals, with deformed faces, who roam around at night with the aim of doing away with every Unionist” (146). Joyce is also aware of the images of “the baboon-faced Irishman that we see in Punch” (Stephen Hero 69), reinforcing prejudice and hatred toward the subaltern.

Ireland, as the land of the other and on the periphery, “at the farthest remove from the centre of European culture” (Stephen Hero 199), will some day have to choose between England and Europe, says Robert Hand, “the descendant of the dark foreigners” in Exiles: “If Ireland is to become a new Ireland she must first become European” (51). Joyce’s characters seem to have internalized the inferiority ascribed to them by the British, an attitude that is sometimes hard to distinguish from a motivating dose of self-criticism, but rather palpable in repetitive negative portrayals of the Irish as, for example, passive and helpless animals (like Eveline in Dubliners), anti-Semitic belligerent nationalists (in “Cyclops”), and spiritually paralyzed cowards, drunks, and hypocrites. The setting of their oppression is, at times, as nebulous and full of phantoms as Conrad’s Congo. In Joyce, Chaos, and Complexity, Thomas Rice draws our attention to “Stephen’s increasingly futile efforts to encounter his subjectively shaped reality in the real” and Joyce’s descriptions of “the ‘slight shocks to his boyish conception of the world…[that] obscured his mind’ (P 64)” (72). He also notes that “Stephen’s visions of ‘goatish creatures with human faces’ (P 137), a procession of ‘masked memories’ that pass ‘quickly before him’ (P 157), […] or of ‘cloudy shapes and beings’ as his ‘soul’ swoons ‘into some new world, fantastic, dim, uncertain as under sea’ (P 172) at the conclusion of chapter 4 all emphasize the difference between Stephen’s conception of the encounter with reality and what he is actually doing: constructing fantasies” (Rice 72). Ireland becomes in this narrative the land of ghosts and foreigners, a phantom land, clouded, misty, unreal, and profane. Even in Ulysses, highly naturalistic descriptions of the city and the slice-of-life expositions of the basest and the most human activities are interrupted by the “Circe” episode, a chapter full of phantasmagoric images, role changing, and magic.

(p.60) In the midst of this parade of ghosts, absurd apparitions, and mortals step in Stephen’s “guests. Uninvited. By virtue of the fifth of George and seventh of Edward” (U 15.4370–71): Privates Carr and Compton. “Circe” is actually framed by the menacing presence of these two redcoats, just as the “Wandering Rocks” chapter opens and closes with the viceregal cavalcade—one a dramatized reminder of a real threat of violence, the other an exercise in imperial theatricality designed to emphasize and, if necessary, reestablish the subaltern status of its viewers. In his exchange with the soldiers, Stephen remembers, tapping his brow, that “in here it is I must kill the priest and the king” (15.4436–37), exacerbating the squabble with the privates whose insularity and eagerness to fight do not allow them to comprehend his metaphor. Vincent Cheng tells us that “Carr is exhibiting the masculinist, xenophobic, racist tendency to essentialize everything foreign in terms of a single binarized pole, the hated enemy Other (in which place Irish, German, Boer, black, Jew, and so on, are interchangeable)” (232) and that the entire scene in “Circe” in which Stephen encounters the soldiers “proves to be a symptomatic, dialogic panoply of the colonial dynamics, struggles, and currents under the British Empire at the turn of the century” (232).

When Stephen, turning to Private Compton at the beginning of their altercation in “Circe,” misquotes Jonathan Swift’s words from “A Letter to the Whole People of Ireland” (“Doctor Swift says one man in armour will beat ten men in their shirts” U 15.4402), he alludes to the slavery of the Irish under British power. Swift maintains in the fourth of his Drapier’s Letters that “all government without the consent of the governed, is the very definition of slavery: but, in fact, eleven men well armed will certainly subdue one single man in his shirt” (Swift 182). Following John Locke’s contention about the sovereignty of nations in Two Treatises on the Government, Swift supports the constitutional independence of Ireland, asserting that if the rights of an Irishman are violated, he should have “the liberty of roaring as loud as he thought fit” (182) and that he has “looked over all the English and Irish statutes without finding any law that makes Ireland depend upon England, any more than England does upon Ireland” (181). Swift writes the letter under a pseudonym and addresses the Irish people “in order to refresh and continue that spirit so seasonably raised amongst you, and to let you see that by the laws of GOD, of NATURE, of NATIONS, and of your own COUNTRY, you ARE and OUGHT to be as FREE a people as your brethren in England” (183). (p.61) It is doubtful that the soldiers are familiar with the letter, as Stephen’s words elicit no intelligent reply, only a threat of violence. However, after evoking Swift’s letter, Stephen says: “I have no king myself at the moment” (15.4470) and calls himself a “judge of impostors” (15.4490–91)—like the soldiers and King Edward—and “Green rag to a bull” (15.4497), clearly resisting any classification and enslavement imposed by the colonizer.

Joyce is aware of the comparison between the Irish and the African slaves, so carefully constructed by the British to maintain the colonial status quo in both territories, but he also hints at important distinctions between the subaltern European and the subaltern African. True, the awareness that other territories under British control, especially Africa, suffered from the same or even greater imperial hypocrisy and brutality led some Irishmen to a sense of brotherhood with and empathy toward the black slaves. In his comparison of African, African American, Irish, and Jewish nationalisms, George Bornstein claims that these groups and their supporters felt affinity with each other, especially in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He recalls Frederick Douglass’s tour of famine in Ireland, after which Douglass spoke out against the misery and deprivation of Irish peasants who lived in “much the same degradation” as the slaves in America (371).4 However, Joyce’s compatriots also harbored racial prejudice and irrational fear of the other, best exemplified in their ostracism of Bloom, but also present in race-based projections aimed at presenting a negative, rather than empathetic, image of black slaves or black people in general.

When Molly, for example, ponders one of Mina Purefoy’s numerous children, she compares him to “a nigger with a shock of hair on it” and exclaims: “Jesusjack the child is a black” (18.162–63), with as much implied astonishment as disgust. Intriguingly, Leopold Bloom, himself a victim of racist attacks and ridicule based on lack of validation of his ethnic difference, seems at first to espouse the same reductive patterns of identification, at least in the dream world of “Circe.” “I treated you white,” he says to Mary Driscoll and explains what “white treatment” actually means: “I gave you mementos, smart emerald garters far above your station. Incautiously I took your part when you were accused of pilfering” (15.876–78). One might assume, then, that these acts of kindness are reserved for the white race and somehow inappropriate in one’s contact with a non-white person. But what does the narrative context tell us about this striking statement? The chapter combines the absurd with the real and, as many (p.62) critics have noted, serves as a hyperbolic surfacing of Bloom’s and Stephen’s fears and desires buried in other chapters of the novel.

If it is common knowledge in turn-of-the-century Ireland that certain races or ethnicities deserve better treatment than others, as constant attacks on Jewish Bloom might indicate, then it should not be surprising that this pattern reappears in Bloom’s fantastically altered reenactments of oppression and performance of race. After all, soon after Mary Driscoll is reminded about this “white treatment,” she accuses Bloom of attacking her “in the rere of the premises…. I was discoloured in four places as a result” (15.885–87). Her “white” turns to bruises as a result of an alleged sexual assault. Moreover, when Bloom “begins a long unintelligible speech” (15.899) and “mumbles incoherently” (15.923)—resembling the Congo natives and their “uncouth babbling noise” in Conrad’s narratives (“Outpost” 7)—the stage directions present him as dressed “in a torn frockcoat stained with whitewash” (15.935–36), the last word implying an attempt to make oneself white despite one’s essential difference. Here, despite his inability to speak intelligently, Bloom makes an awkward attempt at passing as a white person. J. J. O’Molloy comes to Bloom’s defense, saying that his client “is an infant, a poor foreign immigrant” (15.942–43), whose “misdemeanor was due to a momentary aberration of heredity” (15.944–45). Infantilized, othered Bloom might stand a better chance at the trial as someone uncontrollable, irrational, lacking intelligence. O’Molloy further explains that “such familiarities as the alleged guilty occurrence” are “quite permitted in [his] client’s native place, the land of Pharaoh” (15.945–47), and he blames Bloom’s behavior on “atavism” (15.950), adding that “he is of Mongolian extraction and irresponsible for his actions. Not all there, in fact” (15.954–55), after which Bloom with “a shrug of oriental obeisance salutes the court” (15.960). Therefore, in a relatively short scene, we find atavistic behavior, imagined oriental heritage, otherness, and deviance treated as synonymous with each other. O’Molloy adds soon after that Bloom “wants to go straight. I regard him as the whitest man I know” (15.980). While the previous line of defense implied racial otherness and therefore insanity, this one is intended to hint at Bloom’s innocence, or whiteness. Similarly, Moses Dlugacz, another Jew, appears as “ferreteyed albino…, holding in each hand an orange citron and a pork kidney” (15.987–88), having undergone an erasure of markers of race and ethnicity. A few pages later, however, Alexander J. Dowie calls Bloom “Caliban!” (15.1760), and the mob shouts: “Lynch him! (p.63) Roast him!” (15.1761). And later, in his demeaning submission to Bella/ Bello, Bloom’s face acquires new features, new markers of race: “His eyes grow dull, darker and pouched, his nose thickens” (15.2830–31). Within the “real” plot of the novel, before the nightmarish world of “Circe,” we witness the fabricated and damaging understanding of ethnic difference (e.g., in “Cyclops”). Although “Circe” erases some racial markers, adds others, and plays with conventions of ethnic otherness, the associations attached to skin color remain the same: “White” implies “proper”; “black” implies “dangerous” or “submissive.” Joyce recognizes these arbitrary associations and draws our attention to them.

In “Wandering Rocks,” as Father Conmee passes the poster of Mr Eugene Stratton, his thoughts become inspired by the man’s “thick niggerlips” (10.141–42), and he thinks of “the African mission and of the propagation of the faith and of the millions of black and brown and yellow souls that had not received the baptism of water,” to whom “the faith had not…been brought” (10.144–50). The passive voice in Conmee’s musings on the necessity of “enlightenment” of “black and brown and yellow souls” is not accidental here; he transfers what Joyce calls the spiritual paralysis of the Irish onto the “other” races, acknowledging simultaneously the benevolence and sacredness of the Catholic agenda of conversion, as he remembers a book by “the Belgian Jesuit” (that is, Father A. Castelein), Le rigorisme, le nombre des élus et la doctrine du salut,5 whose argument was that the majority of people would eventually be saved. The book itself was attacked, as Gifford notes, by both orthodox Catholics and liberal Protestants, though for different reasons. The dogmatists accused Castelein of being too inclusive in his claim that even those who were not baptized Catholic could be saved. The Protestants opposed his insistence upon the inflexible principle of eternal damnation (Gifford 263). In effect, these optimistic predictions reflect the same kind of complacency and duplicity that the people popularizing the myth of the “white man’s burden” obviously displayed. The heathens will be converted; once they assume “our way” and reject the yoke of “otherness,” redemption will come to them. Father Conmee, however, himself subject to an agenda of a similar nature (though wielding more power than an average lay Irishman), does not seem to notice any connection between the rhetoric of salvation vs. redemption and the damaging discourse based on the dichotomy between the civilized English and the barbaric Irish.

The “niggerlip[ped]” (10.142) Eugene Stratton, significantly, was a (p.64) minstrel show star and “a Negro impersonator,” who toured Great Britain with a repertoire of “‘coon songs’…with soft-shoe dancing ‘on a darkened, spotlighted stage, a noiseless, moving shadow’” (Gifford 108). His name reappears in “Circe” right before the stage directions in which “Tom and Sam Bohee, colored coons in white duck suits, scarlet socks, upstarched Sambo chokers…leap out. Each has his banjo slung. Their paler smaller negroid hands jingle the twingtwang wires.” Combining this grotesque picture with an image of their “Flashing white kaffir eyes and tusks” and “smackfatclacking nigger lips” (15.412–18), we may discern a resemblance to Conrad’s infamous metonymical portrayals of the African natives as “eyeballs glistening,” “faces like grotesque masks” (Heart of Darkness 61), and images of the Indian natives of Costaguana as “naked limbs” and “big wild eyes” (Nostromo 68). The men in “Circe,” however, are actors, or phantoms, and they finally “whisk black masks from raw babby faces” (15.424), a gesture that is a startling affirmation of both difference and sameness, a statement reminding Bloom, Joyce’s Irish audience, and the global readers of Ulysses that the constructed similarity between the subaltern Irish and the subaltern blacks, whether divined for the purpose of ridicule or as a sign of empathy, ultimately fails because of skin color. It is interesting that Joyce describes the Bohee Brothers as essentially white even though, as Zack Bowen reminds us, James and George (not Tom and Sam, as Gifford would have it) Bohee were in fact black (Bowen 817). While it may be important, and perhaps sometimes even useful, to consider both ethnic groups on the same discursive plane, the most obvious difference that, crucially, carries with it historical, political, cultural, and linguistic baggage cannot be ignored. The baby-faced Irishman, once under the Home Rule, will take off the mask, a colonial artifice, and gradually begin to enjoy the privileges of the Western, white, male, dominant part of society. The native of the Congo, on the other hand, will have to change the entire conception of centuries-long oppressive dialectics attributed to “blackness.”

Joyce’s Vagina Dentata: Manhood, Nationhood, and Female Vampirism

The word race—denoting skin color, ethnicity, religion, sometimes even gender—appears in Joyce’s description of the Irish themselves, not, as we might expect, just in his recounting of the English stereotypes of the (p.65) underprivileged neighbors. Simon Dedalus calls his nation “an unfortunate priestridden race” and, to emphasize the Church’s audacious betrayal of Parnell (but incidentally echoing the colonizers’ epithets for Ireland), a “priestridden Godforsaken race” (Portrait 42). It is a nation set apart from “Europe of stranged tongues and…of entrenched and marshaled races” (191); a nation in which the very word race is synonymous with either the subaltern status or a narrow-minded fanaticism of nationalists such as the citizen in “Cyclops.” It is synonymous with half-naked, pregnant, young peasant women standing in doorways, calling strangers to their beds, including the girl in Davin’s story, a “type of her race and of his own, a batlike soul waking to the consciousness of itself in darkness and secrecy and loneliness” (208). This “batlike soul” waking in darkness, a vampiric, diabolic (and profane) image of a voracious woman, is reminiscent of the figure of vagina dentata typically employed by imperial commentators as an emblem of the wild (usually black) other resisting the colonizers through trickery and dangerous sexual practices.

Admittedly, the theme of vagina dentata represents a rather idiosyncratic representation of consumption. Critics have already devoted some time to food, feasting, and even anthropophagy in Joyce’s texts. Thomas Rice’s most recent book, Cannibal Joyce, analyzes a specific form of consumption: “Cannibalism for Joyce,” says Rice, “comes to represent both the artist’s act of creation (incorporation) and the readers’ act of reception (consumption).” Rice discusses “three ways [Joyce’s] aesthetic of creative cannibalism manifests itself in forms of cultural transfer: in his manipulations of language, in his uses of literary tradition, and in his exploration of new technical possibilities for the art of fiction” (xiv). I want to add, however, that Joyce explores another form of cannibalism—a very gendered one: the myth of vagina dentata, or the fear of the literal and figurative castration by a voracious female. Not only does the toothed yonic image represent Bloom’s and Stephen’s fear of seduction, castration, and spiritual death, but it also undermines the hypermasculine nature of Irish nationalism. The feminine is not simply a weak link within the struggle for independence that hinges on the male valor and uncompromising warfare; neither is it solely an element to be conquered and penetrated. It is also a threat of corruption of Irish manhood and therefore nationhood, as well as a representation of a castrating lover or a devouring mother. Through this symbol, Joyce indirectly comments on the vulnerability of chauvinistic normative practices of some Fenian leaders, but he (p.66) also mocks the colonial demonization of Irish Catholics as bloodsucking, disruptive others.

It is King Edward, after all, who appears in “Circe” sucking “a red jujube” (15.4454) and levitating “over heaps of slain” (15.4476). But Stephen admits in Portrait that “this race and this country and this life produced [him]” (230), that his ancestors “allowed a handful of foreigners to subject them” (231) and took the language of the oppressors. He then defines his race as “the old sow that eats her farrow” (231), ascribing to it not only a specific gender and a species believed to be unclean in the Judeo-Christian culture but also cannibalistic and profane practices, infanticide, and disregard for one of the most protected taboos. Such an equation points toward a reversed cosmogonical process in which the profane chaos devours the sacred.

An equivalent of this image of female aggression could be the Hindu folk goddess Kali, “the ‘terrible mother’ who devours her offspring. She is often depicted with a vagina dentata devouring the phallus of the god Shiva while wearing around her neck a chain of skulls and on her hip a belt of severed heads” (Otero 273). Freud would say that the devouring, angry mother castrates in order to compensate for being “castrated,” but this kind of misogynistic explanation of “lack” or “envy” reveals yet another fear of female domination. Psychoanalysis has long been aware of the projective nature of this kind of fear.

Linking castration with a loss of self and placing that fear in the context of hypermasculine Irish nationalism adds some insight to Joyce’s motif of devouring mother. Stephen projects his own feeling of guilt and anger upon the feminized and animalistic Ireland, whose sadistic and cannibalistic orality mirrors his own insecurities and the already existent instability of self and nation. Stephen’s mother “penetrates” his orifices in chapter 5 of Portrait when she carefully washes his ears and nostrils, a kind of touch she finds pleasurable, as he points out to her (“But it gives you pleasure” 198). In “Circe,” a chapter set in a brothel or “mantrap” (15.93), as Edy Boardman calls the place, the mother’s apparition, with her “face worn and noseless,” mirrors Stephen’s fixation on a devouring mouth that produces no speech: “She fixes her bluecircled hollow eyesockets on Stephen and opens her toothless mouth uttering a silent word. A choir of virgins and confessors sing voicelessly” (15.4159–62). True, her mouth is “toothless,” but soon Stephen calls his mother a “corpsechewer” (15.4214), and the stage directions tell us that her face draws “near and nearer, sending out (p.67) an ashen breath” and that she “raises her blackened, withered right arm slowly towards Stephen’s breast with outstretched fingers” and “a green crab with malignant red eyes sticks deep its grinning claws in Stephen’s heart” (15.4216–21).

Crabs and spiders have been popular representations of female genitalia, especially in European folklore. Legman, for example, discusses a crab in female genitals as northern European motif of vagina dentata (Otero 269). Abraham notes that a spider is a devouring yonic symbol in myths and dreams (Otero 269). Similar motifs include snakes, eels, and even piranhas—most figures phallic and potentially deadly. Stephen’s mother’s weapon is as polyphallic as the teeth it substitutes: outstretched fingers and crab’s claws. This demonic other in the end attacks with that which the phallogocentric world of the colonizer and the colonized considers as a symbol of dominance.

Is it accidental that Stephen’s devoutly Catholic mother reappears in his dreams and hallucinations with a gaping mouth and crab’s claws grabbing at his heart? This particular scene in “Circe” points not only to his guilt of disobedience but also to a larger anxiety related to the voracious demon of the Catholic Church and traditional form of Irish nationalism. Let’s recall “unmanned” Stephen mortifying his senses and rejecting pleasure after Father Arnall’s sermon in Portrait or Mulligan’s reference to God as a “collector of prepuces” (foreskin, 1: 394) in “Telemachus.” Stephen’s biological mother, Mother Church, and Mother Ireland are equally dangerous because they demand that he speak for them, repent, and sacrifice his self.

The myth of vagina dentata might also reflect a fear of coitus interruptus, an intercourse from which there is no way out. No matter how we understand the word in this context—as a speech act or sex act—what’s implied in the image of the yonic teeth is that the intercourse is interrupted before one can withdraw or climax. Joyce also ponders in multiple places a related question of aborting a product of an intercourse, the image of a womb associated with death, not life, as in the passage about the midwives or the long elaboration of abortion in “Oxen,” or mothers demonized in the medical students’ drunken rant about infanticides and inverted wombs.

And again, we can understand this motif on many levels in Joyce’s texts: as a representation of male fear of castration, as a projection of a sense of inadequacy and powerlessness in confrontation with women, with the (p.68) Church, with the demands of the nation or with the colonial power, or as the danger of both initiating and aborting a speech act. All of these explanations are inflected, however, with the awareness of hypermasculine nationalist discourse. Irish manhood has long been synonymous with Irish nationhood. As Nancy Curtin points out, national liberation in Ireland “was the test of her sons’ manhood,” especially around and after the 1790s, when the United Irishmen began engaging in a nationalist campaign whose main component was physical force (37). Curtin adds that “armed filial devotion to the mother-nation” was “a rite of passage to full manhood” (39). If colonialism endangers Irish masculinity, then it is not surprising that this fear of emasculation or castration generates multiple projections, including those of yonic teeth. Sarah McKibben, in her article on Irish nationhood in Poor Mouth, cites the romantic nationalism of Thomas Davis and the Young Irelanders who claimed that an imposition of a foreign language amounts to cutting off one’s selfhood and corrupting the forefathers’ “very organs” and “abridging their power of expression” (McKibben 97), which results in “profound disempowerment and degeneration—amounting to linguistic castration” (98).

If Irish nationalists emphasized their own hypermasculinity, their discourse also implied that those who didn’t belong in their ranks were emasculated. Joyce seemed to be familiar with such inflected discourse. The Irish in Ulysses see Bloom as a vaguely threatening and emasculated other, “the new womanly man” (15.1798). He is an othered performer, a spectacle, and a projective image of the observers’ own fears. Bloom as an emasculated Jew in masculinist Catholic Ireland is himself a vagina dentata figure threatening the male- and Catholic-dominated nationalist scene. The stage directions at the beginning of “Circe” refer to him as “doldy” (15.149)—a slang term for an impotent person. (Is this why Molly calls him “Poldy”?) When the cyclists graze him, he is “stung by a spasm” (15.183). Although weakened by other voracious (biological) females, Gerty and Molly—one “drain[ing] all the manhood” out of him (13.1101–2), the other “unmanning” Bloom through her infidelity—he himself poses a threat to traditionally perceived Irish manhood.6 Dr Mulligan conducts a “pervaginal examination” on Bloom and pronounces him “bisexually abnormal,” “virgo intacta,” and, paradoxically, “a reformed rake” (15.1781), a phrase suggesting not only a toothed implement but also an aggressive action, an onslaught, as the Oxford English Reference Dictionary tells us. Rake also denotes a fashionable and promiscuous man or woman, so the (p.69) fact that Bloom as a rake is “reformed” implies that his sexual licentiousness and self-indulgence have been mitigated, his aggressive essence under control. But in the next line Mulligan adds—rather oddly and with a vague undercurrent of menace—that Bloom “has metal teeth” (15.1782) (perhaps to “eat with relish the inner organs of beasts” but maybe to entice and attack Irish men or Irish manhood in general).

It would be a misunderstanding to assume that employing the motif of the voracious female alone points at an emancipatory tendency in any text. The voracious vagina attacks with polyphallic teeth—a weapon which underscores the castration power as uniquely male. It is “an ‘abject’ symbol in that it represents the repulsive as distinctly feminine and the horror of ‘nonbeing’ as decidedly so” (Otero 275). But Joyce seems to be aware of the projective nature of the fear of woman and—through his many-layered employment of the myth of vagina dentata—he eventually mocks those practices and perceptions that are othering and unproductive. The devouring mother is simply a condensed fear of linguistic, cultural, or literal castration or an aborted, uncommunicative intercourse/ discourse, especially the nationalist rhetoric linking armed resistance, liberation, and Irishness in general to manhood and virility.

Hibernian Hybridity?

Following his unflattering comparison of Ireland to a cannibalizing sow, Stephen, right before deciding to “forge in the smithy of [his] soul the uncreated conscience of [his] race” (288), calls the Irish “a race of clodhoppers” (284), indicating their backwardness and intellectual and cultural inferiority and implying their comical nature.7 While the ploughman’s heavy boots could represent hard, menial labor, the Oxford English Reference Dictionary also defines a clodhopper metonymically as the ploughman himself: a country lout, a clumsy awkward boor, a clown. This description appears again, indirectly, when Stephen wonders whether the soul of his race “was bartered and its elect betrayed” by “the questioner or by the mocker” (220)—that is, by the oppressor or the oppressed himself, through ignorance, light-heartedness, and mockery; perhaps also through the insistence upon worshipping “the sorrowful legend of Ireland” (205), like Davin’s “rude imagination” shaped by “the broken lights of Irish myth” that “moved down the cycles in the same attitude as towards the Roman catholic religion, the attitude of a dull-witted loyal serf ” (205). Stephen’s (p.70) portrait of his nation mirrors, in fact, the image constructed by the English, whose king, as Mr Henchy reports in “Ivy Day,” “says to himself: ‘The old one never went to see these wild Irish. By Christ, I’ll go myself and see what they’re like.’ And are we going to insult the man when he comes over here on a friendly visit?” (Dubliners 148). Joyce, says Enda Duffy in his analysis of Ulysses as a subaltern text, “mocks imperial stereotypes of the native” while he “delineates their insidious interpellative power” (3).

The subjects of the internalized oppressive attitudes and the acceptance of a collective identity imposed by the colonizer were not alien to Joyce. Whether it was Johnny walking in circles around King Billy’s statue or the two vestals eating plums on top of the Nelson column, Joyce’s tragic-comic snapshots of perpetuated cycles of repression and domination permeate his fiction. After centuries of being told about their chaotic, uncivilized nature, the Irish begin unconsciously to acknowledge the lie constructed to justify and maintain the colonial power. Ulysses, says Duffy, is an example of “the inability of a text written at the moment of decolonization to imagine an epistemologically different subject altogether beyond the pale of the colonialist and masculinist discourses the subaltern author has inherited” (21). Therefore, Duffy claims, the book “is not a manifesto for postcolonial freedom, but rather a representation of the discourses and regimes of colonial power being attacked by counterhegemonic strategies that were either modeled on the oppressor’s discourses or were only beginning to be elucidated in other forms” (21). The “resistance” is just a way of “imagining community that has been borrowed by the colonized people from their colonial masters” (31). For example, “most of the anti-British sentiment in the ‘Telemachiad’ is couched in the middle-class clichés of Irish popular literary culture” (45). Ulysses, especially “Cyclops,” is a representation of “an Althusserian interpellated subject characterized by a simple dualism,” that is, by “the difference between the vulgarian native and the civilized native (Caliban versus Ariel, Black Skin, White Masks), which has been discerned again and again in representations of the colonial subject” (98). The citizen is “the culmination of every degraded stereotype of Irish savagery” (112): he is a good talker in his display of chauvinist nationalism; he is a lazy drunk, perhaps a peasant. The dialectics of chaos/cosmos and profane/sacred finally reproduce themselves, without the previously employed strategies of the colonized party.

Gibson maintains that “Circe” presents “much more of the sense (and, especially, the sound) of actual Englishness” than any other part of the (p.71) book. “Circe is full of decent, respectable, prim and outraged English and Anglo-Irish voices” (187). He examines multiple examples of these voices, including the presence of the British soldiers and the revealed significance of Bloom’s decision to wipe himself with Beaufoy’s Titbits article in “Calypso”: Beaufoy appears in “Circe” “palefaced” (15.814)—an epithet emphasizing his Englishness, just as his address does, “‘Playgoers’ Club, London” (4.503). But “Circe” blurs the boundaries between Irishness and Englishness, too. Consider, for instance, Gibson’s claim that Joyce intentionally “exposes the anglicized or imported nature of Irish popular culture” (188) through his analysis of echoes of Victorian melodrama and literary iconography. The episode itself, says Gibson, implies that “the more English you look and sound, the more you appear to deserve your place in the sun” (194). Gibson says that Joyce “understands the way in which Anglicization is or has involved a kind of colonization of the soul, a moral and a linguistic colonization” (194).

Joyce’s response to the colonial discourse of the English, especially in Ulysses, is permeated by a cleverly disguised critique of the marriage between the national and religious fervor. His highly ironic treatment of his characters’ outbursts of national pride expressed through constant religious references and allusions is a biting commentary not only on the contemporary national scene but also on Irish history and the mentality of the Irish people, the nationalists’ unsubstantiated arrogance and dangerous fanaticism justified by religious calls and sacred language. It also anticipates the struggle, already developing when Ulysses was in progress, to define a collective identity of a soon-to-be independent nation whose language is that of the former colonizer, and whose culture and institutions are still inextricably linked with the aggressive neighbor.

Messianic Zeal and the Fear of Contamination

The emphasis on the messianic character in the process of defining national culture is not a new phenomenon, and it has not been confined to a handful of Catholic countries such as Ireland (or Conrad’s native Poland). Sacred and profane languages intertwine in national discourse, but this interdependency did not originate with Christianity. Even pre-Christian myths connect the sacred with the notion of limited, familiar space. Benedict Anderson ignored this important fact in his otherwise very insightful Imagined Communities, pronouncing political ethics detached from (p.72) religion.8 But Joyce himself noticed the troubling confusion of religious and secular languages in Ireland, the division between the sacred cosmos and the profane chaos that insinuates itself into the nationalist rhetoric, leaving no discursive space for nonsectarian voices, for comprehensive political agency rather than positivist essentialism, ultimately as reductive as the imperialist propaganda. True, this dichotomy is not always easy to detect, as its expression is often subdued, convoluted, cunningly vocalized. This covert way of blending the two forms of discourse resonates with Michel de Certeau’s model of the subtle, persistent activity of the subaltern who, “since they lack their own space, have to get along in a network of already established forces and representations” (Practice 18). Anderson’s Imagined Communities does not focus on these heterogeneous voices present in local (and, according to Anderson, secular) languages, voices analyzed by de Certeau in Practice of Everyday Life and The Mystic Fable.

De Certeau points out that scriptural practice itself “has acquired a mythical value over the past four centuries by gradually recognizing all the domains into which the Occidental ambition to compose its history, and thus to compose history itself, has been extended” (Practice 133). The sacred power of the Voice is now conferred upon the text through the strategies and tactics of its users. Mythmaking relies on transforming a fragmented discourse into symbolic articulations; this practice is not only characteristic of history production but also present in modernist aesthetic, which often proclaims its opposition to grand narratives and artificial systematization.

The tendency to incorporate the sacred language into secular discourse seems even stronger among the nations whose existence has been subdued or officially erased almost immediately after the collapse of the religious and royal (but not yet national) power structures. Even before the power of Irish Celtic clans (under the nominal overlordship of a high king at Tara) and monasteries (which were the centers of missionary and educational work) began to fade, English invasions, which started in the twelfth century, prevented an even superficially partial division between the religious and independent national communities and therefore language to form in Ireland. The multiplicity of the new local, secular languages (often assuming the form of tactics) and the hidden presence of sacred language in national discourse are especially important in “imagined communities” (p.73) whose existence is repressed, in which official, open expression of national identity is denied, and whose developing secular languages are pushed aside through the process of imposition of the language spoken by the impostors (e.g., through anglicization or russification). Therefore, mythmaking based on rigid classifications such as “cosmos” and “chaos” or “proper” and “improper” is no longer a hegemonic practice, but it assumes the shape of numerous tactics among Irish nationalists aimed at expression of national identity and pride through biblical references and promotion of the Irish language in an almost entirely anglicized Ireland. Joyce reveals the nostalgic and desperate character of these tactics in his ironic descriptions of heated debates in private and public places and in parodies of narrative forms hitherto considered sacred.

“Cyclops” offers one of many accounts of such debates. Joyce portrays the interlocutors in Kiernan’s bar as narrow-minded, petty, and avaricious, with the aggressive and fanatical citizen at the forefront. By contrasting the citizen’s xenophobia and his inflated devotion to the national cause with Bloom’s somewhat naïve message about the universal need for love, Joyce exposes the real dangers of Irish nationalism—parochialism, interpellated fear of the other, violence, and attention to unimportant details coupled with, paradoxically, gigantism, or a tendency to exaggerate, to exceed. Although Bloom’s call for peace and love mirrors religious messages about brotherhood and kindness, it is the citizen who consciously uses sacred images, figures, and language in his aggressive speech centered on nationalistic issues and employing highly divisive rhetoric reminiscent of the theme of colonial cosmogony. While talking about the past centuries in Irish trade, “with Spain and the French and with the Flemings before those mongrels were pupped,” and glorifying Ireland’s history, he promptly asserts that Ireland will be prosperous again, “with the help of the holy mother of God” (U 12.1296–1300). Not only does he aggressively oppose “mongrelization” or pollution of pure Irish blood, but he also supports his right to preserve pure heritage of his nation with a myth distorted to suit his political goals; preservation of racial purity will be rewarded with financial and political fortune. His subsequent prophesy—“Our harbours that are empty will be full again” (12.1301)—has, indeed, biblical or mythical proportions, as it suggests a reenactment of God’s wonders depicted in the Old and New Testaments (e.g., that of the pouring of oil into the widow’s empty jars in 2 Kings 4:1 or Jesus’ multiplying of five bread loaves (p.74) and two fishes to feed five thousand men with families in Matthew 14:17). The citizen’s words themselves sound like a prophecy because they are not supported by any logical arguments, calculations, or propositions. That they are followed by “the last swig out of the pint” and the almost inarticulate cheering of John Wyse Nolan and Lenehan suggests Joyce’s critique of mixing the divine and national elements in contemporary Ireland into a half-blind, inebriated, utopian expression of the nation’s divine mission.

The citizen also refers to the myth of Kathleen ni Houlihan (U 12.1375) and proceeds to talk about Ireland as “the land of bondage” (12.1373), a phrase that comes from Deuteronomy 5:6 (“I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage”). It suggests an ironic discrepancy between, on the one hand, the citizen’s probably unconscious comparison of Irish people with the Israelites and their desire for homeland and, on the other, his extreme outbursts of anti-Semitism later in the chapter. After Bloom’s reply—“And I belong to a race, too…that is hated and persecuted. Also now. This very moment” (12.1467–68)—the citizen reacts with an anti-Semitic slur, asking Bloom whether he is talking about “the new Jerusalem” (12.1473). At the same time, he jeers at the English who presented “His Majesty the Alaki of Abeakuta” with “an illuminated bible, the volume of the word of God and the secret of England’s greatness” (12.1515–24), an attitude that hints at his conviction that the divine benediction is reserved only for one nation, his own. While he is able to discern comedy in “the white chief woman, the great squaw [Victoria’s]” (12.1525) perception of England as the state whose power comes from divine intervention, he is blind to the same comparisons he and his fellow nationalists make. The narrator, for instance, states almost immediately after the scene in which the citizen jeers at Queen Victoria’s gift: “God save Ireland from the likes of that bloody mouseabout [Bloom]” (12.1579). The first part of his remark echoes “God Save the Queen,” the British national anthem, which also blurs sacred and secular languages.

During Bloom’s absence, the citizen speaks again about the dangers of “contamination” of Ireland,9 generating a dialogue imbued with sacred language that seems highly inadequate to the hateful drunken diatribe:

—Saint Patrick would want to land again at Ballykinlar and convert us, says the citizen, after allowing things like that to contaminate our shores.

(p.75) —Well, says Martin, rapping for his glass. God bless all here is my prayer.

—Amen, says the citizen. (12.1671–74)

Bloom’s presence among the Irish poses a biopolitical problem here: a contamination of the ostensibly unified mythical narrative and the essentialist notions of Irishness. It disrupts the chauvinist normative practices that explore the emotive power carried by the interpellated ideology of racial purity as a tool in the fight for independence. For the citizen, Bloom’s pathological Jewishness disrupts the divinely sanctioned and romanticized image of the Catholic nation.

Joyce modeled the character of the citizen on Michael Cusack, the founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association and an ardent nationalist. He figures in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as Davin’s mentor, one of many who instilled the mixture of national and religious pride in Stephen’s friend, “the peasant student” (Portrait 204). Davin represents a whole legion of nationalists whose blind devotion to the Irish cause and the Catholic faith and, most of all, whose conviction that these two realms are indistinguishable drove Joyce out of Ireland into a “voluntary exile.” Joyce recognizes the danger in the (re-)creation of a national culture striving for independence from the colonizer by adopting the discourse of other hegemonic powers such as the Church and by speaking the language of exclusion.

Another limiting method of analyzing intertwined histories such as those of Ireland and England is a “destructive politics of confrontation and hostility” (Said, Culture 18), an attitude Salman Rushdie defines in Imaginary Homelands as a “technique of alienation” (2). Resistance becomes yet another form of hegemony—this time imposed from within, as a countermeasure to geographical and cultural imperialism—if the formerly colonized subjects employ the familiar (because experienced firsthand) strategies of appropriation and categorization, of transforming the “profane” into the “sacred.” Thus one form of imposed hierarchy is simply substituted for another, allowing for an unceasing perpetuation of the myth of cosmos and chaos, the sacred and the profane, and the pathologies of frenzied religious fundamentalism.

Said’s Culture and Imperialism and Rushdie’s Imaginary Homelands try to comprehend and explain the emergence of postcolonial consciousness, the collective awareness Joyce observed before and while writing Ulysses (p.76) and included in the narrative as a late colonial form of resistance in a nation anticipating the Home Rule. Both Said and Rushdie attempt to elucidate the causes and consequences of growing national movements and construe the awakening of narrow-minded nationalisms as groundless arguments whose premises are based on an assumption that there, indeed, existed and exists a privileged (as opposed to morally handicapped, contaminated, or profane) group or race. Joyce’s “Cyclops” derides the arbitrariness and assuredness of placing oneself and one’s ethnic group within the boundaries of cosmos, of the ordered, the chosen, the sacred, even if this positioning is a form of resistance.

Within the national culture, as in de Certeau’s everyday life, strategies (or official discourses and imposed rules) mix with tactics (the unofficial discourses and methods employed by common people). The sacred and the profane are in constant conversation (or, to use Bakhtin’s term, in a dialogic relationship with one another), and the boundaries between them often blur. Seemingly secular political ethics form religion on their own. Anderson’s own expressions such as “the magic of nationalism” and his assertion of the need to “turn chance into destiny” testify to the peculiar discourse within and outside national culture inevitably tinted with elements of sacred language. The need to replace one system of meaning with another signals an inseparable relationship between the sacred and profane structures: “The century of the Enlightenment, of rationalist secularism, brought with it its own modern darkness. With the ebbing of religious belief, the suffering which belief in part composed did not disappear. Disintegration of paradise: nothing makes fatality more arbitrary. Absurdity of salvation: nothing makes another style of continuity more necessary” (Anderson 11). Anderson adds that, to solve the problem of the disintegrating religious authority, the Enlightenment sought “a secular transformation of fatality into continuity, contingency into meaning” (11). Joyce captures in Ulysses the messianic character of Irish nationalism, but for him, it exemplifies the dangerous insularity and stupor of the national movement in Ireland.

Virginia Moseley quotes in her Joyce and the Bible the following passage from Finnegans Wake (and a cross-reference to the Christmas dinner scene from Portrait) as an example of Joyce’s acceptance of Ireland’s need for a divine savior: “As hollyday in his house so was he priest and king to that: ulvy came, envy saw, ivy conquered. Lou! Lou! They have waved his green boughs o’er him as they have torn him limb from lamb. For his (p.77) muertification and uxpiration and dumnation and annuhulation…. Ahdostay, feedailyones…. Chin, chin! And of course all chimed din width the eatmost boviality.…human, erring and condonable, what the statues of our kuo, who is the messchef be our kuang” (quoted in Moseley 39). Moseley’s interpretation of the passage (and, consequently, her explanation of Joyce’s attitude toward the Irish national cause) rests on her conviction that by “associating Stephen’s slaughter of innocence with that of Parnell and of Jesus, Joyce showed Stephen’s first realization, perhaps, of Ireland’s need for a saviour and of his own mission as its Messiah” (39). She calls this realization a “step towards maturity” (39) and emphasizes its importance “to Joyce himself ” (39–40), supporting it with the fact that Joyce was preoccupied “with similar situations in still other of his works” (40). But Moseley ignores Joyce the ironist, Joyce who secretly pokes fun at the messianic character of Irish nationalists by inflating and distorting the connection between nationalism and religion and the implementation of the sacred language in national discourse. Even though the young Stephen in Portrait assumes, in a way, the sacrificial role of an exile in order to forge “the uncreated conscience of [his] race” (288), he pities Davin for his inability to distinguish between the religious and national spheres, and ultimately he returns from exile in Ulysses. Similarly, there is no messiah in Finnegans Wake, only an imperfect delivery man, Shaun, and a circular narrative closing in on itself. Ulysses and Finnegans Wake unapologetically merge the sacred and the profane and transcend narrow definitions that maintain such artificial dichotomies. Joyce himself, although in self-exile from Ireland until his death,10 claimed, as Richard Ellmann notes, that if “Ireland was not to be ‘an afterthought of Europe’…it would have to allow the artist his freedom and would have to muffle the priest” (Ellmann, James Joyce 69).11

The messianic character of Irish nationalism, so close to the character of the cosmogonic myth, appears as the foundation of John F. Taylor’s speech, which Professor MacHugh recalls in “Aeolus” as the “finest display of oratory” (U 7.792). Again, it turns out to be just that, an example of a skilled use of fervent and eloquent language, in fact providing no feasible solution to the problem discussed, no detailed guidance, no agency. Responding to Mr Justice Fitzgibbon’s speech in a debate about an essay advocating the revival of the Irish language, Taylor remarks that his “learned friend…transported” him “into a country away from this country, into an age remote from this age” (7.830–31)—or, to use Benjamin’s (p.78) expression employed also by Anderson in Imagined Communities, into “a homogeneous, empty time,” which allows for close bonds between invisible compatriots, of whose presence we are, nevertheless, assured. Taylor attacks Fitzgibbon’s ideas and indicates parallels between his opponent and an ancient Egyptian “highpriest,” exposing, at the same time, similarities between the Irish people and the Israelites. The meaning of the highpriest’s words “was revealed to [him]” (7.832–40): “Why will you jews not accept our culture, our religion and our language?…You have but emerged from primitive conditions: we have a literature, a priesthood, an agelong history and a polity” (7.845–50). In his oratory focused on the issues of Irish nationalism and preservation of the Celtic culture and language, Taylor employs sacred terminology, references to religious figures and biblical stories, but also the premise of the cosmogony myth (chaos forced to assume the qualities of cosmos), drawing overt comparison between the powerful and disdainful Egyptians and the British or conservative Anglo-Irish oppressors like Fitzgibbon himself, and pointing to analogies between the situation of the Jews, “vagrants and daylaborers” accused of praying “to a local and obscure idol,” and the oppression of the Irish Catholics. Thus he bestows on the Irish the title of the chosen people and, indirectly, prophesies the appearance of another “youthful Moses” who will bring them “out of their house of bondage” (mirroring Exodus 13:17) and who will speak “with the Eternal” and “come down with the light of inspiration…bearing in his arms the tables of the law, graven in the language of the outlaw” (7.858–69). Underneath this vision, this convergence of religious references and national discourse, there is a startling conviction that Taylor might not even fully realize: the Irish will cast off the oppressors’ chains because they are chosen by God. Moreover, they will bring forth “the light of inspiration” along with “the tablets of law”—an image that suggests another vision of another nation, “the light of civilization” promised to the world by the imperial Britain. Here the interpellated salvationist rhetoric again takes for granted the cultural/religious homogeneity of the Irish and creates its own alterities and exclusionary practices.

But there is much more at stake in this account of Taylor’s speech than the exposure of the messianic zeal in Irish nationalism. MacHugh recalls a speech whose foundation or inspiration is the ancient oratory, delivered by men for a male audience. Ancient oratory, as Thomas Habinek maintains in Ancient Rhetoric and Oratory, is a form of nonviolent reenactment (p.79) of masculinity and a performative attempt to solidify or legitimate social conventions. Habinek stresses the importance of the body on display as an integral and essential part of this performance. Significantly, in “Aeolus,” the body of Taylor is missing from the account. We encounter in MacHugh’s account fleshless words, a disembodied voice. Even the physical proof of Taylor’s speech—a transcript or a recording—is missing. In an oppressed but still thoroughly logocentric and patriarchal society, this account of ghostwriting and ghost speaking may carry with it a tacit fear of emasculation. There are no men in action here, no fists thumping, no threatening shouts, no promise of action. Turn-of-the-century Ireland, emasculated by its powerful colonizer, produces windy rhetoric and unsuccessful insurrections.

When Professor MacHugh’s account of Taylor’s speech ends, Stephen remembers “Hosts at Mullaghmast and Tara of the kings” (7.880) and likens Daniel O’Connell with Moses. His words, however, directed to “miles of ears of porches” are “scattered to four winds” and become “dead noise” (7.881–82). In the first phrase, Joyce evokes the poisoning of Hamlet’s father and thus reverses the traditional associations of such dichotomies as contamination/purity or chaos/cosmos to expose the potential dangers of nationalist rhetoric. Although the message is valid and important, it is dispersed, rejected, ineffective. Gifford notes that “O’Connell’s words have been ‘scattered’ in the sense that his reliance on and hope for an orderly constitutional achievement of repeal (and a measure of independence for Ireland) were, to say the least, blasted, and his words, for all their oratorical success, wasted.” He was subsequently imprisoned for “seditious conspiracy” (Gifford 150). Therefore, his messianic function was not achieved. Joyce, by juxtaposing Professor MacHugh’s proud reminiscence (that itself is a piece of fine oratory) of Taylor’s prophecy with Stephen’s recollection of Ireland’s fallen messiah, exposes the futility of elevated rhetoric, empty oratorical displays, pointless effusions, and outbursts of nationalistic slogans mixed with religious language, or the “aquacities of thought and language” (U 17.240) that fill Stephen with disgust.

The persistent, stubborn presence of sacred language—both archaic and biblical myths of the chosen people—in political discourse helps maintain the pivotal role of myth in nationalistic movements such as the Celtic Revival in Ireland or in literature propagating national uprising and the struggle for independence (e.g., Adam Mickiewicz and other Polish Romantics). James Joyce shows his irreverence toward both Irish folklore (p.80) (the Celtic revival’s return to Irish legends), regarded by many involved in the nationalist movement as sacred, and traditional English literary form, sanctified and fossilized by centuries of British culture. His use of myth, the loose connection between the characters and plots of The Odyssey and Ulysses, is not aimed at creating an ostensibly unified and “uncontaminated” picture of an independent nation; rather, it reveals the rifts, breaches, and ruptures in the ideology that presupposes national independence through homogeneity and obedience of its followers.

But Joyce is also “concerned with the ‘strangers’ and their legacy” (Gibson 182) and expresses his resistance toward the revered English literary tradition as an imposed form by ridiculing narrative styles and literary figures venerated in Britain. He would ultimately give voice to his resistance to rigid literary forms and English literary tradition through the formal and linguistic experimentations in Finnegans Wake. But we also find an extended parody of the English prose in “The Oxen of the Sun” and the formal experimentation within “Circe,” a chapter concerned with “the colonized unconscious” (182). The chapter ridicules and transcends both religious and national discourse, relying to a great extent on production and sustenance of a unifying, collective identity, and valorizing traditionally understood masculinity. “Circe” is insubordinate, profanatory, and exhibitionistic. Its coronation scene merges and then distorts sacred and profane languages that have previously appeared in Ulysses: “The Bloom who is welcomed as ‘successor’ to Parnell (U 15.1513–14) and echoes John F. Taylor’s terms (U 7.845–73) in proclaiming ‘green Erin’ to be ‘the promised land’ promptly lapses into the tones of English military triumphalism (U 15.1525–30)” (Gibson 200). His newly gained power as “emperor-president and king-chairman, the most serene and potent and very puissant ruler of this realm” (U 15.1471–72) and the strong approval of John Howard Parnell as “Successor to [his] famous brother” (15.1513) put him in charge of both British and Irish chauvinist rhetoric. The omnipotent monarch becomes the founder of the holy city, the cosmocrator transcending all limits of “the house of bondage” and merging national and religious functions that are bestowed upon him. “Bloom’s bodyguard distribute Maundy money, commemoration medals, loaves and fishes, temperance badges, expensive Henry Clay cigars, free cowbones for soup, rubber preservatives in sealed envelopes tied with gold thread,…40 days’ indulgences,…coupons for the royal and privileged Hungarian lottery” (15.1568–77). The absurd (p.81) fusion of references to the sacred and the profane in Bloom’s benefaction culminates when “Women press forward to touch the hem of Bloom’s robe” (15.1585) in order to express their reverent submissiveness, and Bloom the emperor proceeds to perform good deeds (Christian, if not Christ-like) when he “consoles a widow,” “kisses the bedsores of a palsied veteran,” and “gives his coat to a beggar” (15.1605–13). After Bloom, “His Most Catholic Majesty” (15.1629), suddenly becomes an esteemed Jewish law-giver, dispensing advice on bladder problems and astral physics, mortgages and taxes, he proclaims a new state emerging from the chaos of injustice, persecution, and violence; in this newly created cosmos he stands for “the reform of municipal morals and the plain ten commandments…. Union of all, jew, Moslem and gentile…. Compulsory manual labor for all…. Tuberculosis, lunacy, war and mendicancy must now cease. General amnesty, weekly carnival with masked licence, bonuses for all, Esperanto the universal language with universal brotherhood. No more patriotism of barspongers and dropsical impostors. Free money, free rent, free love and a free lay church in a free lay state” (15.1685–93). Significantly, his hallucinatory transformation of chaos into cosmos is based not on elimination or conversion but on inclusion of the other. His call for a cosmopolitan and anti-nationalist utopian state transcends religious, linguistic, statutory, and economic limitations. Not surprisingly, after this decree, Bloom is pronounced “an Episcopalian, an agnostic, an anythingarian seeking to overthrow our holy faith” (15.1712–13), and his royal and godlike persona disintegrates, perhaps because it does not conform to the traditional cosmocratic prescriptions based on exclusion or alteration of difference.

Joyce’s parody functions in Ulysses, and with a doubled force in “Circe,” as both a critique of the British imperial drive and, according to Gibson, a biting remark on “Irish collusion in and subservience to colonial power” and “a Catholic culture of sacrifice, of dereliction, weariness and bitterness” (207). Gibson mentions “Old Gummy Granny, parody of the figure of the poor old woman, which Joyce clearly saw as an abortion begotten in its present form by Revivalism out of Catholic Mariolatry” (210–11). The chapter’s absurd mixture of state and religious functions, random blending of denominations and rituals in the midst of chaos and ever-changing scenes and actors is Joyce’s peculiar summation of the book’s main accusations veiled by comedy and satire—that of his compatriots’ fanatical (p.82) adherence to the Catholic dogmas and national fervor, of defining one in terms of the other, of the nationalists’ xenophobia. The carnivalesque allows him to attack both English imperialism and Irish parochialism.

Ulysses, with its versatile themes and narrative strategies, successfully transcends these reductive ideologies. Paradoxically, though it employs a popular mythical narrative as the basis of its plot, it also exposes the hegemonic and self-destructive practices of mythmaking, polarizing, and othering that are at the core of (re-)creation of collective consciousness. Tom Nairn defines nationalism as “the pathology of modern developmental history, as inescapable as ‘neurosis’ in the individual…and largely incurable” (359). Joyce seems to attempt a healing process through exposing and laughing at the “disease” of English and Irish nationalism. In “Ireland: Island of Saints and Sages,” he asks whether “nation” is not “really a useful fiction like many others which the scalpels of the present-day scientists have put paid to” (118), thus foreshadowing medical terminology used by Nairn in his definition. After exposing the limitations and dangers of the binary division between chaos and cosmos, Joyce urges us to abandon the rhetoric of the sacred and the profane, to transform humanity’s drive to overcome the profane into a drive beyond any prescriptive and harmful categories. His implied call to avoid the fiction of communitarian unity and to read culture and nation as a multivalent discourse echoes in Said’s Culture and Imperialism:

If at the outset we acknowledge the massively knotted and complex histories of special but nevertheless overlapping and interconnected experiences—of women, of Westerners, of Blacks, of national states and cultures—there is no particular intellectual reason for granting each and all of them an ideal and essentially separate status. Yet we would wish to preserve what is unique about each so long as we also preserve some sense of the human community and the actual contests that contribute to its formation, and of which they are all a part. (32)

The contrapuntal analysis—the awareness and consideration of “overlapping experiences and interdependent histories of conflict” (67) and the ability to encompass a multidimensional recognition of the premises and messages included in a text—acknowledges the hybrid and multifarious nature of cultural and historical discourse and constitutes a countermeasure against “rhetoric of blame,” a defense mechanism deriving from “the (p.83) limitations of the attempts to deal with relationships that are polarized, radically uneven, remembered differently” (18). It might also explain to some extent the tendency among some modernist authors and their characters to seek new ways of identity formation in a forbidding milieu of imperial propaganda and intensified nationalist and religious indoctrination, as they transform the traditionally understood pilgrimage into other forms of questing toward self-recognition.


(1.) Foucault did not review and authorize “Of Other Spaces” (“Des Espace Autres”) for publication, though it appeared in Architecture/Mouvement/Continuité in 1984. The essay served as the basis for one of Foucault’s lectures in 1967.

(2.) Until the invasion by Scandinavian tribes, says Joyce in “Ireland: Island of Saints and Sages,” Ireland had “an uninterrupted record of apostles, missions, and martyrs” (112). He reminds us that the Danes and the Norwegians were called “the black strangers” and “the white strangers” (113). Elizabeth Butler Cullingford says that in this essay, Joyce poses a “genealogical question of who first sanctified Ireland (and with what kind of sanctity)” and that this topic has to be charged ideologically (135).

(3.) Next to Myles Joyce, there are numerous figures whose fate was decided or (p.173) manipulated by the media and other forms of maintaining control, whether by the British political powers or the Roman Catholic Church. Although he was compared to Moses leading the troubled and disorderly people “out of the house of shame to the edge of the Promised Land” (“The Shade of Parnell” 193), Parnell became an immoral adulterer in the eyes of the public and was therefore betrayed. The establishment, through the press and other means, painted Roger Casement as a barbarian after his report on the abominable conditions in the Congo and his general attack on colonial atrocities in Africa (and his rather speculative actions in Germany). In the publicized diaries, now believed to have been forged, Casement appears as a dissatisfied homosexual and therefore as a double other.

(4.) Douglass, after visiting Ireland, said in one of his speeches: “I see much here to remind me of my former condition…. He who really and truly feels for the American slave, cannot steel his heart to the woes of others; and he who thinks himself an abolitionist, yet cannot enter into the wrongs of others, has yet to find a true foundation for his anti-slavery faith” (qtd in Bornstein 371).

(5.) Rigorism, the Number of the Chosen, and the Doctrine of Salvation (Brussels, 1899).

(6.) Christine van Boheemen’s “Molly’s Heavenly Body” is an interesting reading of Molly as a “confessing vagina” (267) and chapter 18 itself as “the locus of the invention of what we now call ‘gender,’ the understanding of sexual difference as inscription and style, rather than an ontological essence” (268).

(7.) Although Chester Anderson (in his Explanatory Notes to the critical edition of Portrait) mentions The Count of Monte Cristo, especially the Count’s remark: “Oh, man, man! race of crocodiles!” as a possible source for Stephen’s statement, and although “the race of clodhoppers” could also refer to the English, since the exclamation follows Stephen’s recollection of the Irish mourners of Gladstone, I find the relation to Joyce’s compatriots the most convincing. A juxtaposition of Joyce’s remarks on the nature of the Irish (expressed in his letters, essays, and fiction) and the definition of the word clodhopper leads me to believe that Joyce refers to the Irish here.

(8.) Anderson traces the transition from a religious, universal, transnational language (that renders the concept of a nation insignificant and expendable) to the secular languages that sprouted after the collapse of the sacred imperia of premodern times and to changing concepts of time and space. Nationalism, he says, is a systematizing principle replacing religion as an organizing tool. The fading power of the sacred, all-encompassing language (e.g., Latin) understood only by the elite marked the emergence of profane, more democratic languages that, in turn, engendered the idea of a secular state.

(9.) The first similar remark is uttered in Bloom’s presence: “Those are nice things, says the citizen, coming over here to Ireland filling the country with bugs” (12.1441–42).

(10.) “Joyce,” Ellmann writes, “needed exile as a reproach to others and a justification of himself. His feeling of ostracism from Dublin lacked, as he was well aware, the moral decisiveness of his hero Dante’s exile from Florence, in that he kept the keys to the gate” (James Joyce 113). Ellmann adds that “whenever his relations with his native land were in danger of improving, he was to find a new incident to solidify his intransigence and to reaffirm the rightness of his voluntary absence” (113).

(11.) In his letter to Griffith, Joyce said: “I quite see, of course, that the Church is still, as it was in the time of Adrian IV, the enemy of Ireland” (Ellmann, Selected Letters 246).