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  • Circuits of Meeting and Telling: Joyce, Psychoanalysis, and Narration
  • Tony Thwaites

Joyce and psychoanalysis have had a rich and complex history over the last thirty years or so,1 and both also have much to say about meetings and their complexities. What does it mean for Joyce and psychoanalysis to meet?

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Ulysses commemorates the meeting of Joyce and Nora in more thoroughgoing ways than the incidence of a date. It is also in many ways a book about meetings—about their fatefulness and what “Ithaca” will call their “imprevidibility” (U 17.980); about what follows and what does not follow from them; about the futures to which meetings do, or do not, lead; and about the ways in which those future events not yet encountered cast their shadows before them and revise and rewrite what has led up to them, in all sorts of retrospective arrangements.

“I have often thought since on looking back over that strange time that it was that small act, trivial in itself, that striking of that match, that determined the whole aftercourse of both our lives” (U 7.763–65). This is one of the ways we find it put in “Aeolus,” the first episode to be shared by Bloom and Stephen, though the two are only to meet some ten hours and three hundred pages later. Their non-meeting here takes on some of its meaning from that encounter which has not yet taken place. It turns the episode into something like one of those stage farces of opening and closing doors: not so much Hamlet as The Comedy of Errors. Here we have Stephen thinking of the way in which one can never know the first event in a series at the time at which it occurs; knowledge of it as the first event is always retrospective, looking back on it once the series of events is well under way. It is not, of course, a serious suggestion about this particular match and this act. On the one hand, J. J. O’Molloy, lighting his cigarette in the offices of the Freeman, is not someone to whom the day will bring Stephen into a closer orbit. On the other hand, though, Bloom will have more to do with O’Molloy later that day, in “Cyclops”—and Bloom is still [End Page 679] on the very fringes of Stephen’s awareness, little more than a slightly insistent interruption. What is more, that curious sentence is, as commentators often point out, a parodic borrowing from sentimental fiction.2 Stephen is not so much endorsing it as ironically citing the very sort of received wisdom and style that Bloom himself revels in—the sort of thing he might even have read that morning, in “Matcham’s Masterstroke” (U 4.502). If Stephen notes with irony what Bloom takes straight, the real irony is that he is describing precisely what will happen, even if he does not yet know it, and in the very language that will turn out to be so characteristic of the one with whom he will be meeting. This statement about retrospective sorts of arrangements reveals itself to be a precise example of retrospective sorts of arrangement. At the very moment Stephen is missing the mark, he is hitting it in a series of errors that, as he has yet to affirm, will be the “portals of discovery” (U 9.229).

Psychoanalysis knows all about meetings too. The dream work stages a delicate dance between a latent content and what Sigmund Freud calls “the day’s residues”: events that need not have occurred but are brought into the orbit of the dream by nothing more than the contingency of their having happened.3 A friend, a color, a snatch of conversation from some time during the previous period of waking—all of these can be the grain of sand around which the unconscious can secrete the dream-pearl. The famous primal scene itself is not a time bomb ticking away; it is a moment that, if it ever occurred at all, turns to trauma only much later on, in retrospect, with the thoroughly contingent advent of another quite unrelated...


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