- The Pattern Out of the Wallpaper: Luce Irigaray and Molly Bloom
Concluding the Introduction to her Translation of Luce Irigaray's essay "Quand nos lèvres se parlent" ("When Our Lips Speak Together"), Carolyn Burke writes: "Refusing closure and espousing the openness of the female bodies that it celebrates, her text ends with the words 'nous: toute(s)'" (Burke 68). Together, Burke's description and Irigaray's words—"us: 'all' " ("Our Lips" 79)—are astonishingly, if unintentionally evocative of Molly Bloom's inclusive, expansive, sexual—female, that is—affirmation in the "Penelope" chapter of James Joyce's Ulysses: "yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes" (U 18.1576-1577). Even the ambiguity ("we are flowers all / a womans body" or "we are flowers / all a womans body") reinforces Irigaray's resistance to fixed meaning as well as her major premise in "Ce Sexe qui n'en est pas un" ("This Sex Which Is Not One") that "woman has sex organs more or less everywhere. She finds pleasure almost anywhere. . . . the geography of her pleasure is far more diversified, more multiple in its differences, more complex, more subtle, than is commonly imagined . . ." (28).
Irigaray extrapolates from the sexual to other manifestations and implications [End Page 507] of female multiplicity, including language and the very process of thought:
"She" is indefinitely other in herself. This is doubtless why she is said to be whimsical, incomprehensible, agitated, capricious . . . not to mention her language, in which "she" sets off in all directions leaving "him" unable to discern the coherence of any meaning. Hers are contradictory words. . . . For in what she says, too, at least when she dares, woman is constantly touching herself. She steps ever so slightly aside from herself with a murmur, an exclamation, a whisper, a sentence left unfinished. . . . When she returns, it is to set off again from elsewhere.
In the thoughts of Molly Bloom as she prepares for sleep, we find the perfect analogue for Irigaray's "she," as she touches herself, touches an image, and moves on, leaving—in her case—the more open-ended question "unfinished": "shall I wear a white rose or" (U 18.1553-1554), Molly asks herself, contemplating Stephen's potential visit. She enacts Irigaray's words—"when she returns, it is to set off again from elsewhere"—quite literally: when Molly continues, "or shall I wear a red yes" (U 18.1603) later in the text, she "returns" in her thoughts from a far distant time and place (the Gibraltar of her romantic youth), and then she "sets off again"—after completing and answering her own question—for the more recent past, the day Leopold Bloom proposed to her on Howth Head.
This "setting off" is, of course, also a "return," for Molly had begun her reminiscences with that same day sixteen years earlier on Howth Head when Bloom proposed marriage. We might also see the completed question as a gateway to the final famous passage ("and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes . . . Yes" [U 18.1605-1609]). The completed question is thus both ending and beginning, and we can see that even this single line with its many possibilities is a validation of Irigaray's thought: "you . . . remain in a flux that never congeals or solidifies" ("Our Lips" 76).
Molly's thoughts are constantly moving, constantly changing. As Irigaray says, not having Molly in mind but catching her perfectly, "our pleasure consists of moving and being moved . . . endlessly. Always in movement . . ." ("Our Lips" 73). In the seemingly random movement of Molly's thoughts we see manifestations of the various components of Irigaray's " 'speaking (as) woman' (parler-femme)" ("Notes on Selected Terms," This Sex 219). This very generalization, the ability to speak of oneself as part of all womankind, is crucial to the words of both Irigaray and Molly Bloom. Irigaray ends the text "When Our Lips Speak Together" with the line "You? I? That's still saying too much. It cuts too sharply between us: 'all' " (79). She has said, earlier in the text, "You/I are always several at the same time" ("Our Lips" 72...