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  • “Circe” and the Genesis of Multiple Personality
  • Finn Fordham (bio)

cuttered up and misfutthered in the most multiplest manner

FW 322.10–11

In this article, I propose a correlation between James Joyce’s composition techniques that required multiple revisions and his interest in multiple personality, which eventually blossomed into that comedy of multiplicity, Finnegans Wake. The Wake’s relation to the multiple-personality phenomenon is well known through the figure of Christine Beauchamp, who is associated with Issy,1 but the theme of multiplicity and multiple personality emerges in early drafts of the Wake independently of her character.2 Rather than provide the details of this emergence or consider its meanings within Finnegans Wake, I will make the case that it grew out of reflections on the composition of Ulysses, in particular “Circe,” and the experience of its composition. Such a thesis picks up on Michael Groden’s suggestion that “the processes by which [Joyce] wrote the book cannot be separated from other aspects of its meaning.”3 The result is an exercise in a form of biography that seeks to illustrate how, as Ford Madox Ford’s biographer Max Saunders says, “[t]he simultaneous processes of living and writing shape each other in complex and often surprising ways.”4

While Joyce’s characteristic methods of drafting, notetaking, redrafting, and revision had already been established before the composition of Ulysses,5 one aspect of it—the revisions—intensified during the composition of “Circe.” Through a genetic account of the progress of “Circe,” it is possible to see that Joyce, even before he began its drafting, required a new intensification of the method of multiple revisions he had already crafted. As he conceived, wrote, and rewrote the book, and “Circe” in particular, events around him affected his method. These occurrences included the strong responses of readers: the enthusiasm of the Little Review editors, the refusal of the United States Post Office to carry installments, the burning of certain issues, the action brought against the Little Review in September 1920, and its trial in February 1921. Joyce’s growing celebrity (or notoriety) and the circumstances of the writing itself affected his methods. Together these events intensified the escalation of what can be called a stratigraphic method of writing. After he completed the drafting of “Circe” [End Page 507] and was inspired by the multiple levels of its composition, Joyce relayered the entire novel at proof stage several times. This process had the apparently contradictory effects of making the novel more connectedly reticular while also more diversely disparate. Ulysses became more “Circean,” more multiply shape-shifting and bursting at the seams. The argument here relies on a degree of symbiosis between the forms that composition takes and the thematizations of identity. Thus, before going into the details of “Circe”’s composition and its deployment of multiple personality, I wish to give some evidence of Joyce’s interest in the relations between forms of writing and forms of identity.

Joyce had a sophisticated sense of the potential relations between multiple personalities and the destabilization of identity in the early stages of Ulysses. That sense is present, for instance, in the concept of metempsychosis that floats into “Calypso.” Metempsychosis is an inverse version of the concept of multiples: rather than multiple discrete identities existing within one body, one soul moves between and through multiple bodies. But the relation between the processes of composition and multiple personality emerges most clearly in Stephen’s disquisition on William Shakespeare and on his quasi-autobiographical fictions. Three moments in “Scylla and Charybdis” are of particular importance. First, early on in his National Library talk, Stephen splits himself to perform internally a comic dialogue about personal identity, the terms of which then reverberate throughout the lecture. Initially he deploys the cod philosophical problem in which, because the matter of our bodies changes entirely every seven years, whatever unity we have must be accounted for by something other than matter. If this were not the case, then our personal identity over time breaks down into multiple discrete elements: we keep disappearing from ourselves. Stephen imagines that such a transubstantiation might help him avoid paying his debts: “Molecules all change. I...


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pp. 507-520
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