- Joyce & Jung: The “Four Stages of Eroticism” in “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
C. G. Jung’s reputation has declined dreadfully in recent decades for serious reasons. His emphasis on transcendence still appeals to popular audiences—the handsome cover of Joyce & Jung has a New-Age ambience—but critics can hardly give credence to his assumption that spiritual principles are built into us; and his privileging of ancient ideas often leads to reactionary politics. As Kimberly J. Devlin observes, archetypes are stereotypes.1 The days when Jung could inspire great critics like Joseph Campbell and Northrop Frye are past. Yet he can still motivate an inquiring critic like Hiromi Yoshida, though she finally seems to leave him behind.
Her book concentrates mainly on Jung’s “four stages of eroticism” in which a man proceeds through a series of attractions to four kinds of women in his life and each represents a stage of his development. Yoshida points out that each also corresponds in order to the first four chapters of Joyce’s A Portrait. The first female type is the maternal anima, personified by Eve, and it predominates in the first chapter, where Stephen continually longs for his mother. The second stage is that of the sexual anima, whose prototype is Helen of Troy, and this corresponds to Chapter 2, in which Stephen ends up going to a prostitute. Desire is spiritualized in the figure of the Virgin Mary, who personifies the third stage of consciousness, at which the sexual impulse is sublimated. This matches the third chapter, where Stephen devotes himself to the Virgin. The fourth stage, the Gnostic Sophia, represents wisdom that surpasses all modes of knowing. Yoshida sees this anima in the Bird Girl that Stephen is inspired by on the beach in the fourth chapter.
A definitive version of the four stages is traced by Yoshida through Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust, but they appear in a vast body of literature, especially that of alchemy, which is concerned with raising the soul to higher levels. The idea that every man has these four stages wired into his brain is not tenable, and the notion that one must pass through these stages in the right order imposes an elaborate structure on everyone’s mind. Moreover, the sense that the earlier [End Page 581] forms of love are lower and more animal while the later ones are higher and more spiritual brings in concepts of inferior and superior to indicate the problematic politics to which Jungianism can lead.
It is best to see these stages as products of literary tradition: Jung’s approach allows one to see connections that reach across the whole range of human cultural production, and Yoshida’s book is lavishly illustrated with art through the ages that shows how vividly these patterns appear. She often refers to Sigmund Freud’s ideas and argues that his system limits its attention to Oedipal structures, while Jung’s admits a wider range of psychic formations. Within this vast tradition, Yoshida does an impressive job of tracing images that connect with the different levels of anima so that her study has the merit of bringing out patterns of motif and mythological references that were not known before. For example, the cow stands for the maternal anima and the bird for the spiritualized one. Throughout the novel, images of cows tend to decrease after the opening reference, while images of birds tend to increase toward the end of the book. An image of a cow may lead to thoughts of Daedalus, whose first invention was an artificial cow, and this link may cast light on the scenes in which Stephen rides in a milk wagon.
On the level of engagement with the texture of the work, Yoshida is enterprising. She continually brings out sharp insights, as when Stephen lies in the infirmary at Clongowes: “Stephen’s ‘collywobbles’ (P 22) are . . . symptoms that accompany the child’s lovesickness for the mother...