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Critics have long been aware of the near-clinical interest that James Joyce, a former medical student, invested in his descriptions of bodily processes. Indeed, the body as a major theme in Joyce’s writing is a well-established area of inquiry.1 Yet Joyceans and other literary critics, even some ecocritics,2 appear to share a deepseated Western philosophical ambivalence about the relationship between the natural and the human. As Kate Soper observes: ‘We have thought . . . of humanity as being a component of nature even as we have conceptualised nature as absolute otherness to humanity.’3 This ambivalence is emotionally and intellectually fraught. It is a way of acknowledging yet repressing the fact that humans, in spite of our drive to transcend nature, are continually pulled back into our physical selves by natural laws whose impingement we feel to be, in varying degrees, alien and shame-provoking.4 In this essay I will take a trans-corporeal approach,5 derived from Stacy Alaimo’s theories and phenomenology, to understanding Joyce’s concern with the locus of the human experience of nature: the body. In conjunction with that experience, Joyce, most notably in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, explored the poles of transcendence and shame. By shame, I mean the feeling aroused by the vulnerability, limitations and necessities of our existence as spirit-like minds tethered to animal-like bodies. What I will discuss as ‘transcendence’ differs from the phenomenological definition of that term; it arises out of aspects of experience that Joyce depicted as rising above time’s quotidian flow and the imperfectibility of relationships between people. In Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, our bodies interact with nature through the modality of the senses and co-create the physical world,6 as Stephen Dedalus demonstrates at the outset of the ‘Proteus’ episode in Ulysses.7 In doing so the body endows us with pleasure and delight; yet it also generates what the ecologist William ‘Sunflawered’Humanity in Finnegans Wake: Nature, Existential Shame and Transcendence JAMES FAIRHALL 231 Jordan III calls ‘existential shame’.8 He contrasts this universal, manysided shame with guilt: [It] may arise from wrongdoing, but it is not associated only with moral failure. It is rather a sense of existential unworthiness, the painful emotion a person naturally feels on encountering any kind of shortcoming or limitation . . . [G]uilt is the emotional register of a debt that might be repaid, or . . . a failing for which we are responsible . . . Shame . . . is the emotional register of our natural, radical, existential dependency and a debt for which we are not responsible.9 At heart, we owe this debt to nature and it is our condition as selfreflective yet organic creatures that are born, suffer and die which is the root cause of existential shame. Two related ideas stem from existential shame: the notion of the birth of humanity as original sin, and the need to compensate and atone for that sin. Natural imperfection is a product of culture that signifies a rupture between nature and human nature. Metaphorically , it is born of the tumble of Adam and Eve from unreflective, animal-like yet perfect existence – in a garden whose creatures do not exert themselves, suffer or change – into both nature and nature-transcending self-consciousness in the same instant.10 The vehicle of their fall is the body, which comes into being at that instant as something that is them and not-them,11 both animal and human. Their appetite for the forbidden fruit marks the body as an alienated vessel of desire – the desire of a body that is not one with nature. In this sense, the fall is the awakening of individual human consciousness and the experience of shame insofar as becoming human entails a confrontation with limitations: the constraints of the lone individual, rising above yet circumscribed by nature, whose desire is defined by its inevitable frustration. I take Adam and Eve’s fall in Genesis to be a parable of the process in evolutionary history that led to the creation of big-brained, self-aware human beings, and in this essay I conflate the Biblical and evolutionary events, both of which result in schism and shame. Jordan examines creation myths and rituals that, in many societies , account and compensate for humanity’s imperfection. The primary mode of atonement is the enactment in ritual of a god’s death or self-sacrifice leading to his resurrection. Broadly defined, the ritual performance is comedy, as derived from the fertility god Comus...


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