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Irish Nationalism’s Sacrificial Homosociality in Ulysses

From: Joyce Studies Annual
Volume 2008
pp. 172-202

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

This spirit of quarrelsome comradeship which he had observed lately in his rival had not seduced Stephen from his habits of quiet obedience. He mistrusted the turbulence and doubted the sincerity of such comradeship which seemed to him a sorry anticipation of manhood. . . . When the gymnasium had been opened he had heard another voice urging him to be strong and manly and healthy and when the movement towards national revival had begun to be felt in the college yet another voice had bidden him be true to his country and help to raise up her fallen language and tradition. In the profane world, as he foresaw, a worldly voice would bid him raise up his father’s fallen state by his labours and, meanwhile, the voice of his school comrades urged him to be a decent fellow, to shield others from blame or to beg them off and to do his best to get free days for the school. And it was the din of all these hollowsounding voices that made him halt irresolutely in the pursuit of phantoms. He gave them ear only for a time but he was happy only when he was far from them, beyond their call, alone or in the company of phantasmal comrades.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 1916

(83–4)

Casement, says the citizen. He’s an Irishman. Ulysses, 1922

(12:1545)

May the fireplug of filiality reinsure your bunghole! Finnegans Wake, 1939

(428:12–3)

Few critics have engaged with homoeros and its entanglement with romantic Irish nationalism as they are conjoined in Joyce’s fiction. Since the publication of a special edition of the James Joyce Quarterly in early 1994 and Joseph Valente’s pioneering collection Quare Joyce (1998),1 the examination of same-sex desire from a range of queer perspectives has made an influential impact on Joyce studies, registering in the research of Valente, Joseph Allan Boone, Colleen Lamos, Vicki Mahaffey, Gregory Castle, Garry Leonard, David Weir, and Jennifer Levine amongst others. Before the advent of these academic compilations, hundreds of queer references, gestures, jokes, allusions, puns, not to mention the multiple instances of “gender trouble” within Joyce’s fictional prose were completely ignored, strategically dismissed, or deemed worthy of only superficial comment.

Joyce confronts his audience with the dilemma of construing queer signs in tandem with overarching heterosexual significations. As Valente notes, herein lies the heart of the debate regarding the nature of sexuality in Joyce’s writing:

Joyce reveals homosexuality, in its dominant construction, to be interior to the law proscribing it, and thus reveals the heterosexual norm, understood as a univocal proposition, to be impossible to fulfill and thus perverse on its face. This move, in turn, goes a long way toward dismantling the foundation of sexual science in his time and our own, the notion of sexual identity, and clearly anticipates the counterdiscourse of queer theory.2

Joyce’s ambiguities and ambivalences force his queer textual elements to behave like rumors. Joyce unlocks a Pandora’s Box of sexual suspicion cast upon his fictional dramatis personae from Dubliners through to Finnegans Wake. It is not surprising that Ezra Pound famously assailed Joyce over the Wake when he pleaded, “have we had enough of the pseuderasts and the Bloomsbuggers? Enough, enough, we have had quite enough.”3 The tenacious power of rumor, a prevalent thematic in Finnegans Wake, almost always lingers and persists, as witnessed when someone is publicly accused of sexual impropriety.

Critics face a Sisyphean task, if their agenda is simply and unequivocally to re-masculinize or re-heterosexualize many of the Dubliners in Joyce’s writings. Stuck with the textual slipperiness and aporia of indeterminate sexual identities, it is also incumbent upon commentators to situate and detail Joyce’s sex/gender transgressions (and those of his characters) within an Irish context and against the background of an always homoerotically colored Irish nationalism. Under this broad designation one discovers strains of militant revolutionary nationalism, romantic-cultural nationalism, as well as socialist nationalism, with a great deal of interaction and cross members among these movements. In focusing upon the common ground shared by romantic-cultural and revolutionary groups, I will refer...



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