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Stephen’s “Allwombing Tomb”: Mourning, Paternity, and the Incorporation of the Mother in Ulysses

From: Joyce Studies Annual
pp. 5-28

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As we all know, the formal spine of Ulysses is the asymptotic father/son at-onement of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, which begins with the dramatic counterpoint of the Telemachiad and the Bloomiad, and proceeds to stages of encounter, hallucinatory doubling, communion and, finally, a sundering. The narrative convergence of the two protagonists functions as a formal correlative of a whole series of substantive thematic psychic and symbolic correspondences. But no element of this extended and myriad parallelism, I submit, represents deeper structural grounds for the consubstantiality of Bloom and Stephen than their respective habits of mourning. Prominently remarked throughout the day, their matching black suits or mourning habits index a fellowship of grief, which Joyce elaborates in a characteristically meticulous and multi-tiered fashion. Their bereavements share a like gender profile (both mourn the loss of a significant female other), a like familial complication (both sustain incestuous attachments to their lost object), an analogous generational profile (Bloom pines for the loss of a daughter, Stephen the death of a mother), an early morning mnemonic trigger (the same sun-eclipsing cloud simultaneously induces in Stephen a vision of his mother and Bloom a vision of his daughter), similar trajectory (both move, at different rates, from melancholic incorporation toward symbolic introjection), and a like telos (self-fulfillment, Bloom as a father and Stephen as an artist). In sum, if the narrative thrust and formal design of Ulysses may be said to pivot upon “the void” of paternal filial relationships, that “legal fiction,” in turn, finds its consistency, if not its foundation, in a homosocial bond of mourning a woman (U 9.842, 844).

By way of examining this problematic, I offer the present essay as a companion piece to an article that I published just over a decade ago entitled “A Child Is Being Eaten: Mourning, Transvestism and the Incorporation of the Daughter in Ulysses.” My purpose on that occasion was to intervene in a long-standing debate over whether Bloom’s famous turn as the “new womanly man” (U 15.1798–9) in Ulysses represents a stratagem of appropriation for salvaging masculine dominance through its carnivalesque inversion or an empathetic manifestation of gender mobility and immixture that looks to assail the reified gender arrangements endemic to the Catholic nationalist patriarchy of late colonial Ireland. As the title suggests, I dissented from both options. I rather held, and still hold, that Bloom’s cross-dressing performance should not be read as an attempt to inhabit the category of woman-in-general—the woman that, as Lacan says, does not exist—but as the culmination of Bloom’s day long, deeply unconscious practice of coming to grips with the loss of his “darting… lookinglass” daughter, Milly (U 4.287–8), a loss that is arguably more devastating and certainly more fraught than even the more permanent loss of his virtually stillborn son, Rudy. My purpose on this occasion is to tease out Stephen’s correspondingly fraught and devastating grief for his mother and to reveal its profound, interanimating and ultimately transformative relationship to Bloom’s daughter-grief. To lay the groundwork for this enterprise, however, I must begin with a capsule account of Bloom’s “trouble” (U 5.90).

Bloom’s Consuming Passions

With the arrival of a letter from Milly’s internal exile in Mullingar, Bloom’s solitary breakfast on June 16, 1904 turns into a mourning meal. As he reads her disjoint missive, he ingests a pork kidney, which he mentally describes in the same eroticized terms that he applies to his daughter in reflecting upon her sexual growth and development. Joyce introduces a series of double-entendres to insinuate Bloom’s incestuous identification of his “kiddy” (U 8.163) and his kidney, his offal and his offspring. The first is a pun on “piece,” as in piece of (sexual) meat. Having “slit open the letter,” Bloom muses “sex breaking out even then. Pert little piece she was.” Then, “he prodded with a fork and slapped it over,” as if to punish the kidney in her stead (U 4.280, 295–6, emphasis added). The second is a pun on “toothsome”: “He put a forkful into his mouth, chewing...

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