- Scarce More a Corpse:Famine Memory and Representations of the Gothic in Ulysses
"What is a ghost? Stephen said with tingling energy. One who has faded into impalpability through death, through absence, through change of manners" (U 9.147–149). According to Stephen Dedalus' definition of the ghost in the "Scylla and Charybdis" chapter of Ulysses, anyone living "out-of-time"(even due to something as seemingly inconsequential as a "change in manners") can be incorporated into ghostliness. Central to this understanding of the ghost is the provision that the ghost need not have died before returning in spectral form. Indeed, throughout Ulysses the lines between living and dead are blurred, and the paralysis which Joyce identifies at the core of Ireland has the peculiar effect of transforming the characters into ghosts, trapped between life and death. The state of living death caused by the paralysis at the heart of Irish life means that Ireland is a place where the living and the dead indistinguishably haunt the streets and interiors, the fields and tombs. Ireland is a country populated by ghosts.
Joyce's use of the Gothic as a mode of expression, available to comment upon a situation engendered out of deep and repeated trauma, develops, I believe, out of his reading of earlier writers who adapted Gothic techniques to their own ends. Any reading of Joyce's Gothic must therefore look to Joyce's predecessors as the starting point, the omphalos of the Joycean Gothic. In particular, the nineteenth century poet James Clarence Mangan wrote of the effects of the Great Famine in terms of the living dead. Joyce had more than a casual interest in Mangan's writing, for he wrote several lectures upon Mangan, focusing on the notion of the poet as a symbol of the nation. In these lectures, Joyce simultaneously praises and condemns the poet, revealing a nuancedunderstanding of Mangan's verse which he puts to greater use in portraying [End Page 102] paralyzed Irish life. With this in mind, I suggest that in Ulysses, Joyce takes from Mangan an emphasis upon guilt and the use of the ghost to represent traumatic events, but surpasses Mangan in his analysis of the political dimensionsof these literary devices. While critics have observed the centrality of ghosts and of guilt to Joyce's creation, critical response largely overlooks the historical or social factors which intervene, focusing instead (as many critics of Gothic fiction do) upon psychoanalytic readings of the novel.1 I argue that Joyce's Gothic emerges from his reading of Mangan and takes as its subject the oppression visited upon Ireland from without as well as within. The transformation of the living into ghosts which is indicative of paralysis also points to a history of repeated trauma, from the Famine in the mid-nineteenth century through the crushing of nationalist ambitions with the fall of Parnell, and even to the current moment of the text, where the internalization of the apparatuses of control is manifest in the power of institutional Catholicism. Joyce's use of ghosts in Ulysses, specifically the ghosts of the Famine in the "Lestrygonians" chapter, the ghost of Stephen's mother, the ghost of Charles Stewart Parnell, and Hamlet's ghost, points to a complex critique of the forces shaping Ireland as it enters the twentieth century.
This process of becoming ghostly, which Joyce attributes to paralysis, is one area where he calls upon Gothic images and figures in order to lend weight to his story. In contrast to previous writers of Gothic fiction such as Walpole or Maturin, Joyce's Gothic has mutated in several fundamental ways. Perhaps most glaringly, this is a full-fledged modernist Gothic, without the trappings of exotic settings and actual encounters with the supernatural. What is instead revealed in Joyce is a Gothic which makes itself available as a set of rhetorical tropes and strategies which are equipped to talk about and work through, as John Paul Riquelme puts it, "the dark side of the experience and discourse of modernity"2 (589). The relationship between the Gothic and modernism is still critically under-explored, but is manifest throughout Joyce's writing. The Gothic...