Races and Chains: The Sexuo-Racial Matrix in Ulysses
In their encounter in Nighttown, Leopold Bloom urges Cissy Caffrey: “Speak, woman, sacred lifegiver!”1 He wishes her to intervene in the scuffle between her companion, Private Carr, and Bloom’s companion, Stephen Dedalus, who has insulted the king of England and now faces Carr’s fist. Bloom calls upon Cissy, “the link between nations and generations” (U, 15.4648), the maternal paragon, to smooth over this blood feud as she smoothed over her younger brothers’ sand castle fight on the beach. In this essay I show how Ulysses, as this scene hints, unearths a deeply embedded cultural matrix in which feuds over race or nationality and claims of “sacred” motherhood depend on each other. In this cultural matrix, racial and sexual myths cooriginate. In addition to exposing the fused roots of these myths in parodies such as the one just cited, the novel teases out the contradictory metaphysics of those myths and simultaneously pushes narrative toward a body logic—what could be called a somalogic—which challenges these myths’ racialized and gendered metaphysics.
I begin by establishing the cultural construction, both ideological and historical, of the sexuo-racial mythologies parodied in Ulysses. I then go on to highlight Ulysses’s exposure of the dangerous, fool-producing power of Western sexuo-racial myths, especially in their hierarchical division of bodies by gender and race. Next, I argue that structural features of the narrative challenge the hegemony of this mythology over the powers and intimacies of bodies, counterpointing that hegemony with what can be understood as an “intercorporeic” narrative structure. Finally, I propose that, despite its further unraveling of conservative bodily mythologies, the final “Penelope” section nonetheless remains attached by a single strong thread to the racialized mother figure of the older myths. In other words, Joyce leaves his book, with all of its parodic racial, sexual, and narrative shatterings, to be swept up and redeemed by the mother figure’s overworked body. The very burdens of racial and sexual embodiment and disembodiment which the book shows to be too much hers—as in the parodic scene with Cissy—nonetheless remain hers at the end of Ulysses.
This reading is meant to indicate some of the ways in which modernism, or, more precisely, experimental modern fiction, allows the simultaneous return of racial and sexual repressions—revealing these repressions as inextricable from one another. If modernism develops in the context of a “war of the sexes,” that war develops in the context of a “war of the races.” Therefore, to the extent that sexual repressions return in modernist literature, the legacy of race surfaces with them. A few examples of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century conception of a hierarchy, struggle, or war of the races must serve, for the purposes of this essay, to recreate the climate of racialism in which Joyce and modernism developed, especially in connection with the “battle of the sexes” which critics have of late considered formative to modernist experiments.2
The rise of new ideologies of womanhood in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has attracted the attention of feminist scholars, among them literary critics, for several decades. Scholars have shown that the separation of middle-class economic spheres into the private and the public derived authority in part from a new “science of woman,” which pronounced women constitutionally unsuited to intellectual and professional endeavors.3 Brain measurements, nerve theories, skeletal drawings, and case studies furnished scientific support for this cultural and economic enclosure of middle-class women. Meanwhile, throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, similar kinds of data were gathered in support of what Nancy Stepan has called the “chain of races,” fashioned after the Renaissance idea of a “chain of being,” and arranging races in descending order from the lightest to the darkest.4 These scientific theories of race and sex often became interlaced to a degree that deserves closer scrutiny from scholars of Western culture. At the least, given that these theories sometimes constructed explicit analogies between “higher” and “lower” races and sexes, one is justified in suspecting a deep structural interdependence between sexual and racial mythologies. I suggest that study of the shared matrix of these ideologies illuminates the stories and the narrative practices of modern novels, including Ulysses.
Many scientific theories claimed the existence of actual physical analogies between races and sexes, such as that “the female skull approached that of the infant, and in still further respects that of lower races, whereas the mature male of many lower races resembled in his pendulous belly a Caucasian woman who had had many children.”5 In such formulations races are gendered and sexes are racialized; the two systems of hierarchic value depend mutually on each other. The metaphor of “the couple” epitomizes this tautological circle of race-sex references. For instance, Gustave d’Eichthal suggested in 1839 that “the white race represented the male and the black race the female,”6 and Gustave Klemm philosophized similarly that “humanity, in its entirety is, like man, one being which is divided into two parts, each necessary to the other, the active and the passive part, the male and the female.”7 In these comparisons gendered polarities of passive and active provide metaphors for racial polarities, the neat fit of which in turn strengthens the effect of the gendered polarities. It is clear, at least on the level of metaphor, that racial and sexual mythologies grew and expanded together. Joyce parodies these intermingled mythologies, as we shall see.
Such gendered racialism has roots not only in the colonial European and American pasts but further back in the European history of conquering and conquered “races.”8 Thus, German nationalists of the sixteenth century belittled Europe’s “Romano-Welsche” or southern peoples by characterizing them as a “woman-race, a crowd of weaklings.”9 With the rise of nineteenth-century colonialist racialism, and in the wake of class revolutions in Europe, which were very much perceived as race revolutions in which the native conquered finally took up arms against their foreign conquerors, such gendered racial theories again found wide expression. In the midnineteenth century Otto von Bismarck claimed that “the German, the teutonic race, may be regarded as embodying the virile, the fertilizing principle in Europe; but the Celtic and the Slav peoples are womanly races, passive, unproductive.”10 Likewise, Ludwig Feuerbach theorized that “the heart—the feminine principle, the sense of the finite, the seat of materialism—is French; the head—the masculine principle, the seat of idealism—is German.”11 Note here that nationalities become essentialized by being conflated with races, as they often were in sexuo-racial theories of a century ago. Joyce works within this contemporary conflation. He also particularly examines the metaphysics implicit in these racial and gender mythologies.
We do know that Joyce owned several books which “proved” the biological hierarchy of races and sexes. Marilyn Reizbaum has established that Joyce had a sizable library of books on racial theory, especially books concerning the “Semitic race.”12 Among the sexuo-racial theorists who seem to have made their way directly into Ulysses are Jules Michelet, mentioned explicitly (U, 3.167), and Otto Weininger, whose book Sex and Character (1903) Joyce owned.13 In Sex and Character, Weininger argues that Jews are womanish and that all women are as deceitful as Jews. Some critics have suggested that Joyce used Weininger’s work uncritically in creating his women and his Jews in Ulysses.14 In contrast, I agree with Reizbaum that Joyce’s creation of Leopold Bloom—the “new womanly man” who advocates intermarriage between races—critically parodies such gendered racialism (though sometimes with double-edged irony).
This interpretation of gendered racialism in Ulysses finds support in Joyce’s nonfiction writings. In his lecture “Ireland, Isle of Saints and Sages,” Joyce rejects racial categories and racial accounts of history, insisting instead on the fertility and inevitability of racial mixture. He points to Ireland’s complicated history of invasions and migrations, holding up the country as a “vast fabric, in which the most diverse elements are mingled,” and concluding that “in such a fabric it is useless to look for a thread that may have remained pure and virgin.”15 Joyce’s choice of the phrase “pure and virgin” calls attention to the sexual mythology entwined with the racial mythologies he debunks here. In the conclusion of his lecture, Joyce’s antiracialism leads him to question “the purpose of bitter invectives against the English despoiler” (CW, 173). In Ulysses, as we shall see, he implicitly questions invectives against both the English and the Jewish “invaders” and, in addition, exposes these invectives’ masculinist interests.
As with most of his characters and materials, Joyce’s parodic distancing serves purposefully to separate him from those cultural inheritances which he once embraced but perhaps cannot be expected to have let go altogether. For as a young man Joyce did, at least briefly, embrace racialism. In an early college essay titled “Force,” he defends the virtues of subjugation. He points to man’s subjugation of the earth for farming, to his subjugation of the animals and jungles to make way for civilization, and to the subjugation of the “lower races of the world” by the higher, stating matter-of-factly that “among the human families the white man is the predestined conqueror.”16 All of these subjugations, the young Joyce ultimately argues, demonstrate the necessity of man’s “subjugation of his own mental faculties” (CW, 22) for the development of high art and culture. As an adult Joyce had the originality to reject this kind of masculinist racialism—most publicly by writing a novel that both parodies that racialism and creates the very “chaotic mazes” and “huge shapelessness” against which he warns “unsubdued” artists in this essay (CW, 22). It nonetheless seems to me that the epic scale of Joyce’s parody in Ulysses reflects, among other things, both the global scale of that racialism and the heroic effort required for the purge, which inevitably leaves some trace of original attachment.
I mention Joyce’s youthful absorption of racialism in large part because it indicates, perhaps better than the books in his library, the pervasiveness of gendered racialism at the turn of the century. Joyce lived in an era of gendered racialism; it colored the world narratives of philosophy, history, government, and science. He imbibed it as much as others did, and so he had his purging, parodic work cut out for him. In fact, in the years of Joyce’s coming of age the rhetoric of gendered racialism became increasingly intense. At the dawn of the twentieth century, in the decades before and during the First and Second World Wars, thinker after thinker spoke of “the vast rivalry” of world races, “the struggle of the Western races for the inheritance of the future”17 or the “ceaseless racial struggle for dominance that no number of platitudes about brotherly love will obviate.”18 An important element of this historical atmosphere is the eugenics movement.
Eugenics epitomized the racialized, survival-of-the-fittest view of history that was dominant at the turn of the century, and it explicitly named that history’s dependence on gender systems. Emerging near the end of the nineteenth century, eugenics was in a sense a science of how to win the race war. It promoted and received government funds for projects that aimed to institutionalize the feebleminded and the drunken, inhibit the procreative habits of the unfit and the colonized, and encourage early marriage and many children among the “best and the brightest.”19 It is the science of what the noted early twentieth-century eugenicist Caleb Saleeby, author of Parenthood and Race Culture, proudly called “race culture,” an ideal of culture which assumes that each race has a form of culture (implicitly lower or higher) proper to it and that a racial culture propagates itself through proper intraracial marriages. Like others, most notably the Nazis, Saleeby believed that society’s racial eugenics program should begin in grade school by teaching “the boy and the girl … that the racial instinct exists for the highest of ends. … To be manly is to be master of this instinct.”20 If to be competitively race conscious is to be manly, it should not surprise us to learn that “Woman is Nature’s supreme instrument of the future” of race culture (PRC, xv). Man has the racial instinct; Woman serves as that instinct’s instrument through procreation. In his 1911 book Saleeby advocates quite explicitly this interdependence between the dominant culture’s racial and sexual programs when he proposes that “the modern physiology and psychology of sex must be harnessed to the service of Eugenics” (PRC, xv). In other words, the “science” of sexuality should be harnessed to the “science” of race.
And “harnessed” it was: prominent practitioners of the emergent science of “sexology,” such as Havelock Ellis, considered racial improvement one of their more laudable potential contributions to society. While Ellis and others often favored the lifting of prohibitions on women’s sexuality, for such thinkers that sexuality nonetheless reached its “highest” end in marriage, which served its highest end in the reproduction of a race and, therein, a culture.21 At the more repressive end of the spectrum, such harnessing of women’s reproductive powers for racial ends found enforcement in the antimiscegenation laws in the United States and in Nazi Germany as well as in the anti-birth control pressures on racially “fit” mothers and the sterilization of the racially “unfit.”22
Racial and sexual sciences, and the forms of dominance they underwrote, thus intersected and depended on each other. They intersected most crucially in what can be called racialized mother figures. Mothers took on a newly articulated importance not just as instruments and objects of men’s power but also as pawns and vessels of white men’s racial power. Saleeby’s chapter on the “Supremacy of Motherhood” implicitly touts motherhood as the foundation for another kind of supremacy—a racial supremacy.23
In short, in the early twentieth century, cultural and material power had a perceived basis in (white) racial power, which in turn had its perceived basis in gender practices. Therefore, racialized mothers become focal points in early twentieth-century political and literary experiments. The concept of a sexuo-racial “matrix” points toward this mother-grounded center of sexual and racial mythologies. When we consider the charged appearance of nationalized or racialized mother figures in works by Thomas Hardy, Djuna Barnes, Jean Toomer, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, Zora Neale Hurston, Samuel Beckett, Ralph Ellison, and others, we may begin to see that experimental novelists—white and black, male and female, Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant—reshaped and rewrote the master narratives of racial and sexual lineage partly through these figures. Certainly Joyce did so.
For many such modern novelists, and quite consciously for Joyce, the assumption that most requires scrutiny in these mother-charged, sexuo-racial mythologies is that of metaphysics, particularly its subordination of materiality and the body. I suggest that modem authors witnessed the unraveling of metaphysical (or binary, mind-based) values insofar as these values were contradictorily woven into a racist and sexist but deeply materialist science.24 On the level of historical event, we can observe that the flowering—or mushrooming—of racial and sexual biology in the form of Nazi Germany and Hiroshima finally withered that science, at least temporarily, with the spectacle of its millions of victims. Likewise, on the level of logic, racial and sexual science suffered from its own hubristic overreaching. That is, when racial and sexual science attempted to make biology the highest authority and the final cause of value while maintaining the body’s status as the lowest, most debased value, attributing “bestiality” to women, blacks, Jews, and others, it mounted a contradiction. In practical terms, biology’s study of the powers of the body handed collateral over to those who worked and produced and gave birth with their bodies, even as that science attempted to use a discourse of the body to sustain the oppression of those bodies. Science thus jeopordized the authority and logic of metaphysics when, in order to conserve sexuo-racial mythologies, it mingled metaphysics with its antimetaphysical materialism.
Experimental novelists such as Joyce fastened on this contradiction, with varying degrees of self-consciousness. They narrated, whether intentionally or not, how that body logic worked and how it collapsed the mind-body binarism of metaphysics. Joyce pushed this collapse to the heart of a Western and Christian aesthetic committed to transcendence both of and through materiality. More generally, modern novelists including Joyce experimented with how the body moving through the world might be used to give the fictional world a new order: their narrators move down streets and into houses with the bodies of Joe Christmas, Leopold Bloom, Clarissa Dalloway, Sasha Jansen, and Janie Starks, recording a world absorbed through characters’ flesh, creating a kind of narrative flesh perception. These bodies do indeed lean under the weight of sexual and racial codings, but they also move into interstices and gaps, into literal and metaphorical outbuildings, where such codes fail to enter. Ultimately, whether we see them as following or trumping the lead of science, experimental novelists put authority—authorship—in the hands of the body, letting materiality narrate identity, frag-mentarily, exuberantly, painfully, conservatively, alternatively.
This narrative body logic, or somalogic, is also what led many authors to the mother figure: ideologically and historically, mother figures have been given responsibility for the reproduction of bodies, especially their racial and sexual status. As we shall see, narration through bodies that are in turn oriented toward embodying racialized mother figures is at least part of what Joyce attempts in Ulysses.
The Sexuo-Racial Matrix: A Day at the Races
Hence Cissy Caffrey. In her first appearance in the novel Cissy saunters along the contested borders of racial, sexual, and maternal identity. Watching her on the beach, Gerty MacDowell and Bloom, respectively, identify Cissy as a “tomboy” (U, 13.480) and as “the dark one with mop head and nigger mouth” (U, 13.898). Thus Cissy crosses to the other side of the norms of both girlishness and whiteness. The two violations seem to go hand in hand, set in comic contrast to the idealized qualities of the ever feminine and ever so white Gerty (“her face almost spiritual in its ivorylike purity” [U, 13.87]). Furthermore, Cissy openly, physically flouts proper sexual and racial boundaries. While Gerty flirts secretly with Bloom (the “dark-eyed” “foreigner” on the rocks [U, 13.416]), Cissy strides uninhibitedly over to him to ask the time. Similarly, Gerty feels repulsed by the noisy children and irritated by their interruptions of her blossoming sexual fantasies; Cissy easily mixes sexuality and maternalism, scolding and caressing and diapering her brothers seemingly all at once. Her language, which Gerty admires but rejects for herself, speaks crassly and boyishly of things bodily. Cissy’s cluster of qualities places her in titillating opposition to the culture’s idealized, purified sexuo-racial mythology. For Bloom, the “foreigner,” her intermingling of sexual, maternal, and racial qualities makes her especially worthy of the role as a “link between nations and generations” (U, 15.4648).
Yet in Nighttown Cissy senses her own precariousness as she stands on the charged borderlines of sex and race. She responds to Bloom’s appeal with “alarm.” She “seizes” the British Private Carr’s sleeve and insists: “Amn’t I with you? Amn’t I your girl? Cissy’s your girl” (U, 15.4651). Cissy chooses in this scene not to get caught in the cross fire over men’s blood feuds or arguments about the superiority of their respective races. She sides with the one in power, though she later attempts inconspicuously (and unsuccessfully) to deter him from smacking Stephen in the mouth. Cissy abdicates the racially and sexually mixed throne on which Bloom has placed her, evading the humilations to which Bloom, in his Nighttown ascent (descent?) to that same throne, has just been subjected. Cissy knows that Bloom’s ideals of open intercourse between nations and generations are eccentric and that Bloom himself is marginal: he has been labeled, as we shall see, “a bloody dark horse” (U, 12.1558) in the race among races.
Moreover, Cissy seems to know that a woman in her position has even more to fear than a man in Bloom’s. For women who mix sexually with “other” races initiate, according to long-standing mythologies invoked repeatedly in Ulysses, that entrance of “strangers” into a nation that spells its destruction. Helen of Troy epitomizes the woman who betrays “her” nation to another; many a nation has succumbed to such betrayal, as several men in Ulysses emphasize. These characters, in explaining the downfall of their races and nations, ultimately always return to this model of history. Deasy bemoans that “england is in the hands of the jews. … Wherever they gather they eat up a nation’s vital strength” (U, 2.346–50). He traces the presence of such strangers to the sins of woman, citing famous cases from history and the Bible: “A woman brought sin into the world. For a woman who was no better than she should be, Helen, the runaway wife of Menelaus, ten years the Greeks made war on Troy. A faithless wife first brought strangers to our shore here, MacMurrough’s wife and her leman, O’Rourke, prince of Bref-fini. A woman brought Parnell low too” (U, 2.390–94). Thus, women bring whole nations “low” in allowing sexual infection by “strangers.” Or, in the words of the song that shadows both Stephen’s conversation with Deasy and the “Nighttown” scene, “The harlot’s cry from street to street / Shall weave old England’s wind-ingsheet” (U, 2.356; 15.4641). Given that the “harlots” of Nighttown tend to be (or play-act being) of African descent (Zoe identifies herself as black [U, 15.1333] and “FlorryZoe” are called “jujuby women” [U, 15.4123]), such a lament implicitly places both sex and race at the heart of defensive definitions of nationhood.25
In the course of the novel, this sexuo-racial mythology about national destinies and downfalls weaves its own windingsheet, parodied from so many angles that finally the manifest destiny of the sexuo-racial argument itself meets its downfall. The notorious citizen mouths it in “Cyclops,” the chapter of blindness and bad vision: “A dishonoured wife … that’s what’s the cause of all our misfortunes. … The adultress and her paramour brought the Saxon robbers here. … The strangers …” (U, 12.1156–58). In addition to Joyce’s demystification of such accounts of Irish history in his lecture “Isle of Saints,” here his epic-parodying narration makes laughable the transparent and defensive self-aggrandizement of such attitudes: “He said and then lifted he in his rude great brawny strengthy hands the medher of dark strong foamy ale, and uttering his tribal slogan, Lamb Dearg Abu, he drank to the undoing of his foes, a race of mighty valorous heroes …” (U, 12.1210–13). Joyce comically accumulates heroic adjectives and parodies what might be called the jargon of sexuo-racialist warrior legend—“tribal,” “mighty race,” “brawny strengthy,” “heroes.” The word “slogan” particularly hints at the critique implicit in the parody.
But even more telling is the narrational turn in the next paragraph to the Gold Cup, the horse race won by Throwaway, “a rank outsider” (U, 12.1219), says the older Lenehan, and lost by Sceptre, the unfortunate (phallic) betting choice of Lenehan and all his mates. Joyce’s frequent and strategic interjection of the topic of horse races and in particular the winning of the Gold Cup by a “dark horse outsider” and the loss of it by Sceptre suggests its importance to the men’s sexuo-racial posturing throughout June 16, 1904.26 References to the horse races surface repeatedly in the men’s conversation and serve to reveal an undercurrent of warriorism in their talk. In “Nestor” we learn that pictures of horses stand “in homage” on Deasy’s walls; and Stephen, as he listens to Deasy’s sexuo-racialist ranting, quoted earlier, imagines increasingly bloody and chaotic horse races, climaxing in an image of “jousts, slush and uproar of battle … a shout of spear spikes baited with men’s bloodied guts” (U, 2.314—18). Stephen tries to imagine himself “among them” but is ridiculed by a voice that laughs, “You mean that knockkneed mother’s darling who seems to be slightly crawsick?” Stephen thus falls short of the eugenic standards of a masculine warrior race, and therefore, as will become clear, he begins to deride the sexuo-racial matrix by which eugenic ideals are buttressed and protected.
In “Oxen of the Sun” the young men engage in pseudoscientific discussion of ideal child-bearing conditions in terms of “the future of a race” (U, 14.832) and of what is most “beneficial to the race … in securing the survival of the fittest” (U, 14.1284–85). This eugenic, Darwinian discussion echoes the pronouncements of early twentieth-century politicians and scientists which I alluded to earlier. Strengthening this connection, Joyce intermingles the boys’ eugenic spoutings not only with an anti-Semitic diatribe against Bloom (who has chastised the young men for their “frigid genius”) but also with an account of the Gold Cup horse race, on which both Madden and the younger Lenehan have lost owing to the “dark horse Throwaway” (U, 14.1132). Bloom, himself a member of an “other” race within Irish culture, is repeatedly associated in the text with this Gold Cup “dark horse”—this defeater of Sceptre (see note 26). In “Cyclops,” for instance, the false rumor that Bloom won money on Throwaway yet still buys not a single round of drink ignites the race riot which so dramatically closes that section. The reader’s knowledge of the falseness of the rumor exposes the scapegoating, self-defensive impulse of race races.
The “Nighttown” scene with Private Carr also climaxes with a nationalistic race, and Joyce’s sly use of the word “race” implies yet again how a racial paradigm underlies competitive nationalism. After the cry “Dublin’s burning!” we learn in a long parenthetical description of brimstones and artillery and shrieks that “a chasm opens. … Tom Rochford, winner, … arrives at the head of the national hurdle handicap and leaps into the void. He is followed by a race of runners and leapers. In wild attitudes they spring from the brink. Their bodies plunge” (U, 15.4672–76, emphasis added). Especially since characters such as the “one-legged” sailor hold up the Irish as the “best jumpers and racers” (U, 16.1017), the word “race” in the Nighttown catastrophe clearly points in two directions—toward competitive running and toward a particular group of humanity—collapsing these two meanings into the implication that the human races race one another, a race of races ending in catastrophe.
That, in this scene, the “race of runners” is led by their hero and winner into “the void,” and that the whole catastrophic moment is an imaginary inflation of a street scuffle, flaunts the idiocy of such racial mythology. But the insidious pervasiveness of this mythology—present not only among the younger and older men in Ulysses but also in, for example, the self-mythology of the white-skinned, blue-eyed Gerty as against the mop-headed Cissy—demonstrates that it is a force to be reckoned with on many levels and in many situations. In addition, that the race race climaxes when the runners’ “bodies plunge” “in wild attitudes” into a void suggests that eugenic racing, despite its aim of physical racial improvement, actually distorts and sacrifices the bodies of its runners to an ideological void. An extended look at Stephen Dedalus’s inner turmoil within this society illuminates more closely the “body” problems created by this ideological interdependence of race and gender.
The Sexuo-Racial Matrix: Stephen’s Mother-Troubled Metaphysics
Stephen Dedalus is among the few in the book (Leopold and Molly being two others) who mock the idea that women’s promiscuity invites strangers who bring on the downfall of the “original” race. Bawdily parodying the Bible, pagan myth, Shakespeare, scholarship, and himself all at once, he pronounces early in the “Oxen of the Sun” section:
Bring a stranger within thy tower it will go hard but thou wilt have the secondbest bed. … Remember, Erin, thy generations and thy days of old, how thou settedst little by me and by my word and broughtedst in a stranger to my gates to commit fornication in my sight and to wax fat and kick like Jeshuram. Why hast thou done this abomination before me that thou didst spurn me for a merchant of jalaps and didst deny me to the Roman and the Indian of dark speech with whom thy daughters did lie luxuriously? Look forth, now, my people, upon the land of behest, even from Horeb and from Nebo and from Pisgah …. (U, 14.372–76)
Here Stephen parodies the biblical God himself as an adherent of the sexuo-racialist myth (as indeed he is) that identifies the promiscuous “miscegenation” of women (“thy daughters”) as the curse of nations. Stephen’s irreverent sexual puns, such as “it will go hard,” and his loose intermingling (like Bloom’s) of Erin and Palestine or Jews and Irish imitate this feminine promiscuity: his conflated references commit in language the “mixing” of values or referents that cross-national or cross-racial sexuality commits in blood. His inflated language also implicitly deflates that mythology which grandly equates the Hebrews and the Irish as chosen, wronged peoples. Stephen’s parodic language hints that such epic racial equations perpetuate the very racialism by which their adherents are victimized.
Stephen feels and expresses these ironies as an emotional outsider who, according to race and gender, should be in the inner circle of Irish insiders. But for the same reason he also embodies most sharply the contradictions at the heart of what I call the sexuo-racial matrix. In many ways throughout Ulysses, Stephen identifies and is identified with “strangers” and with women, those welcomers of strangers. At the same time he moves among those who reject strangers and defame women; he himself sometimes openly defames or rejects women and Jews. At heart Stephen shares gendered racialism’s contradictory attitude toward the world of the body; the contradiction afflicts his relationship to art, to religion, and to his mother.
In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, we learn of Stephen’s ambition to merge sensuality and ideality, or body and mind. As an aspiring artist he searches for the best means of folding the world of physical phenomena into what he conceives of as the spiritual energy of creation. He bucks the Irish Catholic suppression of sensuality, finally rejecting the Jesuit calling; but, in Portrait, his conception of spirit and matter conforms to the Western and Judeo-Christian tradition of feminizing matter and masculinizing the “immortal” shaping spirit of art. Feminist critics,27 myself included, have noted the gender coding implicit in Stephen’s desire, as expressed in Portrait, to transform the “sluggish matter of the earth [into] a new soaring imperishable being.”28 That women are merely a passive element, “sluggish matter,” transformed by men into immortal art, is suggested by the text’s juxtaposition of this fantasy against Stephen’s sexually charged encounter with the girl on the beach, from whom he “turned away … suddenly” to thoughts of his art; her “image had passed into his soul forever,” serving “the holy silence of his ecstasy” (P, 172).
Accordingly, in Portrait Stephen answers the question raised by Cranly as to whether a mother—as bodily origin—is “the only true thing in life” with a resounding no. His artistic ambitions are more “real.” The question arises in his discussion with Cranly over Stephen’s refusal to attend Easter Mass. Cranly insists that “whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world a mother’s love is not. Your mother brings you into the world, carries you first in her body. … Whatever she feels, it, at least, must be real. What are our ideas or ambitions? Play” (P, 242). Cranly chides Stephen specifically for denigrating the mothering body in relation to mind or “ideas.” But Stephen silently objects; he cherishes a transcendent paternal autonomy realized by “mind.” Cranly’s comments move Stephen to his crucial decision about their friendship and about his vocation as a metaphysical artist: “Cranly had spoken of a mother’s love. He felt then the sufferings of women, the weaknesses of their bodies and souls: and would shield them with a strong and resolute arm and bow his mind to them. Away then: it is time to go” (P, 245). As in the earlier scene on the beach, Stephen’s response to the mortal reality of women is a turning away to “imperishable” art. He will not “bow” mind to body. Moreover, the secular aesthetic Stephen embraces at the end of Portrait is explicitly an aesthetic of the father and his race. He commits himself, in his closing journal entry, to pursuit of “old father, old artificer,” and he expects, through that commitment, to “forge … the uncreated conscience of my race” (P,253). As we have seen, in the early twentieth century, to follow the father’s secular aesthetic is indeed to “forge” a culture mined from the resources of something called race. As with modern biological sexuo-racial ideologies, Stephen imagines that he will use the feminized body to found and substantiate a powerful racialized world of masculine spirit.
At the end of Portrait, then, although Stephen has rejected the priesthood, he has sustained a gendered and racialized metaphysics. At the same time, however, and without acknowleging it, he has inherited the metaphysical problematic epitomized in the Christian Easter event. Easter, of course, commemorates both the resurrection of Christ’s body and its disappearance upward into the realm of divine spirit. Easter thus celebrates the merging of spirit and matter in the resurrected body of Christ at the same time that it rejoices in the dissolution of that merging as body gives way to the ascension to impalpable spirit. In comparison to the Old Testament, Christianity may move Western monotheism earthward, toward a fuller embrace of materiality in the person of Christ. But Christianity never approaches anything like a radical or eternal fusion of spirit and matter. Even in the literally phenomenonal event of the Christian Easter, spirit in the end separates from matter and achieves its highest end in that separation. And yet that highest end could not have been reached without the body; in the story of Christ, spiritual transcendence needs, and values, the body as vehicle, as instrument. Christianity in short—in a way that prefigures the contradictory body logic of racial and sexual science—maintains a paradoxical relationship to materiality, both raising and denigrating it.
Hence, in choosing Easter Sunday to show his rejection of his mother’s Catholicism, Stephen unconsciously signals his own ambivalent attitude toward the world of matter. His confusion remains unconscious all the way through Portrait. The high ambitions of his closing journal entries take flight not only toward a transcendent racial father but away from this ambivalent confusion. The height of Stephen’s masculine, racial ambitions may in fact be in exact proportion with the depth of his maternal, alienated confusion.
I differ, however, with those who would consider this critique the last word on Stephen. I suggest that the sexual and racial metaphysical formula of transcendence (toward the racial father’s masculine impalpable through the feminine palpable) is one that Stephen depends on at the end of Portrait but which in Ulysses he questions and parodies as well as sometimes reiterates. In Ulysses, that is, Stephen lets surface his conundrum; he allows the return of repressed contradictions and costs. He begins silently to acknowledge that his fearful sense of his own “feminine” characteristics (as a “knockkneed mother’s darling”) partly underlies his distaste for the idea of shielding women “with a strong and resolute arm”—for he may not have such an arm. More important, he keeps returning to—or allowing the return of—the image of his mother’s body, a return that forces him to consider his attachment to and dependence on things feminine. The charge that he killed his mother’s body for “ideas” haunts him partly because he has a deep, positive attachment to her body and partly because, if he has killed her body, or his connection to it, he has also killed his chances for folding the feminized body into a masculine, transcendent art.
In Ulysses, in short, Stephen realizes that to live in his body, to watch his “woman’s hand” (U, 15.3678) hold a mirror for Buck Mulligan, to see the “white breast of the dim sea” (U, 1.244) and smell sea breath, to do these things is to recall his mother and her birthing of his body. Yet to recall his mother is also to be reminded of her decision to “bow” her mind and body to the church. She urges him, on her very deathbed, in the last gasps of bodily life, to accept the church. He refuses her plea and in so doing denies his own “blood.” But to accede to her would also have been to conform to a church that denies his “blood”—not only in its sexual prohibitions but in its making a mere “servant,” as we shall see, of the embodying mother. As long as his mother believes in the Easter version of the spirit-body relation—the body dies for the spirit—and as long as she urges that view on Stephen, he cannot wholly reconnect with his own body, which comes from her body. Stephen’s body is on the rack, pulled in two directions.
Thus, although Stephen in Ulysses becomes more conscious of his dilemma, he cannot readily find a substitute for the transcendental formula he espouses at the end of Portrait. Publicly he parodies in Ulysses the old myth of racialized, masculine transcendence. Privately he suffers both longing for and bitterness toward the mother who holds his body captive. Repeatedly he sets up an antagonism between mother figures and children. At the beach he sees two midwives carrying their medical bags and suspects them of carrying an aborted or unwanted baby whom they will dispose of in the sea (U, 3.30—36). In the “Oxen of the Sun” chapter Stephen alone argues that in childbirth the infant’s life should be saved before the mother’s. His opinion would seem to have implications for his own situation, wherein he must sacrifice his subservient mother if he is to pursue his aesthetic desires—although, as we have seen, this solution cannot altogether succeed either. In his vision of his mother in Nighttown he at first gladly and without bitterness beseeches her, asking her to name that word that merges maternalism and sexuality, or transcendent and corporeal womanhood—love—but when she turns instead to prayer and damnation, his bitter alienation returns.
At the same time, among the newspapermen Stephen expresses contempt for asexual women in his tale of the two lifelong virgins who climb Nelson’s column but are too frightened to take in the view it affords them. Not only is this story suggestively interspersed with a paperboy’s cries offering a “racing special!” (U, 7.914), but also, when Stephen finishes his anecdote, the professor comments that Stephen reminds him of Antisthenes, who was the “son of a noble and a bondwoman,” and about whom “none could tell if he were bitterer against others or himself” (U, 7.1035–37, emphasis added). As we shall see, Stephen sees his own mother as a bond-woman—her body in thrall to a paternalistic church—whose bondage he himself must serve. His position makes him bitter toward himself and others.
For Stephen does not blame his mother only. He sees beyond her supplication to the conditions of paternity and racial paternalism that make her, like Cissy Caffrey, “serve her conqueror,” or that make her “pray,” as Cissy does in effect to Private Carr, for favor with the conqueror. Early in the “Telemachus” chapter, through Stephen’s memories, we learn of May Dedalus’s “secrets: old featherfans, tasselled dance cards, powdered with musk, a gaud of amber beads in her locked drawer. … Phantasmal mirth, folded away: muskperfumed” (U, 1.255–63). That these baubles of Stephen’s mother’s adolescent sexuality are “folded away” or kept in “locked drawers,” and that he dreams of them here, may well indicate an oedipal relation. But what is an oedipal relation other than the struggle with an artifical paternal law against sexuality in the mother, a law deeply baffling to children who have felt the mother’s caresses and known her body as intimately as anyone? If fathers caressed and fed and cleaned as much as mothers, and the split between virgin motherly home and licentious fatherly polity were absent, children might not feel with such deep nostalgia that desire for the acknowledgment and continuation of the mother’s desire. For it seems to me that the tone of Stephen’s feeling when he thinks of “the white breast of the dim sea” together with tasseled dance cards and phantasmal mirth (folded away) is not sexual lust for the mother but nostalgic sadness for her lost sensual past—and sadness for her as much as for him. That Stephen returns to these images of his mother’s past and recognizes how they are “folded away” suggests his sympathetic understanding of the limitations within which she lived her life.
The wider social conditions that set up these limits emerge more clearly in Stephen’s thoughts about the milkwomen. Just as Mrs. Dedalus has her “secrets” and comes to Stephen decaying and “silent” in a dream, so the milkwoman enters the opening chapter “old and secret … maybe a messenger” (U, 1.399–400). Stephen imagines her as “the lowly form of an immortal serving her conqueror and her gay betrayer,” (U, 1.405). After she demurs to the mocking Buck Mulligan and the condescending Haines, Stephen reflects that “she bows her old head to a voice that speaks to her loudly, her bonesetter, her medicineman: me she slights” (U, 1.418—19). He goes on, puzzled by but resigned to her deference “to the voice that will shrive and oil for the grave all there is of her but her woman’s unclean loins, of man’s flesh made not in God’s likeness, the serpent’s prey. And to the loud voice that bids her be silent” (U, 1.420–22). Stephen refers here to the Catholic practice of anointing a dying man’s genitals but not a woman’s, suggesting again that the milkwoman defers to a tradition that scorns her sexuality yet buys her milk.
Stephen’s equation of the loud voices of Haines and Mulligan with those of the church fathers—though neither Haines nor Mulligan is particularly reverent—suggests that Stephen is thinking of his mother and her deference to “her conqueror and her gay betrayer” as well as of the milkwoman’s. This link implies that Stephen understands his mother as conquered by a tradition that says man’s but not woman’s flesh is made in God’s likeness; he recognizes that the muteness of what he earlier called his mother’s “mute secret words” (U, 1.272) is enforced by the “loud voices” of the church fathers that “bid her be silent.”
If Stephen’s mother is a servant, Stephen is, as he calls himself just before this passage, “the server of a servant,” for he is flesh of her ungodly flesh (U, 10.312). Moreover, he too demurs repeatedly to, or serves, the loud voices of Mulligan and Haines; if he could, he would be “among them,” as he says in the horse-racing fantasy quoted earlier. Like the women, he serves in order to share the society of his gay betrayers. Not surprisingly, then, he has his mother’s face and his sister’s eyes (U, 10.865, 15.4949, 16.1804). Likewise, his hands, which hold up the mirror by which the brash, manly Mulligan shaves his coarse, thick beard, are a “woman’s hands” (U, 15.3678).
Most of all, as befits the sexuo-racialist order of his society, Stephen’s phrase “server of a servant” associates him with an “other” race as well as the other sex. This phrase places both his and the women’s servitude in the context of a long history of such service codified along racial lines, for it alludes to the fate of Ham’s son Canaan. According to biblical lore and as emphasized by nineteenth-century racialists, Ham, the cursed son of Noah, is the ancestor of the African peoples. And why were Ham’s descendants cursed by Noah to be “servers of a servant”? Because Ham was the son who saw Noah naked as he drunkenly slept. Ham knew the naked body of his father, saw behind the clothes and the roles of Noah’s patriarchal stance to his bare and inebriated body. For this bodily knowledge of the father’s vulnerability, his descendants were condemned to serve Japheth, Shem, and their descendants. And likewise, as nineteenth-century racial theorists reasoned, because of Africans’ tendency to indulge their sensual curiosity, these descendants of Ham were fit only for bodily service to the chosen servants of God: the whiter descendants of Japheth and Shem.29
Even in the earliest pages of Ulysses, then, Joyce invokes the sexuo-racial matrix which fixes the oppressive center of Western—in this instance Anglo-Irish—culture. By reference to that culture’s racial framework, the text associates Stephen, his mother, and the milkwoman with an other-racial sexuality, just as later, by reference to a gender framework, Stephen’s jeering friend associates him with an other-gender racial mixing: Stephen, the “jewjesuit” (U, 9.1159), practices “woman’s reason. Jewgreek is greekjew. Extremes meet” (U, 15.2096–97). In both cases Joyce hints at the interdependence of race and gender constructs. He makes clear how race lines serviceably mark an “other” side by which sexuality that does not serve the claims of paternal lineage can be cast as “dark” and “impure” and “slavish.” And he suggests how femininity likewise provides an “other” category by which those who violate or subvert racial boundaries that uphold paternal lineage can be shamefully cast as “womanly,” “feminine,” or “knockkneed.” The text of Ulysses positions Stephen and his mother within this sexuo-racial framework, and it develops that gendered and racialized relationship as constitutive of Stephen’s aesthetic and sexual conflicts.
The Sexuo-Racial Matrix: Implicating Shakespeare
In espousing his critique of paternity through Shakespeare, Stephen ferrets out an even more precise interdependence between ideologies of race and sex. He suggests, using Shakespeare as an example, that the invisibility of men’s paternity provokes anxiety—especially because property and power are at stake—which motivates a mythology of race. That is, as his theory suggests, traceable physical characteristics of race together with an idea of ethnic or racial purity can support the claims of an otherwise untraceable fatherhood. For any dominant group, identifying and celebrating group or racial characteristics may become an economically and politically driven obsession which, when generalized within a tribe, becomes a mythology of race. The “endogamous” or “exogamous” circulation of women in marriage has served to construct—to fortify or extend—such ethnic or racial boundaries, and therein partly to define men’s economic and political claims.30 Within such race- or group-bounded marriage practices, mothering women serve at least two valuable political and economic functions: they “preserve” by their (enforced) fidelity the men’s racial characteristics; and they channel within the group, according to proper racial or class or ethnic inheritance boundaries, men’s political and material power. With an idea of race in place, in other words, men can sustain a racial paternity which takes the pressure off an otherwise ever challenged individual paternity and which legitimizes men’s control of property or resources, both through and including women.
As Stephen sees it, renowned artists who become spiritual “fathers of a race” are in the most enviable position: they can, through their art, lay claim to the body of every woman of the race and therein play the part of every man of the race. But, as Stephen also shows, they thus come face to face with the contradictions of metaphysical aesthetics. In his theorizing about Shakespeare, Stephen again compares Western culture’s contradictory aesthetic metaphysics with its paradoxical Christian metaphysics. He also borrows, as he did in his identity as the “server of a servant,” from the point of view of a racial “other,” calling upon the authority of “Sabellius, the African, subtlest heresiarch of all the beasts in the field” (U, 9.862). Sabellius claimed, in his own Christian complication of the spirit and matter relation, that “the Father was Himself His Own Son” (U, 9.863). Stephen takes a similarly heretical view of Shakespeare, identifying him not only with the put-upon hero Hamlet but with Hamlet’s father, the vengeful ghost, as well. Stephen suggests that, as an artist, Shakespeare could be father, son, mother, and wife, which raises him above the role of “father of his own son merely” and allows him to make himself instead “the father of all his race” (U, 9.868, emphasis added). Thus, as artistic father of a race of men (or of a corpus of cultural self-definitions around which members of the white race have rallied), Shakespeare seemingly transcends the limits of being one man or another.
But Stephen goes on to expose Shakespeare as a man sunk in paternal blood jealousies, one who strives for transcendent racial paternity over and against those sexual and blood jealousies—as did Stephen at the end of Portrait. Shakespeare remains caught, Stephen argues, in the contradiction of having to borrow from that blood life to create his transcendent art. Stephen points out, first of all, that “all events brought grist to [Shakespeare’s] mill” (including instances of “witchroasting” and “jewbaiting” [U, 9.748–54]); and then Stephen links Shakespeare’s personal life to the familial drama of Hamlet. The character Hamlet is Shakespeare’s son Hamnet, and the vengeful ghost is Shakespeare himself speaking to his real son about the possible relationship of his real wife, Ann Hathaway, with Shakespeare’s real brother Richard.
Yet Stephen makes sure to deflate any sentimental sympathy for Shakespeare that this scenario might evoke when he establishes Shakespeare as a man of double standards who himself “dallied … between conjugal love … and scortatory love” during twenty years of marriage (U, 9.631–32). He paints him as a rich man and a lender who “drew Shylock out of his own long pocket” and furthermore as “a man who holds [as] tightly to what he calls his rights over what he calls his debts [as he does] to what he calls his rights over her whom he calls his wife” (U, 9.788–91). Furthermore, Stephen argues that, although Christians attribute avarice to Jews, Shakespeare was vulnerable to that “avarice of the emotions” in which “love given to one near in blood is covetously withheld from some stranger who, it may be, hungers for it” (U, 9.781–82). Shakespeare aimed to ensure that “no sir smile neighbour shall covet his ox or his wife” (U, 9.790). Stephen thereby points to the economic stakes in racial and sexual jealousies and boundaries; and he heretically argues that such an economy produces the complicated “mortal” underpinnings of Shakespeare’s “immortal” art.
Thus Stephen challenges the view of Shakespeare as a universal “myriadminded” man and offers one exposing his petty entanglement in the blood jealousies endemic to the interdependent practices of racial division and patriarchal marriage. In this way Stephen involves Shakespeare and other canonized artists in the same metaphysical dilemma with which he himself struggles. Like him, such artists need the blood life to create their art, as he needs the feminine “sluggish matter”; but the point of their art, its advantage to them, is exactly to transcend that blood matter and transform it and themselves into masculine “impalpable, imperishable” beings, made immortal by association with a “race.” In his most powerful moment among Irish insiders (the floor is his), then, Stephen ironically uncovers the control-seeking racialism and paternalism at the heart—and the height—of “universal” Western art.
Stephen’s recognition of this central metaphysical contradiction indicates how he has shifted his attitude since the end of Portrait. Perhaps his most penetrating insight is that traditional aesthetics lead, after all, not to a triumphantly transcendent art but to a covertly “androgynous” art—which, in a racial-patriarchal context, is an assailable, vulnerable achievement. And yet Stephen ends by parodying the possibilities of a more overt androgyny in art, mocking aesthetic androgyny and therein encouraging it to remain covert. When Stephen concludes that Hamlet “foretold” an “economy of heaven” in which “there are no more marriages, glorified man, an androgynous angel, being a wife unto himself” (U, 9.1051–52), he not only parodies Hamlet and Saint Matthew (UA, 250) but also hints that Renaissance family dramas such as Hamlet point toward the (modernist) day when the sexuo-racial logic would stumble into its own metaphysical contradictions, perhaps giving way to an “economy” that no longer rests on group-bounded, patriarchal marriage. While this prophecy is provocative, its comic image of “glorified man, an androgynous angel, being a wife unto himself” stops short of imagining truly radical alternatives—alternatives in which the patriarchally charged word “wife,” for instance, has no place.
Hence, although parody serves as Stephen’s means of purging himself of sexuo-racial mythologies, the absence of any other kind of intersubjective performance by him suggests an inability to step outside the world of those mythologies. His parodic pose fixes him, in fact, within that world. We should remember that Stephen fabricates this entire deconstruction of Shakespeare, Christianity, and gendered racialism to win a hearing inside, not outside, his culture—among the intellectuals of Dublin. To some extent the same is true for Joyce, in a European context, as we shall see in my conclusion. First, however, I emphasize the opposite: Joyce’s supplement to Stephen’s strictly parodic pose, in which we find that Joyce authors a somalogical narrative order in Ulysses that surpasses parodic performance.
Narrative Embodiment: The Aesthetic of Intersection
With Stephen in Ulysses, Joyce moves at least to a position of parody of transcendent aesthetics and unfolds a psychological critique of the sexuo-racial matrix of patriarchal culture, especially as it debilitates the “insider” son’s long-term relation to an “insider” mother such as Mrs. Dedalus. With the character of Leopold Bloom, by contrast, Joyce delves into the daily intersubjective dialectics of a racial “outsider,” one who is at once excluded from, oriented toward, and essential to the dominant culture. In bringing together Stephen and Bloom, Joyce continues his revision of the sexuo-racial order. By temporarily placing the insider son in the mixed motherly-fatherly and Jewish-Irish hands of the outsider, Joyce suggests that fatherhood must give up both its gender and its racial loyalties if the Stephens of the world are to find what they need.
Moreover, Joyce challenges the metaphysics of the sexuo-racial order by focusing on the bodily sensibility of his cross-gendered and cross-racial character Bloom. In other words, through Bloom, Joyce himself looks at the racial and sexual specimen pinned under the microscope of contemporary science. He sheds science’s contradictory attention to and abhorrence of humans’ physical structure, instead tracing the body’s activities and powers with unflagging fidelity and astonishing linguistic enthusiasm. In doing so with Bloom’s character, Joyce moves toward an anatomy of what I call intercorporeity—or bodily situated intersubjectivity.
The term intercorporeic, which I use to characterize these textual practices, is borrowed from the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty.31 Intercorporeity, whether inside or outside texts, may be most simply understood as the bodily corollary to intersubjectivity. That is, in part we orient ourselves toward one another, know one another, and know the world by way of our bodily presences, gestures, paces. Our bodies shape, gesture, stage, and display our orientations, even as they measure and move in concert or tension with the orientations of other bodies. Bodies continually pass and absorb hugely important messages, giving contour to an intentionality that is neither the body’s alone nor the mind’s. Furthermore, this interbody knowledge rests on a shared medium of materiality; or, in other words, human-to-human intercorporeity depends on human-to-phenomenal-world intercorporeity: the air allows or invites us to see one another, the ground allows our steps’ movement toward or away from one another. Finally, most headily, it may be that the air and the ground live out an intercorporeity among themselves, among the nonhuman things of the phenomenal world. This is a layer of intercorporeity which Virginia Woolf in particular, more so than Joyce, aims to represent. Joyce is most preoccupied with human-to-human intercorporeity, such as with Bloom’s quiet experience of the men’s knees pressed together in the funeral carriage.
I should acknowledge that the word body, in this context, becomes as inaccurate as mind, implying a mind-body separateness counter to the essence of the idea of intercorporeity. Yet I often use the word body here, working as I do within a transitional state of our culture, as well as of my perception. The move toward a de-separated concept of mind and body must begin with a shift in emphasis, highlighting materiality as active, and interactive, rather than simply the “sluggish matter” catalyzed by mind. Thus, to use the word body is a compromise, but for now a necessary one.
Joyce’s representation of intercorporeity has at least two dimensions. First, Joyce’s Leopold Bloom lives out rather felicitously the crass bodiliness with which nineteenth- and early twentieth-century racial theories frequently associated Africans and Jews—a bodiliness the text reveals as more than merely crass, verging instead at times on the exquisite or the inspired. Joyce’s narrator minutely records, even merges with, Bloom’s bodily sensibility. Second, and more broadly, Joyce organizes his narrative around the intersections of bodies, an organization that imitates the preoccupations of his character Bloom. (In both of these narrative features Ulysses bears comparison to William Faulkner’s Light in August.)32 In organizing his narrative around the literal path crossings of differently embodied characters—of Bloom and Stephen, or Bloom and Boylan, or Cissy and Bloom and Gerty, or Stephen and Molly—Joyce finds structural representation for his challenge to the path-segregating narratives of dominant sexuo-racial mythologies.
Stephen Dedalus strives, as we have seen, for corporeal groundedness—“Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past” (U, 9.89)—and he supplements Bloom’s dramatization of intercorporeity with his theoretical meditations on dialectic and his dialogue with Bloom. But Stephen rarely relaxes into the world of sensation. He never seems to achieve that for which he strives, although in temporarily giving himself over to Bloom he follows a good instinct. In the end it is Bloom whom Joyce’s text most pervasively—even if sometimes parodically—emulates, especially in its narrative structure of physical intersection. One could say the text projects its coveted values onto Bloom, a move by which it attempts to recover, or re-father and re-mother, Stephen. But I will return to these suggestions later, following their “return” in the latter part of the text.
To say that Bloom is a man particularly sensitive to sensation and to bodies is to state the obvious. His bodily sensitivities as rendered by Joyce, positively impinge on the reader. In its first sentence about him the text relishes Bloom’s own “relish” of “inner organs” (U, 4.1), and Molly, at the other end of the book, admires him for knowing “a lot of mixedup things about the body and the inside” (U, 18.180). We might wish Bloom somewhat more indifferent to the comings and goings of Nosey Flynn’s nose phlegm, in fact. But we accept these so as also to delight in his delicate attention to intercorporeic sensation in small, quiet moments, such as when he notes that the funeral carriage, which he shares with Dedalus, Cunningham, and Power, on one of its turns “united noiselessly their unresisting knees” (U, 6.228).
It might be argued that this perception belongs to the narrator rather than to Bloom. I agree that the narrator narrates this line. But part of my point here is that the narrator observes and structures the world of Ulysses through the bodies of characters. If this observation seems to belong to the narrator because it describes a sensation of several characters at once, I would point out that the narrator can speak at once of several characters because their bodies touch, or unite, at this moment. As in Woolf or Faulkner or Toni Morrison, the intercorporeic narrator in Joyce synchronizes character perceptions through the material world the characters inhabit in common. The “break in the hedge” in To the Lighthouse, for example, both joins the perceptions of Lily and Mr. Bankes and pivots the text’s narration of Lily’s and Mr. Bankes’s perceptions. In varying degrees such authors’ narrators may themselves be said to inhabit the material world, recording characters’ lives as they impinge on that world (that is, constantly) or on one another through it.
In short, I would argue that the line belongs to Bloom as well as to the narrator: what Bloom and the narrator have in common is their bodily perceptiveness. Like the narrator, Bloom achieves intersubjectivity through bodily signals, such as with the blind man (“Knows I’m a man. Voice” [U, 8.1102]) or when he thinks in the pause that follows the lowering of Dignam’s coffin, “If we were all suddenly somebody else” (U, 6.836). That is, Bloom (like the narrator) pursues a desire to place himself inside others’ bodies and by this means know their point of view. Accordingly, Bloom (like the narrator) dwells on the “meetings” of eyes, or of gazes, as with Mrs. Breen (“Look straight into her eyes. I believe in you. Trust me” [U, 8.250]); and he appreciates the complex dynamics of watching oneself be watched or watching oneself watch, as Kimberly Devlin has detailed in her analysis of Bloom’s visually enacted sex with Gerty MacDowell.33 In general, Bloom repeatedly espouses the value of “see[ing] ourselves as others see us” in a way that merges subjective with physical “seeing” (U, 8.662; 13.1058).
For Bloom, then, a person so sensitive to intercorporeity, or the physical-subjective intersections of one body with another, his unintended yet seemingly fateful meetings with Blazes Boylan in the course of his day have a potent impact. Bloom marvels at his repeated near collisions with his rival, especially when “just that moment I was thinking [of him]” (U, 6.197). As this comment suggests, these meetings display for Bloom the affinity or equivalence between internal and external, mind and matter. On the same day that Boylan and Bloom’s wife will consummate their affair, Bloom sees Boylan from the funeral carriage, avoids him at the barroom of Miss Douce and Miss Kennedy, swerves out of his sight into the museum. The intersecting orbits of these bodies with common interests seem to place motive and matter in a magnetic, interactive relation rather than an active-passive, mind-willing-matter, hierarchical one. For we can hardly say that Bloom wills these intersections, even unconsciously, when it is not at all clear that he desires them. In fact, we can read Bloom’s response to his sightings of Boylan in two ways: one could argue either that, in sighting but avoiding Boylan, Bloom shrinks from a face-to-face encounter with his rival (as he does later with his sexual partners Gerty and Molly); or that, in sighting but avoiding Boylan, he takes wonder-struck note of unintended daily intersections of bodies and yet respectfully honors those bodies’ separate trajectories, honoring those encounters and trajectories even when they conflict with his desires.
In the treatment of Bloom in Nighttown the text seems to explore both readings of him—as cowardly cuckold/pervert who engages in sordid, unmanly encounters and as sensitive champion of unscripted meetings. He is scourged as a ridiculous man of “Mongolian extraction” (U, 15.954) who foolishly “so wants to be a mother” (U, 15.1817). He is sat upon and spat upon as a grotesque “example of the new womanly man” (U, 15.1798–99). But a dissenting faction also gains the floor and elects him the messianic mayor of Dublin, whose call for “mixed races and mixed marriage,” “union of all jew, moslem, and gentile” (U, 15.1686) meets with cries of approval. His advocacy of “intersections” or overlappings of sexes and races wins him both admiration and condemnation. The envelope of parody encasing both of these views of Bloom and many others in the book has left readers with few clues as to Joyce’s view, a state of things that probably best fulfills Joyce’s intentions.
Joyce reveals his earnestness to some degree insofar as he privileges structures of intercorporeic encounter in the same way Bloom does. In tracing the paths of his different characters, his narrative extends or enacts the structure of intersection epitomized in the experiences of Bloom with Boylan. In the case of the criss-crossing paths of Boylan and Bloom, it is significant that at one point Bloom nearly intersects with Boylan unaware: Boylan flirts inside with a shopgirl while Bloom peruses the books outside at a nearby bookstall. Both men are choosing presents at this moment for Molly Bloom (U, 10.315). This coincidence appears as the text’s special knowledge, revealed to the reader but unknown to the characters. In unveiling this near intersection the text may evoke in the reader Bloom’s own experience of and conviction about the wonder of intercorporeic coincidence: the magnetic pull of two “opposite” bodies which have a shared ground or interest.
Or the text may be parodying Bloom’s foolish attention to such chance intersections. To load coincidental meetings with meaning, as Bloom does, might be comically to overvalue the realm of physicality, which perhaps remains purely nonreferential and literal, unreadable. From this angle the text’s stylized pattern of coincidental path crossings may be read as a comic or parodic treatment of intercorporeity. Certainly Joyce arranges comic collisions, such as when Father Conmee stumbles upon Vincent in the bushes with his girl. I maintain, however, that, even if parodic, Joyce’s structure of physical intersection reflects his investment in the intercorporeic, especially when considered together with other features of the text such as his minute linguistic attention to sensuous phenomena. To a considerable degree the text depends on intercorporeic intersections for its narrative order, thus extending the perceptual practices of Bloom. In the end, Joyce’s comical narrative stylization of intercorporeity, for which authors such as Faulkner or Woolf or Morrison may be said to have found a more nuanced, phenomenal form, may indicate the limits of Joyce’s imagination of intercorporeity at least as much as it reveals a mocking intention. Despite the essentially comic, caricature-tending strain of his imagination, Joyce nonetheless takes seriously, as a philosophical or cosmic ground for human experience, the world-making phenomena of intercorporeity.
Consider as a further example of patterned narrative intersections the text’s attention to the flyer handed to Bloom proclaiming “Elijah is coming.” Bloom throws the flyer away, but he returns again and again to the possibility of Elijah’s coming. Likewise, the novel is studded with references by Stephen and other characters to Elijah or a Messiah. More important, on the level of narrative structure the text reiterates Bloom’s meandering yet pregnant pattern of intersections by following the course of the thrown-away flyer. Cast here and there by wind and water, the flyer appears and reappears in the paths of various characters throughout the text. The text weaves this flyer into its critique of the sexuo-racial mythology by repeatedly refering to it as a “crumpled throwaway” (U, 10.294; 10.1096), thus associating it with the “dark” horse Throwaway who wins the Gold Cup. In this way Joyce not only, by way of Bloom, invades the center of his text with cultural lore which many Irish citizens would consider foreign, but also keeps that lore beckoning from the interstices of his text by his own quite separate tracing of the path of the flyer. In doing so the text shares Bloom’s fascination with chance yet signifying, intercorporeic intersection.
Narrative Embodiment: Intercorporeity and Dialectic
The final meeting of Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom represents the climax of intercorporeic encounter, for both Bloom and the text. Their early chance encounter at the door of the library links, through Stephen, into a chain of associations that helps us interpret the value of all the novel’s intercorporeic intersections. This chain of associations points toward a dialectical philosophy of physical encounter that further encourages us to read Joyce’s stylized narrative structure of intersection as more than merely comic or parodic.
Foreshadowing their final prolonged interaction (ending at the doorway to Bloom’s house), at the library door the paths of Stephen and Bloom so precisely intersect that Stephen must step aside to let Bloom pass. Stephen thinks of the word “portico” as Bloom passes (U, 9.1205), which, it turns out, evokes his prior analysis of the life of William Shakespeare and hints at those implications of intercorporeic intersection that most interest Joyce.
That is, in answer to the characterization of Shakespeare’s marriage as a mere error, Stephen had countered with the claim that such “errors” are, rather, “portals of discovery.” The mismatched joinings of Socrates and Xanthippe or Shakespeare and Ann Hathaway, he insisted, are in fact doorways into a dialectic not unlike that which finally develops between the older, Jewish Bloom and the younger, Irish Catholic Stephen. The meeting of differences, or even opposites, Stephen suggests, opens doors. The late-night dialogue between Bloom and Stephen bears out this suggestion.
In this dialogue the direct acknowledgment of differences between Stephen and Bloom continually opens into another question or comparison between them. When the text asks, “What two temperaments did they individually represent?” the answer implies just such a meeting of opposites: “The scientific. The artistic” (U, 17.560). And when the narrator asks, “Did he [Bloom] find four separating forces between his temporary guest and him?” the answer names the four socially “separating forces” or “name, age, race, and creed” (U, 17.402–3). As the dialogue proceeds, however, suppressed affinities surface and cut through these “separating forces”—such as Bloom’s and Stephen’s exploration of the similarities between the ancient Hebrew and Irish languages (U, 17.731–60). Meanwhile, the text’s mock-learned account of their discussion luxuriates in the balancing and sometimes oxymoronic language of dialectic: their conversation reveals “similar differences,” “counterproposals,” “points of contact,” “connecting link[s]” (U, 17.893, 960, 745, 478).
The phenomenology of such a dialectical meeting significantly finds its most dense expression at the point where Bloom meditates on their racial difference. We learn that “neither” of them “openly allude[s] to their racial difference” (U, 17.525) but that they interpret each other’s thoughts about it: “He thought that he thought that he was a jew whereas he knew that he knew that he knew he was not” (U, 17.530). In both halves of the sentence we begin with Bloom’s perspective. Bloom thinks that Stephen thinks that Bloom is a Jew, whereas Bloom knows that Stephen knows that Bloom knows that Stephen is not a Jew. The “whereas” between the “thought” and the “knew” clauses implicitly contrasts the hiddenness of Jewishness with the public normalness of Irishness and Catholicism. But the ambiguous use of “he” grammatically collapses the separation between the two men so that the reader must sort through the phrasing to separate them again. In the meantime, any such reader has considered at least one or two alternative ways of referencing the pronoun—alternatives which, even if ultimately rejected in favor of one that seems “right,” subvert the strict separation of persons and types on which the sexuo-racial system depends.
Roy Gottfried has demonstrated how midsentence shifts in syntax characterize Joyce’s prose in Ulysses.34 I would suggest that these shifts in syntax particularly give rise to ambiguous pronoun references, to confusion about the “subject” of the sentence. Together with shifts in person (that is, mixing of first and third person) and “stacked” pronouns (as in the example just given), this syntactic shifting conspires to undercut a fixed stance in the reader. Readers must change positions as the prose slips from one pronoun to another, and our struggle for orientation reveals our dependence on categories and oppositions in determining the grammatical and the existential subject. In this way, Joyce’s prose realizes the social and grammatical potential for confusion, convergence, collapse—recovering in the end, however, into a reorientation with difference enfolded. Thus again, the text contrives the linguistic as well as corporeal convergence of differences—within Cissy or Molly or Stephen, and between Bloom and Stephen or Molly—exactly to open “porticos” which allow egress from the purist, separatist mythology of the sexuo-racial matrix.
The Return Home to the Racial Mother
The final “portico” of Ulysses leads into Molly’s bedroom and, from there, out of the text. In Molly’s room, Bloom and Molly “unite noiselessly,” but, even more, within herself Molly mingles sexual and racial differences. Molly is a mother, a married woman; she lives safely indoors; yet she is sexual, both with other men and, in fantasy, toward women. Molly is also polyracial—Irish, Jewish, and possibly Spanish. Molly is “impure,” then, both sexually and racially. Yet Joyce gives this “other” woman a voice. In fact, he gives her the last word.
In this final word Molly explicitly continues the text’s subversion of racial and especially sexual mythologies, even extending that subversion to the positions of Stephen and Bloom. Previously instruments of comic deflation, Bloom and Stephen themselves become objects of deflation in Molly’s monologue. At the same time, Molly celebrates sensuality among and between women and men, delighting in its polymorphous flux. In sum, Molly’s monologue involves both sexuo-racial critique and intercorporeic vision.
At the same time, Joyce achieves his final intercorporeic vision through this monologue, through Molly. In a sense Molly is for the text what Cissy Caffrey is for Bloom: an exciting embodiment of boundary-crossing identity. In closing his text with such a figure, Joyce underwrites Molly’s transgressive, intercorporeic body; but he also rides upon it. The sudden separate singled-outness of Molly’s compact closing monologue contains the energy of a reversal. That energy betrays, even as it struggles away from, an old attachment to the opposite viewpoint, to an ethic of sexuo-racial subjugation. Joyce’s aim in Ulysses is radical: to collapse the body-subjugating binarism of metaphysics by riding into, rather than up and away from, the physical. But his vehicle, the racialized mother, remains familiar, a relic of the very metaphysical mythologies he critiques.
Because many readers, feminist and otherwise, have considered Molly a flat or stereotyped female character, I begin this last section by attending to the details of Molly’s monologue that give her dimension, both sharp edges and curving depths. Only in recognizing these dimensions of Molly can we appreciate her simultaneously critical, visionary, and conservative roles in the text’s closure, and at the same time avoid the errors of Bloom in his understanding of Molly.
Of primary importance to Molly’s subversion of racial and sexual mythologies is simply the fact that in Molly’s monologue we learn her perspective on the men who have commented on her and on the racial and sexual heterogeneity she embodies. Molly’s comments recast even the sympathetic, sensual Bloom. Although we have by now gathered that Bloom fantasizes freely about all sorts of inventions and gathers schemes for money-making, for instance, we have not been aware of the degree to which he dissembles or even lies about his skills and plans. Molly recalls their near shipwreck at Bray, Bloom having told the boatman he knew how to row when it was barely true. She remembers his plan to start “a musical academy on their first floor drawingroom with a brassplate or Bloom’s private hotel he suggested,” neither of which ever materialized, “like all the things he told father he was going to do” (U, 18.980–83). At one point, when his latest scheme has failed and money is short, he suggests to Molly that she pose nude for a local painter (U, 18.560). Molly feels she was a “born fool to believe all his blather” (U, 18.1187), but she nonetheless admits that “he used to amuse me the things he said” (U, 18.1185). Even more, she acknowledges her attraction to his oddity: “I kiss the feet of you senorita theres some sense in that didnt he kiss our halldoor yes he did what a madman nobody understands his cracked ideas but me” (U, 18.1405). Bloom’s kissing of Molly’s “halldoor” hints that between them, too, intersecting differences open “portals of discovery.”
In light of Molly’s sympathetic yet frank account of Bloom’s failings, Bloom’s complaints about Molly’s lack of “intelligence” (U, 17.674–702) carry less of a punch. Juxtaposing Molly’s criticism of Bloom against Bloom’s criticism of Molly sets up a comic mutuality between wife and husband. But, even beyond the countering of Bloom’s criticisms, Molly’s comments and background on herself significantly revise our understanding of her. Through the comments of Bloom and other men we have the impression of Molly mainly as a buxom, flirtatious, nonmonogamous woman with a singing voice but no brains. Molly offers us fragments of her personal history that both explain and recast this picture of her.
Molly depicts herself as a polycultural woman. She explains her “harumscarum” personality (“I know I am a bit”) as the result of having spoken different languages and lived in many places and on many streets (“and all the bits of streets Paradise ramp and Bedlam ramp and Rodgers ramp and Crutchetts ramp and the devils gap steps well small blame to me if I am a harumscarum” (U, 18.1468–70]). In the course of her monologue Molly defensively speaks a little Spanish to show “I havent forgotten it all” (U, 18.1472), but her larger point is that she is the put-upon victim, not the proud master, of polylingualism. Molly sees herself as having been uprooted repeatedly by men—whether by her father, by her husband, or by the threat of war. The resulting exotic and mixed background that attracts Bloom to her also leaves her uncommitted to and unschooled in the codes of any one culture and positioned at one remove from the codes of all.
Molly points out specifically that her charged position within constructs of both motherhood and racialism at the time Bloom met her—as a young, sexual Jewess tending her dying mother—was partly what attracted him to her (“I suppose on account of my being a Jewess looking after my mother” [U, 18.1184]). Rather like Cissy Caffrey, Molly straddles borders of sexuality, maternalism, and race in a way that challenges dominant racial and sexual mythologies—and excites Bloom. Molly as sexually and racially “impure” daughter (and later mother) makes a titillating touchstone for Bloom’s wandering desires. But, although Bloom finds excitement in Molly’s sexual and racial multiplicity, he fails to see that this multiplicity underlies what he considers her “deficient mental development” (U, 17.674–702). His incomprehension of her personality in relation to her polyhistory reveals his contradictory attachment, like Stephen’s, to a gendered metaphysics. That is, even Bloom, the “new womanly man,” easily reduces Molly to a body without a brain, overlooking the complicated history which gives rise to her different sensibility.
The text, it is important to note, avoids this habitual error; in this closing section Molly does present her own history. Furthermore, within Molly’s monologue the text establishes that what appears to Bloom as Molly’s lack of intelligence turns out to be a consciously adopted anti-intellectual, antimetaphysical position on her part. She takes this position in resistance to the very misogyny and racialism inherent, as we saw and as she implicitly sees, in Western metaphysics.
Repeatedly Molly challenges traditional definitions of intelligence. For Molly, intelligence is the ability to read people, not books: “When I put my hat and gloves in the window to show I was going out not a notion what I meant arent they thick never understand what you say even youd want to print it up on a big poster for them … where does their great intelligence come in” (U, 18.704–9). She contrats her pleasure in “rivers and lakes and flowers and colours springing up even out of the ditches primroses and violets” to what men call knowledge, saying, “I wouldnt give a snap of my two fingers for all their learning” (U, 18.1561–63). As for intellectual atheists, she suggests, “Why dont they go and create something” (U, 18.1564). Molly pits the resources of bodily gesture and palpable nature against the uses of explanatory language and impalpable learning. Even though her oversimplified reversal of the metaphysical position may fail, finally, to subvert that metaphysics, one should remember to ask whether this simplistic reversal is only Molly’s or also the text’s. There is reason to consider Molly’s simplifications the text’s simplification of Molly.
Meanwhile, other of Molly’s observations cut deeper into the heart of sexuo-racial metaphysics. In the spirit of Stephen, she attacks men’s metaphysical pretensions as hypocritical. She points to the hidden sensual indulgence in priests’ learned tracts, such as one about “a child born out of her ear because her bumgut fell out” (U, 18.489). And she considers the material ramifications, for women, of men’s supposedly mind-inspired “inventions.” Men’s most clever invention, according to Molly, is simply “for him to get all the pleasure” (U, 18.158). Men, for instance, produce women’s restrictive clothing: “these clothes we have to wear whoever invented them expecting you to walk up Killney hill then for example at that picnic all staysed up you cant do a blessed thing in them” (U, 18.627). Similarly, men have invented a sexual double standard: “they can pick and choose what they please a married woman or. a fast widow or a girl … but were to be always chained up” (U, 18.1388). Finally, again buttressed by a myth of men’s intelligence and invention, men leave women with the unacknowledged physical work of raising children: “if someone gave them a touch of it themselves theyd know what I went through with Milly nobody would believe cutting her teeth too” (U, 18.159); and later: “they wouldnt be in the world at all only for us they dont know what it is to be a woman and a mother” (U, 18.1440). With these comments Molly hints that, through the mythology of transcendent intelligence, men both pursue bodily desires and avoid bodily drudgery, meanwhile denying women’s bodily desire and heaping them with bodily labors. Molly takes her stand clearly against such bondage, not least in laying her claim to the pleasures of sexuality. She insists: “theyre not going to be chaining me up” (U, 18.1391).
Yet, although Molly has successfully worked around the restrictions on her heterosexual liaisons, her less noted attachments to women have suffered repeated sunderings at the hands of men. Joyce critics have made much of Molly’s recollections of her various male lovers; but Molly also describes her sensual memories of women—from whom she has been separated. These separations occur not just psychologically but physically as she or other women are moved from place to place by fathers or husbands or wars. She thinks of a former neighbor of hers and Bloom’s who was “a lovely woman magnificent head of hair down to her waist … 1st thing I did every morning to look across see her combing it … pity I only got to know her the day before we left” (U, 18.477, emphasis added). Likewise, she thinks longingly, and with much sensual detail, of her old friend Mrs. Stanhope, who used to write calling her “dearest Doggerina” and telling her how she had “just had a jolly warm bath” or how she “will always think of the lovely teas we had together scrumptious currant scones and rasberry wafers I adore” (U, 18.612—21). Because of the war, it seems, Mrs. Stanhope left and “never came back” (U, 18.667). When she left, Molly remembers, “she kissed me six or seven times didnt I cry yes I did or near it my lips were taittering when I said goodbye she had a Gorgeous wrap of some special kind of blue colour” (U, 18.673).
This memory moves Molly to comment on her lonely and paternally determined state at that time, especially as a girl bereft of her own mother (“thats what I never had” [U, 18.1442]): “after they went I was almost planning to run away mad out of it somewhere” for she knows that as a woman she will not be allowed simply to travel or live single. Her complaint against marriage—“were never easy where we are father or aunt or marriage waiting always waiting to guiiide him toooo me waiting” (U, 18.676—78)—flows directly into a complaint against the war: “their damn guns bursting and booming all over the shop especially the Queens birthday and throwing everything down in all directions” (U, 18.679—80). That the bombing happens worst on the queen’s birthday seems a particular insult to Molly, perhaps because of the way the war has separated her from her “queen,” her surrogate mother Mrs. Stanhope. Thus, the text indicates that war (over race races) and marriage, two cornerstones of the patriarchal racialist order, intervene rudely between Molly and the women with whom she desires intimacy. That the text portrays Molly as desiring intimacy with women at all, rather than considering women simply as antagonists in a heterosexual contest, further testifies to its transgression of old sexuo-racial divisions.
Moreover, even as the text shows the destructive effects of men’s dominance over women’s intimacy, it manages also to suggest that the interplay of men’s and women’s “worlds” can potentially increase the pleasures in each, as in Molly’s memory of her girlfriend Hester: “we used to compare our hair mine was thicker than hers she showed me how to settle it at the back … we were like cousins what age was I then the night of the storm I slept in her bed she had her arms around me then we were fighting in the morning with the pillow what fun he was watching me whenever he got an opportunity at the band …” (U, 18.638). This passage perfectly demonstrates how Molly’s unpunctuated prose permits a bisexual slippage from homosocial to heterosocial pleasures, how Joyce’s method carries us toward such a slippage, and how Molly’s personality delights in this slippage. The text represents Molly’s sexuality as capable of overriding conventional boundaries of sex and race.
We might even draw a parallel between Stephen’s and Bloom’s pleasure with each other over Molly in their parting scene, on the one hand, and Hester’s and Molly’s pleasure with each other in the context of a watching boy, on the other hand. In the “Ithaca” section, after a light in Molly’s room “attract[s] Bloom’s who attract[s] Stephen’s gaze” and leads Bloom to describe his attraction to Molly, the men become “silent, each contemplating the other in both mirrors of the reciprocal flesh of their hisnothis fellow faces” (U, 17.1183). Similarly, the boy in Molly’s memory of Hester adds an exciting self-consciousness to their intimacy. Of course, in both cases the men watch and the women are watched. Yet Joyce’s arrangement does imply, again as Kimberly Devlin has shown in her reading of the Gerty scene, that the women are watching too: Hester and Molly “watch” the boy who watches, and Molly is aware of, if not watching, the men who stand below watching her. As in the sentence “he knew he knew he knew,” Joyce uncovers layers of interrelated watching and reading of the other’s readings. This inter-subjective dynamic, embedded in intercorporeic concreteness, moves with an energy that overrides divisions of hetero- or homoerotic, pure or impure. Such an intercorporeic dynamic thrives on the mutual differences of self and other, men and women, dark-skinned and light. That all bodies are oriented toward all other bodies yet each remains separate and different exactly in body makes the body an exquisite merging of sameness and difference and makes the spaces between bodies “portals” seductively open to the intersections of bodies.
This joyous, high comic reading of Ulysses requires a final qualification, however. The fact remains that most of Ulysses lives inside the lighter-skinned men. African men and women, after all, serve mainly as tropes in Ulysses, an outer ring of associations used to define certain lighter-skinned characters as outsiders to the dominant light-skinned patriarchal order. And even Molly, in the context of the many pages that precede her, appears most of all as a final lens through which to view Stephen and Bloom, as well as the final vehicle for our exit as readers from the parodic text.
In short, Joyce above all desires to know his men, especially his Irish Catholic men. As an inheritor of a moderately “other” racial tradition, for most of the text Bloom serves Joyce’s desire: it is through immersion in Bloom as a sensual “other” man that Joyce can reconstruct his bond to himself—that is, to himself in the person of Stephen, the fallen-away Catholic sensualist. The perspective of Molly, the other sex and race combined, completes the attempt: Molly’s view allows him to get the final angle on these men who lead him to the most multiple, most intercorporeic man in himself.
This transgressive self-embrace, instrumental as it is to the project of surpassing old racial and sexual mythologies, begs other texts to pick up where it leaves off—to risk a fuller face-to-face embrace with the transgressive mother figure. Molly’s closing “Yesyesyes” nostalgically recalls a moment of face-to-face sexuality with Bloom; it does not surge forward within such a moment. Likewise, consider the “blocked” spatial rendering of Molly: she never leaves her house, not to mention her bed, for the text depends, multiply, on her fixed presence there.
Other modern novels repeat this limitation. Novels such as Cane and Light in August circle back to the mother, reenacting their protagonists’ and the culture’s dependence on her as touchstone of embodiment. Novels such as To the Lighthouse and Beloved, however, heed the call implicitly issued by Molly’s monologue. Woolf and Morrison often begin with the mother and reenact narratively an intercorporeic sensibility originating with her; but they ultimately find grounding beyond the mother in her culture-servant role—in Lily Briscoe or Denver or Paul D.
More important, however, than these distinctions between such modern novelists is the project they undertake in common: to subvert and revise a racialized, gendered metaphysics, specifically by converting a body-grounded silencing into a body-grounded speech and vision. Together with Toomer, Woolf, Hurston, Faulkner, Morrison, and others, Joyce continues his culture’s latest experiments with the racial and sexual body, allowing the body’s testimony to unravel the culture’s racial and sexual metaphysics from within.
1. James Joyce, Ulysses, ed. Hans Walter Gabler et al. (New York: Random House, 1986), 15.4648; hereafter cited in the text as U, with episode and line numbers.
2. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar document a “battle of the sexes” raging behind modernism in No Man’s Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, vol. 1 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988). Other works that frame modernism in terms of gender, of which there is an increasing number, include Bonnie Kime Scott, ed., The Gender of Modernism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990); Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Writing beyond the Ending: Narrative Strategies of Twentieth-Century Women Writers (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985); and Shari Benstock, Women of the Left Bank, Paris, 1900–1940 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986).
3. For evidence of the medical and scientific fortifications of the domestic enclosure of women, see, among others, Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, For Her Own Good: 150 Years of the Experts’ Advice to Women (New York: Anchor Books, 1978); Londa Schiebinger, The Mind Has No Sex? Women in the Origins of Modern Science (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989); Joan N. Burstyn, “Education and Sex: The Medical Case against Higher Education for Women in England, 1870–1900,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 117 (April 1973): 79–89.
4. Nancy Stepan, The Idea of Race in Science: Great Britain, 1800–1960 (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1982); On scientific racial theories of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see also Leon Poliakov, The Aryan Myth: A History of Racist and Nationalist Ideas in Europe, trans. Edmund Howard (London: Chatto Heinemann, 1974); George Stocking, Race, Culture, and Evolution (New York: Free Press, 1968).
5. Nancy Leys Stepan, “Race and Gender: The Role of Analogy in Science,” Isis 77 (1986): 261–77.
6. Quoted in Poliakov, Aryan Myth, 221.
7. Quoted ibid., 252.
8. For a thorough study of the importance of race in early European history, see Poliakov, Aryan Myth, and the older but classic work by Magnus Hirschfeld (produced in forced exile from Nazi Germany), Racism, trans. and ed. Cedar Paul and Eden Paul (New York: Kennikat Press, 1938). See also two early works by Jacques Barzun, The French Race (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932), and Race: A Study in Modern Superstition (London: Methuen, 1940). These works establish the European affiliation of nation and race which Joyce inherits.
9. Poliakov, Aryan Myth, 82.
10. Quoted in Hirschfeld, Racism, 169.
11. Quoted in Poliakov, Aryan Myth, 364.
12. For documentation of Joyce’s familiarity with racial theories, see Marilyn Reizbaum, “James Joyce’s Judaic Other: Texts and Contexts” (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, 1985). Her appendix includes a list of books in Joyce’s library related to racial theory. For Reizbaum’s argument that in Ulysses Joyce critiqued Otto Weininger’s book Sex and Character (cited in n. 13), see her essay “The Jewish Connection Cont’d,” in The Seventh of Joyce, ed. Bernard Benstock (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982).
13. Otto Weininger, Sex and Character (1906; rpt. New York: AMS Press, 1975). For a discussion of Michelet as a racial thinker, see Poliakov, Aryan Myth, 32–34.
14. Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), 477. See also Reizbaum, “Jewish Connection,” 229–30.
15. James Joyce, “Ireland, Isle of Saints and Sages,” in The Critical Writings of James Joyce, ed. Ellsworth Mason and Richard Ellmann (New York: Viking Press, 1959), 165; hereafter cited in the text as CW with page reference.
16. James Joyce, “Force,” in Critical Writings, 22, 20.
17. Benjamin Kidd, The Control of the Tropics (New York: Macmillan, 1898), 1–2.
18. S. D. Porteus and Marjorie Babcock, Temperament and Race (Boston: Gorham Press, 1926), 327.
19. On the eugenics movement, see David Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985); Donald A. MacKenzie, Statistics in Britain, 1865–1930 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1981); Mark H. Haller, Eugenics: Hereditarian Attitudes in American Thought (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1963, 1984); and G. R. Searle, Eugenics and Politics in Britain, 1900–1914 (Leyden: Noordhoff International Publishing, 1976). On eugenics as rationalized and practiced in Nazi Germany, see Hirschfeld, Racism, esp. chap. 16.
20. Caleb Williams Saleeby, Parenthood and Race Culture (New York: Moffat, Yard and Company, 1911), xiv; hereafter cited in the text as PRC.
21. See, for example, Havelock Ellis, Little Essays of Love and Virtue (New York: George H. Doran, 1922), which includes chapters titled “The Objects of Marriage,” “The Love-Rights of Women,” and, at the end of the book, “The Individual and the Race.” Whereas for the “lower races” what Ellis calls the “animal end of marriage” remains “the sole end of marriage” (64), among the “higher” races sex within marriage serves a spiritual end that may also be rationally directed toward securing the survival of the “fittest” races. If women experience a little sexual pleasure in this process, that is, Ellis assures us, a risk well worth the “future of the race.”
22. For a discussion of miscegenation laws in the United States, see Haller, Eugenics, 158–59, and on such ideas and practices in Europe, see Hirschfeld, Racism, chap. 16 and Appendix C. On birth rates and sterilization practices, see Haller, Eugenics, 79–82, 130–41, 180; see also Hirschfeld, Racism, Appendix D.
23. Thought-provoking documentation of the nineteenth-century ideology of motherhood (although not in a racial context) appears in Mary Ryan, The Empire of the Mother: American Writing about Domesticity, 1830–1860 (New York: Haworth Press, 1982). See also Barbara Welter, “The Cult of True Womanhood, 1820–1860,” American Quarterly 18 (1966): 151–64.
24. The famous nineteenth-century racial theorist Robert Knox epitomizes this ambivalent attitude toward materiality in his book The Races of Men (Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1850), when he proudly claims that “the basis of the view I take of man is his Physical structure” (2), but then denigrates those he casts as merely physical, such as the Celts, who “never could be made to comprehend the meaning of the word liberty” (21), or the Bushmen, who are “content to live and perish like the beasts of the field” (158). Knox closes his book with this poignantly contradictory reverie: “For how many centuries yet to come, but for the interposition of the Saxon and the rifle, might not the stately giraffe with the gazelle eye, have adorned … the Calihari… ? Who shall say? The wild man was obviously unequal to their destruction” (309). What does it mean to be “unequal” to the destruction of stately beauty? The glories of the physical world are, for Knox, best met with a destructive subjugation that is nonetheless infused with nostalgia. The works of Charles Darwin exercise more propriety in tone but, on close reading, also may be seen simultaneously to celebrate and subjugate “physical structure.”
25. Zoe borrows from the Song of Solomon the line “I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem.” See Don Gifford with Robert J. Seidman, Ulysses Annotated, 2d ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 470; hereafter cited in the text as UA.
26. In addition to the references to horse races discussed in this essay, see also U, 5.526–48; 6.559; 7.385; 8.156; 8.813–45; 8.1008–19; 12.1550–65; 15.2140; 15.2936; 15.3965–90; 15.4862; 16.1242–80; 18.424–26. For an essay that pays similar attention to these horse race references, see Vincent Cheng, “White Horse, Dark Horse: Joyce’s Allhorse of Another Color” in Joyce Studies Annual 2 (Summer 1991): 101–28.
27. I made this argument in a paper given at the “Ideologies of Modernism” Conference, West Chester University, West Chester, Pennsylvania, October 1986. For other related readings of Stephen, see the essays in Suzette Henke and Elaine Unkeless, eds., Women in Joyce (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982), esp. Henke’s “Stephen Dedalus and Women: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Misogynist,” 82–108.
28. James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York: Viking Press, 1982), 169; hereafter cited in the text as P.
29. Perhaps the most famous racial theorist to use these biblical brothers as the basis for racial theories is the Frenchman Count Arthur de Gobineau in his influential book The Inequality of the Races (1853–54). Gobineau is also one of those who aimed to discredit darker “races” by associating them with femininity and to discredit women by association with darker “races.” For accounts of the place of the curse of Ham and other religious arguments in the rise of nineteenth-century racial theory see Martin Bernal, Black Athena, vol. 1 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1987), and Poliakov, Aryan Myth, 7–8.
30. Suggestive evidence on the economic and structural function of the circulation of women in marriage can be found in Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic in Women: Notes toward a Political Economy of Sex,” in Toward an Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna Reiter (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975), 157–210, as well as in the anthropological studies of Jack Goody and Claude Meissailloux.
31. See especially Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “The Intertwining—The Chiasm,” in The Visible and the Invisible (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968).
32. In Faulkner’s novel, for instance, bodies in motion define intersecting narrational horizons, as with Lena Grove and Armstid in the novel’s opening scene; likewise the novel uses spatial organization to represent a collapse of gender and racial boundaries when its racially and sexually ambiguous characters converge on the town of Jefferson.
33. Kimberly Devlin, “The Female Eye: Joyce’s Voyeuristic Narcissists,” in New Alliances in Joyce Studies, ed. Bonnie Kime Scott (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1988), 135–43.
34. Roy K. Gottfried, The Art of Joyce’s Syntax in Ulysses (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1980).