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Textual Mater: Writing the Mother in Joyce

Ellen Carol Jones

… (the mother of the book with a dustwhisk tabularasing his obliteration done upon her involucrum)… .

JAMES JOYCE, Finnegans Wake

Tabularasing the Mother

The erasure of and by the mother of the book, the textual mater, is double in this parenthesis from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake: the male has already blotted out the letter of her involucrum, her vulva.1 But that obliteration itself leaves a trace, a spoor, that she must then “tabularase” in order to disappear “entirely spoorlessly”2: a double movement of tabulating and scraping the tablet or slate. That a book has a mother suggests a certain origin for the act of writing. But that writing is obliterated, its letter blotted out in a first, incomplete erasure. The male, signaled by the possessive pronoun his, obliterates the mother’s involucrum: her vulva and perhaps, to extend the Latin root of “covering,” her hymen, the folded, never single space in which the pen writes its dissemination. The letter blotted out is that of the woman’s genitalia penetrated, penned, and torn in the sexual act, the trace of the pen’s inscription still legible.

The double erasure of the mother’s involucrum prepares a tabula rasa for the annunciating male word. Origin is thus not in the flesh but in the word. The male production of the logos usurps the reproductive power of the mother, the “power of the beginning(s),” by seizing the “monopoly of the origin.”3 In the economy and ideology of (re)production, the resorption of femininity within the maternal represents, according to Julia Kristeva in “Stabat Mater,” a masculine appropriation of the maternal, a “fantasy masking primary narcissism,” a masculine sublimation of the maternal considered necessary for the creation of art.4 Kristeva describes the maternal as a fantasy for a lost territory, an idealization of primary narcissism: the maternal is the “ambivalent principle that is bound to the species, on the one hand, and on the other stems from an identity catastrophe that causes the Name to topple over into the unnamable that one imagines as femininity, nonlanguage, or body” (Tales, 234–35). Writing causes the subject to confront an archaic authority, a maternal authority that resides on the nether side of the proper Name. For Joyce, according to Kristeva, the feminine body, the maternal body, “in its most un-signifiable, un-symbolizable aspect, shores up, in the individual, the fantasy of the loss in which he is engulfed or becomes inebriated, for want of the ability to name an object of desire.” The feminine is an Other without a name—an unnamable Otherness that is jouissance and writing as well.5

The text of male discourse gains its coherence through a double displacement of woman: the coupling or augmenting of woman with man in a hierarchized equation and the subtracting or cutting out of what the male considers the representational excess of the female sexual organs, for example, the effacement of the clitoris as the signifier of the sexed subject.6 Joyce’s writing, transgressive of philosophical, political, social, and sexual laws, enjoys what could be termed an “incestuous relationship with language,” where language is treated as a metaphor for the maternal body.7 In the children’s game in Finnegans Wake, the double movement of “tabularasing” the mater entails tabulating her by the augmentation of the annunciating word, but erasing her by the subtraction of desire: “Think of a maiden, Presentacion. Double her, Annupciacion. Take your first thoughts away from her, Immacolacion” (FW, 528.19–21). A double movement of “tabularasing” characterizes Joyce’s “writing the mother”: an annunciatory augmentation of the material-maternal matrix by privileging (male) word over (female) flesh—a privileging that would deny or erase the very materiality of that matrix by making the (m)other serve as matrix/womb for the male subject’s signifiers—and a simultaneous undermining of such a phallogocentrism by calling attention to what is oppressed by and repressed in a patriarchal law of Being-same. Through this double movement of “tabularasing” the mother, Joyce attempts to reach the threshold of repression, to reach that which is beyond figuration for the (male) artist: the ineffable jouissance of the mother, the body rejoicing of the maternal experience.

The Wake of the Other

The (male) artist’s attempt to reach the threshold of repression both upholds and negates the censorship of text and (female) sex within an economy in which writing itself is unthinkable without repression. Indeed, Jacques Derrida argues that the symptomatic form of the return of the repressed is the metaphor of writing and the systematic contradictions of the ontotheological exclusion of the trace.8 Writing enacts the loss of a self-presence never actualized but nevertheless “always already split, repeated, incapable of appearing to itself except in its own disappearance.”9 Systematic and systemic contradictions inhere in a series of metaphors marking the relation of the self to the Other: the trace as the mark of difference, repeating itself infinitely as the same by referring to the Other, revealing origin as a myth of annulled supplementarity and a myth of erasure; writing as the simultaneous production and erasure of the transcendental distinction between the origin of the world and Being-in-the-world; memory as the permanence of the trace and simultaneous virginity of the matrix; the semiotic chora as the place where the subject is both generated and negated; abjection as requisite for the reconciliation, in the mind, between flesh and the law; the repression of the maternal as abjected in order to ensure the subject’s entry into language. Tabularasing itself has as its end the return to an impossible, irretrievable, unknowable origin, to the repressed body of the mother as Other of the self. Inasmuch as Joyce’s texts play out these contradictions, they unravel the masculine appropriation of the maternal yet, as representations, remain inevitably caught within their net.

In the act of tabularasing, the spoor, the “trace, the wake of the letter is never finally eradicated.”10 For example, in Ulysses Leopold Bloom recognizes the impossibility of a spoorless “obliteration” when he blots his clandestine letter of desire to Martha Clifford and realizes it could still be read off the blotting pad. That he should decide the blotted letter could constitute the origin of a story, a “prize titbit” in which a detective reads a letter off a blotting pad, is a reaction dependent, as Colin MacCabe notes, “on the written trace left by his earlier reading of Matcham’s masterstroke,” the prize story of Titbits.11

Bloom tries to efface the letters of the message he writes in the sand to his Nausicaa: “I.” “AM.” “A.”—a message that, incomplete and hence indeterminate, seems to confer no identity, a message of nothing: I am a thing, a thing of nothing. But Sandymount Strand teems with traces of messages: “All these rocks with lines and scars and letters,” Bloom reflects as he surveys the strand. He thus comprehends what Stephen had also noted earlier that day: these “heavy sands are language tide and wind have silted here,” a language Stephen is determined to decipher: “Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot” (U, 13.1261; 3.288–89; 3.2–3). Paradoxically, the one trace Bloom might read, he cannot, the message rendered as unreadable by the elements as the letter/litter the hen Biddy Doran in Finnegans Wake scratches—that is, both inscribes and effaces—out of the dump: “Mr Bloom stooped and turned over a piece of paper on the strand. He brought it near his eyes and peered. Letter? No. Can’t read. … Page of an old copybook. All those holes and pebbles” (U, 13.1246–49). If the sands are language, they also blot (out) the letter. Stephen’s question that morning as he writes his poem—“Who ever anywhere will read these written words?”—has as its answer everyone … and no one (U, 3.414–15).

The trace, or the spoor, is the wake of the Other within the sign and the intimation of an origin forever deferred. As Derrida claims, the sign as a structure of difference is the place where “the completely other is announced as such—without … any identity, any resemblance or continuity—within what is not it” (Grammatology, 47).12 Word and thing or word and thought are never “at one.” For Derrida, the trace is “the part played by the radically other within the structure of difference that is the sign.” That is, difference cannot be thought without the trace: the “structure of the sign is determined by the trace or track of that other which is forever absent” (Grammatology, 57, xvii).

As différance, the reopening of ontic-ontological difference, the trace retains “the other as other in the same.” The trace would seem to mark an anterior presence, an origin, but instead it marks the absence of a presence, of being as full presence; it calls the possibility of origin into question by revealing that origin itself “was never constituted except reciprocally by a nonorigin, the trace” (Grammatology, 62, 61).13 The present is not primal but, rather, reconstituted. To say that différance is originary is “simultaneously to erase the myth of a present origin. Which is why ‘originary’ must be understood as having been crossed out, without which différance would be derived from an original plenitude. It is a non-origin which is originary” (Writing, 203). The concept of origin is nothing but the myth of addition, “of supplementarity annulled by being purely additive.” And it is simultaneously the myth of erasure: “the myth of the effacement of the trace,” of an originary différance that is neither absence nor presence (Grammatology, 167).

For Derrida, the text of metaphysics and the language we speak signal their own transgressions if one considers presence not as the signification of the sign or as the referent of the trace but as “the trace of the trace, the trace of the erasure of the trace.” Thus, there is no contradiction between an originary tracing and effacement, “the absolute erasure of the ‘early trace’ of difference and that which maintains it as trace, sheltered and visible in presence.”14 Because the trace can only “imprint itself by referring to the other,” its force of production stands in necessary relation to its erasure.15 Always deferring, the trace presents itself only in its erasure: “Tracing and effacing are not simply in a relation of exteriority; what constitutes the trace in depth is precisely the relation to Otherness by which the trace’s self-identity and self-presence are marked, and thus effaced, by the detour through the Other.” The originary trace is thus “the constituting impurity or alterity, the constituting nonpresence,” that allows the phenomenologically primordial to come into its own by providing it with “the mark of a minimal difference within which it can repeat itself infinitely as the same by referring to an Other and to (an Other of) itself within itself.” The archetrace must be understood, like the hymen, as “the fold of an irreducible ‘bending-back,’ as a minimal (self-(difference within (self-)identity, which secures selfhood and self-presence through the detour of oneself (as Other) to oneself.”16 The hymen is the self’s alliance in the language of the Other.17

Writing as one of the representatives of the trace entails the loss of a “self-presence which has never been given but only dreamed of and always already split, repeated, incapable of appearing to itself except in its own disappearance” (Grammatology, 112). The scene of writing reveals not the myth of an “originary or modified form of presence” but the trace, Other, difference, change. Derrida defines the “symptomatic form of the return of the repressed” as “the metaphor of writing which haunts European discourse, and the systematic contradictions of the onto-theological exclusion of the trace. The repression of writing as the repression of that which threatens presence and the mastering of absence.” The history of metaphysics is that system of logocentric repression organized in order “to exclude or to lower (to put outside or below), the body of the written trace as a didactic and technical metaphor, as servile matter …” (Writing, 197). Writing is the space of the Other, the space of the repressed.

The labor of writing erases the transcendental distinction between the origin of the world and Being-in-the-world—“erases it while producing it” in a double movement of tabularasing, as Freud recognizes. An unerasable trace is not a trace but a full and incorruptible presence. The trace is the erasure of selfhood, of one’s own presence, and is constituted, as Derrida notes, by “the threat or anguish of its irremediable disappearance, of the disappearance of its disappearance.” This erasure is death itself, and Derrida reminds us that “it is within its horizon that we must conceive not only the ‘present,’ but also what Freud doubtless believed to be the indelibility of certain traces in the unconscious, where ‘nothing ends, nothing happens, nothing is forgotten.’” This erasure of the trace is “the very structure which makes possible, as the movement of tempo-ralization and pure auto-affection, something that can be called repression in general, the original synthesis of original repression and secondary repression, repression ‘itself’” (Writing, 212, 230).


The word of the annunciation penetrates the tympanum of the ear of the virginal body, its reverberation suggesting the trace of the letter, its echo revealing male narcissism as the force underlying the construct of virgin birth. Father Cowley, that false priest of “Sirens” (the episode of Ulysses whose organ is the ear), draws the medieval Catholic analogy between tympanum and hymen by hinting that the “base barreltone” bass of Ben Dollard, the singer of the tight trousers with “all his belongings on show,” could pierce more than the oreille of his female listener:

—Sure, you’d burst the tympanum of her ear, man, Mr Dedalus said through smoke aroma, with an organ like yours. …

—Not to mention another membrane, Father Cowley added. (U, 11.559, 557, 536–40)

Indeed, the female virginal body is necessary for this vocal conception: within a male homosexual economy, as Stephen reflects in “Scylla and Charybdis,” the love that dares not speak its name falls on “singular uneared wombs” (U, 9.664). Bursting the tympanum is connected in “Circe” with male anxiety about the origin of the annunciatory word when Philip Drunk asks the question Joseph posed to Mary: “Qui vous a mis dans cette fichue position, Philippe?” and Philip Sober answers: “C’était le sacié pigeon, Philippe.” The mirroring names point to the male narcissism configuring the virgin birth, whereas the sacred pigeon alerts us to its improbability. When he sees Ben Dollard enter, Bloom’s grandfather Virag allays male anxiety of origin and affirms the priority of the Son over the Virgin Mother: “Messiah! He burst her tympanum,” whereupon the virgins mob Dollard (U, 15.2582—85; 2601–2; see 3.161–62 for Stephen’s first reference to the sacred pigeon).

For the Messiah/son to burst her tympanum is to commit incest with the mother: as Stephen argues the doctrine of the virgin birth in “Oxen of the Sun,” “she knew him, that second I say, and was but creature of her creature, vergine madre, figlia di tuo figlio” (U, 14.302–3).18 Saint Bernard of Clairvaux glorifies Mary as beloved and wife of Christ in his allegorical reading of the Song of Songs. The opening line of Saint Bernard’s prayer to Mary on behalf of Dante in Paradiso 33, “Vergine Madre, figlia di tuo Figlio” (Virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son), erases the materiality, the specific corporeality of the three feminine functions of mother, daughter, wife and establishes in that space a bond of “unchanging and timeless spirituality”—“Termine fisso d’eterno consiglio,” as Dante claims, “the set time limit of an eternal design” (quoted in Kristeva, Tales, 243–44).

Stephen posits two readings of the problematic doctrine of the virgin birth: either the Virgin Mother knew her son,

or she knew him not and then stands she in the one denial or igno-rancy with Peter Piscator who lives in the house that Jack built and with Joseph the joiner patron of the happy demise of all unhappy marriages, parceque M. Leo Taxil nous a dit que qui l’avait mise dans cette fichue position c’était le sacré pigeon, ventre de Dieu! Entweder transubstantiality oder consubstantiality but in no case subsubstantiality. And all cried out upon it for a very scurvy word. A pregnancy without joy, he said, a birth without pangs, a body without blemish, a belly without bigness. (U, 14.303–11)

Knowledge entails either incest and subordination to the priority of the son or betrayal. If the Virgin Mother “knew” her god and son in the biblical sense of coitus, then the doctrine of the virgin birth does indeed sublimate but also celebrate incest: “Ma mère m’a mariée” (U, 14.1453). If she does not “know” him, she either has not been impregnated by the Holy Spirit or, as vessel of flesh, is unaware she has carried the Word of God made flesh. If, like Peter, she denies her knowledge of him, she reenacts his betrayal. Stephen’s quibble derives from Saint Bernard’s Divine Office for the October 11 Feast of the Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “But Mary knew herself to be His mother and she trustfully calls Him her Son, whose majesty the Angels serve with awe. … God, I say, to whom the Angels are subject… He was subject to Mary…. That God should obey a woman is humility without precedent; that a woman should command God, exaltation without parallel.”19 Christ as subject to Mary raises the question of precedence and equality: Is Mary consubstantial with Christ as Christ is with God? The shifting prefixes expose the insubstantiality of a dogma that denies the substantiality of the maternal experience.

In “Tympan,” Derrida playfully suggests that all of philosophy could be considered “conception through the ear,” speech being “the sperm indispensable for insemination.” He links that auricular conception with homoousios, the mastery that the concept of Being-same, or Being-proper, assures philosophy, and also with its heretical denial: the Arian heresy proclaiming that Christ the Son is not consubstantial with God the Father—“Arius, warring his life long upon the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father,” Stephen Dedalus recalls (U, 1.657–58).20 The ear, Derrida notes, is by its oblique structure “the distinct, differentiated, articulated organ that produces the effect of proximity, of absolute properness, the idealizing erasure of organic difference.” Such an erasure, in claiming to obliterate difference, leaves the trace of an indifference, an economy of the same. The multivalences of the word tympanum as drum, as triangular architectural space, and as mediating and equalizing membrane and printing device present the tympanum as unmarked, “virgin, homogenous, and negative space” which is ready, “like matter, the matrix, the khōra [maternal receptacle], to receive and repercuss type” in the printing operation. In printing, the matrix, from the Latin word for womb, is the metal plate used for casting typefaces. But the tympanum is also that which “punctures itself or grafts itself” and thus operates parthenogenetically as both (female) hymen and (male) penis, surface and tool of writing [Margins, xvii, xxvii-xxviii).

The ideal virginity of the present (maintenant) is constituted by the work of memory. Derrida points out how Freud, in “Note on the Mystic Writing-Pad” (1925), realizes that to explain memory he must account simultaneously “for the permanence of the trace and for the virginity of the receiving substance, for the engraving of furrows and for the perennially intact bareness of the perceptive surface,” a kind of tabularasing. Freud discovers such a double system contained in a single differentiated apparatus: “a perpetually available innocence and an infinite reserve of traces” are reconciled in a contrivance on the market known as the Mystic Writing-Pad. Such a market item accords with his hypothetical structure of the human perceptual apparatus: “an ever-ready receptive surface and permanent traces of the inscriptions that have been made on it” (Writing, 200, 223).21 Two hands are necessary to the maintenance of this writing machine, a system of gestures, an organized multiplicity of origins: “If we imagine one hand writing upon the surface of the Mystic Writing-Pad while another periodically raises its covering sheet from the wax slab, we shall have a concrete representation of the way in which I tried to picture the functioning of the perceptual apparatus of our mind” (SE, 19.232). Derrida notes that the depth of the Mystic Writing-Pad is “simultaneously a depth without bottom, an infinite allusion, and a perfectly superficial exteriority: a stratification of surfaces each of whose relation to itself, each of whose interior, is but the implication of another similarly exposed surface.” In this doubleness it joins “the two empirical certainties by which we are constituted: infinite depth in the implication of meaning, in the unlimited envelopment of the present, and, simultaneously, the pellicular essence of being, the absolute absence of any foundation” (Writing, 224).

Trace as memory is not a pure breaching (Bahnung, breaking of a path, tracing of a trail) which might be appropriated at any time as simple presence. Traces are rather the ungraspable and invisible differences between breaches that enact the double movement of tabularasation (Writing, 201). The contradictory requirements fulfilled by the Mystic Writing-Pad are formulated in terms that align breaching and writing: “an unlimited receptive capacity and a retention of permanent traces” (SE, 19.227). Trace becomes gramme, in Freud’s thought, and the region of breaching a ciphered spacing, as Derrida notes: “Traces thus produce the space of their inscription only by acceding to the period of their erasure. From the beginning, in the ‘present’ of their first impression, they are constituted by the double force of repetition and erasure, legibility and illegibility.” Derrida posits Freud’s “two-handed machine, a multiplicity of agencies or origins,” as “the original relation to the other and the original temporality of writing, its ‘primary’ complication: an originary spacing, deferring, and erasure of the simple origin. …” The Other is necessary to writing: “We must be several in order to write, and even to ‘perceive.’ The simple structure of maintenance and manuscription, like every intuition of an origin, is a myth, a ‘fiction’ as ‘theoretical’ as the idea of the primary process.” For that idea is contradicted by the theme of primal repression. Writing itself is unthinkable without repression: “The condition for writing is that there be neither a permanent contact nor an absolute break between strata: the vigilance and failure of censorship” (Writing, 226). For Freud, the maternal body is the origin of what is censored.

Lithography before Words

The originarily displaced scene of writing is the scene of woman. Her hymen remains forever (in)violate. Derrida envisions the question of the representation of woman as “at once too old and as yet to be born: a kind of old parchment crossed every which way, overloaded with hieroglyphs and still as virgin as the origin, like the early morning in the East from whence it comes.”22 According to Kristeva, if we “are entitled only to the ear of the virginal body,” then its taut eardrum may well tear “sound out of muted silence” (Tales, 248, 240). Figured as receptacle of the word but instead receptacle of the nonverbal, of the semiotic—a lithography before words: metaphonetic, nonlinguistic, alogical—the “Virginal Maternal” represents the “return of the repressed” in monotheism. Kristeva traces its trajectory: “Starting with the high Christly sublimation for which it yearns and occasionally exceeds, and extending to the extra-linguistic regions of the unnameable, the Virgin Mother occupied the tremendous territory hither and yon of the parenthesis of language.”23 Obliterated and tabularased, the mother of the logos in Finnegans Wake exists, literally, in the parenthesis of language.

“Stabat Mater” parallels Kristeva’s analysis of Mariolatry with her own “post-virginal” discourse of the mother, stressing the impotence of a phallogocentric language to reveal the experience of motherhood:

Words that are always too distant, too abstract for this underground swarming of seconds, folding in unimaginable spaces. Writing them down is an ordeal of discourse, like love. What is loving, for a woman, the same thing as writing. Laugh. Impossible. Flash on the unnamable, weavings of abstractions to be torn. Let a body venture at last out of its shelter, take a chance with meaning under a veil of words. WORD FLESH. From one to the other, eternally, broken up visions, metaphors of the invisible. (Tales, 235)

The laugh is not only, like Stephen’s laugh in “Scylla and Charybdis” (U, 9.1016), to free the mind from the mind’s bondage—a laugh that acknowledges the impossibility of measuring word against world—but also to free the (female) body from the (male) subject’s language.24 In highlighting “word” and “flesh” by typographically demarcating them from the other words of the passage, Kristeva emphasizes the conjunction of word and flesh within a discursive economy in which words are always too distant and too abstract. The flash on the unnameable—here, in the mother’s discourse, the embryo, and in the main body of the text, the maternal, the feminine—epiphanizes what is still exiled from language: “FLASH—instant of time or of dream without time; inordinately swollen atoms of a bond, a vision, a shiver, a yet formless, unnamable embryo. Epiphanies. Photos of what is not yet visible and that language necessarily skims over from afar, allusively” (Tales, 234–35). Derrida, reading Emmanuel Levinas, asserts: “To express oneself is to be behind the sign. … To be behind the sign which is in the world is afterward to remain invisible to the world within epiphany.” The Other is that which does not reveal itself, which cannot be made thematic. The Other can only be invoked, called in the vocative, “the bursting forth, the very raising up of speech.” The Other is the inaccessible, the invisible, the intangible (Writing, 101, 103).25 The epiphany of Kristeva’s “Stabat Mater” comes as an annunciation, as does the epiphanic, mystic—and ejaculatory—“morning inspiration” to which the artist Stephen awakens in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: “The instant flashed forth like a point of light and now from cloud on cloud of vague circumstance confused form was veiling softly its afterglow. O! In the virgin womb of the imagination the word was made flesh. Gabriel the seraph had come to the virgin’s chamber.”26 The male artist receives the impregnating word in the virgin womb of the imagination, the imagination a khora, a maternal receptacle, for the logos, the seraph Gabriel the fecundator. The need to masturbate to return to the ecstatic moment of annunciation suggests the male narcissism at the heart of a conceit that figures a wet dream as an annunciation.

In Stephen’s envisioning of the postcreation in Ulysses, the corruptible flesh born of the mother is transformed by the (male) artist into the incorruptible logos: “In woman’s womb word is made flesh but in the spirit of the maker all flesh that passes becomes the word that shall not pass away” (U, 14.292–94). The spirit of the maker echoes woman’s womb, but the artist requires no annunciation to transform flesh to word. Indeed, the word of the artist revivifies the dead: “You have spoken of the past and its phantoms,” Stephen remarks to Costello, echoing Hotspur. “Why think of them? If I call them into life across the waters of Lethe will not the poor ghosts troop to my call? Who supposes it? I, Bous Stephanoumenos, bullockbefriending bard, am lord and giver of their life.” Amor matris may be the only true thing in life, but Stephen’s proclamations about creation, whether of art or of life, either ignore or incorporate into paternity itself the necessary maternal matrix. Yet the name-giver’s empowering paternity is undermined when Vincent/Lynch remonstrates Stephen as the artist encircles his hair with a poet’s coronal of vine leaves: “That answer and those leaves, Vincent said to him, will adorn you more fitly when something more, and greatly more, than a capful of light odes can call your genius father” (U, 14.1112–19). Lenehan’s reassurance to Lynch, “Have no fear. He could not leave his mother an orphan,” seems a non sequitur, but follows the logic of the mother as figlia di tuo figlio, the son/artist as both logos and father. Amor matris is thus indeed a sublimated celebration of incest: “Ma mere m’a mariée” (U,14.1123, 1453).

Trading Flesh against Word

In portraying his characters as composed of traces of written language they have appropriated, Joyce reveals how we all “are composed in and by the text.” To read any novel, Colin MacCabe asserts, is “to trade flesh against word,” a transaction Ulysses specifically enacts in “Oxen of the Sun,” where the history of English literature parallels and usurps the history of the gestation and birth of a child.27 As Susan Stanford Friedman points out: “The fact that Joyce partly envies the fecundity of female flesh and despairs at the sterility of male minds does not alter the fundamental sexual dualism of his complex birth metaphors: Joyce’s women produce infants through the channel of flesh, while his men produce a brainchild through the agency of language.”28 In the parade of literary languages, each new style incorporates and displaces the old, signaling a progression that is itself usurped by the disintegration of meaning in the final style, as Joyce explained to Frank Budgen:

Technique: a nineparted episode without divisions introduced by a Sallustian-Tacitean prelude (the unfertilized ovum), then by way of earliest English alliterative and monosyllabic and Anglo-Saxon (“Before born the babe had bliss. Within the womb he won worship.” “Bloom dull dreamy heard: in held hat stony staring”) then by way of Mandeville (“there came forth a scholar of medicine that men clepen etc”) then Malory’s Morte d’Arthur (“But that franklin Lenehan was prompt ever to pour them so that at the least way mirth should not lack”), then the Elizabethan chronicle style (“about that present time young Stephen filled all cups”), then a passage solemn, as of Milton, Taylor, Hooker, followed by a choppy Latin-gossipy bit, style of Burton-Browne, then a passage Bunyanesque (“the reason was that in the way he fell in with a certain whore whose name she said is Bird in the hand”) after a diarystyle bit Pepys-Evelyn (“Bloom sitting snug with a party of wags, among them Dixon jun., Ja. Lynch, Doc. Madden and Stephen D. for a languor he had before and was now better, he having dreamed tonight a strange fancy and Mistress Purefoy there to be delivered, poor body, two days past her time and the midwives hard put to it, God send her quick issue”) and so on through Defoe-Swift and Steele-Addison-Sterne and Landor-Pater-Newman until it ends in a frightful jumble of Pidgin English, nigger English, Cockney, Irish, Bowery slang and broken doggerel.29

Even in this early description of the technique for the episode, the embryonic development, the gestation and birth of the child, and the mother are submerged in the welter of styles. The language of the literary forefathers in “Oxen of the Sun” is played out on the body of the mother, its linguistic virtuosity sounded out of her silence. Although the “frightful jumble” of styles in the episode’s finale presents the language of the dispossessed, of the colonized and racial Other to the imperialist subject, these nonetheless powerful styles also are played out on, take possession of, the maternal body. The woman is the womb, the “unconscious womb of man’s language.” She has no relation to her own unconscious except one, as Luce Irigaray writes, “marked by an essential dispossession,” a dispossession manifested in absence of self and articulated only by silence (This Sex, 94). No parallel mater text in “Oxen,” no voicing of the mother’s experience, exists to rival the textual parade of literary history. Her double erasure leaves no spoor to be read.

In erasing while producing the transcendental distinction between the origin of the world and Being-in-the-world, writing tabu-larases the material matrix. To be written while simultaneously erased is to be metaphorized. The origin posited for the linguistic phylogeny of “Oxen of the Sun” is a tripartite heliotropic gesture—“In the beginning was the gest” (FW, 468.5)—a turning toward the sun god Helios (in Joyce’s schema, the doctor Horne, master of the National Maternity Hospital, Holies Street, Dublin, the scene of the episode) to entreat him to send forth life and the fruit of the womb:

What is the significance of this heliotropic gesture of origin, this incantation to the sun god as the one who brings forth life—even though his sacred cattle, symbols of fertility in Joyce’s schema, are castrated—in an episode whose organ, according to that schema, is the womb, whose symbol is mothers, and whose technique is embryonic development? Metaphor retraces within the unconscious the path of paternal myth. For Aristotle, as Derrida notes in “White Mythology: Metaphor in the Text of Philosophy,” the sun is the proper name, the “nonmetaphorical prime mover of metaphor, the father of all figures.” Its “referent has the originality of always being original, unique, and irreplaceable.” “Everything turns around it, everything turns toward it.” But in the Aristotelian problematic of metaphor, no clear opposition necessarily adheres between proper, literal meaning and figurative meaning. Thus, in querying what is proper to the sun, Derrida asks of metaphor: “Is not this flower of rhetoric (like) a sunflower?” Metaphor itself, he argues, “means heliotrope, both a movement turned toward the sun and the turning movement of the sun”; it is itself always already the sun, a re-turn to itself (Margins, 243, 250, 251). This return to itself is the property of metaphor in the text of philosophy, the heliotropic gesture calling attention to the law of the same that constitutes that text:

Does not such a metaphorology, transported into the philosophical field, always, by destination, rediscover the same? The same physis, the same meaning (meaning of Being as presence or, amounting to the same, as presence/absence), the same circle, the same fire of the same light revealing/concealing itself, the same turn of the sun? What other than this return of the same is to be found when one seeks metaphor? that is, resemblance? and when one seeks to determine the dominant metaphor of a group, which is interesting by virtue of its power to assemble? What other is to be found if not the metaphor of domination, heightened by its power of dissimulation which permits it to escape mastery: God or the Sun? … The tenor of the dominant metaphor will return always to this major signified of onto-theology: the circle of the heliotrope. (Margins, 266)

The circle of heliotrope is a specular circle, “a return to itself without loss of meaning, without irreversible expenditure,” an inte-riorizing turn that is the philosophical desire to master the division between origin and self. Such a de-tour is “a re-turn guided by the function of resemblance (mimēsis or homoiōsis), under the law of the same.” The opposition of the metaphoric and the proper, then, explodes when it is revealed to be a specular opposition in which the one and the other reflect and refer to each other (Margins, 268–71).31

In beginning the history of English literature with a heliotropic gesture, Joyce reveals how the specularity of the literary canon itself reflects the specularity of philosophy and a politics of power and domination: as Hélène Cixous asserts: “Literary history has been homogeneous with phallocentric tradition, to the point of being phallocentrism-looking-at-itself, taking pleasure in repeating itself.”32 The thrice-repeated invocation to Helios to send “quickening and wombfruit,” the invocation that precedes the prelude symbolized by the unfertilized ovum, calls upon the god/sun/father to bring forth life, denying the necessity of the maternal body. As Derrida points out in comparing the metaphor of the sun in the thought of Levinas and of Plato: “Creation is but creation of the other; it can be only as paternity, and the relations of the father to son escape all the logical, ontological, and phenomenological categories in which the absoluteness of the other is necessarily the same. (But did not the Platonic sun already enlighten the visible sun, and did not excendence play upon the meta-phor of these two suns?)”(Writing, 86).33 In usurping the reproductive function of the mother and appropriating the monopoly of origin, the logos forces the potency and potentiality of the maternal back into the circular logic of the same: “to Sameness—in itself and for itself.”34 The heliotropic gesture, “Deshil,” written in the materna lingua of Irish, begins the parade of styles of the English literary tradition, a tradition of male authors and a cooptation of Irish-born writers into the dominant English canon: Swift, Sterne, Goldsmith, Burke, Sheridan. The heliotropics of style reflect the heliopolitics of imperialism.

Amor Matris

Patriarchal history dispossesses woman of her return upon herself. As Luce Irigaray notes: “She remains outside the circularity of a thought that, in its telos, turns to [man’s] ends the cause of his desire: she is the unconscious basis of that attempt to find metaphor for an originary matrix in the sphere of intimacy with self, of nearness to self, of a ‘soul’ or a mind” (Speculum, 240). The interiorizing, heliotropic circle—figured by Joyce in the threefold heliotropic invocations that open “Oxen of the Sun”—is the philosophical desire to master the division between origin and self. But what the mother unveils is, as Kristeva writes, “a continuous separation, a division of the very flesh. And consequently a division of language …” (Tales, 254). Christian theology posits the maternal body as “a sort of subject at the point where the subject and its speech split apart, fragment, and vanish,” the maternal body as the place of that splitting.35 In that split the mother disappears “spoorlessly.” Comprehending this maternal split entails what Kristeva calls a “vertigo of language weakness,” a vertigo for which art’s oversaturation of sign systems attempts to compensate, an oversaturation that Joyce’s texts both reflect and parody (Tales, 252–53). Woman is then the matrix for masculine specularity, the origin for the male’s representations, her body his text, as Leopold Bloom considers the blank page on which he will inscribe his veiled desire to Martha Clifford: “Blank face. Virgin should say: or fingered only. Write something on it: page” (U, 11.1086–87).

To define matrix only as origin and to ignore its concomitant function as frame is a fallacy Joyce exposes not in the content but in the structure of “Oxen of the Sun,” in the framing of the language of his literary forefathers by the offstage and thus silent travail of the mother. Patrick McGee argues that the woman’s body, in particular the mother’s womb, envelops the languages of the patriarchy in “Oxen,” but the very act of framing, of enveloping their discursivity, subverts their claims to power:

The split between self and not-self, the production of another who, once born, opens the abyss between the body and what had been its inside, exposes the mother as frame: “I remain henceforth like a framework. Still life,” the mother’s voice of “Stabat Mater” confirms (Tales, 243). This still life, this nature morte, is the frame for the “herethics” Kristeva calls for: amor matris, maternal love, a-mort or un-death—a heretical ethics, separated from the conventions of morality, that makes the thought of mortality bearable.

Stephen Dedalus aligns the mother with both love and death. “Amor matris, subjective and objective genitive, may be the only true thing in life” to redeem the uncertainty of paternity (U, 9.842–43). That the love is subjective and objective genitive reveals its reciprocity: the love of the mother for the child, the love of the mother by the child. And as (m)other, as the infinitely Other, she is death. Returned from the grave and arrayed for the bridal, the ghoulish May Dedalus in “Circe” speaks to Stephen of a jouissance both maternal and marital, the giving of birth as an inverse incest: “Years and years I loved you, O, my son, my firstborn, when you lay in my womb” (U, 15.4204–5). Her giving birth to her firstborn, her maternal passion, replicates the passion and death of Christ, as the syntax of her prayer for mercy also elides the anguish of the grieving Virgin Mother with that of her dying Son: “Have mercy on Stephen, Lord, for my sake! Inexpressible was my anguish when expiring with love, grief and agony on Mount Calvary” (U, 15.4238–40). Such a love may be eternal, but her torn bridal veil suggests that where there is sexual copulation, there is also death.37 As corpse she reveals what Stephen must thrust aside in order to live: “Let me be and let me live” (U, 1.279)—and what he cannot fully reject: the utmost of abjection, the border become object, an elsewhere imagined beyond the present, hallucinated in the present as an object who speaks. All abjection acknowledges the want, the inaugural loss, on which any being, meaning, language, or desire is founded: the loss of the mother. Abjection is the violence of mourning for an “object” that has always already been lost. The (male) writer approaches the hysterical, hystericized body of the woman—of the mother—so that he might speak of what eludes speech, as Kristeva writes, “of the excluded, the outside-of-meaning, the abject” (Powers, 5, 15, 22).38

Both dead and resurrected, virginal and maternal, May Dedalus may in her womb make the word become flesh, but she does not reveal to Stephen the “pregnant word” when he asks her to voice it: “Tell me the word, mother, if you know now. The word known to all men” (U, 15.4192–93). The word may be the word her toothless mouth utters when she first appears to Stephen, but the word she utters is silent (U, 15.4161). Even death fails to give a woman knowledge of the word known to all men. Stephen cannot hear her word; he can see only her death. As is true of the doubter in the Wake, “His hearing is indoubting just as [his] seeing is onbelieving” (FW, 468.15–16). Her death betrays the very love her maternal jouissance has unveiled. Her ethics are not heretical but are those of the church, her language that of the Virgin Mother, the only discourse on motherhood the patriarchy sanctions—an ethics and a language Stephen will not serve: “Ah non, par exemple! The intellectual imagination! With me all or not at all. Non serviam!” (U, 15.4226–27). The language he will serve is the language of the devil, the non serviam of the ultimate heretic. Yet Stephen has heard the word of the mother before, although she does not voice it, and that word is, indeed, love: “Do you know what you are talking about?” he asks himself as he expounds his theory on Shakespeare. “Love, yes. Word known to all men” (U, 9.429–30).39 The Word discloses the abject, for Joyce, but at the same time, the Word alone purifies from the abject. Art, for him, Kristeva writes, is rooted in the abject it utters and through that utterance purifies (Powers, 23, 17).

Having had a child, could a woman, asks Kristeva, speak another love, a love unknown to all men? Love may be an object “banished from paternal Death”; but amor matris may indeed be subjective and objective genitive, a “shattering of the object across and through what is seen and heard within rhythm: a polymorphic, polyphonic, serene, eternal, unchangeable jouissance that has nothing to do with death and its object, banished from love” (Desire, 157).

Maternal Jouissance

Unfolding patriarchal English literary history as embryonic development, Joyce reveals the split symbolization—the “threshold of language and instinctual drive, of the ‘symbolic’ and the ‘semiotic’”—which constitutes both art and, Kristeva argues, the giving of birth (Desire, 240). Of these two signifying processes, the symbolic is the instituting of sign and syntax, paternal power, the law as the name of the father. The term semiotic Kristeva derives from the Greek for “distinctive mark, trace, index, precursory sign, proof, engraved or written sign, imprint … figuration.”40 She relates the semiotic process to the chora, a term Plato describes in his Timaeus as a maternal “receptacle”: “an invisible and formless being which receives all things and in some mysterious way partakes of the intelligible, and is most incomprehensible” (quoted in Desire, 6). The chora, as Kristeva defines it, is an economy of primary processes articulated by the instinctual drives through condensation and displacement. It is not a position, a model, or a copy. Rather, it “precedes and underlies figuration and thus specularization,” a rhythmic space in which can be read “the process by which signifiance is constituted,” the work of language that enables a text to signify what representative and communicative speech cannot say. It is “the place where the subject is both generated and negated, the place where his unity succumbs before the process of charges and stases that produce him” (Revolution, 26, 28).

The semiotic chora appears within the signifying process “as the trace of the jouissance that the subject gives himself with the other, with or through language itself.”41 The mother’s body as ordering principle of the semiotic chord is what mediates the symbolic law. The maternal body is the site of the semiotic and the precondition of the symbolic. Maternity constitutes a breach or rupture in the symbolic, an unspoken residual site of jouissance, “whose pleasure is reduced to but never exhausted by the symbolic—except perhaps in art.”42 For Kristeva, the language of art follows the maternal jouissance that is “the sublimation taking place at the very moment of primal repression within the mother’s body” (Desire, 242), a sublimation that arises perhaps unwittingly out of her marginal position in a social-symbolic order empowered by the phallus. Literature, written as the language “of that impossible constituted either by a-subjectivity or by non-objectivity,” propounds a sublimation of abjection. The aesthetic task is to descend into the foundations of the symbolic construct, retracing “the fragile limits of the speaking being, closest to its dawn, to the bottomless ‘primacy’ constituted by primal repression” (Powers, 26, 18). Through and across the founding of signs, the aesthetic practice touches on primal repression: “At the intersection of sign and rhythm, of representation and light, of the symbolic and the semiotic, the artist speaks from a place where [the mother] is not, where she knows not. He delineates what, in her, is a body rejoicing [jouissant].” Her “translibidinal jouissance,” her mediation between semiotic and symbolic, enables the artist to incorporate the eroticism of her maternal body into the language of his art (Desire, 242, 243). Subject and object stand at the boundary of what is thinkable: the abject. The woman’s body may function as a fetish, a graspable object within representation, as Molly Bloom’s body functions for the men of Ulysses.43 Or there may exist a maternal function that eludes representation: an “ineffable jouissance” that is “beyond discourse, beyond narrative, beyond psychology, beyond lived experience and biography—in short, beyond figuration” (Desire, 247). If representation is death, if a proposition that may be transformed to death is (only) representation, writes Derrida, it is nonetheless bound “to life and to the living present which it repeats originarily” (Writing, 227). The eroticization of abjection—and abjection itself, given its status as already eroticized—acts as a threshold before death [Powers, 55).

Stephen, that “embryo philosopher,” argues in “Scylla and Charybdis” that the Catholic church is founded on the mystery of fatherhood and “not on the madonna which the cunning Italian intellect flung to the mob of Europe” (U, 9.839–40). But, as Kristeva perceives, such a construct of the mystical estate and apostolic succession of paternity responds to the threat to male narcissism posed by the maternal body:

It is as if paternity were necessary in order to relive the archaic impact of the maternal body on man; in order to complete the investigation of a ravishing maternal jouissance but also of its terrorizing aggressivity; in order somehow to admit the threat that the male feels as much from the possessive maternal body as from his separation from it—a threat that he immediately returns to that body; and finally, in order, not to demystify the mother, but to find her an increasingly appropriate language, capable of capturing her specific imaginary jouissance, the jouissance on the border of primal repression. … (Desire, 263)

Enveloping the discourse of the fathers by the womb of the mother, Joyce, as Giovanni Bellini accomplishes in his madonnas, “penetrates through the being and language of the father to position himself in the place where the mother could have been reached.” This penetration by the artist/son is an incest, a possession of the mother, which “provides motherhood, that mute border, with a language.” Bellini’s madonnas testify to what in the feminine and the maternal is repressed in the religion of the patriarchs: “the joyous serenity of incest with the mother.” As Kristeva points out, it was not until the end of the nineteenth century “and Joyce, even more than Freud, that this repression of motherhood and incest was affirmed as risky and unsettling in one’s very flesh and sex. Not until then did it, by means of a language that ‘musicates through letters,’ resume within discourse the rhythms, intonations, and echolalias of the mother-infant symbiosis—intense, pre-Oedipal, predating the father—and this in the third person” (Desire, 249, 156, 157). In Finnegans Wake Joyce posits the relation between (male) artist and woman as incest between the “Godpossibled” son and the mother: “In the beginning was the gest he jousstly says, for the end is with woman, flesh-without-word, while the man to be is in a worse case after than before since she on the supine satisfies the verg to him!” (FW, 468.5–8). The artist/son penetrates through the frame, the parenthesis of language, to give what is silenced a voice. But in presenting motherhood with a language, he nonetheless deprives it of “any right to a real existence,” according it only a symbolic status. That is, mother as speaking subject—indeed, woman-as-subject—does not return. The point of this consummation, Kristeva states, is “to reach the threshold of repression by means of the identification with motherhood (be it as heterosexuality or symbolic incest), to reach this threshold where maternal jouissance, alone impassable, is arrayed” (Desire, 249). Like the children of Finnegans Wake, the artist would re-turn to the repressed, only to see “figurat-leavely,” as figure, as symbol, the “whome”—womb, home, the (impossible) origin—of the “eternal geomater” (FW, 296.31–297.1).

1. The text plays upon the Latin oblitterare, “to blot out,” from ob, “over,” and littera, “letter,” and upon the Latin involvere, “to wrap,” “to cover,” and vulva, “covering.”

2. James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (New York: Viking Press, 1939], 50.11; hereafter cited in the text as FW with page and line number. The epigraph is from 50.12–13.

3. Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter with Carolyn Burke (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), 102; hereafter cited in the text as This Sex.

4. Julia Kristeva, Tales of Love, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), 236; hereafter cited in the text as Tales. “Stabat Mater,” a text split between an exposition of the Catholic church’s iconography of the Virgin Mother Mary and the lyric portrayal of Kristeva’s own experience of motherhood, represents formally the division of flesh and language for which the maternal body is the site. Compare Jacques Lacan’s claim that analytic discourse proves woman’s nonexistence by subsuming woman into the maternal: “If any discourse proves it to you, it is surely analytic discourse, by putting into play this notion, that woman will be taken only quoad matrem. Woman comes into play in the sexual relation only as mother” (quoted in Irigaray, This Sex, 102).

5. Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 75, 20, 58–59; hereafter cited in the text as Powers.

6. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Displacement and the Discourse of Woman,” in Displacement: Derrida and After, ed. Mark Krupnick (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983), 191; hereafter cited in the text as “Displacement.” See also Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “French Feminism in an International Frame,” Yale French Studies 62 (1981): 154–84.

7. Leslie Hill, “Julia Kristeva: Theorizing the Avant-Garde?” in Abjection, Melancholia, and Love: The Work of Julia Kristeva, ed. John Fletcher and Andrew Benjamin (London: Routledge, 1990), 150.

8. Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 197; hereafter cited in the text as Writing.

9. Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), 112; hereafter cited in the text as Grammatology.

10. Colin MacCabe connects the trace with the wake of the letter in James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word (London: Macmillan, 1979), 127.

11. James Joyce, Ulysses, ed. Hans Walter Gabler with Wolfhard Steppe and Claus Melchior (New York: Garland, 1984), 11:901; hereafter cited in the text as U, with episode and line numbers. MacCabe, James Joyce, 127.

12. Jane Flax, calling for excluded or repressed material and voices to be heard, faults “postmodern” philosophers for not being “free from a will to power whose effects they trace elsewhere.” Succumbing to the will to power coopts “the others” and effaces the traces of such a cooptation: “This double erasing may account for some of the obscurity in the writing of postmodernism; tracks have to be erased or effaced as they are made” (Jane Flax, Thinking Fragments: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and Postmodernism in the Contemporary West [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991], 192I. The metaphors deliberately echo Derrida on the trace and erasure in order to call into question his work on the problems of origin and difference. “Without intermediary and without communion, neither mediate nor immediate, such is the truth of our relation to the other,” claims Derrida in discussing the work of Emmanuel Levinas, “the truth to which the traditional logos is forever inhospitable. This unthinkable truth of living experience, to which Levinas returns ceaselessly, cannot possibly be encompassed by philosophical speech without immediately revealing, by philosophy’s own light, that philosophy’s surface is severely cracked, and that what was taken for its solidity is its rigidity” (Writing, 90).

13. Derrida reiterates in Positions “that the trace is neither a ground, nor a foundation, nor an origin, and that in no case can it provide for a manifest or disguised ontotheology” (Jacques Derrida, Positions, trans. Alan Bass [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981], 52).

14. Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 66; hereafter cited in the text as Margins.

15. Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 331.

16. Rodolphe Gasché, The Tain of the Mirror: Derrida and the Philosophy of Reflection (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), 189, 192.

17. Jacques Derrida, “Living On: Border Lines,” in Deconstruction and Criticism, ed. Harold Bloom et al. (New York: Continuum, 1984), 77.

18. Karl Marx relates Aufhebung (sublation, the negation of the negation, at once denying a thing and preserving it on a higher level) to supporting the Christian desire for maternity in virginity (see Jacques Derrida, Glas, trans. John P. Leavey, Jr., and Richard Rand [Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986]). In “Freud and the Scene of Writing” (Writing and Difference) and in “The Double Session” (Dissemination), Derrida points out that in Freud and in Mallarmé the desire is to find a surface both marked and virgin. In Of Grammatology Derrida reveals Rousseau’s desire for a category that was both transcendental (virgin) and supplementary (marked). See Spivak, “Displacement.”

19. Quoted in Don Gifford with Robert J. Seidman, Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988], 416.

20. The Nicene Council’s refutation of the Arian heresy in A.D. 325 claims that Christ is “begotten, not made, of one essence consubstantial with the Father,” but Stephen recognizes that he, like the Christ of the heretic Arius, is “made not begotten” (U, 3.45). Derrida mentions the Nicene Council’s refutation of the heresy (Margins, xivn6).

21. Sigmund Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. and trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth, 1957), 19:228; hereafter cited in the text as SE.

22. Jacques Derrida and Christie V. McDonald, “Choreographies,” Diacritics 12 (Summer 1982): 75.

23. Julia Kristeva, The Kristeva Reader, ed. Toril Moi (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 174–75. See also Kristeva, Tales, 250.

24. Colin MacCabe argues that Stephen, caught in the contradiction that his theory of Shakespeare must hold good for all of the plays, including those he has not read, laughs to free himself from the constrictions of characterizing Shakespeare’s work as a representation of his life. His laugh acknowledges the impossibility of total knowledge and “the ridiculous claims of language to place us in a position of knowledge” (James Joyce, 120–21).

25. For Levinas the feminine is that which disrupts and transforms what he terms “the virility of the force of being”; yet the feminine also facilitates its continuance, “since the exterior realm, the public realm where signification takes place, would be a closure without the undecidable or equivocal feminine ‘interiority.’” To deploy the feminine is to adopt a strategy of oppositional structuring in which women are encoded “as other, or as the excess which escapes, and yet also provide the boundary to that excess” (Alison Ainley, “The Ethics of Sexual Difference,” in Fletcher and Benjamin, Abjection, Melancholia, and Love, 56).

26. James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Text, Criticism, and Notes, ed. Chester G. Anderson (New York: Viking, 1968), 217.

27. MacCabe, James Joyce, 127. For source analyses of “Oxen of the Sun” in relation to gestation, see Phillip F. Herring, Joyce’s Ulysses Notesheets in the British Museum (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1972), and Robert Janusko, The Sources and Structures of James Joyce’s “Oxen” (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1983).

28. Susan Stanford Friedman, “Creativity and the Childbirth Metaphor: Gender Difference in Literary Discourse,” in Speaking of Gender, ed. Elaine Showalter (New York: Routledge, 1989), 79–80.

29. James Joyce to Frank Budgen, March 20, 1920, Letters of James Joyce, vol. 1, ed. Stuart Gilbert (New York: Viking, 1966), 139–40.

30. Deshil is Irish for “turning to the right” and “turning toward the sun”; eamus is Latin for “let us go.”

31. Margot Norris analyzes heliotrope as a figure for heterosexual desire and as a model for deciphering nonverbal semiologies in “Joyce’s Heliotrope,” in Coping with Joyce: Essays from the Copenhagen Symposium, ed. Morris Beja and Shari Benstock (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1989), 3–24.

32. Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clement, The Newly Born Woman, trans. Betsy Wing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 97.

33. Levinas employs the term excendence to denote a “departure from being and from the categories which describe it.” Incapable of respecting “the Being and meaning of the other,” phenomenology and ontology, Derrida points out in “Violence and Metaphysics: An Essay on the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas,” would be philosophies of violence. “Through them, the entire philosophical tradition, in its meaning and at bottom, would make common cause with oppression and with the totalitarianism of the same. The ancient clandestine friendship between light and power, the ancient complicity between theoretical objectivity and technico-political possession. … Henceforward, the heliologi-cal metaphor only turns away our glance, providing an alibi for the historical violence of light: a displacement of technico-political oppression in the direction of philosophical discourse…. If there is no history, except through language, and if language (except when it names Being itself or nothing: almost never) is elementally metaphorical, Borges is correct: ‘Perhaps universal history is but the history of several metaphors’” (Writing, 91–92).

34. Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman, trans. Gillian C. Gill (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), 229; hereafter cited in the text as Speculum.

35. Julia Kristeva, Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, ed. Leon S. Roudiez, trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, and Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980), 237; hereafter cited in the text as Desire.

36. Patrick McGee, Paperspace: Style as Ideology in Joyce’s Ulysses (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988), 101. For a discussion of the frame in the discourses of aesthetics and philosophy, see Jacques Derrida, The Truth in Painting, trans. Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987).

37. Impregnation without sexuality triumphs over death: “Tor where there is death there is also sexual copulation, and where there is no death there is no sexual copulation either,” Saint John Chrysostomos argues in his fourth-century treatise On Virginity. Saint Jerome opposes Eve and Mary, death and life: “Death came through Eve but life came through Mary.” The patriarch Irenaeus adds the opposition of snake and dove, confirming the interpretation that the temptation of Eve is a sexual temptation, the Fall of Man a fall into (female) sexuality and death: “Through Mary the snake becomes a dove and we are freed from the chains of death” (quoted in Kristeva, Tales, 239). Sexuality, specifically female sexuality evidenced in maternity, betrays Man to sin and death: expounding the church doctrine of the Annunciation to the medical students in “Oxen of the Sun”—the episode that unmasks the “crime committed against fecundity by sterilizing the act of coition” (Joyce, Letters, 1:139)—Stephen affirms that Mary is “the second Eve and she won us, saith Augustine too, whereas that other, our grandam, which we are linked up with by successive anastomosis of navelcords sold us all, seed, breed and generation, for a penny pippin” (U, 14.298–301).

38. Patrick McGee argues that the mother is the body of the woman whom Joyce cannot identify and cannot elude: “[I]n facing this woman it is the woman in himself—the woman he devours and by whom he is devoured, the mother—that speaks.” He rightly points out that what gives form to Joyce’s abjection, “channeling its negative power into the deconstruction of the styles of Western literature, involves more than the ambivalence that survives in each of us as the trace of our fall into language. Ulysses also gives form to the abject horror of history’s nightmare and illustrates Adorno’s assertion that ‘The unresolved antagonisms of reality reappear in art in the guise of immanent problems of artistic form,”’ a textual symptom of a political unconscious (Paperspace, 188–89).

39. The restoration in the 1984 Critical and Synoptic Edition of Ulysses of this manuscript passage has been controversially received. The full passage from the Rosenbach manuscript is several lines long and as such restores the longest passage omitted from the published text: “Do you know what you are talking about? Love, yes. Word known to all men. Amor vero aliquid alicui bonum vult unde et ea quae concupiscimus. …” That the patrius sermo of Latin is garbled as it attempts to define the word known to all men suggests that amor matris constitutes the eruption of the semiotic into the symbolic.

40. Julie Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language, trans. Margaret Waller (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), 25; hereafter cited in the text as Revolution.

41. Julia Kristeva, “Within the Microcosm of The Talking Cure,’” in Interpreting Lacan, ed. Joseph H. Smith and William Kerrigan (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), 38.

42. Elizabeth Gross, “The Body of Signification,” in Fletcher and Benjamin, Abjection, Melancholia, and Love, 96.

43. Frances Restuccia argues that it is the fetishized image of the Mother/Virgin that “assists Joyce in getting beyond the referential, beyond the Father.” Such a fetishistic disavowal of the reality of women “allows textuality or free play even as it provides the security of a dominant position—only the son’s (disguised as the mother’s) rather than the father’s.” Substituting the law of the Mother/Virgin—determined by the son—for the law of the Father enables Joyce to achieve his own artistic freedom, Restuccia claims (Frances L. Restuccia, Joyce and the Law of the Father [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989], 176). But is such a substitution possible? And is artistic freedom that cleanly achieved?

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