THE ADULTERY OF WISDOM IN GIACOMO JOYCE
Joyce's Giacomo Joyce practices erotic fantasy as a spiritual exercise in reverse, in which the purpose is not to express devotion to God, but to steal devotion from God. The beauty that is supposed to belong to God is here claimed through art as a subversive parody of divine creation. God's love for the world is turned to voyeurism, and His creative mind, to the contemplation of adulterous lust. By such devilish practice, the conceptual basis of Modernism is laid.
In A Portrait, which Joyce was completing around the same time he completed Giacomo Joyce in 1914, Stephen Dedalus expands on Aquinas's definition of beauty, which requires three things; wholeness, harmony and radiance (P 212). This formula comes from a passage in the Summa Theologiae describing Christ (Question 39, article 8), so it describes how God divided himself into the world to produce beauty, and Stephen follows this process through the stages of aesthetic perception.1 The central sin of Satan was to want to replace God or enact His powers, and Joyce was aware that his artistic imitation of God was always Satanic. When Giacomo is afraid that the woman he mediates on-identified by Richard Ellmann as Amalia Popper2-may not return from a visit to the hospital, he exclaims, "Surely hell's luck will not fail me!" (GJ 9). He realises that his attempt to appropriate God's power puts his on the side of the damned.
The object of beauty is always taken from paternal authority, just as language must be taken from tradition. When Giacomo entreats, "Ignatius Loyola, make haste to help me!" (GJ 5), he wants to use his skill at recollection through the senses to complete the full depiction of the woman's father. "Papa" occupies the position of Giacomo's potential enemy insofar as the old man wants to protect his daughter. It is necessary for Giacomo to focus on the complexity of the father-who projects not only "benevolence," but "suspicion" and "warning" (GJ 5)-for Amalia is dominated by him, inseparable from him, as she is devoted to God (as Joyce's mother was). Giacomo imagines Amalia: "A sparrow under the wheels of Juggernaut, shaking shaker of the earth. Please, mister God, big mister God!" (GJ 7). Giacomo associates Amalia with Beatrice Cenci, the heroine of Shelley's The Cenci, who is raped by her father and driven to arrange his murder, but remains innocent, "stainless of blood and violation" (GJ 11).3 Giacomo sees the God who causes Amalia to be cut by surgeons (probably an appendectomy)4 as a sadist like the Sadean father Francesco Cenci: "O cruel wound! Libidinous God!" (GJ 11). Giacomo is glad that her birdlike life "has fluttered out of reach of the clutching fingers of an epileptic lord and giver of life" (GJ 11).
In Shelley's extremely anti-patriarchal play, Beatrice finally comes to the conclusion that because God will allow her to be punished for her virtuous parricide, there is no God but her evil father (V.iv.57-73). The brother who participates with her in the plot to kill Count Cenci, but who unlike her is unable to resist torture and so confesses, is named Giacomo.
In rebelling against the Father and desiring an unattainable woman, Giacomo Joyce returns to the oedipal turmoil of adolescence in order to cultivate conflict, remembering earlier anguish (perhaps over Nora or one of the Sheehy sisters [E___ C___ ]): "Easy now, Jamesy! Did you never walk the streets of Dublin at night sobbing another name?" (GJ 6). Because he can see the latest infatuation in perspective, it is a pseudo-adolescence, a fantasy contained by his imaginative or creative aim.
For someone like Joyce, who was trained to see the world as "a theorem of divine power" (P 150), to rescue the daughter from the father is to rescue the world from God. The way to do this is to take God's powers and recreate the world as personal vision rather than convention, and the best way to do this is with a woman. The core of the visionary power emphasised by Giacomo is his power to hold Amalia in his mind for as long as seven years, from the time he met her in 1907 or 1908: "All night I have watched her, all night I shall see her" (GJ 12). She stays in his mind, and she seems to be the focal point for every part of Giacomo Joyce, so that the description of cities, for example, serve as background or contrast to her.
What Giacomo sees all night is Amalia with "olive" face, a "green fillet" in her hair, and a "green-broidered gown: the hue of the illusion of the vegetable glass of nature and of lush grass" (GJ 12). What attracts one to the mirror of the world here is its fruitfulness, the creation of nourishment by vegetation. The idea of the world as a green illusion is linked to Berkeley late in Finnegans Wake, where the archdruid Balkelly speaks of "too many illusiones through photoprismic velamina of hueful panepiphanal world spectacurum of Lord Joss" (FW 611.12-14). On the page following these lines, all of the illusions turn out to be green. But if the idealist sees the world as a veil of illusions, a spectacle or mirror (speculum) of God, the point for Giacomo seems to be that Amalia focuses him on the world. The mirror in which she appears is the material world as distinct from God, as taken from God, and he can only reach this world by focusing on a woman as object of desire. (Historically, the Courtly Love movement shifted literature from the religious to the secular).
One chief device used to show Giacomo's devotion to Amalia is the present tense. As John McCourt says of the text, "it gives the impression of having been written down 'live.'"5 The text stays in the present through the events of many years, and through flashbacks, such as the vision of Paris, which presumable goes back to 1903, but seems suddenly to switch to the presence of Amalia (GJ 10). The extension of a feeling of intense presence through wide areas of time and space insists on the importance of Amalia, or of the fantasy of Amalia. At moments, such as the one where he helps he put on her dress and thinks rather frantically of touching her buttocks (GJ 7), there is a feeling that the indulgence in fantasy subtracts from actual ability to make contact. These feelings reach a climax at the end in "Write it [...] What else are you good for?" (GJ 16).
The effect of the continuous, immediate present is that the reader cannot locate events in a timeline. This arrangement resembles the opening of A Portrait, which contains six or more scenes in not much more than a page, jumping from one to another. One cannot tell whether these scenes are experienced one by one or remembered retroactively at some point, such as the scene of Stephen in bed in the seventh paragraph. As he lies wetting the bed, he may remember his father telling the story and his own invention of the line about "the green wothe botheth." Or the fragments of the overture may pass through his mind as he hides under the table at the end (P 8).
The distinction between a happening in the present and its recollection by the narrator disappears when one tells a story, for as Freud emphasised, we can only know the past through subsequent reaction. As Slavoj Zizek puts it, "the Cause exercises its influence only as redoubled."6 This subsequent determination is active in St. Augustine, who says in his Confessions that we cannot know what the present means until we know the future, and only God knows the future.7 So Joyce's recognition that present and future are inseparable, which is linked to Stephen's proclamation that he embraces the future (P 251) has perverted theological basis as his assumption of God's power. Stephen's whole life is the telling of a story insofar as he moves toward becoming his own creator.
The evaporation of Giacomo's position and of linear time represents an advanced level of Modernism, connecting with such concepts as spatial form and montage, and leading to the disintegration of Finnegans Wake. Derek Attridge hails this overture as one of the most innovative parts of Portrait, one that announces "a fresh understanding of the literary potential of language."8 Attridge says that the overture was probably written as late as 1913, so Giacomo Joyce may be seen as developing this technique of the rapid cutting of immediacy.9
Giacomo can only reach the living immediacy of the world through devotion to woman as the object of desire. In a parody of God producing the second person to enter the world, Giacomo divides himself through fantasy. He is both in the scene and without it, so he attaches and detaches rapidly, imagining contact with her, but knowing how unlikely such contact is. She wears the green "of lush grass, the hair of graves" (GJ 12), because the fecundity of nature is fertilised by death, and every attempt to contact her has to work through sacrifice.
Like all of Joyce's women, Amalia has a dangerous side expressed in fetishes, in this case particularly in the eyes. At the start a, "burning needleprick stings and quivers in the velvet iris" (GJ 1), and near the end her eyes dart "a jet of liquorish venom" (GJ 15). The image of a woman's eyes as piercingly phallic is extremely attractive to Joyce. The main danger here is that Amalia will not understand Giacomo and will reject him, and this gives her a certain power to resist him and to express herself even before she speaks in the later sections. In the Courtly Love tradition, her danger has to be propitiated by his sacrifice. But her glace also hurts him insofar as he is unable to help her.
His main effort to reach her is through teaching. Here he approaches divinity, but approaches it as an obscene parody: "My voice, dying in the echoes if its words, dies like the wisdom-wearied voice of the Eternal calling on Abraham through echoing hills" (GJ 14). His words disseminate themselves in a Derridean sense, spreading into different alternative meanings as they approach her so that his voice is lost in echoes. Yet something effectively reaches her despite this disintegration, or perhaps because of it. It arrives indirectly as synęsthesia, a sound passing through her eyes, her most expressive feature:
Her eyes have drunk my thoughts: and into the moist warm yielding welcoming darkness of her womanhood my soul, itself dissolving, has streamed and poured and flooded a liquid and abundant seed ...... Take her now who will! [GJ 14]
There is no book by Joyce that does not included the idea of giving the beloved to another, but the idea that Giacomo's intercourse with Amalia is so profound that the desired successor will only get leavings is relieved by humour. The weary God who calls Abraham knows that He is asking for a sacrifice that He cannot accept. Isaac, the only son God gives up, prefigures the idea that God creates beauty by sending His son into the world, by losing Himself in matter as His voice is doomed to die in translation, the materiality of language. Joyce gives birth to a new version of himself through devotion to the mystery of Amalia's womanhood, which allows him to extend his perceptions to a perverse divinity.
I think that Giacomo sees his communion with Amalia as an Annunciation, just as Stephen speaks of inspiration as the Angel Gabriel coming to "the virgin womb of the imagination" (P 217). As Stephen sees himself as Christ late in A Portrait (248), Giacomo starts the second paragraph of his fifteenth page with "They spread under my feet carpets for the son of man." In this Amalia may appear as Mary when he is seen with "a plaid cloak shielding from chills her sinking shoulders" (GJ 15).10 In Simone Martini's famous Annunciation, in the Uffizi, Mary holds her cloak around her shrinking shoulders as if chilled by a wind from heaven. A plaid cloak is prominent in this early fourteenth-century painting, but it is worn by the Angel. Martini's Mary seems to greet Gabriel "wintrily" and to dart from "sluggish sidelong eyes a jet of liquorish venom" (GJ 15). Her perturbation at the burden she is receiving may be parallel to Amalia's disturbance at the new kinds of knowledge Giacomo is exposing her to.
There is humour in the resentful glances of the Virgin and Amalia, but there is also something terrible. Both Jewish women must suffer to bring about new dispensations, Christ's new vision and Joyce's advancement into a higher level of Modernism through Amalia. The Stabat Mater declares that no woman suffers as much as Mary, who beholds her son crucified; but Giacomo sees Amalia as suffering by linking her not only to Mary, but to Beatrice Cenci. This is why the operation is emphasised, and Amalia suffers the dilemma of either being forced to accept Giacomo's new ideas or rejecting him and being lost in conventional womanhood.
The conflict between Giacomo and Amalia is actually symbolised in the arrangement of Martini's Annunciation: a line of words, embossed on the gold surface of the painting, goes from Gabriel's mouth to Mary's face. The words are "AVE MARIA GRATIA PLENA DOMINUS TECUM," and they are really headed for her right ear, but they seem to go toward her eyes. This may explain Joyce's image of Amalia's eyes drinking his thoughts. The line between Gabriel and Mary visualises a sort of tug of war in which he is imposing a very heavy patriarchal burden on her and she is resisting insofar as she is only human.
The sense of struggle or contest in the painting raises the possibility that the angel might not have the power to overcome her opposition. This possibility is represented in "The Dead," where Gabriel Conroy is not able to save Gretta from her morbidly sentimental attachment to the past and to another archangel, Michael. So the line between the angel's mouth and the Virgin's eyes suggests her power to change him as he is changing her. In Joyce's use of Amalia we may also recognise the power he gives her.
When Amalia is seen "darting at me for an instant out of her sluggish sidelong eyes a jet of liquorish venom" (GJ 15), the image is partly based on Beatrice, whose eyes afflict Marzio, the murderer who confesses that she hired him, informing on her. Marzio says,
The terrible resentment of those eyes
On the dead earth! Turn them away from me! [V.ii.29-31]
Amalia's glance (while it is certainly sexual, as the word "liquorish" indicates) penetrates Giacomo not only because she resents his ministration, but because he fears that he cannot relieve her suffering. The glare Beatrice levels at Marzio would also apply to her weak brother Giacomo, who confesses under torture. A significant level of Giacomo Joyce's unease is his fear that he may not be brave or perceptive or effective enough to save Amalia, his awareness that his view of women is to a great extent blind. Yet misunderstanding can communicate by the exposure and interaction of differences, and Giacomo's connection with Amalia will reach beyond these conflicts.
Just as Stephen creates his first image, the "green wothe botheth," by making a mistake, so Giacomo can only communicate by being misunderstood. Joyce's works were always aimed primarily at female audiences, starting with his mother. He aimed to deliver women from patriarchal dominance, but his limited understanding of women and his difference from them made it inevitable that he would be greatly misinterpreted. The only level on which Giacomo can conquer Amalia is one in which he disintegrates when he sends himself as words into her body as the world: "my soul, itself dissolving." He must lose his identity to engage hers, to be transformed by hers as he transforms it.
A man cannot possess a woman without losing his ego, and insofar as Giacomo reaches and recreates Amalia, he recreates himself as a being divided into becomings so as to generate new insights. As Joseph Valente argues, Giacomo learns to identify with the subaltern other by giving voice to this Jewish woman, and this leads him to a stylistic freedom of association.11 The ability to see everything at once springs from his unfolding himself into multiple consciousnesses through her, through recognising that he is implicated in her differences.
The voice he gives her is one that emphasises resistance, but the resistance is conceived of as a defence to protect herself from the depth of their communion. She says that if A Portrait were "frank only for frankness' sake," she would ask why he gave it to her (GJ 12). Concerned with the degree to which he is overlapping with her intimacy, she negotiates the border in order to allow then to interact-for him, as he puts it, to expose his "shame" (GJ 13) to her in A Portrait. Similarly, when she later explains her marriage to him by saying "Because otherwise I could not see you" (GJ 16), she means that she could not properly visit him if she did not have a husband pacing outside (GJ 15). Yet there is another overtone suggested by Beatrice Justice's use of "Otherwise I could not see you" in Exiles (E 19). Amalia suggests that a husband allows her to indulge the image of Joyce in her mind. So Amalia's intelligence and activity are finally considerable.
The value of their interchange is confirmed by the final scene of what McCourt calls the novelette,12 which takes place no earlier than 1914 (it refers to Ulysses) in Paris. Here it seems that Amalia visits with Giacomo on a lounge on which he has just engaged in fairly steamy erotic play with a hairdresser (GJ 15). Presumably the line "It is the other. She" (GJ 15) means that after the hairdresser, Amalia arrives; and this may equate the two women with poles of his fantasy life. Amalia's first statement, "I am not convinced that such activities of the mind or body can be called unhealthy," does not have a clear referent; but it does seem to follow Giacomo's ideas insofar as it apparently allows for latitude in the direction of perversion and it conflates mind and body. In fact it seems to condone the intertwined fantasies that she and he have pursued. It does look as if she has freed herself from patriarchy.
Giacomo greets her words with enthusiasm: "A weak voice from beyond the cold stars. Voice of wisdom. Say on! O, say again, making me wise! This voice I never heard" (GJ 15). The voice from beyond the stars suggests the Virgin, who speaks from heaven and is identified with a star in A Portrait (P 116). The wisdom he derives from her includes the fact that he has given her the power to speak. As she grows active at this moment of contact, she grows threatening: "She coils toward me along the crumpled lounge. I cannot move or speak" (GJ 15). The word coil, repeated three times, conveys the fetishistic image of a "snake" (GJ 15).
Confronted by her aggressiveness, Giacomo panics, as he seemed to do when she saucily chose to ask him to help with her dress (GJ 7). "No. I will go. I will" (GJ 15). Yet the words before these are "Adultery of wisdom," so one thing that frightens him is that he realises that he has achieved an erotic/visionary consummation with her. Their amplitude of revelation depends on their sharing the conflict of breaking the law by sinning together.
At this point, I think it is his wife that Giacomo hears saying "Jim love," for Nora called Joyce Jim. The careful pseudo-adulterer Giacomo has not yet mentioned his wife, but after a hysterical paragraph in which a snaky woman kisses his armpit, generating a fang of flame, he mentally cries out, "Nora!" (GJ 15). I do not see Amalia kissing his armpit here, so it may have been the dresser or Nora, whom he is now stimulated to remember. More likely, Amalia projects an imaginary aggression or feint that he feels intensely. Presumably Amalia very much enjoys this fetishistic enterprise: she may feel herself shooting off sexiness. As for Giacomo, he seems to realise that he needs his wife and is attached to her.
The action of this long passionate paragraph is one in which Giacomo is assailed by the hairdresser, Amalia, and Nora at once on different levels. So it establishes an important principle for Joyce, that one can mentally embrace several people at once. The major manifestation of this erotic multiplicity is the end of Ulysses, when Molly is stimulated by thoughts of Blazes Boylan, Harry Mulvey, Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, James Joyce, and the reader simultaneously, and says yes to all of them.
Giacomo Joyce presents the cultivation of a wisdom that is crucial to Joyce's career, and that could only be developed through adultery. Indeed the phrase "adultery of wisdom" refers to understanding that is mixed or adulterated, that sustains several different levels at once. By anatomising the birth of creativity through fantasy, Joyce reveals an important aspect of his creative progress. He also shows, as he will in Ulysses, how human relations operate continuously on levels below what is permissible or conscious, for it is the exclusion from proper thought that makes these movements so vital.
© Sheldon Brivic
|volume 4, issue 1, 2003|