“APOLOGY IN AN OTHER'S HAND: GIACOMO JOYCE: WHO?
We have talked of women; about women, he seems a bit disinterested. Were I vain, I should say he is afraid of them, but I am certain he is only a little skeptical of their existence.
(Djuna Barnes, "James Joyce")1
Could this be right? Could Djuna Barnes be right in being "certain" that Joyce was "a little skeptical of [women's] existence"? Joyce, the scriptor of Molly Bloom and Anna Livia Plurabelle? Joyce, the "master" of "writing in the feminine"? Nora's Joyce, that Joyce, is a little sceptical of women?
Yet, Djuna Barnes knew Joyce. Knew him well enough to drop in unannounced for a chat; knew him wisely enough to defer indefinitely the introduction promised to/awaited by Gertrude Stein (by showing up, drunk, without him). Was known by him well enough to be the recipient, in 1923, of his annotated copy of Ulysses (or so the rumour goes). And, she knew his work well, "consumed" it, was obliterated by it (felt there was no point in writing anything after Ulysses) and aroused by it (wrote Nightwood after Ulysses). Certainly Djuna Barnes knew Joyce and knew him well enough that, despite all perfectly beautiful and believable argument to the contrary, I am reluctant to dismiss her certainty that he was "a little skeptical of [women's] existence"-only a little sceptical, but sceptical nonetheless.
This certain little scepticism, certainly noted by a woman who was a friend and also a writer who shared entire topical pastures with Joyce as well as a place and a time, has troubled me since I first came across it some years ago. Not that I couldn't see the signs of it in, say, Stephen's distancing epiphanies or the "expressions" of his infatuation in the Portrait, or in Bloom's epistolary affair or his voyeurism in Ulysses: a certain scepticism about the existence(s) of women does mark Joyce's texts (if not all texts, all symbolic signification, to some extent or other). But, I had also succumbed to what appeared to me a literal fleshiness, a certain "pulpy" verisimilitude, in the given words of Joyce's women that read like "existence," and "existence" undoubted. How could a Joyce sceptical of women's existence write "because he never did a thing like that before as ask to get his breakfast in bed with a couple of eggs since the City Arms hotel when he used to be pretending to be laid up with a sick voice doing his highness to make himself interesting to that old faggot Mrs Riordan" (U 659)? Molly's "voice" is practically irresistible. "[W]ith a sick voice doing his highness to make himself interesting": yes, that's "it": that's the feminine reflection: one gives into it so willingly. At moments like this, it is as if Joyce knows what passes in (or for) a woman's mind. Joyce knows. But then, Barnes knows too, and she thinks that he seems a bit disinterested, suspects that he might be afraid, is certain that he is a little sceptical ...
Could it be that a little scepticism, or a putative, seeming disinterest, in (or even fear of) the existence of the other is a necessary condition of this sort of writing itself? Could it be that one writes thus because the existence of the other is doubtable, cannot be known or even assumed, lying (and lying) as it does on the other side of an unbreachable abyss of experience? Could it be that one writes in order to pretend (in order to seem interested and interesting), to be pretentious, that one has access to or can understand or command that other "existence"? These are, admittedly, naive questions which have been superseded or surmounted in critical discourse by questions of a more rigorously systemic (and intellectual) nature. But, at the same time, these apparently redundant questions remain, though it seems that one rarely addresses them anymore, and they remain primarily because Joyce's texts keep bringing them up. It's all a matter of the distance and pretension and scepticism marking the self-definition of the writing, Joyce's work: it's all a fake, a pretend message (envoy) to an addressee with no symbolic postcode, with possibly no existence even beyond the abyss of experience. It, the writing, is also very, palpably, real-an actual body of work-you can hold it in your hands, undeniably. It is a real fake. We can't (Joyce's writing won't let us) get away from this apparent aporia: writing is and yet is about, toward, concerning a possible nothing, an unprovable existence or even absolute non-existence: writing is necessary and yet pointless: it necessarily and literally proves nothing, which may well be the "whole point."
As naive and/or redundant as such (given) assertions about Joyce's writing might seem, here, now, off the cusp of the twenty-first century, I don't think that we have quite finished with them (or the naive questions either), again because Joyce's work keeps bringing them up and bringing us to them. Perhaps this is because of that work's position at the turning point or crux of (what Freud might call) the "Copernican" revolution of (the understanding of the agency of) the word in which communication was re-forged through the previous century. This is crucial work and radical work and revolutionary work, and, like all crucial radical revolutionary work, it needs must have its apology (its explanation and its defence), which brings me, believe it or not, "by a commodius vicus of recirculation" to Giacomo Joyce and the beginning of my argument.
What I want to address here, in this paper, is the possibility of reading Giacomo Joyce as an apology of/for a writing that will never reach its mark, an apology of/for a crucially aporetic writing.2 Why Giacomo Joyce? I will defend my topic presently. First, though, I want to devote a little consideration to "apology," a crucial concept in itself and the crucial term, perhaps, of my argument.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "apology" has at least four meanings:
1. The pleading off from a charge or imputation, whether expressed, implied, or only conceived as possible [...].
2. Less formally: Justification, explanation, or excuse, of an incident or course of action.
3. An explanation offered to a person affected by one's action that no offence was intended, coupled with the statement of regret for any that may have been given [...].
4. Something which, at it were, merely appears to apologise for the absence of what ought to have been there; a poor substitute.
In each of these four senses, the implication (no matter how it is valorised) is that something (whether in word or deed) has already occurred which has led to a difference of opinion or perception, a contradiction or a contretemps, a problem as such, between one and an other. The apology (whether formal, informal or merely cynical) would be that which might make possible a resolution of this difference-although it is important to recognise that "resolution" is not part of any of the four definitions-by offering, by being, a defence or justification or explanation or excuse or substitute of/for an action (or presence?-after all, one offers one's apologies in lieu of one's presence in meetings, at dinners). Apology ([(? a. Fr. apologie), ad. L. apologia, a. Gr. defence, a speech in defence, f. away, off + speaking]) is what is offered (the pleading, the "speaking") from one side of a difference ("away, off") to the other (the accuser, the offended) in the place of understanding, mutual apprehension, intuition, unmediated presence. Without difference, there would be no (need of) apology. Apology is that which rises out of difference-a speaking off or off-speaking necessitated by difference and the desire to resolve difference-but promises, guarantees, no resolutions. Apology is one thing: acceptance, another.
An apology, moreover, is something "made"-I make my apology-and thus it is supplemented by a notion of fabrication, or fiction. This much is evident in its etymological kinship with the "apologue" ([a. Fr. apologue, ad. L. apologus, a. Gr. account, story, fable, f. off + speech], "An allegorical story, intended to convey a useful lesson; a moral fable"). Of course, an apology is not an apologue, but the terms are related in a radical sense and this kinship, a consideration of this kinship, exposes the fictiveness at the heart of the apology (where "speech" and "speaking" are inextricably bound and mutually compromised by "off" and "away"). No matter how "truthful" or sincere one might be in making one's apology, one is still making an "account" of, and in lieu of, what is misunderstood or, in fact, missing. The apology is always a fabrication (no matter its sincerity) and a substitute (for understanding, for presence): ever directed towards absolution or atonement, it will always fail to reach its mark for it is constituted by difference, substitution and fabrication. Perhaps it is this impossibility, or impassability, of resolution that causes us to be so eloquent (at our most eloquent), to choose our words with such extreme care, when making our apologies. (Do we not all wrestle with the phrasing in these instances? Is one ever more aware of the otherness of the other than when apologising?)
In the vague mist of old sounds a faint point of light appears: the speech of the soul is about to be heard. Youth has an end: the end is here. It will never be. You know that well. What then? Write it, damn you, write it? What else are you good for? [GJ 16]
Here is a fine apology (justification, explanation, excuse, account, story) or apologia ("esp. A written defence or justification, etc. [...]" [OED]) for writing, for the practice of writing in itself: "the end is here. It will never be [...]. What then? Write it, damn you [...]. What else are you good for?" It will never be: then write it (and be damned?). As it will never be, the only good that you can do is to write it. Perhaps it is possible to read this also as an apologia of writing as apology (in the fourth sense), as "a poor substitute." It will never be; then write it. Replace the it that "ought to have been there," but isn't, with the written it-what else is Giacomo Joyce good for?
(The indeterminate antecedence of that "It" of "It will never be" (what "It"?), complicated or rendered even more ambiguous by the syntax-"the end is here. It will never be"-if we don't simply assume that the "It" is only the requital of a love, lends itself to a reading of this writing as aporetic, as the writing of irresolution or impassability or impossibility. The end is here [and/yet] it will never be. The end that is here will never be. Aporia. And, as we have arrived at an aporia, what then? What else is there to do but write "it." I will come, in a little, to the aporetic nature [or method] of this writing: it is enough, for now, to note parenthetically the literal evidence of aporia in the scene, at the instance, of what may also be read as an apology of/for writing.)
This is perhaps the place, near the heart of this essay and for no more than a brief paragraph ("A brief beat of the eyelids"), to suggest that, on an essential or "autobiographical" level, at least, Giacomo Joyce is an apology of sorts to Nora. If Ellmann is right in identifying the young lady and the incident of Joyce's fascination with her as biographical fact, then Joyce did indeed owe Nora an explanation. This would certainly account for the appearance (or the eruption!) of her name "-Nora!-" at the end of the (longest and climactic) paragraph in which "She" ("the other," but not "Nora"?) becomes the serpent-succubus. This "-Nora!-" immediately precedes, opens the way for, the paragraph containing the apology for writing. I am lost: Nora, save me: the end that will never be is here: I must write it. Who was more deserving of such a (qualified) apology? Who could better understand than she who could say (according to Barnes), "It's the great fanaticism is on him, and it is coming to no end"?3
One of the beauties of Giacomo Joyce is its (mimicry of) autobiographicalness, as if Joyce pauses for a moment, in media res, to say (to Nora, to us) this is "it," this is the reason I write, this is what I am good for. It has that confessional quality, the first person voice, the abbreviated references that indicate interiority and inclusion, a beguiling lyricism. It is a text (and an apology) that is difficult to resist: such openness and irony, honesty and self-deprecation (such a rhetorical bag of tricks, such "ein Schweinerei"?). It is a rather seductive text: one feels drawn to Joyce, beyond those mediating figures of Stephen and Bloom, in particular. It draws us into what would seem to be the unmediated voice ("like the wisdom-wearied voice" [GJ 14]) of the creator, in which are expressed the seminal concerns of statement-the relationship of the one (subject) and the other (object) and the agency of communication. I love her, but between us is only statement, writing, poised on an aporia. It is most tempting to see this eloquent little gem of an apology as a cameo, or an intaglio, of Joyce's style.
I don't know how else to describe Giacomo Joyce. It escapes precise definition by being properly neither a (prose) poem nor a novelette nor a notebook/diary/epistle: one might say that it is trans-, even supra-, generic. That it (historically and thematically) occupies the middle position between the Portrait and Ulysses, between the (apogee, if you like, of the) modernist novel in English and the novel as supra-encyclopaedic form (the-novel-that-encompasses-the-history-of-its-language) is significant. Between these two texts, a step has been taken (one small step for Joyce, one enormous leap for literature) that will alter forever the way that we think about-at the very, very least-the novel. The nature and effect of this "step," this turn in the revolution of the word, has been so well addressed by the critical community (see almost any directory to Joyce's work) that anything I might add would likely be redundant. It is enough to note the magnitude of this step before turning to my theme, which is the crucial agency of Giacomo Joyce as the writing between (and of) these two acknowledged novels, the crucial agency of the step itself-perhaps.
Giacomo Joyce, if we stand back from the Joycean "canon" and observe it as a progression (of artistic development, of publication), is rather like a "brief beat of the eyelids" (GJ 1), a blink which both marks and obliterates the formal transition, the passage, from the Portrait to Ulysses. Joyce apparently had abandoned it in Trieste, left it there (on the midden heap?) when he departed, although he had taken care to write it out "in his best calligraphic hand, without changes" (GJ xi) before doing so-a peculiar sort of abandonment. (Was he relying on Stanislaus's jackdaw instincts to "save" it? Did he foresee the agency of the "collector who prefers to remain anonymous" in its preservation? Had he made it attractive to those ends?) Whatever Joyce's intentions for this text, it survived, through the agency of others, to be published posthumously, after his passing-the last book, if you like-and it does seem that this survival may, to a certain extent, have depended on the fact that it was written in Joyce's best hand. Not to be kept for publication, yet of sufficient import-in its moment, at least-to be copied out in one's best calligraphic hand, to be rendered beautiful, attractive to the eye, legible: all of this suggests a text to be kept in reserve, by others perhaps, by any other (if only as a "kept" text, a mistress). A brief blink of the eye between the end of the Portrait and the beginning of Ulysses and the reader misses it, but it is "there" nonetheless, although held in reserve until the end, after the end, when it can be called or re-called into play-perhaps, as we are doing now.
What is "missed" in this "brief" blink of the eye (a brief syllable, a brief laugh, the meaning in brief) between Stephen's preparations for migration to Paris (to "forge [...] the uncreated conscience of [his] race") and Buck Mulligan's calling up, invocation of Kinch, the "fearful Jesuit," returned to Ireland? A great deal, in fact: Europe, exile and the death of the mother-the passing into the "other" and of the (m)other-the forge itself, perhaps for Stephen (whose writing is always, in Ireland, deferred) and certainly for Joyce (whose writing "takes place" in exile in Europe beyond the sea, the mother and the motherland). Between the two published (and hence "public") texts, Giacomo Joyce can perhaps be seen as the setting or the scene of acts of writing (in its exile, its silence) or of the producing of that public writing which obliterates, or at least covers over or displaces, its "source."
From this perspective, Giacomo Joyce can be read as if it might be the confession of the silence, exile and cunning which are the only (self-allowed) arms of the artist. If so, it is indeed a very "cunning" confession: not only kept unpublished, "private," but also marked by an apparently inviolable interiority, a perfect prototype or example of the "interior monologue" style that Ulysses makes such good use of. This is not a writing predicated on utterance-one doesn't utter such "speech"-not unless one wishes to appear mad. What we have, here, is an unutterable confession, an unutterable apology, limited, or saved, by interiority. Such a reading would account for the self-address at the critical moment (of apology): "You know that well. [...] Write it, damn you, write it! What else are you good for?" Giacomo Joyce makes its/his cunning apology in "talking" to it/himself, in silence, in exile from the public, published utterance. It/he needn't be held accountable, if it's all in the mind.
A consideration of the "interiority" of this text necessarily brings us to questions of accountability and of the agency of the "other," in the writing, and of the scepticism of/about the "other." How is the interior or private space of writing constituted in relation to the "exterior," to the not-I? (This question will also bring us, in time, to give some thought to just what is being apologised for, or confessed.) The other is figured variably in this text, but primarily as that unnamed "young person of quality," the object (for this text) of desire. "She" is quite recognisably the classic object of desire, a right Beatrice, a real poet's object, remote and unrealisable, at least in this life, Italian (and Jewish, a Joycean compounding of a necessary difference) and regal-or at least of a superior class ("quality"). On the other hand, she is quite unlike a (Dantesque or Shelleyan) Beatrice in that she lacks two essential elements which are, interestingly enough, the (public) guarantees of individual "existence": "wholeness" and a name.4 This would-be "Beatrice" has (beautiful and unbeautiful) parts aplenty-a pale face, movements, laugh, eyelids, handwriting,5 heels, unblown nose, cheeks, gown, shift, umbrella, and so on-but these are not articulated in a constituency.6 They remain fragments, in variable settings, articulated by spaces (blanks, gaps, holes) of variable depth and by seemingly random syntax (how do we get from "iris" to "High heels" [GJ 1]?-neither by sequential logic nor by metaphoric succession nor by contiguity, that's for certain) that render "wholeness" simply impossible. What "body" is here? And the name? "I rush out of the tobacco-shop and call her name" (GJ 4), but the name is never given, never articulated. There is no title, not even the father's name, under which the parts, from eyelid to the family arms ("a casque, gules, and blunt spear on a field, sable" [GJ 16]), might be assembled as an integrated whole. When we get down to it, this object of the subject-I's desire is not properly an object at all. It is no one thing; rather, it is a collection, under the title Giacomo Joyce, of textual fragments (some from or for other Joyce texts--Portrait, Ulysses, Exiles--some from other writings, other texts, lyrics). The spaces guarantee both the fragmentation and the unalterably textual nature of this collection. We cannot escape it-even identifying the historical she who might be the one (de)scribed will not solve the problem.
This unconstituted and unnamed "other" about whom the "interior monologue" stages itself as an articulation of desire-and apology of/for writing-is marked by scepticism. One must doubt its existence, for lack of form or title to clutch at. Of course, we should not perhaps be surprised to find such scepticism in the (modernist and ironic) "interior monologue" of a post-Cartesian subject (I doubt). Yet, there is perhaps something even more profound, here, than the expected scepticism, a problem that even the operations of the dialectic will not solve.7 On pages 5-6, there is this peculiar sequence of sentences: "Loyola, make haste to help me! [large space] This heart is sore and sad. Crossed in love? [very large space, the largest in the text, in fact] Long lewdly leering lips: dark-blooded molluscs [no full stop, but end of page] Moving mists on the hill as I look upward from night and mud." This I find a very difficult passage, and not least because of the lack of antecedence or reference (which "heart"? whose "lips"?), and I doubt the possibility of ever producing the definitive, stabilising reading of it. But, it might be possible to suggest that here, on either side of the largest gap in the text, one might find the traces of a profound, if "little" or even "disinterested," scepticism that at once exceeds the ministrations of the dialectic and leads us to writing.
What "happens" between the plea for aid, for intercession, "make haste to help me," and the moment of illumination, "I look upward from night and mud," is the presentation of what might be a paralysing (if not for writing?) contradiction, or aporia, in the perception of the (collected) object of desire. (I am taking the liberty, here, of assuming that this heart and these lips are belonging to both the father and the daughter: if to the father, then by extension to the daughter: family heart and family lips, "astride of a toboggan" [GJ 4]: an inherited heart and lips, and so part of the collection.)8 In the middle of the page, we have the heart, "sore and sad," perhaps "Crossed in love." This is a rather romantic heart, a chivalric image even, and it is perhaps not too difficult, if one pauses for a moment, a brief space, to "see" its bearer sitting, remote and chaste, with sorrowful, downcast eyes, in a bower, a castle keep, a nunnery. The Lady of Shallot. The underdetermined sentences allow such latitude: "heart," "sore," "sad," "love," all encourage, even guarantee, such association to the literal and literary host of untouched muses. Ah me! But then, there is this space, the largest space, followed by, at the very bottom of the page, those "lips": "Long lewdly leering lips," unpunctuated but for that upright colon in the middle of the line, "dark-blooded molluscs," no full stop, without end. So, via the largest gap in the text, we pass from the pitiable heart to the leering lips, from pity to fear, from the romantic to the ironic, from the spirit to the flesh, from love to lust, from the sacred to the profane: in short, we go from the soul to the sex.
It is a difficult passage, impossibly contradictory, an impasse, and it seems that the only way to make it-or fake it-is through the largest space between (both constituted by and separating) this heart and those lips. There is an undecidability at work here. The text will not resolve the historical contradiction in the delineation of the (female) other (to the symbolic, to culture, thought, literature); rather, it opts for an articulation of the two, but it is an articulation that cannot resolve or absolve the opposition-the articulation of/by the space, the biggest blank of all. The object of desire, in this text, is undecidably both this and that and the other. Only scepticism about the "other" could permit such continued and continual undecidability as and at the heart of everything. (No wonder he needed Nora to save him.)
If we are still reading Giacomo Joyce as an apology for writing, in order for writing to be, there must be the "other" as that (for) which the writing is "about"-the object or purpose or content. This is what Giacomo Joyce demonstrates so precisely, so minutely: writing is predicated on an unrealisable desire to articulate, possess, assume, penetrate, couple with the other ("Take her now who will!" [GJ 14]), the not-I, death, with that which cannot, in fact, be articulated, not really. Something that the interiority and scepticism of Giacomo Joyce emphasise is the function of the "other" as a projection, if you like, of the writing subject's inevitable impossibility. The end is here [and/yet] it will never be. "Sliding-space-ages-foliage of stars-and waning heaven-stillness-and stillness deeper-stillness of annihilation-and her voice" (GJ 16). In this sense, writing will indeed be about no-thing if not the "stillness of annihilation" impossibly, illogically coupled (hyphenated) with "her voice" (presence). Another version of "death and the maiden."
If we are still reading Giacomo Joyce as an apology, at least in part, to Nora for "the great fanaticism," in order for the writing to be, there must be that other to whom the writing is addressed, to whom the apology is made. This is what Giacomo Joyce suggests, but not so precisely or minutely: writing is supplemental, functioning in lieu of understanding or union or communion. It is a gift, an offering, perhaps the greatest offering-Non hunc sed Barabbam9-to the other, whether one is a sceptic or not, the gift of life itself, but made in absentia, as it were.
In the end of the text, on the last page, but not quite at the end (the mob has only just chosen Barabbas), we have first the apology, then, also, a tableau of absence and of traces of presence, intriguingly opened by the one word sentence, "Unreadiness."
Unreadiness. A bare apartment. Torbid daylight. A long black piano: coffin of music. Poised on its edge a woman's hat, red-flowered, and umbrella, furled. Her arms: a casque, gules, and blunt spear on a field, sable. [GJ 16]
Unreadiness? Unreadiness for what? Death, perhaps? And then the relics: the piano (a coffin), the hat and the umbrella. And then the envoy, the message from "off, away." Is this also an apology of/for writing as the impossible/possible deferral of death, or the impossible/possible substitution in lieu of a death which is here and yet will never be?)
Apologising for and apologising to, the apology itself: but, who/what apologises, who/what makes the apology? The "autobiographicalness" of the piece, the exclamation "Nora!," the self-exhortation of "Jamesy," the references to the Portrait and to Ulysses, the identifiable (according to Ellmann) "best calligraphic hand," all tantalise with the possibility that this is Himself apologising, making apology. But, I have my doubts, for at least two reasons. The first of these is simply the effect of reading, as you do, from left to right, from beginning to end, from title to text: Giacomo Joyce [/] "Who? A pale face [...]." Giacomo Joyce. Who? Who, indeed? What a peculiar thing, to begin a text with a sentence composed only of an interrogative pronoun, referent unclear, not altogether decidable. Of course, we will read on, from left to right and from top to bottom, and doing so we will likely come to decide that the who is her of the "movements" and "quizzing-glasses." But, the precedence of Giacomo Joyce is not easily undone. Who is Giacomo Joyce? Who/what does this substitution of James with Giacomo--if it is indeed a substitution-signify? Perhaps, it might be that, between the substitution, or translation if you prefer, and the interrogative pronoun, the subject or author or autobiographer makes its escape, has already escaped (this is a posthumously published text, after all) before the text begins. If so, this is silence, exile and cunning par excellence: here is my apology offered, in my best calligraphic hand, in lieu of my presence which has always already eluded you. Here is my umbrella.
This brings me to my second, and my last, reservation: the actual writing of the words "Giacomo Joyce" and Ellmann's description of the name, written "On the upper left-hand corner of the front cover," as "inscribed in another hand" (GJ xii). Which hand is this? Another hand of Joyce's? The hand of someone else? Who wrote this? Who knows?
I could not presume to answer any of these questions: I only know that, here, at the conclusion of this essay, where I might expect to sum up my argument (which, embarrassingly, is at least double the length of the text itself without having "dealt with" more than a tenth of it), I am struck with the impossibility of saying anything definitive about it. It's all too little and too much, this divinely cunning little (un)apology, in an other hand, for a writing that will always tantalisingly miss its mark, this hen-pecked and fork-pocked pretend letter of explanation lost and found somewhere between Giacomo and "-Nora!-," this intaglio of a style, this last publicised word, this umbrella. I love it.
© M.E. Roughley
|volume 3, issue 2, 2003|