JOYCE AND THE POST-EPIPHANIC
meaning and revelation
Joyce's epiphanies and the accounts of the epiphany he stages in his work, lack claritas. They leave us wondering what exactly an epiphany is. While we may be able to separate the epiphany off from the conceptual void or plenitude, and appreciate it as a conceptual complex in itself, its final harmony or whatness eludes us. The set- piece presentations of the theory, in Stephen Hero and Portrait, signally fail to work as epiphanies of the epiphany, while taking their place no doubt in the relation of part to part, in reading as an exercise in consonantia. The collected epiphanies, numbered and presented sequentially as discrete texts,1 resist this potential affiliation between consonantia and narrative. When inserted into longer texts, however, they lose their capacity to be what they are as they take on other functions; subjected to the relational science of part to whole, they achieve functionality as compositional units. The instantaneity of the imagistic prose poem is co-opted to the episodic temporality of the novel, and such a transposition threatens the integritas, even perhaps the claritas, of the epiphany as unit. The beginning and end of the classical Thomistic epiphany as glossed by Stephen Dedalus, is swamped by the intermediate stage, all is consonantia, an ongoing differentiation and adjustment, a revelation in the making. Gone is the notion of an image as sufficient unto itself, a form of truth which owes its force precisely to its rejection or transcendence of sequence. If differentiation fails, and logically this possibility must be included, what was once a resonant whole incorporating itself as aesthetic object into the revelation it projects, will collapse back into a state of formlessness, which may be figured as a plenitude of brute matter without name, an anti-claritas.2
Narrative, then, stalls the epiphany at an intermediate stage, and is thus one of the problematic contexts raised by the Joycean epiphany, one of its inevitable ironies. The peripatetic Dedalus, instructing Cranly and Lynch in the ways of beauty, hesitates between theory and practice, or attempts perhaps to reconcile them in a critical discourse which will ideally achieve the claritas of which it speaks. While exposition would seem on the face of it to participate in this consonantia of the ongoing Joycean epiphany, adjusting part to whole in a progressive refinement of comprehension, Stephen's bid to epiphanise his critical thought, if that is indeed what he is up to, would put an end to the verbal round. At one moment in the Portrait monologue the transcendence of criticism in an epiphany of thought seems actually to have been achieved: "Stephen paused, and though his companion did not speak, felt that his words had called up around them a thoughtenchanted silence" (218). The "though" here is odd, since it is precisely the muteness of Stephen and Lynch which reveals and sets the seal on the "thoughtenchanted silence." Is Stephen so obsessed with logomachy that he is incapable of recognising an epiphany when he is having one? Does he privately doubt that verbal structures can ever be brought to a form of non-verbal perfection? "What I have said...," he continues, in full academic mode, breaking the silence to continue the adjustment of his critical instrument, "refers to beauty in the wider sense of the word, in the sense which the word has in the literary tradition. In the marketplace it has another sense." Differentiation, adjustment of part to part, criticism as composition, consonantia in perpetuity. In Stephen Hero, Stephen breaks the silence with awkward humour:
Having finished his argument, Stephen walked on in silence. He felt Cranly's hostility and he accused himself of having cheapened the eternal images of beauty. For the first time too, he felt slightly awkward in his friend's company and to restore a mood of flippant familiarity he glanced up at the clock of the ballast Office and smiled:
-- It has not epiphanized yet, he said. (SH 190)
Here there is no "thoughtenchanted silence" to be dissipated by further speech, merely a sense of intellectual betrayal and social failure. The theory, in being related to the real world of objects, is gently ridiculed and condemned to repeat itself as theory. And if the presentation of epiphany was intended to work as an epiphany, it has turned out instead to be an episode in the ongoing narrative of Stephen's development, a part to be related to another part in the hope of eventually revealing the portrait of the artist as aesthetic object, epiphanised by his work. As such, the episode and the work of which it is a part, cries out for criticism.
Stephen's mockery of the clock (which is also mockery of himself as a theory-addicted subject who hesitates to epiphanise) retracts the moves which have been made towards claritas, opening a space for criticism to fill. A similarly inviting space is opened by the break in the text in Portrait, which turns Stephen's talk with Lynch into an episode by dividing it from the following section in which Stephen composes his villanelle.3 Just before the divide we have the description of the girls on the steps of the colonnade seeing out the "the few last raindrops." This paragraph was drawn from the epiphany collected as number twenty-five, but in the Portrait its self-revealing sufficiency (or perhaps the moment which it reveals) is not enough to satisfy the needs of narrative, and it is immediately followed by a contextualising passage of criticism provided by Stephen: "And what if had judged her harshly? If her life were a simple rosary of hours...." (221). And then we have the break in the text which reinforces its episodic nature and obliges the reader to step into the breach and play the critic. If Dedalus hesitates between consonantia and claritas, between letting the revelation stand and refining it further, so does the Joycean text. Narrative and the criticism it sponsors here suggest a certain diffidence before the epiphany as revelation. Perhaps, after all, we are more interested in meaning than revelation, in signifying rather than signification, and this may have been Jacques Lacan's point when he responded to Joyce's famous professor-baiting remark about the puzzles he was putting into Ulysses.4 "Ces gens...," wrote Lacan, meaning the professors, "sont uniquement occupés ? résoudre les enigmes, au minimum ? savoir pourquoi Joyce a mis ça l?. Ils trouvent toujours une raison--il a mis ça l?, parce qu'il y a juste apr?s un autre mot."5 This "autre mot" points to the consonantia in criticism, the balancing of part to part, the procession from word to word.
There will always be in criticism another word which justifies the last, and Stephen's "though," which reveals his expectation that Lynch will consecrate with speech the epiphanic "thoughtenchanted silence," betrays his own uneasiness before the moment as instant rather than episode. Stephen represses his symptom by displacing it onto Lynch, and his malaise might be compared with Sartre's account of Roquentin's need to master the indescribable: "Ca ne pouvait pas se décrire, il aurait fallu pronocer tr?s vite: 'C'est un jardin public, l'hiver, un matin de dimanche'" (64). The claritas of epiphany, in transcending narrative, annihilates the sequentiality of description and cuts directly, as it were, to the final scene: all parts must work together as the whole, the linear axis which makes the other word possible is exchanged for a supercharged present which, according to Roquentin at least, is a source of joy:
Tout s'est arr?té; ma vie s'est arr?tée: cette grande vitre, cet air lourd, bleu comme de l'eau, cette plante grasse at blanche au fond de l'eau, et moi-m?me, nous formons un tout immobile et plein: je suis heureux. (Sartre 84)
Roquentin's joy is founded on a double suspension - of linear time and of the distinction between subject and object - a double victory over the kind of hesitation Stephen and the tripartite Thomistic epiphany is subject to in Joyce's texts. Roquentin's withdrawal from the episodic nature of experience represents a decisive move beyond consonantia, a move which seems to be beyond the powers of Stephen, and the "full, static whole" he declares himself to form with the rest of his visible universe serves to evoke a second problematic of the Joycean epiphany.
agency in between
Alongside the hesitation in the Joycean epiphany between consonantia and claritas, meaning and revelation, there is a confusion of agency: we are not sure who or what does what to what or whom. In the act or process of epiphany, it is difficult to be clear about the positions and roles of subject and object, which is active and which is passive in the transaction. This uncertainty about the relative positions of subject and object will, as we shall see, loom large in the evolution of Joyce's work towards a mode of writing pitched beyond the epiphanic, where we will be faced with the possibility that subject and object no longer have any fixed positions of their own.6 Let us for the moment address it as the second of our three problematics, and attempt to isolate the most interesting questions it raises about the hypothesis of the post-epiphanic in Joyce. We might begin by asking why, if in Stephen Hero Stephen defines the epiphany as a "sudden spiritual manifestation" (SH 188), do the two set-piece discussions of the concept staged in that book and its successor revolve around a clock and a butcher's basket ?
In scholastic epistemology, confusions or doubts concerning the question of what is in us and what is beyond us, the nature of the relation between subject and object, invariably served as proofs of the existence of God, an all-knower beyond the scene, an exemplary epistemological plenitude to stand against the relative emptiness of the conclusions which secular philosophy was capable of reaching. The concept of epiphany stands at the centre of such issues, and we would do well perhaps in discussing Joyce to imagine the possibility of a secular epiphany which, like its theological counterpart, intervenes at the point of intersection between epistemology and aesthetics, subject and object, but which does not entail a proof for the existence of God. In the secular epiphany, revelation is philosophical or psychological rather than divine, a function of the subject's relationship to its objects. God as all-knower is beyond causality, but the subject and object groping towards the revelation of epiphany are lost in epistemological doubt and confusion. Causality, as a line of force transmitting itself from agent to reagent warps into a multi-directional and perhaps even circular play of tensions. Is it the subject who epiphanises the object through an adjustment of spiritual focus precisely calibrated to the unique qualities of the object? Or does the object reveal itself ontologically to the subject under certain specific conditions of attention and desire ? Do subject and object work together ? Do they compete? Or is epiphany an accident or cognitive quirk along the lines of the common yet unnerving experience of déj? vu ?
Stephen seems to imagine a collaborative effort, as if subject and object achieve epiphany together by pooling their resources, each complimenting the other as active and passive partner in a pragmatic exchange designed to provoke a manifestation of transcendent beauty. Working from the butcher's basket, he tells Lynch that "your mind first of all separates the basket from the rest of the visible universe which is not the basket. The first phase of apprehension is a bounding line drawn around the object to be apprehended." (SH 333-334). This is clear enough, the subject acts on the object. But then the object seems to respond in kind: "you pass from point, to point, led by its formal lines" (SH 334) Stephen tells Lynch, and agency is reversed as the object takes the subject on a tour of its formal contours. The subject here, it would seem, is acted on. In the final phase of apprehension the status of active partner again seems to be divided between the two. The moment of claritas is qualified as the "instant wherein that supreme quality of beauty, the clear radiance of the aesthetic image, is apprehended luminously by the mind which has been arrested by its wholeness and fascinated by its harmony" (SH 334). The subject as mind apprehends the object which has arrested and fascinated it. Whose, then, is the epiphany, since both seem to have caused it ? Morris Beja employs an open construction to cover this mystery when he gives a "general working definition" of the epiphany as:
a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether from some object, scene, event, or memorable phase of the mind--the manifestation being out of proportion to the significance or strictly logical relevance of whatever produces it. (Beja 18)
The "from" here leaves us wondering whether the object in the light of the subject is capable of such a manifestation, just as the subject may manifest its spirituality suddenly in the light of God. This recessive structure, whereby God may apprehend the epiphany of the subject who may apprehend the epiphany of the object would simplify if not annihilate our problematic (though we would be left to discover what it is that may manifest its spirituality in the light of a butcher's basket), but it hardly helps with the divided agency we have noticed in Stephen's account. The word "whatever" in the second part of Beja's definition serves only to confirm its openness. Close attention to the verbs used by Stephen in his account of epiphany would lead us to dispute Beja's claim that Joyce's treatment of the epiphany effects a transition from "revelation by the object to insight on the part of the subject." (77) The object's power to arrest the subject and declare itself a formal whole seems already to spoil the neatness of this formulation. To go along with Beja's partitioning of subject and object one would have to read Stephen's attribution of agency to his objects purely as a figure of speech, an instance of pathetic fallacy. But can we ever be sure that Stephen is being purely rhetorical in his accounts of epiphanising objects? Trace pathetic fallacy as rhetorical gesture back to its origins in animist belief, and the metaphysical problems which Beja would seem to leave out leap back into Joyce's language. The text, any text, like the object in Stephen's account, has the power to arrest the subject which apprehends it, just as it has the power to hesitate between the rhetorical and the metaphysical. In the prehistory of its career as a figure of speech, the pathetic fallacy, we might say, was an instance of pure textuality.
The pathetic fallacy, I would suggest, is actually a very appropriate choice of rhetorical figure for any discussion of the epiphany since it takes us to the heart of that mysterious manifestation of the object in the light of the subject, which may equally be the reverse. The fact that it is a verbal form should also serve to remind us that the problematics of the Joycean epiphany are essentially linguistic. The butcher's basket, like the Ballast Office clock is a linguistic textual object. Stephen does not know how to formulate his description of the epiphany, he hedges his bets, hiding behind the rhetoric of exposition; he lets himself go, as he does again in "Scylla and Charybdis."7 His account plays on its own textuality and this inevitability of speech again serves to bring us closer to the problematic of the epiphany--its inter-involvement of subject and object.
If the secular epiphany is to remain so, it must struggle against a metaphysics of the textual object, and in the way Stephen's epiphany speeches acknowledge and play off their social context we can detect the tension inherent in a theory of transcendent beauty which must not however be allowed to transcend. The fraught encounter of subject and object in Stephen's exposition and in the Joycean epiphany itself is a struggle for an aesthetics of grace stripped of God. It involves, as William T. Noon notes, a subjective extension to the objective parameters of Thomist aesthetics:
The Scholastics for their part have almost always spoken, as Aquinas does, of integrity, proportion (consonantia), and clarity as objective qualities, or existential properties, in things, and though they may not always have been very clear as to whether these existential qualities belong to the things represented by the work of art or inhere in the representation, they have not treated these qualities as though they belong to the act of apprehension, as Stephen does. (Noon 45)
Stephen describes the "luminous silent stasis of aesthetic pleasure," or claritas, as a "spiritual state" (334), and in this we can hear how difficult it is for him to pursue his quest for ideal beauty without falling into emotional states or stances characteristic of religious belief. The problematic of the subject and the object in the epiphany is grafted onto Stephen's bid to secularise his vision of divine beauty. The admixture of fin de si?cle aestheticism in his "applied Aquinas," however, leads him paradoxically to spiritualise his secular account of beauty (notwithstanding his rejection of "symbolism" as a possible analogue for claritas), and a confusion of categories ensues in which the apostate Stephen encounters spirituality where the Christian philosophers found only beautiful objects. These spiritual habits or needs are ingrained enough to animate him even when reality makes its strongest bid to convince him of its brute objectivity. I am thinking of the moment in "Proteus" where he attempts to penetrate beyond the "ineluctable modality of the visible" only to discover a "world without end" (31) which is independent of his subjective perspective and which insists ineluctably on the material dimension of its existence. Throughout Ulysses Stephen seems to be in urgent need of a new conceptual context in which he may thrill to the luminosity of the revealed object, and gloomily realistic about the remote chance of ever finding one.
after claritas ?
A third problematic raised by the Joycean epiphany is simply the question "What succeeds it?" or, more precisely, "What can succeed it?" If this mysterious relationship of subject to object in language can be brought to this mysterious but revelatory point of climax called claritas, what happens afterwards, given that language itself is bound to continue? While the epiphany in its various forms has been used extensively as a formal and conceptual model in Joyce criticism,8 have we sufficiently considered the possibility that certain later phases of Joyce's writing are specifically post-epiphanic? The transitions between Joyce's major works (most crucially between Ulysses and Finnegans Wake) pose interesting problems of discontinuity, which may be governed at least in part by the changing nature of the subject-object relationship within the rise and fall of the epiphanic epistemology and its inscription.
If there is an afterwards to the epiphany, chrono-logic dictates that it will be a consequence of claritas. The post-epiphanic, if indeed it exists, occurs when the "luminous silent stasis" of claritas fades, is reconfigured or succeeded. When meaning passes into the revelation of the subject or the object, or of each in the light of the other, something happens perhaps which makes it possible to imagine an afterwards. This something is more inevitable, it would appear, and therefore more conceivable within the limited context of the linguistic epiphany. In the light of post-Saussurean linguistics it is easier to imagine language carrying on beyond a point of maximal lucidity. The signifier, we are told by Derrida and Lacanian psychoanalysis, will carry on regardless; while writing, in spite of a mounting scepticism or indifference to its own functionality, persists in its bid to place subjects in relation with objects and thus create meaning. Epiphanic writing strives to bring this relation to a state of perfection, convinced that the nearer it attains to this goal the more definitive will be the meaning it produces. If the linguistic epiphany, brings subject and object into some kind of revelatory focus, perfects their relation in some way, we might well wonder where writing can go afterwards, given that in the wake of this perfection it is obliged by the signifier to go somewhere.
This becomes clear if we return to the pathetic fallacy and recover it from its prehistoric origins in animist belief, reinstating it in the present as a rhetorical figure. Claritas, we have seen, sets a limit to the rhetorical mode of presenting one thing in terms of something else; whatever happens to the subject and object in epiphany, it is beyond the scope of the pathetic fallacy. The transposition of qualities from object to subject or vice versa is superseded by the manifestation of the subject's or object's whatness. While we can trace the pathetic fallacy back to its origins in magical belief, it remains to be seen whether we can project it beyond the epiphany, where its survival depends on the new configurations of subject-to-object relations in post-epiphanic language. One of the characteristics of such a language may well, then, be its post-rhetoricity, its shift into a mode beyond figuration in which writing must carry on without the facility to speak of one thing in terms of another. In Finnegans Wake, for example, it is impossible to identify metaphors with any certainty, while metonymy is dispersed into a general fragmentation of the substantive--the object which names the subject by association is also, more often than not, a new subject. The space in which figuration normally operates has been crowded out with indeterminate forms. Taking its cue, perhaps, from the "Aeolus" chapter of Ulysses, Finnegans Wake seems to glory in the condition of rhetoric as a repertoire of exhausted forms.
Another indication of this crisis of rhetoricity, perhaps, is the chiasmus, a figure which jumbles its terms and says again in reverse what has already been said, seeking to squeeze a supplement of meaning out of the gesture of repetition. In Joyce, the chiasmus signals the imminent collapse of signification into epiphanic revelation, the moment where consonantia brings its tour of the object's formal features back to the point of departure. Part IV of Portrait ends with Stephen's epiphanic ramble on the beach at Dollymount, where he encounters the girl who is like a bird. As he analyses the contours of her beauty in an erotic consonantia, Stephen falls into the chiasmus: "Her bosom was a bird's soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some darkplumaged dove." (175). Apart from the refinement of the bird into the "darkplumaged dove," the second half of the sentence repeats the first. Language is wheeling around its object, its forward movement has been arrested, and the suspension announces the silent stasis of claritas. Which we never see, of course, since this last rhetorical gasp leaves the girl fluttering metaphorically in the shallows.
Having had his vision, Stephen retires to the dunes and falls asleep in ecstasy. His passage out of consciousness is described in hallucinatory terms and includes an exploding chiasmus: "A world, a glimmer or a flower? Glimmering and trembling, trembling and unfolding, a breaking light, an opening flower, it spread in endless succession to itself, breaking in full crimson and unfolding and fading to palest rose, leaf by leaf and wave of light by wave of light, flooding all the heavens with its soft flashes every flush deeper than the other." (177) This is rhetoric without an object and is one stage closer to claritas than the description of the wading girl; it is epiphanic writing pregnant with the post-epiphanic. The chiasmus, as variation on a strictly limited theme, is coming apart here ; in its ecstatic and despairing attempt to bind the signifier to the signified it hints, perhaps, at what writing might be like, how it might perform, on the far side of claritas.
The epiphanic writing we have seen so far suggests a post-epiphanic mode without actually writing it. While claritas itself seems to be unwritable, we might at least ask how it functions as a point of transition or transitional blank between what comes before and after. The epiphany of the clock or the basket (or of any object in fact) projects a radical equivalence of things (a term which here includes both subjects and objects) where everything is as real as everything else since everything may become the subject of its own epiphany. Claritas, as the moment of the revelation of the whatness of a subject or object is, naturally, filled with this object or subject ; coterminous with this whatness, it is an autonomous and exclusive state in which the object or subject, in signifying itself, excludes everything else, including the signifier. According to Stephen's account, the subject is, up to a point, responsible for the epiphany of an object which it perceives. Beyond this point the object shows itself as radiant to the scrutinizing subject who experiences knowledge of its whatness as absolute beauty. But the object at this point has moved a crucial step beyond signification ; it may be what it is, but it cannot be represented as such, least of all by the scrutinising subject, whose minute study of its form is only a prelude to claritas. In moving beyond signification, the object has also, in a sense, moved beyond form, which cannot survive its own epiphany. Is it, perhaps, resistance to this terrifying potential of the epiphanised object (which, like the wading girl in Portrait, threatens to explode signification by over-signifying itself) which guides Joyce's writing toward the post-epiphanic, which might then be conceived as an experimental mode for testing the hypothesis that form and signification do survive claritas, albeit in altered states? Or is this resistance really the signifier's, which is condemned to perpetuate itself in the eternal experiment of signification to which claritas stands in the relation of a limit which must be loquaciously repressed ?
arresting the name and being other
The object is subjectless in its whatness: Stephen can admire the radiance of the epiphanised object, but the object itself is monopolised by its own whatness ; signification continues at the margins of revelation, before and possibly afterwards. In the objectless epiphany, the subject similarly monopolises the ontological field, becoming all that is, subject and object plural, and acceding to that undifferentiated totality of presence from which writing seeks to abstract particular cases of subjectivity. We can glean a hint of this from epiphany number four, which moves towards a revelation of the subject as the incomparable object to which everything must nevertheless be compared:
[Dublin: on Mountjoy Square]
Joyce--(concludes) ... That'll be forty thousand pounds.
Aunt Lillie--(titters)--O, laus ! .... I was like that too......... When I was a girl I was sure I'd marry a lord... or something...
Joyce--(thinks)--Is it possible she's comparing herself with me ?
As one of the 1902-1904 epiphanies, this dialogue predates the formulation of the theory of the epiphany as we find it in Stephen's fictional account in Portrait,9 it may also, in that case, predate the theory. Instead of a subject and an object as in the fictional scenarios imagined by Joyce and theorised by Stephen, what we have here are subjects and language. If, at this early stage in Joyce's career, something is to progress towards epiphany, it can only be one or perhaps both of the subjects. It is too soon to speak of an object achieving claritas or the epiphany of language itself. The final line takes us into the mind of "Joyce," which immediately envelops Aunt Lillie and readies itself to become the subject of the epiphany-in-the-making: "Is it possible she's comparing herself to me ?." The Joyce who writes has sought to reveal the Joyce who is written and the "me" at the end of the piece marks the moment at which the two Joyces come together to be jointly absorbed into a subject which strains the limits of the signifier "Joyce." The "me" here, in its scale and appetite, is gargantuan, capable of absorbing Aunt Lillie, the "lord or something," the forty thousand pounds, the social jest and the sociological truths it vectors, Mountjoy Square and the whole of Dublin. All the subject and object matter of the sketch is absorbed by the "me" and integrated as an approximation of its whatness. As it passes beyond signification this approximation is in turn absorbed by its object, as the whatness of "me" marks an end to writing as a process of differentiation. The epiphanic trajectory here reverses the dynamic of the legend which Stephen writes on the flyleaf of his geography book in Portrait, where the subject undergoes atomic dispersal into the maximum of matter:
Class of Elements
Clongowes Wood College
The young Stephen experiments chiastically with this text, first reading it backwards, as if to try out the epiphanic potential of his own name encountered at the top of a list beginning with the Universe, and then forwards again, passing beyond the limits of matter into the presence of God: "It was very big to think about everything and everywhere. Only God could do that." (183). For the jejune schoolboy under the tutelage of the jesuits, nothing could be bigger than God, as every whatness, whether of subject or object, is subsumed by His singularity expressed by the sublime tautology "and God's real name was God" (184). The apostate post-adolescent who speaks through the epiphanies names himself as God ; the "me" of epiphany number four is subject to nothing beyond itself, which is to say that it is subject and object, sufficient unto itself. But God and ego as they appear in these early works gradually give way to something else (which I hesitate to name) as the epiphanic mode of revelation is itself subjected to a range of linguistic experiments which project the subject-object duality into a subject-object identity, where no single thing, subject or object, is coincident with itself. Post-epiphany, it is no longer possible to establish these hierarchical trajectories of revelation leading to God or to "me"; there is no longer a single biggest thought or a single biggest thing which may be expected to manifest itself at the end of writing.
In contrast to the epiphany of Joyce as "me" and the anti-epiphany of Stephen as atom in the Universe as thought by God, we might turn to Bloom's play on his own name as revealed through the cosmic neutrality of "Ithaca." Here there is no question of the hyperbolic ego or of God as all-subject absorbing the world as object ; revelation as reduction to one whatness is replaced by a playful inquiry by the subject into the possibilities of being other. Derek Attridge registers throughout Ulysses "a questioning of the straightforward blending of a mind and a body in a unity that can be called by a single proper name or pronoun" (Peculiar, 187), and it is a certain ontological restlessness in the face of this singular unity consecrated by the name which inspires Bloom's experiment in self-extension. Post-epiphanic style (I have named it) enters the field as the principle of plurality in language which allows writing to continue in the face of an epiphanic revelation of singularity:
What anagrams had he made on his name in youth ?
Old Ollebo, M.P.
In order to live the epiphany of himself as artist according to his tripartite Thomistic scheme, Stephen must first of all distinguish himself as a separate thing in the world, and while the name would seem essential to this process, it is also the point at which he is most vulnerable to the interventions of the signifier as abstract combinatory potential. While Stephen's swoon towards the end of Chapter IV of Portrait is brought on by the ecstatic revelation of the bird girl, it might also be seen as a narcoleptic episode triggered by permutations on his name shouted out by Shuley, Ennis and Connolly: "Stephanos," "The Dedalus," "Bous Stephanoumenos," "Bous Stephaneforos," "Stephanos Dedalos" (300-301). While Stephen's subjective experience focuses to a point of unparalleled clarity, provoking a union with the object pitched beyond the range of language, he must grapple with a renewed sense of himself as a subject in language, the bearer of a name as primary signifier which may be arrested in its progress through the linear logic of the epiphany by the manipulations, multiplications and substitutions of an Other whose otherness is irremediable. Bloom by contrast seems happy to exploit the transitional space between himself and his image as represented by his name; the game is to multiply the transformative potential of the name as signifier, the objective perhaps being to render his self-image as protean as style. To exploit the structural and associative resources of "Bloom" rather than propel it towards a revelation of its essence. With the exception of the first and possibly the last names in the list, his anagrams might equally be the names of objects and this might be taken as an indication of how writing on the far side of epiphany harbours an indifference to the distinction between subject and object which aligns it in a curious sense with the moment of claritas which it succeeds. If the revelation of whatness collapses the distinction between subject and object, post-epiphanic style seems grudgingly to acknowledges this distinction as a trace element in a writing practice it has inherited and must adapt to a new set of conditions.
Let us return, in the light of this projected realm of the post-epiphanic, to the second of our key problematics, which revolves around the relative positions and valencies of subject and object in the epiphany. Morris Beja writes that in his epiphanic writing:
Joyce's emphasis is generally on the perceiving consciousness, the subject who actively adjusts his "spiritual" vision to focus on the object, which in turn is "epiphanised." Realizing this point helps us to understand Joyce's attitude toward epiphany, which is related to his whole view of the act of perception and consequently to his aesthetic theory. His stress on the perceiver is in line... with the general development in epistemology from an emphasis on the object that reveals itself, fundamentally through God's grace, to an emphasis on the role of man's mind and imagination: from revelation by the object to insight on the part of the subject.
Hugh Kenner, in Dublin's Joyce, disagrees: "...it is radically impossible to understand what Joyce is talking about from the standpoint of the post-Kantian conviction that the mind imposes intelligibility upon things." (138). The question "whose epiphany is it ?," which is one way of summarising the apparent disagreement between Beja and Kenner, only makes sense before claritas, when the subject and object retain the capacity to signify each other and remain distinct, either ontologically in the world or linguistically as grammatical elements in a sentence. It is, in this sense, a proleptic question, and should be written "whose claritas will it be?" ; but attribution is no longer conceivable in a realm where possession of and possession by complete each other and cancel each other out in the same movement. Post-epiphanic language, which is predicated on the unaskability of the question, voices from the far side of nonsense the perpetuity of the signifier and the persistence of subject and object in new inter-involved configurations. In Epiphany number four the creative Joycean ego gives a clamorous reply to the above question: "me" it says, "this claritas will be mine !." Bloom's new names speak back to the Joycean "me" from the other side of claritas, bearing witness to the nonsensicality of ego assertion in a realm where language either plays on the distinction between subject and object, or bypasses it completely. Bloom's onomastic burst of post-epiphanic style says "Ours !" to all of those questions which will no longer be askable. In Finnegans Wake, rather surprisingly, the name of the subject is once again at issue: the trajectory I have sketched above and which is characterised by the un-asking of the question "who is who?" is, against all expectations of continuity, reversed. The compulsive and apparently aberrant re-asking of a question whose philosophical grounding seemed to have been finally swept away in the dispersal of Stephen and the ludicrous multiplication of Bloom is perhaps the key discontinuity in the transition from Ulysses to the Wake.10 We have seen that this transition which, to reiterate my basic position, I am theorising as a shift from the epiphanic to the post-epiphanic mode, entails the displacement of the singularity of revelation by a principle of plurality in style. The question of the subject, like all other elements carried over from the history of writing into the Wake, is subject to this principle. While the Wake, then, re-asks the question of the subject's name, it does this within a post-epiphanic framework; and rather than re-launch an epiphanic progression towards the revelation of a subject's perfection, in the manner of Stephen Dedalus, it theorises and thematises its own capacity to name the subject without inaugurating a categorical exclusion of all that the subject isn't. It stages a self-defeating bid to save naming as a grammatical and psychological function, opening and occupying an anxious space of pseudo-identity where the disintegrating neurotic ego constantly falls short of what Lacan identifies as the "delusional metaphor" of psychosis.11 Suspended between neurosis and psychosis in a realm of indeterminate figuration, the Wake names without principle. Just as it is imposible to say according to what the Wakean subject is named, so we have the impresion that almost any name will do. The notion of a proper name (a name proper to the subject) is no longer tenable in this realm where the naming of the subject can only be accomplished in conjunction with the naming of everything else. This impossibility naturally imposes itself as one of the most urgent aporias of any reading of the Wake.
The assertion of the plurality of post-epiphanic style contains a fading echo, perhaps, of what happens during claritas. It allows us to revisit the first two of the three key problematics I have identified in relation to the Joycean epiphany (the hesitation between consonantia and claritas, meaning and revelation ; and the confusion of agency between subject and object), with the hope of drawing them together for futher more consolidated consideration. Narrative, consonantia and Lacan's "other word" of criticism all involve a deferral of the ideal presence of the object or subject in claritas. These forms of deferral might remind us of the "improper" arts, the "pornographical or didactic" which Stephen cites in the philosophical preamble to his theory of epiphany in Portrait. These arts are inferior according to Stephen because they inspire movement, and this kinesis is opposed to the aesthetic stasis of claritas. Now stasis is also presence, the self-coincidence of the object beyond the minute oscillations pertaining between the sign and the thing, which constitute the kinesis of representation. Claritas, at least in the visual realm, implies a seeing without representation; while in the conceptual realm of language, the object exceeds its name and passes beyond the scope of denotation. Words gravitate around the thing which has "epiphanised" (as Stephen would have it), they can no longer stand in for it; any evocation is fleeting and partial and the subject can no longer entertain the illusion that he or she may lay hold of the world and pass it on through language. A discrepancy opens up between the movement which is inherent to the signifier and the fixity of the thing in its non-episodic existence beyond language: while the signifier moves on, the object or subject is obliged to stay put. 12
As the thing enters the presence of its whatness, the sequential thought which characterises the kinesis of consciousness is arrested. Beauty is neither in the eye of the beholder nor in the thing beheld, but in the perceptual moment of stasis in which both are clearly involved. Perceiver and perceived, subject and object, are united in an ultimate form of thinghood predicated on the suppression of two forms of absence--narrative and name. As the object's structural relations "coincide with the stages of aesthetic apprehension" (Portrait 213), epiphany is simultaneously experienced by the mind as a new way of relating to itself, almost as if the object in namelessness is part of the mind itself. The mind is "raised above desire and loathing" (Portrait 209), as Stephen puts it. In this stasis of common presence questions of aetiology become historical (dependent on narrative and its consonantia of meaning) ; it is no longer possible to ask whether the leap into whatness is dependent on the mind's capacity for suspending the kinesis of sequential consciousness, whether the object has been perceived into whatness by the mind, or whether the object itself provokes such a reaction in the perceiver.
Stephen says that the true "produces a stasis of the mind," but we might prefer to suppress the kinesis of the verb and say simply that stasis is truth. The epiphany, whatever else it is, is certainly a form of truth ; and the post-epiphanic, whatever else it is, is a problematisation of this singular form of truth. Whatness cannot accommodate several truths, and the common presence of subject and object in epiphany cannot be split into two separate but equally valid essences ; there is no longer any room for complimentarity or opposition. Style, as I have argued above, is inherently plural and partial and cannot therefore accommodate the True.13 This plurality does not however imply a return to the kinesis of narrative. Within style, narrative is also plural and partial, and the kinetic which is resolved into stasis by epiphany here becomes polykinesis. If the whatness of epiphany coincides with the true, then in the polykinesis of style this whatness takes on an interrogative rather than a revelatory sense. As we enter an environment in which theory again becomes conceivable, the question "what is that ?" or "what could the whatness of that be ?" re-occurs with a frequency which rapidly renders theory impracticable. Theory must cope with a constant tension between the need to ask and the need to answer, two needs which epiphany had resolved into one form of rapturous satisfaction. Or rather it must strive to keep this tension constant in the face of an accelerating sense of ignorance, a burgeoning epistemological deficiency which threatens to become overwhelming.
If kinesis is a form of absence susceptible to epiphany, polykinesis is a form of hyperpresence which we may postulate as post-epiphanic. Style plays on the structures which render kinesis susceptible to epiphany, as we have seen with Bloom's variations on his name. It is this playing on (and on) which characterises polykinesis. In the sense that it reveals the whatness of thought in the whatness of the object and wraps up the problematic separation of subject and object in an instance of the true, epiphany stands as some kind of solution or culmination to the kinesis of consciousness. Style, then, might be seen as an expanding relativisation of this "solution," which multiplies kinesis through play and re-provisionalises the relationship of consciousness to its objects, casting both into a realm of unknowableness which is radical enough to be distinct from mere absence.14
As many critics have noticed, while the opening chapters of Ulysses might be seen to move towards a manifestation of presence in the classic epiphanic pattern, the stylistic "thickening" which gradually takes over complicates this intial narrative absence with a playful polykinesis.15 Further attempts at epiphanic transcendence (for example Bloom's orgasm in "Nausicaa" and Stephen's "Nothung" crisis in "Circe") which occur during the burgeoning of style in the latter part of the book, mark points of tension between the epiphanic and the post epiphanic, and might suggest ways of defining the special kind of difficulty Ulysses generates in relation to its readers.
While epiphany transposes the subject and object into a realm of truth which is inaccessible to theory, style plunges this truth into a linguistic environment which is over-productive of alternative forms of unknowableness.16 The polykinesis of style, one might even say, is dedicated to this overproduction ; it takes the subject-object synthesis which I have asociated with claritas and opens it up to hesitation and confusion. In the Wake we are not even sure what it is we don't know, and Ulysses, through the incursions of style, prepares the ground for this inflationary doubt by teaching us how little we knew about the limitations of our knowledge, how beguiled we had been by the epiphany as a model of literary meaning and satisfaction. Until, as a parodic post-epiphanic echo of the revelation of epiphany, we might imagine theory, or indeed any non-specialised act of reading, etertaining the question: "what is the whatness of what ?."
In A Portrait Stephen evokes Aristotle's statement that "the same attribute cannot at the same time and in the same connection belong to and not belong to the same subject" (212), and this law of non-contradiciton is just one of the totality of philosophical statutes which epiphanic presence renders inadmissible. In passing from consonantia, with its analysis of part to whole relationships, to claritas, epiphany exceeds the recognition of attributes. And while in the epiphanic mode Aristotle's principle is a cornerstone of rationality on which theoretical edifices can be constructed, in the post-epiphanic realm theory becomes something which can only be attempted, something which is purely theoretical. Obliged by language to exist beyond the revelation of its whatness, the subject or object enters a realm of indeterminate irrationality where it is plagued by attributes. In Book Four, for example, as waking is underway, we encounter "A kind of a thinglike," a thing which is one of a kind in its approximation to a thing. A description of sorts is attempted:
all traylogged then pubably it resymbles a pelvic or some kvind then props an acutebacked quadrangle with aslant off ohahnthenth a wenchyoumaycuddler, lying with her royalirish uppershoes among the theeckleaves.
The "wenchyoumaycuddler" incorporates a "whatyoumaycallit" and thus crystallises the shift from an "it" to a "her" which is engineered by the passage as a whole. The "pubicly" in "pubably" is reinforced by the "pelvic," locating a body within the geometry of the "acutebacked quadrangle," and thus recalling the diagram of ALP's sexual parts in II.ii. The "kind of thinglike" as object is also, then, endowed with body, if we insist on finding a pubis in the "pub" of "pubably." But the "thinglike" resembles ("resymbles" ?) a "pelvic" and is thus, in its entirety, only part of a larger body. Just as "pubably" also suggests a place of entertainment rendered adverbial, so the "wenchyoumaycuddler" is also an invitation. To whom, one wonders ? While the apparent prostration of this figure underlines the sexual nature of the incitement, it is not to be forgotten that she is also a "whatyoumaycallit," that is a verbal blank, marking the absence of another substantive which is unknown or has been forgotten. She, like the "kind of a thinglike," is there but hardly there at all.
When revelation is no longer at stake, the principle of non-contradiction, implicated as it is in the logic of epiphany, lapses into redundancy. Which is not to say that it disappears from view. The property of whatness along with the conceptual substructure it depends on and all narrative and rhetorical forms typical of the epiphanic mode are carried by language beyond the point at which they culminate in that epistemological apotheosis known as claritas, to be taken up by style and played off against each other as textual memories or noumenal traces, items in a totality of cultural forms which no longer know their place. As we have seen above, the Wake, alongside its significant penchant for theoretical discourse,17 constantly mutliplies the properties of the subject and object beyond the law of non-contradiction, acting as if absence were entirely compatible with presence, juxtaposing a logic of representation submissive to the conventions of sequential narrative and its "one great goal of revelation" with a permissive violation of these conventions conceivably inspired by the example of claritas. This may well be its special form of madness and it is served by the capacity of the signifier to enforce its own form of temporality on the transcendent atemporality projected by claritas:
Signs are on of a mere by token that wills still to be becoming upon this once a here was world. (FW 608.26-28)
Presence will always be written over, and the bastardised "thinglike" along with those indefinable half-objectified bodies (or body parts) will play out their existences in the temporal confusion of a preterite-to-be. After the epiphany, whatness is also its own wasness.
Attridge, Derek. Peculiar Language. New York: Cornell University Press, 1988.
Aubert, Jacques. The Aesthetics of James Joyce. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.
Barthes, Roland. "Littérature Objective" in Essais Critiques. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1964.
Beja, Morris. Epiphany in the Modern Novel, Revelation as Art. London: Peter Owen, 1971.
Joyce, James. Stephen Hero. London: Grafton Books, 1977.
-- A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. London: Jonathan Cape, 1963.
-- Poems and Shorter Writings (eds. Ellmann et al). London: Faber and Faber, 1991.
-- Ulysses. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1986.
-- Finnegans Wake. London: Faber and Faber, 1975.
Kenner, Hugh. Dublin's Joyce. New York: Columbia University, 1987.
-- Joyce's Voices. London: Faber and Faber, 1978
Lacan, Jacques. "Le Sinthome, Séminaire du 11 mai 1976." Available on line at:
-- Ecrits, A Selection. New York: Norton, 1977.
Lawrence, Karen. The Odyssey of Style in Ulysses. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.
Maddox, James. Joyce's Ulysses and the Assault on Character. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1986.
Milesi, Laurent (ed.). James Joyce and the Difference of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Noon, William T. S.J.. Joyce and Aquinas. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957.
Purdy, Strother B.. "Mind Your Genderous: Towards a Wake Grammar" in Fritz Senn (ed.) New Light on Joyce from the Dublin Symposium. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. La Nausée. Paris: Gallimard, 1938.
© Andrew Norris, 2005
|volume 5, issue 2, 2004-5|