"GHOSTS IN THE MIRROR": PERCEPTION AND THE VISUAL IN GIACOMO JOYCE
From the time of its appearance, opinions have varied with regard to the significance of Giacomo Joyce and its relation to Joyce's life and oeuvre. Long buried in Trieste, Giacomo Joyce was first disinterred by Richard Ellmann, who included quite considerable portions of the text in his 1959 biography of Joyce (JJI 353-360). In 1968, the full text was published with an introduction by Ellmann stating that, "It seems probable that Giacomo Joyce will be the last of James Joyce's published writings" (GJ xi). The discovery of an unpublished Joyce manuscript was, undoubtedly, a great coup for both Richard Ellmann and Viking Press and, predictably enough, precipitated a marketing campaign which, briefly, made the sixteen-page text the focus of international attention. As Vicki Mahaffey notes, Viking's attempts to sell the book "as an almost sacred 'relic,' an object deserving veneration" produced excessive and, in some instances, counterproductive responses from reviewers.1 Giacomo Joyce was a revenant aspect of Joyce's work many found far from credible as "complete" or worthy of such sanctification. Indeed, Ellmann, Fritz Senn and others have shown how Giacomo Joyce was extensively dispersed by Joyce, who used portions of it for other, better known Dublin-centred, projects.2 Recycled and expanded fragments of this already fragmentary piece are to be found in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Exiles and Ulysses, and it seems fair to assume that Joyce never intended to have Giacomo Joyce published. Nevertheless, as the last and posthumous addition to Joyce's corpus, Giacomo Joyce is a "ghost in the mirror" (GJ 6) which haunts our understandings of that work and thus deserves our attention. Or, as Joseph Valente puts it; "Giacomo Joyce is the remainder in Joyce studies, the 'literature' we Biddy Dorans have only recently begun to 'look at' and scarcely begun to appreciate."3
Giacomo Joyce is a text which might be described as evocative, poetic, romantic or ironic. It resonates with the flow and ebb of desire. Unsurprisingly, it is also a work which resists simple narrative-orientated explication in spite of the many attempts that have been made to resolve "the story" it tells. The "relic," Giacomo Joyce, has all too often been viewed as the bones of a dead, yet paradoxically eternal, love affair. Or alternately as a piece of the "real" Joyce, somehow less mediated than the Joyce who is to be found in his other works. Yet one must proceed with some sceptical caution here, for while Giacomo Joyce might provide another perspective on Joyce it may equally offer a trompe l'oeil. In multiple ways perception and perspective are intrinsic concerns of Giacomo Joyce; sight, insight, vision and blindness are of particular importance to interpreting this telegraphic Joycean "remainder" and the desire(s) it relates.
References to the visual aspects of Giacomo Joyce have arisen repeatedly in descriptions of the text, beginning with Joyce himself who refers to it elliptically in a letter to Ezra Pound as "some prose sketches."4 Fixing upon the idea of the sketch, Adaline Glasheen, in an early and influential essay on Giacomo Joyce, focuses upon its painterly technique5 and considerations of the text since then have often returned to its preoccupation with the visual and the implications of that preoccupation.6 The various critical perceptions of Giacomo Joyce, which have emerged since 1968, could be said to follow a number of trajectories, the first of which come filtered through Richard Ellmann's biography, James Joyce, and subsequently his introduction to Giacomo Joyce itself. Significantly, Ellmann describes the text as a "love poem which is never recited" (GJ xi). It is Ellmann who suggests the identity of Joyce's inspiration as being Amalia Popper (a Jewish Triestinian who was one of Joyce's former students), and this speculation has propagated other critical responses to Giacomo Joyce which have foregrounded Amalia Popper as a key to reading desire in this work.
In particular, the interpretations put forward by Vicki Mahaffey in various articles and books between 1984 and 1998, increasingly concentrate on Popper as symbolically significant. Mahaffey has meticulously documented the initial reception of Giacomo Joyce and the "quest" to identify the lady about whom the text was apparently written. In the article "Fascism and Silence: The Coded History of Amalia Popper," she unravels the story of the Popper family and, later, the Risolo family. Mahaffey delves into some of the many contradictions between the images of Amalia Popper/Risolo (as Mahaffey puts it, a Jew, a scholar, a teacher, a translator), Popper/Risolo's infamous reticence about the entire matter of her lessons with Joyce as well as her translation of several of the stories from Dubliners, and her husband Michele Risolo's accounts of the relationship with Joyce.7 In spite of the extensive critical exegesis devoted to Amalia Popper/Risolo, she fails to come to life as the enigmatic and fascinating "mystery lady" of Giacomo Joyce and what remains most strikingly about this shadowy (real life) figure is her reticence. In States of Desire: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and the Irish Experiment, Mahaffey develops the analysis of Giacomo Joyce further, from an "affair of the eye" to a "contest of the eyes" in which Joyce is the victor, for although
The story of Giacomo Joyce presents Joyce as Popper's suffering victim, [...] its mode of representation makes her utterly subject to his representation of her. In short Giacomo Joyce has sexist and anti-Semitic overtones that are essential to an understanding of the operations of prejudice and the power of art; in it, Joyce found himself to be inconsequential and undesirable in the eyes of an attractive Jewish woman and responded by instinctively and shamefully defending himself by appealing to the traditional privilege of a man, a Gentile and a writer to help him contain her power.8
She argues that these uncensored impulses led to Joyce's suppression of the text. His concomitant understanding of his "complicity" in both sexism and racism apparently then led him to a more "controversial and complex treatment of women and Jews in Ulysses."9
Joseph Valente also offers a treatment of Giacomo Joyce that is similarly attentive to perception and representation, albeit in a more forcefully political manner. In James Joyce and the Problem of Justice: Negotiating Sexual and Colonial Difference, he deploys a mixture of post-colonial and psychoanalytic theory to explicate the text. In particular, Valente remarks upon its the "ideologically uncensored" nature which in his opinion, "Vicki Mahaffey has amply demonstrated [as] a gallery of invidious portraitures (of women, Jews, Near Eastern peoples, Italians, etc.) [...]."10 His critique incorporates a concept of "imperialist abjection," and a detailed exploration of Giacomo Joyce as a site of such abjection. He envisions Joyce (as Irish, a British subject, poor and male) caught between a desire to objectify the other as personified by Amalia Popper (Continental, Jewish, wealthy and female), and a wish to ethically and, perhaps, ethnically transcend such desire. For Valente, the dilemma of the text is in its ethical ambivalence:
The technical innovations that Joyce introduced as a function of this effort simultaneously define Giacomo Joyce as a transitional stage in his development as an artist and a somewhat tortured reaction to a moment of political as well as emotional delirium, an attempt to expose and situate his dalliance with some of the deadliest impulses of modern European culture. [...] Joyce translated Giacomo Joyce from a rudely formed work to a willfully multivalent text for a specific ethico-political reason, the desire to do justice.11
Both these readings of Giacomo Joyce foreground the politically transgressive (and, indeed, objectionable) aspects of the text and perceive it as a site of ethical struggle. Both are also extensively dependent upon a closely biographical interpretation of Giacomo Joyce in which the "Who?" of the text is assumed to be Amalia Popper. However, another trajectory in Joyce criticism problematises some of these biographical premises. Some facts cannot be denied: Giacomo Joyce is indeed remarkable in the context of Joyce's prose writings in that it alone is "set" on the continent; all locational references and allusions are continental and are free of direct associations with Ireland. The events recorded in the text are quite often historically verifiable and have their origins in his experiences while working as an English teacher in Trieste. Similarly, the "hero" of the piece may be closely identified with Joyce himself, or perhaps more accurately, aligned with Joyce's fictions of himself.
The identity of Giacomo's "dark lady" however, has been widely debated since the text's initial appearance. While Ellmann asserts that this figure is likely to have been modelled on Amalia Popper, whom Joyce tutored in the years 1907 and 1908, Helen Barolini, Stelio Crise, Peter Costello, John McCourt and Renzo Crivelli are among some of those who have offered dissenting perspectives.12 It has been shown that not only are Ellmann's dates slightly inaccurate (Joyce seems to have tutored Amalia Popper between 1908 and 1909) but that there are other contenders for the focus of Joyce's amorous preoccupation, in particular Annie Marie Schleimer with whom Joyce was acquainted earlier and who was not Jewish.13 As Renzo Crivelli has noted, Joyce tutored Schleimer between 1905 and 1906 and apparently even proposed marriage. Schleimer, unlike Popper, had a fascination with umbrellas and had had an operation for appendicitis.14
Such discord with regard to biographical details might initially seem trivial, but it gains enormous significance when biographical criticism is taken as the sole basis for an ethical analysis of the text, in order to speculate upon the author's motivations and aesthetic or ethical "progress." If we are to consider Giacomo Joyce as a "sketchbook," composed over an extended period, then it may be reasonable to assume that he may have used more than one "model." Evidently, the question of desire in Giacomo Joyce may be approached from many points of view and eludes simple resolution. As Murray McArthur suggests, we may ultimately have to accept the text as "a private love offering, whose addressee is both known and unknown, hidden in code [...] Giacomo Joyce is generically uncertain, both autobiographical and fictional, both continuous and discontinuous, both open and closed."15 It is, above all, a codified envoy, and this is epitomised, for McArthur, by the image of the umbrella at its conclusion, which might be also said to operate as an "optical code."
OPTICAL CODES IN GIACOMO JOYCE
Perception and the ambivalence of "seeing" are at the crux of Giacomo Joyce. One means of approaching the way in which perception functions structurally in the text might be to consider it as a type of textual "zootrope." The zootrope is a nineteenth century proto-cinematic optical device consisting of a revolving drum within which a stationary series of images or models (usually of animals or birds) is arranged either parallel with the inner wall or drawn on its surface. The wall of the drum is pierced regularly with slits and when the drum is set in motion the viewer peers through these slits as they pass before the eyes. The result is the illusion that this succession of stationary images or models blends into a single "moving image."16 In Giacomo Joyce, Joyce creates an illusory continuity through his assemblage of fragments, each of which may be seen to function like the slits in the barrel of the zootrope, allowing the viewer-reader an intermittent, yet apparently complete, visual apprehension. The subject of each fragment is comparable to those images or models which depict different stages of movement on or within the walls of a zootrope, and similarly may be perceived as both discrete and continuous. Furthermore, Giacomo Joyce is remarkable for the effect of "double vision" that it involves which may also be comparable to the mechanism of the zootrope. On one level the reader is drawn into an illusion-unravelling a fantasy love story-into, as Rosalind Krauss puts it, "the imaginary identification or closure within the illusion," while being constantly reminded of the mechanism of the fragment through which one peers at that illusion.17
Just as the zootrope, when set in motion, pulses to the rhythm of movement within its imaginary space, so Giacomo Joyce resonates with the pulse of visual desire. This desire structures the text and generates its introspection. Giacomo Joyce is structurally and thematically recursive insofar as it not only recycles (literary) "models" (Beatrice Portinari, Beatrice Cenci, Hester Prynne, Hedda Gabler and so on) but also, as an "affair of the eye," where the eye is turned back upon "I" in the text, calling this "I" into question. Giacomo Joyce as an "uncertain text" of desire, as well as a text of "uncertain desire," is propelled by the quasi-dialectical relationship between desire and alterity within its imaginary space.
The optical encoding of this relationship reconnects with the "double vision" solicited by both the zootropic device, and the fragmentary structure of the text, and might be said to demonstrate some aspects of the Lacanian concept of the gaze. The theory of the gaze, as an extension of Lacan's theory of the "mirror stage," proposes that perception is organised around the key principle that "one can only see something by imagining that it is looking at one." As Sheldon Brivic suggests
one's perceptions, even of landscapes and still lifes, must be motivated by being drawn toward its objects by desire, and desire is always based on an imagined response [...]. What the eye sees is a field in which the eye itself is an invisible centre, and this field is seen by focusing on a particular point. At the same time, the subject maps himself in the picture [...]. Near the centre of the visual field is a blind spot or hole, a reflection of my pupil, and behind this blind spot is situated the gaze [...]. The centre that covers the gap corresponds to what Lacan calls the objet petit a, with the lower case a standing for autre.18
The aperture effect, by which the zootrope "captures" the subject's (optical) desire in its imaginary/invisible centre, is effected in Giacomo Joyce not only through the fragment, but also through the obsessive concern with eyes and seeing in the text. Within each frame or fragment of text, the gaze of the subject "I" is directed towards the visual lures of the other. However, from another perspective, Giacomo Joyce itself acts as a lure, drawing the eye repeatedly towards its invisible centre, inviting projected meanings and encouraging misrecognition.
To begin with, the text as a visual object-the spaces or gaps between the segments of writing-function to produce a highly visual rendering of the processes of desire, of hesitations, deferrals, approaches and retreats, all of which are faltering, sometimes even convulsive, movements. Via the fragmentary, the absence of a completed, total or ideal work is suggested by what Maurice Blanchot terms a "logic of totality."19 Yet, as is in evidence in the device of the zootrope, the totality presupposed by the fragment is already dissolved by the existence of the fragment itself. The fragment, therefore, draws attention to the spaces, the absences within the text (and the problem of any reliable chronology or visual continuum), as well as to the absences of text.
Within Giacomo Joyce, from the first frame of text, perception is ambivalent and insufficient. The question: "Who?" opens this work, to a quest for identity, but this query is arrested or suspended by the absence of an answer.20 What follows, rather, is a metonymic shift which emphasises the visual:
A pale face surrounded by heavy odorous furs. Her movements are shy and nervous. She uses quizzing glasses. [GJ 1]
The "Who?" remains indeterminate, while this tropic shift or displacement involves a fragment, a metaphor suggestive of female genitalia, "heavy odorous furs," which symbolise (in psychoanalytic terms) a central lack-the absence of the phallus-expressed in the anxiety of the threat of castration. The indeterminacy of identity encoded in this veiled threat, engendered in "she" (the feminine), introduces the subject and the apparent object of the subject's desire. The "she" here operates already as a type of "blind spot" towards which the subject's gaze is drawn. "She" functions not merely as an object of desire (and, therefore in terms of the gaze, as "a reflection of the pupil" near the centre of the visual field) but, possibly, also ironically as a myopic pupil/student ("She uses quizzing glasses").
However, the passive-active, masculine-feminine, subject-object dichotomy is almost immediately destabilised, and the transmutation of these opposites revolves the zootropic fantasy of the text. "She" acts as the scopic field, or imaginary space, into which the subject is irresistibly lured. "She," as object of desire, is apparently passive; "her movements are shy and nervous" (GJ 1). The feminine ideal, situated via lack in passivity, however, is a relation that is disrupted from the very beginning of the text by her use of "quizzing glasses" (GJ 1). It is the subject who is caught in this quizzing regard. Within the field of the gaze, the "I" oscillates to the pulse of desire, being both attracted and repelled, attempting mastery and simultaneously fearing the object of its own desire. She, "a pale face," "a young person of quality" (GJ 1), then is what, in Lacanian terminology, might be referred to as the illusion or mask of the other, the objet a, as fictive counterpart of an hypothesised Autre. While the subject is desirous of this "she," as mask of the other, it cannot know her either intellectually or carnally and, by implication, cannot know itself. The frustration of a masculinised will to knowledge reintroduces the question of identity, of what apparently belongs to the "I" and returns to the "blind spot" at the centre of (self)perception. The other as represented by the mask, "she," is not the subject's specular other but an entirely other. The subject is suspended in the desire of the other, to know and be known (or to see and been seen), for affirmation of its own identity, and can only grasp tentatively at this phantom which is always fragmentary and always only a remainder. As is the case with the text's typography, the fragment suggests a totality or total identity that dissolves before it is even formed.
The quizzing gaze of the otherly "she" is followed directly by the subject's desired affirmation:
Yes: a brief syllable. A brief laugh. A brief beat of the eyelids. [GJ 1]
The italicised "yes" implies an imagined response to a question which is absent. Between the query "Who?" and the word "yes" is a lacunary space where the question of identity opens to an ideal object of desire which would affirm the subject. However, as the "yes" is explicated by "A brief syllable," which is then displaced into a chain of substitutions structured around the word "brief," the sought affirmation is dissipated.
With regard to the reiteration of brevity, an allusion might be made to a scene in Hamlet (Hamlet is mentioned directly in one of the fragments but Hamlet must also be considered as one of the ghosts haunting the text). While watching the opening of "The Mousetrap," Hamlet remarks, "Is this a prologue, or the posy of a ring?" to which Ophelia replies, "'Tis brief, my lord." Hamlet's bitter response "As a woman's love" accords with the theme of thwarted desire in Giacomo Joyce (III.ii).
Moreover, the response mutates into more ambivalent forms; a teasing laugh, a beat of eyelids, which alienate the subject or veil and punctuate the scopic field. The rhythm of blinking eye here may also recall the zootropic mechanism, where the slits in the drum and the spaces between them function both to effect the optical illusion of a moving image, while also to interrupt the act of seeing. Repetition of the word "brief" emphasises the imagined affirmation as temporal and impermanent. The subject, the eye of the subject, seeks, is drawn to, the image of the other and is mapped in the field of the gaze, where the subject imagines itself as the object of the gaze.21 So, in Giacomo Joyce we move from the arrested or suspended question "Who?" to "she" as a series of ellipses in which the subject projects its desire through a substitutive tropic spiral. Thus, her gestures articulate the subject's desire without affirming it: the subject reads "Yes" into these gestures, anticipates "Yes" as affirmation of its desire for identity within the gaze.
From this fragmentary, foreclosed affirmation of identity the subject envisions himself as hero, imparting knowledge to his students:
I launch forth on an easy wave of tepid speech: Swedenborg, the pseudo-Areopagite, Miguel de Molinos, Joachim Abbas. The wave is spent. Her classmate, retwisting her twisted body, purrs in boneless Viennese Italian: Che coltura! [GJ 1]
The subject as active and knowledgeable, is rendered impotent by the gaze in which he is situated-his "wave" of cultural expertise is greeted ultimately with cultivated indifference. The eyes watching him seem independent of a body, as is signalled by the use of a definite article, "The long eyelids beat and lift" (GJ 1). What the eyelids reveal is an oblique double-the pupil of his pupil--"a burning needleprick stings and quivers in the velvet iris"-the pupil or aperture in which the subject is himself reflected. The sensuous image of "a burning needleprick" stinging and quivering, like an arrow penetrating the eye of the beholder is a sublimation of a desire to penetrate, to know and, therefore, be affirmed by the object/"she" in the metaphor of the gaze. Ironically, the subject's insecurity is revealed too in the ambivalence of the image chosen; the diminutiveness and vulnerability of the quivering point in the scopic field of the other undercuts its potency. Mapped in the scopic field of the gaze the subject is pictured (determined) and yet is always in question.
Evidently, as the frames cited above suggest, eyes as focal points of otherness are central to the text. The subject seeks a response in the eyes of others to his desire. Eyes serve as metaphors for the contradictory nature of this desire, the subject's quest for identity and affirmation, but also as metonyms for the female genitalia, the opening towards which his sublimated carnality is directed. The eyes of women in the text are thus full of meaning. As sexually predatory or threatening, they signify the disruption of the subject's sense of security/control. Repeatedly, he is seized by and in the gaze of the other:
Under the arches in the dark streets near the river the whores' eyes spy out fornicators. [GJ 3]
Belluomo rises from the bed of his wife's lover's wife: the busy housewife is astir, sloe-eyed, a saucer of acetic acid in her hand. [GJ 8]
She greets me wintrily and passes up the staircase darting at me for an instant out of her sluggish sidelong eyes a jet of liquorish venom. [GJ 15]
In each of these encounters, the eye bears a threat which is compounded by the conflation of eye imagery with snake metaphors. These gesture more forcefully towards the subject's anxiety. The eyes of this "she," the mask of the other, are those of a "basilisk," a serpent whose glance is lethal and in whose gaze the subject fears obliteration. As snake, then, "she" represents the greatest threat to subject's identity. The suggestion recurs throughout Giacomo Joyce via associations with Eve, scales, the twisting of bodies and the coiling of hair. Snake metaphors allude recursively to Eden and the fall of man, where serpent and woman are blended together as agents of temptation and destruction. In this most phallic form it is she who penetrates him. Therefore, this figure becomes the locus of the power of the other and the subject's fear of annihilation.
Significantly, eyes and seeing are frequently linked with adjectives expressing obscurity. They are reproachful, dark, death-bearing: "I see her full dark suffering eyes, beautiful as the eyes of an antelope,"(GJ 11) and, as just mentioned, "Her black basilisk eyes" (GJ 15). This darkness impedes the subject's vision, is antonymical to his desire for enlightenment, and, simultaneously, suggests what he cannot see, perceive or master. As the fragment of song he quotes indicates, blindness, failure and even death, loom in the shadows;
Mine eyes fail in darkness, mine eyes fail,
Mine eyes fail in darkness, love. [GJ 3]
The process of seeing/looking gives way not to epiphany, nor to the clichéd resolution, "love," but turns to, or rather, turns by means of frustration, for he can never be at the point from which the gaze emanates.
In the exotic gallery of portraitures intermittently offered by the text, the eyes of "her people" are also envoys of an otherness which excludes him:
They have owls' eyes and owls' wisdom. Owlish wisdom stares from their eyes brooding upon the lore of their Summa contra Gentiles. [GJ 8]
Their "owls' eyes" and owlish wisdom might be correlated not only with night and darkness, but also the beautiful, wise and, above all, asexual figure of the goddess Athena. Glaukopis Athene, Athena of the flashing eyes, figures as yet another ghost in the composite otherness of the object of desire. The subject's desire for recognition within the gaze is thwarted by the imperviousness of the mask of the other to him as image of the blank (mirror) stare of birdlike eyes conveys. Yet coexistent with the cold brooding gaze, the pulse of deferred carnal fulfilment, suggested by the mocking prospect of "Long lewdly leering lips: dark blooded molluscs" (GJ 5), taunts him.
Desire is, therefore, articulated in the double movement of the gaze which holds the subject within the field of the other and within the "scopic field" in which it situates its objects. Thus the gaze pre-exists the eye and "in the dialectic of the eye and the gaze [...] there is no coincidence, but on the contrary, a lure."22 The eyes of women, of "her people" in the text pose as lures, as masks of the other, towards which the subject's desire is drawn, in which it is, seemingly, reflected. The mask is "the locus of mediation" between the subject and the other.23 The notion of the lure is also pertinent to webs and veils in the text which metonymically represent the mask of the other, the frustration of the subject's visual apprehension. Her "websoft" gown (GJ 7), "web of stocking" (GJ 9) and "cobweb handwriting" (GJ 1) lure him towards further indeterminacy, which the veil typifies and disguises.
The subject is preoccupied with the absences signified by the constant shifting of the veils or masks of the other. Visual satisfaction is deferred and displaced repeatedly in the frames of text. This preoccupation is evidenced textually through sensual and erotic missed encounters with the object of desire. The subject idealises what he can see and yet every image is insufficient. This glissage occurs because what he cannot see always destabilises his idealisation of the object/mask. "She" appears only in fragments that the subject attempts to make his own. The subject's will to knowledge is, therefore, perpetually frustrated in the field of the gaze since he can never perceive a whole, merely endless fragments and divisions. This process is most clearly revealed in the eroticised account of an encounter with the phantom body of the object of desire:
I hold the websoft edges of her gown and drawing them out to hook them I see through the opening of the black veil her lithe body sheathed in an orange shift. It slips its ribbons of moorings at her shoulders and falls slowly: a lithe smooth naked body shimmering with silvery scales. It slips slowly over the slender buttocks of smooth polished silver and over their furrow, a tarnished silver shadow [...]. [GJ 7]
Again the zootropic fantasy of the text is directed towards an invisible or illusory centre glimpsed through various apertures or openings. As the "I" peeps through the funereal veils, the eye is drawn to a succession of coverings/masks. As each slips away, another is perceived; the veil, the shift, the scales, the furrow between the buttocks, the shadow of the furrow-the sentence drifts off in an ellipsis, just as the subject's eye is lured further and further inwards never apprehending a totality. And just as the zootrope requires physical contact, or rather, manipulation, to set its optical illusion in motion so too the "I" of this fragment is desirous of such contact, "Fingers, cold and calm and moving .... A touch, a touch" (GJ 7), to propel the apparatus of fantasy and illusion of penetration onward and inward.
The subject's desire to assign meaning to the fragments of "she," the mask of the other, is illustrated through the images used in the text. "She" is a collation of the otherness of all women, who fleetingly appear and recede, from the "pox-fouled wenches" (GJ 9) to "virgin most prudent" (GJ 9). "She" is the desired enigma, the ideal, a paradigm for the desire of the subject encapsulating multiple, contradictory archetypes, from the fallen figure of Eve to the sublime, in the figure of Dante's Beatrice.24 The subject renders her metaphorically in images which are diversely sensual, sexual, erotic, ironic and clichéd. These metaphors betray a desire to master, consume, or be consumed by her, and as such they are attempts to objectify her. Thus, "she" is "[r]ounded and ripened: rounded by the lathe of intermarriage and ripened in the forcing house of her race" (GJ 2) like a fruit which the subject may hope to eat. Later in the text he sees he as a "filly foal" (GJ 3) ungainly yet graceful, who as teacher/master he may potentially train. Similarly, she is configured through irony and cliché in terms of conventional feminine vulnerability or foolish vanity; as an antelope, as a "pampered fowl" (GJ 8) or twittering bird, a vulnerability which is sensual and charming, but above all an affirmation of his identity as master as the one who assigns the image.
Other fragmentary images-"the tapping clacking" (GJ 1) of her heels, "the short skirt taut from the knobs of knees" (GJ 4), her "boots laced in deft crisscross over the flesh-warmed tongue" (GJ 4), "a white lace edging of an underskirt lifted unduly" (GJ 9), her "leg stretched web of stocking" (GJ 9) or the "black veiling" (GJ 7) of her gown-are significant doubly, for what is revealed and what is concealed, echoing the fragmentation of the text's typography. Desire resonates in the sensual, erotic emphasis bequeathed to these fragments which gesture toward an illusory whole which would confirm the subject, as well as towards the subject's desire to penetrate or be penetrated by the body evoked by the fragments.
The apparently interminable round of metonymic substitution, allusion and deferral revolving in the frames of the text encode a tendency towards deviation and deviance through the fetishisation of the masks of the other. In this manner desire for fulfilment, (self) recognition and completeness is sublimated and postponed. In regarding the mask of the other (objet a) as fetish the subject attempts to assert possession of "she" as object, and of his desire, which ultimately does not belong to him but to the other. By visualising her metaphorically and metonymically in various forms, he attempts to master the illusion of the other by centring himself in the gaze. However, in the images used "she" fluctuates between signification of the ideal of feminine passivity and the threat of the seductress, mirroring the oscillating desire of the subject. The eroticism of "she," in the eye of the subject, is thus always contingent with images of death or negation. In contrast to the coolness and frailty of her gestures, the "steamy damp" of the theatre where he watches her from a distance, literally from the gods, in her "green broidered gown," melds with "the hue of the illusion of the vegetable glass of nature and of lush grass, the hair of graves"(GJ 12).
Following the self-reflexive logic of the gaze, the subject is formulated in the imagined response to his desire. He envisions himself in a contradictory manner, which reflects the shifting impressions of the other; he is thwarted, repulsive yet vulnerable and hesitant, "slobbering James" (GJ 9), preyed upon by lustful "pox-fouled wenches" (GJ 9), the fiery fangs of a "starry snake" (GJ 15). The conflation of "she" with Eve and serpents belies the subject's anxiety regarding his will to knowledge and identity in the field of the gaze. Just as the snake in Eden bears "knowledge" (carnal, intellectual) and hence death, so death haunts the erotic. It is hardly accidental, then, that the subject's focus on the Jewish graveyard, which lies ready to receive her body, slips directly from this mouldy "holy field [...] the tomb of her people" (GJ 6) to sensuous eroticised images of this body.
The "mechanism" of desire here, therefore, consists of a double "turning," one towards the identity of the object of desire (the assumption of desire as identity) and the other towards sublimated carnality (the fragment which simultaneously suggests and denies the whole). The subject's desire to transgress this body, the mask of the other, can be witnessed in his melodramatic anxiety and mesmeric fascination in conjunction with her operation:
Operated. The surgeon's knife has probed in her entrails and withdrawn leaving the raw jagged gash of its passage on her belly. I see her full dark suffering eyes, beautiful as the eyes of an antelope. O cruel wound! Libidinous God! [GJ 11]
The passage of the surgeon's knife simulates his desired trajectory, but also the anxiety of the elision of the gaze returning to a play of revelation and concealment. The subject in his careful attention to the "cruel wound," betrays a wish to open up the womb, the entrails of the other which substitutes for a wish to return to a place of origin and hence to identity and truth.
The text climaxes with the subject's fantasy of the other as snake. The "coiling approach of starborn flesh" (GJ 15) heralds loss and annihilation but also, perhaps, fulfilment of burgeoning desire. Yet, confronted with the visualised approach of the other, the subject oscillates in hesitation:
Soft sucking lips kiss my left armpit: a coiling kiss on myriad veins. I burn! I crumple like a burning leaf! From my right armpit a fang of flame leaps out. A starry snake has kissed me: a cold nightsnake. I am lost! [GJ 15]
The frustration of the subject's fantasy of apprehension/possession is then turned back upon the act of writing itself: "Write it, damn you, write it! What else are you good for?" (GJ 16). Ink and the liquid metaphors which precede, signify the threat of obscurity. The bravado of "Take he now who will!" is already undone by the suggestion that his "abundant seed" is infertile. "[H]is soul" merely dissolves in "the darkness of her womanhood" (GJ 14) which he can never apprehend in a seminal way. Writing as a means of representation, substitutes for the veil of the other as "she" and mirrors his desire for signification and his sense of being cut off by the impossibility of possessing, perceiving or reproducing the other. Finally, the thwarted eye of the subject comes to rest upon:
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]
This empty scene recalls and, somehow, repeats all those other "empty scenes," the blank spaces which have threatened at almost every point to invade the text, rendering even it invisible. Here, the umbrella, as the final veil of the other, may be considered a symbol of the contradictory, multiple and varied nature of the subject's oscillations between the eye and the gaze. As an image it is both phallic in its "blunt spear" and feminine and dissimulating in its "furls."25 As a metonym for alterity it encodes within its name both the French ombre and Latin umbra-shadow, semblance, phantom, ghost.26 The umbrella as an envoy of the other is both a departing opaque, inconclusive message and a reminder/remainder of the "blind spot" so central to the operations of the gaze. The final sections of Giacomo Joyce have long been the focus of speculation-the arrangement of umbrella and hat may be visualised as an "a," "p" or "a" and "j"-indeed, perhaps, we should even treat them as a peculiar manifestation of the objet a.27 Whatever the "lettering" of the visual message, Joyce leaves us with a powerfully suggestive final image and a "throwaway" instruction: "Envoy: Love me, love my umbrella" (GJ 16), which may be just as perceptive and/or ironically accidental as Bloom's racing tip in Ulysses and like that "throwaway" may set yet another course of mis/apprehensions in motion.
© Clare Wallace
|volume 3, issue 2, 2003|