Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

The Erratics of Irishness: Schizophrenia, Racism, and Finnegans Wake

Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

The Erratics of Irishness: Schizophrenia, Racism, and Finnegans Wake

Article excerpt

In this essay, using materials drawn from medicine, psychology, anthropology, and the study of the Irish language, I interrogate the concern in Finnegans Wake with schizophrenia. I frame not only Joyce's writing in the Wake but also the reader projected by the Wake with the several provisional understandings of schizophrenia offered by Joyce's society and our own. I conclude that the colonial experience of indigenous Irish cultural losses is both necessary and sufficient to have motivated the linguistic fractures-traits so often compared to the speech characteristics of schizophrenics - that Joyce stylistically displays in Finnegans Wake. In fact, the Wake's style of writing is best called, to use Joyce's term, "schizophrenesis." Schizophrenesis must be viewed as an ironic commentary on the colonial stereotyping of Irishness that pulsed throughout eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentiethcentury life on the island. It forces upon the reader the experience of living within a riven linguistic field produced by the pressures of colonization, modernization, and medical administration. Hence, Finnegans Wake indicates a virtual awareness - in Joycean terms, a ^respective arrangement - of a major flaw in the diagnosis of mental illness as practiced in Ireland into the second half of the twentieth century. My inquiry exerts pressure on instances of racist quasi-diagnosis of mental illness in Ireland and thus ironically offers an explanation for the often-perceived privileged relation of the Irish to writing and the imagination.1

In contrast to this approach, the issue of schizophrenia in the Wake has tended to center on the figure of HCE 's daughter Issy, whose distinctive behaviors and ways with language have prompted intensive investigation into Joyce's Wakean deployment of contemporary knowledge about psychopathology (Bleuler, Kraepelin, Freud, Jung).2 Closely connected to that inquiry is the study of Joyce's relation to his daughter. In my own work on Joyce, I have meditated on the life experiences of Lucia Joyce more than once and have attempted to calculate the impact her condition and care on the composition of Finnegans Wake? However, neither Issy nor Lucia is the focus of this inquiry. Rather, I want to clear a space for considering what our view of the Wake, its language, and the mental stresslines in its enclosing culture are if we constitute the writer of Finnegans Wake as conversing with a persistent stereotype about Irishness rather than primarily inspired by or attempting to master his daughter's condition through the figure of Issy and the frenetic style of the Wake.

This essay coordinates information from several sources: references in Irish literature to schizophrenia, statistics about the incidence of mental illness in Ireland, medical discussions of the causes and diagnosis of schizophrenia, ethnographic depiction of life in western Ireland, inquiries into colonial and postcolonial Irish life, literary and cultural theory, studies of the differences between the Irish language and English, and what John Bishop views as the negative language of Finnegans Wake. The order in which I have listed these source materials can serve as an outline to the organization of this essay.

Incidence and Causation

One of the conundra in mental health research between Joyce's era and our own has been the high incidence of mental illness in Ireland. The facts and figures offered in the literature are far too extensive to summarize here (some statistical data appear later in the essay), but it is worth noting at the outset that as early as 1880, medical institutions in the U.S. and Canada claimed that Irish immigrants had much higher chronic insanity rates than immigrants from other countries. Inside Ireland, a similar observation was famously made in 1731, when Jonathan Swift provided funds for the first mental hospital for in Ireland, and wrote:

He gave what little wealth he had

To build a house for fools and mad

To show by one satiric touch,

No nation needed it so much. …

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