Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

Body Words

Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

Body Words

Article excerpt

Joyce, Modernism and the Body

Ulysses is filled with the experiences, forms and discourses of the body and it works to articulate these in distinctive vocabularies that unfold from Mulligan's curiously wounded word "ouns" to the specially -coded body words of the "Penelope" episode that it is my intention to consider here in the broad context of Modernist and Postmodernist problems of representation.1 Whereas this body writing seemed to mark Ulysses off as different from the legitimately literary to its first readers, we can now see the extent to which its somatography confirms the central place of Ulysses to whatever shared epochal sense we may attribute to Modernist texts and also to the newer orthodoxies that define our sense of the literary text since the arrival of literaiy theory in the 1960s. It is therefore especially appropriate for us to focus on the bodiliness of what may be the most bodily of its episodes, "Penelope" or at least one that is bodily in the most interesting of ways. Beyond Descartes, beyond even Hegel, the book opens with a gesture towards a Nietzschean-Freudian-materialist intellectual frame, part of whose function may be to announce what the final episode brings into fruition as an achievement in writing of a thoroughly Modernistic, post-Cartesian, or what Joyce, in a letter to Harriet Weaver, called even a "posthuman" kind.2

It is tempting to think that Joyce might have made Mulligan a Nietzschean and staged him so prominently at the start of the book precisely because of Nietzsche's stern rejoinder in the first part of Thus Spake Zarathustra against those that he calls "despisers of the body". According to Nietzsche, "the wakened, the enlightened man says: I am body entirely, and nothing beside; and soul is only a word for something in the body... You say T and you are proud of this word. But greater than this ~ although you will not believe in it - is your body and its great intelligence which does not say T but performs T.3 Mulligan may be said to "perform" his body indeed. By contrast, Stephen, in his role as Telemachus, is said in Joyce's schema to "not yet suffer the body".4 If, however, we do look at the way in which Stephen "performs" his body in the first episode, we see him as disappearing to the margins (we see his "threadbare cuffedge", U 1.106), withdrawn to an interior space of mourning, melancholy and aestheticised resentment - albeit taking many readers along with him as he goes. Yet, the more he withdraws towards the interiority of the "Proteus" episode, the more even Stephen encounters an "ineluctable" presence and "modality" of perception, that is a modality of the body.

In Nietzsche, as in Marx and Freud, the twentieth century undermined the Cartesian split between body and mind, emphatically disrupting the hierarchical paradigm by which the body is discursively construed as an other to consciousness in so much enlightenment rationalist thought. In so doing it produced a crisis of representation in the arts that frequently surfaces as a crisis in mimesis and in the representation of the body.

A paradigmatic work like Picasso's 1907 Demoiselles D Avignon, with its multi-discursive array of differently figured womens' bodies seems to declare that there is no longer one representation of the body but that the body may, as it were, intrude through and into the conventions of representation by insisting on the necessities of modality and of difference. According to the history offered in Peter Brooks's study Body Work it was the pressure put on representation by the combination of hyperrealism and the masculine gaze in nineteenth-century bourgeois art - displayed in paintings like those of Felicien Rops, or Henri Gervex or, most of all, Gustave Courbet' s now widely-discussed painting L'origine du monde (1866), that gives rise to the Modernist break with mimesis in the visual arts.5

So in literaiy Modernism, especially those canonical works occurring around or immediately after the First World War, we find an urgent new agenda in the representation of the body. …

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