E. Ivan Trujillo
Other Voices, v.1, n.3 (January 1999)
Copyright © 1999, E. Ivan Trujillo, all rights reserved
In order to come (satisfy) to a reading of feminine jouissance in James Joyce's "The Dead," one must first determine (undermine) our (selfish?) desire as reader. Let us look at our reflection in the text (our first acknowledged mistake) and decide what kind of reader I (we) shall be. According to Roland Barthes in The Pleasure of the Text, "the text is a fetish object, and this fetish desires me....the text chooses me...but in the text, I desire the author;" since "he" (this masculine author) is dead, I desire his "figure" (Barthes; PT, 4). Let us pretend (fantasize) we have the right to a voyeuristic perversion where our "pleasure in writing is without function" (PT, 17). As perverts, we will (hope to) gaze (desire its gaze upon us) "at the most erotic portion of the text...the intermittence of the skin flashing between two articles of clothing...the erotic" (PT, 10). But because we are perverts, "the mockery of our society," we shall "never apologize, never explain" our deviant reading; we shall thus ignore the pleasure of the text which desires us (PT, 3). We shall have "no 'thesis' on the pleasure of the text;" according to Barthes, this 'thesis' is impossible (thus, a structure of impossibility for our desire as critic) (PT, 34). Indeed, as perverts, we embrace "the impossibility of living outside the infinite text...[where] the book creates meaning, and the meaning creates life" (PT, 36). Unlike "society" that is not aware of the "text's very uselessness that is useful" and is thus gratuitously "ignorant of its own perversion" the critic of Joyce in this essay seeks to short circuit our desire in relation to the text (PT, 24). Thus, from the perspective of the "pervert," we can understand the jouissance of the Woman in "The Dead," with her female perverse subversion (negation) of Gabriel's desire, as a desire for perversion in the male subject (Gabriel Conroy); in a sense, the Woman, by desiring perversion in Gabriel, becomes a pervert herself. In turn, this type of reading will be our perverse act.
Rather than read this novella from the insightful yet singular feminist perspective of someone such as Garry Leonard in Reading Dubliners Again, where, in Sheldon Brivec's words, "Joyce and Lacan reveal the male authority of the phallus in order to undermine it," a reading which uses Gabriel as the point reference for understanding "male authority," we as a "pervert" can understand the similarly perverse actions of the Woman (serving to undermine Gabriel's desire) turned back upon herself to reveal her pleasure and desire (Brivec, 16). The intentional pornographic desire ("pornography" as defined by Slavoj Zizek in Looking Awry) of the perverted critic "to reveal all there is to reveal," thus becomes enmeshed in the determination of feminine jouissance (Zizek; LA, 109). In pornography (or perverted criticism), in Zizek's Lacanian terms, "it is the spectator himself who effectively occupies the position of the object" (italics added; LA, 110). Thus, in a sense, one can agree with Zizeck in this assertion, and realize that by reading the pornographic goal "to hide nothing" as our critical goal, through perverse criticism, we will experience the gaze of the Woman in the raw, as "vulgar, groaning fornication" (LA, 110). Unlike Zizek's frigid assertion that "the effect [of watching pornography] is extremely vulgar and depressing (as can be confirmed by anyone who has watched any hard- core movies)," the effect of "degrading" ourselves to perversion will reveal the possibility of a short-circuit understanding of the jouissance of women in the text as they deny Gabriel's advances throughout the novella, producing in him a resentment which she can enjoy (italics added; LA, 110).
In a brief critique of feminist Lacanian theory entitled "The Female Subject: (What) Does Woman Want?," Jerry Aline Flieger underscores that Lacanian feminist readings "propose a choice between Father and Mother, system and silence, rigid structure and anarchy" (Flieger, 59). Indeed, from whom he characterizes as the "Dutiful Daughters" of Lacan and Freud (including Jane Gallop, Jacqueline Rose, and Juliet Mitchell), to other critics he labels as "Mother's Daughters" (including Luce Irigaray, Hélène Cixous), Flieger argues that "a woman" wants a "freedom to desire: the agency to want, as well as to be wanted, is the act of human signification itself" (Flieger, 57, 60-61, 63). Indeed, in this sense, if the woman (a seemingly unified subject) wants "signification" and also the "phallus" in her male counterpart, the reader must attempt to subvert the distinctly masculine position of "pervert" ( beginning with the position of the reader "herself") according to an understanding of feminine perversion (exemplified by her desire for frustration in her male "compliment"). The substitution of "she" into Lacan's formula of the "pervert" where "the pervert [she] who in short circuit, more directly than any other, succeeds in [her] aim, by integrating in the most profound way [her] function as subject with [her] existence as desire," liberates the desire of the woman (The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 206).
Within "The Dead," Gabriel Conroy experiences, to a degree, embarrassment and shame according to the (perverse) desire of female characters to negate his advances, challenging the terms of, according to Leonard, "the fictional unity of his masculine subjectivity" (Reading Dubliners Again, 289). After entering the Morkan dinner party, Gabriel question's the nature of the caretaker's daughter's educational progress and single lifestyle. Leonard establishes the tone of Gabriel's delivery of these two questions, shifting from "friendly" to "gaily," as a discourse of "uncertainty, a slight recklessness born of mild confusion" (RDA, 296). Rather than make pleasant conversation with him and "authenticate his own subjectivity," Lily responds with a glance "back at him over her shoulder...with great bitterness" (RDA, 290; D, 178). She forcefully explains that she refuses to succumb to men who are "all palaver and what they can get out of you;" she would seemingly rather work for her father (a subtle situation of exploitation) as an act of independence than marry out of convenience (D, 178). Gabriel, who did seemingly marry out of "convenience," had "never felt...towards any woman...that such a feeling [as] love" (although, perhaps the imaginary "love" is what he had experienced) (D 223). Facing Lily, unable to speak, he feels "the high colour of his cheeks pushed upwards even to his forehead where it scattered itself in a few formless patches of pale red" (D178).
Michael Sperber, MD. in "Shame and James Joyce's 'The Dead'," identifies Gabriel's sense of "shame" as a function of a "loss of control, the impression of being exposed, and the social unacceptability of shame generates more shame" (Sperber, 62-3). Sperber's illustration of "shame" as a feeling of a "loss of control" and "exposure" has a distinct characteristic of orgasm. In this sense, by defiantly rousing "shame" in Gabriel, making him color "as if he had made a mistake," Lily, a woman who must find sexual fulfillment "without" a "man" but in relation to a "man," has figuratively assumed the unconscious position of meta-sexual master, not "making love" in relation to the Other, but by "fucking" (D 178). Thus, as Lily subverts Gabriel's masculinity, unlike Freud's Rat Man, she enjoys his perverse and degraded act of ejaculated repayment, as he, left in silence, takes "a coin rapidly from his pocket [and] thrusting it into her hands," forcing her to accept the sexualized money because "its Christmas-time," an act "followed by his abrupt withdrawal" (D 178; RDA 297). In a sense, just as one pays to have sex with a prostitute (where the element of money itself factors into the pleasurable deviance of the exchange), by "ejaculating" money to Lily as a supposed gift of the celebration of Christ's birth, Gabriel tries to pay (place value)--"pay her back" for his orgasmic feeling of shame; by the end of the exchange, he is literally spent. It is precisely this "perverse" act of metaphorical ejaculation and repayment after the shameful subversion of masculine authority which Lily, although we have no direct access to her conscious thoughts, "perversely" enjoys (D, 177). From the very outset of the episode, Joyce's reader, restricted to Gabriel's point of view, typically makes the questionable assumption that Lily, who has known Gabriel her entire life, respects and likes him. However, how much does Lily "like" Gabriel? Unaware of her thoughts, the reader can only interpret her speech according to her voluntary abstention from any part of the Morkan social world (marriage, polite conversation) which, at no point, provides her an identity other than being remembered by Gabriel as "a child...[who] used to sit...nursing a rag doll" and a servant (D, 178).
In a discussion of Joyce's Exiles, Elie Ragland-Sullivan describes "the object a as an inaccessible and forever shifting limit, a condensed kernel of jouissance...where [when] one finds a petit a one finds an excess in jouissance" (Ragland-Sullivan, 48). She also quotes Slavoj Zizek's "sublime" conception of the object a as "the impassive, imaginary objectification of the Real" (Ragland-Sullivan, 48). In Ragland-Sullivan's general conception of object a, although the reader has no perspective of Lily's thoughts, only her forced acceptance of Gabriel's coin (she does not necessarily desire his money because she, as selfish pervert, does not owe him "something" in the exchange), the adolescent who "has cast a gloom over [Gabriel] which he [tries] to dispel by arranging his cuffs, and the bows of his tie," approaches jouissance as an identification of the object a in relation to Gabriel (D179). Garry Leonard, in "Power, Pornography, and the Problem of Pleasure: The Semerotics of Desire and Commodity Culture in Joyce," illustrates, how, as in the preceding episode, "in Joyce's fiction, women who speak their minds, thus advertising their own desire for pleasure, both confuse and frighten the men who inadvertently stumble into conversations with them" (JJQ; Leonard, 30-31). Her ultimate expression of a "desire for pleasure" involves the possibility of obtaining a perverse enjoyment from Gabriel's "blush," where he must remain silent, unable to finish a sentence, "almost...waving to her in deprecation," objectifying himself for Lily's jouissance in her new position of power (D 178). Indeed, for the rest of the novella, Gabriel never fully recovers from this servant woman's implicit violent unconscious "fucking" with the "fragmentary nature of his subjective consciousness" (Leonard; RDA, 291).
In contrast to his intercourse with Lily, during his conversation with Miss Ivors, Gabriel has seemingly lost all of his composure as a self-confident professional married adult. According to the way in which she questions him and gazes at him with her "prominent brown eyes...her rabbit's eyes," he becomes a kind of sexualized thermometer responding to the continual contact of "laying her warm hand eagerly on his arm...making a blush invade his forehead" (D, 189, 190) Rather than withdraw from the encounter all together, deny himself of winning the perverse pleasure of "losing" in the implicitly verbal competition with Miss Ivors, he tries to escape into activity "by taking part in the dance with great energy ...to cover his agitation" (D, 190). In trying to avoid "the pre- existence of the gaze" where "in [his] existence [he is] looked at from all sides," he looks away from "her eyes for he had seen a sour expression on her face," immerses himself in the dance and subjects himself, "just as the chain was about to start again" to Miss Ivors' aggressive whisper: "West Briton!" (Concepts, 72; D, 190). Gabriel perversely enjoys and subjects himself to the degradation of Miss Ivors words and "sour" gaze while fiendishly "avoiding" his pleasurable punishment at the same instance.
Indeed, throughout Dubliners, Joyce portrays individuals who wish to "avoid" the "self-deprecating" nature of the gaze, the "symbolic of what we find on the horizon...the lack that constitutes castration anxiety," symbolized in institutions of social convention (religion, marriage, politics, education) while acting from within and according to these very structures (Concepts, 73). By the end of the dance, Gabriel finally realizes, after escaping "away to a remote corner of the room where Freddy Malins' mother was sitting" the need to "banish from his mind all memory of the unpleasant incident with Miss Ivors;" this desire to repress his intercourse with Miss Ivors provides Gabriel with a further sense of alienation which surfaces with his wife at the end of the novella (italics added; D,190). Thus, while silently listening to Mrs. Malins prattle about her children, he reverts to the realm of language, in planning his speech, for his revenge upon that "girl or woman, or whatever she was," by trying to discredit the "serious and hupereducated" youth of "certain qualities of hospitality, of humor, [and] of humanity" (D, 192). In this sense, after exposing himself to the gaze, physical contact and verbal opposition of Miss Ivors, who does "not [act] the part of the Woman, or rather [acts] it perversely," Gabriel embraces his dinner speech as a final opportunity to remedy "the loss and division that [he experiences as a] masculine subject" (Leonard: RDA, 301).
Miss Ivors, on the other hand, understands the power of refusing to partake in anything else than the perverse pleasure she has obtained in creating a sense of perverse anxiety, resentment, and anxiety in Gabriel; having realized her ability to obtain pleasure from Gabriel's impotence, she closes their discourse by deciding to not "stay for supper [as] she did not feel in the least hungry and she had already overstayed her time," solidifying her superior claim to authoritative pleasure by making him feel as if he was "the cause of her abrupt departure" (D, 195). In short, Miss Ivors decides to travel.
In an essay entitled, "The Gender of Travel in 'The Dead'," Earl G. Ingersoll explores the Lacanian tropes of metaphor and metonymy as they function in terms of the gender in the "The Dead". In order to establish "the freedom of travel" as a masculine metaphor, he quotes Jane Gallup's characterization of metonymy as "latent...like that of the female genitalia, [which] lends it an appearance of naturalness or passivity," and metaphor, as privileged over metonymy in Lacan's text, in "its association with liberation, which contrasts with metonymy's link with servitude...[as] metaphor is the 'crossing of the bar'...enfranchisement...the bar is an obstacle; the metaphor unblocks us" (Ingersoll, 42) Thus, Ingersoll argues that the "metaphor of travel" in the novella functions as a type of masculine freedom within the "metonymic" realist text (the realist text "implies a huge store of detail in the narrative, the greater the wealth of detail in the narrative, the greater the sense of the whole from which that wealth is selected") (Ingersoll, 43). He cites numerous examples (Gabriel's paternal fetish with galoshes, his desire to go east to France, Germany or Belgium for his annual cycling trip) of how "travel for Gabriel is a metaphor for the pursuit of power" and sophistication, and his desire for travel "toward the adventure of making love to his own wife eroticizes his consciousness from the outset...[and] precipitates the events of this text" (Ingersoll, 46, 45).
In the same sense, Miss Ivors seemingly understands travel as masculine metaphor which can serve to provide her with the ability to clip (castrate) Gabriel's virility. Being "quite able to take care of" herself, Miss Ivors refuses Gabriel's offer to walk her home "breaks away" from the Conroy's and the Mary Jane (D, 195). She defines the terms of her own pleasure as a condition of disregarding the enjoyment of Gabriel or even Mary Jane and Kate who anticipate the success of their party which "had never fallen flat" (D, 175). Miss Ivors "had gone away laughing," once again leaving Gabriel silent and staring "blankly down at the staircase;" when Gabriel and his wife become irritated is the moment at which Miss Ivors experiences jouissance. As a pervert, she must leave the party, without sharing her pleasure with anyone else (D, 196). With her destination unknown to the rest of the party (Gabriel does not walk her home to guarantee her excuse or whereabouts), through her denial of the ritualistic feast, a negation of social obligation, she obtains the pleasurable position of singular authority, to which Gabriel is not allowed a response, or as Leonard writes, she "knew she was his code [of masculine identity] and refusing this role gives her access to a language what is the unconscious of what he thinks he knows" (RDA, 302).
In hope of elucidating the function of the drive and perverse desire in relation to the dinner scene and later in Gretta and Gabriel's interaction in the Hotel bedroom, Lacan's seminar, "The Deconstruction of the Drive," a discussion of the drive in relation to Freud's four terms of the "trust," the "aim," the "object" and the "source," presents a reading of Freud's concept of the drive as it functions in a covert relationship between analyst and subject. The first term, the thrust, "identified with a mere tendency to discharge," where "the characteristic of the drive is to be a Konstante Kraft, a constant force" (Concepts, 163). Thus, Lacan perceives the "constancy of the trust [to forbid] any assimilation of the drive to a biological function, which always has a rhythm;" the drive "has no day or night, no spring or autumn, no rise and fall. It is a constant force" (Concepts, 165).
Next, in terms of the "aim" of the drive, Lacan discusses Freud's conception of the satisfaction of the drive in terms of sublimation. Indeed, although one might think that "the satisfaction of drive is reaching one's Ziel, one's aim," the notion of sublimation allows for the simultaneous act, for example, of "fucking" and "talking" which serves to satisfy the drive of the latter activity while performing the former activity; in this sense, Lacan "raises the question of whether in fact [he is] not fucking [his listener] at [the] very moment" he speaks (Concepts, 165-6). In Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood, Freud discusses the process of sublimation in terms of sexual instinct having "the power to replace its immediate aim by which other aims which may be valued more highly and which are not sexual;" in this sense, let take note of this conception of sublimation in relation to the pervert who has seemingly failed to re-focus her sexual energy in relation to a non-sexual object (if such an "object" exists) (Freud, 26). In this sense, we are perhaps reminded of Jean-Paul Sartre's characterization of another writer, Jean Genet, who more literally "fucks" while he "writes". In Our Lady of the Flowers , "an epic of masturbation," the creative process reaches up into the realm of sublime because the author, while in prison, writes with one hand while he masturbates with the other, and the "words which compose [the] book are those that a prisoner said to himself while panting with excitement" (Our Lady of the Flowers, 2-3).
Indeed, for Lacan, precisely "between these two terms--drive and satisfaction--there is set up an extreme antimony that reminds us that the use of the function of the drive has for [him] not other purpose than to put in question what is meant by satisfaction" (Concepts, 166). The "aim" of "satisfaction" can even be considered in terms of the subject, like many of the characters in Dubliners, who "being in a state which gives so little content, they are content;" Lacan would even say that "the way to which [the discontent subject] give satisfaction by the ways of displeasure is nevertheless--and this is commonly accepted--the law of pleasure...the aim is not attained where satisfaction is concerned" (Concepts, 166).
Furthermore, as the "satisfaction is impossible," the category of "impossibility" factors into the equation as "the path of the subject [passing] between [its] two walls;" however, that is to say that the "impossible is not necessarily the contrary of the possible, or, since the opposite of the possible is certainly the real, we would be lead to define the real as the impossible" (Concepts, 167). This encounter with the real is "the impact with the obstacle" on the path to the pleasure principle, being separated from the pleasure principle "by its desexualization" (Concepts, 167).
However, in turn, exemplified by "the idea that the function of the pleasure principle is to satisfy itself by hallucination...the pleasure principle is even characterized by the fact of the impossible is so present in it that it is never recognized in it as such;" as one hallucinates to obtain impossible satisfaction, the pleasure principle functions in a onanistic manner, as "at the outset of the dialectic of the drive" one can distinguish between "need from the pressure of the drive...[as] not object of any Not, need, can satisfy the drive" (Concepts, 167). In these terms, Lacan turns to the "stuffing" of the mouth, not as not a pleasure of food, but "the pleasure of the mouth;" the object itself does not hold importance (Concepts, 168).
Finally, the "source" exposes "the vital regulation of the drive" in terms of its function as an organ, such as the anus, which "is defined as the source and departure of a certain drive" (Concepts, 169). Indeed, with the anus there "it is not enough to say that a certain vital function is integrated in a function of exchange with the world-- excrement," the subject associates, with the rim of anus, the locus of the drive (Concepts, 169). In sum, Lacan illustrates his conception of the drive as a surrealist "montage" of its terms (Concepts, 171).
Back to our reading of "The Dead" in light of this conception of the drive, after Miss Ivors has left the party, an virtual orgy of eating, "what vulgar people call stuffing," begins as Gabriel sits himself "boldly at the head of the table, and having looked to the edge of the carver, [plunges] his fork firmly into the goose," and offers slices of the dead bird to the women at the table (D, 197). Within the realm of the Joyce's rich description of "objects of need," the goose, ham, beef, jelly, fruit, nuts and dessert, though the reader might not desire these foods per se, one experiences, according to Barthes, "in the naming of the foods...[the] pleasure of pure representation...the final state of matter, what cannot be transcended, withdrawn" (PT, 45). At this moment of sublime representation, satisfaction of the visual organ, in the text, Gabriel "felt quite at ease now for he was an expert carver and like nothing better than to find himself at the head of a well laden table;" indeed, his drive for a command of perception and manipulation becomes satisfied (D, 197). However, according to the sexualized nature of Joyce's description of Gabriel's slicing of the dead bird and his lustful advances during the rest of the novella (where the real, as noted earlier, "is distinguished by its desexualization,") one senses that perhaps cutting a goose in not in fact that which he "likes nothing better" (Concepts, 167; D, 197).
Of course, the polite interaction between Gabriel and the women to whom he serves meat involves himself as a paternal figure (symbolic object) catering to their feminine desire for authority exemplified in the satisfaction of their passive request for "just a small slice of the breast" or "anything at all" (D, 197). In this sense, where the component of ordering food factors into the satisfaction of the mouth, where "what comes our from the mouth comes back to the mouth," these women satisfy their drive for authority (relative to Gabriel and the act of passive eating) in terms of taking a humble part in the gluttonous affair of "stuffing" (Concepts, 167).
Miss Ivors, of course, as a pervert, does not allow herself to succumb to exposing herself to this trivial expression of desire; she would rather not participate in the ritual than allow herself to become an object of exchange (desire), waiting patiently to be served (satisfied) by Gabriel. Lily, also not part of the "stuffing" because she must scramble up and down the table gathering dishes and going "from guest to guest with a dish of how floury potatoes" (D, 197). For her, the dinner does not represent, a "brief moment from the bustle and rush of everyday routine" (204). Indeed, the pleasure of "stuffing" signifies labor and subservience for Lily. In this sense, the pleasure of eating for the "stuffing" guests unconsciously represents for Lily and Miss Ivors, the satisfaction of denying (subverting) the terms of the pleasure of the Other, the signification (satisfaction) of eating itself.
With a "stuffed" stomach, within the private domain of the bedroom at the Gresham Hotel at the end of the novella, Gabriel's desire for sexual satisfaction serves to undermine any claim to a unified identity, creating in him a sense of perverse frustration which Gretta eventually enjoys in relation to him to the Other, as jouissance. Indeed, Leonard characterizes Gabriel as perceiving Gretta as "a figure that represents the species he believes in, one that stands for the symptom that protects him from certain knowledge of the incertitude of his subjective consciousness" (RDA, 303). By the end of the dinner party, as Gretta becomes affected by the song which triggers memories of her old lover, Gabriel becomes aroused by her pensive attitude which, after "the first touch of her body, musical, strange and perfumed, send through him a keen pang of lust;" Leonard notes that "Gabriel wishes to be this distant music, to be the cause of her desire" (D, 215; Leonard, RDA, 303).
Joyce illustrates Gabriel's sexual desire in a manner of excess. He writes Gabriel as completely immersed, during the final chapter of the story, in his thoughts of sexual intercourse with his wife. Desire, thoughts of pleasure, restrict him to his own intensified sensuality, as he "could hear the falling of the molten wax into the [candle] tray and the thumping of his own heart against his ribs" (D, 215). Often in the story, rather than come to terms with his subjective consciousness, Gabriel wishes to immerse himself further into the realm of language, his imagination, when during the party (the domestic realm of metonymy), he desires "masculine travel," and taps "the cold pane of the window [thinking] how pleasant it would be [in the snow] than at the supper table" (D, 193). Gabriel's longing for intense sensual experience and pleasure (dancing, eating, drinking, sex) turns his mind inward upon himself, ignoring the emotional silence of his wife.
Indeed, Gabriel does not recognize his wife's solemn mood until it interferes with his sexual pursuits. Characterized by the inwardly focused character of a perverse desire for pleasure, Gabriel becomes blind to his wife's increasing agitation, as "he longed to be master of her strange mood" (D, 217). Gabriel, becoming aware of his wife's distracted disposition, when at one point "she did not answer nor yield wholly to his arm," according to the impossible structure of desire, becomes further excited. Her denial of his sexual advances, as "her hand was warm and moist [but] did not respond to his touch," creates "a dull anger [which] began to gather again at the back of his mind and the dull fires of lust began to glow angrily in his veins" (D, 218). Gabriel, in response to Gretta's disinterest in his lust, feels a sexualized type of aggression rather than sympathy and understanding.
Thus, he comes to view "himself as a ludicrous figure, acting a pennyboy, for his aunts, a nervous well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealizing his own clownish lusts" (D, 220). This "idealizing [of] his own clownish lusts," is what characterizes Gabriel's marriage, where, to revert to Leonard's Lacanian thesis, "the woman as symptom protects him, by her enigmatic masquerade as the Woman, from understanding the [fictive] fantasy of himself" (RDA, 304). Gretta has implicitly forced him to question their marriage as an institution of lust and a perverse desire for sex. By the end of he story, Gabriel's desire "to pass boldly into the other world, in the full glory of some passion, rather than fade and wither dismally with age," does not exempt him from suffering self- deprecation and shame. David Shields in "A Note on the Conclusion of Joyce's 'The Dead'" reads Gabriel's language in the bedroom scene as "inadequate and self-conscious...exaggerated alliteration...an overwritten passage that conveys emotional dead-ness taking its last refuge in sentimentality" (Shields, 427-8). Indeed, the reader should not read Gabriel's supposed "epiphany" at the end of "The Dead" in a positive and optimistic manner; the desire and pursuit of sex, is the product of fear of disunity--castration anxiety and a function of the drive. After all, "if Joyce had meant for the last sentence of the story to be truly poetic, would he have used 'falling faintly' and 'faintly falling' within four words of each other?" (Shields, 428). In a similar conception referring to Finnegans Wake, Catherine Millot illustrates in "On Epiphanies," that "the words of Joyce's language represent, just like the epiphanies, the conjunction of an excess and a loss of meaning...[achieving] an excess of sense, thanks to the bottomless ambiguity, which turns into nonsense, into mere unreadiblity" (Millot, 208-9).
As the electric light doesn't work in Gabriel's hotel room, doesn't "The Dead," a novella dealing with feminine desire, end in negation? Gabriel, in his failure to understand (read) the nature Gretta's sexual disinterest, as Shields argues, turns to "overblown rhetoric" in order to overcome shame and insecurity (Shields, 428). The end of the novella remains unresolved according to Gretta's "perverse" denial, as she presumably fantasizes about a memory of an older lover, of his perverse lust. Passion, in the face of a seemingly disinterest in pleasure, provides Gabriel with sorrow and "anger" before his wife; the pursuit of an increasingly impossible object (a wife who should be possible) makes him the author of his own disunity and suffering.
Having focused much attention on Gabriel and the end of (his) narrative of perversion, let us turn to Gretta and the jouissance she experiences, in Lacanian terms, as she, in her mind, desires an impossible object, Michael Furry, in terms of her own desire for pleasure, to subvert her husband's sense of marital authenticity. Her former lover, who claimed that "he did not want to live" apart from her, becomes the locus of her attention and not her husband who, having heard this tragic tale "locked in her heart for so many years," represses his own selfish for pleasure which, built up over the entire evening, figuratively approaches "that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead;" having discovered, as Leonard notes, "'that she had been comparing him in her mind to another'...this exposes to him as fantasy the entire history of their relationship" (D, 221, 223; Leonard, RDA, 307). He loses his "own identity...into a grey impalpable world" according to Gretta's expression of a haunting unconscious memory of her old lover (D, 223).
From the grave, Michael has won the power to master Gretta's unconscious thoughts. In this sense, it is not her husband that occupies the position of the object a in the inaccessible Other of her mind, but the memory (the language) of a boy who provides her, in relation to her husbands despair, a painful jouissance. Indeed, Lacan writes that, "in respect to the object a, at once image and pathos, the subject feels [herself] to be in an imaginary situation of otherness" ("Desire and the Interpretation of Desire in Hamlet," 15). Michael, who like the object a "satisfies no need and is itself already relative, i.e. placed in relation to the subject;" he is "the object of desire only by virtue of being the end-term of the fantasy...[and] takes the place...of what the subject is--symbolically--deprived of" (DIDH, 15). In a sense, one need not ask the question, "what does Gretta want," because in the relation of the subject to the signifier, she already has a desire for (a lack) of what she wants in her unconscious, and perversely enjoys it, as the "opaque character of the object a in the imaginary fantasy determines it...as the pole of perverse desire," in relation to her husband's insecure and insincere position of perverse sexual desire (DIDH, 15).
A perverse reading (a reading which gazes of the jouissance of the Woman, exemplified by Lily, Miss Ivors and Gretta, as a perverse desire for perversion, anger, desire, frustration, in the male subject, namely, Gabriel) calls the Woman--rather, the woman, a pervert. By calling the Woman the distinctly masculine label "pervert," one can preserve her claim to whatever she may want. Ascribing femininity into the Lacanian "structural element of perversion, insofar as perversion is characterized by the complete emphasis in the fantasy on the strictly imaginary term, a...by means of which a fantasy has crystallized and functions in a perverse desire," Woman, like Ragland-Sullivan's conception of Lacan's Joyce, takes on the active role of figuratively making "the object a appear, to work with the sublime object that produces discontinuities in seemingly whole systems or totalized experiences" (DIDH, 16; Ragland-Sulivan, 56). It is this sense of, as Leonard notes, "the pervert does not believe in the existence of the Phallus, which is to say there are no objects the pervert is willing to imbue with transcendent symbolic significance, including, and especially, the penis" (Leonard, RDA, 65).
Reading any text from the selfish position of the pervert (we often find ourselves skipping ahead to the end of a story, listening to the sound, the noise of the words over and over again, re-reading the moments of pleasure) seemingly places the reader outside of the economy of pity, as "to feel sorry for [the characters of Dubliners] is to avoid feeling sorry for ourselves" (Leonard; RDA, 23). Is it not our ability as critics to "skip to the end" and "re-read" the text, avoiding self-pity, which we come to in the pleasure of the text? Is it not our illusory being as pornographic textual master to "uncover meaning" the locus of our desire as critic? Barthes notes: "Proust is what comes to me, not what I summon up; not an 'authority,' simply a circular memory. Which is what the inter-text is: the impossibility of living outside of the infinite text" (PT, 36). Who is the reader of Joyce? "I" of perversion.
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Flieger, Jerry Aline, "The Female Subject: (What) Does Woman Want?" in
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Brivec, S. "Joyce Between Genders: Lacanian Views," James Joyce Quarterly 29, no.1 :13-21, 1991
Flieger, Jerry Aline, "The Female Subject: (What) Does Woman Want?" in Psychoanalysis and . . .. New York/London: Routledge, 1990.
Ingersoll, E. "The Gender of Travel in 'The Dead,'" James Joyce Quarterly 30, no.1:41-50, 1992.
Lacan, J. The Four Fundamental Concepts in Psychoanalysis. New York: Norton, 1981.
______ . "Desire and Interpretation of Desire in Hamlet." Felman, Literature and Psychoanalysis, 11-52, 1982.
Leonard, G. Reading Dubliners Again. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1993.
Millot, C. "On Epiphanies." Benstock, James Joyce: The Augmented Ninth. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 207-209, 1988.
Ragland-Sullivan, E. "Psychosis Adumbrated: Lacan and Sublimation of the Sexual Divide in Joyce's Exiles." James Joyce Quarterly 29, no.1:47-62, 1991.
Sartre, J.P. "Introduction to Our Lady of the Flowers." In Genet, Our Lady of the Flowers. New York: Grove Press, 1-49, 1963.
Zizek, S. Looking Awry. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1991.
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