The End Again
Elegiac Epiphanies of Love in Three Works by James Joyce
By John J. Healey
("Everywhere I go I find a poet has been there
before me." Sigmund Freud)
But the quote from Freud enclosed within parentheses under the title above indicates a slight difference of opinion. Do exceptional poets really hold back from telling whole profound psychological truths or do they just use a different, poetic, language that, though less clear or less analytic, may in fact be less merciful and even, upon occasion, more profound. That Dr. Bergmann chose to separate psychoanalysts from poets is a time honored and reasonable proposition. The provinces of psychoanalysis and literature have by and large been at war since Freud's new discipline emerged at the end of the 19th Century. Uneasy truces have occurred here and there. But the realm of the arts has, in general, cast a jaundiced and skeptical eye at Freud. (This tendency used to be more subtle and interesting than it is today when Freud bashing has achieved a fever pitch.1) But when one keeps in mind the fact that serious artists and serious psychoanalysts mine the same ore, be it with different tools, it is only natural that some rivalry take place. In his book Open Minded, Jonathan Lear casually groups Freud in with "a tradition which goes back to Sophocles and which extends through Plato, Saint Augustine, and Shakespeare to Proust and Nietzsche." So perhaps the distinction implied by Bergmann does not hold. In a reference to Goethe in his book Civilization and Its Discontents, (The Standard Edition, W.W. Norton & Company, pg. 96) Freud elaborates this idea a bit more: "And we may well heave a sigh of relief at the thought that it is nevertheless vouchsafed to a few to salvage without effort from the whirlpool of their own feelings the deepest truths, towards which the rest of us have to find our way through tormenting uncertainty and with restless groping."
It is generally acknowledged that James Joyce qualifies as one of the "few" Freud was referring to. Joyce was in touch, perhaps not without the expenditure of significant effort, with the "deeper truths." I have chosen three excerpts from the final pages of three works. The first is from his story, The Dead, featured in his collection Dubliners.
The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover's eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live. Generous tears filled Gabriel's eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love.
From "The Dead", in "Dubliners," (1916), Penguin Books, 1984, pg. 223
The core tale contained in The Dead concerns the main protagonist's discovery that his wife Greta, years earlier, in her youth, had been deeply in love with another man. Gabriel Conroy's sense of proprietary conjugal bliss, his sense of self-satisfaction at having comported himself at the preceding dinner with distinction, delicacy and aplomb, and his resulting expectation that this would be rewarded with a celebration of rekindled marital ardor once he and his wife were alone in their hotel room, all suffers a humiliating reverse. He realizes that, distracted by his own inflated self-regard he has misread the tears she shed hearing an old song as they bid goodnight to their hostesses. He believed that her quietude and vulnerability shown to him in the carriage ride back to the hotel and her attitude of emotional alteration once in the room, had all been meant for him. What he had contemplated as a dyad still redolent with heat and intimacy has been transformed, in an instant, into a triangle. In a chapter devoted to triangles in her book Dreams of Love and Fateful Encounters, Ethel Person writes: "Although romantic love is genuinely described as a "religion of two," love pairs can be infected by triangles, and may even be wholly contaminated by them. Or, more positively, triangles may sometimes facilitate love."2 She describes all manner of triangular dynamics, their psychological etiologies and their uses. The one most applicable to the case of Gabriel and Greta Conroy may be the following: "…triangles may protect the lover from his fears of falling in love, particularly from a fear of engulfment. They allow the lover to yield enough to fall in love but they simultaneously guard against the loss of the self, because complete union with (or commitment to) the beloved is averted by circumstances."3
I say this because the thoughts which next engulf Gabriel's mind and which constitute the tale's beautiful end, concern the loss of self expressed in a lyrical manner never to be forgotten for as long as people read works of literature:
The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling.
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
From "The Dead", in "Dubliners," (1916), Penguin Books, 1984, pg. 224
The next selection, slightly abridged, is from the last page of Ulysses.
...the sun shines for you he said the day we were lying among the rhododendrons on Howth head in the grey tweed suit and his straw hat the day I got him to propose to me yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and it was leapyear like now yes 16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldnt answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didnt …and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
From "Ulysses", (1922), Random House edition, pgs, 767-768.
The structure of this book in which each chapter refers to a different body part and to a different section of Homer's The Odyssey, covers a single day in Dublin in the month of June. It ends with the thoughts of one of its main characters, Molly Bloom, just as she thinks them, written in Joyce's by now infamous stream of consciousness style, that is nothing more or less than an extraordinarily accurate and frank portrayal of a character's free associations.4 She is lying in bed, waiting for sleep to come. Her thoughts are as jumbled and uncensored as anyone's and in fact much of the material contained in this passage, based on the section in Homer's work called Penelope, which runs for some 60 pages without a single mark of punctuation, was responsible for the book being banned in the United States for many years. It is a paean to the beauty and strength of the female personality, un-idealized and de-romanticized, and yet sublime. It also answers Hamlet's profound question, the question for Freud as well, with a profound and resounding Yes. It has a particular resonance for me because, with little warning, and after seven hundred pages of a cold and gray urban landscape meticulously drawn we are suddenly transported to Molly's memories of Andalucia, a place where I also found a new lease on life after a childhood and adolescence spent in what I remember as a dreary and depressing, Anglo-Saxon urban environment.
It has been my opinion for many years that the last pages of Finnegan's Wake are among the most beautiful ever written in the English language. It is impossible for me to read them without shedding tears. I considered various ways of reducing this extended quote that appears on the penultimate page of Joyce's final work but I was unable to get it any shorter than this. The book took 17 years to finish, has a circular form employing a repetitive Giambatista Vico inspired four-stages-of-history plan, and was largely written to be read aloud. Joyce spoke 7 languages and had a working knowledge of 11 more, all of which were used to create pun-compacted words whose manifest meanings are often only clear thanks to a phonetic similarity to their closest English equivalents. I do not use the term manifest arbitrarily. Joyce once described Ulysses as his book of the day and Finnegan's Wake as his book of the night, written in "dream-speak." It is for this reason that much of it is, frankly, and famously, unintelligible. But in a gratifying concession to linearity the book, its language, does get somewhat clearer towards its "end." It is waking up, gaining consciousness. Repression begins to exert its editorial function choosing relative clarity, beating down the multi-leveled connections. As happens in Ulysses, it is the book's main female protagonist, in this case Anna Livia Plurabelle, who brings the tale to its conclusion:
There'll be others but non so for me. Yed he never knew we seen us before. Night after night. So that I longed to go to. And still with all. One time you'd stand fornenst me, fairly laughing, in your bark and tan billows of branches for to fan me coolly. And I'd lie as quiet as a moss. And one time you'd rush upon me, darkly roaring, like a great black shadow with a sheeny stare to perce me rawly. And I'd frozen up and pray for thawe. Three times in all. I was the pet of everyone then. A princeable girl. And you were the pantymammy's Vulking Corsergoth. The invision of Indelond. And, by Thorror, you looked it! My lips went livid for from the joy of fear. Like almost now. How? How you said how you'd give me the keys of me heart. And we'd be married till delth to uspart. And though dev do espart. O mine! Only, no, now it's me who's got to give. As duv
herself div. Inn this linn. And can it be it's nnow fforvell? Illas! I wisht I had better glances to peer to you through this baylight's growing. But you're changing, acoolsha, you're changing from me, I can feel. Or is it me is? I'm getting mixed. Brightening up and tightening down. Yes, you're changing, sonhusband, and you're turning, I can feel you, for a daughterwife from the hills again. Imlamaya. And she is coming. Swimming in my hindmoist. Diveltaking on me tail. Just a whisk brisk sly spry spink spank sprint of a thing theresomere, saultering. Saltarella come to her own. I pity your oldself I was used to. Now a younger's there. Try not to part! Be happy, dear ones! May I be wrong! For she'll be sweet for you as I was sweet when I came down out of me mother. My great blue bedroom, the air so quiet, scarce a cloud. In peace and silence. I could have stayed up there for always only. It's something fails us. First we feel. Then we fall. And let her rain now if she likes. Gently or strongly as she likes. Anyway let her rain for my time is come.
From "Finnegan's Wake", (1939), The Viking Press-Penguin Books (1984), pgs. 626-627.
Like all of the book's characters Anna undergoes many transformations. In these final pages she is the River Liffey (the pun being very much intended), the river that runs through Dublin just before it empties into the Irish Sea. The four stage cycle in gear here is that of rivers in general which start in the highlands, flow down and out to sea where they mix with the ocean's salt, and then rise up as mist into clouds which are blown back over the land where the moisture condenses and falls again as rain which seeps into the earth and makes its way back to the river's source. She speaks in a tone of regret, a tone of remorse and nostalgia, mourning the past, an Irish tone if there ever was one. But there is also a winning and sweet grain of positive affirmation permeating her concessions to the inevitable. Above all it is the tone most appropriate for modern romance, at least as it was defined so beautifully once by Joseph Campbell: "Modern romance, like Greek tragedy, celebrates the mystery of dismemberment, which is life in time. The happy ending is justly scorned as a misrepresentation; for the world, as we know it, as we have seen it, yields but one ending; death, disintegration, dismemberment, and the crucifixion of our heart with the passing of the forms that we have loved."5
The dreamlike exposition found in this selected text from Finnegan's Wake encourages a dreamlike response from the reader and when I read it I am, as is the case so often in dreams, each person, each sex, each element, "saultering" along in the current, doing my best to take it all in and to feel it to its fullest. When she says, "There'll be others but non so for me," I am myself, stuck like Lot's wife, looking back upon the ruins of a sweet but distant kingdom just before it came to ruin. When she refers to Thor I am Thor enforcing phallic dominion over the opposite sex with a strength and a wink in my eye that makes the world go round. When she parodies the wedding vows, "How you said how you'd give me the keys of me heart. And we'd be married till delth to uspart," I am both man and woman, mother and child (delth is both the river delta that demarcates the river's end and the sea's beginning, and death itself), the perpetrator and recipient of each declaration of love I have ever made, each time expressed with the same degree of devotion only to be dissipated in the end by chance and circumstance and time: . But you're changing, acoolsha, you're changing from me, I can feel. Or is it me is? I'm getting mixed…"
It's something fails us. First we feel, then we fall. And so it goes. It's Fin-Again, the end again, be it our birth, the separation-individuation that marks the end of our first incestual love affair, or any of the losses we have to bear, if only so that we may begin again. Samuel Beckett, Joyce's dévoté who rejected his master's 19th Century romanticism for a bleaker modernist view, once described the human condition in the following manner: "They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more." Joyce took care to train his eye and sensibility on that instant of light and to find there a poetic and fleshy universe of rhyming beauty, a place we all inhabit for a time. Minds like those of Copernicus and Darwin and Sigmund Freud give us profound truths with merciless and liberating candor.
But the minds of great poets paint us truths to live by, without flinching, as we each take our journey from the highlands to the sea.
1. "If this were merely the attack on one historical figure, Freud, or on one professional group, psychoanalysts, the hubbub would have died down long ago. After all, psychoanalysis nowadays plays a minor role in the mental health professions; Freud is less and less often taught or studied. …The real object of attack – for which Freud is only a stalking-horse – is the very idea that humans have unconscious motivation. A battle may be fought over Freud, but the war is over our culture's image of the human soul. Are we to see humans as having depth – as complex psychological organisms who generate layers of meaning which lie beneath the surface of their own understanding? Or are we to take ourselves as transparent to ourselves?" Jonathan Lear (1998) in Open Minded , Harvard Univ. Press, pg.27
2. Ethel S. Person (1988) Chapter 9: Triangles in Dreams of Love and Fateful Encounters, Penguin Books, pg. 212
3. Ibid, pg. 226
4. This style of writing, as difficult to do well and as demanding on the reader as it is satisfying is an attempt to get around a fact or normal life beautifully put forth by Freud when he wrote: "We have no way of conveying knowledge of a complicated set of simultaneous events except by describing them successively; and thus it happens that all our accounts are at fault to begin with owing to one-sided simplification and must wait till they can be supplemented, built on to, and so set right." Sigmund Freud in An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, The Standard Edition, W.W. Norton & Co., pg 94.5. This also brings to mind the beautiful words spoken in the Hebrew service when sitting Shiva: "A final separation awaits every relationship, no matter how tender. Someday we shall have to drop every object to which our hands now cling."