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9.11 The Social Use of Desire

Desire, as the principle which unites signifier and signified, recalls both the 'Shame' of sexual reproduction Stephen elucidate in Ulysses, and HCE's lingering significance contained in the impotent 'Sham' of Finnegans Wake. These concepts find an intersecting point in the later works Kristeva, who cites Feuerbach's much earlier comprehension of the function of desire as a unifying principle which binds the disparate elements of society:

It is this desiring 'human being' who constitutes the mainstay of religion, which presents him with various 'objects' to desire, the archetype of which is God: 'The basic dogmas of Christianity are the fulfilled wishes of mankind.' Desire unifies man and binds him to others; as such, desire serves as the foundation of anthropomorphism and the human basis of the community, society, and finally the State.28

Joyce's textual recreation of the Judeo-Christian deity, indeed his appropriation of its narrative in the Wake's recurring cycle, demonstrates that the parameters of desire are cultural, whether religious, political or consumerist. With this realisation lies a potential freedom from exploitive or utopian desires engineered by religion, the state or capitalism, and the construction of value systems appropriate to individual needs. When sexual desire becomes structured with institutional values the result is social conformism: such a principle of social engineering can be observed, for instance, in the manipulation of sexuality by advertisers to engender particular forms of consumerist desire. Environmental structures are always present in sexual desire to a greater or lesser degree but, when they are total, so is domination. On the other hand, Joyce's perception of the need for both masculine and feminine aspects in the union of signifier and signified takes into account Freud's understanding of civilisation as a sublimation of sexual desire into cultural and material creativity (see above, *). As discussed, the letter itself is a product of such sublimation. The masculine in Joyce's vision is not entirely willed away, but rather offset against the difference of femininity.

In some respects the portrayal of desire in Finnegans Wake also echoes Stephen's caution concerning desire in Scylla and Charybdis, in particular Goethe's injunction: 'Beware of what you wish for in youth because you will get it in middle life' (U 9.451-52). The biblical stories of Jacob and Esau and Moses' flight from the 'fleshpots of Egypt' are united in the Wake in the artist's refusal to trade self-realisation for consumer satisfaction. This theme pervades the dialectic between Shaun and Shem, especially in the Ondt and Gracehoper fable where the bourgeois principles of the former are used to justify both the social and sexual repression of the latter. Such parables of artistic integrity and consequent suffering parallel Joyce's own resistance to the sexual, intellectual and financial domination central to the perpetuation of the logos; his struggle with censorship and his overcoming of market-oriented objections to publishing his work were critical to producing the literary monuments of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Contrary to the ideology of capitalism which, as part of its denigration of different approaches to freedom, continually applauds its own innovative productive capability, Joyce shows Shaun's repressive acquisitiveness as essentially detrimental to new artistic enterprises. Nevertheless, while a great many innovations, scientific discoveries, artistic creations and intellectual achievements of Western civilisation have been developed outside capitalist production, capitalism, like the 'dominant' Shaun, appropriates such achievements for its own ends. Capitalism functions much as Shaun does in the Wake as a means of distribution, and the artist's creativity should remain outside such domination. Yet, once again the problem remains the process of intellectual dissemination. Contrary to the requirement for obedience enshrined in the motto of Dublin (so essential to the perpetuation of the Wake's cycles), the answer lies partly in both asserting and respecting difference from the unifying strategies of the various elements of social power to engender a conformism of values.


28 Feuerbach, Sämtliche Werke, ed. by Wilhelm Bolin and Friedrich Jodl, 10 vols (Stuttgart: Fromann, 1959) 2:320, quoted and translated by David McLellan in The Young Hegelians and Karl Marx (London: Macmillan, 1969), and cited in Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language, p. 136.