Next Section

Previous Section

9.6 Women and Motherhood

The Wake's portrayal of women as subservient to the biological requirements of the deified ancestor is susceptible to political misinterpretation, particularly given its refusal to provide a model of an idealised future. Even so, women in the cycles of the Wake diverge from idealised traditional portrayals of gender by its revaluing of the hitherto 'silent' miracle of sexual reproduction. Joyce rewrites Eve's critical role in the biblical fall, which is frequently characterised by the allusion to Augustine's phrase, O felix culpa, as sourced in female sexual desire, and similarly the birth of Christ is portrayed as a biological rather than spiritual event. Consistent with the renewal of the masculine logos, the Wake's cycle overturns one masculine myth of male suffering, particularly Christ's death upon the cross, to supplant it with a similar myth of masculine suffering: the persecution of HCE and the artist Shem. The trope of outstanding examples of masculine suffering has extinguished from the historical canon the general and repeated suffering of childbirth, just as the masculine cavorting of the Oxen of the Sun episode of Ulysses, with its corresponding religious, cultural and textual development, largely disregards the suffering of Mrs Purefoy in childbirth. Similarly, the mythology of the catholic Church resounds not only with the death of Christ, but sacrifices made by its saints who maintained their faith in the deity despite torture or death. The implicit resistance to the Viconian cycles and the fertile potentiality of the Wake's language and suspended conclusion, seek to subvert the social debt to the masculine singularity and his recurrent entities, each of whom have been sacrificed in our name.

Regarding the social good of sexual reproduction, Michel Foucault notes that a central theme underpinning marriage in the classical period was the city's need for offspring, and that the production of offspring as a goal of sexual intercourse was a theme to recur powerfully in Christianity.19 For his part, Joyce explicates the sacredness of sperm in the Old Testament as being linked to the biological reincarnation of a deified ancestor (the signature of the letter), and suggests that the emphasis upon reproduction in subsequent Christian dogma regarding sexuality echoes this tribal precept. In Ulysses the sexual act recreates Shakespeare, and similarly by implication the deity: 'He walks. One life is all. One body. Do. But do. Afar, in a reek of lust and squalor, hands are laid on whiteness' (U 9.653-54). Against this unity of identity, the silence, the unspoken and the repression of the Other are recognised by Joyce as feminine. The repression and consequent subservience of the female, moreover, is a function of the creative potency, both sexual and textual, of the great male of narrative history. Motherhood in Finnegans Wake is therefore a subordination to the deity in both cultural and biological terms which effects HCE's escape into time. Mirroring the identical process of the appropriation of the sacrifice of motherhood into the historical narrative of the masculine logos, the jouissance of motherhood is similarly eclipsed by the reproductive requirements of the patriarchy. The Wake shares Kristeva's position outlined in her doctoral thesis, La révolution du langage poétique, where 'she has claimed that it is not woman as such who is repressed in patriarchal society, but motherhood'.20 To be a mother in Finnegans Wake is to be subordinate to the patriarchal value system contained in the logos.

19 The Care of the Self: The History of Sexuality, Volume 3, trans. by Robert Hurley (Le Sourci de soi, Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1984; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990), pp. 155, 183.

20 (Paris: Seuil, 1974), pp. 453, 462; cited in Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics, pp. 167-68.