Issue 35 (Autumn 2005)


For this issue of the journal – devoted as it is to a selection of papers presented at the Joyce-Lacan Symposium held in Dublin in June this year – I have asked Patricia McCarthy as one of the principal players in the organization of the event to write the editorial. The event which will be fondly remembered by many for a long time to come, was an exercise in painstaking attention to detail, to scholarship, and to fun! The glorious warm days of early summer served as the perfect backdrop to the glittering elegance of Dublin Castle, and the even more glittering performances housed therein over the days of the Symposium. (Ed.)

It is a great pleasure to pen these introductory remarks to an issue of The Letter which is devoted to a selection of papers presented at the Joyce-Lacan Symposium held in Dublin Castle in June of this year.

These papers come to us from thirteen of the Irish contributors and given that there was a total of seventy five speakers over the course of the three days we can expect that further contributions will grace these pages in future issues, not only from among the remaining Irish voices but from among our many international contributors. Because of the momentousness of an event celebrating the work of Lacan and Joyce being held in Dublin, around Bloomsday, the initial call for papers, not surprisingly, led to high numbers wishing to contribute. Ray O’Donnchadha flagged the title for his paper to me at least one year in advance! The measure of this diverse and lively interest among our analytic community is reflected in the following pages. … Continue reading

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THE LETTER 35 (Autumn 2005) pages 1-18

Bhi se ar intinn agamfailte a chuir romhaimh as Gaeilge…

I was thinking of welcoming you in Irish but I was persuaded that the translation service already had enough to cope with, so I will get straight to the paper I have prepared for you.

The title of our symposium and Jacques Lacan’s own remarks about how fateful had been his meeting as a young man with James Joyce might lead you to expect that Joyce had been one of his main interlocutors throughout his long career as a teacher and writer, especially as they both lived in Paris for nearly twenty years between 1920 and 1940.

I will leave it to the Joyce specialists to explore whether his torment over his daughter’s schizophrenia ever made him aware of the existence of the brilliant young psychiatrist, consulted by Picasso among others, whose earliest publications included a revolutionary thesis on paranoia and a study on ‘inspired writings’. But the expectation of a substantial Joyce influence on Lacan is strengthened by the fact that few analysts have given such a central place to the way in which the productions of literary and pictorial artists anticipated psychoanalysis in articulating crucial aspects of human subjectivity. For Lacan, this was not simply a matter of passing references. His extensive commentaries have often radically changed the way in which these artists are seen by specialists and has generated a sub-literature of its own. Let me recall some examples and stress that many of these themes return repeatedly as leitmotifs punctuating his writings and his seminars.

To illustrate the primacy of the Symbolic order he selected Edgar Allen Poe’s The purloined letter; for the tragedy of desire he chose Shakespeare’s Hamlet; for the ethics of psychoanalysis it was Sophocles’…


THE LETTER 35 (Autumn 2005) pages 19-26

Ever since 1991 when I gave a paper at a conference in Paris on he Sinthome, I have (sporadically) been reading and puzzling over this seminar. I am struck each time by its odd focus. As Lacan himself says, his original plan had been to speak of the three and the four, and it would seem that the convergence of this theme with certain structural features of Finnegans Wake was what led him to re-orient the seminar. The resulting engagement with the work of Joyce is markedly different from any of his previous engagements with literature or indeed with writing.

As a young psychiatrist, in 1931 he had carried out a close stylistic and linguistic analysis of the ‘inspired’ writings of a twenty-eight year old psychotic woman. In the 1950s not only did he provide his audience with a much more detailed textual reading of Schreber’s Memoirs than had Freud, he also devoted three great literary seminars to a groundbreaking exploration of tragedy via three texts, Hamlet, Antigone and ClaudeVs trilogy respectively.

Picking up the Sinthome, the expectant reader finds no real engagement with Joycean texts as such. It would seem that the term ‘writing’ is unhitched from ‘the written’ which is presumably a valid enough stance. In its unhitched state in this seminar, it refers primarily to the activity of writing, to the function of writing as symptom. Is this an original insight? This was my starting point for the paper which follows.

THE LETTER 35 Autumn 2005, pages 27-34

Copulation matters to the psychoanalyst! The copulation we have in mind – to use Lacan’s provocative take on this very particular word that ordinarily suggests ‘only the one thing’ – sex, right? – is the copulation between language and the literal flesh of our bodies. Everything to do with the drives, the sexual relationship, the unconscious, is decided out of this copulation. In simple words it manifests itself differently for the psychotic subject and the neurotic subject and then there is Joyce… and believe you me, Joyce also matters to the psychoanalyst.

I want to approach these subject differences by examining the phenomenon of the uncanny. Freud described it as unhomeliness or unheimlichkeit. Lacan’s further conceptualisation – particularly in the seminar on Anxiety – conveys that, as a manifestation of anxiety, a sense of unhomeliness, also well expressed by the notion of strangeness, can flood the subject, can dispossess, precisely because of the fact that the world around him is familiar, homely or intimate at that exact time. I have often thought that the reduction of high expressed emotion that the psychiatrist seeks for his psychotic patient aims at reducing this outbreak of unhomeliness which takes him over, disastrously altering his reality -simply because he is in an intimate or homely setting. What ensues technically with this phenomenon of the uncanny is an alteration of your body image. The parallel alteration of your sense of your place in the world involves a derailment in the register of the Real in its relation to the Imaginary and the Symbolic. Simply put we say there is too much Real. Let’s illuminate this irreducible core phenomenon with an anecdote supplied by none other than President Schreber. In the early morning as he is being brought to the station through the streets of Leipzig to catch…

THE LETTER 35 (Autumn 2005) pages 35-42


By epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments.

This is the young James Joyce explaining his theory of epiphanies in his early work, Stephen Hero. This theory, which develops into his aesthetic theory, is based, somewhat loosely, on Aquinas’s theory of ‘the beautiful’ and Joyce likens ‘epiphany’ to Aquinas’s claritas, i.e., clarity or radiance. Stanislaus Joyce describes how his brother, James, used to take note of ‘epiphanies’ or revelations. He explains that, initially, they were ‘ironical observations of slips, and little errors and gestures …by which people betrayed the very things they were most careful to conceal’  Later, however, Stanislaus explains, ‘epiphanies became more frequently subjective and included dreams…’ In other words, James Joyce became aware that he had access to his own psyche through these and other formations which were indeed revelations. In this paper, I suggest that, both in his theory regarding his artistic writing and in the actual writing, at one and the same time and in one and the same activity of writing, as he does, he is…

THE LETTER 35 (Autumn 2005) pages 43-49

There is not such a

consubstantial problem with

letters and their modest

mystery than the one posed by




It has been said about Joyce’s Ulysses, among many other things, that it should be read in English, and in a loud voice. We did this, together with some colleagues, in rotation, during a year. I had been living in Dublin for three months when we began.

From what that experience produced many questions arose, from which I choose two lines of work, whose first articulations I would like to outline today.

Firstly, the problem of idiom, related to that of translation, pertinent to psychoanalysis from many and different perspectives. Secondly, the problem of the pair to hear/to read and their difference, which introduces us to the question of writing, central to our field.

The first complete translation of Ulysses into “Spanish” was done by an Argentinian man in the middle of the last century1. Many of Dublin’s colloquial terms [argot], as well as expressions, sayings, puns and jokes, which only obtain their value around the Liffey, within the city’s pubs and people, were translated into the same singularities that characterized the Buenos Aires of those times. His work was celebrated by many and also…

THE LETTER 35 Autumn 2005, pages 50-58

In discussing the work of Joyce it is necessary to highlight the common themes of father, fathers, and the son in Joyce’s work and connect these themes with the role of the father and its implication for the son in Lacan’s works particularly in the important text of Family Complexes in the Formation of the Individual. The theme or ‘the-me~s of Joyce relies heavily upon the ‘old artificer’, the coat and arms of the coat of arms, carried by, and, through the father. This coat, or arms, can be seen as a form of indentation of generations upon the psyche of the next generation and for our purposes on James Joyce, writer, Poet and son of artificer.

John Stanislaus and James, and the many father referents, priests, colleagues and Ibsen were fatherly figures of influence. Joyce’s writings and narrative style pose questions of a psychoanalytic nature e.g. around the castration complex and inclusion into language, and the symbolic order, that lead us to enquire into the role of the formation of the erotics of narrative, and subject. Perhaps his work is a text outside castration.

This paper will look at the relationship between Joyce and his father John Stanislaus taking into account Lacan’s statement on the Imago of the father: ‘it polarises in both sexes the most perfect form of the ego-ideal’. If one looks at the relationship with the other f/Fathers in the work of Ulysses and Finnegans wake, and how his connection with these figures assumed the role of the nom du pere, one can see a theme of father. It is suggested that Joyce rebelled against the symbolic imprint…

THE LETTER 35 (Autumn 2005) pages 59-63

When Ben Dollard sings the Croppy Boy half way through the day in the course of Stephen’s quest for father, it is as if the old Wexford rebel song about the betrayal by the father is somehow a shattering of the dream. Not only is his own real father not who Stephen would like him to be, not who he needs him to be; he is not what any self-respecting father would want to be. The archetypal father, in the form of the priest in whom we know we can trust, is not who the croppy boy thinks he is. The brutalised father, (the soldier in the song masquerading as a priest), reneges on the trust of the son, contaminates the true ideal father. A scenario which is mirrored in modern Ireland in the abuse by members of the church, the erosion of the true masculine by the lotus leaves of drink, work and golf, and to a lesser degree by the usurpation of the masculine by the modern Medusa. It is this lack of faith in the father which plagues Stephen throughout the struggle of Ulysses. But if we look closer we find that this is also the lowest point in the search for the father, it is the point at which the search has no place to go except up. It is also the point at which the father figure in the book, Bloom, reaches his nadir and loses all sense of masculinity to the cock an carra as his wife goes to blazes.

But to see Ulysses as simply the search of a son for his father is to simplify and to therefore miss out on the archetypal richness of Joyce. It is much more about the inexorable drive to manhood, the ‘adolescing’ of the child and the proud march of the boy out of the wandering rocks of boyhood and into the brave new world of Ithacan manhood. Ulysses is the personification of, as Jung puts it, the attenuation of the parental archetype with all its attendant insecurities, hardships and excitement. It is at once the confluence and the conflict of need and want in the search for fatheringness, and fatherness. It is about Stephen’s faltering, sporadic, and…


THE LETTER 35 (Autumn 2005) pages 64-71

James Joyce opens Finnegans Wake with a spectacle ”.. .riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs

Reference books explain that Commodus was a decadent Roman Emperor; that Vico, is variously understood as a road on the edge of Dublin Bay and as the philosopher of the fourfold corso-recorso, an idea of history that invokes the word ‘recirculation, encouraging Joyce to create a book without beginning or end.

The words offer a cover for ‘leaning against’  some signifiers in Joyce and Lacan, bearing in mind a further sense of commodius as meaning in Dublin parlance and thus with an eye to Joyce, something very suitable, rather fortunate. It also sparks off the sense of a commode, meaning a bedpan or chamber pot.

Listening to the sounds ‘comme-mot-deus’ leads in to Lacan’s earliest remarks in Seminar XXIII where he speaks of the drives as’ …the echo in the body of the fact there is a saying.’ The most important for his purposes is, he says, the ear.

I want to follow some sounds and signifiers using various commodius vicuses. I will read a letter from John Joyce to help explore the family ‘lalangue’ and suggest that John substituted James for…

THE LETTER 35 (Autumn 2005) pages 72-78

You less is – the subject appears in the loss, the cut, the break, the slip, the ambiguity of language. How so for the psychotic subject whose whole essence relies on the whole, the complete, one cut in any register being enough to orchestrate the demise of the psychotic subject. Travel or knot t’ravel, a question for the neurotic or a given for the psychotic. ‘Not knot’, ‘who’s there?’ ‘S’. ‘S who?’ ‘S int home’. ‘S Where?’ ‘S in tome’. The subject is in the volume. Joyce is, and through his volume he exposes the fullness of meaning. What is meaning? What is mean? What does borrow mean? Where does this lead us? What are the perils of deciphering and where should one stop? Lacan’s three dit mensions serve as a structure to approach this most elusive subject: that which cannot be represented in language. The Borromean knot allows us to look at the structure of the subject without using language, each register only existing due to the limit imposed by the other two. Truth can only be approached through matheme, where the imaginary has no domain. Where can I find the best actual example of the interplay between meaning, sense, language and the imaginary? – Ulysses.

The title of this paper – The lost subject -I chose because personally speaking I think that Joyce’s Ulysses and Lacan’s Borromean knot illustrate that it is not so much who is the subject but the location of the subject vis-a-vis structure that is important. The Borromean knot or indeed chain has certain properties which I will outline before I continue. The knot traditionally is made up of three rings of string which are connected together in such a way that each ring is separate and only connected to another by a third. So that in the knot of three ones, each ring plays…

THE LETTER 35 (Autumn 2005) pages 79-83

While reading Ulysses with a group during the past year I was struck by how often the name of the Old Testament prophet, Elijah, appears in Ulysses and asked myself what significance he could have had for Joyce.

Joyce met and fell in love with Nora Barnacle and left Ireland with her. They soon had a son, so he was called on to fill the roles of husband and a father. What models had he for these roles? Joyce’s childhood in Dublin was marked by an alcoholic father which may have been the reason he was sensitive to the values of a different tradition to his own Catholic one, whose priests, he has Leopold Bloom observe, live off the fat of the land. There was a thriving Jewish community in Dublin at the time of Joyce’s youth. Speaking of Jewish people he told Frank Budgen, a close friend whom he met in Zurich, that he sometimes thought that ‘it was a heroic sacrifice on their part when they refused to accept the Christian revelation. Look at them. They are better husbands than we are, better fathers and better sons’} He retained influences from the Catholic faith he was brought up in saying ‘I love Dante almost as much as the Bible. He is my spiritual food, the rest is ballast.”

He identified with Jewish people because of their uncertain place in European society and questioned his Jewish friend, Ettore Schmitz about Judaism in which faith Elijah is seen as a prophet and herald of the Messiah. Elijah is also significant for Christians. He and Moses are the two figures who appear with Jesus in the scene of the transfiguration, as told in Matthew 17:1-9. After Jesus tells the apostles to say nothing of what had happened until ‘after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead’, they…

THE LETTER 35 (Autumn 2005) pages 84-92

The Dead, the final story in Joyce’s collection Dubliners, seems to illustrate many of Lacan’s later theories on the structure of the human psyche, the relationship between the sexes and the nature of love. According to Lacan, Joyce had a symptom due to the fact that his father was lacking. ‘…I thought that it was the key to what had happened to Joyce. That Joyce has a symptom which starts, which starts from the fact that his father was lacking (carent): radically lacking, he talks of nothing but that.’ Lacan claims that it was by wanting to make a name for himself that Joyce compensated for the paternal lack. Joyce’s writings, he says, were altogether essential for his ego and bear witness to the way in which Joyce remains rooted in his father even as he disowns him; and this was his symptom. ‘The father,’ he says in the same seminar, ‘is a symptom or a sinthome.’

Gabriel Conroy, the chief character in The Dead, is, like Stephen Daedalus, in many ways an alter ego of Joyce. He too is an arts graduate who works as a teacher and literary reviewer. As with Joyce, his wife is a less well-educated girl from Galway whom he appears to have married without parental approval and they have two children, a boy and a girl. Gabriel, also like Joyce, has weak eyes, and is drawn more to the continent than to his native country. As with Joyce, Gabriel’s father appears to…

THE LETTER 35 (Autumn 2005) pages 93-100

The minimum pact demanded by the Symbolic Order so that one human being is able to recognise another like himself and thereby suppose an Imaginary dimension has had strange innings in Ireland. Perhaps it’s like this in all colonial or post colonial societies where the effect of the Symbolic on the Real has resulted in a psychic space where the Name of the Father as the promise of Otherness has been badly shaken – a place where social bonds make for very tenuous and sometimes very violent links.

Psychoanalysis began by refusing to take sides with common discourse, especially the discourse of freedom. Rather, psychoanalysis is directed at the effect of human discourse within the subject. But, as Jacques Lacan continues to remind us ‘we always have to come back to disturbances of memory to know what the point of departure for psychoanalysis is’. If there is a disturbance of memory here at Dublin Castle for me today it is not that I was around when it was built in 1220 but that this edifice is a testament to the Symbolic determinants of its foundation. Ordered by King John to be built by ecclesiastics so as to prevent the flow (or the flaw) of heritage from father to son, it was built therefore not on what is known as primogeniture but what in legal terms is called mortmain* – literally ‘dead hand’, which had the effect of preventing further transmission.


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