Language and the Letter

As a young woman, Lucia Joyce had engaged firmly with practice of speech and language and writing culminating in for example her fine illustration of certain lettrines of her father’s work and with practices of the body in terms of her proclivity for the art of dance. In her name already preceding she already carries a signifier “Joy” which has an equivalence to that of the name of Sigmund “Freud”- Freud carrying a resonance of joy in German[1]. And of course Lucia’s father being no stranger to something of the work of Freud where for example early on in the 20th Century, during his lessons with Triestine lawyer Paulo Cuzzi the Freudian concept of a formation of the unconscious had emerged as a topic for discussion in which it is clear to me at least that the seeds for “Work in Progress” and a certain negative transference to Psychoanalysis were already well set. Ellmann has it as follows:

“As when Cuzzi, who was studying Vico in school, discovered that Joyce was also passionately interested in this Neapolitan philosopher. Freud too became a subject of conversation. Cuzzi was reading Freud’s Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis, and he talked with Joyce about slips of the tongue and their significance. Joyce listened attentively, but remarked that Freud had been anticipated by Vico.”[2]

A remark the substance of which returns in the fact of Finnegans Wake being itself written as a grand formation of the unconscious, as a dream “Freud’s royal road to the unconscious” in which the very famous first / last sentence as yet unwritten in 1912 sustain the articulation and tension:

A way a lone a last a loved a long the / 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.[3]

Furthermore one can point to Joyce’s relation to the letter and something of the function of writing for him in terms of “stapling his ego” and sustaining his body via a symptomatic writing which probably stopped him from disappearing altogether into a hole.

The difficulty generally with signification, chains of signifiers comprised of phonemes written with letters is that broadly speaking for these to appear as non-intrusive the requirement for the speaking being is to have a meaning or a sense associated with them. In other words there is always already an anxiety inherent in language as it determines and marks the body. And we can clearly see the kind of waters of language that Joyce himself is bathed in, by taking a passage from A Portrait […] about which Sophie Marret-Maleval remarks:

“The epiphanies participate in a double operation: one outside of sense, the knotting of the real to the letter, the other which concerns sense, the articulation of the real and the signifier. It seems that when Joyce gave his texts to be read, they presented for him the sense and the enigma of his enunciation.”[4]

Lucia’s Birth

It is of genuine interest to note that it is directly after Lucia’s birth that Joyce sets about rewriting the conversion of the realism of Stephen Hero to the modernism of the five chapters of A Portrait of the Artist as a young man, as Ellmann has it: “Under the subsumed chains of related moments, with the effects of three fleshings In time rather than a linear succession of events”[5], where the creation ex-nihilo of the signifier is intimately infused in the rites and real of birth, sexuation and therefore death –a “dead-end”; to quote Joyce: “in the virgin womb of the imagination the word is made flesh”[6].

The subject is at best in terms of existence “but an atom of concrete” discourse and as subjects we are spoken of before we are even born. In the case of Lucia Joyce, Jim had decided that she was to be named for Sancta Lucia a Virgin and Martyr Lucy’s Latin name Lucia shares a root (luc-) with the Latin word for light, lux. Various traditions incorporate symbolic meaning of St. Lucy as the bearer of light in the darkness of winter, her feast day being December 13th. Because some versions of her story relate that her eyes were removed, reputedly by her persecutors, she is the patron saint of the blind. She is also the patron saint of authors, cutlers, glaziers, labourers, martyrs, peasants, Perugia, Italy; saddlers, salesmen, and stained glass workers. She is invoked against haemorrhages, dysentery, diseases of the eye, and throat infections.

Joyce himself is hospitalized due to a bout of rheumatic fever which he contracted by his own admission on foot of his rather hedonistic lifestyle around the taverns and brothels of Trieste.

He had to be put in the city hospital, and remained there into August. He didn’t recover fully until well into September. Long afterwards he said that Nora had taken in washing to make ends meet, but Stanislaus, his brother, reported, probably more accurately, that the burden of support shifted entirely to him and made the summer “a hell” for him.

Some days after Joyce was hospitalized Nora’s labour began, and she too went to the hospital. The baby was born on July 26th in the pauper ward, almost born on the street, as she admitted later. It was St. Anne’s day, and so, since Anne was also the name of Nora’s mother, it was decider that Anna be added to the first name of Lucia, the patron saint of eyesight, which Joyce had decided on earlier. Nora left the hospital being given twenty crowns in charity. This daughter was to affect Joyce’s life much more deeply than he would have believed possible. But the immediate disruption was serious enough: the household was in turmoil, Joyce sick, Stanislaus in sour form, Nora debilitated and breastfeeding, Lucia bawling, Giorgio “rambunctious”.[7]

In a certain way this moment of Lucia’s littoral emergence into the world coincides with Joyce’s own refinding of his claim as the artist and his subsequent emerging and burgeoning successful notoriety. Despite living on poverty’s wearing edge[8], or one might say poetry’s wavering edge, and despite a widely acknowledged distance from her mother, who preferred Giorgio, Lucia’s early years were spent in a bohemian atmosphere in a household well frequented by friends of the Joyce family, filled with literature, poetry, laughter, music and song.

The Joyces and Psychoanalysis

Whether or not Joyce’s keen scrutiny of Lucia in his rather blind gaze as the subject of his art had an influence of not on her later disquiet – at time veering towards signs of what in certain quarters was likened to a disturbance at her innermost juncture to refer to Lacan of the 1950’s on psychosis – remains an open question. Albeit that Joyce himself writing in 1935 – broadly against the background in a reprise of his consideration of Ibsen’s “Irene”, is mired by what Shloss describes a stark admission, namely that Jim was “only too painfully aware that Lucia has no future”[9], later remarking to Maria Jolas that people talk about his influence on Lucia, but what about her influence on him – the daughter who wounded him, hating his glory and despising his success.

But from 1907 to 1935 – what had happened?

In the early 1920’s for example subsequent to the publication of Ulysses, Carl Jung had begun to comment on the novel and on Joyce himself in his essay Ulysses: A Monologue published in 1932, and elsewhere, describing Joyce as a prophet of the age[10] part decrying and part praising the work in its “technical virtuosity as a brilliant and hellish monster-birth”[11] remarking that as for Joyce here we “have a case of visceral thinking with severe restriction of cerebral activity and its confinement to the perceptual process” and referring to the “coldblooded un-relatedness of his mind”[12] that of a solipsist – and which never for a moment diagnosing Joyce or the novel certainly mentioning schizophrenia many times and which not directly casting that aspersion across Joyce’s psychical world as disturbed in that way there is enough of an untoward process of linkage going on. Albeit that he makes several conciliatory points, including the articulation that the modern artist is not produced by any disease in the individual but rather by the capacity to stand conduit for the malaise in civilization.

Doubtless Joyce was not best pleased with all this as is perhaps evident from the various desultory references to psychoanalysis in The Wake; we can limit ourselves to one here: that of his very own JungFraud Messongbook.

Enter Beckett to the lives of the Joyce family in Paris in 1928, having been introduced, I think by McGreevy, the young man quickly becomes a acolyte of Joyce’s, reading for him, translating passages of work in progress into French, subsequently being amongst the first writers to contribute original analysis of Joyce’s magnum opus, remarking that therein is a rapport between writing and movement – “When the sense is dancing – the words dance”[13].

Beckett’s intervention into the Joyce family circles resulted in an aspirational crush for Lucia as they walked out together if I may be allowed to employ a modest phrase that upon the failure of the relationship [and much later on in middle age] she remarks that Samuel Beckett was her love – she wasn’t able to marry him. Beckett, for his part in it was all too much the man divided by two women whereas Lucia was not-all, as woman divided by two jouissances – one being outside that which could be said. An unravelling followed and a series of possibly ill judged affairs precipitated an unknotting which resulted in Lucia being sectioned, at the behest of Giorgio, she having thrown a chair at Nora during Joyce’s 50th birthday party – although there is some scholarly debate as to the exactitude of this event.

Furthermore, having sought out a career as a professional dancer from age 16 – via the Dalcroze Institute in Paris, Lucia Joyce studied dancing from 1925 to 1929, training first with Dalcroze, followed by Margaret Morris and later with Raymond Duncan (brother of Isadora Duncan) at his school near Salzburg. In 1928, she joined “Les Six de rythme et couleur,” a commune of six female dancers that were soon performing at venues in France, Austria, and Germany. After a performance in La Princesse Primitive at the Vieux-Colombier theatre, the Paris Times wrote of her: “Lucia Joyce is her father’s daughter. She has James Joyce’s enthusiasm, energy, and a not-yet-determined amount of his genius. When she reaches her full capacity for rhythmic dancing, James Joyce may yet be known as his daughter’s father.”

However, following a series of reported on nocturnal disturbances Lucia is persuaded by Jim to give up on her dancing and to concentrate on drawing and design, illuminating lettrines for Joyce’s work, Pomes Penyeach. Lucia’s friend Irish artist Stella Steyn commented that it was remarkably shortsighted of Joyce to have encouraged her to give up dancing altogether.

In Lucia’s various institutional sojourns in psychiatric hospitals and sanatoriums in France and Switzerland – also being dispatched to England and subsequently to Bray in Ireland – a string of unexplained disappearances, catatonic states, incendiarism and sexual encounters were manifest and noted. This is well worth mentioning, given that which can be discerned about Lucia’s subjective position in relation to her own desire –that which comes to light in the fragmented notes from her four month stay at Carl Jung’s clinic – let’s say that if being under the gaze of the father in the presence of the mother had provoked a rage within Lucia, being separated from him had repeatedly culminated in a series of acting-outs (coded messages albeit unconscious), lighting of circle fires indoors, the cutting of telephone lines are two examples, resulting in restraint, solitary confinement, forced rest, forced continuous bathing (practices of conditioning presumably designed to reign in both spirit and body). Therefore, despite Jim’s deep mistrust and antagonism around and towards Jung – Joyce’s refusal of a psychoanalysis and so on –, he concluded that: “my daughter is not myself, I wouldn’t go to him but maybe he can help her.”[14]

As it turned out Jung was unable to establish a clinical transference directly with Lucia, resulting in what Shloss refers to as Lucia’s eventual forlorn hostility, leaving Jung with a further defeat as was the case with his earlier efforts at interpreting her father’s illegible literature. Most notably Jung paired Lucia up with Cary Baynes not an analyst but a close acolyte of the circle – in what appears an attempt at a restorative reintegration to the social bond and via Bayne’s notes something of Lucia’s subjective position I think can be discerned – that of the enigma –“Tell him she says to Nora: “I am a crossword puzzle, and if he does not mind seeing a crossword puzzle he is to come out”[15].

Baynes subsequently characterized Jim as “blind to the pathology of his own intimate relations”[16], and also crucially points to a collusion between Joyce and Lucia in the creation of FW as expressed by Lucia herself: “you, mean that you have not had any new ideas? […] well maybe you can through me”[17].

And this is what Lacan refers to in February 1976 where he says that what Joyce in his defence of Lucia against the various doctors attributes to her something that is an extension of what Lacan calls Joyce’s own symptom.

A final word from Lucia Joyce: The dance she says “becomes a direct image of something that was formerly invisible, though denoted or suggest by words. It is built upon the pulse and dynamics of a generating force […] to act as an incendiary treatment of what she described as “the cult of the self-defensive ego” returning one back to “the unnamed intensity within”, in a “mystery of transfiguration”.[18]


[1] Ellmann, R., (1959) James Joyce (New revised edition) Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford and Toronto, 1982, p. 12. According to Ellmann, Joyce considered Freud a namesake, albeit an undesirable one.

[2] Ibid, p. 340.

[3] Joyce, J., Finnegans Wake, London, Faber and Faber, 1939, pp. 628 & 3.


[5] Ellmann, R., Op. cit. p. 298.

[6] Ibid, p. 297. Ellmann cites Ulysses.

[7] Ellmann, R., Op. cit. p. 262

[8] Ibid.

[9] Shloss, C. L., Lucia Joyce, To Dance in the Wake, London, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2004, p. 321.

[10] Jung, C.G. (1921) The Collected Works, East Sussex and New York, Routledge, 2014, p. 6803.

[11] Ibid, p. 7242.

[12] Ibid, p. 7246.

[13] Rabate, J.-M., Joyce upon the Void […], New York: Palgrave McMillan, 1991, p. 200.

[14] Ellmann, R., Op. cit. p. 676.

[15] Shloss, C.L., Op. cit. p. 442

[16] Ibid, p. 305.

[17] Ibid, p. 228.

[18] Ibid, p. 458.


Image Credits:
- Joyce, James, Pomes Penyeach, with illustrations by Lucia Joyce, 
Obelisk Press Paris/ Desmond Harmsworth London, 1932. 
(detail from a photograph of 'TUTTO E SCIOLTO' published by PBA GALLERIES, Berkeley, CA, USA, 28th May 2015)   
- Detail from "the bloody owl' mother", painting by Mia Montague, April 2019.