Camelia Raghinaru, Concordia University, Irvine
In distancing himself from Western brutality in its religious and nationalistic forms, Joyce also registered his exasperation with Irish nationalism. Resentful nationalistic impotence structures the narrative core of the “Cyclops” episode in Joyce’s Ulysses. The impotence underlying the resentment stems from the inability to create an independent subject through any other terms than those of the master, given that postcolonial revivalist movements emulate the imperial subject. This essay dwells on the connection between impotent, resentful nationalism and its manifest violence. On one hand, I consider the stereotype of the “fighting Irish” as emblematic of instinctual, yet rationalized, violence. On the other hand, I emphasize the ultimate impotence of the realization of this instinct in its primitive, despotic form, as well as its sublimation in nationalist movements. The second essay from Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality provides the theoretical tool with which I examine the parallels between the emerging narratives of rationalization and nationalism. Assuming that nationalism sublimates instinctual aggression, it also succeeds in perpetuating its aim—that of exercising the primal aggression upon which it is premised. Moreover, assuming that nationalism purports to advance the aims of the social contract between community and individual—viz., protecting the individual from aggression—it fails by the very mechanism by which it is supposed to function.
[Key words: James Joyce, Ulysses, “Cyclops,” Irish nationalism, ideology, morality, coercion, cruelty, reason, violence, Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality, resentment, rationalization, impotence, resistance, racial purity, modernity]
Biographical accounts records James Joyce’s concern with religion and politics as sources of violence in the West. In his review of H. Fielding-Hall’s The Soul of a People, titled “A Suave Philosophy” and published in the Daily Express on February 6, 1903, Joyce claims that the relationship between religion, politics and violence is indigenous to the West (Davison, 1996, p. 89):
Our civilization, bequeathed to us by fierce adventurers, eaters of meat and hunters, is so full of hurry and combat, so busy about many things which perhaps are of no importance, that it cannot but see something feeble in a civilization which smiles as it refuses to make the battlefield the test of excellence (Joyce quoted in Davison, 1996, p. 89).
In distancing himself from Western brutality in its religious and nationalistic forms, Joyce also registered his “apparent exasperation with nationalist laments, [stating] that he cannot understand ‘the purpose of bitter invective against the English despoiler, the disdain for the vast Anglo-Saxon civilisation, even though it is almost entirely a materialistic civilisation’” (Joyce quoted in Davison, 1996, p. 89). In a similar context, Joyce referred to Ireland as “a country destined by God to be the everlasting caricature of the serious world” and claimed “that it is rather naive to heap insults on England for her misdeeds in Ireland” (Joyce quoted in Nolan, 1995, p. 129). As Andrew Gibson (2006) documents,
Political schism and stagnation, decline and despair in the wake of Parnell, the rise of Irish cultural nationalism as exemplified in the Gaelic Revival, the cultural ‘last stand’ of the Anglo-Irish: these were the three most important features of the culture in which Joyce grew into adolescence. (p. 30-31)
Indirectly, Joyce seemed to indicate that the resentful side of nationalism stems from its impotence to measure up to its postcolonial ideal.
Resentful impotence structures the narrative core of the “Cyclops” episode in Joyce’s Ulysses. Diana Perez Garcia (2002) emphasizes the violence in the Citizen’s threat to anihilate Bloom in order to underscore the ultimate deflation and impotence of the speaker’s words. Overly inflated verbal violence is followed by the deflation resulting from its impossibility of ever being matched by the act itself. Edna Duffy (1994) has pointed out that postcolonial nationalistic violence reinvents the “primitive” and the “despotic” (p. 35) dimension of the previous colonial order while betraying, in the process, a “stifled ressentiment . . . in its attempt to delineate a folk tradition that will outdo the elite art of the colonist culture” (p. 101). The impotence underlying the resentment operates on several levels. First, it stems from the inability to create an independent subject through any other terms than those of the master, given that postcolonial revivalist movements “emulated imperial glorifications of the subject” (p. 101). Second, it lingers in the doubt that nationalism’s work in the colony can indeed successfully recapture the “romantic and atavistic view of Irish history” (Watson, 1987, p. 46). This atavism relies on its dark and violent cults of redeeming blood-sacrifices and the dynamic power of myth and legend to lift the patriotic heart into “that world of selfless passion in which heroic deeds are possible” (p. 45). Third, it questions whether the colonial administration can indeed “protect the natives from their own proclivity to violence” (Duffy, 1994, p. 35).
This essay dwells on the connection between impotent, resentful nationalism and its manifest violence. On one hand, I consider the stereotype of the “fighting Irish” (embodied in the “Cyclops” by the Citizen’s throwing the biscuit box at Jewish Bloom) as emblematic of instinctual, yet rationalized, violence —particularly as premised on the necessity for a “periodic blood-sacrifice to keep alive the National Spirit” (Watson, 1987, p. 46). On the other hand, I emphasize the ultimate impotence of the realization of this instinct in its primitive, despotic form, as well as its sublimation in nationalist movements. The second essay from Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality provides the theoretical tool with which I examine the parallels between the emerging narratives of rationalization and nationalism. I claim that the “Cyclops’s” failure as a nationalistic discourse is predicated upon its success in the same vein. Assuming that nationalism sublimates instinctual aggression, it also succeeds in perpetuating its aim—that of exercising the primal aggression upon which it is premised. On the other hand, assuming that nationalism purports to advance the aims of the social contract between community and individual—viz., protecting the individual from aggression—it fails by the very mechanism by which it is supposed to function. Duffy (1994) posits the failure as postcolonial interpellation of the subject. In her view, nationalism works in the colony to imaginatively reinvent the “primitive” or “despotic” modes of production that are likely to have long been torn apart and marginalized by the colonial administration, but merely to offer them as so much spectacle through which the masses can be interpellated to the cause of the newly invented nation. (p. 35)
The spectacle of impotent violence is best showcased in the Citizen’s performative threat against Bloom. His recourse to open violence, following a series of verbal assaults and racial insinuations, conveys the colonial import of his violent nationalism. The double-jointed politics prevents the formation of a homogenous community integrating multiple postcolonial identities into a collective dynamic. It also insists on imagining an elusive and illusionary conformity, “supposedly generated as if by magic in the glorious moment of independence” (Duffy, 1994, p. 128).
The failure to integrate differences stems not only from an inability to comprehend the perverse inner-workings of nationalism in postcolonial cultures but also from an ostensible unwillingness to subvert these mechanisms. Nietzsche argues that modernity emerges from the sublimation of violence through reason and rationalization. Consequently, in its postcolonial form, the nationalism of the “Cyclops” (represented not only through the Citizen’s open recourse to aggression, but also through the nameless narrator’s hate-speech against Bloom and the many overt and covert hints of violence interspersed through the narrative) must perforce perpetuate its own existence out of a more primal claim than the national-identitarian one—that of the primeval instinct of cruelty founding the ab-original community:
“The Cyclopean giant who threatens the Dublin Ulysses is not something real in the situation of the country or its inhabitants: the danger comes from the swollen dreams and illusions which are the compensation for pointless and trivial lives, and from the giant hatreds and prejudices which originate in such dreams and give rise to blind nationalism, religious intolerance, anti-Semitism and all the other symptoms of spiritual poverty and frustration.” (Peake, 1977, p. 235)
In the second essay of On the Genealogy of Morality Nietzsche constructs a narrative of resentment in which cruelty (i.e., the practice of the prohibited) is rationalized as a social contract between the individual and the community. “Bad consciousness” initiates the development of reason and rationality as tools, masks, or excuses that veil the great historical performance of the instinct of aggression and cruelty (powerful drives recognized by Nietzsche and Freud) that, in their rationalized form, become fundamental to the development of modernity (and, I would argue, to that of modern nationalism). Rationalization develops as a sly move: that of indulging in cruelty, a violation of the moral code, while exercising the otherwise prohibited, yet subversively encouraged instinct. The master race, paradoxically, prohibits violence, while also prescribing it as a virtue. According to Nietzsche (1887/1989), the rationalization of cruelty precedes guilt and resentment because it is connected to the individual’s awareness of his cruelty as “proud consciousness” (p. 59)—a driving instinct synonymous with the life-force. The institutionalization of promise forms the basis of this contract, accomplished through the blood and gore, torture and penances accompanying the enforcement of the penal code…Access Full Text of the Article