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James Joyce: aspects of psychology, psychoanalysis and Irish nationalism intertwined with alcohol consumption.


James Joyce, the scion of a Dublin family, was the eldest of ten children. Given every advantage during upbringing, by his adoring father, to realize his potential and regarding himself from an early age as somewhat a genius, Joyce chose to become a novelist after briefly flirting with the idea of doing medicine. He was a brilliant student when he chose to excel, a prodigy; and, despite the family's relentless downward spiral, John Joyce wasted a considerable inheritance, himself being a heavy drinker, he received a serious education at Jesuit schools.

Later on in life, rejecting both church and state, Joyce eloped to Europe with his long time life partner, Nora Barnacle. They drifted round the Mediterranean for years, sometimes in dire poverty, staying in Pola, Trieste and Rome. Their two children were born during this time, Giorgio [George] and Lucia. Regardless of circumstances, Joyce was unrelenting in his dedication to his art and in 1914 began the novel that was to be known as 'Ulysses' and would gain international acclaim. Uprooted by the turmoil of the First World War, the Joyces moved to Zurich and later to Paris, where they lived for the next two decades. 'Ulysses' was published in 1921 to general acclaim and Joyce attracted wealthy sponsors to relieve his chronic poverty. Success, however, seem not to aid in anyway his life. Illness and family problems weighed heavily on him and he suffered considerably. After years of health problems, aided by heavy drinking, Joyce died in Zurich in 1941 after surgery for a perforated duodenal ulcer.

"A man of small virtue, inclined to extravagance and alcoholism" is how Joyce described himself to Carl Jung, rather in a humbled manner as he has been depicted as an enormously disciplined artist. No single word entered his sentences without much deliberation and he would go to considerable lengths to ensure that he was satisfied with the final result. Despite all the problems encountered, he never lost control of his work. There is a circulating anecdote from Frank Budgen, one of his biographers, that proves so, in which Joyce is described saying he had been working hard all day, but only writing two sentences. You were seeking the right words?' asked Budgen. 'No,' replied Joyce, 'I have the words already. What I am seeking is the perfect order in the sentence.'

In early adulthood, he was devastated by his mother's death from cancer. Psychologists have argued that maybe this may be one of the episodes that triggered his alcoholism in the first place. He drank excessively and could be an extremely difficult person. For a large part of his life, he had severe eye problems and was close to blindness. To cope, he drank more, used denial, refused to follow medical advice and changed doctors in the hope of finding something close to a magical cure. Driven to desperation by his daughter's psychotic illness, he believed he could save her by the sheer power of his love. Yet he never stopped writing and continued to produce literature of the highest order

In a most simplistic sense, Joyce fits this profile of the Irish traumatized individual; his family was not native to Dublin but moved there from Cork in 1874 or 1875, thereby placing him in the gre famine's reach. His life, no matter how hard he tried to avert it, follows a stereotypical Irish profile. Richard Ellmann, in his comprehensive biography, notes in the introduction: 'It is not easy, either, to enter into his life with the abandon of comradeship'. Joyce described himself to Louis Gillet, the French Academician who wished to exalt him, by saying, 'Don't make a hero out of me. I'm only a simple middle-class man'. (Ellmann, 5)

Inevitably and almost needless to say, Joyce is a product of his father, John, who is a character in his own right: reckless, talented, convinced that he was the victim of circumstances, never at a loss for a riposte, fearfully sentimental and acid, drinking, spending, talking, singing; he became identified in his son James's mind with something like the life-force itself. John Joyce's direct literary equivalent is obviously Simon Dedalus, but his influence goes beyond Stephen's father. Touches of John reside in Leopold Bloom and Joyce's own life, a life never substantially separated from his writing.


The general view is that Joyce's relation to psychoanalysis was antagonistic. It is known he had copies of Freud's study on Leonardo da Vinci, Jones' on Hamlet and Jung's 'The Father in the Destiny of the Individual' and it is clear that he had been reading the influential names of psychoanalysis early in his career. But Joyce's preference seems to be at its best echoed in the smiling and slightly critical remarks of his Stephen Dedalus:

'Saint Thomas, Stephen smiling, said whose gorbellied works I enjoy reading in the original, writing of incest from a standpoint different from that of the new Viennese school Mr. Magee spoke of likens it in his wise and curious way to an avarice of the emotions' (Joyce)

Joyce will continue with negative comparisons to Freud throughout his life. Among the testimonials, is the somewhat spiteful comment to Budgen: '... why all this fuss and bother about the mystery of the unconscious, what about the mystery of the conscious?'(Budgen).

Not only did Joyce maintain that Freud had been anticipated by Vico, he remarked to the Danish writer Tom Kristensen: 'I don't believe in any science, but my imagination grows when I read Vico but it doesn't when I read Freud and Jung'.(Ellmann) Jung and Joyce had previously clashed at a distance over the former's introduction to the German edition of 'Ulysses'. Jung rudely claimed that it could be read backwards or forwards. Joyce, perplexed, asked his publisher why Jung was so rude to him. What he had done to psychoanalysis? 'Translate your name into German,' was the response [Freud's name, in English translation, is a near-homophone of Joyce.]. Jung later dropped some of his antagonism, being especially impressed with Molly Bloom's soliloquy in the last chapter, which he described as 'a string of psychological peaches' (Ellmann, 675). He, somewhat unexpected, found "Ulysses" disturbing and perplexing. He had a hard time getting through it, and he wrote an essay, in 1932, in which he tried to sort through his reaction to the book:

"What is so staggering about 'Ulysses,'" he wrote, "is the fact that behind a thousand veils nothing lies hidden; that it turns neither toward the mind nor toward the world, but, as cold as the moon looking on from cosmic space, allows the drama of growth, being, and decay to pursue its course." (Brown)

Taking Lucia on as a patient, Jung was unimpressed with her father. The period spent with her resulted in the observation that Joyce's daughter had become a something of a muse for him, and thus confirmed a suspicion which Joyce had formed many years earlier when interpreting a dream of Nora Barnacle: that his daughter was a kind of sacrifice for his own genius. He made the now-famous comment that Lucia and her father 'were like two people going to the bottom of a river, one falling and the other diving'. (Ellmann, 680)

Lucia was unsuitable for psychoanalysis and Jung failed to keep her in treatment. Jung's final observation on Joyce, even after a quasi-apologetic correspondence, is that his psychological style is definitely schizophrenic, the difference being that an ordinary patient cannot help himself talking and thinking in such a way, whereas Jung states Joyce wished this to be so.

It seems that the only nonconflictual connection with the psychoanalysts' society was established with Lacan, with whom Joyce seemed to share a number of theories and beliefs. Later on, the French philosopher and psychoanalyst held seminars dedicated to the process of decrypting, in a way, the Irishman's literary work and also gave birth to the 'sinthome' concept, redefining the psychoanalytic symptom in terms of his topology of the subject while exploring Joyce's literary work. In his seminar "L'angoisse" (1962-63) he states that the symptom does not call for interpretation "the symptom can only be defined as the way in which each subject enjoys (jouit) the unconscious in so far as the unconscious determines the subject" (Lacan), but a pure form of enjoyment not really addressed to no one


'Ulysses', famously set on June 16, 1904, captures an image of Ireland that links nationalism, masculinity, and alcohol and manages to skilfully weave the fabric of Irish life. Rendering from the most spiritual actions such as remembering the dead to one of the most profane one as requesting a pint amongst friends, a representational portrait of Dublin is created through the text. But perhaps the most stereotypical activity in the Irish society is considered to be drinking, which seems to be the triggering factor when both producing and reproducing a nationalist rhetoric comes into consideration.

'Ulysses' is not a novel solely concerned with alcohol or nationalism but those two concerns weighed heavily on the collective Irish political conscious of the time. Joyce uses the template of Dublin, 1904, as the background for the text and although Dublin did not face the same destruction as the western counties, its population was not left unaffected by the famine.

In this Irish colonial space, drinking was a result of poverty; poverty was a result of the famine, and the countless deaths of the famine a symptom of English indifference and oppression. This made the call for a free and independent Ireland to grow louder and favoured its nourishment by alcohol. Alcoholism was universal and it served, as already mentioned when discussing the artistic minds, as a liberating agent even for the masses. Thus, scenes of a dark pub filled with men scorned by history inevitably filled with political demagogy and rebel calls can be discovered throughout Joyce's work.

The meeting of drinking and nationalist fervour is best portrayed in the "Cyclops" episode of 'Ulysses'. This type of drinking in the novel is mostly culturally normative and not necessarily abusive, a fact emphasized by Joyce's choice of language in the "Hades" episode:

"Expect we'll pull up here on the way back to drink his health. Pass round the consolation. Elixir of life" (Joyce, 430)

This particular description embodies many of the elements of the alcoholic stereotype. The Irish men view alcohol as the natural outlet for mourning and death. In the original Irish, the word 'usquebeagh' is in fact the "waters of life", or "elixir of life". Also, that space of death and misery in the larger historical context has always, arguably, related drinking culture.

Joyce slips a fair amount of irony in this episode, firstly by underlining the fact that the narrator of the scene and his companion, Joe, did not attend Paddy Dignam's funeral but they still decide to join the group, whether is because they associate drinking to a memorial tribute, or they see it as a good opportunity of cultural normative drinking.

It seems that in the moment of beverage exchange, little else matters to the men. Their insults and nationalism disappear during it. They become easy and free, void of any hatred or fiery language that may have preceded the offer. This is sustained by the fact that the first exchange follows a quick jab from the Citizen upon the narrator's entrance, "What's your opinion of the times?" (Joyce, 133). But after a brief re sponse, the prospect of a drink shortens any new comment:

'--Arrah, give over your bloody coddling, Joe, says I. I've a thirst on me I wouldn't sell for half a crown.

--Give it a name, citizen, says Joe.

--Wine of the country, says he.

--What's yours? says Joe.

--Ditto MacAnaspey, says I.

--Three pints, Terry, says Joe. And how's the old heart, citizen? says he' (Joyce, 141-147).

The scene, taking place in Barney Kiernan's pub, speaks frankly about the Irish condition, the constant presence of alcohol, the nationalistic discussion that intensifies with every drink, and depicts Leopold Bloom as the "rank outsider" in any Irish space.

Here, is where Bloom stands out probably the most, far outside from this society. It is enough that he is a Jew, an easy target in a country struggling to find an identity, this identity being defined as "Irish Ireland", a "pure" Irish race. This definition comes for the man who seems to rule this particular space, the Citizen, a Catholic, working-class man, drunk in the middle of the day. This character seems to embody all of Joyce's ironies and his sarcasm regarding the Irish nationalists.

The anger towards the protagonist does not begin in all seriousness and the insults don't start to flow, however, until Bloom refuses to drink with the men, despite the offer of a free drink:

"So they started arguing about the point, Bloom saying he wouldn't and he couldn't and excuse him no offence and all to that and then he said well he'd just take a cigar"(Joyce, 436).

From this moment forward, there is no chance of acceptance or respect for Bloom. The reality of this scene, a scene that Bloom knows all too well from living in Dublin for his entire life, is that without drinking with these men and without not buying them a drink in turn, he is opening himself to endless ridicule.

As Rosenzweig explains, the social custom of 'standing' (treating): 'Provided the nineteenth century Irishman with a crucial means of declaring his solidarity and equality with his kin and neighbours' (Davies, 53); to refuse a drink was tantamount to insult.

Furthermore, Richard Stivers in his study of pub culture in Ireland has discovered that aggressive male jockeying for position is a part of how younger men were socialized for adulthood in 'bachelor groups' within the pub, overtly in opposition to familial roles that are 'remapped' onto the male alternate 'family' in the pub.

In such situations, older men set the pattern for the younger men to emulate, this suggestion was also corroborated by Robert F. Bales and it seems to be rendered both in this episode with Bloom and in 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' in the Cork bar scene with Stephen and his father.

Alcohol acts as a true social lubricant in this 'Ulysses' episode because it not only provides the men with a ritual, but also fuels their rants and offers some sort of justification for displacement of their pain through drinking. But these are men underemployed, or unemployed even, who waste time in pubs in the middle of the day discussing the same things their fathers did before them and yet the act of drinking is heroicized and labelled Irish; and despite the thoughts of the narrator, who often disagrees with the Citizen, the other men allow him to perorate because it is perceived as decidedly male behaviour.

Interestingly, Stivers's analysis of Dublin pub cultural practices notes that the male role was constructed according to rules guiding male behaviour while in the pub, not according to rules of adulthood external to the pub.

There are small lapses in the drinking but the process's pace is continuous. As these men talk, they drink and only wait till someone decides to buy another round, an inevitable event in this pub:

'And lo, there entered one of the clan of the O'Molloy's, a comely hero of white face yet withal somewhat ruddy, his majesty's counsel learned in the law, and with the prince and heir of the noble line of Lambert.

--Hello, Ned.

--Hello, Alf.

--Hello, Jack.

--Hello, Joe.

--God save you, says the citizen.

--Save you kindly, says J. J. What'll it be, Ned?

--Half one, says Ned.

--So J.J. ordered the drinks' (Joyce, 1011) This makes a greater comment on Ireland. The forced disruption of the drinking, the repetition of entrances in the pub seems sometimes even exaggerated, is meant to interrupt the narrative and to emphasize the abusive nature of alcohol.

A frequent topic of discussion at Barney Kiernan's is the inevitable purchase of drinks. If these men had their society that they wished to, they might have no such convention as money, especially when it came to alcohol, but someone must pay eventually. In a typically male fashion, in this scene, Joe decides to use his income for drink, a decision too often made in Ireland after the famine, Brian Baillie observes.

Joyce displays the vulgarity of this scene by showing the joy that this act induces to the men:

'So anyhow Terry brought the three pints Joe was standing and begob the sight nearly left my eyes when I saw him land out a quid. O, as true as I'm telling you. A good looking sovereign.

--And there's more where that came from, says he.

--Were you robbing the poorbox, Joe? says I.

--Sweat of my brow, says Joe. 'Twas the prudent member gave me the wheeze.

--I saw him before I met you, says I, sloping around by Pill lane and Greek street with his cod's eye counting up all the guts of the fish' (206).

Repeatedly, the ordering of drinks and their consumption, both elements of a normative Irish social gesture, interrupts the hyperbolized literary narrative. The centre of this parody is the uselessness of these characters. They fill the pub in the middle of the day and obtain free drinks from men who are, at best, acquaintances.

Cathy Caruth, in 'Trauma: Explorations in Memory', mentions events like famine as a locale of the directly traumatic event, a period that leads to wide-scale depression and an entirely changed society. Her definition is as follows: 'trauma describes an overwhelming experience of sudden, or catastrophic events, in which the response to the event occurs in the often delayed, and uncontrolled repetitive occurrence of hallucinations and other intrusive phenomena' (Caruth). The "intrusive phenomena" in this case is drinking, which is often abusive and detrimental not only to the individual, but to the collective Irish consciousness; becoming in Irish culture the vehicle of traumatic memory. 'Although there is a logical series of historical events leading to the omnipresence of alcohol consumption, the progression is better understood through trauma theory and subsequently, the concept of social memory' (Caruth, 38). The trauma that Caruth outlines is somewhat understandable considering the impact of a famine like the one that Ireland faced in the mid-nineteenth century. But drinking and reminiscence do not solve any political, social, or economic issues; if anything they merely intensify those same issues, not only in realistic terms but also in the fantastical ideals of nationalism. Thus, the "Cyclops" episode is a perfect embodiment of this condition.

On the same note, "History", Stephen states," is a nightmare from which I am trying awake" (Joyce, 377), and Caruth seemingly mirrors his thoughts in her paper, "the traumatized carry an impossible history within them, or they become themselves the symptom of a history they cannot entirely possess." (39)

The men, aside from the abstainers, such as Bloom, are the human results of the famine and their futile nationalism is wasted.

Emer Nolan notes the moment that involves the unemployment issue; as the employed and useful men who enter the pub side with Bloom, this may be the only time when this takes place, and agree, "that political progress might be made in Ireland if England's guilt were internationally recognized through peaceful actions and campaigns" (101).

In this discourse, sobriety and responsibility become joined with the peaceful and thoughtful veins of Irish nationalism, whereas unemployment and drunken idleness propagate racism and violence.

There are other scenes in 'Ulysses' that render perfectly the relationship between alcohol and Irish nationalism. For example, the drinking of absinthe is first mentioned in 'Ulysses' in the 'Proteus' episode, during Stephen's meditations on the beach at Dublin Bay. He recalls making the acquaintance of the Irish nationalist Kevin Egan in Paris, 'sipping his green fairy' (Joyce, 36), foreshadowing the following episode.

Earle notes in his article titled "Green eyes, I see you. Fang, I feel": The Symbol of Absinthe in "Ulysses" that 'absinthe's colour has clear political overtones in the text' (699). Absinthe is a drink symbolic of early nineteenth-century counterculture and by drinking it straight so that it retains its green colour, which is culturally symbolic of Ireland, Kevin Egan comes to represent the drawbacks of Irish nationalism. Exiled in Paris, Egan, in Stephen's description, seems to have become an alcoholic whose plans for rebellion have been reduced to his rolling 'gunpowder cigarettes' (Joyce, 36). Perhaps Stephen's consumption of absinthe in 'Circe' episode, after recalling their meeting earlier in the day, represents the younger man's support of Egan's cause.

Set in Dublin's red-light district, Night-town, the events that are described during the 'Circe' episode reveal the psychological impact that absinthe has on Stephen. Inside Bella Cohen's brothel, Stephen's first appearance in the chapter features him 'standing on a piano carrying on an intellectual conversation about ancient Greek music' (Gifford and Seidman, 487) with his inanimate interlocutor 'The Cap', which belongs to his friend Lynch. At another moment in 'Circe' Stephen's comparison to a seminarian, provokes the young man's vision of himself as a Roman Catholic cardinal wearing a rosary made out of corks, perhaps an allusion to drinking as religious ritual in Irish culture. Once Bloom takes an intoxicated Stephen into his care by holding onto his money for him, they both look into a mirror and although it is unclear whether the reflection is being described from Stephen or Bloom's point of view, the image of an antlered William Shakespeare appears in the glass with them. During the climactic scene of the episode, Stephen is presented with a vision of his dead mother, whom he tries to ward off with his walking stick and accidentally smashes the chandelier. Joyce's description of Stephen's mother morphing into a 'green crab with malignant red eyes' (475) suggests that absinthe has brought about Stephen's hallucinations and is the reason for his irrational behaviour, as Bloom confirms to the English soldiers:

'BLOOM: (to the privates, softly) He doesn't know what he's saying. Taken a little more than is good for him. Absinthe. Greeneyed monster. I know him. He's a gentleman, a poet. It's all right' (Joyce, 483).

The interweaving process between alcohol consumption and Irish nationalism can be observed through a strictly linguistic point of view, as well, as there seem to be so many equivalent Irish phrases and terms to the not so few alcoholic beverages mentioned in 'Ulysses'.

In order to exemplify better the focus will fall upon the 'Cyclops' episode once more. This chapter emphasizes the Irish gift of language like no other scene can manage to do.

The movement towards the pub follows from initial paragraphs introducing the new narrator:

'--Are you a strict t.t.? says Joe.

--Not taking anything between drinks, says I.

--What about paying our respects to our friend? Says Joe.

--Who? says I. Sure, he's out in John of God's off his head, poor man.

--Drinking his own stuff? says Joe.

--Ay, says I. Whiskey and water on the brain.

--Come around to Barney Kiernan's, says Joe. I want to see the Citizen' (Joyce, 52-57)

There is constant language that describes alcohol as organically Irish, similar to the 'autochthonous qualities of the potato.' (Baillie)

The phrase "Wine of the country" is symptomatic of the informal descriptions of drinking and was also a phrase used by Joyce himself once he began drinking. The suggestive nature of the English translation of the Irish word 'usquebeagh' as the "waters of life" is also pinpointing, whiskey, in particular, but also other beverages, as representative of the Irish landscape but also as a thriving part of daily life. Such a colloquial translation from an ancient language reveals the embedded role of alcohol in the Irish everyday life.

Throughout the episode, the men offer Bloom drinks which he repeatedly declines. The difference in their choice of language is starkly contrasted in this constant refusal. The speech associated with drinking is casual yet ritualized and every word that Bloom articulates after refusing offends the men more:

'--Could you make a hole in another point?

--Could a swim duck? says I.

--Same again, Terry, says Joe. Are you sure you won't have anything in the way of liquid refreshment? Says he.

--Thank you, no, says Bloom. As a matter of fact I just wanted to meet Martin Cunningham, don't you see, about this insurance of poor Dignam's. Martin asked me to go to the house. You see, he, Dignam, I mean, didn't serve any notice of the assignment on the company at the time and nominally under the act of the mortgagee can't recover on the policy.

--Holy Wars, says Joe, laughing, that's a good one if old Shylock is landed. So the wife comes out top dog' (Joyce, 756-766).

Joyce's nationalism seems to be difficult to define, as well as his relationship with alcohol. Some portion of this novel is a very literal and autobiographic discussion of Joyce's life and only by reading Richard Ellmann's work this fact becomes obvious. In this episode, as with many others, there are evident biographical narrative intrusions. He is not overtly the unnamed narrator in this episode, but there are moments where we see Joyce's nationalism emerge, one that is founded in the mode of an Emmet or a Parnell, two men who recur frequently in his literary work.

These men, in some way spokespersons of Ireland in the chapter, are caricatures of masculinity, the stereotypical Irish peasant, individuals who only manage to become cruel when drunk.

Joyce answers the question of the failure of Irish intellect and talent in a very simple statement in the middle of this episode, "Ireland sober is Ireland free" (692). The same statement comes within, reconfigured of this quote in 'Finnegans Wake', "Ireland sober is Ireland stiff'(1.7)


In this way, it can be confirmed that alcohol played an important role throughout James Augustine Aloysius Joyce's work, even though the Irishman has never been clinically diagnosed as being an alcoholic. However, for some of his readers it might come as a shock to find out that he was a binge drinker. But Joyce not only admitted to his drinking habits, he claimed that drinking made for an excellent writing aid. He is said to have believed that liquor heightened feelings and he could not write as well without the drinking process. Another link that brings its contribution to the chaining of alcohol to Joyce's work from a literary point of view is the presence of Irish nationalism. The nationalist fervour depicted in his literary work seems to always be accompanied by alcohol consumption, self-pity and the reminiscences of the greater times, all dominated by a sense of sarcasm conducted by the author. As a country that has suffered throughout history, (the great famine, the British invasion) Ireland and her inhabitants seem to be bound to a state of melancholia that can be drowned only by 'the waters of life'. Those who are not able to comply and participate are categorized as outcasts and will never be able to gain the respect or friendship of the representatives of this society.


Authors state that there are no declared conflicts of interests regarding this paper.


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Alin CIOBICA--Researcher at "Alexandru Ioan Cuza" University, Faculty of Biology, Iasi, Romania, Center of Biomedical Research of the Romanian Academy, Iasi, Romania

Irina CIOBICA--Student, Faculty of Letters, "Alexandru Ioan Cuza" University of Iasi, Romania

Daniel TIMOFTE--M. D., Ph. D., Surgery, Lecturer, "Gr. T. Popa" University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Iasi, Romania

Stefan COLIBABA--Professor, Ph. D., Faculty of Letters, "Alexandru Ioan Cuza" University of Iasi, Romania

Ovidiu ALEXINSCHI--M. D., Ph. D., Senior Psychiatrist, Institute of Psychiatry Socola Iasi, Romania



M. D., Ph. D., Surgery, Lecturer "Gr. T. Popa" University of Medicine and Pharmacy, No. 16 Str. Universitatii, zip code 700115, Iasi, Romania


Submission: Aprii, 25th, 2016

Acceptance: May, 13th, 2016
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Author:Ciobica, Irina; Ciobica, Alin; Timofte, Daniel; Colibaba, Stefan; Alexinschi, Ovidiu
Publication:Bulletin of Integrative Psychiatry
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Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Jun 1, 2016
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