Aphrodite unshamed: James Joyce's romantic aesthetics of feminine flow
Thomas, Jacqueline Kay
MetadataShow full item record
In Aphrodite Unshamed: James Joyce's Romantic Aesthetics of Feminine Flow, I trace the influence of romanticism and anthropology on Joyce, and argue that he renews by classicalizing an ironic romantic genre also inspired by anthropology, the fairy tale arabesque. Created by the random cobbling together of fairytale types, plot elements, and set pieces, the arabesque's context was early anthropological work on folktales in Germany. I argue that, basing his fiction on this "nonsense" genre, Joyce mines the works of Homer, Shelley, Walter Pater, and Lucien Levy-Bruhl in order to promote--indeed, to narratively model--an abandonment of honor culture in favor of a neo-archaic culture of spiritualized sexual love. To do this, Joyce brings down to earth the airy Aphrodite of Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, and sexualizes the serpentine narrative trope Pater uses to aestheticize her power--both by chiasmatically structuring his fiction. Joyce envisions a world in which "cultural" men, because they sacralize and no longer shame female sexuality, participate in women's "primitive," i.e., not fully cultural, being. Indeed, I argue that, borrowing from Lucien Levy-Bruhl's conception of the mystical epistemologies of "primitives," Joyce viewed women as modern "primitives" capable of revitalizing overly intellectualized, alienated, and violent masculine Western culture. By creating recursive chiasmatic constructions of characters, images, and plot, Joyce creates layers of narrative infinity signs that body forth the unending "primitive" feminine rhythm that he makes the signature of his work. I argue that his work reveals that he viewed women as less than fully cultural, i.e., closer to rude animal life and the blunt forces of nature by virtue of sex, menstruation and child-bearing. He implicitly argues against the "new woman" and for women's continued "primitivity" in the service of his new, still male-produced, culture. His cooption of what he considers women's "primitive" essence is thus meant to be a source for cultural renewal for modern Westerners.