In this essay I argue that in recognising Buck Mulligan’s bisexuality in James Joyce’s 1922 novel Ulysses, we can observe Joyce’s less-discussed engagement with various sexological ‘diagnoses’ of bisexuality. I explore how Joyce’s construction of Mulligan as a ‘bisexual prototype’ in the ‘Telemachus’ and ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ episodes reveals Joyce’s intention to revise and resist reductive ‘categories’ of sexual identities with a particular focus on non-normative homosexuality that, under sexological models, ostensibly opposed the ‘normative’ heterosexual subject (Moddelmog, 2004: 1; Valente, 2008: 23; Marcus, 2018). I then explore in ‘Oxen of the Sun’ Joyce’s critique of summative sexual identity categories such as the absolute heterosexual or the absolute ‘invert’: a label deployed by Sigmund Freud to categorise a non-heterosexual person that was mostly used to denote a homosexual subject. By extension, I use ‘Oxen of the Sun’ to examine Joyce’s treatment of ‘compulsory monosexuality’: a term that many queer theorists have used to describe the assumptions of some Victorian sexologists that the modern sexual subject was comprised of either an entirely normative/heterosexual disposition or lived as an ‘absolute invert’ with entirely homosexual desires (Freud, 1905 (2005): 45, 55). Finally, in ‘Circe’ I examine Mulligan’s appearance in the guise of a doctor of sexology, which enables Joyce to critique the problematic notion of bisexuality existing only as a ‘desire’ or a ‘state’ in sexology that resulted in the modern bisexual subject never fully being granted a unified subject position (Prosser and Storr, 1997: 75). Through these areas of investigation, I examine Joyce’s treatment of ‘bi-erasure’: a term used to describe the rendering of bisexuality as an invisible or silenced sexuality within a landscape of ‘compulsory monosexuality’ (James, 1996: 273; Marcus, 2015: 3).
Joyce, Bisexuality and Sexology
It is constructive to contextualise both the differing definitions of bisexuality as it exists today, as a stable identity with an attendant subjectivity, and the initial use of the term bisexuality to signify physical hermaphroditism. In contrast to Helt’s (2010: 133) contemporary definition of bisexuality as ‘the coexistence of sexual desire and affection for both men and women’, historically the term ‘bisexual’ has been used interchangeably as both a signifier of physical and psychical hermaphroditism. Both Erickson-Schroth and Mitchel (2012) remind us that in its earliest treatment by evolutionary psychologists, including Charles Darwin in 1859 and Russian embryologist Aleksandr Kovalesky in 1886, bisexuality was diagnosed as a physical combination of male and female sexual organs; thus bisexuality was more indicative of the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of hermaphroditism as ‘a person that has both male and female reproductive organs’ (LeVay, 1991 in Angelides, 2001: 39; Stevenson, 2015). As early as 1886, Kiernan acknowledged the ‘original bisexuality of the ancestors of the race’ as people who embody ‘different types of hermaphroditism’; physical hermaphroditism such as ‘males who are born with female external genitals and vice versa’ and cognitive hermaphroditism such as ‘femininely functioning brains that can occupy a male body’ (Kiernan, 1886 in Angelides, 2001: 42). In 1905, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud attempted to define psychological, or ‘psychical’, bisexuality as ‘amphigenic inversion’, a sub-category of inversion (a subject who deviated from the heterosexual paradigm), as a ‘state’ of ‘psychosexual hermaphrodit[ism]’ whereby ‘sexual-objects may equally well be of their own or the opposite sex’. In Freud’s Three Essays on Human Sexuality he noted that this bisexual ‘state’ was distinguished by its lacking of ‘the characteristic of exclusiveness’ (Freud, 1905 (2005): 282). Under this formulation of bisexuality as a mode of ‘psychical hermaphroditism’, Freud described a ‘pronounced sexual desire’ that was characterised by both a desire for both ‘the same sex, [and] a desire towards the opposite’. This concept evolved from Freud’s initial sexological theorisations into physical hermaphroditism as the ‘true [form of] bisexuality’ towards ‘the mental sphere’ of the subject’s ‘expression of psychical hermaphroditism’ (Freud, 1905 (2005): 285).
As both Freud and Havelock Ellis were recognising bisexuality as ‘psychical hermaphroditism’, Joyce also demonstrated an interest in the developments of sexologists’ changing definitions of bisexuality towards a cognitive mode of ‘psychosexual hermaphroditism’. This was evidenced in Joyce’s references to the ‘merits of early bisectualism’ that appeared in his 1939 novel Finnegans Wake as ‘the old Middlesex party’ (Ellis and Symonds, 1904 in Bland and Doan, 1998: 45; Joyce, 1939 (2012): 312) as well as in Ulysses as Zoe recognises Leopold Bloom’s hand as a ‘woman’s hand’ in ‘Circe’ and the reference to his ‘firm full masculine feminine passive active hand’ in ‘Ithaca’. Joyce’s references to sexual dimorphism and psychical androgyny, including Dr Dixon’s diagnosis of Bloom as ‘the new womanly man’ in ‘Circe’, echo the psychologically hermaphroditic terminology used by sexologists to define the various intermediary bisexual ‘states’. These states refer to, for example, Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s investigation into the ‘psychical hermaphroditism’ of ‘Mrs. M’ within ‘case 154’ in Psychopathia Sexualis as well as Havelock Ellis’ 1915 revised edition of his 1897 publication Studies into Psychology of Sex Volume II: Inversion case study ‘History XXXIX’ of ‘Miss. D’, who themselves identified as a ‘third sex of some kind’. Furthermore, Joyce’s depiction of Mulligan’s bisexuality is indicative of Carpenter’s description of ‘sexual intermediaries’. For Carpenter, such ‘sexual intermediaries’ described patients whose sexual drives were ‘crosswise’ and whose sexual subjectivity existed in ‘the middle region’ of sexual identity ‘between two poles’ (Carpenter, 1896; Ellis, 1900; and Carpenter, 1896; in Bland and Doan, 1998: 49; 232; 431–2).
These ‘crosswise’ drives of both heterosexual and homosexual ‘libidinal currents’ are explored in Ulysses through both Mulligan and Leopold Bloom’s competition for Stephen Dedalus and in their pursuit of heterosexual objects of desire (Boone, 1998: 12). Such triangular and ‘polymorphous’ paradigms of bisexual desire espouse the assertions of Otto Weininger in 1903. As Ellman’s records and ‘Joyce’s notebooks confirm’, Joyce knew of Weininger’s arguments that, for example, ‘there are no inverts who are completely sexually inverted’ (Brown, 1985: 97). In the same way that Bloom is diagnosed as ‘bisexually abnormal’ in ‘Circe’ by ‘Dr Mulligan’, Weininger claimed that ‘all’ inverts embody ‘from the beginning, an inclination to both sexes’ (Joyce, 1922 (2005): 5, 67, 231, 534; Weininger, 1903 in Bland and Doan, 1998: 57).
Additionally, both Freud and Joyce developed representations of ‘psychosexual hermaphroditism’ or ‘psychological bisexuality’ as a sexual attraction to both male and female qualities (Angelides, 2001: 53). Joyce’s ‘excited’ acknowledgement of the subversive potential of bisexuality is also evidenced by his noting of the title of a book entitled The Dominant Sex by Matthias and Mathilde Vaerting, published just one year after Ulysses (Joyce, 1923 in Brown, 1985: 123) in which the authors attempt to cement their beliefs in the ‘principle of monosexual dominance’ (Vaerting and Mathilde, 1923 in Brown, 1975: 121). As I will show, Joyce’s interest in the ‘ghostly other’ of hermaphroditic bisexuality, portrayed as ‘various states of inversion’ are embodied by Buck Mulligan, both physically and psychically, in ‘Telemachus’ and ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ (Angelides, 2001: 3; Prosser and Storr, 1997: 75).
‘In the Original’: Infantile and Anatomical Bisexuality
‘Telemachus’, the expository episode of Ulysses, is described by Killeen as ‘narrative young’ (Killeen, 2005: 12) and it is here that Joyce utilizes the space of the Martello Tower, where Stephen Dedalus, medical student Buck Mulligan and his English friend Haines co-inhabit. As Mulligan instructs Stephen to ‘read…the ancient Greeks…in the original’, so too does Joyce utilize Mulligan’s ‘biological, chemical and anatomical’ bisexuality within the models of Freud’s originally bisexual ‘physical disposition’ and his theories of ‘anatomical hermaphroditism’ that describe bisexuality as ‘individuals that combined both male and female characteristics’, what we now describe as intersex (Bland and Doan, 1998: 45). Through this, Joyce invites us to consider not only the ancient Greek practices of bisexuality whereby, according to Cantarella (1993: 12), ‘homosexuality was not an ‘exclusive’ choice or ‘deviant decision’ but also alludes to Freud’s conceptions of the ‘bisexuality disposition […] in the original’ infantile state of human sexuality (Cantarella, 2002: 12; Freud, 1905 (2005): 285).
In this episode Mulligan embodies what Garber describes as Freud’s implication of an ‘infantile unisex’ whereby the ‘child, whose body bore biological traces of both male and female elements, was erotically attracted to both males and females’ (Garber, 1995: 12, 182). Freud proposed that the subject’s initial ‘state’ of ‘infantile sexuality’ existed as a ‘polymorphously perverse disposition’ whereby the infant, ‘at about two or three’, does not align their sexual impulses towards an exclusive gender or gender-specific ‘genitalia’. In childhood Freud believed that ‘the sexuality of neurotics has remained, or been brought back to, an infantile state’. Within this ‘polymorphous’ infantile sexuality, Freud described the ‘erotogenic zones’ of the human body where pleasure is derived such as the mouth, the anus and the genitalia. The polymorphous and bisexual desires, aroused through the specific erotogenic zones, are thus inherently bisexual in that they do not discriminate between male and female body parts (Freud, 1905 (2005): 21, 32, 87).
In ‘Telemachus’, after Mulligan announces that he ‘remembers only ideas and sensations’, alluding to an infant’s ‘heightened’ and non-discriminatory ‘capacity for receiving and reproducing impressions’ outside of the binary, he then adopts a ‘polymorphous’ and bisexual infantile sexual subject position. Before the arrival of the milk-woman, Mulligan describes the sea as ‘[o]ur mighty mother’ and reminds Stephen of his own, ‘beastly dead’ mother. Mulligan’s preoccupation with the absent maternal figure, within the homosocial and fraternal space of the tower, is shown when he realizes that ‘there’s no milk’ for his tea and insists upon ‘white Sandycove milk’. What is significant here is that Mulligan specifically ‘want[s] Sandycove milk’ which is the local produce of the ‘Irish Motherland’. His need for maternal milk is reinforced by Mulligan’s reaction when he thinks the maternal milk-woman figure is not coming to the Martello Tower in Sandycove. After he listlessly laments ‘O jay, there’s no milk’ he ‘[sits] down in a sudden pet’ before rhetorically asking ‘what sort of a kip is this, I told her to come at eight’, which bears an uncharacteristic tone of dejected sobriety. After Haines announces ‘quietly’ that ‘that woman is coming up with the milk’ Mulligan’s tone of abandoned resignation transpires into euphoria as he ‘cries’ through a religious register: ‘the blessings of God on you,’ (Joyce, 1922 (2005): 5, 12; Killeen, 2005: 15).
As a ‘doorway […] darkened by an entering form’ signals the arrival of the maternal milk woman into the fraternal tower, it is in this instance when Mulligan regresses into a state of infantile bisexuality, as a psychosexual subjective position, where the ‘freedom’ of desires reigns across men and women’. Mulligan’s reversion to an infantile state permits him a reversion into ‘the original basis from which, as a result of restriction in one direction or the other, both the normal and the inverted types develop’. After Mulligan intones ‘In Nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti’ (in the name of the father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, invoking an Oedipal triangle) he reimagines the woman as ‘old’, despite Haines’ description of her merely as ‘that woman’. Mulligan childishly mocks the ‘wheedling’ voice of his own Irish mother, saying ‘when I makes tea I makes tea, as old other Grogan used to say. And when I makes water I makes water’. The milk that the woman brings enables Joyce to foreground the erotogenic zone of Mulligan’s ‘infantile’ mouth, or what Freud called the ‘labial zone’, in which Freud and S. Lindner posited that ‘the child’s lips, in our view, behave like an erotogenic zone and are no doubt stimulated by the warm flow of milk’ (Freud, 1905 (2005): 322). After having ‘drank at her [the milk woman’s] bidding’, Joyce repeatedly foregrounds Mulligan’s stimulation of his mouth, Freud’s ‘labial erotogenic zone’, as Mulligan ‘fill[s] his mouth with a crust thickly buttered on both sides’ and ‘cram[s] his mouth with fry and munched and droned’. Within the infantile sexual impulse, such a succession of oral stimulation is what Ellis described as ‘auto-erotic’ and suggests Mulligan, in drinking the milk, is ‘striving to renew the pleasure’ of ‘sucking his mother’s breast’ (Ellis, 1910 in Bland and Doan, 1998: 23, 45). It is no coincidence that Mulligan reacts to Stephen’s musing on ‘Mother Grogan’ as a ‘kinswoman’ by thinking this figure to be ‘quite charming’ after Mulligan ‘smiled with delight’ and spoke in a ‘finical sweet voice’ as well as ‘blinking his eyes pleasantly’ in an infantile manner. At the same time, showing bisexuality, these performances are designed to charm both Haines and Stephen. As the novel progresses, so too does Joyce’s exploration of bisexuality; after exploring ‘infantile bisexuality’ in this episode, Joyce explores the lived experiences of bisexuality within adulthood in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’.
‘Unsheathe your dagger definitions’: The Bisexual Gaze
In the ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ episode, Joyce explores bisexuality in older men through a combination of Freud’s model of the ‘amphigenic invert’, Bloom’s gazing at a statue and references to Shakespeare’s bisexuality. Joyce imbues the episode with both mythical parallels to Homer’s The Odyssey and reference to Shakespeare’s widely speculated bisexuality. In this episode, Mulligan exposes Bloom’s bisexual gazing at a statue in Dublin’s National Library. Before Mulligan’s appearance, Stephen and other librarians are revising conventional nineteenth-century wisdom on the subject of ‘Hamlet’s ghost’ (Killeen, 2005: 90). In The Odyssey, Ulysses’ mythical and structural parallel, Odysseus navigated between the six-headed Scylla and the whirlpool of Charybdis to save his crew. So too does Mulligan steer the metaphorical ship away from the whirlpool of Charybdis or the ‘undercurrent of homosexuality’, away from the ‘dagger definitions’ of mononormativity symbolically associated with Scylla, to the ‘[s]eas between’ (Joyce, 1922 (2010): 165). Ellman (1972: 186) contends that in order to ‘escape the dangers of Scylla and Charybdis’ one must ‘mate them’ and in doing so create ‘the beast with two backs’. Joyce’s ‘beast with two backs’ is found ‘midway’ (Joyce, 1922 (2010): 190) within both Shakespeare’s ‘compromise between an impulse that seeks for a man and one that seeks for a woman’ (Freud, 1905 (2005): 289). Within the ‘art’ of the episode, Elizabethan literature, Joyce utilizes Stephen’s musing on Shakespeare’s sexuality to transpose readers into Renaissance England, where both normative and inverted sexual acts were complicatedly commonplace (Killeen, 2005: 143).
While ‘buggery was a crime punishable by death’ the actual occurrences of public shaming and criminal condemnation of homosexual acts were not frequently enacted. Aside from the ideologically weaponized ‘accusations of being a sodomite’ mostly levelled as political opponents or ‘derogatively’ at Catholics, it was rarely sanctioned. Only ‘one conviction of sodomy in the Home County’ was enacted within legislation during Shakespeare’s era (McLelland, 2011: 348, 349). The legislative frameworks that upheld sodomy, and hence inversion, as criminal acts contrasted with ‘writerly’ gazing toward the psychosexual subjectivities of ancient Greece and Rome. Shakespeare and his early modern contemporaries held a retrospective gazing to an ancient (or ‘original’) time whereby ‘exclusivity’ was not regimented as an erotic stabilizer to differentiate inverts from those upholding nationalistic duty-bound hetero-capitalistic erotic modalities (Cantarella, 2002: 12).
Furthermore, as a playwright who deployed cross-dressing as a means of psychical and physical androgyny, Shakespeare’s binary-breaking representational device of androgyny functions as a quasi-mythical and historical ‘bisexual prototype’ for the library as narrative space. Coupled with speculations around Shakespeare’s own bisexuality (Chedgzoy, 1997; Garber, 1999; McLelland, 2011), the ‘cross-dressing’ associations of Elizabethan plays imbue the theorisation of Shakespeare’s characters, and thus the episode, with subjectivity comprised of ‘polymorphous perversity’ of both hetero- and homosexual (inverted) libidinal currents which serves as a framing device (Freud, 1905 (2005): 354). It is this radically split self of two co-existing libidinal currents that functions as the episode’s ‘ghost by absence’ or the unseen ‘beast with two backs’ (Joyce, 1922 (2010): 176; Ellman, 1972: 45). Virginia Woolf, following Joyce, described Shakespeare’s adept artistic abilities as the product of a ‘man-womanly mind’ which was ‘naturally creative, incandescent and undivided’ (Woolf, 1929: 12). Shakespeare’s ‘natural’ bisexuality that existed ‘incandescent[ly]’ did so ‘in the original’ as an ‘undivided’ subjectivity comprised of both hetero and homosexual impulses (Duncan-Jones, 2010: 12). In ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ Joyce symbolically signifies Shakespeare’s bisexuality through the image of the ‘androgynous angel’ who was an ‘undivided […] wife unto himself’1 (Joyce, 1922 (2010): 193).
It is into this established bisexual space that Bloom enters the scene. After both Bloom’s entrance and Stephen’s account of Shakespeare’s sexuality, Mulligan informs Stephen that Bloom’s ‘pale Galilean eyes’ were ‘upon [the statue’s] mesial groove’. Bloom’s fixation on the Greek Goddess’ buttocks should ostensibly betray Bloom’s heterosexual and ‘scopophilic’ desires, reflecting Freud’s description of the pleasure in looking at the naked body of the opposite-sex (Freud, 1905 (2005): 23; Joyce, 1922 (2010): 189). However, Bloom’s gazing at the Greek goddess of sexuality actually enables Mulligan to nullify both absolute heterosexuality and the ‘inverted’ sin of homosexual lust as an exclusive erotic modality. Anatomically, the anus, described in mythical and gender-neutral terms as a ‘mesial groove’ is found in both male and female bodies. Bloom’s gaze embodies Freud’s ‘distinction between psychosexual and anatomical hermaphroditism that comprises the bisexual position’ because, paradoxically, the anus as an object of desire bears no cultural or biological traces of specifically sexualized femininity (Freud, 1905 (2005): 23).
Bloom does not gaze lustfully upon explicitly sexualized parts of the female form such as ‘skin complexion, bone structure, breasts, facial expressions or child-bearing hips’ (Freud, 1905 (2005): 353). Bloom both observes and possesses an anus; he can align himself as both subject and sexual object. Thus the gazing is also a site of autoeroticism and as sadomasochistic fantasy: as both penetrator and penetrated. The sexual object is thus a site that ‘combines both the characters of both sexes’. Freud argued that ‘the playing of a sexual part by the anus is by no means limited to intercourse between men’ and therefore ‘preference for it is in no way characteristic of inverted feeling’. Bloom selectively omits explicitly feminine signifiers of sexuality, instead focusing on the anus which Freud dismisses as ‘non-indicative’ of inverted homosexuality. Bloom’s fractured gaze is thus a psychosexually ‘hermaphroditic’ gaze imbued with polymorphous desire. Such a gaze reveals Bloom’s sexual tendency to occupy the ‘state’ of being both the object of consumption and holder of the sexualized male gaze, echoing Freud’s hypothesis that ‘the passive current of sexuality was fed by anal eroticism, while activity coincided with sadism’ (Freud, 1905b (2005): 124, 355). This need for submission to sadomasochistic sexual desires is a collapse of the dominant heterosexual male; instead, Bloom is pieced together via Mulligan’s observation as both heterosexual subject of the gaze and as homosexual/invert object of the gaze.
Mulligan’s agenda changes towards the end of the episode. The Mulligan who entered the episode via an entr’acte (intermission) arrived as the psychosexual dismantler of mononormativity with a prerogative of unsheathing such Scyllian ‘dagger definitions’. With typically Joycean jocoserious irony, Mulligan actually fulfils the Quaker librarian’s expectation that ‘all sides of life should be represented’ by exposing Bloom’s bisexuality but then, paradoxically, re-inscribes monosexual ‘designs’ into the established bisexual space. As the episode closes, Mulligan abruptly collapses an emerging narrative over Bloom’s bisexuality, his ‘amphigenic inversion’. He warns Stephen that Bloom has homosexual tendencies and is thus a threat to Stephen’s heterosexuality, restabilising the binarized landscape of ‘compulsory monosexuality’. Mulligan discloses to Stephen that Bloom is ‘Greeker than the Greeks’: ‘Did you see his eye? He looked upon you to lust after him’ (Joyce, 1922 (2010): 231). In restabilising the mononormative ‘dagger definitions’ of absolute homosexual ‘inversion’, Mulligan is able to render his own bisexuality, and Bloom’s, invisible. Mulligan’s deliberate erasure of Bloom’s bisexual gaze enables Mulligan to reinforce the binary oppositions of ‘permissible’ heterosexual normativity and the ‘illicit’, ‘forbidden’ and deviant ‘other’ of sinful homosexual deviancy (Foucault, 1978 (1990): 124).2 In demarcating this metaphorical fence between normative heterosexuality and the ‘other’ of homosexual perversion, Mulligan’s warning to Stephen of Bloom’s ‘lustful eyes’ enables Mulligan to position himself as the ‘normative’ heterosexual ‘staunch friend’ in opposition to Bloom as the ‘other’, as the deviant homosexual. This knowing performance of platonic heterosexuality, within the paradigm of ‘compulsory monosexuality’, is enacted by Mulligan for two reasons. Firstly, it offers Stephen an opportunity to recognise himself as Mulligan’s entirely platonic ‘staunch friend’ and a ‘brother’s soul’ which alleviates Stephen’s internalized anxieties over sexual uncertainties and erotic ambivalence.3 Secondly, Mulligan knows that this mononormative position ensures that absolute [hetero]sexual stability permeates as an attainable ‘fantasy of self-coherence’ for Stephen. Unlike ‘the slippery notion’ of bisexuality, this monosexual ‘fantasy’ does not exacerbate Stephen’s anxieties over conflicting sexual impulses, but actually diminishes such insecurities.4 Mulligan’s offering of such a ‘fantasy’ of monosexual ‘coherence’ diminishes Stephen’s ‘sea of troubles’ and alleviates the ‘conflicting doubts, as one sees in real life’ (Joyce, 1922 (2010): 343; Boone, 1993: 148). Hence, Mulligan’s deliberate rewriting of Bloom’s bisexual gaze as a monosexual gaze comprised entirely of homosexual desires affords Mulligan social control over Stephen. Mulligan can usurp Bloom’s influence over Stephen because Mulligan’s monosexual performance as heterosexual friend promises Stephen a ‘monolithic’, ‘self-contained’ and ‘staunch’ heterosexual friendship (James, 1996: 232). In enabling Stephen to stabilize his heterosexual self in opposition to Bloom’s homosexual impulses and ‘lustful eye’, Mulligan offers Stephen a ‘fantasy of self coherence’ that the presence of bisexuality would unsettle. Mulligan reclaims control of Stephen, and usurps Bloom’s influence over Stephen, by erasing bisexuality which ‘unsettles’ the ‘hetero/homo divide’ that Stephen’s ‘monolithic’ heterosexual friendship requires to exist. Mulligan knowingly erases the presence of bisexuality because he knows that bisexuality would force Stephen to ‘acknowledge fluid desires’ that complicate monosexual ‘correspondences between sex acts and identity, between erotic objects and sexualities and between identification and desire’ (Bailey and Gurevich, 2012: 44). In this instance, the bisexual subject invokes anxieties around sexual fragmentation, indeterminacy and does not advance either Stephen’s pursuit of definitional stability nor Mulligan’s desire to usurp Bloom’s potentially paternal influence over Stephen. Mulligan’s knowing bi-erasure and self-conscious performances of monosexuality continue in the ‘Oxen of the Sun’ episode. In this next episode Mulligan’s monosexual performance as an exclusively heterosexual subject enables Joyce to critique Freud and other sexologists’ ‘popular view of sex’ as an entirely procreative act between a man and a woman. Such ‘compulsory monosexuality’ is expanded upon in Mulligan’s role as a ‘chief fertiliser’ in the ‘Oxen of the Sun’ episode (Freud, 1905 (2005): 285; Joyce, 1922 (2010): 364).
Heterosexual Deviancy in ‘Oxen of the Sun’
In this episode, I analyse Joyce’s depiction of the destructive consequences of Mulligan’s repression of homosexual impulses in order to perform an extreme form of exclusive heterosexuality. In doing so, I explore Joyce’s critique of ‘compulsory monosexuality’, as well as the ideologies that espouse the normalcy of a monosexual subject-object coupling, which is described as ‘mononormativity’ (Angelides, 2001; Hemmings, 2002; Alexander, 2012; Helt, 2012; Ochs, 2019). Whereby heteronormativity restricts the representational tools and apparatus afforded to homosexuality, ‘compulsory monosexuality’ and thus mononormativity ensures that bisexual intimacies and identities remain invisible, unseen and silent in both straight and gay communities (Angelides 2001; Ault 1994; Hemmings 2002; Ochs 2019; Yoshimbo 2000). Hence, bisexuals ‘become the target of a politics of delegitimization’ (Scroth and Mitchell, 2012). In this episode, ‘compulsory monosexuality’ is manifested in Mulligan as an extreme form of monosexuality: that of an entirely reproductive and exclusively heterosexual subject. Mulligan offers himself as a chief ‘fertiliser’ within a ‘National Fertilising Centre’ as he will perform sexual intercourse with any female in the ‘dutiful’ national interests of reproduction. Joyce’s imposition of monosexual moulds onto Mulligan creates an absolute heterosexual that serves as a critique of the pressures espoused within contemporary reproductive sex manuals towards ‘normative’ (heterosexual) reproductive acts (Valente, 2008: 12). Mulligan’s absolute non-inversion alludes to Theodor Hendrik van de Velde’s The Perfect Marriage which argues that women only ovulate once per menstrual cycle. This contributed to the improvement of calendar-based methods of birth control as well as systems of fertility awareness which enhanced the reproductive capabilities of heterosexual acts of intercourse (Velde, 1916, in Bland and Doan, 1998: 21).
Mulligan’s appointment as a ‘chief-fertiliser’ also echoes Edward Breecher (1920) who firmly eschewed ‘certain abnormal sexual practices’ and insisted on keeping the ‘Hell-gate realm of Sexual perversions firmly closed’ (Breecher and Velde in Bland and Doan, 1998: 12, 45, 56–7). Additionally, Mulligan’s self-appointed role as ‘chief fertiliser’ mockingly espouses Freud’s ‘popular view’ of sexuality where a male and female are in pursuit of their oppositional gender for the purpose of procreative and reproductive sexual intercourse. This ‘popular view’ is exaggerated as Mulligan outlines his plan to ‘set up there a national fertilising farm’ where he can ‘offer his dutiful yeomen services for the fecundation of any female’. Mulligan, paradoxically, specifies his exact criteria for ‘any female’ as he explains that ‘any female of what grade of life soever’ and offers a pseudo-protocol for the act of procreation by instructing that ‘any’ of these women ‘should there direct to him with the desire of fulfilling the functions of her natural’. The irony is reinforced as Mulligan’s mock-monosexuality embodies these mononormative sentiments by submitting himself for, in his words, the ‘noblest task for which our bodily organism has been framed’ (Joyce, 1922 (2010): 364). Mulligan’s motivations for this scheme are entirely hetero-reproductive as he explains that this is ‘to counteract the decline in the population’, echoing Freud’s assertion that ‘outside of psychoanalysis sexuality means only a very limited thing: normal sexual life in the service of reproduction’ (Freud, 1920 (2005): 13; Killeen 2005: 122). It also alludes to Joyce’s reading of Gourmont’s Physique de L’armour that identifies the aim to ‘free the female from all care that is not purely sexual, to permit her the most perfect accomplishment of her most important function’ (Gourmont, 1903, in Brown, 1985: 121).
Mulligan’s self-appointment as a ‘chief fertiliser’ alludes to another Freudian theory of bisexuality. In the Maternity Hospital, amongst the set of medical students, Mulligan’s ‘stately’ (bi)sexuality adopts Freud’s substratum of ‘amphigenic’ bisexuality: ‘contingent’ inversion, which he categorized as where ‘inaccessibility of any normal sexual object’ ensures that ‘imitation [is] the chief’. In such a situation, the bisexual subject is ‘capable of taking as their sexual object choice someone of their own sex’ (Freud, 1905 (2005): 282). In the masculine space of a ‘medical set’ of men who espouse hetero-reproductive ideologies, Mulligan’s repressed heterosexual drives arise in an exaggeratedly ‘absolute’ form. Joyce subverts Freud’s ‘contingent’ formula so that Mulligan neurotically adjusts his heterosexual libidinal currents not on to ‘someone of his own sex’ but to any female of the opposite sex. Mulligan embodies and enacts a uniquely Joycean erotic mode of ‘absolute’ non-‘inversion’.
Mulligan’s role as ‘chief fertiliser’ is also a critique of Freud’s exclusionary mononormative logic that one male half is always ‘seeking the other’ female half in the ‘popular view’ of sexuality. ‘Popular’ translates as the cultural imperative for hetero-capitalistic erotic modalities of reproduction. As ‘chief fertiliser’ Mulligan espouses heterosexuality as a primary goal of society and as a ‘necessary trajectory for human love’. Mulligan no longer ‘lacks the characteristic of exclusiveness’ but actually loses his possession of inclusiveness. The ‘sterilisation’ of Mulligan’s homosexual ‘undercurrent’ holds Mulligan in a position of entirely heterosexual deviancy (Joyce, 1902, in Ellman and Gilbert, 1957: 132, 32, 54). Thus the growth of the foetus (symbolized by the development of the history of language) is ultimately a biological product of non-inversion, of a ‘monogamous appetite’ and of the upholding of fidelity and of ‘heterosexual inevitability’ (Garber, 1995: 171, 175, 200). Mulligan is the extreme exponent of this hetero-reproductive ideological imperative as he subsumes the act of procreative heterosexual intercourse itself to be his ‘sexual object’ as well as the absolute embodiment of Otto Weininger’s model of the ‘male principle’ that is ‘sexual and nothing more’ (Weininger, 1905, in Bland and Doan, 1998: 23). Joyce’s critique, enacted through exaggerated parody, mirrors Freud’s revisionist afterthought in 1915 that exclusive heterosexuality was ‘a problem that needed elucidating’ (Garber, 1999: 212).
The ‘State’ of Sexology and the Modern Bisexual Subject in ‘Circe’
After exploring the various models of bisexuality and ‘compulsory monosexuality’, as it was conceptualised within sexology, Joyce uses the hallucinatory fantasies of the ‘Circe’ episode to reveal how the everyday bisexual subject had internalized the ‘Fundamentals of Sexology’ in order to understand their own ‘contrary sexual impulses’ that comprised modern bisexual subjectivity. ‘Circe’ is set in ‘nightown’, Dublin’s Red Light District and home to Bella Cohen’s brothel, where Mulligan, Stephen and Bloom visit. Hélène Cixous described this chapter as the ‘underside’ of the text because narrative ‘events’ and ‘characters’ are (mostly) products of Bloom and Stephen’s fantastical projections of repressed desires, anxieties and memories that, in ‘Telemachus’ and ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, would have remained buried deep within the Freudian subconscious (Cixous, 1975: 388). While Bloom is on trial from ‘the mob’, he calls upon his ‘old friend, Dr Malachi Mulligan, sex specialist to give medical testimony’ on his behalf in an attempt to prove himself ‘guiltless as the unsunned snow’. ‘Dr’ Mulligan’s appearance is a product of Bloom’s subconscious fear of being exposed for having the ‘undercurrent’ of homosexual desire. The fear of being exposed as ‘bisexually abnormal’ taps into Bloom’s own internalised anxieties that his version of masculinity as ‘subjective agency and rational control’ knowingly embodies and enacts both masculine signifiers of hetero-reproductive virility and ‘feminine’ sexual characteristics’ of homosexual ‘passivity’ and ‘submission’ at the same time (Micale, 2004: 434). Bloom’s subconscious fear is manifested as the figure of ‘Dr Mulligan’ because Mulligan’s own bisexuality triggers Bloom’s fear of exposure as a knowingly deviant participant in the reproductive heterosexual masculinities of Bloom’s ‘internalized cultural ethos of manhood’ (Boone, 1998: 155). This deep-rooted anxiety exists in Bloom’s subconscious, in part, because of Mulligan’s exposure of Bloom’s homosexual ‘undercurrent’ in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’. Bloom’s anxiety-induced projection of Mulligan is also evidence that Bloom was aware that Mulligan was receptive to Bloom’s bisexual gazing.
Within Mulligan’s diagnosis, Bloom enmeshes various sexological theories of subjects that were ‘bisexually abnormal’ as bisexuality was denied both categorisation and a definitive label as it was diagnosed as a transitional ‘state’ within the ‘intermediary gradations between the pure type of man and the pure type of woman’ (Krafft-Ebing, 1896 in Storr, 1998: 13). Mulligan’s observation of ‘ambidexterity’ which is ‘also latent’ alludes to this ‘intermediate’ position as well as to the physical and psychical hermaphroditism discussed by Krafft-Ebing and Freud. ‘Ambidexterity’ also symbolizes the subjectivity of bisexuality as it was understood by Carpenter as a ‘state’ that existed ‘between two poles’ (Carpenter and Krafft-Ebing, 1896, in Bland and Doan, 1998: 12, 34, 243). This ‘ambidexterity’, of embodying both heterosexual and homosexual drives, is elaborated upon further by Mulligan’s referencing of Bloom’s ‘double insight’ of the active and passive role of sexual intercourse (Hall, 1928 (2014): 45). Mulligan recognises Bloom as a subject that has experienced both the ‘masculine’ agency of penetrative homosexual intercourse and the passive ‘feminine’ position of being penetrated. This evidences Bloom’s awareness that Mulligan recognised his bisexual gazing at the anus of the statue in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’. These various definitional insecurities that Bloom has over his own bisexuality also reveal Bloom’s guilt-ridden transgressions from traditional models of masculinity as Mulligan attests that Bloom ‘escaped from Dr Eustace’s private asylum for demented gentlemen’. Joyce uses these various diagnoses to juxtapose Bloom’s ‘fantasy of self-coherence’ (that will nullify and destabilize his anxieties about not being wholly masculine or wholly heterosexual) with a relentless succession of unstable and unhelpful sexological observations that only introduce further ‘uncertainty and doubt’ for Bloom. The circumstantial evidence and sexological theories of ‘Dr Mulligan’ only ‘frustrate’ and ‘embarrass’ Bloom’s working towards a coherent bisexual self and intensify his ‘conflicting doubts’. Bloom’s inability to assimilate the indeterminate definitions of sexological bisexuality ensures that Bloom is denied what Judith Butler describes as an ‘interior fixity’ (Butler, 1990: 212).
Bloom’s projection of Mulligan’s ‘testimony’, as an attempt to cement a ‘fantasy’ of a coherent bisexual subjectivity is confused and ruptured by Mulligan’s sexological reasoning, in a way similar to Miss. D who attempts to define herself in sexological terms:
As regards my physical sexual feelings which were well established during these few years, I don’t think I often indulged in any erotic imaginations worth estimating, but so far as I did at all, I always imagined myself as a man loving a woman. I cannot recall ever imagining the opposite, but I seldom imagine anything at all, and I suppose ultimate sex sensations know no sex (Ellis, 1915, in Bland and Doan, 1998).
Joyce’s ‘citations’ and ironic ‘discursive borrowings’ from Ellis’s case study of ‘Miss. D’ function as a ‘form of resistance’ to such case studies that attempt to explain the causes of bisexuality (Downing, 2012: 195). Hence, Mulligan’s diagnosis serves as a ‘transformative’ case study of Bloom that, ironically, in using sexological modes of analyses to get to the truth of bisexuality, ‘embarrasses’ and ruptures them (Freud, 1905 (2005): 34, 45). Bisexuality resisted definition in sexology mostly because it was hypothesised by sexologists as a ‘state rather than a subject position’ and so bisexuals were ‘scattered through the various categories of inversion’ as ‘psychological hermaphrodites’. The duality of homo- and heterosexual impulses was a ‘state’ rather than a fixed model of sexual identity (Prosser and Storr, 1998: 76).
The paradoxical flaws of sexological models of bisexuality are exaggerated in the extreme in Mulligan’s sexological reasoning. Mulligan both explains that Bloom was engaged in penetrative homosexual intercourse as Mulligan ‘believe[s] him to be more sinned against than sinning’ yet declares him to be a virgin, concluding that Bloom is ‘virgo intacta’ despite the ‘pre-vaginal examination’ and an ‘application of the acid test to 5427 anal, axillary, pectoral and pubic hairs’. These ostentatious yet redundant modes of analyses parody Freud’s confessions that ‘bisexuality embarrasses all our enquires into the modern subject’ (Freud, 1915, in Garber, 1995: 32). In having Mulligan mock the case studies of sexology, Joyce is critiquing the sexological imperative to isolate the exact ‘fundamentals’ of bisexuality. A literal reference, for example, is Joyce’s ironic borrowing of the phrase ‘ambidexterity is also latent’ that replicates Ellis’s observation that ‘bisexuality would thus in a large number of cases be comparable to ambidexterity’ (Ellis, in Bland and Doan, 1998: 321). These sexological attempts to determine the exact cause of the ‘contradictory sexual impulses’ of the bisexual actually rupture Bloom’s ‘fantasy of the self’s interior coherence’ (Boone, 1998: 148).
Mulligan’s diagnosis of ‘bisexual abnormal[ity]’ indicates Joyce’s intention to show the inadequacies of ‘embarrassed’ sexological models of bisexuality that rely too heavily on case studies that desperately cling to monosexual and mononormative ‘acts’ to diagnose ‘bisexually abnormal’ people. Joyce does this through Michel Foucault’s method of ‘reverse discourse’ whereby ‘citations’ and ‘discursive borrowings’ from authoritative institutions of published sexological research serve only to ‘go against the ideological grain’ of sexological investigations into bisexuality (Foucault, 1978 (1990): 232). In Mulligan’s diagnosis of Bloom’s bisexual abnormalities as a result of being ‘born out of bedlock’ as well as, what is ostensibly a redundant observation that ‘hereditary epilepsy is also present’ as well as an obscure examination into the patient’s in Bloom’s family, Joyce discursively borrows from Ellis’ case of Miss. D who described herself as ‘a third sex of some kind’ which she self-diagnosed ‘between 21 and 24 when she ‘saw plenty of men and plenty of women’. Ellis describes Miss. D in a way similar to Mulligan’s diagnosis of Bloom:
History XXXIX–Miss. D., actively engaged in the practice of her profession, aged 40. Heredity good, nervous system sound, general good health on the whole satisfactory. Development feminine but manner and movements somewhat boyish. Menstruation scanty and painless. Hips normal, nates small, sexual organs showing some approximation toward infantile type with large labia minora and probably small vagina (Ellis, 1897 in Bland and Doan, 1998: 91).
In Mulligan’s diagnosis in ‘Circe’, the ‘reverse discourse’ is employed by Joyce to also critique sexology’s inability to affect cultural perceptions of bisexuality. Mulligan’s diagnosis also reveals Bloom’s guilt over his homosexual ‘undercurrent’ as something reinforced by a culture in which sexologists could not nullify the hostility of the popular press’s view of homosexuality as a criminal, sinful and shameful act (Backus, 2013). Mulligan’s diagnosis of Bloom as ‘bisexually abnormal’ alludes to the bisexual subject’s fears around the exposure of their homosexual impulse during a time when the trials and convictions of Oscar Wilde for ‘gross acts’ of same-sex copulation in 1895 had permeated popular perceptions of homosexuality as pathological and morally ‘depraved’. When Mulligan describes the ‘unbridled lust’ of a ‘demented gentlem[a]n’ who was knowingly ‘perversely idealistic’ it signifies, through its implication of deliberate acts of ‘lust[ful]’ desire, the views espoused in the popular press that Wilde’s same-sex desires were wilfully enacted perversions and thus were ‘pathological’. By extension, homosexual acts post-Wilde became indicative of a ‘widespread breakdown of moral standards’ (Doan and Wathers, 1998: 14). Bloom’s guilt as a ‘double agent’ of both normative heterosexuality and shameful ‘sodomy’ both conceives this cross-interrogation between ‘doctors’ and ‘the mob’ (symbolizing sexologists and the Popular Press, respectively) and concludes it with a diagnosis of Bloom as ‘the new womanly man’ (Hemmings, 2002: 121). Bloom’s guilt arises out of the fact that he knows that those ‘contradictory sexual impulses’ position him as a knowingly deviant participant in heterosexual acts because he retains homosexual impulses, indicative of the ‘radically split-self’ of modern bisexual subject (Boone, 1993: 44). Through this reading of Mulligan as a mock-sexologist the ‘binary oppositions’ of homo- and heterosexuality are ‘provisionally distinguished’ to stress Bloom’s desire to occupy a coherent bisexual subjectivity that mirrors Jacques Lacan’s ‘enigma[tic] truth’ of ‘original’ bisexuality as ‘a double disposition’ (Joyce, 1922 (2010): 4; Bristow, 2016: 12). Mulligan’s diagnosis of Bloom as ‘bisexually abnormal’ with a libidinal ‘double disposition’ creates a ‘stately’ ‘interplay’ between ‘highly labile erotic currents’ of Bloom’s bisexuality and the problematic ‘stabilizing sexual conventions’ of sexology (Joyce, 1922 (2010): 435, 436; Hemmings, 2002: 12; Valente, 2006: 214).
Coda: Mulligan’s ‘Compulsory Monosexuality’, Bi-Erasure and Contemporary Legislative Practice
In the same way that both Wilde and Mulligan’s bisexuality is undermined by the scandal of absolute homosexual ‘sodomy’, so do many contemporary bisexuals fall victims to bi-erasure within legislative practice at the turn-of-this-century that operate through a legal lexicon of monosexuality. Like Buck’s self-regulated ‘invisibility’ and self-reflexive ‘bi-erasure’ in ‘Telemachus’, bi-erasure is sustained in contemporary legislative practice because assumptions around sexual object choice determining sexual identity are not frequently challenged (Garber, 1995; Ault, 1996; Angelides, 2001; Hemmings, 2002; Ochs, 2012; Helt, 2012; Monro, 2015). James (1996: 354) argues that in assuming a subject’s monosexuality, this has incited a cultural epoch of ‘compulsory monosexuality’. Such Buck-like ‘invisible’ figures experience bisexual invisibility in a similar manner in workplaces across the US and the UK, which Hunter (2019) describes as ‘perpetually exist[ing] in a middle space, which is rarely ever perceived as fully one thing or another’. Naomi Mezey and Kenji Yoshino (2000) identified ‘an epistemic contract of bisexual erasure’. Yoshino recognizes the need for stable sexual identity and the celebration of monogamy as marital ideal as drivers behind a subconscious enforcement of bi-erasure and bi-invisibility by hetero and homosexuals in the workplace. Whilst bi-visibility within the US and UK workplace has increased (in November 2012 bisexual House Member Kyrsten Sinema was elected, and bisexual Kate Brown became governor of Oregon) there have been court cases in the US and the reported experiences of bisexuals in the UK show that the transient, in-between and liminal space is still allocated to bisexuals in the workplace. Yoshino offers a number of explanations for the origins of bisexual erasure. Overall, he suggests, bisexual erasure is attributable to the shared interest of gays and straights in preserving strict binary sexual orientation dichotomies, as they both view the comparably fluid orientation presented by bisexuality as a threat. Yoshino offers three versions of bi-erasure; one is the fact that straights/gays ‘fear that so long as bisexuality is a valid possibility, the monosexual (i.e., gay or straight) identity can no longer be fairly inferred by one’s partnerships and is thereby destabilized as a default identity’. Second, he offers, they are threatened by a world in which sex is no longer the primary distinguishing characteristic of attraction. Finally, some (rather unfairly, but commonly) associate bisexuality with dangers such as HIV concerns, assumptions of non-monogamy, and the perception that bisexuals are assimilationists who can, unlike gays, avail themselves of ‘heterosexual privilege’ (Yoshino, 2000: 45).
Just as Mulligan uses mononormative modes of disguise, so too legislation has hidden bisexuality through such mono-normative terminology. Nowhere is this more relevant that in 2014 case of Garcia-Jaramillo v. INS. In this case, the immigration board rejected a man’s marriage as a sham marriage after asking ‘an inordinate number of questions concerning [his] homosexuality’ and found that because of his past homosexual inclinations, his opposite-sex marriage must be a sham. The immigration board never addressed the possibility that the man was bisexual. A second, related case is currently pending in the United Kingdom. In the case of Orashia Edwards, a bisexual man seeking to emigrate from Jamaica (where same-sex relationships are illegal) to the United Kingdom, Edwards was originally denied asylum due to a finding of ‘dishonest sexuality,’ because the British Home Office did not view as valid his two-year relationship with another man, in light of the fact he had previously been married to a woman. In a move reflecting degrading desperation, Edwards, who feared being killed for his same-sex relationship if sent back to Jamaica, took the drastic step of sending photos of himself having sex with his male partner to the British Home Office, as a last resort in trying to prove that his bisexuality is not dishonest sexuality, but is in fact his true sexual orientation. A third example of the dangers caused by bisexual erasure in an immigration context is a case arising out of the United States. In the pending case of Ivo Widlak, a Polish journalist who has been married to his wife for over twelve years, Widlak, since coming out as bisexual, has been threatened with deportation after being accused of being in a ‘sham’ marriage (Joyce, 1922 (2010): 45, 343, 344; Marcus, 2015: 45, 67).
Mulligan’s bisexuality and subsequent bi-erasure within Ulysses enabled Joyce to engage with and critique the various sexological modes of bisexuality as ‘states of inversion’, from Freud’s infantile bisexuality to Krafft-Ebing’s maturation into an exclusively monosexual identity. In exploring both bi-erasure and the bisexual subject as a knowingly deviant participant within the heteronormative ideologies of the ‘compulsory monosexuality’ of modernism, Joyce only ever affords Mulligan a transitory, liminal and ‘stately’ space within the narrative that is both deeply encoded and erased by his entanglement within a ‘landscape of compulsory monosexuality’. From this, I would attest that Joyce’s aim in depicting Mulligan’s bisexuality and his knowing bi-erasure through such ‘stately’ inversions was to attempt to hold sexologists accountable for their inability to provide the bisexual subject with a coherent and fixed model of subjectivity. Here Joyce specifically challenges Krafft-Ebing’s hypothesis that as an adult develops into maturity, so the subject’s ‘masculine and feminine brains’ align with either homosexuality (or ‘inverted’ state) or heterosexuality (‘normal’ sexuality). In reading Mulligan’s bisexuality as I have done, it shows that Joyce anticipated post-Freudian revisions within queer theory of the ‘innate’ state of the ‘bisexual disposition by offering a model of composite perversity much more akin to Hélène Cixous’ ‘other bisexuality’ that describes the ‘location within oneself of the presence of both sexes’. I have shown here that Joyce deliberately counterpoises Mulligan’s composite perversity, or his ‘other bisexuality’, against a cultural landscape of ‘compulsory monosexuality’ that sexology failed to diminish and thus problematized, rather than emancipated, the conflicted experiences of the modern bisexual. I posit that this reveals an as-of-yet unacknowledged aim of Joyce to critique both mononormativity and to highlight the effects of bi-erasure upon the bisexual subject, a problem that, like Freud’s notion of an exclusively homo- or heterosexual desire ‘needs elucidating’ in our contemporary legislative landscape. Indeed, Mulligan’s bread may be ‘buttered thickly on both sides’ but both Mulligan and Joyce only ever reveal to the reader one side of that crust (Joyce, 1922 (2005): 14).