“And how should one receive an exaggerated image, if not by exaggerating it a little more, by personalising the exaggeration?… In prolonging exaggeration, we may have the good fortune to avoid the habits of reduction.” – Gaston Bachelard.
I can’t entirely remember how my fascination with the work of James Joyce came about. As I remember it, I was around 14 or 15 and was going through my poetry phase. Which is to say, I’d had a short poem published in a book and was considering myself to be something of a tortured artist. I read someone or other in an interview say that they considered Joyce to be the greatest poet of all time, thus I looked up his work. I found a couple of his poems in the school library in ‘The Oxford Anthology of Great English Poetry,’ which I found somewhat bewildering at the time as he wasn’t English, and I recall finding them interesting but I can’t say I was particularly enamoured by them. Nonetheless, there was also a hardback copy of Joyce’s collection of short stories ‘Dubliners’ which captured my imagination a little bit more and which I subsequently decided to steal. Whilst Dubliners is probably the most approachable of Joyce’s works, I decided to look up the Spark Notes to further my reading, which in turn subsequently lead me to find the brilliant but now sadly defunct website Robot Wisdom: IQ Infinity: The Unknown James Joyce. Like all ordinary 14 or 15 year old boys, I began reading essays and scholarly articles on Joyce, Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, the puzzles contained in his works and so on.
I became fascinated by the idea of someone writing a novel where effectively nothing really of note actually happens other than people wandering around, someone masturbating on a beach, someone looks at a mysterious bloke in a brown mac (that obsessed me for some reason), Stephen Dedalus’ theory on Hamlet, and Bloom’s wife Molly has an affair. All the while, whilst nothing of note is really happening, telling the story of everything and painting the most complete picture of a person ever recorded in literature, along with a perfect topographical portrait of Dublin. As Joyce didn’t actually live in Dublin at the time he was writing it, he had to get his brother to record details as the types of trees on certain streets, how long it would take to climb over the railing of certain houses, how many breaths it took to cross a particular road, you know, that kind of thing. I was also fascinated by how each chapter which corresponds with a section of The Odyssey by Homer would be represented by a certain colour and body part. Not that this kind of thing is made readily accessible by Joyce. It’s all a bit of a puzzle you’ve got to figure out yourself, nonetheless, this kind of puzzle solving is somewhat appealing to a young INTJ. This is before getting into Joyce’s other work, Finnegans Wake, where Joyce decided to invent his own language out of English, Greek, Latin and drunken piss talk. If you loved the puzzles of Joyce’s Ulysses, well, welcome to fucking nirvana. Suffice to say, as an adolescent I did find and still do find sections of Ulysses extremely challenging, Finnegans Wake is simply far outside of the scope of any 14 to 15 year old who is capable of any kind of remotely functional interaction with the outside world. Still…
This post doesn’t really have any real intellectual objective. It’s more of a curiosity in line with my recent motif on this blog and it’s just a bit of fun. So the question is, what was James Joyce’s MBTI?
If you google this, numerous posts will claim he was an INFJ. Spoiler: He was an INFP.
How did I get to this? As I stated in the previous entry, I generally don’t think it’s actually worthwhile spending much time trying to ascertain the types of fictional characters. For a variety of reasons, and often in order to serve the narrative the type you ascertain for any character could and will often fluctuate quite dramatically in order to serve the purposes of the narrative. However, as Stephen Dedalus is Joyce’s literary alter-ego, it’s still worth taking a look at him. Stephen’s portrayal differs between Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses. In Portrait I’d actually be slightly inclined to typing Stephen Dedalus as an INTP and in Ulysses as an INFP for reasons I will momentarily get to. As what differs between an INTP and an INFP is that for an INTP their dominant function is introverted thinking, the auxiliary function is extraverted intuition and the tertiary function is introverted sensing. What differs therefore for the INFP is that rather than introverted thinking, their dominant function is introverted feeling. Thus:
Introverted Feeling is an introverted Judging function. Like the other introverted functions, Fi is characteristically intensive rather than extensive. More specifically, it is focused on navigating and managing the FP’s personal feelings, tastes, and values. Rather than distributing its feelings and energies across a breadth of individuals (as Fe does), Fi concentrates its gaze on the self or the “subject.”
So from this, we can readily presume we are in the correct ball-park. In Joyce’s perambulations through Ulysses, through Dedalus he unmistakably links himself to Hamlet:
Hamlet is a character constantly stuck in a moral dilemma of how he feels at the present moment. Sentiment is everything for Hamlet, best displayed at how grieved he was at the death of his hero father, showing no hesitation to burst out at court at his disgust of his mother marrying his uncle. Hamlet’s depth of feeling is also shown in his early love to Ophelia, regardless of his actions to her later on. Throughout the play, Hamlet becomes increasingly self-involved as his fake madness chips away at his melancholic soul. Hamlet’s extensive moralising stems not from it effects on others, but rather his individual reaction and judgment to the sequence of events that befall him. The “To-Be or Not to Be” speech, one of the most famous in the entire literary canon, is a perfect example of internal feeling, as he weighs the benefits and shortfalls of mortality and whether life is at all worth living. While not a trait of all Fi doms, self-destructive moralising is a notorious side effect of unheathly internal feeling.
Joyce’s Dedalus in Ulysses on the other hand is from a family who have dropped considerably in economic status. Stephen feels alienated from his biological father. Stephen’s mother died a year before, but he is obsessed with the notion her ghost that would destroy his identity as an artist even though he had declared in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man “I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it calls itself my home, my fatherland or my church.’’ Stephen says to himself “Agenbite of inwit” recalling his mother’s deathbed, because he rejected his mother’s wish that he pray for her soul. Thus he imagines his mother on her deathbed with abhorrance: “her glazing eyes staring out of death, to shake and bend my soul. On me alone. The ghostcandle to light her agony. Ghostly light on the tortured face. Her hoarse loud breath rattling in horror, while all prayed on their knees. Her eyes on me to strike me down”
If we take this a step further, Hamlet was an INFP, Shakespeare was an INFP. This was Joyce nailing his colours firmly to the mast. There was a phrase in Ulysses that always really jumped out at me, but for many years I didn’t grasp its significance. ‘Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes.’ Stephen is attempting to find in the phenomenal world what has vanished from his moral universe: a centre for the soul.
According to Schopenhauer, to embrace the phenomenal is to abandon the possibility of a moral insight, of a feeling for others. As Joseph Campbell explains it:
The notion of separateness is simply a function of the way our senses experience us here in time and space. We’re separate in this room because of space. We’re separate from the group that were here last night because of time. These are the separating factors, what Nietzsche calls the Principium Individuationis, the individuating factors. And Schopenhauer says this is secondary. The notion of you and the other is a secondary one, and every now and then, this other realisation comes up. . . . Compassion releases you from the ego orientation.
‘Ineluctable modality of the visible’ is Joyce’s version of Shakespeare’s ‘To be or not to be’ in Hamlet.
For me, the following exchange again with Joseph Campbell firmly establishes Joyce as an INFP:
BILL MOYERS: What about James Joyce’s epiphanies?
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Now, that’s another thing. This has to do with the esthetic experience. Joyce’s formula for the esthetic experience is that it does not move you to want to possess the object, that he calls pornography; nor does it move you to criticise and reject the object, that he calls didactics, social criticism in art and all that kind of thing. It is the holding the object, and he says you put a frame around it and see it as one thing, and then seeing it as one thing, you become aware of the relationship of part to part, the part to the whole and the whole to each of the parts. This is the essential esthetic factor rhythm, the rhythm, the rhythmic relationships. And when a fortunate rhythm has been struck by the artist, there is a radiance. That’s the epiphany.
Every decision and action of Joyce’s is lead by how it aligns with his values and identity as an artist. Joyce doesn’t lead by introverted intuition – of which I can find no evidence of, nor can I find anything to suggest that this absent introverted intuition is necessarily underpinned by anything that constitutes extraverted feeling.