The Erotic in Joyce's A Painful Case
The characters whom inhabit Joyce's world in "Dubliners," often have, as Harvard Literature Professor Fischer stated in lecture, a "limited way" of thinking about and understanding themselves and the world around them. Such "determinism," however, operates not on a broad cultural scale, but works in smaller, more local, more interior and more idiosyncratic ways. That is, the forces which govern Joyce's characters are not necessarily cultural or socioeconomic in nature, but rather, as Prof. Fischer stated, are "tiny," and work on a more intimate level. In any case, as a result of such "forces", these stories often tend to be about something, as Prof. Fischer said, that doesn't happen, about the "romance of yearning and self-disappointment." Joyce's story "A Painful Case" is a perfect example of a story about something that doesn't happen, and more specifically, about "the romance of yearning." It is through such yearning, however, and the various "erotic" forms that such yearning takes, that Joyce's characters are able to transcend the "forces" which govern their lives. In "A Painful Case" the erotic takes on three separate forms: mental, physical, and what I call, "auditory." Although all three play a role in the story, it is only through "auditory" eroticism that Joyce's protagonist, Mr. Duffy, comes to experience a moment of "self-transcendence."
While "auditory" eroticism may serve, in the end, as the conduit for Duffy's self-transformation, initially it is "mental" eroticism that brings together Mr. Duffy and Mrs. Sinico. Joyce writes, "Little by little he (Duffy) entangled his thoughts with hers. He lent her books, provided her with ideas, shared his intellectual life with her. She listened to all" (110). Joyce uses the word "entangled" to frame the "mental" eroticism that he describes. "Entangled" instantly connotes an erotic physical entwining of bodies, but Joyce instead applies it to "thoughts." Thoughts, rather than bodies, are "entangled," and their mutual exchange of "ideas" is described as "intercourse." We are told that "in return" for "theories", "facts" are "given out" (111). Joyce, by using phrases like "intercourse", "in return" and "given out," builds an "erotic" framework" into which he inserts "ideas" and "facts" and theories," thus reinforcing the notion that the transmission of such "facts" and "theories" must necessarily take on a distinctly erotic dimension.
Only two paragraphs later, once Duffy and Mrs. Since become more closely acquainted, does Joyce, nearly verbatim, repeat this sentence, writing: "Little by little, as their thoughts entangled, they spoke of subjects less remote" (111). Notice that whereas before it was Duffy who "entangled his thoughts" with Mrs. Sinico's, in the second instance a shift occurs in the subject, so now it is "their thoughts" which entangle. In the first instance Duffy plays the ...