Vassar Critical Journal

The Vassar College English Department Student Journal of Critical Essays

One has to admit that every individual and social group conveys its own system of modelizing subjectivity; that is, a certain cartography—composed of cognitive references as well as mythical, ritual and symptomatological references—with which it positions itself in relation to its affects and anguishes, and attempts to manage its inhibitions and drives.

—Felix Guattari, Chaosmosis

Besides, are not the best cartographies of the psyche, or, if you like, the best psychoanalyses, those of Goethe, Proust, Joyce, Artaud and Beckett, rather than Freud, Jung and Lacan?

—Felix Guattari, Three Ecologies

Guattari admires Joyce’s cartography of the psyche because it recognizes and incorporates a heterogeneity of components in the production of subjectivity and subjects. In Chaosmosis and The Three Ecologies, Guattari’s “ecosophical” approach ties the study of subjectivity to ecological and political urgencies. The scope of this paper will not extend nearly far enough to examine all the processes of subjectivation present in Ulysses, for that is a project that would “keep the professors busy for centuries.”1 Instead, I am interested in how the natural environment is not only actively contemplated by Stephen, but rather contributes to the subjectivation of Stephen in ‘Proteus.’2 Guattari provides us with terms useful for understanding the complex interrelationship between Stephen’s so-called interior monologue and the environment he traverses, and the way Joyce blurs the line between the two. We are not making an alliance between Joyce and Guattari randomly. In fact, “chaosmos,” which Guattari modifies into “Chaosmosis” is no other than Joyce’s term, coined in Finnegan’s Wake

every person, place and thing in the chaosmos of Alle anyway connected … was moving and changing every part of the time. (Finnegan’s Wake, I-5 118: 21-3)

“Chaosmos” is a combination of “chaos” and “cosmos,” which originate from the Greek “khaos” and “kosmos”, meaning “void” and “world/ order,” respectively. Joyce’s “Chaosmos” and Guattari’s “Chaosmosis” seek to understand chaos and order, as well as the exterior world and interior mind, to be symbiotic. 

In a Joycian manner, Guattari combines “ecology” and “philosophy” to form “Ecosophy,” Guattari’s term for an “ethico-political articulation…between three ecological registers (the environment, social relations, and human subjectivity)” (The Three Ecologies, 19-20). These three ecological registers, also called the three ecologies, are actualized through “existential territories,” which acquire the form of singular assemblages. In other words, these existential territories are unique groupings of various components that are expressed not as the sum of components but through the relations between the various components. Being singular, these existential territories are unique, never permanent, and always capable of bifurcating and extending towards other territories. “Existential Territories…confront us…[not] as an in-itself closed in on itself, but instead as a for-itself that is precarious, finite, finitized, singular, singularized, capable of bifurcating into stratified and deathly repetitions or of opening up procedurally from a praxis that enables it to be made ‘habitable’ by a human project” (TE, 53). The habitation of existential territories by subjects draws experience away from the mind and into the world. Conceptualizing experience in this way is Guattari’s attempt to cast away any stubbornly persisting mind-body dualisms. Subjectivity, then, is formed through the inhabitation of overlapping existential territories that momentarily actualize experience. Since existential territories do not exclusively exist inside the mind, subjectivity is actualized without regard for the corporeal bounds of subjects. “We are proposing to decenter the question of the subject onto the question of subjectivity [through existential territories]…With subjectivity we place the emphasis instead on the founding instance of intentionality” (Chaosmosis, 22). Guattari’s emphasis on intentionality asserts that subjectivity and the existential territories that arrest it are constantly involved in creative proliferation through bifurcation. This emphasizes the agency subjects have regarding the existential territories they inhabit and reveals Guattari’s goal of using ecosophy to provide a program for how one might continuously defend the bifurcating movement of subjectivity from forces that homogenize subjects, such as mass media or propaganda. For Guattari, only an ecosophical approach can properly cartograph the bifurcations and proliferations of existential territories because other theoretical frameworks study existential territories as they are, and therefore “share the shortcoming of being closed to the possibility of creative proliferation” (TE, 55). Psychoanalysis, for example, succeeds at arresting existential bifurcations but in its attempts to represent these proliferations and draw the line of subjectivation back towards the family, only succeeds in “masking it, travestying it, disfiguring it, making it pass through mythic and narrative myths of reference––what I call metamodelization” (TE, 38). 

In opposition to psychoanalysis and its tendency towards metamodelization, Guattari’s ecosophy understands that the bifurcations, discursive chains, and creative proliferations of existential territories are governed by a logic that cannot be metamodelized. The three ecologies (the environment, social relations, and human subjectivity) that manifest in existential territories “are governed by a different logic to that of ordinary communication between speakers and listeners which has nothing to do with the intelligibility of discursive sets, or the indeterminate interlocking of fields of signification” (TE, 44). Ecosophy must operate on the fact that existential territories are absolutely singular and therefore non-generalizable. Instead of a metamodelization of existential territories and manifest subjectivity, it is necessary “to grasp it in the dimension of its processual creativity” (CM, 13). This means that so long as the bifurcations of existential territories are not completely blocked off, subjectivity, which is actualized by these territories, has the agency required to continuously move towards singularity through creative autopoiesis. Autopoiesis involves the “continuous production of an autonomizing subjectivity that can articulate itself appropriately in relation to the rest of society” (TE, 59). The goal of ecosophy is the singularization of subjectivities through autopoiesis or, “the production of a subjectivity [subjectivities] that is auto-enriching its relation to the world in a continuous fashion” (CM, 21). Isolating singular subjectivities (unique and complex) and discovering how to make them is Guattari’s goal. Further, when change begins at the micro level of individual subjectivities, Guattari believes that “nascent subjectivity [leads to] a constantly mutating socius [leads to] an environment in the process of being reinvented” (TE, 45). We now turn to the ‘Proteus’ episode in Ulysses which, when read vis-à-vis Guattari, reveals Joyce’s radical understanding of processes of subjectivation and its environmental-ethical implications. “Let us now try to grasp the implications of such an ecosophical perspective on our [Joyce’s] conception of subjectivity” (TE, 24). 


In the ‘Proteus’ episode, Joyce provides us with an extended modeling of Stephen’s subjectivity as he walks along Sandymount Strand. Many scholars have been inclined to read ‘Proteus’ through a traditional model of subjectivity, which conceives the subject as “the ultimate essence of individuation, as a pure, empty, prereflexive apprehension of the world, a nucleus of sensibility, of expressivity––the unifier of states of consciousness” (CM, 22). When operating with a traditional understanding of the subject, we are prone to read the episode as an exposition of the vibrant “interior” of Stephen’s mind. However, this ignores how the environment Stephen traverses acts as a significant vector of subjectivation that forms existential territories. The environment of ‘Proteus’ is not only actively contemplated by Stephen but rather contributes to the actualization of his subjectivity through the production of existential territories capable of bifurcating and proliferating. 

 ‘Proteus’ demonstrates a subjectivity in the process of singularization and a re-engagement of the psyche with the world. While Stephen may begin the episode in a phantasmagoric theater with his favorite philosophers, a continuous, often discomforting engagement with his environment leads to a bifurcation of existential territories that open Stephen up to the first stirrings of his re-burgeoning creative drive found at the end of The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The movement of Stephen’s subjectivity in ‘Proteus,’ as I will demonstrate, is a movement into the world, which is the condition of artistic singularity. Guattari writes of subjectivity and creative impulses: “The future of contemporary subjectivity is not to live indefinitely under the regime of self-withdrawal…Its modes of subjectivation will get out of their homogenetic “entrapment” only if creative objectives appear within their reach” (CM, 133). 

At the beginning of the episode, Stephen comments on the mass accumulation of objects on the strand, both natural and unnatural: 

Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs. (Ulysses, 3.2-3) 

Stephen has the 17th century Lutheran theologian, Jakob Bohme, on his mind as he endorses Bohme’s belief that God’s signature is present in all things in the natural world and we are here on earth to read the natural world for divine symbols. While many contemporary readers are sure to question the ethical foundations of a project that attempts to translate nature to suit human needs, an outright rejection of Stephen’s approach blinds one from being able to see how the objects that Stephen “reads” are not passive. For Guattari, the apprehension of objects remains as uncertain as the apprehension of subjects: “There is a kind of relationship of uncertainty between the apprehension of the object and the apprehension of the subject” (TE, 37). Guattari does not treat the apprehension of objects and physical facts as a one-way street wherein the psyche beams its will, apprehension, and interpretation upon a passive object. When Guattari discusses the spectator’s relation to aesthetic objects he deems these aesthetic objects “partial enunciators” because, from the moment they are apprehended by the spectator, their contents gain a degree of autonomy and detach from the material they were actualized in. These autonomous fragments of content “take possession of…[the spectator] to engender a certain mode of aesthetic enunciation” (CM, 14). Aesthetic enunciation does not necessarily have anything to do with speaking or writing. It is more concerned with how aesthetic objects engender new modes of apprehension, new emotions, and new subjectivities. Often, aesthetic enunciation is simply the apprehension of the object. Guattari writes, “I myself have come to regard the apprehension of a psychical fact as inseparable from the assemblage of enunciation that engenders it” (TE, 37). Therefore, aesthetic enunciation for Stephen can involve merely the apprehension of the material before him. In Guattari’s terms, the objects that Stephen apprehends (“seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot” Ulysses, 3.2-3) have already engendered a portion of Stephen’s subjectivity, which moves outwards into the world from the moment he apprehends them. While Stephen’s phantasmagoric theater of theories and philosophers acts as his primary mode of subjectivation and singularity in the beginning of the episode, his subjectivity also constantly escapes the bounds of his subject and mixes with the world. In these terms, “Ineluctable modality of the visible”––the opening to the episode––means that vision, and by extension subjectivity, is inevitably reliant on the world (Ulysses, 3.1). 

This relationship between so-called interior thoughts and the exterior world leads us to reconsider relationships between subjectivity and subject-object relations. Guattari writes, “Subjectivity… agglomerates these different partial enunciations and installs itself, as it were, before and alongside the subject-object relation” (CM, 22). Instead of encountering objects in the world, Stephen encounters “intensities,” which are forces that only actualize themselves in relations and states of affairs. “In mapping out the cartographic reference points of the three ecologies…It is a logic of intensities, of auto-referential existential assemblages [territories]” (TE, 44). The logic of intensities decenters the interior subject as the zone of experience and instead implicates experience, the apprehension of objects, and subjectivation in the states of affairs between subjects and so-called exterior objects. This expulsion of experience from interiority causes us to think in terms of existential territories, which are made of intensities. The lone ship that Stephen apprehends is a perfect example of an existential territory of intensities:

He turned his face over a shoulder, rere regardant. Moving through the air high spars of a threemaster, her sails brailed up on the crosstrees, homing, upstream, silently moving, a silent ship. (Ulysses, 3.503-05)

The lone ship is a field of intensities that actualize themselves as a partial enunciation that engenders Stephen’s emotional-aesthetic apprehension, and therefore subjectivity. The ship is far more than a mere element of the landscape because it forms an existential territory occupied by Stephen’s mutant subjectivity which has found its expression (loneliness, solitude) in the distant image of the ship. Joyce de-corporealizes Stephen’s subjectivity and forces the reader to understand that experience lies before and alongside the subject-object relationship.

Ecological forces in ‘Proteus’ such as the waves are also fields of intensities that form auto-referential existential territories. The waves in ‘Proteus’ are auto-referential existential territories because they are vectors of subjectivation that bisect Stephen’s subjectivity and thereby become expressive non-human subjectivities of their own. The waves in ‘Proteus’ move “[in] long lassoes from the Cock lake the water flowed full…they will pass on, passing, chafing against the low rocks, swirling, passing” (Ulysses, 3.453-54). In Guattari’s terms, they engage in irreversible durations: “Auto-referential existential assemblages [engage] in irreversible durations” (TE, 44). These irreversible durations cause an “a-signifying rupture [that] summons forth a creative repetition” (TE, 45). This a-signifying, creative repetition generates an expressive, non-human subjectivity, literally, a “wavespeech.” 

Listen: a fourworded wavespeech: seesoo, hrss, rsseeiss, ooos. Vehement breath of waters amid seasnakes, rearing horses, rocks. In cups of rocks it slops: flop, slop, slap: bounded in barrels. And, spent, its speech ceases. It flows purling, widely flowing, floating foampool, flower unfurling. (Ulysses, 3.456-60)

Given that the logic of intensities places experience outside of the subject, we can see that Stephen’s apprehension of the waves “[is not] ‘given’ in extrinsic coordinates but an assemblage of subjectivation giving meaning and value to determinate existential territories” (CM, 94). The existential territory actualizes Stephen’s subjectivity in a state of affairs or zone of intensities that is at a distance from his corporeal body and “involves [a] taking [of] the relation between subject and object by the middle and foregrounding the expressive instance” (CM, 22). The subject (Stephen) and the object (waves) are foregrounded by an expression (wavespeech) which becomes the existential territory that imbricates the subject and the world, Stephen and ecological forces. The existential territory of wavespeech is not an interior psyche projecting on an object, but the sweeping up of subject and object, which are replaced by expressive content. The expressive content gains a consistency of its own, possibly even a non-human subjectivity (suggested by Joyce in giving the waves “breath” and considering “its speech”). Guattari writes of how expressive content “participates in subjectivity by giving consistency to the ontological quality of Expression” (CM, 22). 

The masterful sweeping up of subject and object by expressive content spills into Joyce’s spelling choices, which demonstrate an attempt to see the expressive content of nature as the primary creative agent instead of using language to anthropomorphize natural sounds. The expressive content (wavespeech) remains ambiguous, allowing the wavespeech to denote an existential referent for another subject’s experience (“Listen:”) while simultaneously maintaining a degree of autonomy from the subjects that encounter it. This degree of autonomy coupled with the consistency of expression (the unceasing back-and-forth of waves) actualizes a non-human subjectivity, or, at the very least, an un-anthropomorphize-able expression. 

Throughout ‘Proteus,’ Stephen’s attention returns to the sand beneath his feet––an act which reinstates his subjectivity in the world, on Sandymount Strand, after it has inhabited other existential territories that send his subjectivity into the heavens of contemplation which he shares with the philosophers he ponders. In other words, when Stephen’s attention returns to the sand, his experience is re-grounded. However, the sand under Stephen’s feet, much like the wavespeech discussed above, is more than simply an object of contemplation. Instead, it provides us with an example of how a refrain, or “expressive subset” of Stephen’s subjectivity manifests into its own partial, in this case non-human, subjectivity. Guattari considers refrains to be repeating expressive subsets that delimit existential territories, in other words, actively open them up to creative proliferation and bifurcation. “Existential refrains [are] catalytic focal points of subjectification” (TE, 46). Given the repetitious nature of Stephen’s attention to the dynamic sand which contributes to a constant reinvestment of subjectivity into the world, we can consider this a refrain. 

At the beginning of the episode, Stephen crushes seashells beneath his feet with his eyes closed to ensure that the world exists beyond the modality of the visible. “Stephen closed his eyes to hear his boots crush crackling wrack and shells” (Ulysses, 3.10-11). Good, the world is not simply an illusion of the eye. By crushing sand with his eyes closed Stephen demonstrates that there are methods of determining the existence of the world other than through the modality of the visible, which is similar to Guattari’s response to Descartes’ cogito. Guattari writes, “It is not sufficient to think in order to be, as Descartes declares, since all sorts of other ways of existing have already established themselves outside consciousness” (TE, 35).  These other ways of existing are existential territories, some of which involve consciousness, some of which do not. Stephen’s phantasmagoric theater of philosophers is one such existential territory that contributes to the determination of his subjectivity but Stephen passes through many more existential territories, such as the crushing of sand underfoot. Guattari reminds us that we should not put different existential territories into hierarchies3 because “All of them [existential territories, vectors of subjectification] are important insofar as they support a certain context, a certain framework, an existential armature of the subjective situation” (CM, 11). Thus, when considering the formation of Stephen’s subjectivity in ‘Proteus,’ Guattari would desire that we consider both Stephen’s comprehension of the sand and of Aristotle as important vectors in his subjectivation.

Returning to refrains, Guattari writes: “Refrains…initiate the production of a partial subjectivity” (TE, 46). This is because the repetitious nature of existential refrains makes them both referential to the subjectivity they engender, as well as a-signifying through redundancy. “The ambiguity…[of an existential refrain] comes from the fact that it may both transmit a message or denote a referent while functioning at the same time through redundancies of expression and content” (TE, 45-6). These redundant or a-signifying refrains initiate the production of new mutant subjectivities that we might not fully understand since they may not be easily connected to a human subject. In ‘Proteus,’ the sand first engenders part of Stephen’s subjectivity but following a series of repetitions seems to gain a non-human subjectivity of its own:

The grainy sand had gone from under his feet. His boots trod again a damp crackling mast, razorshells, squeaking pebbles, that on the unnumbered pebbles beats…Unwholesome sandflats waited to suck his treading soles, breathing upward sewage breath. (Ulysses, 3.147-51)

The sand, which begins as a tool for Stephen to assure himself of his presence in the world, now begins to squeak, and then more nefariously plots to “suck his treading soles.” In addition to subjectivized sand, “A porterbottle stood up” becomes “A sentinel” and “Broken hoops on the shore” become “a maze of dark cunning nets” (Ulysses, 3.152-54). Sand, which begins as an existential refrain that Stephen repetitiously encounters, soon becomes a dissident existential territory that clashes with Stephen’s control over his own pedality, which he later contemplates to build up his own pride: “You seem to have enjoyed yourself. Proudly walking” (Ulysses, 3.183). In the world there is a “crossroads of multiple components [existential territories], each relatively autonomous in relation to the other, and, if need be, in open conflict” (TE, 36). After harassing Stephen, the sand is then encountered as an “other,” one with a history and perhaps even a language that remains inaccessible to Stephen.   

These heavy sands are language tide and wind have silted here. And these, the stoneheaps of dead builders, a warren of weasel rats. Hide gold there. Try it. You have some. Sands and stones. Heavy of the past. (Ulysses, 3.288-91)

Sand becomes its own partial subjectivity with a history that has formed its own existential material. “These dissident vectors have become relatively detached from their denotative and significative functions and operate as decorporealized existential materials” (TE, 45). 


Guattari’s terms have allowed us to articulate how Stephen’s subjectivity in ‘Proteus’ is formed by heterogeneous components and actualizes itself through existential territories. Although his subjectivity seems at first to be locked away in the caverns of ‘interior’ experience, we have shown that even the most ascetic of subjects are formed from material external to the corporeal body. Subjectivity is invested in environmental and socio-political forces from the moment it arises, and the goal of ecosophy is to delimit and encourage the bifurcations of existential territories that form the grounds for new and increasingly singular subjectivities. The question regarding subjectivity is “How do we produce it, capture it, enrich it, and permanently reinvent it in a way that renders it compatible with Universes of mutant value?” (CM, 135). 

While briefly discussed earlier, it should be restated that the alliance I have formed between Guattari’s work and Joyce’s writing is useful beyond a study of both author’s texts. Aside from better understanding how Stephen’s subjectivity is formed by his external environment, we are also now equipped with a better understanding of what is at stake when considering the production of subjectivities, which, if we follow Guattari, should aim to be singular, unique, complex and ethically responsible. Regarding modernist studies writ large, Guattari’s ecosophical approach to studying the processes of subjectivation might replace the vague cliche of the alienated individual with a better understanding of how social and environmental forces shaped modern subjects. Instead of using anachronisms like “stream of consciousness” it might be more useful to think in terms of “existential territories” and “refrains.” Such terms are also useful for more holistically understanding how contemporary subjectivities can be enriched and reinvented. Guattari acknowledges that his goal of enriched, singular subjectivities requires the work of artists: “[ecosophy’s] ways of operating will be more like those of an artist” (TE, 35). Guattari sees in artists the emphasis on the importance of aesthetic paradigms and constant reinvention. These are principles that Stephen begins to intimately understand and recapitulate: “As we…weave and unweave our bodies, Stephen said…so does the artist weave and unweave his image” (Ulysses, 9.376-78). 

Works Cited

  • James Joyce. Finnegans Wake. Faber and Faber, 1975.
  • James Joyce. Ulysses, Hans Walter Gabler (Editor), Wolfhard Steppe (Editor), Claus Melchior (Editor), Vintage Books, 1986. 
  • Felix Guattari. The Three Ecologies, Ian Pindar (trans), Paul Sutton (trans), Continuum Publishing Group, 2000. 
  • Felix Guattari. Chaosmosis, Paul Bains (trans), Julian Pefanis (trans), Indiana University Press, 1992. 

[1] See Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce, Oxford University Press, 1982, p. 521.

[2] The terms and concepts discussed in this paper also have applicability to the study of other parts of Ulysses. For example, through his work as an advertisement man, Bloom is plugged into an extensive network of subjectivation that takes the relatively new medium of advertising to produce subjectivities willing to embrace the logic of consumer capitalism. Advertising has a unique relationship to subjectivation because it must simultaneously appeal to the consumer’s desire for singularity while also acting as a repressive tool that asserts that higher and higher degrees of consumption are the only sensible subjectivities for modern cosmopolitan subjects. How the ecological disequilibrium of Ireland due to British colonial exploitation is made manifest in Ulysses also promises to be a prime spot for Guattari’s ecosophical concepts. The discussion of deforestation in ‘Cyclops’ and how it relates to nascent national subjectivities could also make use of Guattari’s terms. Additionally, Guattari’s suspicion of the folklore and return-to-nature strains of ecology pairs well with Joyce’s apprehensive stance towards the Irish Literary Revival movement and the rebirth of Gaelic.

[3] Joyce also de-hierarchizes various existential territories through the proliferation of all five senses which are all given much attention in Ulysses and through disjuncture of ear-eye in his puns and portmanteaus.

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