Stabat Mater and James Joyce’s Chapter 18

Apparitions (2013) Installation view, Alcultura, Algeciras (2017)








This is an extract of a talk and screening of Stabat Mater  to the delegates of the James Joyce International Symposium held at the University of Seville on their visit to Gibraltar, 1994.  


The sweep of a circle is drawn at the beginning as the image of the sweeping gesture which Mulligan’s arm traces in the morning air with his reflecting mirror; ‘He swept the mirror a half circle in the air to flash out the tidings abroad in sunlight now radiant on the sea’ .  With his arm, Stephen traces this shape which encircles Chapter 1 and which may be a concavity which could begin to trace out one of filmic spaces in Stabat Mater – a semi-circular camera pan along a horizontal axis of viewing in a garden, a palm tree encircled.    


Omphalos, Greek for navel  – a central point or concavity in the cartography of a journey of both the mythical Ulysses and Joyce’s Ulysses to Calypso’s isle at Gibraltar. This place which is at the gateposts to a dark beyond is as Michael Seidel says ‘the borders of death’s region in a Mediterranean world’. This place both marks the threshold and is the receptacle for the figure of Chapter 18 who Seidel says ‘born in Gibraltar builds up her narration on the rotating rock of her own body’, an anatomical threshold to a feminine geography at Chapter 18 at the end of the linear journey of the book.  


This notion of the place of the feminine as a speaking point of localisation, as a centre which is de-centred – a threshold which encourages disconnections and is the point of sundering, is one gatepost or threshold of the entry to the film Stabat Mater.  


Stabat Mater is also an alternative voice to Chapter 18.  So showing it in Gibraltar, the cul-de-sac/threshold/endplace/ mythical geographic centre and to Joyce scholars, as a voice of response to the (canonic) text seem to echo the coindient constructions of the feminine of Chapter 18 and possibly Joyce’s own pleasure in seeking and making connections.  


Stabat Mater is the aria or the song that the voice stretches to or is a register that seems impossible to reach.  Like the Omphalos, the hollow of the echo of that song in the film is a lament and a receptacle.  The concavity of the omphalos is exchanged for another conceptualisation of a holding space.   This could be the chora – another Greek word which Kristeva conceptualises as a receptacle which resounds with pre-verbal semiotic communications.


The space of the chora contains the register of pre-verbal pulsions, mobile articulation, provisional, partiality, meaninglessness, disruption, pressures on language, silences, absences, analogous with vocal or kinetic rhythm.  A receptacle is drawn from the subject as the centre of which we turn about, an 180 degree pan in the enclosure of the Garden at the end of the journey of the film.  Does the Molly text ‘speak fluid?” as  Suzette Henke asks, does her speaking as she says, seek to heal the trauma of maternal abjection by recreating the polyhonous rhythms and lyrical echolalias of semiotic communication?   


“My mother whoever she was the fun we had skipping along Willis’ road to Europa Point twisting in and out all round the other side”.   A fluid, light camera skipping, which bursts out of the frame of the camera, shattering the composure of vision and the control of the eye and aligning itself to the rhythm of an invisible body. A disruptive journey to the end, to Europa Point which is the gatepost to a beyond –  blue spacing – a threshold where pronouns are exchanged. 


Stabat Mater is a fast shifting, contra punctual, rhythmic, syntactical relationship to the image.  A ‘reading/speaking/pronouncing’ voice coheres as a fragmented yet always potential subject which is marking out a precinct or a chora and is also trying to breaking out of its own borders.I  use my own voice balanced on the edge of a non-acted speech. This delivery keeps out the body yet being the voice of the woman, the body is never far away.  Close-up and intimate, the voice summons up the eroticism of the body, particularly the throat and mouth, site of pleasure yet refuses an easy and fixing identity of the subject.  This power of speaking is synonymous with a knowing control of language and its words – a subject that knows itself.  This place which ambivalent,  knowing and not-knowing,  displacing  and locating itself.    The voice gives pleasure in its use of the strong pronoun ‘I’ and draws us towards it and keeps us out.  The speaking subject is not totally barred from entry into representation but it is not trapped by the image.


Extract of Talk and Screening of Stabat Mater to the delegates of the James Joyce International Symposium, Seville visit to Gibraltar, 1994.  Including Susette Henke   

©Nina Danino 1994/2019