(GJ) Canto XIII (p.5, l. 18).

This heart is sore and sad. Crossed in love? 

Joyce wrote with his best bent script, “the word known to all men.” Hasn’t every teen heart been “sore and sad,” believing itself “crossed in love?” It’s a chemical and biological ontology. The hope for the immature brain is that a new infatuation quickly replaces the lost one.

He wrote it, but could he feel it?

James was the prize foal of the Joyces’ stable, showered with gifts, praise, and the best of educations until family fortune took its final, fatal tumble. Even after the fall, everyone sacrifices for Sunny Jim’s future. He knew a mother’s love (“Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world a mother’s love is not.”), and despite his father’s physical and spiritual collapse John Joyce loved his eldest best among his brood. James was propped up by brother Stanislaus and waited on by servant sisters. 

Joyce showed a perfect understanding of juvenile emotion when he composed “Araby.” There, longing is unbaked love and lust. He is disdainful in treating young women in the characters of “Eveline” and Gerty MacDowell in “Nausicaa.” Perhaps he was overly wary. Maybe no lover could ever worship him as his parents did in his childhood. He was never able to share “the word known to all men” with Nora.

In his twenties, Joyce was infatuated with young Amalia Popper and can see the pain of a previous failed love on her face. Joyce understood Mangan’s sister’s power over a young boy, but we know of no successful mature love for Jim until Nora. The success of the Joyces’ relationship was probably due to Nora’s acceptance of Jim’s peculiarities more than to his devotion. As time passes, chemicals can rebalance too. Sometimes lust simply shifts to something more enduring. Did a miracle of chemistry cure Joyce of love paralysis? Probably not.

Where and why does the bird of love alight? There is neuroscientific magic at play. A flood of dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin, for example, initiates craving for the loved one. That craving is a symptom, not a definition of desire. Meanwhile, an addictive effect borrows stimuli normally allotted to the pre-frontal cortex and the amygdala’s warning system. The obsessed are less cerebral, less wary. Of course, only some of the chemical effects create love. Oxytocin and vasopressin produce lust; dopamine and serotonin (produced by the “reward center”) assist in developing love. Love and passion can be created independently of each other. That is too obvious and problematic. Without that there would be no opera.  

Perhaps Joyce’s pre-frontal cortex was powerful enough to maintain control when the vessel was under attack by marauding lust. Maybe he could distinguish “the word that all men know” from “the word that all men feel.” It seems probable that Joyce had a masterful Amygdala, usually able to protect him from heartache.

Another factor is that there are gender-related differences in the processing of emotion. Men, James Joyce being one, require constant visual reinforcement to foster love, and the visual cortex in sighted men responds with little prompting when the right chemical cocktail is mixed. Women, Nora Barnacle being one of this type, don’t have the same need to see interest; they simply feel it. If for a would-be lover, visual signals are unavailable or unreliable, a fleeting expression might go undetected; the reward center would then be left unstimulated. That missed signal might result in a loss of interest or alternately trigger jealousy. Furthermore, eye contact is more than a romantic allusion. Protracted eye contact stimulates the development of love.

While oxytocin breeds temporary warmth, vasopressin can result in lasting love. As passion wanes, love can deepen due to a shifting balance of hormones. Negative feelings pass from the nucleus accumbens to the amygdala. Vasopressin impedes this passage, and reduced negativity allows lust to mature into love.

The eldest of the Joyce children never weaned from praise or rewards. It might have been impossible for any lover to compete with that worship. Neurologically, some brains are wired to seek love without regard for judgment or fear. Joyce was sexually reckless. This might result from a pre-frontal lobe wired to resist intimacy and an overly wary amygdala. Finally, the importance of vision in cultivating love might have disadvantaged Joyce in love too. There were psychological, chemical, and physical barriers to healthy relationships. James Aloysius might know the word but never the comfort.

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