JOYCE'S REVERSE ADVERTISEMENT FOR HIMSELF IN FINNEGANS WAKE
In her address "Enchantment, Disenchantment, Re-Enchantment: Joyce as a Cult of the Absolutely Fantastic," Jennifer Wicke argued that Joyce's Modernist techniques may be seen as advertising devices, that his writing continually promotes its author as intellectual star. Joyce thus pioneered a sophisticated new mode of celebrity whose claims for superiority are undercut by extravagance; so that the fabulousness of the author is especially enticing because it is felt as unstable and illusory, and therefore liberating.1 In recognising art as a self-advertisement, Joyce focused on the devices of the media through which art addresses people.
While Wicke spoke of Ulysses, Joyce's awareness of the advertising function of his writing may be more highly developed in Finnegans Wake. The Wake's language continually turns commercial, and in 1969 the vice president of a New York advertising agency published an article listing scores of the book's ads.2 I concentrate here on the "Shem" chapter (I. 7), one of the easiest and funniest parts of Joyce's greatest work to read, and a part generally recognised as a satiric self-portrait of Joyce as an artist.
I want to supplement Wicke's fine analysis here by considering the overlap/difference between Joyce's avant-garde mode of promotion and the "real thing." His advertisement of himself as Shem works despite the fact that he is awfully negative about this "sham." Though Joyce desired and got fame and profit, he resisted them for a decade, and his art worked through a reversal of ordinary promotion. The difficulties he posed for readers and his exposure of his weaknesses and the limitations of his authority were crucial to his triumph in the literary and intellectual media worlds.
An artistic current opposed to self-promotion changes the relation of the artist as adman to his work by making much of the advertising parodic. The artist is denigrated for his low (dirty, cowardly, deceitful, perverted) qualities, which subtract from his value in all sign systems except those of oppositional groups who reverse convention. In fact, Shem bears an especially heavy load of condemnation because, like the person he is closest to, his mother Anna Livia Plurabelle, he is presented as African throughout the book.3 In this chapter, for example, Shem is referred to as a "Nigerian" (FW 181.13) who is caught up in the "bamp him and bump him blues" (176.34). His role as African reflects his artistic opposition to the existing social order.
There was and is an audience of avant-garde readers for whom the denigration of Shem reverses itself and such descriptions make him attractive. This audience represents what Raymond Williams calls an emergent culture. Williams says that modern societies tend to have three levels of culture: residual culture, like religion, is traditional, dominant culture is central, and emergent culture may be either merely alternative or actively oppositional.4 It seems clear that promotion for residual culture will be most affirmative, and, like religion, it may correspond to the level of advertising that inspires belief and dominates or lords it over people. On the other hand, ads for emerging cultures, particularly oppositional ones, tend to attack conventions and favour "truth" (which is negative) over profit more than the usual publicity does. So Williams's levels of culture correspond to three or four levels of ads.
Art has always tended to represent emergent cultures, and the devaluation of the artist in "Shem" is prefigured in Ulysses when Stephen argues that Shakespeare was driven to be a creator because he could not function as a patriarchal man, and that this is a central message of the alienation in his plays (U 9.452-81).
Stephen's Shakespeare shows another of the features that differentiates the modernist subject from the usual subject of advertising by being divided, "All in all" (U 9. 1020), and such division is represented in I.7, which has two sponsors, two commercial interruptions that are bracketted, parallel in structure, and both about flesh. They are ill matched, like a conservative ad and a liberal one on the same program, a possible disadvantage to both. The first is for "Johns," a butcher's (172.5), and the second is a personal ad for "Jymes" (181.27). Clearly the first expresses Shaun, the self-promoting middle-class brother of the Wake's family, who attacks his subject directly, concretely, and brutally, as the butcher imagery indicates: "Fattens, kills, flays, hangs, draws, quarters and pieces" (172.7-8). The words "hangs, draws, quarters" associate this butcher with British treatment of rebellious Irishmen. The ad for "Johns" ends with "COMMUNICATED" (172.10), and although this is preceded by more than one "ex," it affirms that Shaun gets his message across. He is usually surrounded by an appreciative crowd, whereas Shem virtually never says anything that anyone understands. The second ad, in which "Jymes wishes to hear from wearers of abandoned female costumes..." (181.27) represents Shem, the artist who frequently resembles Joyce. This ad plays on the relation of the artist to advertising, commodity fetishism, sexuality, and language media in a way that I will show to be ambiguous.
The two opposed commercials reflect the fact that Shem and Shaun represent two sides behind all consciousness, the side that assumes reality can be penetrated and the side that questions reality and recognises that all we can know of it are "costumes." Shem is generally seen mockingly from Shaun's point of view in the Wake, as he is in this chapter, and Shaun is seen ironically from Shem's point of view, especially in Book III. One of the twins can virtually never be present without the other.
When Shaun imagines Shem "making believe to read his usylessly unreadable Blue Book of Eccles [Ulysses]" (FW 179.26-27), he sees him delightedly telling himself "that every splurge on the vellum ... was an aisling vision more gorgeous than the one before" (179.30-32). Rolland McHugh tells us that "aisling" is Irish for 'vision.'5 It may also suggest marriage, for Fats Waller's song "Do Me a Favour, Marry Me" (1934) claims that he would like to be "middle aisling you."6 The ultimate object of desire is complete sexual union, and the series of visions that follow mix sex with advertising, starting with a mammary abbreviation of "that is to say": "t.i.t.s., a roseschelle cottage by the sea for nothing for ever, a ladies tryon hosiery raffle at liberty ... an entire opera house ( ... stamping room only in the prompter's box and evermore his queque kept swelling) of the enthusiastic noblewomen flinging every coronet-crimsoned stitch they had off ... when ... he squealed the topsquall..." (179.32-180.5).
We may say that Shaun is distorting Shem's vision of his work here, but because Shem and Shaun are reciprocal parts of consciousness, it is not possible for discourse to be expressed without involving both of them, any more than a river could flow between one bank. The brothers are identified with riverbanks in the next chapter, and also are parallel to the classic framing of digital information between on and off switches. Logic suspends reality between question and answer in the "Ithaca" episode of Ulysses; and it is common today to believe that language can be rendered in digital terms and can cover all experience. Lacan says, "The imaginary is decipherable only if it is rendered into symbols,"7 and the ineffable that Shem wants to express has to be put into the established language that Shaun controls.
Certainly Shem would not want to put his idea of his book in such crass terms, but he might not be averse to the sight of women freely trying on hosiery, and the suggestion of "noblewomen" disrobing (and stamping on him) probably makes his "queque" swell.8 Freud says that the artist is unable to win honour, wealth, and the love of beautiful women in the world, so he creates an imaginary world, and through it he may win these things.9 Shem can hardly avoid finding in his writings substitutes for material goods. The fame he has to aim at is compared here to the more immediate excitement of being a singing star, a career Joyce considered in his youth. These appalling goods also correspond to the objects of desire that Joyce generates in his writings, which were banned for stimulating desire.
Shaun sees Shem "writing the mystery of himsel in furniture" (184.9-10), writing his self because he has constantly to consider what will get across to an audience; and this tends to turn the personal into a matter of personal appeal. In fact, the economic level of this quote extended by reference to Walter Skeat's Etymological Dictionary, which says that the root of furnish is Old High German fruma, 'utility, profit, gain': furniture has always displayed not only personality, but wealth.10 Nevertheless, the dialogic self-advertisement in which Shem participates with Shaun is more complex than any commercial model could indicate. As Lacan puts it, what information theory overlooks is that every code is already a code of the Other.11 The Other is the whole Symbolic frame within which the subject is expressed,12 and in this case it combines Joyce's perverse inclinations with the difficulty and unselfishness of Modern art.
The idea of Joyce's writing as an advertisement for himself goes back to Portrait, where Stephen, during the sermons on hell, remembers "foul long letters he had written in the joy of guilty confession" and then thrown in out of the way places "where a girl might come upon them" (P 116). This has to be seen as a founding model for Joyce's writing, a direction of desire toward the Other in the sense of what is permanently unknowable.
One of the principle common factors between writing, pornography, and advertising is that the discourse of desire is addressed to someone who is not there or to the public. This is the central feature of perversion as a turning aside from contact with another.13 No matter how many particular others the pervert may confront, (s)he tends to continue speaking to someone who is not there. It is conventional to assume that "normal" people are better off, but Lacan holds that desire always aims at the Other.
Perversion makes evident the replacement of physical reproduction with mechanical reproduction. The key technique in this process is fetishism, the substitution of an inanimate object for the object of desire, which Foucault refers to as the main model for perversion.14 If perversion is controllable and socially useful or acceptable, probably if it focuses on approved supernatural images, it is honoured as sublimation. But Joyce, like Freud, aims to reveal the process behind the sublime object, the psychic labour behind the commodity. One way he does so is to present his writing as implying a personal ad. It seems that Shem's ad indicates the deployment of desire in the role of this artist. The ad interrupts as Shaun's denunciation of Shem is focused on the unbearable nature of his odour. The last words before ad are "the lyow why a stunk, mister" (181.26). This not only refers to him as a stinking skunk, but as homosexual, by way of Apollo's dearest companion, Hyacinth. Apollo's discus accidentally killed Hyacinth, who then turned into a flower. The ad also has homosexual overtones, but they may be accidental, and the main emphasis is on fetishism:
[Jymes wishes to hear from wearers of abandoned female costumes, gratefully received, wadmel jumper, rather full pair of culottes and onthergarmenteries, to start city life together. His Jymes is out of job, would sit and write. He has lately committed one of the then commandments but she will now assist. Superior built, domestic, regular lawyer. Also got the boot. He appreciates it. Copies. ABORTISEMENT.]
"Onthergarmenteries" refers to undergarments that were "on there," in direct contact with the object of desire, or Other. Jumpers and culottes are also hip-hugging garments that enter the mesial groove. The appeal of these garments would probably involve their smell. The puzzle of this as is why Shem needs the "wearers," for if females have abandoned these costumes, they are worn by men. There is a small possibility that Jymes wants to start a support group, but it is more likely that the homosexual level of "wearers" is an accident, for he refers to his object as "she" in the third sentence. What Jymes probably intends to look for is someone like Mrs. Miriam Dandrade, who sold Bloom her wraps and underclothes in Ulysses (8.350).15 The "Circe" episode suggests that Bloom may have put on her underwear by himself for sexual fantasies (15.2990-3002). On this level "wearers of abandoned female costumes" suggests women who are abandoning their clothes or whose clothes suggest abandon.
The difference in gender of the addressee in the first and third sentences of the ad reflects the ambivalence of all fetishism. Freud insists that the fetish always stands for the phallus, though the fetishist usually prefers to have a woman wear it.16 The phallic aspect of the object of desire here is indicated by the fact that the ad seeks someone who wears some form of pants, whether they are panties, jumpers, or culottes. The fetishist needs his love object to have authority, but cannot bear his need for the masculinity of that component, so he disguises it as female. This is reflected by the shift from the apparently male "wearers" to "He has lately committed one of the then commandments but she will now assist." On one level, he has been behaving morally by following one of the ten commandments and now needs to get some relief by intimacy with a woman.17 But I see more weight here in the idea that he has sinned in an archaic way: he has regressed to a polymorphous infantile impulse ("then commandment"), but she will convert his perversity into heterosexuality by responding.
The ad places emphasis on dependence and subservience, from "gratefully received" to "he appreciates it." Such phrases imply that the "it" he appreciates is abuse. "His Jymes is out of job" not only means that he is unemployed, but that his suffering makes him a figure out of the book of Job. "Also got the boot" may seem redundant, but it not only means that he was kicked out, whether from job or home, and that he has a boot fetish hangup. McHugh (181) connects "would sit and write" to Hamlet's "The time is out of joint! O cursed spite/ That ever I was born to set it right." What strikes me about "would sit and write" is that Jymes claims to need the object of desire in order to write, as Joyce said he owed his writings to Nora. He needed a woman to allow him to release his passivity.
The fetish illustrates the fact that the object of desire is a sign, a product of language. And by isolating desire from what seems natural, fetishism led Joyce to anticipate poststructuralist theory. The letter chapter of the Wake (I.5) argues that the envelope is more expressive than the letter and that clothes are more expressive than the bodies they contain (109.12-36). This indicates that perception and desire are shaped by textuality. That the clothing Jymes seeks its textual is indicated by "onthergarmenteries," which includes "other commentaries"--new ways of reading a body that can only appear through interpretation. Every article of clothing is an interpretation of the body, but then so is every naked detail and envelope for feeling or being. Language as medium nurses us with prefabricated phrases that make up or constitute our "minds."
This textuality serves an advertising made pornographic to highlight the link between ads and porn. For the activities the ad requests would have been seen in the first half of this century as pornographic in the original sense of being performed by prostitutes--but also in being made public. Going to the bathroom is not porn until it is displayed, and even "normal" genital activity takes its meaning by participating in a field of cultural codes. In this sense there is no eroticism that is not based on pornographic models, though certain aspects, such as a pretty face, are soft-core.
Garry Leonard shows that the techniques of both porn and ads stir desire through the same sequence of stages.18 These stages transform unformed feelings into a mechanism with conventional form through a language that centres on male dominance. The crucial stage in the sequence Leonard describes is the abandonment of the woman's resistance (618, 646). This abandonment, which may render the female garments that she has worn as abandoned, marks the organisation of sexuality by the patriarchal symbolic order, an organisation that indicates the need for sexual feelings to be conveyed through the technology of communication, Shaun's specialty.
In Portrait Stephen used the category of the kinetic to join pornography not only with advertising, but with didacticism, in its appeal to power. He hoped to cultivate a non-kinetic art, and I have argued that he was to seek it by balancing opposed forces.19 I now feel that he placed more emphasis on the reversal or negation of conventional sexual scenarios as he came to realise that any attempt to escape desire had to be motivated by desire.
In the Wake all writing is kinetic, which means that it aims at something, but it always misses. The substructure behind desire is exposed by language that inevitably perverts or turns aside any unmediated relation between word and reality. Slavoj Zizek says that the apparatus of categories involved in scientific objectivity is already present in commodity exchange because it renders objects abstract through quantification to make them commensurable. Thus the transcendental subject depends on inner process--a scandal corresponds to the effects of Freud's unconscious.20 The dependence of male rationality on the interplay of feelings is perceived by such rationality as immoral. So the truth about the structure of feeling behind thought is censored out, and whatever is censored tends to become porn. Forbid people to hold hands and holding hands will excite them. Reveal the apparatus of desire and it grows controllable.
For Joyce the great model of commodification was prostitution, so that Shem's attachment to prostitutes or pornographic images of desire represents the entrapment of his ideals by conventional codes. This is shown when Shaun describes Shem as dreaming "of the flushpots of Euston and the hanging garments of Marylebone" (192.28-30). This obviously refers to the fleshpots of Egypt and the hanging gardens of Babylon, traditional biblical images of the wealth and luxury that corrupt the righteous. The locations named, however, are in London, so the British Empire is seen here as the modern source of corruption, as indeed many Irishmen were tempted by such London features as high-class plumbing and fashions. Buck Mulligan spends Bloomsday buttering up the tony Englishman Haines, a sign that Mulligan is likely to succeed. The flushpots and hanging garments also represent the fancy prostitutes of London and Paris that Ignatius Gallaher impresses Little Chandler with in "A Little Cloud." Mary-le-bon, with her hanging garments, is a French whore, and the flushpots suggest that these fancy prostitutes can entertain a wider range of perversions than their provincial sisters. Leopold Bloom owns a series of fetishistic commodities, including pornographic pictures, sent to him from London (U 17.1801-22).
On what may be called a deeper level, "the flushpots of Euston and the hanging garment of Marylebone" suggests that the objects of desire originally had ideal potential before they were commercialised, though this level is ironically buried. The line refers to the first line of the poem at the start of the second part of Blake's Jerusalem (1820):
The fields from Islington to Marybone,
To Primrose Hill and Saint Johns Wood:
Were builded over with pillars of gold,
And there Jerusalems pillars stood
Her Little-ones ran on the fields
The Lamb of God among them seen
And fair Jerusalem his Bride:
Among the little meadows green.21
Joyce's reference to Blake here is confirmed by a words that appears six lines below "Marylebone," "jesusalem" (192.36). Jerusalem is one of the main structural models for the Wake: both works present a sleeping giant who is identified with a city that represents the fallen state of humanity. In Blake's day there were bad slums between Islington and Marybone, and his argument is that London used to be the habitation of the female spirit of liberty called Jerusalem until the "dark Satanic mills" of rationalism and empire reduced the city to misery. These mills correspond to Zizek's apparatus of categories that assign exchange value to things by abstracting them. Beauty contains the possibility of an ideal world, but beauty cannot be recognised without a conventional code that corrupts it.
Shem and Shaun are inseparable because innocence and experience are. While Blake hoped to return to the ideal world, Joyce sees the artist as always already caught up in commercialisation. Shaun's reduction of Shem's dreams to sleaze constitutes a material analysis of the artist's role, though Shaun's materialism is in itself reprehensible. Shaun improves on some economic analysis in that he sees that this artist was motivated not only by profit, but by very different desires.
Shaun says that while Shem was dreaming his fantasies of glamour, he was in the hands of "them bearded jezabelles you hired to rob you" (192.24). This probably refers to Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier, the lesbians who published Ulysses: Joyce had begun to argue with them that they were not making enough profit for him as early as 1923 (JJ 542). Joyce refers to George Roberts, with whom he tried to publish Dubliners, as "Robber" (185.1), and he take rob as a synonym for publish. The "bearded jezabelles" may also include Nora, for she could be bossy, and Joyce liked to imagine her in dominant positions. In any case, within the text the parallel to the ad is significant. Shem, like Jymes, seeks dominant women who will abuse him, and this will free him to indulge his imagination.
If Jymes's ad represents the structure of desire behind Shem's writing, I believe that the features of this ad correspond to those of Joyce's modernist or avant-garde writing. Freud himself noticed the connection between modern literary features and masochism in "Psychopatic Characters on the Stage" (1905-06). Here he said that plays that present psychological problems or tragedy may not yield wish fulfilment, so the satisfaction they provide must be masochistic.22 Masochism connects with the moral and intellectual seriousness of Joyce's art, and with the difficulty of its writing and reading. Joyce develops the inseparability of masochism from morality in his portrayal of Bloom: during Bloom's fantasy of being flagellated by fetish-laden society ladies in "Circe," "he offers the other cheek" (U 15.1109) in a debased imitation of Christ. Masochism need not be moral, but morality must be masochistic because it must enjoy sacrificing self for others. In this sense masochism is fundamental to political revolution, and Joyce was one of many Modernists who were revolutionary.23 Moreover, for a male writer, feminism has to be developed through masochism: he must give up his own power in order to allow women to express themselves, to behave in dominant ways. If Joyce's masochism were not so highly cultivated, he would not have created such vital women characters.
Fetishism also serves features of Joyce's works, for it is behind his use of language which treats words as living creatures capable of satisfying desire. The fetish is the basis of the commodity because it posits in an inanimate object the power of subjectivity. This may be the only way to constitute the subject by constituting the phallus as a symbol, a signifier that aims at and fails to reach the Real. In a recent article I argue that the phallus is always taken from the mother because, according to Freud, the phallus comes into existence at the birth of fetishism when mother is seen as not possessing it.24 The focus on the fetish as signifier leads away from the goal of kinetic writing toward its form. But this emphasis on form has social value because it reveals the structure of the commodity form that Zizek sees behind the subject, so it exposes the operation of ideology.
Advertising in Joyce is not advertising but "ABORTISING," an exposure or aborted foetus of advertising. It reveals the labour behind the commodity, the manoeuvres that advertising covers up. Consider the ad for Plumtree's Potted Meat in Ulysses. Rather than making the product attractive, the novel links it to the graveyard and the adulterous bed. Similarly, the ad for Jymes is far from being effective in its stated or misstated purpose. These products can only win our interest through Joyce, and Joyce is a highly negative subject in contrast to the usual subject of advertising--though he fits into the hip margin of promotion that Wicke describes.
Joyce promotes himself on the highest level by devaluing himself. His mastery of language is impersonal, so that it is hard to find in the collage of styles one that corresponds to the man. His characters, like his women, gain their independence at his expense. His strongest intellectual points have depended on his recognition of what he does not know or control. The characteristic parody and dislocution of his work, especially the Wake, presents the author to us as a figure wearing odd, inappropriate, and ill-fitting costumes. He is especially compelling when dressed as a woman (Molly or ALP); but these fetishes answer to his desires, and there may be no truer way for him to appear. Perhaps his truest images of himself came when he saw through the images of desire that he had clung to and defined himself by.
He may have started doing this in earnest at a fair called Araby that he attended as a twelve-year-old in 1894 (JJ 40). Assuming that Joyce's experience at this fair corresponded to the story "Araby," he saw through the machinery of commercial and romantic temptation when the lights went out. It was by seeing how he was "driven and derided" by these illusions that he formed an oppositional perspective that he never lost, no matter how he fell back into ideology.
In this sense Joyce's best writing is a series of abortisements of himsel, excisions of his authority. He has to use the conventions of language that represent the world and its values, but he goes as far as possible (perhaps further) to undercut those conventions. In the context of Modernism, this is the best way to sell his product, so he may well be compared to obscured or arty ads that make fun of themselves or withhold the name of the product. The difference, a relative one, is that an ad has to aim at selling, and the artistic level is functionally secondary, while Joyce aimed at an art that reversed the commercial considerations that he carried along. He negated images of attraction in order to liberate his audiences and to express the truth of his own consciousness. Yet he never lost his desire for status and money, and the distinction between literature and ads remains ambiguous.
The question of whether the main purpose of language is to sell itself or to communicate honestly is the question of whether art is a form of advertising or advertising is a form of art. This question applies to the media as technological extensions of language, the original medium; and Joyce's focus on language is a focus on the medium. That the opposition between sales and art is divided between the twins in the Wake indicates that the question cannot be solved, that the two sides must coexist in a seesaw relation.
© Sheldon Brivic, 2005
|volume 5, issue 2, 2004-5|