FINNEGANS WAKE: LOSING CONTROL IN BOOK III iii
At the 18th Joyce symposium in Trieste, I delivered a paper entitled 'The Tale of HCE and EVP' which not merely defended the auditory facets of Finnegans Wake and the presence of radio within the text, but audaciously proposed that the Wake may be read in a very specific way--a reading reliant upon our chronological distance as readers, and awareness of ourselves as, like Joyce, "privileged interpreters of a media-driven age."1
Communication with the dead is the paradigm for all mediated communication; shown by our continuous attempt to receive a report from else-where, whether it be a message in a bottle, dead letters sent, a phongraph recording, or, for these purposes, the electroacoustic seance. Electric Voice Phenomenon (referred to as EVP) was initiated after World War II by Latvian psychologist Konstantin Raudive, who apparently detcted voices of a paranormal origin by means of a 'cat's whisker' diode, a device used in early radio crystal sets. In further experiments, the static disturbance of interfrequency radio wavelengths was thought to contain these "voice-entites", all of whom spoke in a distinctively rapid and polyglot language, indeed "[...] in universal, in polyglutteral, in each auxiliary neutral idiom [...] ereperse and anythongueatall" (FW 117. 11-15). I discovered that the concept of EVP was, if anything, airborne, in the early 20th century; it should not be disregarded that in September 1925 a group of psychics met in Paris to dabate 'Wireless Talks With the Spirit World' during the week that Joyce returned to the city from Archachon, having suffered a painful bout of conjunctivitis. Wishing to continue with the Wake, he "put off" his necessary eye operation until the 'last watch' of Shaun was in progress (FW pp. 555-90). It may be extreme for one to assume that Joyce was aware of--and capitalised upon--the psychics' conference, although the Shaun section of the Wake (pp. 403-590) is notable for its "electrickery in attendance" (FW 579. 6) and I have analysed it accordingly.
A more certifiable fact is that Joyce was directly exposed to the dyadic nature of radio, which promised a mutual rapport but delivered confusion. Whilst formulating his ear-culture and "picking up airs" from Radio Eireann, Joyce confessed he heard voices from the past--hallucinatory, far-flung pieces of a previous life seeping into his Paris apartment through static.2 Such interference repeatedly barred access to 'home' on the dial, often crafting false words out of white noise. Certainly, Joyce was subjected to the abnormality of radio, and correspondingly crafted a vocabulary equal to any duplicitous broadcast signal. It is pertinent that he claimed not to "believe in any science" which implies that specific developments, in his opinion, had never reached their potential.3 For example, language which coursed freely through wires was hardly liberating, it was often inarticulate or directed to the wrong portal. Any sender is analogous to the dead who--as shown in spiritualist writings--sign through a glass darkly, perhaps speaking in tongues or finding that their words are garbled in transit.4 Throughout Finnegans Wake, I contest that Joyce returns radio to its source--enhancing the initial desires of early wireless pioneers such as Oliver Lodge and even Guglielmo Marconi, who imagined their devices might provide contact with alternative planes of existence.5 On one level, Joyce utilises wireless technology to re-call the ghosts hovering behind his written words who may mean something else; essentially he attempts to write the speech of an invisible multitude ever present in the ghostliness of any radiophonic spectrum.
At this stage, I should highlight some key points of EVP, a discipline which assumes that sounds made by the dead are not detected by human ears, thus a more delicate instrument is needed to attract spirit voices and facilitate dialogue. Indeed, the title of Konstantin Raudive's collected experiments was The Inaudible Made Audible, which was amended to Breakthrough: Electronic Communication With The Dead May Be Possible (1971). When using radio, Raudive would fix upon a spot in the medium wave-band between two stations where the background noise had to be minimal. This rather problematic as wireless transmitters in the vicinity would often 'crash' the space. All sounds received were caught by a microphone and then amplified for analysis. Though considering electric science to be the gateway into another world, Raudive nonetheless relied upon the presence of "a control [...] a mediating voice telling one which transmitting station, wavelength, and hour of the day or night to choose for a recording".6 Some of the Breakthrough transcripts show appreciation for radio transistors, where voices proclaim:
"Pa druskai nur durch radio" (Latvian,. German: "Bit by bit only through radio")
"Durch radio mes pienenam. Te technik" (Latv., German: Through radio we accept. Here is technique"). (BT 171-172)
They ask to transmit in "the same old way" if recordings are hampered by the inclusion of a microphone, and they strongly object whenever an experimenter manipulates longitude and latitude. "Stay on one particular station!" they demand, "[...] keep to the spot [...] drive in the middle [...] it is narrow here!" (BT 172-173). They threaten, they plead, they suffer, they are enraptured. Some visitors are famous such as Adolf Hitler, Garcia Lorca, Leo Tolstoy, others are close relatives of whomever turns the dial. Some have been touched by Jesus in the afterlife, others simply ask for cigarettes and talk about mail delivery. Owing to the unique linguistic contact of the recordings, Raudive and many of the collaborators cited in the Appendices to Breakthrough, were able to dismiss the overriding explanation that fragments from ordinary, human, radio transmissions acted as voice sources. The voices speak "a kind of Esperanto [...] a multi-lingual word salad" (BT 302) which is often abridged in order to derive a single meaning from a single sentence. On one occasion, a voice-entity expresses anxiety over blurred channels, using the phrase "Sie sind augenseits" (Germ.: "[The experimenters] are within our sights"). Raudive explains that the word "augenseits" does not really exist; it is a neologism and literally translated means 'on the sides of our eyes'. Portmanteau words are most frequent in the entities who appear in manifold forms--they have an identity which is subject to slippage, or rather, amalgamation into other voices.
It is added that listening to an EVP session "is rather like listening to an opera: if one is not accustomed to hearing words sung to an orchestral accompaniment, one tends to hear nothing but [...] meaningless vowels and consonants" (BT 312). Conspiciously, it operates on the premise that interpretation is vital: one must be correctly tuned to EVP as a believable phenomenon, or the voices will not cohere. Only after intensive and concentrated listening does a tangible word emerge, although each utterance has a wider, symbolic meaning given to it in such a way that the individual experimenter may hear a personal message. Correlative with many wild imaginings of the 20th century, EVP is ultimately translatable, but only to those who 'know' and wish to be immersed or initiated. If this is how the dead speak, then Raudive's 'reader' (as he wishes to call the EVP analyst) must combat acoustic, electric, and interpersonal resistance in order to understand.
In my last paper I focused on a certain section of EVP doctrine, namely, that spirits plug into vibrations caused by radio waves, and are reinforced by a "mediumistically gifted" participant (BT 371), one who may be in a dream fugue. If a supine body is vulnerable to abuse from within, the abstract thoughts that bleed up from a pressured mind, then EVP aligns this to external, astral beings who similarly flock to a responsive human target--a live wire. A collaborator remarked that "one has the impression of being attached to a network and fed in metered doses with chosen material [as if one were] bugged from human or non-human sources".7 I would suggest that the sleeper of the Wake is acted upon, tampered with and wildly galvanised by a crowd of speakers; he is a superconductor, a medium in perpetual communion with the dead through a wireless set by his bedside. Akin to Raudive's efforts, this recepto-retentive experimenter in his "house of the hundred bottles with the radio beamer tower" (FW 380, 16-17) coaxes inaudible sounds from the ether. Whereas John Bishop contends that "static" is a term of inaction, and the radiophonic appendages listed at the beginning of Book II, iii, are substitutes for being "not all there"8 an alternative image for these purposes is that of a suspended no-body, hissing and sizzling, a "man-made static" (FW 309. 22) and "highly charged with electrons as hophazards can effective it" (615. 17). From the outset, this figure is inhabited, a "metherjar" in a "tombing process" (26. 18, 24), who, like Raudive's microphone is capable of amplifying "a thousand and one stories" (5. 28-29) emanating from the "optophone"/"magic lyer"/harpsdischord" (26, 5, 13). In Book I, i, after a final conscious activity--stumbling to the lavatory--it is arguable that the sleeper switches on the radio, and his seance begins:
Dbln. W.K.O.O. Hear [...] Fimfim. With a grand funferall. Fumfum fumfum (13, 14-16)
"Dblin" may be a faint "Dublin calling" in the style of Radio Eireann, as random frequencies collide before another 'home' is reached, the vital point between stations which signifies "Hear/here". The fumbling of the experimenter has proved successful.
As aforementioned, a 'control' is required in any seance, a spirit, or voice-entity who ushers-in and directs the other speakers. I wish to propose a reading of Book III, iii, widely termed as a ghost-raising where the corpse of Shaun exhibits multiple selves under cross-examination. Suffused with wireless terminology, this section is an emphatic development of two major strands: that a figure in a trance is intercepting signals from elsewhere, and that voice-entities are both vitalised and restricted by the gateway, a radio. Shaun's genesis occurs in Book III; he is heralded by a "whish....whish" (407. 11) of static, and is heard loud and clear through an accurate tuning compared to "loftly marconimasts from Clifton" who "sough open tireless secrets [...] to Nova Scotia's listing sisterwands" (407. 20-22). This refers to Marconi's first achievement in 1901--jumping an electric spark across the Atlantic. Initially, the Shaun-entity urges the sleeper to "Tune in, tune on, old Tighe, high, high, high" (408. 32), in a similar fashion to Raudive's voices who also grapple with frequencies:
"Kostja hat startet unter Tom" (Swed, Latv., Germ., Ital: "Kostja has started below pitch")
"Slikti sture" (Latv., "You are steering badly") (BT 79-80)
As the wireless and sleeper create a "double dyode" (319. 24), Shaun becomes more substantial, and a series of questions are devolved upon him, chiefly inquiring as to the legitimacy of his role: "[D]ear Shaun [...] who out of symphony gave you the permit?" (409. 8-10). Being "instrumental [...] to igniting the prepurgatory grade" (466. 36), that is, sustaining the seance, he constantly evokes methods of inter-world communication: the "bringfast cable" and the Morse code, "me dash in-you through wee dots Hyphen" (434. 31; 446. 4). The installation of Shaun as a medium occurs in the renowned passage wherein he prepares for "psychical hijinks" as the "spirits of itchery" work their influence (439. 15-33). In preference, however, I would define Shaun as a control, the bridging entity to a chattering vacuum, who points out that "the topnoted delivery you'd expected be me invoice" (439. 19) hinting that there are others who jostle for his position. Evidence for Shaun operating in this capacity is after a visit from the Issy-figure, whose "high fa luting" seeps in through his words, making them "somewhit murky" and intercepting his address on "Terminus lower" (448. 34-35; 456. 26). This is the Secret Hookup eagerly sought after by the sleeper who, from the very outset, strains to detect Issy's pips, dots and telepath dashes. John Gordon has noted that the female element pervades Shaun, how her language of Pond's face cream, "sinarettes and silkettes [...] whooshes" into being" (457. 23-25)9. Shaun is temporarily fragmented by this incursion and calls for more linkage through "quinquiscular cycles" --a phrase reminiscent of the radiophonic device in Book II, iii, with its "circumcentric megacycles and magazine battery" (310. 1-21). Owing to this rupture, he is unable to fully continue as the control, spiralling back into the "fourth dimension" with an etheric "ocean between his and ours" (467. 23).
Therefore, in Book III, iii, the sleeper is crippled by Shaun/Yawn. His wires are down, and he has no way of filtering information. This results in a "drama parapolylogic" (474. 5) where voices are anarchic, streaming over the bridge without permit, and freely abusing the wireless. Joyce's language, here, is markedly polyglot and rhythmic, indeed "textually corrupt"10. Whether or not this implies a surge of activity before the sleeper is extracted--indeed, unplugged - from his dreamstate, the overall effect is of "blarneying Marcantonio" (483. 16), a mutation of official radio frequencies: Marc-oni. Consider the following lines from Shaun, interspersed amid the babble:
Dood and I dood! [...] Do not flingamejig to the twolves! [...] The cubs are after me it zeebs, the whole totem pack, vuk vuk and vuk to them [...] (479. 12-13, 480. 36)
I am dead, says Shaun, and persecuted by static unable to transmit or receive. The howling of wolves is possibly friction caused by radio frequencies converging, a state aptly described by James A. Connor as sounding like "banshees keeing through the airwaves"11
Next, the foursages re-emerge as the Apostles delivering hostile scrutiny, Matthew in particular. This section is widely interpreted as being influenced by transcripts from the Society for Psychical Research, many of which mentioned trivial and often ridiculous encounters. The appearance of the "blackfrinch pliestrycook" carrying a "cathedral of lovejelly...Tiens, how he is like somebodies!" (486. 16-18) is a typical example of cross-correspondence, wherein a spirit channels through two or three automatic writers resulting in "psychic jigsaw puzzles" which were highly detailed but incomprehensible in isolation. For example, the famed "Ear of Dionysus" case in 1914, combined into "literary unity" by Gerald W. Balfour in 1918, was a rather complex network of classical references--clotted by the mediums' difficulty in recognising their "communicators". A script from 2 March 1914 reports that "[s]omebody wrote a book about something, and this man, who's holding up the book, wrote a book about him. And the reference he wants isn't just now to what he wrote, but to what this person he wrote about wrote". More appropriate is the mention of words and images "flitting past" the automatist, unable to be caught and made sense of12. This evokes the transience of radio signals and the inevitable blockage caused by a surplus of messages on the airwaves.
At this stage in III, iii of the Wake, there is a strident address to Shaun:
[...] you might, bar accidens, be very largely substituted in potential secession from your next life by a complementary charcter, voices apart? (487. 2-4)
As Shaun labours under investigation, it follows that he is charged by fiery Matthew for literally losing control of proceedings: the hookup between two worlds has been ruptured by the one chosen to be a "spickspookspokesman of our specturesque silentiousness". In due course, attention is directed to the sleeper, an "earthpresence" rooted to the "deafspot" (498. 32, 499. 28). The nonsense spilling out of him is a mutation of the compound 'Mamalujo'; he is lambasted with "zounds of sounds" by spirits who wane in the blast of "static babel" (499. 27, 34). It dislodges and disperses Shaun the control, who has proved to be unsatisfactory. A fervent question is rapped out as to his successor:
Whoishe whoishe whoishe whoishe linking in? Whoishe whoishe whoishe? (499. 35-36)
This is a critical juncture in the mighty seance of Finnegans Wake. Clearly, the sleeper--a "dead giant manalive" (500. 1-2)--must adjust the wireless settings in order to resume effective relations. The ticking radio clock, "Zinzin [...] zinzin" (500.5-35) intersects directions and demands from spirits who need to have 'their' wavelength verified:
-- Aure! Cloudy father! Unsure! Nongood! (500.19)
-- Pipette dear! Us! Us! Me! (500. 23)
In a momentous gesture, the sleeper turns the dial:
-- Now we're getting it. Tune in and pick up the forain counties! Hello! (500. 35-36)
He has found the blank spot, an oscillation between medium-distance band waves imperative to EVP. "hellohello! Am I thru?" (501. 4) is the cry before an impassive, restoring "SILENCE" (501.6).
This momentary break emancipates the "priority call" of spirits, who predictably settle on the "soundings in the swish channels" rather than more precise frequencies. After the line is cleared, they express satisfaction as being rehoused "again in the magnetic field" (501. 15). However, an official broadcast rumbles at the perimeters, the "[s]till calling of somewave from its specific" (501. 21) which is likely to affect navigation. Despite being "Lesscontinous" this broadcast occasionally swerves into earshot, as implied by Matthew's objections to 2 RN (Radio Eireann) and Longhorns Connaght, snapping: "[...] stay off my air!"
As Shaun lies temporarily void and censored, a more reliable control is suggested, the "gendarm auxiliar, airianautic" Sackerson, who realigns the Secret Hookup (530). Other voices mimic the style of the BBC, for instance, Shaun is re-tuned by his tormenters into a staid newsreader only known as "Big, big Calm", and a number of future items are advertised for future transmission such as "a disincarnated spirit called Sebastian" who "may fernspreak shortly with messuages from my deadported. Let us cheer him up a little and make an appunkment for a future date" (535. 36). This is an explicit link between radio and spiritualism; both employ methods of introduction and delivery in order to attract an audience willing to be captive until the end of a sequence.
The chapter finally merges into an evaluation of the sleeper who gropes towards consciousness, hearing the circular story of HCE bounce from "anodes to cathodes" (549. 17) along the bandwidth of his wireless set. It is tainted with references to dawn, exorcism and conclusion. The spirits have "tattled tall tales" across the chasm and "daybowbreak" threatens to infect discourse with more external components (546. 23). Recall Leopold Bloom's comment that "night is a good conductor", and, as Marconi's biographer was to observe, "all wireless men like the witching hours of the night. Darkness helps the waves to go further"13. Even before the re-orientation scheme of Book II, iv, voices already hint at a return to normality by fully acknowledging the sleeper, the "begraved" medium (560.19) and, of course, his sonic device:
All halt! Sponsor programme and close down. That's enough, genral, of finicking about Finnegan and fiddling with his faddles. (531. 27)
If the Wake is viewed as a circuit and the spirits are given a half-life by electricity and a night-cycle, then, with the approach of morning, they are negated and dumbed down:
Where are we at all? and whenabouts in the name of space? I don't understand. I fail to say (558. 33-34)
They are unable to 'say'--to talk--as the sleeper slips out of trance and the wireless rumbles ominously with "Slew music" and "Thunner in the eire" with predicts further disruption from Radio Eireann calling all receptors. (565. 17) In any kind of EVP experiment, the voices purporting to be spirits are "unclaimed [...] humble indivisibles in the grand continuum" (472. 29-30) rendered partially human by inhabiting wires and sounding real. However, in becoming broadcast, that is, to mingle with a weather report or "spurts flash" (342. 35) they are utterly disseminated and non-existent like every transmission the moment it has been dispatched. In the Wake, Issy may deduce this in regard to her secret message: "sure where's the use of my talking quicker when I know you'll hear me all astray?" (472. 12-13) Despite being the ideal conduit, wireless is seen to be a volatile thoroughfare; it produces acoustic debris and causes faulty hookups, literally "missed understandings" which aggravate the spirit world. If Finnegans Wake contains some reference to electric voice phenomenon, or rather, the uncatalogued, then-unnamed aspect of spiritualism which recognised the potential of radio, then it is also present in the final section. Conditions are infinitely fallible, but the seance will be re-enacted, it "may again how it may again, shearing aside the four wethers and passing over the dainty daily [the radio dial]" (604. 34-35). Charged up with electrons, as noted, the figure rests in bed having achieved a successful relay: "[...] so we have heard, what we have received, that we have transmitted" (604. 29-30). The radio will be adjusted once more, sliding across the waveband to find the "essenesse" of a monologue made static. (608. 04)
© Jane Lewty, 2004
|volume 5, issue 1, 2004|