NIGHT JOYCE OF A THOUSAND TIERS
"There is no work more intellectual, more disengaged from worry about contemporary matters, more estranged from time and space, more foreign to politics, war, the torment of wretched Europe, none more preoccupied with the great interests of life, love, desire, death, childhood, fatherhood, the mystery of eternal return." This is how the French Academician, Louis Gillet, described Finnegans Wake.
James Stephens said: "it is unreadable ... it is wonderful."
On the other hand, St. John Gogarty, in a fit of blinding envy suggested that Finnegans Wake was a gigantic hoax written by an idiot on the backside of beauty. Or, to quote from the Wake itself, "the recital of the rigmarole" (174.04), "a stinksome inkestink" (183.06), "a ... riot of blots and blurs and bars and balls and hoops and wriggles and juxtaposed jottings linked by spurts of speed" (118.29).
After "his usylessly unreadable Blue Book of Eccles" (179.26), Joyce wrote the "bluest book in baile's annals" (13.21). As a young artist Joyce started with Ibsen, and ended obscene. Finnegans Wake with its "sexophonologistic Schizophrenesis" (123.18) however, in distinction to Ulysses, was never banned, despite its "seedy ejaculations" (183.23) and the "fluefoul smut" (183.15), as all the four-letter words have been "variously inflected, differently pronounced, otherwise spelled" (118.26). The scatological eschatology also seems to have escaped the attention of vigilant censors.
The verbal diarrhoea, the riverrun, of the floozie in the jacuzzi, is punctuated by ten thunderous farts, totalling 1001 letters. Thousand and One Nights of tails within tales, of tumescence and detumescence, of drinking and pissing, of eating and defecation, "turning breakfarts into lost soupirs" (453.11). In the upside down universe of the Wake, God's creative breath becomes Devil's fart, and paternoster, "farternoiser" (530.36). The sound of Finnegans Wake is that of chamberpot music.
If Ulysses was a day book, a stream of consciousness of one man, Everyman Bloom, Finnegans Wake is a night book, a nightmare stream from the unconscious of all men, of Nomen. Bloom's day is followed by Noman's night. The action takes place "nowhere," now and here, in Noman's land. "This nonday diary, this allnights newseryreel" (489.35). The time is "nowtime" (290.17), "noughttime" (349.06).
Just like the proverbial Heraclitean river, you can never step into the same stream of Finnegans Wake twice. "Every word [is] bound over to carry three score and ten toptypsical readings throughout the book of Doublends Jined" (20.14). The reader, like Theseus, is lost in the labyrinth of theses and antitheses fusing into new syntheses. Each pair of Heraclitean opposites form both a unity and plurality, but if Heraclitus was known as "the weeping philosopher," Joyce, "the tragic jester" (171.15) is "agush with tears of joy" (178.12), as there is "lots of fun at Finnegan's wake." (Fun in Japanese means "excrement"). It's "hugglebeddy fann" (616.01).
The readers of Finnegans Wake are of two types: those who pretend to read it and those who read it to pretend. But each time the reader turns the revolving drum of the Finnegans Wake prayerwheel, it sends up new revolting blasphemies.
It took Joyce seventeen years to write seventeen chapters of Finnegans Wake-a labour of love, a love letter, and his artistic testament-the portrait of the artist as an old man. It contains more than 50,000 different words, three times as much as in the whole of Shakespeare, and in more than seventy seven languages. That makes it easier for foreigners. "He would wipe alley english spooker, multaphoniaksikally spuking, off the face of the erse" (178.06).
Talking to the Polish writer Jan Parandowski, Joyce complained:
the few fragments which I have published have been enough to convince many critics that I have finally lost my mind, which, by the way, they have been predicting faithfully for many years. And perhaps it is madness to grind up words in order to extract their substance, to create crossbreeds and unknown variants, to open up unsuspected possibilities for these words, to marry sounds which were not usually joined before although they were meant for one another, to allow water to speak like water, birds to chirp in the words of birds, to liberate all sounds from their servile, contemptible role and to attach them to the feelers of expressions which grope for definitions of the undefined. ... With this hash of sounds I am building the great myth of everyday life.
With a "meticulosity bordering on the insane" (173.34). There is method in his madness.
Samuel Beckett was one of the first to appreciate the mastery of the achievement. I quote: "There form is the content, content is the form. You complain that the stuff is not written in English. It is not written at all. It is not to be read, or, rather, it is not only to be read. It is to be looked at and listened to. His writing is not about something: it is that something itself." One could add that, like any great work of art, the Wake has no goal or meaning. Like God himself, to paraphrase the God of the Jews, it is because it is.
Finnegans Wake defies the second law of thermodynamics by being in perpetual motion, while its source of energy, the writer, is dead.
By giving four sides to the Wake circle, Joyce achieved another impossibility: the squaring of the circle. "Finnegans Wake is a wheel and it's all square." "She bit his tailibout" [tail, butt] and "all hat tiffin for thea" (229.25).
And each time the wheel of Finnegans Wake turns, the Humpty-Dumpty is put together again: the egg is unscrambled.
The riverrun, the last and the first words of the river-rain cycle, is the antithesis of the raven's "nevermore." Here the dove of baptism descends with its promise of eternal life.
Finnegans Wake is about beginnings and ends, but without an end or a beginning. Tim Finnegan of the ballad, stoned by too much whiskey, and appearing stone-dead, is revived by more of the same, uisce beatha, whiskey, the water of life, splashed on him during a lively wake. His baptism is by fire and water of the firewater. Like the Phoenix, he rises from his ashes. A sine qua non of resurrection is death. His dead penis rises too-a terrible beauty is born. The mortal HCE rises and falls. The immortal ALP remains horizontal. A mountain and a river. A bobbing pile of shit on the surface of urine. A storm in a tea-pot.
The water of life in the Wake is also the river Liffey, described by Joyce as having the colour of tea without milk, "Tea" in slang means both "whiskey" and "urine." Le thé in French is "tea." But the Lethe is also the water of forgetting, the river of death.
The last word joins the first, the Lethe and the Liffey, the river of oblivion and the river of life, merge in an "obliffious" stream (317.32). Just for a moment. "Lethelulled between explosion and reexplosion" (78.04). The short lull between the last and the first word is like the 'holy hour,' the pub closure between 2.30 and 3.30 (now abolished). This bizarre by-law was described by Stephen Pile as an attempt to assist the Irishmen in their struggle to come out of the pub at some point between dawn and bedtime.
The pissed Finnegan discharges the dead water from his bladder and is revived with a fresh supply of whiskey. Pissing rain swells the Liffey again, and makes Ireland, the Urinal of the Planets, green again. This is a great country, as we say here, but they should put a roof on it.
In Italian, "riverrun" reads riverranno, they will come again, the Finnegans wake up again, they will revive (rivivranno), the river-run ends and the circular dream begins again (rêve-rond).
Joyce said to his friend Budgen: "the Holy Roman Catholic Apostolic Church was built upon a pun. It ought to be good enough for me:" Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam (Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church-Matthew 16:18).
Joyce's foundation of Finnegans Wake is a parallel pun: You are Patrick and upon this sham-rock I will build my sham-work. "Peatrick" suggests the rick of peat, the mountain, the Reek (Croagh Patrick), and "peat reek" (whiskey destilled over the smoke of peat), but also the reek of the pot, as Patrick, like Jesus, is baptized with waters of the Jordan. ("Jordan" is an obsolete term for a chamber-pot). "Tauftauf thuartpeatrick" (3.10) means "I baptize you Patrick." It's all in German, as Patrick was a disciple of St. Germanicus (taufe, I baptize, Taube, dove, Teufel, the Devil). Holy Joe, St. Bridget and St. Patrick! "Scentbreeched and somepotreek" (12.22)-shitty breeches and chamber-pot stink.
The pea-trick was a rigging game of itinerant sharpers, using a pea and three thimbles. A sleight-of-hand, similar to St. Patrick's demonstration of the unity of the Holy Trinity, using the three-leafed shamrock.
Finnegans Wake being written from Paris to the Liffey, is a French letter, Joyce's last "wetbed confession" (188.01). Joyce thought of it as "a French letter which does not succeed in coming off, never quite" (VI.B.12.126). It's a riverrun with a "rubberend" (144.30). "The letter that never begins to go find the latter that ever comes to end, written in smoke and blurred by mist and signed of solitude, sealed at night" (337.12). The letter is found by a hen in a heap of litter, "literatured with burst loveletters" (183.10) in the "sound seemetery which iz leebez luv" (17.35), the symmetry of uniting opposites buried in the graveyard of sounds.
An early version of the Wake started with "Reverend," the addressee of the letter written by ALP. In its final form, the addressee is "riverrun," i.e. the Liffey, and the letter is written by Shem. It echoes a line from Yeats's poem "A Poet to His Beloved":
I bring you with reverent hands the books of my numberless dreams.
In Irish, "riverrun" reads ribhéar a rúin, my darling river, a loveletter of Joyce to the Liffey. Rún also means "a riddle," or "mystery."
The letter ends in the middle of a sentence with the "affectionate largelooking tache of tch" (111.19), a stain of tea, the sperm drop of renewal. "Life ... is a wake, livit or krikit, and on the bunk of our breadwinning lies the cropse of our seedfather" (55.05). The sperm drop from a victim of hanging, as discussed in Ulysses. After all, the Wake is a "Suspended Sentence" (106.13).
The last sentence evaporates into nothingness, dissolves, melts into the final "thaw," the Irish sound of the affirmative tá, "yes," the "final breath, a nothing," as Joyce said to Gillet. The male and female opposites meet in the orgasmic little death, la petite mort, as the French call it. ALP, falling into oblivion, breathes ma mort, "mememormee" (628.14), remember me in my death. Isolde dying with the initial of Tristan on her lips-T, the. The Liebestod-the love to death.
ALP is passing out, and her daughter is taking her place, "A daughterwife from the hills ... and she is coming. Swimming in my hindmoist. Diveltaking on me tail" (627.02).
The last page is Joyce's swan song, the last leaf, the last of the Liffey, the last tea leaf. "Where there's leaf, there's hope" (227.18). "Only a leaf, just a leaf and then leaves" (619.22). "They lived und laughed ant loved end left" (18.20). And Joyce's advice to the reader is: "tare it or leaf if" (118.34)-take it or leave it.
The first and the last page of Finnegans Wake recalls lines from Tennyson's "Dying Swan":
with an inner voice the river ran,
adown it floated a dying swan
The "great sweet mother" at the beginning of Ulysses appears again at the end of the Wake. This comes from Swinburne's "Triumph of Time":
I will go back to the great sweet mother,
mother and lover of men, the sea,
I will go down to her, I and none other,
Close with her, kiss her, and mix her with me,
My lips will feast on the foam of thy lips,
I shall rise with thy rising, with thee subside ...
Swineburne's "fair white mother" is substituted by "cold mad father" (628.02), alluding to Finn MacCool, King Lear and Mananaan MacLir. The Liffey embracing the cold sea is like Molly dreaming about Leopold in his youth, "that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea ... and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes."
In the poem "A Prayer", there are proleptic seeds of the end of Finnegans Wake.
Cease, silent love! My doom!
Blind me with your dark nearness, O have mercy,
beloved enemy of my will!
I dare not withstand the cold touch that I dread.
Draw from me still
My slow life! Bend deeper on me, threatening head...
Take me, save me, soothe me, O spare me!
The "whitespread wings like he'd come from Arkangels" (628.10) on the last page represent both Zeus descending on Leda and the Archangel Gabriel of the Annunciation, who, like Zeus, made the maid pregnant. The virgin birth will lead to death and resurrection, and Leda will lay the Humpty-Dumpty egg, from which the twins, Shem and Shaun, jump out. "See what happens when your somatophage merman takes his fancy to our virgitarian swan?" (171.02).
The swan seems to like it. "As he was rising my lather" (writing me a letter) ... "I was plucking his goosybone" (424.36). "I have been lost, angel. Cuddle, ye divil ye" (147.02). "Bite my laughters, drink my tears. Pore into me, volumes, spell me stark and spill me swooning" (145.18). "When he'd prop me atlas against his goose" (626.13), he "shootst throbbst into me mouth like a bogue and arrohs" (626.05).
The Archangel Gabriel brings to mind the end of the last story in Dubliners: "Generous tears filled Gabriel's eyes ... the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead." The whiteness of the bird's wings, the silence of snow.
The swan swoons. Death is near. The white bird darkens. "You'd rush upon me, darkly roaring, like a great black shadow with a sheeny stare to perce me rawly. And I'd frozen up and pray for thawe" (626.24). "The"-the last sound of the dying swan, "the lethest zswound" (214.10) of lethally wounded Leda. Remember me when I cross the Lethe-voice of Joyce from beyond the grave.
The last tear. "She signs her final tear. Zee End" (28.27). "To hide away the tear, the parted" (625.30). The "the" of the departed. That's the end.
The last kiss. Like Arrah na Pogue, Nora of the Kiss, freeing her lover by means of a message which she gives him with a French kiss, ALP gives us the keys to her riddle. "The keys to. Given." (628.15). "Jesus said to Peter: And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 16:19). But Finnegans Wake is not in heaven, but in Hell. In St. John's vision, "an angel came down from heaven having the key of the bottomless pit" (Revelations 20:1).
The last laugh.
Finn, again! Take.
Till thousendsthee. (628.14)
...-, ...-, ...- ...- (The Morse code for "V"; "more. So." [628.06]). It stands for "victory," and "fuck you."
The penisolate war of exiled Shem the Penman is over. Penis mightier than the sword. Isolde was reunited with Tristan. ("Pen" is the name of the female swan). The Peninsular War between Wellington and Napoleon, and other Tweedledums and Tweedledees can be re-enacted again. For the time being, as in the last sentence of Homer's Odyssey, a peace has been established between the two contending forces.
Like Sterne's Sentimental Journey, Finnegans Wake ends in the middle of a sentence. "The affectionate largelooking tache of tch" (111.19) is like the TUNC page with the large Tau (t) and Chi (?) dominating the page. TUNC is a simple anagram of the missing word in A Sentimental Journey. The voyage on the sea of words, full of seamen, such as Sindbad the Sailor, Noah, and Odysseus. All returning home to their Penelopes: "when all is zed and done, the penelopean patience of its last paraphe" (123.04).
After the Forty days of the Deluge, Noah's Ark lands on the top of a mountain. "And it came to pass at the end of forty days that Noah opened the window of the ark" (Genesis 8:6) and sent out the raven and the dove. "Look, there are yours off, high on high! And cooshes, sweet good luck they're cawing you, Coole! You see, they're as white as the riven snae" (621.36). "Afartodays, afear tonights, and me as with you in thadark" (622.15). "Softmorning ... Folty and folty all the nights" (619.20). Noah was sending messages in empty bottles of Guinness, "carried in a caddy or screwed and corked" (624.01), "with a bob, bob, bottledby" (624.02) and "cast ashore" (623.30).
The first fragment of Finnegans Wake was about a "waterproof monarch of all Ireland" (380.34), the "pomp porteryark" (624.14), later forming the core of II.3 (309-382) in which the Norwegian Captain is in charge of a ship carrying bottled Guinness and Phoenix Stout. Guinness's barges used to leave from Kingsbridge, and Joyce had Jack Yeats's canvass depicting such a barge on the Liffey, in his Parisian flat.
It is noteworthy that this chapter opens with an acrostic of Noman.
"It may not or maybe a no" (309.01).
The stout ship is also Noah's Ark, where Noah brews beer and distills whiskey by arclight ("pa's malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by arclight" [3.13]). Having taken one too many, he is sprawled across the Ark, exposing his nakedness. His alter ego, HCE, is stretched across Dublin, from Howth to Chapelizod, the Wellington monument in the Park being his protruding member. (Both Noah's Ark and the Phoenix Park are also zoos). The comatose Noah is assaulted by his sons, and he curses Ham: "And Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his younger son had done into him" (Genesis 9:24). Something similar happened between HCE and three soldiers in the Park, though the nature of the crime is as obscure as in Genesis. Other important encounters between a father figure and a young man in Finnegans Wake are the blinding of the drunken Cyclops by Ulysses-Noman and the shooting of the bare-arsed Russian Bear/General by the Irish private Buckley at the Crimea. This crime was precipitated by the General using a sod of turf to wipe himself and not realising that 'sod' was a metonym for Ireland, The Old Sod. All these encounters suggest sodomy. Joyce links "arse" with "Erse" and Ireland with Sodom. "Sod's brood, be me fear!" (4.06): God's blood, soda bread, and the breed of sodomites. Noman/Noah-man is also a pun on "to know a man" in the biblical sense.
In the year of Joyce's birth, 1882, another crime was committed in the park, the Phoenix Park murders, in which Lord Cavendish and his Under-Secretary were assassinated by the Invincibles. At the trial one of the Invincibles was referred to as "No. 1," i.e. no-one, another Noman.
"No man, said the Nolan ..." were the first words of Joyce to be printed, in The Day of the Rabblement, and that word which "always sounded strangely," "gnomon," appears at the beginning of the first story in Dubliners. (The first word of Homer's Odyssey was andra, man.)
It was Odysseus who called himself no-one, Noman (outis) in the Cyclops chapter-an episode particularly near to Joyce's heart. When the drunken Cyclops was blinded by Odysseus with a burning pole driven into his eye, the giant roared so much that other Cyclopes came up to see what was happening.-What the hell is going on? Is somebody trying by treachery to murder you?-It's Noman's treachery that is killing me, screamed the giant.-Well, then, if nobody is harming you there is little we can do.
Odysseus then escaped from the blocked cave by hiding under a black ram, slipping through the giant's fingers when the Cyclops was letting his sheep out to graze, one by one. A sort of blindman's bluff. "Beerman's bluff was what begun it" (422.31). Another "beerman" is Finnegan, full of beer, stretched on a bier, bluffing his death.
There is an Irish parallel to this story. Finn MacCool got trapped in a cave of Goll, a one-eyed giant. Finn plunged a hot spit into the sleeping eye of the giant and escaped by putting a skin from a goat on himself and mingling with the giant's herd being let out.
The same motif of deceiving the blind old father by a furry disguise is Jacob fooling the dying Isaac by putting on a goatskin, to make his blind father believe that this is his firstborn, Esau, ready to receive his blessing.
Another no-man was Jesus, half-God, half-man, also known as The Lamb. He slipped out from a cave too. When his disciples came back to the cave where he was buried, he was gone. "He is not here, for he is risen" (Matthew 28:5). And in the Acts of the Apostles we read: "when we had opened, we found no man within" (Acts 5:23). But the Noman of the Wake is a black-sheep, or rather half-man, half-goat. A pun on the god Pan. A fauny-man, a funny man. Finnegans Wake is a fairytale with the furry tail and the furry head of the hairwigged Earwicker. He falls and rises. What did the earwig say when it fell off the wall again?-Earwigo again.
Finnegans Wake is full of "punns and reedles" (239.35). The answer to the central riddle of the Wake, Shem's riddle, when is a man not a man, is easy,-when he is a noman.
Joyce divided the name of Ulysses into outis (Noman) and Zeus. If Homer could make a pun on Odysseus's name, Joyce, our "homerole poet" (445.32) could do the same with the name of Shem.
Shem in Hebrew means name, or God's name. As Hebrew reads backwards, nomen (name) gives nemon. Nemo in Latin means Noman. Noman holds the key to the Wake, in Revelations 5:3 "No man ... was able to open the book," and in the words of Noman Jesus: "I will give unto thee the keys ... then he charged his disciples that they should tell to no man" (Matthew 16:20).
Shem's riddle, with its solution hidden within Shem's name is modelled on the most famous riddle of all times, the riddle of the Sphinx ... "riddle a rede from the sphinxish pairc" (324.06), the Sphinx of the Phoenix Park. "There is on earth a thing which has four legs, two legs, and three legs, and one voice." The answer, provided by Oedipus, was-man: in infancy on all four, with a stick in old age, and on two in between. The answer was hidden in Oedipus's own name: oida (I know) and dipous (biped, man), i.e. "I know that the answer is man," "know-man." As Sophocles put it: "The riddling Sphinx caused us to turn our eyes to what lay at out feet."
The first key appears in the title.
FIN(d) NEG. ANSWA = KE(y).
The key word to Joyce's work. Like an abominable no-man, he says no to everything, to his country, to his church, to his family-Stephen's and Satan's non serviam.
"In the best manner of Shem," Joyce wrote to Miss Weaver, "I developed painful dissertation, punctuated by sighs, excuses, compliments, hypotheses, explanations, silences = no, non, nein."
Finnegans Wake follows in the wake of the "blackshape" (608.21) of Ulysses, Noman the Black Sheep. Joyce believed that the Odyssey was a Phoenician epic. "The Phoenican wakes" (608.32). Finnegans Wake is Phoenician Fake. It slips through our fingers like water.
© Estate of Petr Skrabanek
|volume 4, issue 1, 2003|