Finnegans Wake 1.2

by Paul Mathers

One erratum from last week’s post: HCE is not the Dublin common man. He, rather, seems to be one of the elite (at least in this section), sort of a Pere Ubu type of character, some sort of dignified figure. He also seems to be in the rotund side as we shall see anon. I have a great appreciation of Joyce’s tendency to shy away from conventional lead actors. I mean, think about it. Channing Tatum and Jennifer Lawrence as Leopold and Molly Bloom? No, Joyce has a Fellini-esque realism and this, I assume, is why Virginia Woolf found him vulgar. Well… that and the swears and Onanism I guess.

First, I would like to say a few words about having pierced the membrane of the first 29 pages. I am finding that, in a way, it worked! What I mean to say is, everything I’ve said previously about the book (the important of help material, the crucial “plot” outline) stands, but I am finding myself having a much easier time with it. Custom hath made it in me a property of easiness. Well, that’s a bit of an overstatement actually, but I am finding the comparison of learning how to read this book to learning a new language apt. Right now I feel a bit like I did watching Run, Lola, Run right after my first year of German. I could kind of sometimes not look at the subtitles!

In this section we are finally introduced to HCE (I’ll use the initials for the sake of clarity as his name seems to shift, but the initials stay the same). He encounters a common man who seems to be accusing him of a sexual indiscretion (the nature of which also shifts. In the dreamscape of Wake, I sense that the indiscretion amounts to general sexual guilt and HCE’s claimed innocence seems like it might indicate the sense of sexual guilt when one hasn’t actually done anything wrong).

The man is first identified as a “quidam.” This took me back to my teenage years when my older brother worked in the ticket booth of a Cirque du Soliel show of that name. I remember him telling me about an affluent man who came to the ticket booth and sneeringly asked, “What’s Quidam supposed to mean?”

My brother said, “You know that guy walking down the street who you don’t know and who you don’t care if he lives or if he dies? That’s ‘Quidam!'”

Not a story that Joyce would have known, but I feel that this sort of free association is not out of line in response to this text.

HCE is accused of the indiscretion by the quidam (another moment where I audibly laughed was when, for simplicity, Joyce suggests we call him “Abdullah Gamellaxarsky.” And then proceeds to never call him by that name again). HCE denies it, and goes on his way. The rest of the chapter is an account of the rumor spreading. It comes to the ear of a priest. We hear a stutterer commenting on it. We see it pass through a pub (the wonderful term “alcoherently” is coined) of hunters, ladies, ne’er-do-wells, professionals, and thence to a group of waggish parody song writers. They take it upon themselves to write a satirical ballad.


One of the beautiful tools of this modern age is Youtube. Whenever you approach a piece of literature that includes music, you can rest assured that one of the billions of users on Earth have attempted to record the song. Usually you’ll have your choice of versions. While I have a bare-bones enough music education to sight read, my imagination is not so great as to fill in what a song sounds like just by looking at the notations. I like this performance, although I’m not so crazy about his commentary. He says this song is an outline of the plot of the book and I don’t think it is. Also, he’s settled on one version of HCE’s indiscretion and I don’t think the book does that. However, bravo for performing the whole droning thing in front of a live audience! So I’d recommend starting the video when the music starts at 1:07.

More soon.