Finnegans Wake 1.3

by Paul Mathers

Hopefully, after the move, I’ll average more than one chapter a week.

The wading got a bit deep in this section, but it resolved into one of my favorite passages so far. There is a reference to television early on, which was a bit of a surprise as Mr. Farnsworth’s invention came into this world contemporaneously with the composition of this book. There’s also a joke in this section about “Sid Arthar”, a reference to The Buddha and a joke I’ve heard Eddie Izzard tell. I’m afraid one of the effects of reading so much Joyce is beginning to learn where a lot of jokes I’ve heard before came from! Joyce was a brilliant comedian. A bit of a Mozart.

There is also, in this section, a reference to Oscar Wilde. I think the introduction mentioned that this is one motif in the book. I would imagine the theme of older to younger sexual disgrace which would be familiar to Joyce’s contemporaries. But I also hear that there was a strange book released as Joyce was writing Finnegans Wake which was some occultist conjuring the words of Oscar Wilde from beyond the grave. One of the things the undead Wilde saw fit to comment on was the work of James Joyce, which he was not in favor of. Joyce seems to have been familiar with this book and this may have been the catalyst to the inclusion of this motif! Stranger and stranger.

In this dream state, the rumor mongers all come to a bad end while Humphrey is also assaulted at his home by them, or attempted assaulted possibly. The angry mob is at once dying over time and actively lynching, much like how Finnegan is dying as HCE is doing whatever HCE did.

Language plays a daunting role in this text. While Joyce runs roughshod over English, he also does not hesitate to employ quite a few other languages. Latin, French, Gaelic, but especially in this section Italian. Laurie and I were discussing Joyce on the phone on my lunchbreak the other day (or, rather, I was raving about Joyce while she may have been listening) and I mentioned that I don’t know a lot about Joyce as a person (this because I’m excited to purchase a collection of his essays and opinion pieces). Then I began to think and realized that I do know more than I thought I had. Irish, never entirely recovered from his Catholic upbringing, ended on a religious sour note with his mother, stepped out with Nora first on June 16th 1904, the famously salacious love letters, lifelong poverty, loans, patrons, moved around a lot, obscenity trials (even in countries that are supposed to have free speech), daughter-a magnificent giant of a modern dancer who became schizophrenic, son-an alcoholic, drinking with Hemingway and making him finish fights for him, scared of dogs and thunder, went blind and wrote a good deal of this book in huge letters on a chalkboard as Nora copied it down, died of an ulcer or something and his last words were begging them to call his wife. But I still don’t know what he was like as a person really and I find myself increasingly… well, a Joycean. I find myself fascinated by this author and keen to learn more.

I also know that he spoke Italian and seemed to have preferred to do so at home. I don’t know Italian. Or Gaelic. And my Latin’s pretty rusty.

There’s a long section in the middle that I found to be obscure, but I think was an elaboration on the theme of lecherous older men preying on young women OR the story of another particular lecherous older man preying on the same young girl(s?) involved in the HCE incident. And this may have been a courtroom testimony.

We have the first reference to HCE’s wife’s (ALP) letter in his defense. I also know enough about this book that the contents of this letter close the book and are striking. The letter may or may not turn into a coffin in this section.

Right, all of which, believe it or not, I’ve made less confusing here than it is in the text. But then there is a German man who either barges in as an uninvited guest to HCE’s home OR HCE has suddenly become the bartender at a pub and has cut him off. There follows a list of insults that the German hurls at HCE. They are Joycean insults. The list goes on for a few pages. I’ve underlined my favorites and plan to start using them as insults in life:

1. Old Fruit

2. Wheatears

3. Bogside Beauty

4. York’s Porker

5. Cainandabler

6. Moonface the Murderer

7. Acoustic Disturbance

8. Thinks He’s Gobblast the Good Dook of Ourguile

9. Burnham and Bailey

10. Artist

11. Unworthy of the Homely Protestant Religion

12. Lobsterpot Lardling

13. Leathertogs Donald

14. Luck Before Wedlock

15. Twelve Months Aristocrat

16. Lycanthrope

17. Stodge Arschmann

18. Sleeps with Feathers end Ropes

19. Wants a Wife and Forty of Them

20. Plowp Goes his Whastle

21. Sower Rapes

22. Sickfish Bellyup

23. Edomite

24. Bad Humborg

25. Woolworth’s Worst

26. Fast in the Barrel

Near the end of this section, in keeping with the “too much to drink” skit, there is a reference to Dog-an-Doras. I had an excited moment where I thought “Hey! I get that reference!”

I got it because, when I was in high school, I inherited a record collection which included some records by Sir Harry Lauder, the famous turn of the century Scottish music hall singer (other kids were into Nirvana. This is what I was doing). I’ve sang this song for nearly 20 years:

I love the musicality of this book. I love that I’ve read three chapters and had a song to associate with each response so far.

The book is peppered throughout with little references like this. I’m noticing myself, in writing about this and, indeed, in reacting to this book, reflected heavily on my personal experiences and thought-life. I don’t think this is entirely inappropriate. I seem to remember reading someone in preparation for this book, which would make Hercules run back into the horse stalls, say that the real hero of Finnegans Wake is the reader. I think there is truth to this. While the book does have an obscured plot, I feel like the complex machinery is aimed at providing the reader with a crowbar to take to one’s own subconscious. Or maybe I could put it like this: The beautiful thing about a book is that one, as a reader, can have a conversation with the author. In Finnegans Wake, Joyce does not just record a dreamlike environment, rather he builds a dreamscape. It is Joyce’s dreamscape, his subconscious, but the book allows the reader to enter with their own mind and interact. Thus, indeed, elevating the act of reading to a heroic act.

One theory less than 1/6th of the way through, but there you go.

More soon.