This month’s post is concerns my visual reading of HCE’s encounter with ‘the Cad’ on pages 34 – 38 of Finnegans Wake.
The passage appears to be a historical account of something that happened to HCE ‘…one happygogusty ides-of-April morning…’ in Phoenix Park. It takes place some time after his ‘alleged misdemeanour’ with the two girls and three soldiers (see post 15). The setting is initially one of brisk fresh air, wide expanses and greenery, with HCE ‘…billowing across…our greatest park…’ in his eccentrically distinctive attire ‘…caoutchouc kepi and great belt and hideinsacks and his blaufunx fustian and ironsides jackboots and Bhagafat gaiters and his rubberised inverness’ (FW 35.3 – 10).
HCE meets ‘a cad with a pipe’ who is wearing a ‘straw bamer’ and carrying his ‘overgoat under his schulder, sheepside out’ (FW 35.11 – 13)
The idyllic scene seems to darkens as the two figures meet, the Cad immediately demonised as the ‘luciferant’ with an ‘overgoat’, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. With typical Wakean ambiguity this figure ‘hardily’ – either hardly or heartily – accosted Earwicker with the strange question “Guiness thaw tool in jew me dinner ouzel fin?” (my speech marks) and apparently asking the time because his watch was ‘bradys’, apparently from the Greek ‘bradus’ meaning ‘slow’ (FW35.15 -16).
Earwicker’s reaction to the innocuous inquiry is bizarrely and disproportionately fearful, regarding it as potentially violent, even life-threatening (pingping K.O.) and he seeks to extricate himself from the situation by appearing to be sympathetic to his accoster i.e. on his side.
‘Execration as cleverly to be honnisoid’ (FW 35.20 – 21).
Not surprisingly I find the several references to popular, pulp fiction in this section visually compelling. They are fully in keeping with the cinematic qualities to be found in the Wake. Vivid impressions of film noir gangsterism and matinee western tradition are formed in what, as it turns out, is literally a ‘high noon’ moment.
‘…being hurled in to eternity right then, plugged by a soft-nosed bullet from the sap, halted, quick on the draw…’ (FW 35.25 – 26)
Tolling bells, ‘over the wastes to the south’, and HCE ‘standing full erect, above the ambijacent floodplain’ along with the soundtrack-evoking ‘drumdrum’ (also connecting with soft-nosed bullet as ‘dumdum’) reinforces this moment of picture house suspense. From wide angled expanse we zoom to an uncomfortably charged space close up between the two figures, close enough to smell ‘smoked sardinish breath’, ‘sors, acids, salts, sweets and bitters compounded’, intimate bodily elements later developed into spit – ‘Irish saliva’, ‘expectorate’, ‘belcher’.
Earwicker’s nervously offers a handshake to break the tension as he attempts to ingratiate himself and defuse whatever potential danger there might be. His proffered pledge of fidelity and reassurance is littered with the tell-tale stammering hesitancy (hesitency) of the unreliable – ‘Shsh-shake, co-comrade’, ‘mewmew mutual daughters’, ‘woo-woo willing’ etc. in a blurted introduction which seems to amount to a sort of swearing of his innocence. A placating ‘donation’ of some kind appears to have been made – a buying off of the perceived threat – for which the Cad gives thanks (FW 36.2 – 6).
In a relived diversion and celebration of the end of the unpleasant interlude Earwicker’s attention switches abruptly and indulgently to food – an almost decadent and sensually compact description of a luxurious wedding of tastes, culminating in the jaded sniffing of wine corks.
The Cad, having listened to HCE’s declaration innocence, goes home amused and somewhat puzzled. Thus commences a chain of events leading to the composition and very public performance of the Ballad of Perce O’Reilly, the subject of my next post.
You may be interested to know that on 13th February I gave an illustrated paper called ‘Drawing in the Dark’ about my visual reading of Finnegans Wake to the International Association of Word and Image Studies (IAWIS) ‘Conceptual Writing’ panel at the College Arts Association conference in Chicago. I was privileged to share the panel with its convenor author and curator of Joyce in Art, Dr. Christa Maria Lerm Hayes, artist and academic Nick Thurston, Dr. Nicola Foster, and Marisa Sanchez, who presented a fascinating paper on Rosalind Krausse, Samuel Beckett and Sol Lewitt. It was an opportunity to show some of my Wake work in a different context and get some direct feedback on the ideas behind it.
Also, and finally – you really should check out the new Folio Society edition of Finnegans Wake by celebrated Illustrator John Vernon Lord. He takes a very different illustrative approach to mine but the images and supporting notebooks are impressive.