‘Illuminating the Wake’ is where I get to share my own particular approach to reading Finnegans Wake, a process I have come to consider as of ‘reading-through-drawing’. Like many readers of the Wake, I find it helpful to add my own annotations to the text as I work my way through the book. These annotations represent my immediate responses to what I find in the text. I think its important for readers to value their unmediated thoughts and not be too concerned with what other commentaries say we should find there. Some contextual reading is useful in getting started, but the idea is that Finnegans Wake is, after all, a book and capable of being picked up and read for its own distinctive attributes and pleasures. It just needs some effort to get used to, and does actually indicate to the patient reader how it wants to be read. By synthesising my personal annotations into a sketchbook, making rapid pictorial notations of what is suggested to my imagination at the point of reading, I hope to capture and develop something of the reader’s direct imaginative experience of the Wake, and of it’s the book’s marvellous visuality.
In this post we pick up half way down page 85 with ‘a return to the atlantic and Phenitia Proper’ and an introduction of the trial of Festy King. Here its reported that scant progress has been made in the getting to the bottom of the ‘wasnottobe crime conundrum’, the previously discussed and highly ambiguous assault, which occurred on pages 81 to 85. The assailant, now identified as (the senior king of all) is brought before the bench. We are given a brief description of his background as a hereditary bigot, this reputation amplified by a possible reference KKK. Festy’s address is also given along with descriptions of the condition of his attire and of his person. There are references to alcohol forming a central aspect of his life and to the trouble he has caused, not leased by fighting with the police under a series of assumed identities. These aliases seem to have been bizarrely chosen with the aid of a (unlicensed) pig and a hyacinth. They include Festy disguising himself as a young chimneysweep by blackening his face with peat. All in all he is as dubious and eccentric a fellow as anyone in the Wake.
A vein of mineral references runs through the texts, and the sea is never far from the surface. Mud and muck is also is everywhere – as an extension of our midden theme and also as a characteristic of the legal proceedings themselves. The chaotic ‘mudstorm’ that constitutes the judicial gathering is an odd conjunction of institutions, agendas and characters.
Pages 86.32 – 90.33 deal with evidence brought before the court by a witness, perhaps one with some medical knowledge (as Joyce himself would have had from his early career interests). A complicated tangle of evidence from the anonymous witness is presented and apparently cross-examined. The passage is threaded with questions and raises issues about the formation of judgements based on evidence from our senses –seeing, hearing, tasting and smelling i.e. about the audible-visible-gnosible-edible world – the testimony of our ‘eye, ear, nose and throat witnesses’. This relentlessly dense and multi-layered section culminates in one of the Wake’s tremendous ‘thunderwords’:
This one seems to me to be full of exasperation and barely contained invective – a frustrated outburst by someone appealing for supportive validation of their angry opinions.
The proceedings change tenor of at page 90.34, with a poetic declaration of innocence by Festy himself. The mud-encrusted ‘senior king’ is cleaned up, rendering him ‘justbeencleaned’ and, more importantly ‘barefaced’ and, through his Gaelic interpreter, swears his innocence under oath. The lyrically historic manner of this declaration results in an outbreak of laughter and hilarity from those in court, laughter in which the testifier himself is reluctantly obliged to join.
A further change of tone occurs at page 92.6, where attention is once again drawn to the poles of the gender axis through the different responses of male and female attendees. While apparently shunning Festy (an aspect of Shem) the women in court admire one of the witnesses (an aspect of Shaun) and lavish upon him their praise and support. This is conjured in frivolously florid language and eventually finds focus on one female, ‘Gentia Gemma of the Makegiddyculling Reeks’ (an aspect of Shem and Shaun’s sister Issy?).
Following the depiction of Shaun enamoured by the ‘leapyear girls’ our attention is drawn to the ‘four justicers’, incarnations of those four ‘masters’ which recur throughout the book. Here the masters take the form of judges ‘Untius, Muncius, Punchus and Pylax’. For some reason I am struck by the minor image of their wigs laid together. Over time I’ve come to imagine this, significantly, as four judges with one wig. This is a good example of the kind of addictively pleasurable occurrence that Finnegans Wake is capable of generating frequently in the mind of the reader.
The four judges reach a verdict and the trial comes to a close. The king, Peggar Festy, is controversially acquitted and let off, scot-free. He then admits his deception. Once the trial is over the notorious letter is called for. Its enigma is elevated through a brief recounting of its origins and its mythical journey. Finally, it is posed as a kind of riddle.
What is it?