Finnegans Wake pages 50 – 60
We are in the third section of Finnegans Wake, ‘Book’ I ‘chapter’ 3 (pp. 48 – 74), variously referred to by authorities on the text as ‘The Humphriad II’, ‘Gossip’ and ‘HCE’s Trial and incarceration’. The chapter begins with commentary on the remarkable effects of Frosty Hosty’s ran, the ‘Ballad of Persse O’Reilley’ and a caution about the difficulties that confront those who seek to uncover the precise details of history. There follows an account of HCE’s ‘persecution’ as filmed, televised and broadcast from his own perspective. It all happened a long time ago, so it’s difficult to separate fact from rumour. What is clear to our narrator is that there was a convoluted legal trial of some kind, or several trials through different periods, during which false witnesses, apparently, gave garbled evidence in front of four judges (the Four Old Men).
Pages 48 – 58 inform us that, in the present setting of Chapter III, various versions of HCE’s encounter with the Cad are still in circulation and that the still scandal persists, despite the fact that the gossipmongers and slanderous balladeers have come to ill-fated ends and the evidence and witnesses have degraded over time.
As usual in the Wake settings are apt to shift, overlay each other or suddenly become very ambiguous. This chapter is no exception, but I think it is useful to hold on to the idea of the play within a play; a theatre set on which a courtroom drama is staged, featuring flashbacks to other locations; or, perhaps a courtroom in which the image or model of a theatre is used to propose various scenarios. Always, present, of course, is the outer setting (the meta set?) of Porter’s bedroom above his pub in Chapelizod.
Characters who emerged as gossipers in Chapter II over pages 35 – 44 are hard to outline as distinct personages. According to Campbell and Robinson, in Chapter III they seem to want to merge into the strangely dual entity Mr. Browne/Mr. Nolan. He in turn appears to posses some characteristics of HCE himself, who is also undergoing transformation.
‘ – of all of whose I in my hereinafter of course by recourse demission me – by the coincidence of their contraries reamalgamerge in that identity of undiscernibles…’ (FW p. 50.34 – 51.1)
‘It is nebuless an autodidact fact of the commonest that the shape of the average human cloudyphiz, whereas sallow has long daze faded, frequently altered its ego with possessing of the showers(Not original!). (FW p.50.35 – 51.3)
Throughout the rest of the Wake the reader must expect more of these disorientating shifts in scene and character and learn to embrace uncertainty. Elaboration and rumour have obscured any evidential facts; narratives have been mixed, characters have been amalgamated and confused, places and times jumbled. Any details concerning HCE’s original encounter with the Cad we may once have been sure about are no longer reliable. All is open to question.
Like many other sections of the Wake the text here is threaded through with references to Nordic, Middle Eastern and oriental cultures, amongst others, often in a caricatured or pantomimic vein, along with passages of pidgin English which are evocative of colonial Pacific or Australasian domains.
Visualising pages 50 – 60, using the drawing-reading method, produced dense passages of rapid pictorial notation and a renewed realisation of the impossibility of coherently registering all the mental impressions evoked by the text at the point of reading. What I find happening more frequently as I work through the Wake page by page, is a tendency to identify patterns of significant emergent forms which are subsequently reinforced as key visual components of each passage, reinforcing particular visual readings. For example
‘… (but at this poignt though the iron thrust of his cockspurt start might have prepared us we are well-nigh stinkpotthered by the mustardpunge in the tailend) this outstanding brown candlestock melt Nolan’s into the peese!’ (FW p.50.2 – 5)
generates a form capable of initially invoking the phallic and the cloacal, goaded by ‘ Pravities’ and ‘sourface’ (later refracted in ‘…that eupeptic viceflayer, a barefaced Carmelite..’) as well as something sudden and combative, linking the shot and shat, the spur and spurt, of the Buckley and Russian General incident which is present throughout much of the Wake. This suggestive morphology seems to be validated a little further by ‘…executing with Anny Oakley deadliness…’ and later with ‘…(fire firstshot, Missiers the Refuseleers! Peingpeong)’ (to more strongly suggest erect penis, candle, turd, rifle; one of many generative and interlinking associative patterns of form on the pages under consideration (FW pp.52.1 and 58.23-24).
Finally in this post I’d to express what an enjoyable Bloomsday week I had in Dublin in the convivial company of many fellow Joyceans. Much fun and many interesting and delightful conversations were had. Highlights for me, aside from the great weather, included a wonderful tour around Howth and a very informative visit to Glasneavin Cemetry with comic artist Robert Berry (‘Ulysses Seen’), his wife Marcella Maguire, hosted by Pat and Tressa and their very knowledgeable friends.
I also had the opportunity to present and discuss my process of illustrating the Wake at my exhibition at the Darc Space Gallery and to see a performance of segments from the textperformed by the Boston’s HCE Players in front of the work. It was a rare chance for me to get together with other non-literary interpreters of the book. I also had the good fortune to join celebrants at the launch of Robert Berry’s beautiful new illustrated edition of ‘The Dead’ by the Stoney Road Press, at The Little Museum of Dublin. Esteemed scholar Terence Killeen graciously and enthusiastically introduced the book, a great encouragement to anyone interested in the visual adaptation of Joyce’s works. I thought the book launch and exhibition of Robert’s artwork was an excellent complementary event to the discussion of Dubliners between Will Self and John Banville, nicely led by Carlo Gebler; and also to Declan Gorman’s thought-provoking performance of his Dubliners Dilemma, both held at the James Joyce Centre.
So many thanks to all the Dubliners (both native and transient) I met during the Bloomsday Festival; to Mark Traynor and staff at the James Joyce Centre, Robbert, Marcella, Pat, Tressa, to the HCE Players and especially to Maggie Moran and Denis Byrne at Darc Space for their great Dublin hospitality.