The next ‘episode’ in our journey through Finnegans Wake concerns a darkly comic exchange between two blurry personages Mutt and Jute (FW.15.29 – 18.24). These particular incarnations of the ever-conflicting Shem and Shaun elements encounter each other in a post catastrophic landscape; the brick dust and humus of civilization in which fragments of past life can be read like runes and over which a future city can be imagined – ‘where wilby citie’.
Mutt seems to arise out of the narrator who has conducted on us our way so far. He gives what I imagine is a behind-the-hand theatrical aside describing to us the bizarre figure that appears before him out of the apocalyptic gloom. Conscious of their mutual strangeness, Mutt imagines that he appears to the other as some kind of ‘dragon man’ (15.34). For me this phrase initially conjured up an image of Blake’s illustration to his Ghost of a Flea (c.1819) as I connected it with to…
…a not uncommon experience with Wake text. I see the Mutt and Jute encounter as modern metropolitan meets Neanderthal man, tourist meeting indigene, time traveller meeting ancestor, with all the opportunities for misunderstanding and revelation that can ensue. The dialogue commences with Jute’s exclamation “Yutah!” – an animal howl or cowboy yodel. An attempt at uttering ‘utter’ or ‘Jute’ and sparking several chains of association – The Wild West (Utah), things having catastrophically ‘gone west’. This being later with ‘Bisons is bisons’ and ‘grilsy growlsey’ (16.29 – 35) for example.
Mutt and Jute’s dialogue is particularly rich with ideas about and references to hearing and vision, speaking and seeing, showing and telling. It provides a hilarious a depiction of the universal struggle involved in the act of communicating – what it is like to try to speak and hear, to derive meaning from the language of the ‘other’. Whether a consequence of the stupor-inducing shock of the thunderous fall, or the effort of rediscovering language, Joyce ‘thickens’ the gap between the two speakers to the point where it is tangible to the reader, almost a feeling in the mouth. It is reminiscent of trying to hold a meaningful conversation in a rowdy pub, perhaps after too many drinks, and makes us hyperconscious of how we hear, see and mouth words. Above all, the particular attention brought to bear on the difficulty of speaking and listening and the slipperiness of words (spoken, seen and heard) is empathetic to the experience of the reader negotiating and attempting to reconcile both the appearance and the sound of ‘Wakese’.
I made a number of notational studies of this ‘conversation’ between Mutt and Jute, trying to record both the visual rhythm and arrangement of their exchange as I imagined it during the reading process. As usual with the dense layering of the Wake, things shift and refocus with each reading/drawing, bringing different aspects to prominence and revealing fresh nuances latent in the text. There are layers to do with pubs and alcohol for instance (‘alebrill’, ‘porterfull’ ‘Aput the buttle…’, ‘The Inns of Dungtarf’, ‘Ghinees hies good for you.’ etc.) or that suggest different cities, including Dublin ( ‘ramping riots of pourios’, Paris, ‘dabblin’, Brian d’ of Linn’, dun blink’, ‘rutterdamrotter, ‘babylone’ and ‘riverpool’ among others). A more abject associative thread can be read through sewers, dung, puddles, bits of skin, bones, liver, dumping, rubbish and stench – all kinds of unsavoury excess.
The end of the Mutt –Jute dialogue leads into what I think is a profound image imbued with a sense of ‘us’ (the reader, humanity, the survivors of the fall) scratching away at accumulated strata of written language – a rich, fundamental humus beneath our transient cultural structures and their everyday manifestations; a sense of grubbing around doing the best we can with fragments left to us but also dreaming of the marvels to come.
‘Let us swop hats and excheck afew strong verbs…’