Though last month I mentioned that in this post I would look at HCE’s encounter with ‘the Cad’, I’ve decided to forego that pleasure for the moment and dwell for a while on pages 33 and 34, which concern HCE’s indiscretion and early rumours that challenge his reputation. We’ll deal with ‘the Cad’ next time.
Following Earwicker’s naming and favouring by king William, and his subsequent nicknaming (with the universalizing moniker ‘Here Comes Everybody’) by the populous, (FW p. 30 – 33) his newly acquired social standing and empowerment is challenged. This happens to ‘good Dook Umphrey’ publicly, as a matter of performance, in concentric theatrical spheres. The play set, cast assembled and audience settling. As ever in the Wake the sequence of events is uncertain but downfall seems to begin in two ways – firstly from within, through a kind pause in HCE’s ascendancy – as if at the top of his arc, overreached, perhaps, jaded or exhausted. Secondly by hints then rumoured revelations of a sordid indiscretion in Phoenix Park.
We are enjoying ‘Mr.Wallenstein Washington Semperkelly’s immergreen tourers’ triumphant command performance of ‘A Royal Divorce’ (FW.p.32.29 – 30), a universal farce on the ‘Worldstage’. The ‘practical jokepeice’ is both the show and its central character. I’m intrigued by various theatrical scene-shifts that occur across these few pages. By the latter part of p.33 we have moved from the chaotically pantomimic assembly in the ‘King’s Treat House’ to the architecture and fittings of a theatre proper. These are overlaid with those of the bedroom (perhaps the theatre of dreams in which the whole book occurs) but also suggesting the stage set of a bedroom farce. As review of the performance continues or even spills beyond the limits of the stage, the set transforms, the backdrop changes to evoke an oriental city, marketplace and place of execution. For me it recalls early cinematic treatments of the Arabian Nights. From this Orientalists vision we are deftly transported by further change of backdrop to a Boucheresque pastoral idyll – site of the suggested indiscretion.
This ‘worldstage’, through the word ‘house’ (FW p. 33.5) may also be a legislative gathering, HCE’s family or tribe, the Porter household in general, its bedroom in particular, and a pub. Amidst the antics of the farce we are given a melancholic image of HCE as some kind of retired, and tired Celtic comedian alone in this, his ‘house’ Here there is a change in mood – the sudden quiet of the dressing room, the sad introversion of the depleted comedian.
FW p. 33.30 – 34.1 conjures a terrific, Robert Crumb like comic image of a figure ‘stambuling around Dumbaling in ‘leaky sneakers’, an inverted fore-echo of the sneaky leakers which will be revealed as a subject and source of the stream of rumours to come. This also continues Oriental references, ‘stambuling’ being stumbling but containing ‘(I)stambul’ to the Dublin of ‘Dumbaling’, reinforced by ‘taark’ (Turk),‘Abdullah Gomallxaarsky’ and ‘alicubi’ amongst others.
This sense of theatrical spectacle under the appreciative or critical gaze of the audience becomes overlaid with more insidious forms of looking. Whatever occurs now feels subject to civic and religious scopic regimes, moral surveillance by the ‘watch warriors of the vigilance committee’ and eventually a complex of sinful looking and voyeurism, presaged by fears of being found out, of dire punishment. ‘Gob scene you in the narked place’ a phrase that usefully show the intersection of different strands of reference at play;
‘Gob’ – gossip, spit (contempt shown toward HCE the perpetual outsider)
‘Scene’ – theatrical/cinematic setting, seen
‘Gob scene’ – God seen you, obscene
‘narked’ – naked (exposed), nark (informer, betrayer), market place
In the stagey orientalist market place setting – ‘…tropped head (pfiat! Pfiat!)’ – fruit (frood) being chopped but also a vision of summary execution for the unnamed indiscretion – ‘chopp pah’ (FW p.34. 6 – 8). Insinuations, accusations and slander regarding some impropriety begin to develop and HCE’s credibility is undermined because he is of Germanic rather than Celtic stock – an outsider, not to be trusted – a ‘Blondy Liar’. Rebuttal of these accusations in defence of Earwicker’s character, even those contributed by the ‘pious author’ only serve to fuel and elaborate the rumours, ‘pious author’, along with ‘leaky sneakers’ rendering the presence of Joyce himself here even more proximate than usual.
As always I welcome responses to my project. Look out for my post in March, when I will be visualising HCE’s encounter with ‘the Cad’.