Guest Blog: Illuminating the WAKE with Clinton Cahill: Part 11

FW p. 18 ‘(Stoop) if you are abced minded’ sketchbook (detail)
FW p.18 ‘(Stoop) if you are abced minded’ sketchbook (detail)


(Stoop) if you are abcminded, to this clayboook, what curios of signs (please stoop), in this allaphabed! (FW 18.17)


As mentioned in my last post, our eavesdropping on the strange figures of Mutt and Jute takes us into an image of fallen humanity scratching away at the layered fragments and sediments of language from a previous age.  Over the next few pages (FW 18.17 – 21.4), and before the fabulous tale of Jarl van Hoother the Prankquean, more is told of Irish history, of St. Patrick banishing the snakes and the history of writing is itself.  A strong sense persists of the archaeologically prehistoric, of simultaneously reading and being enmeshed amongst traces of the deep past.  But there are also portents of future about to unfold; this is a post-apocalyptic scenario familiar to popular entertainment and genre fiction.  I’m reminded of Walter M. Miller’s ‘A Canticle for Leibewitz’ (1960).


FW p. 18. FW p. 18 Sketchbook page
FW p.18 Sketchbook page


By now we should be getting used to the reverberations, foliations and digressions of the Wake, and getting a sense of it’s structured indirection.  This is overtly and self-referentially flagged in ‘meandertale’ (FW 18.22) and ‘meanderthalltale’ (FW 19.25) i.e. Neanderthal (an afterimage of Jute and indicator of our evolutionary and theological state) as well as ‘meandering tale’, fore-echo of ‘tails’ (FW 18.28) and ‘meandering tall tale’.  Also, a little further on, ‘Cromagnom charter’, suggesting Cro-Magnon Man and Magna Carta, conflating early, pre-writing man with historically pivotal text. The tallness of the tale corresponds here to its exaggeration and convolution, and to the ‘gyant’, ‘Head-in-Clouds’ (HCE) who walked the earth in the old ‘Heidenburgh’ days  (FW 18.11 and 23). the strongest resonances of ‘Heidenburgh’, for me, are with the Hindenburg airship disaster  – another catastrophic fall involving an inflated and volatile giant – and the Heidelberg press in the history of print, ‘Gutenmorg’, which evokes ‘Guttenberg’, appears a little later (FW 20.7).


FW p. 18 ‘Head-in-Clouds walked the earth’ ink drawing (detail)
FW p.18 ‘Head-in-Clouds walked the earth’ ink drawing (detail)


FW p. 19 Annotated sketchbook pages
FW p.19 Annotated sketchbook pages


FW p.19 ‘olives, beets, kimmels, dollies’, sketchbook page (detail)
FW p.19 ‘olives, beets, kimmels, dollies’, sketchbook page (detail)


These pages are shot through with references to the graphic inscription of language through the ages and the forms in which the verbal stuff of history is materialised. The threading together of ‘claybook’ (FW 18.17), evoking early cuniform type and the reading of the earth by the (stooping) abced minded (the literate, absent-mind, unconscious or the dead) and the furrowed impressions on the earth made by yoked oxen – an image which is both intimately tied to the history of illustrative engraving and to the uncovering of buried artefacts, is particularly effective.

FW p.20 Annotated sketchbook pages
FW p.20 Annotated sketchbook pages


FW p.20 ‘the lasyt milchamel’ sketchbook page (detail)
FW p.20 ‘the lasyt milchamel’ sketchbook page (detail)


Note the beautifully witty typographic play ‘Face to Face’ in the last line of p.18; how it reinforces the notion of the figurines discovered in the previous lines and the sleeping (possibly amorous) positions of HCE and ALP vaguely intimated by Mutt ‘The gyant Forficules with Amni the fay’ (FW 18.11).  It also made me think of the relative positions the twins, Shem and Shaun,may have taken in the womb (‘peteet peas’ in a pod) and their opposition in life.

The section of under consideration here ends as it began, focusing down from the broader background of Wakean elaboration and complexity through an entreaty to look closer at something small and particular ‘So weenybeeny veenyteeny’ and to ‘Lissom! Lissom!’ to the tale ‘of a night, late, lang time agone…’ ( FW 21.1 – 2).