6.12 The Masculine Deity as Content of Letter
Joyce's interest in origins does not form part of an outright refutation of the deity, but rather provides a broader perception of the masculine spirit which includes references to the deities of numerous religions (see above,*), and his interest in the heretic in Ulysses is used to provide a precedence for his own alternative interpretation. The reality of the deity lingers omnipresent and omnipotent in the cultural fabric of Joyce's Ireland, and thus Stephen in the Scylla and Charybdis chapter of Ulysses needs to pray for scepticism rather than faith, 'I believe, O Lord, help my unbelief' (U 9.1078). Shem's intellectual understanding of the deity and the hold that religion exercises over the conscience, comprehends religion as the lingering social impact of a primal family romance. Writing the letter, Shem nonetheless has noon terrors of the phantom he perceives in what Stephen described as the 'ineluctable modality of the visible' (U 3.1):
Tumult, son of Thunder, self exiled in upon his ego, a nightlong a shaking betwixtween white or reddr hawrors, noondayterrorised to skin and bone by an ineluctable phantom (may the Shaper have mercery on him!) writing the mystery of himsel in furniture. (FW 184.6-10)
In the Scylla and Charybdis chapter of Ulysses, Stephen bases much of his theory of Shakespeare's plays upon a psychological/metaphysical understanding of the permutations of Shakespeare's sexual and family life, and he extends the implications of his theory to include the deity's creativity. In Finnegans Wake, in a reversal of this method, Joyce teleologically invents a sexual and family history of the deity based upon a synthetic understanding of the world's histories, languages and religions.
As the Wakean cycles progress through the 'annadominant' period the doubtful Shem shares Bertrand Russell's reservation concerning the veracity of any religion when so many mutually exclusive religions are in existence:29 'Theo Dunnohoo's warning from Daddy O'Dowd. Whoo?' (FW 439.19-20). James S. Atherton alternately suggests that 'What he seems to have been attempting was some kind of blend of all religions - whether as equally true or untrue is not so certain, but I incline to the belief that the former was his view',30 a perspective which, given that they each deny the others, nonetheless cancels out them all. The Wake builds a picture of an ancestor based upon all religions, and the differences consequent to the fragmentation of HCE's picture contribute to his diminished cultural potency. With the diffusing of the textual signified, however, the desire for the phallocentric logos reasserts itself. The feminine signifier desiring the phallic signified is implicit in ALP's desire for HCE's resurrection and her willingness to submit to his authority:
For the putty affair I have is wore out, so it is, sitting, yaping and waiting for my old Dane hodder dodderer, my life in death companion, my frugal key of our larder, my much-altered camel's hump, my jointspoiler, my maymoon's honey, my fool to the last Decemberer, to wake himself out of his winter's doze and bore me down like he used to. (FW 201.7-12)
Accordingly the final letter signed by ALP is, as McCarthy notes, 'addressed to God or at least to a divinely appointed king'.31
Regarding Shem's writing, Shaun points out that every 'dimmed letter in it is a copy and not a few of the silbils and wholly words I can show you in my Kingdom of Heaven' (FW 424.32-34). Throughout the Wake, Shaun describes Shem's vision as a fake, an imitation and as stolen, and as the Gracehoper, Shem is 'Flunkey Footle furloughed foul, writing off his phoney' (FW 418.2-3). Moreover, the writer of the new letter, for refusing to participate in the old order, or 'failing to furrow theogonies of the dommed' (FW 353.1), is judged like the Gripes as 'wrong; for that is always how a Gripes is, always was and always will be' (FW 159.1-2). Joyce ironises the concept of the male deity and associated religions by rewriting them, much as he rewrote the Odyssey and the New Testament in Ulysses, into a meta-mythic preoccupation with a single masculine forebear, a fascination which pervades all laws and mores, sexual and ethical, forbidding the use of contraception to maximise the chance of his genetic resurrection. The symbiotic relationship between the Judeo-Christian deity and the specific sacred texts which perpetuate it is also mirrored by Joyce in the reciprocity of the letter and sexual reproduction. In the Wake, the literary record or myth of HCE is necessary to validate biological reproduction of HCE: there can be no second coming without the scripture which identifies.
In Finnegans Wake the persistence of the myths of a male deity suggests an underlying cultural or archaeological origin and this is depicted as a fragmented picture. The plurality of HCE characters represent the dominant male of all religions, all myths, and on the one hand its riotous celebration of difference paradoxically unites them in a blur of HCE, and on the other diffuses them to the point of invisibility. There are so many positivist accounts of HCE that he is transformed into an image lingering beneath the plethora of suggestive fragments which compose Finnegans Wake. As a cultural phenomenon, the Wake's picture, or document number one, contains the ambiguous, nameless HCE within the materiality of ALP, that is, until the literary letter and letter of sexual reproduction releases HCE once again.
29 Sceptical Essays (1935; London: Unwin Books, 1961), p. 102
30 The Books at the Wake: A Study of Literary Allusions in James Joyces's Finnegans Wake (London: Faber and Faber, 1959), p. 211.
31 McCarthy, 'The Last Epistle of Finnegans Wake', p. 720.