Contents

Next Section

Previous Section

6.13 Immortality

The function of the letter in the Wake also confronts the fear of death, or more specifically it is a strategy of avoiding death through immortality, involving both genetic and cultural reincarnation. Taken at one extreme, individualism is abandoned in the notion that we are all divided (and diverse) reincarnations of the original family. HCE's immortality is also reflected in the maintenance of the values of the dead amongst the living via the literary letter. The requirement to believe in and to conform to traditional modes of morality (in particular, the sexual morals imposed by Christianity), and the corresponding demand for punishment of any transgressions, originates in competitive male behaviour where an HCE figure socially dominates other males, or alternatively destroys them where they will not submit. This 'all or nothing' nihilist ethos is explored in Albert Camus' The Rebel regarding modern history's nihilists, but is anticipated by Stephen's comment upon the cultural insistence upon intellectual conformity in Circe: 'With me all or not at all' (U 15.4227-28). Similarly, the social consideration of women as sexual possessions, won and retained, and the vigorous mental barrier to free love is also given as its genesis the law of a dominant herd male. The acolytes who compete for succession to the dominant male deify him following his death and are the postmen of his taboos. They in turn spawn new servants of the dead deity in a process described in Scylla and Charybdis as 'an apostolic succession' (U 9.838). Shaun the Post adequately fulfills the role of such an acolyte. Not only does he succeed HCE through violence, but both deifies him and perpetuates his inequitable social system. His admonishments to Issy to remain faithful after his death are the product of his desire to prevent the access of his competitors to females.

The dormant HCE resides in a heaven, but as discussed above that heaven is the womb/tip of the female body (see *). As document number one, HCE is described as whiling away in the feminine hole in the wall: 'whaling away the whole of the while (hypnos chilia eonion!) lethelulled between explosion and reexplosion (Donnaurwatteur! Hunderthunder!) from grosskopp to megapod, embalmed, of grand age, rich in death anticipated' (FW 78.3-6). The letter placed in the archaeological tomb with HCE in Book I.4 is HCE himself, as the leader/lover and the love letter, are consigned to the biological mound of historical debris for safekeeping: 'What subtler timeplace of the weald [...] will hide a leabhar [...] or a loveletter, lostfully hers, that would be lust on Ma, than then when ructions ended, than here where race began' (FW 80.12-16). Again, ALP's participation in the letter is involuntary, with her contribution to HCE's existence a product of desire, and it is the male artist who supplies the intellectual or textual framework of understanding. As a representative of difference, ALP's desire for the male singularity, and conversely HCE's desire to create difference, are consistent with the sexual behaviour of the polygamous herd. Like Mary, however, ALP is the 'creature of her creature':

the pixillated doodler, is on his last with illegible clergimanths boasting always of his ruddy complexious! She, the mammy far, was put up to it by him, the iniquity that ought to be depraved of his libertins to be silenced, sackclothed and suspended, and placed in irons into some drapyery institution. (FW 421.33-422.1)

Shaun describes Shem's writing as funereal, as well as a funeral, in which he is 'striking up funny funereels with Besterfarther Zeuts, the Aged One' (FW 414.35-36). This aspect of Finnegans Wake, as a celebration of death, or at least of the memory of the dead, is also stressed by Shaun in a passage which again associates Shem with the writing of the Wake itself (circling the square) and with the ark/rainbow arch that collapses with the fall of Shem/HCE: 'So perhaps, agglaggagglomeratively asaspenking, after all and arklast fore arklyst on his last public misappearance, circling the square, for the deathfête of Saint Ignaceous Poisonivy' (FW 186.10-13). Shaun's mock reverence for Shem's heretic literature of death or rebirth conversely betrays a potential for transformation into a cult of ideas and from thence into a religion in a new cycle of the Wake's history: 'Grunt unto us, I pray, your foreboden article in our own deas dockandoilish introducing the death of Nelson with coloraturas!' (FW 466.22-24). Rather than preserving the living, the letter, like the Bible, institutionalises the dead and the values of the dead in the present, particularly in the hands of its deliverer, Shaun. The message or letter Shaun delivers to all deviants from the law of the father can be summarised as 'death'. Similarly, the biological letter, when it arrives in the form of the violent HCE singularity upon judgement day, will also result in the desolation of difference and the diminution of the signifier both implicit in the process of establishing the domination of an undisputed signified. The plurality of Finnegans urged to awake in the title Finnegans Wake, however, provides an indication that the peace that Joyce writes about is conversely sourced in diversity.