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6.8 Female Sexuality/Textuality

If Shaun is himself the letter he posts, Issy, as 'Nuvoletta' (FW 157.8), is similarly a biological version of the letter. Both male and female are required for the discovery of the historical letter and the production of the genetic letter. Talia Schaffer notes that 'both Kevin and Biddy are necessary to make the letter emerge from the dump; but Biddy does the material, physical labor, while Kevin produces the intellectual recognition of the letter's significance'.11 The 'labor' referred to should also allude to the death-defying labour of birth, although the Wake does not explicitly portray childbirth with the exception of the symbolic journey of Shaun the Post. ALP is portrayed as the river of life, and her role as such is comprehended quite graphically in the sexual congress in Book III.4, but Finnegans Wake is removed from the true miracle of birth, or perhaps excluded, as most men were of Joyce's generation. The miracle of female creativity, in particular the agony of childbirth, disappears with the silence of the female resulting from the dominant textual mythology of the male. Schaffer points out that while the wielder of the pen is Shem, the female is the 'allaphbed, the letter - but also the alluvial riverbed, the body of ALP - the marital bed', and Issy is similarly characterised in sexual-alphabetic terms as 'Typette, my tactile O' (FW 478.27).12 Characteristic of the cycles of masculine return, the miracle of life in the Wake is constrained to that aspect of reproduction in which the male participates, namely sexual union.

Joyce does not provide his historical cycles with female intelligentsia, and the destiny of the female would appear eternally constrained to that of signifier. Both Suzette Henke and Shari Benstock suggest that text and female desire in Finnegans Wake are inextricably linked:

It is clear from the body of this epistolary teaser that sex and text are one: ALP has inscribed a feminine fiction into the fragmented rhetoric of her letter, and it is only by examining the text's deltoid holes that one begins to penetrate the mystery of female sexual/textual desire. As Shari Benstock notes, the 'letter/dream of desire starts and ends in the woman's body - in the River Liffey - the keys to which are given by Anna Livia through her 'Lps.' located at the mouth of the river, in the labia of the vaginal canal.13

Yet in Book IV, ALP signs the final letter herself, as Shem/HCE becomes redundant following his use of contraception in Book III.4. McCarthy notes that the discoverer of the final letter, the 'original hen', in Book IV metamorphoses into the 'coerogenal hun', and suggests that the chicken has switched sexes, changing from a hen to a Hahn, which is German for rooster.14 If at the beginning of time, the male creator is 'wife unto himself', at the end of time, the female is correspondingly without a male partner. This expression of the 'annadominant' may be short-lived, given that ALP drifts away to her death to be submerged in an ocean of masculine terror, and that ALP desires to be subordinated to the masculine deity. She states that she would gladly exchange her newly discovered voice for the silence of HCE's tomb, the 'dumbness' imposed upon the Prankquean: 'I whisht I wast be that dumb tyke and he'd wish it was me yonther heel' (FW 617.31-32). It is perhaps female desire for the male at the end of time which restarts the cycle of the Wake, just as masculine desire results in the biological second coming. Her final word 'the', as Suzette Henke points out, is akin to the French thé meaning 'tea'.15 Tea is consistently used as a motif of marriage and sexual union in the Wake, and in this respect the final word is reminiscent of Molly's final affirmation of sexual reproduction in Ulysses. Moreover, ALP's consciousness overtly associates herself, like Molly's faith in the Christian deity in the Penelope chapter of Ulysses, with an infinite and omnipotent masculine deity.

While Joyce implies the deity may never rise, the women of the Wake are portrayed as consistently focused upon male power, and Raynaud considers that the letters of Finnegans Wake are inescapably centred upon the male:

Ultimately, the letters are a product of male desires, fears, and guilts: the writing master Shem/Jerry makes Issy write them: 'he would pen for her, he would pine for her' (FW 301.11-12) (pine is slang for penis in French). Bypassing her, or rather through her, since woman is man's mirror, the penman writes letters to himself emulating Swift and his correspondence with Stella.16

As alphabet, and womb, the female is used as the medium of creation by the male creator, and Raynaud goes on to suggest that the cultural process of teaching letter writing to women serves only to allow men to recreate themselves: 'man's enterprise to teach woman how to write his desire is also an acknowledgment of her exile from language'.17 In the Wake, the female is alienated from her own creativity, her consciousness reflecting the masculine values of social domination and is geared toward reproducing HCE figures. Mirroring a traditional feature of many cultures, the Wakean religion of HCE's second coming is also the source of ALP's desire for male children, and to this effect he 'cleared out three hundred sixty five idles to set up one all khalassal for henwives hoping to have males' (FW 128.31-33).

Sexual access is affected by textual or ideological belief. Accordingly, the younger Shem, his access to females determined by having the 'correct' answer, does not provide the answer 'heliotrope' in the Colours game of Book II.1. Shem's position is a development of Stephen's confusion in A Portrait where he is enticed by female sexuality, yet warned off by his religion. Shem realises that the issues of sexuality and textuality are interconnected and, in the absence of free love, by rejecting the deity he consequently rejects sexual reproduction. The bifurcation between masculine and feminine roles in the reproduction of culture in the Wake is also apparent in Ulysses. The reality of childbirth as portrayed in the Oxen of the Sun chapter of Ulysses is separate from and largely ignored by the riotous male history-oriented consciousness, with the exception of the 'effeminate' Bloom.18 The stylistic device of paralleling the childbirth with the development of literature in culture, portraying a ritual meal intended as an equivalent to the Last Supper, anticipates the female/male dichotomy of the sexual/textual letter in the Wake. Despite Bloom's protests and thoughts of his dead son Rudy, the extreme agony of the childbirth is perceived by the male participants as a less important counterpart to the intensely joyful, intellectual nature of non-biological masculine creativity. Their heavy drinking and repeated disregard for calls for quiet suggest a blissful haze of unconsciousness or unconcern regarding women in the development of patriarchal Western civilisation, the latter represented as a historical procession of literary styles. It is doubtless with irony that Stephen is depicted as elevating the artist's creativity above that of female reproduction, and similarly his statements concerning the spirituality of paternal succession as opposed to the materiality of maternal succession. Sexual reproduction is thus subordinated to the cultural process of the patriarchal logos reproducing itself, the recognition of which causes Shem/HCE to reject his own biological reproduction and thus prevent the re-emergence of such a forebear through the use of contraception. If Shaun is the postman of an all-pervasive HCE, Shem halts the latter by both reworking difference into the major cultural documents underpinning Western society, and overturning ancient tribal religious laws concerning reproduction. Paradoxically, however, his subversion of the biological with the textual provides a cultural basis for a new historical (and biologically-based) cycle of HCE: the letter.

11 Talia Schaffer, 'Letters to Biddy: About that Original Hen', James Joyce Quarterly, 29 (1992), 623-42 (p. 626).

12 Schaffer, 'Letters to Biddy: About that Original Hen', pp. 625-27.

13 Shari Benstock, 'Night Letters: Woman's Writing in the Wake', in Critical Essays on James Joyce, ed. Bernard Benstock, pp. 229-30, quoted in Henke, James Joyce, and the Politics of Desire (New York and London: Routledge, 1990), p. 188.

14 McCarthy, 'The Last Epistle of Finnegans Wake', p. 730.

15 Henke, James Joyce, and the Politics of Desire, p. 203-4.

16 Raynaud, 'Woman the Letter Writer' p. 315.

17 Raynaud, 'Woman the Letter Writer', p. 315.

18 Bloom's effeminacy has been discussed elsewhere extensively; for instance: Michael Zimmerman, 'Leopold Paula Bloom: the New Womanly Man', Literature and Psychology, 29 (1979), 176-84; R. Barries Walkley 'The Bloom of Motherhood: Couvade as a Structural Device in Ulysses', James Joyce Quarterly, 18 (1980), 55-67; Marilyn French, The Book as World: James Joyce's Ulysses (London: Abacus, 1982), p. 275; and, Joseph Allen Boone, 'A New Approach to Bloom as ''Womanly Man'': The Mixed Middling's Progress in Ulysses', James Joyce Quarterly, 20 (1982), 67-85.