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7.10 Black and White vs. Colour

Whether Shem's artistic efforts lead to peace in Joyce's model of civilisation is questionable, particularly given the predicted return of the 'dominant'. Moreover, while Shem avoids violence, his writing is both an attempt to dominate and a form of retaliation. A work of art unable to reproduce life in a biological sense, it is an act of revenge against the biological and cultural reproduction of HCE. In its reversal of ancient sexual strictures through free love and the use of contraception, it nonetheless takes the form of a textual stricture against biological reproduction in an attempt to halt the biological reproduction of HCE. Just as the Church eradicated sexuality in its myth of the immaculate conception and the life of Christ, Shem's prevention of HCE's biological return is sourced in his own exclusion from sexual access to females. While Shaun wins the Colours contest for Issy's favour and consequently becomes HCE's biological postman, Shem sublimates his competitive tendencies and from a position of escape or banishment produces the cultural 'word' of the next Wakean age. As Henriette Lazaridis Power points out in a different context, Shem's writing is just as much an attack upon HCE's prowess as is Buckley's shooting of the Russian General, or in this instance the hinndoo seeboy's bombing of Willingdone:

Shem answers his failure to provide an answer to the riddle of color with an act of revenge: he writes. In his anger, 'He do big squeal' and will 'set it up all writhefully rate in blotch and void' (FW 228.6, 229.27). Like his attempt at interpretation, Shem's self-expression participates in the male discourse of 'unlawful appropriation'. His reading has been an unsuccessful exercise in determination - in fixing the elusive text of the flower girls with his authoritative meta-language. [...] His big 'squeal' is a meta-language of aggressive retaliation. Nevertheless, though he may intend to state the case against the vagueness of heliotrope in the apparent clarity of black and white, Shem ends up writing in 'blotch and void,' 'reading off his fleshskin and writing with his quillbone' (FW 229.30). In other words, whether he likes it or not, Shem resorts to the voyeuristic reading-writing of a hidden seeboy.17

Undermining the patriarchy in a nihilistic gesture born of a repressed desire to dominate and possess, the writer generates a 'blotch and void' art which in the process of undermining reality, transforms it. Shem as St Patrick in Book IV, however, describes a tripartite deity in terms of a triple rainbow rather than either 'blotch and void' or the 'green' of Balkelly. Instead he accuses the rainbow-attired Balkelly of being a 'blackinwhitepaddynger' (FW 612.18). Rather, Balkelly's green echoes the green of St Patrick's shamrock, the green of nationalist Ireland, integral to the symbolism associated with the Irish identity. With mystical vision, Balkelly sees green underlying the colour spectrum and this green of Ireland is one level identified as HCE: 'Hump cumps Ebblybally! Sukkot?' (FW 612.15). The Patrick of the Wake, however, perceives the triple rainbow rather than a green shamrock as a 'sound sense sympol' of the trinity: 'the firethere the sun in his halo cast. Onmen' (FW 612.29-30). On one level the arguments represent opposite sides of the same coin: the sage arguing in effect that the deity underlies the colours of the rainbow, while the saint suggests instead that the rainbow symbolically emanates from the deity. The contention between them also reflects the different perspectives of the deity contained the Old and New Testaments, namely the difference between monotheism and the disguised polytheism of the trinity. This equates to a duality in a perception of HCE, between his identity as a deified singularity and alternately as the rainbow-associated biological infinity of humanity which follows the fall (HCE as an equivalent to the trinity is also discussed below, *).

While writing Finnegans Wake it could be said that Joyce had entered the 'Kingdom' he had promised Nora, having fame and, with Harriet Shaw Weaver's long-suffering patronage, financial security. Joyce had himself become a Shem/HCE figure. In Finnegans Wake the challenge to Western culture is no longer the either/or confrontation such as that expressed by Stephen in Circe, 'Let my country die for me' (U 15.4473), but rather a holistic comprehension of social evolution in which the contrary positions occupied by Shem and Shaun are each perceived as essential to the existence of the other. The dialectic between Shem and Shaun is itself its own synthesis, a symbiotic arrangement obvious to neither side, and their conflict a mirage disguising an underlying harmony. It would be absurd to characterise Shaun as 'evil' and Shem as 'good'. In balance Finnegans Wake accepts both 'evil along with good, devils with angels, without suggesting, in the cyclic flow of his verbal cosmos, any desirable subordination of one to the other'.18 Rather, in the cycles of Wake, there is masculine competition (violent or sublimated non-violent) for access to females, the outcome of which is a cyclically recurring genetic and cultural synthesis dubbed HCE. Thus cultural assessments of ethics are relative over time, for to the degree that society holds Shem undesirable, the future vindicates him. The dissemination and enforcement of the reality created by the Shem/HCE figure is necessarily undertaken by the destroyer/acolyte Shaun, who is the darling of Wakean society. Nevertheless, in positing a free love that is untied from socio-economic values or strictures, the suspended conclusion to the Wake undermines the dialectic between the twins by eradicating the source of their conflict. By freeing the female from textual and sexual subordination to the demands of the reproduction of the deity (and thus from the principles of herd selection) difference is promoted which is untied from masculine conflict.

17 Henriette Lazaridis Power, 'Shahrazade, Turko the Terrible, and Shem', in Coping With Joyce: Essays from the Copenhagen Symposium, ed. by Morris Beja & Shari Benstock (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1989), pp. 248-61 (p. 258).

18 Robert Boyle, 'The Artist as Balzacian Wilde Ass', in A Conceptual Guide to Finnegans Wake, ed. by Michael H. Begnal and Fritz Senn (University Park: Pennsylvania University Press, 1974), pp. 71-82 (p. 76).