8.4 Language as a Container
Jules David Law comments upon the seamless blend of the mythic and the ordinary in the text of Ulysses, which pre-empts 'the question of whether we read literature for historical or for contemporary ("relevant") experiences, precisely by demonstrating the inevitable structural presence of history and myth in everyday life'.8 Likewise in the Wake, mythology and history across time are compressed into the handful of characters of its family romance and similarly informs both the genetic and literary present: 'we are recurrently meeting em, par Mahun Mesme, in cycloannalism, from space to space, time after time, in various phases of scripture as in various poses of sepulture' (FW 254.25-28). Consistently, Shaun informs the reader that despite the assertion that 'The proteiform graph itself is a polyhedron of scripture' (FW 107.8), the differences of the Wake nevertheless reveal a unity, namely the picture of HCE:
Closer inspection of the bordereau would reveal a multiplicity of personalities inflicted on the documents or document and some prevision of virtual crime or crimes might be made by anyone unwary enough before any suitable occasion for it or them had so far managed to happen along. In fact, under the closed eyes of the inspectors the traits featuring the chiaroscuro coalesce, their contrarieties eliminated, in one stable somebody similarly as by the providential warring of heartshaker with housebreaker and of dramdrinker against freethinker our social something bowls along bumpily, experiencing a jolting series of prearranged disappointments, down the long lane of (it's as semper as oxhousehumper!) generations, more generations and still more generations. (FW 107.23-35)
From Shaun's perspective, the perception of multiplicity and the innumerable differences resulting from creativity give way to the vision of the 'one stable somebody' of the past. As discussed in the previous chapter, the longer view of time can supplant the sense of criminality with one of epoch (*), and consequently the historical crimes envisioned and previsioned in a 'closer inspection' of the letter above vanish before the 'closed eyes' inspection of the Four Historians.
Conversely, the language of the Wake is also susceptible of being perceived only in terms of its innumerable permutations, rather than as a privileging of the perception of the patriarchal HCE logos (or other particular reading). To facilitate the simulation of the compression of space and time in language, the hypothetical 'ideal reader' would need to appreciate all possible alternatives concurrently, to comprehend its differences and its oneness simultaneously and without dispensing with difference in the appreciation of unity nor missing that unity due to an overwhelming appreciation of its textual detail. This is not dissimilar to Derrida's assertion that to privilege the signifier over the signified renders it meaningless: 'The "primacy" or "priority" of the signifier would be an expression untenable and absurd to formulate illogically within the very logic that it would legitimately destroy'.9 Derrida's observation concerning the interdependency of such opposites is certainly pertinent to a reading of the text of Finnegans Wake where the signified can easily vanish amid an apparent anarchy of signifiers.
Shaun also balances his male-oriented perception of a 'one stable somebody' with a caution about dispensing with an appreciation of the 'enveloping facts' (FW 109.14) of the letter. He suggests that the reader's understanding of the deified oneness of HCE should not be at the expense of an appreciation of the feminine signifier, and the feminine is again couched in narrow terms of sexuality: 'Admittedly it is an outer husk: its face, in all its featureful perfection of imperfection, is its fortune' (FW 109.8-9). Shaun develops an analogy of focusing upon the letter and ignoring its envelope as being akin to envisioning a woman without her clothes (or skin), while the clothes, he points out, are
full of local colour and personal perfume and suggestive, too, of so very much more and capable of being stretched, filled out, if need or wish were, of having their surprisingly like coincidental parts separated don't they now, for better survey by the deft hand of the expert, don't you know? (FW 109.25-30)
He likewise informs us that content and form can be appreciated separately or simultaneously:
Who in his heart doubts either that the facts of feminine clothiering are there all the time or that the feminine fiction, stranger than the facts, is there also at the same time, only a little to the rere? Or that one may be separated from the other? Or that both may then be contemplated simultaneously? Or that each may be taken up and considered in turn apart from the other? (FW 109.30-36)
In a variation upon the 'stop, please stop' theme (see above,*), the language of the Wake, HCE's 'outer husk', the 'panaroma of all flores of speech' (FW 143.3-4) and the feminine 'allaphbed', is composed like Shem's vesica piscis diagram in clay: '(Stoop) if you are abcedminded, to this claybook, what curios of signs (please stoop), in this allaphbed!' (FW 18.17-18). It is this feminine 'form' that envelopes the masculine 'content' of the letter, an envelope both literary and sexual, and archaeological and living: 'any of the Zingari shoolerim may pick a peck of kindlings yet from the sack of auld hensyne' (FW 112.7-8). Perceived simultaneously, its many puns, double entendres, and references to other languages, become an archaeological blur of both signifier and signified. Its ahistorical simulation of etymological development, by compressing textual time into the 'unstant' of the Wakean language, nevertheless affords glimpses of the signified, providing a consistent, albeit unclear, perception of HCE amid the plethora of contexts contained within the text.
If document number one is an archaeological picture of HCE, the language which contains him is similarly archaeological, a 'claybook', particularly in its uncertainty of interpretation and susceptibility to conflicting interpretation. On the other hand, consistent with the notion of document number two, Joyce's writing represents the avant-garde of literary creativity in the modern period, a 'Nuvoletta', or nouveau letter, to the future, its radically subversive textuality and content marks the onset of post-modernist literature. Discussing the blur of the Wake's language, and its interpretive evasiveness, Shaun as the narrator of Book I.5 points out that 'one who deeper thinks will always bear in the baccbuccus of his mind that this downright there you are and there it is is only all in his eye' (FW 118.15-17). Its polymorphous and protean appearance is the outcome of a deliberate blurring of both content and form, so that 'every person, place and thing in the chaosmos of Alle anyway connected with the gobblydumped turkery was moving and changing every part of the time' (FW 118.21-23). Yet, Shaun points out that the letter 'is not a miseffectual whyacinthinous riot of blots and blurs and bars and balls and hoops and wriggles and juxtaposed jottings linked by spurts of speed: it only looks as like it as damn it' (FW 118.28-31). The text of the Wake distorts with the compression of time and space, much as though a literary equivalent of a futurist painting,10 or movie (see also, *, *, *), depicting civilisation from its 'one stable', 'onehorse' beginning to the conflict of Shaun and Shem through the Wakean cycles of civilisation: 'With futurist onehorse balletbattle pictures and the Pageant of Past History worked up with animal variations [...]. Shadows by the film folk [...]. Longshots, upcloses, outblacks and stagetolets by Hexenschuss, Coachmaher, Incubone and Rocknarrag' (FW 221.18-24). As both photograph and an archaeological relic, the succession of events compressed into an 'unstant' are necessarily blurred: 'if a negative of a horse happens to melt enough while drying, well, what you do get is, well, a positively grotesquely distorted macromass of all sorts of horsehappy values and masses of meltwhile horse. Tip' (FW 111.27-30).
As feminine womb-tip and the container of HCE, the Wake is a self-reflexive paradox, and in a genetic sense its purpose mirrors the aim of all life, to replicate its own existence. While it can only mimic the act of genetic reproduction it is ultimately renewed through its cyclic structure. The union of HCE and ALP and their interdependence as signified and signifier is illustrated where HCE is portrayed as existing within the image of the rainbow, and fading as it fades: 'the beau that spun beautiful pales as it palls' (FW 143.24). As both arc and Noah's Ark, the trinity of feminine rainbows which Patrick proffers to Balkelly in Book IV is similarly the tripartite container and signifier of HCE: 'the firethere the sun in his halo cast. Onmen' (FW 612.29-30).
8 Jules David Law, ‘Simulation, Pluralism, and Politics’, in Coping With Joyce: Essays from the Copenhagen Symposium, ed. by Morris Beja & Shari Benstock (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1989), pp. 195-204 (pp. 200-01).
9 Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1967; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), p. 324, note 9.
10 Jackson Cope discusses the textual similitude of aspects of Finnegans Wake to futurist literature in Joyce’s Cities: Archeologies of the Soul (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 103-04.