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9.4 Social Action via the Acolyte

A number of criticisms of Kristeva's work, as recounted by Toril Moi, might also be levelled against Finnegans Wake. Joyce's politics similarly appear to 'remain purified anarchism in a perpetual state of self-dispersal',7 and in the dissident character of Shem, Joyce also 'lumps together all kinds of marginal and oppositional groups as potentially subversive of the social order'.8 Joyce's faith in his own avant-garde writing and its importance could additionally attract similar criticism to that aimed at Kristeva in that

Kristeva's grossly exaggerated confidence in the political importance of the avant-garde is based precisely on her misrecognition of the differences between its political and economic position and that of women or the working class.9

Certainly, distinctions between power groups, or groups seeking power, fade in the Wake's historicised perception of the cycles of masculine return, where all dogmatic assertion is relative and accompanies individuals competing for socio-economic interests. Yet the feminine negativity of the Wake undermines this unifying perception. Contrary to the above quotation, in Revolution in Poetic Language Kristeva argues that the avant-garde remains limited in its contribution to social revolution: 'Could it be that social revolution, by taking charge of rejection and ensuring its social objectification, makes these texts useless? In any case, it indicates their limited aspect and confines them to being an "experience": a discovery of the heterogeneous base, the constant struggle, within the subject's "consciousness"'.10 Recognition of such a removal from reality is also reflected in the Wake's frequent depiction of textual creativity as masturbatory.

In Finnegans Wake, a distinction between the avant-garde and other writing is not clear cut, however, for all writing is reduced to the sublimated sexual drive of Shem writing upon his own body in a recycling of what has gone before. Moreover, all texts almost entirely disappear into the intertextuality of a culture composed of historically fractured texts perpetuating the logos. It is from this perspective that the Wake can be understood in part as a rewriting or replacement of the Bible and its all-pervasive significance. The problems surrounding the contribution of the avant-garde to political evolution forms one of the more obvious themes in the Wake. In Joyce's model, the vision, or textual 'escape', provided by the avant-garde 'fundamental' creator is implemented by a later 'dominant' acolyte, who imposes a fragmented perception or 'picture' of the former's value system. The contribution of the 'dominant' acolyte (and the associated formation of repressive, functional bureaucracies) facilitates the entry of the avant-garde into mainstream political history. Among many similar examples, Joyce portrays the effectiveness and occasional brutality of the church in resolving theoretical differences through its development of Christian dogma and punishable categories of heresy. A number of other historical figures and organisations characterised as acolytes and successors to 'fundamental' thinkers, are also woven into the text of Finnegans Wake, such as: Stalin, Hitler and Sinn Fein.

Far less coercive, and certainly without violence, the philosophic and social implications of Joyce's own artistic practice have been further developed by a number of post-structuralist thinkers, including Lacan, Derrida and Kristeva. The implications of their work in turn have been refashioned and imposed, in some instances, with an abrasive ideological vigour, particularly in the process of dissemination from the French to the Anglo-American intellectual environment. Works containing protests about this process and the behaviour of some of the movement's acolytes, such as Geert Lernout's The French Joyce,11 are symptomatic. While complaints about perceived excesses of political or intellectual correctness are frequently borne out of reactionary tendencies, once revolutionary ideology has been appropriated by the mainstream it subverts, there is the danger that the implementation of the new ideology will be characterised by the same repressive stringency used to maintain the system's previous ideological values. The blood lust of the patriarchy merely renews itself with a new ideology, and thus it is not surprising to learn that the medieval Christian punishment of burning for heresy was in fact inherited from pre-Christian Roman law.12 As suggested, an emphasis upon pacifism in a new doctrine will be to no avail, for the urge to dominate, which Nietzsche observed in all life,13 is relentless: 'all the bottles in sodemd histry will not soften your bloodathirst!' (FW 52.5-6). The portrayal of Shem's mistreatment at the hands of Shaun indicates Joyce's awareness not only of the function but the potentially criminal nature of repression. While Shem's generous farewell to Shaun in Book III.2 acknowledges his inevitable role in delivering the vision of a previous HCE, his use of the sexual and textual condom signals an attempt to halt the reproduction of the logos in its continually evolving form, and to thwart his own role as the 'fundamental' prior to the next 'dominant' male.

The Wake's resistance to the sexual/textual reproduction of the deity, both in terms of the signified, and its rebellious signifiers, occurs overtly only in the biologically impotent sphere of its avant-garde art. The implicit advocacy of free love, however, the freeing of sexual choice from bureaucratic control and the value systems of the State, Church and capitalism, would in theory engender subsequent modifications to the repressed sexuality of the artist and consequently to the dreams of control and revenge in the 'fundamental' male. Writing in a time where advocates of such a principles were persecuted,14 such ideas would accordingly require the agency of 'dominant' acolytes to become effective. Many social freedoms have only become widely accepted following the revolts of the late sixties, or by sustained and widespread demonstrations, such as those held by gay activists. The problems associated with the dissemination of new ideology were also perceived by Joyce's contemporaries, for instance Bertrand Russell:

What is needed is freedom of opinion, and the opportunity for the spread of opinion. It is the latter particularly that causes the difficulty. The mechanism for the effective and widespread diffusion of an opinion must necessarily be in the hands either of the State or of great capitalistic concerns.15

Joyce surrounded himself with acolytes, who assisted him in all manner of tasks associated with writing and publishing Finnegans Wake. The obstacles Joyce experienced in publishing his various works again attests to the dependence of the 'fundamental' upon the 'dominant', and it could be plausibly argued that his peripatetic life revolved around the difficulties associated with disseminating his art. The conflict of interest, however, between the avant-garde and an establishment which is preoccupied with the promulgation and implementation of the values of an older HCE, in particular, is figured into the tension between the writer of the letter and the deliverer, as Shem hails his twin: 'Here's heering you in a guessmasque, latterman! And such an improofment! As royt as the mail and as fat as a fuddle! Schoen! Shoan! Shoon the Puzt!' (603.2-5).

7 Allon White, ‘L’éclatement du sujet’: The Theoretical Work of Julia Kristeva (Birmingham: University of Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Studies, Stencilled Occasional Paper no. 49), pp. 16-17, cited in Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics, p. 170.

8 Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics, p. 171.

9 Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics, p. 172.

10 p. 212.

11 (Ann Arbour: University of Michigan Press, 1990).

12 For instance, Edward Gibbon describes the occurrence (during the Roman persecution of Christians begun by Diocletian) of zealots publicly denouncing themselves at pagan festivals and calling upon the magistrate to ‘inflict the sentence of the law’, whereupon they ‘cheerfully leaped into the flames that were kindled to consume them’, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (New York: The Modern Library, 1932) Chapter XVI.

13 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, ed. Walter Kauffmann (1883-1888; New York: Vintage Books, 1968), aphorism 619.

14 Bertrand Russell notes that among others, ‘men who advocate free love’ were refused employment, which ‘in a highly industrialised state, amounts to a very vigorous form of persecution’, Sceptical Essays (1935; London: Unwin Books, 1961), p. 113.

15 Russell, Sceptical Essays, p. 159.