Contents

Next Section

Previous Section

9.5 Collide or Escape as Social Development

Confronting the establishment in Joyce's works can be achieved either through direct social conflict or over the longer duration via the social challenge of the avant-garde. The two approaches can be highlighted in a comparison, for instance, between the pragmatic, political approach to the Dubliners of Ulysses that Daniel Moshenberg takes, and that of Stephen's own position toward his countrymen. Moshenberg composes a 'window' of reading Ulysses based upon Houston Baker's comprehension of the 'most pressing and urgently posed inquiry' facing most of the world: 'Where will I find water, wood, food, and shelter for this day, June 16, 1904?'.16 The destitution of many Dubliners is apparent in Ulysses, and while Stephen himself has not eaten for nearly two days,17 he is not insensitive to their plight, and 'lends' Corley a half crown rather than pennies:

Those are halfcrowns, man, Corley corrected him.

And so in point of fact they turned out to be. Stephen anyhow lent him one of them. (U 16.194-96)

Stephen's disregard for his own daily bread, however, can be contrasted with his surfeit of the spiritual, or alcoholic, kind, 'Liquids I can eat' (U 16.815), and this is related to his chosen mode of opposition to Ireland's 'masters'. In a parody of Christ's Last Supper he declares his unconcern for material sustenance, and instead a need for an alcohol which in Finnegans Wake is the entombed spirit of HCE: 'Now drink we, quod he, of this mazer and quaff ye this mead which is not indeed parcel of my body but my soul's bodiment. Leave ye fraction of bread to them that live by bread alone' (U 14.281-84). Denying himself the financial livelihood inaccessible to many of the Dubliners portrayed in Ulysses, Stephen abandons his position at the boys' school at Dalkey through an unwillingness to participate in the dissemination of the ideologies associated with the Church, State and the Irish: 'Three nooses around me here. Well? I can break them in this instant if I will' (U 2.234-35). Teaching Roman history rather than Irish history to his pupils he is participating in a curriculum which displaces their focus in much the same way as the hockey match replaces the violent competition of warfare. The discussion of Pyrrhus's victory at Tarentum and eventual failure against the Romans evokes the domination of Ireland by England, and his death at the hand of an old woman prefigures Stephen's confrontation with his mother in Circe and a requirement to avoid physical confrontation and flee the old woman of Ireland. He similarly relinquishes his association with Mulligan whose relationship with Haines Stephen finds offensive. Yet his ability to effect his opposition to the logos ultimately proves impossible in Ireland. While Stephen does contribute directly to socio-economic betterment of the Irish, and places Deasy's article on foot and mouth disease in the press, he is unable to publish his own subversive appreciation of Shakespeare's art and its heretical understanding of the creativity of the deity. AE declines to listen to it in full and Eglington refuses to purchase the right to publish it. As John Bormanis notes, 'Stephen feels persecuted not only by Mother Ireland, but also May Dedalus because both fail to nurture him in his artistic productions'.18 Wanted by the Irish, his 'third' master, for 'odd jobs' (U 1.641) rather than his artistic ability, the obstacles Stephen discovers impeding his individual contribution to the Irish consciousness echo those Joyce experienced, and suggests a necessity for leaving Ireland to fulfil his ambitions of forming the conscience of his race.

The 'collide or escape' theme of social development in Finnegans Wake resonates with the dichotomy which divided Marxist theory early this century regarding the social mechanisms by which communism could be achieved: namely, whether it should occur as a process of socialist evolution or violent revolution. Joyce's own distaste for violence, and particularly his portrayal of the repression Stephen and Shem experience which in turn necessitates the escape of the artist, suggests that his approach was sympathetic to political evolution. Joyce was well aware of the sexual repression and violence which can accompany the acolytes' implementation of political vision, and the cycles portrayed describe a combination of both social evolution and violent revolution. Revolution is implicit in the title, Finnegans Wake, although the imperative of succession must be contrasted with, and indeed opposed to, the potentially apocalyptic violence of the return of the singularity HCE. Finnegans Wake maintains a distance from violent revolution, diluting the masculine violence required for the implementation and maintenance of a patriarchal logos with the difference and non-violence of femininity. Bloom and Stephen in Ulysses and Shem in Finnegans Wake characterise such a blend of masculine and feminine.

In contrast with Kristeva's criticism of grammatology (cited above, *) which indicates that the 'thetic' and the 'deluge of meaning' of différance are to some extent mutually exclusive, the sexual/textual 'collideorscape' requires a simultaneous comprehension of both approaches to the Wake: the reader must 'byhold at ones what is main and why tis twain' (FW 143.17-18). The dual requirement may appear contradictory, or at least irreconcilable, and yet this requirement is made of the reader of Finnegans Wake. In interpreting its protean text, the reader collides with the text, but in attempting to dominate it finds it nevertheless escapes: 'Hirp! Hirp! for their Missed Understandings! chirps the Ballat of Perce-Oreille' (FW 175.27-28). This celebration of the confusion of Babel proffers difference as the only defence against the potential unity of the reincarnated singularity of HCE. The ideal reader therefore must instead attempt to comprehend the many possibilities of the text simultaneously, in a praxis of reading encompassing both the collide and escape characteristic of Wakean interaction. Literary critics of all persuasions are accordingly essential for a manifold perception of the signifieds within the complexity of its signifiers.

16 'What shouts in the street: 1904, 1922, 1990', James Joyce Quarterly, 28 (1991), 809-18 (p. 811). Moshenberg cites Houston Baker, Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), p. 7.

17 'The day before yesterday' (U 16.1577)

18 '''in the first bloom of her new motherhood'': the Appropriation of the Maternal and the Representation of Mothering in Ulysses', James Joyce Quarterly, 29 (1992) 593-606 (p. 596).