Sunday, July 20, 2014

Finnegans Wake, Part III, first division

Let's just set aside the fact that it seems to start with some sort of vaguely Scandinavian arithmetic.

I have been skeptical about those who confidently people this book with named characters having ascertainable relationships with each other.  But increasingly some of these characters seem to exist as something more than projections of fragments.  And so we come to Shaun.

There is a letter in the midst of this division that begins with the following salutation:  "Letter, carried of Shaun, son of Hek, written of Shem, brother of Shaun, uttered for Alp, mother of Shem...."  For Finnegans Wake this is like an encyclopedia  entry.  Shaun and Shem are the sons of Hek (HCE) and Alp (ALP).

This part begins with typically paragraphed prose.  But soon it turns into something like an interview.  And although the interviewer remains nameless, the other is surprisingly, explicitly, Shaun:  "But have we until now ever besought you, dear Shawn....?"  "Goodbye now, Shaun replied with a voice pure as a churchmode...."  This is too easy (a thrown bone?  a false flagging?).

The end returns to the paragraphed prose, but the  inside "interview" is thrice interrupted.  One break is a fractured fable, much like the earlier-noted "Mooksie and the Gripes," this time, "The Ondt and the Gracehoper," set off by a slightly smaller typeface.  There are also, before and after the fable (but not immediately), two paragraphs, also in the smaller typeface of the fable, that are letters or charters or something or other.

So:  Prose--interview--document--interview--fable--interview--document--interview--prose.

This is too easy.  Except that I forgot to mention that the fable ends with a sort of verse coda, about a third as long as the fable.

So much for form.  What about content?

The center of the division is the fable, the Ondt and the Gracehoper.  It's a rather transparent re-telling of the ant and the grasshopper, one industrious insect who toiled in the summer and saved for the winter, the other an irresponsible idler who plays away the summer and is left to starve when the cold winds blow.  It is not too great a stretch to see Shaun as the Ondt, Shem as the Gracehoper.  "Ondt" I can make nothing of.  "Gracehoper" is easier:  the one who hopes for grace, forgiveness, indulgence.

Now the fable begins thus:  "The Gracehoper was always jigging ajog, hoppy on akkant of his joyicity."  Here the gracehoper plainly links to Joyce.  On the other hand, "The Ondt was a weltall fellow, raumybult and abelboobied, bynear saw altitudinous wee a schelling in kopfers. He was sair sair sullemn and chairmanlooking....."  I think you get the idea, and the fable proceeds.

It ends with this:  "The thing pleased him andt, andt, andt."  I hope I'm not crazy to imagine that Joyce is here imitating the ending of an upanishad:  Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

And who is Shaun?  He is conventional, academic, pretentious, insufferable.  I had to laugh at this question from the "interviewer":  "Still in a way, not to flatter you, we fancy you that you are so strikingly brainy and well letterread in yourshelves as ever were the Shamous Shamonous, Limited, could use worse of yourself, ingenious Shaun, we still so fancied, if only you would take your time so and the trouble of so doing it."  Would that any of us were as "brainy" as our shelves might suggest!

This characterization of Shawn, in conjunction with the more unbridled character of Shem, set out here and earlier (see above, as Shemus), starts to flesh out the double antagonists who recur, from Cain and Abel to Mutt and Jeff.  I can see now why others have asserted that the marginal annotations of the quiz division are plainly attributable, one side to Shem, the other to Shaun.

Just a note here on the old question, "How to read Finnegans Wake?"  There is almost a kind of arbitrariness in reading from cover to cover.  I think about anthologies--say, an old, old volume I have of Alexander Pope's works.  I've had the thing for over thirty years, and have always loved Pope, but certainly haven't read the whole thing.  And in a way that's right, because an anthology isn't made for reading cover to cover.  Now Joyce, of course, published the Wake as a novel (it would appear).  But we know it's end joins back to the beginning, and what one learns as one progresses could as easily have been gleaned by reading backwards from the end.  I guess what I'm saying is that I am increasingly looking back at what I have finished to see it differently.  Now, of course, that can happen in any novel--there is foreshadowing, and seemingly trivial incidents that take on greater import at the action progresses.  Here, though, I'm not sure that there's real progress.  But since the whole does, I think, enlighten the parts, I still think it best to press forward, and much the simpler by simply turning page upon page.   

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