Finnegans Wake – Book I Chapter 5

This chapter was somewhat easier that the preceding two, just because its style (mock-academic) is more consistently maintained.

I.  Introductory Prayer

The gradually accumulating motif of ALP swells to a crescendo as this chapter opens:

In the name of Annah the Allmaziful, the Everliving, the Bringer of Plurabilities, haloed by her eve, her singtime sung, her rill be run, unhemmed as it is uneven!

The play on the lord’s prayer is a feminization of the Lord’s Prayer.  It reads like a blessing said over the rest of the chapter, some sort of invocation of the muse, but then it’s quickly set aside by a re-assertion of male authority in the form of our ongoing pseudo-scholarly voice – we learn that “her untitled mamafesta memorializing the Mosthighest has gone by name names at disjointed times” (104).

II.  Catalog of Titles

Therein follows an extended catalog (the longest yet in Finnegans Wake – basically 4 pages) – a catalog of the names by which ALP’s “mamafesto” has gone.  The idea of naming as a masculine intervention on feminine speech is also borne out by HCE’s intrusion into the list – I Ask You to Believe I was his Mistress (a seemingly timeless “chic-lit” sort of title) being followed by He Can Explain (105).  Another noteworthy entry: Thonderbalt Captain Smeth and La Belle Sauvage Pochonteuse.

The overall effect of the catalog is to draw attention to the archetypal nature of ALP’s story, like Joseph Campbell’s “hero with a thousand faces.”

III.  Textual Interpretation

Of course, though we get a list of titles by which the work has been named, we do not get to view the work itself.  If you’ve read this far in Finnegans Wake you know nothing promised is ever revealed.  So we dive right back into the masculine voice of the scholar, telling us all about this text which we have never seen (and which, we suspects, neither has the interpreter seen as well).

This section is great academic parody, this time focused more on the stuffy manuscript-tradition type of scholarship.  This parody allows Joyce to advance tips for reading Finnegans Wake/ironic descriptions of it/preemptive jabs at what critics will say about it, all under the guise of interpreting ALP’s letter, an ancient “proteiform graph [that] itself is a polyhedron of scripture” (107).  “Polyhedron of scripture” in fact, seems like a great metaphor for understanding what Finnegans Wake is – it’s a three dimensional polygon written into words.

Here are a couple of the self-referential descriptions this chapter affords of Finnegans Wake itself:

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 (107).

Yet to concentrate solely on the literal sense or even the psychological content of any document to the sore neglect of the enveloping facts themselves circumstantiating it is just as hurtful to sound sense… as were some fellow in the act of perhaps getting an intro from another fellow turning out to be a friend in need of his, say, to a lady of the latter’s acquaintance, engaged in performing the elaborative antecistral ceremony of upstherese, straightaway to run off and vision her plump and plain in her natural altogether… (109)

Midway through we read an actual letter (which looks like the one Milly has sent Bloom at the start of Ulysses – run-on sentences, gossipy chit-chat – but it’s from Boston, not Mullingar (111).

There’s one of my favorite Joycean quips here, guarding his work against would-be criticism (114):

…where in the waste is the wisdom?

The pretentiousness with which the scholars parse the unseen letter again guards Joyce from Irish nationalist critics, as he makes their points for them in abstruse jargony sentences:

we in our wee free state… may have our irremovable doubts as to the whole sense of the lot, the interpretation of any phrase in the whole, the meaning of every word of a phrase so far deciphered out of it, however unfettered our Irish daily independence, we must vaunt no idle dubiosity as to its genuine authorship and holusbolus authoritativeness (118-119).

Later on on the page, one of Joyce’s often-quoted portmanteau words first appears – “chaosmos.”

The scholar’s grip on the text (and on reality) steadily declines as the pages move along – but some more memorable quips come up, e.g.

this prepronomial funferal, engraved and retouched and edgewiped and puddenpadded very like a whale’s egg farced with pemmican as were it sentences to be nuzzled over a full trillion times for ever and a night till his noddle sink or swim by that ideal reader suffering from an ideal insomnia.

Language gets torn more and more apart as the scholar strains to explain the text to interpret.  We also have a noteworthy, even prophetic neologism –

iSpace (124)

The tearing apart eventually is personified in the chapter’s close – I’ve noticed the chapters’ closing moments are often quite helpful in stitching things together…

Not Hans the Curier though had he had have only had some little laughings and some less of cheeks and were he not so worried by his bulb of presecussion he could have, ay, and would have, as true as Essex bridge.  And not Gopheph go gossip, I declare to man!  Noe!  To all’s much relief one’s half hypothesis of that jabberjaw ape amok the showering jestnuts of Bruisanose was hotly dropped and his room taken up by that odious and still today insufficiently malestimated notesnatcher (kak, pfooi, bosh and fiety, much earny, Gus, poteen?  Sez you!) Shem the Penman.

Here we see the twin sons antagonism arise as a dispute within a manuscript’s scholar’s article:  “Hans the Curier” is recognizable as “Shaun the Postman,” and right at the end, we have “Shem the Penman”, an “insufficiently malestimated notesnatcher.”

So a theory about a manuscript written by a woman turns into a story about two masculine trends within that theorizing, and two world-historical archetypes.

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