Finnegans Wake – Book III Chapter 2

This chapter continues the easy-to-read tale of Shaun begun in III.1.  The literary conventions being followed are identified with almost Victorian-realist pseudo-transparency (but things get a little murky at the end).

We start with another introduction of Shaun, move to a very long speech delivered by him, in which dozens of bits of hackneyed, cliched and misogynistic advice are delivered to his sister(s), and end with a more confusing section where Shem and Issy both emerge to speak, with (as far as I can tell) Shaun finally abdicating to Shem (or promising to).

I.  The Re-Introduction of Shaun

This section is delivered by an anonymous narrator who announces himself as “the poor preambler (429).  We learn that Juan once delivered a long oration (later called a “megalogue”) meant mostly for “that chorus of praise of goodwill girls on their best beehiviour” (430) (i.e., Issy and her 28 sisters).  The overall sense of the passage is of a lord before lesser beings, lecturing them about how to live, act like ladies, and that sort of thing.  The “preambler” ends by reminding us once more about the “poor, good, true, Jaun” (in this chapter, Shaun is Jaun).  Somewhat like Don Juan, I suppose, though he seems more of a Shem figure.  Maybe that’s the intention of the inverted au – hence. Jaun = Shaun’s version of Don Juan.  Not a romancer, but a lecturer who, in his own mind anyway, “was just the killingest ladykiller all by kindness” (430).

II.  The Megalogue

There’s a ten-commandments like feel at first – that adds another extra meaning to “megalogue” – not just “mega” and “monologue”, also “decalogue.”  Things begin thus:

First thought shalt not smile.  Twice thou shalt not love.  Lust, thou shalt not commix idolatry (433).

A huge catalog of “never”s follow this – and that gives us another overtone to “megalogue” – catalog as well.  So far we have mega-, monologue, Decalogue and catalog.  All of these bespeak authoritarian values.

One bit of advice here that caught my eye:

While there’s men-o’war on the say they’ll be loves-o’women on the do.  Love through the usual channels, cisternbrothelly, when properly disinfected (436).

Note here the only-just-beneath-the-surface repression of incest – “cisternbrothelly” says “cistern” and “brothel” yes, but also sister-and-brotherly.  The mechanism whereby that repression is to be achieved is, of course, techno-strategic rationality.  Make sure to love “through the usual channels,” and make sure you are “properly disinfected.”  For Shaun, love is a dangerous instinctual (and incestual) force to be held in check by abstract pronouncement.  The overall effect is similar to that Radiohead robot recording “calm, fitter and more productive, getting on better with one’s associate employee contemporaries…” but throw in that this is a lecture to Shaun’s sisters, to whom he is hopeless lusting afterwards the whole time.

At times, in fact, that lust bubbles to the surface in verbal paroxysms of violence:

Holy gun, I’ll give it to you, hot, high and heavy before you can say sedro! (439)

Beyond sexual violence, there’s also intellectual threats directed at a largely implicit target, Shem:

I’d burn the books that grieve you and light an allassundrian bompyre that would suffragate Tome Plyfire or Zolfanerole (439).

Something like a thesis statement emerges in the middle:

Because then probably we’ll dumb well soon show him what the Shaun way is like (442).

The “Shaun way” is the ethos all this adds up to, and one of the neat things all this recurrent character business does is that by this point in the book, “The Shaun way” is a quite meaningful statement, aggregating, as it does, all the other incarnations of the character (Mookse, Jeff, Taff, the Russian General…).  They all are the Shaun way.

A couple times in this chapter this is contrasted with “swansway” (450), a more-or-less direct allusion to Proust’s narrator (much more of a Shem – up to and including their similar penchant for mother-love).  Shaun tries again to repress this Shem-ish-ness by eating (he does a lot of eating in these two chapters): “I’d … drink annyblack water” (451).  “Annyblack water” mixes ALP (her water) and Shem (it’s “black” because of ink – something the washerwomen in I.8 had to contend with).

Even so, as we saw last chapter, at times Shaun seems painfully self-aware about his limitations – mostly, his fear of time.  Here we get a very direct foreshadowing of what will come in Book IV: “the Vico road goes round and round to meet where terms begin” (452).  Even though Shaun wants badly to believe that he’s pass all that “municipal sin business” (3), wanting to believe that “we shall all be hoocked and happy, communionistically, among the fieldnights eliceam elite of the elect in the land of lost of time (453), he knows his reign is limited and doomed.  “No petty family squabbles Up There” (454) he suggests, almost demands, before moving back into gluttonous eating and drinking: “The cristp of the crackling is in the chewing.  Give us another cup of your scald” (455).

III.  Shaun/Shem/Issy’s Confusion

The end of the chapter gets much harder to follow, as all three of these characters start to clash with one another on the page.  “we were too happy.  I knew something would happen.  I understand but listen, drawher nearest, Tizzy intercepted” (457).  Shaun reveals how attracted he is to Issy because of her plain speech, like Pygmalion, or the professor of My Fair Lady.  And Issy seems to reveal a love for Shaun (at least for now): “I like him lots coss he never cusses” (459).  Language mastery, at this moment, underlies the love triangle between siblings.  “He fell for my lips, for ly lisp, for ly lewd speaker.  I felt for his strength, his manhood, his do you mind?”

Shem also professes his love: “I always had a cursh on heliptrope since the dusess of yore cycled round the Finest Park” (461).  He was in love long before’s primordial transgression, however that could be possible.

Around here, for reasons not entirely clear to me, Shaun begins talk of abdication and departure:

I’m leaving my darling proxy behind for your consolering, lost Dave the Dancekerl, a squamous runaway and a dear old man pal of mine too… could he quit doubling and stop trippling, he would be the unicorn of his kind” (462).  In fact, maybe it’s not just Shem he’s talking about, but their father HCE – “quit doubling and stop trippling” is a reference to the original sin in the park, with the two girls and the three soldiers.  Though “lost Dave the Dancekerl” and “squamous runaway” sounds a lot like Shem.  Perhaps both?

At the end, again the “preambler” sings Shaun’s praises, with lots of Irish-nationalism overtones, mourning, for example, the coming “devil era” (473), which mixes devils, another era, and the compromise nationalist leader De Valera (I’m a bit foggy on my Irish history, but I think De Valera made some compromises that left the IRA in a state of permanent conflict as they receded into the background, much as Shaun does here?



This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *