'Finnegans Wake,' colonial nonsense, and postcolonial history.
Odd then that with the proliferation of discourses surrounding the concept of "the postcolonial," so little attention should have been paid to a text which in its preoccupation with the contradictions, the complexities, and the complicities of colonization anticipates in so many respects what we have come to call the postcolonial novel.(1) There are, I think, three particular difficulties which may help account for that critical anopsia.
The first is fairly straightforward and has partly to do with the sheer difficult), of the text, the often tedious, intermittently exhilarating, and always demanding nature of the reading experience. But beyond that surface difficulty is another type of problem, a deeply embedded strangeness that has made Finnegans Wake seem simply too weird ever to be widely accessible. And whereas that strangeness has often served either as grounds for dismissing and hence ignoring the book (as it was even for that most avant of avantgardists Pound) or as a kind of touchstone for self-professed intellectual cognoscenti, I want to suggest a different orientation towards the Wake's strangeness. Unlike Ulysses, which has been read as an excessive extreme or terminal point in the historical development of the (essentially Realist) novel, Finnegans Wake doesn't make any sense in those terms. Rather, its very strangeness needs to be seen as a form akin to what Homi Bhabha has called "the language of colonial nonsense," the non-sense of a cultural incommensurability which manifests itself in negation, in a procedure whereby "the impossibility of naming the difference of colonial culture alienates, in its very form of articulation, the colonialist cultural ideals of progress, piety, rationality and order" (1994, 124, 129).
The second problem is more complex and stems from what appears to someone working in the field of Irish studies a perverse refusal on the part of many postcolonial theorists to acknowledge the colonial legacy of Irish history and the postcolonial condition of twentieth-century Irish culture. One particularly egregious example of this blindness should suffice to make my point. In an influential introductory volume on "Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures," the whole complex eight-hundred-year history of English oppression in Ireland is dismissed out of hand: "While it is possible to argue that [Ireland, Wales and Scotland] were the first victims of English expansion, their subsequent complicity in the British imperial enterprise makes it difficult for colonized peoples outside Britain to accept their identity as post-colonial" (Ashcroft 1989, 33). But whereas the historical conditions and political ramifications of Irish colonization were (and are) quite different in significant respects from those of other colonial sites, such a remark effectively erases the violent breach - and the enmity - that characterizes the history of Anglo-Irish relations. And just as it absurdly establishes an inane hierarchy of sufferers, so it glosses over that which Joyce's work takes greatest pains to map: the uncharted spaces of the conflicted identity-formations wrought by colonization - in the colonizer every bit as much as in the colonized.
Finally, if Ireland's coloniality is reductively subsumed in the history of British Empire, so Joyce's own enshrinement within the canon of "British" literature militates against his acceptance as a postcolonial writer. If Finnegans Wake clearly prefigures much of what has since come to be called, however ineffectually, postmodernism; and if a great deal of what passes for postcolonial theory has become by now, in its current usage, a form of applied postmodernism, still there is a steadfast refusal to see a "major figure" like Joyce as a colonial writer. What looking at Finnegans Wake otherwise - as a text which registers the ambiguities and "ambiviolences" of postcolonial subjectivity - enables is a reconfiguration of the relationship between "the postmodern" and "the postcolonial." Thus if postcolonial theory has borrowed much of its terminology from poststructuralist and postmodern thought, it is worth reiterating the profound impact of anti- and de-colonial movements in shaping twentieth-century life. That is to say, the dissolution of those cultural universals that modernism tended to mourn and that postmodernism has tended to celebrate is unthinkable outside the challenges to the stable, Imperial self-identity wrought by colonial resistance, and exacerbated by the waves of formerly colonized peoples who flowed back to metropolitan centers with the contraction of Empires. These are the tensions which Finnegans Wake registers, tensions which in turn shape the critical ideologies of postmodernism.
Such critical misprisions are indicative of the conceptual vagaries which attach to the term postcolonial itself. Anne McClintock (1992), in a perceptive discussion of the foibles of the term "post-colonial," has bemoaned the disjunction between postcolonial theory and the term postcolonialism.(2) Displaced from the field of power onto the trajectory of time, the strictly temporal version of the postcolonial she describes simply appropriates and reconfigures colonial discourse's own foundational trope of progress - the very ground postcolonialism it ostensibly strives to unsettle. Organized around the logic of linear time and the idea of development, this version of postcolonialism merely inverts the discourse of colonialism as it continues to mark history as a series of stages proceeding from the pre-colonial, through the colonial, and passing finally through the gates of the post-colonial and into the freedom of national independence. But if this reorientation of the term around the binary axis of time is historically facile, more importantly it threatens to reduce the experiences of the world's multitudinous cultures to a single epochal issue: before colonialism/after colonialism.
Employing the twin tropes of progress and development, this temporal postcolonialism reproduces the structure- and event-centered orientation of colonial history itself. And just as that colonial history provided a self-justification for and the self-legitimation of its own claims and dispositions, so postcolonialism has often appeared - after its own fashion to be sure - as essentially integrative, its topos the continuity of cause and effect, its telos the revelation of its own truths and reason. But while such historicist models have demonstrated an impressive and sustained appeal to our desire, perhaps even our need, for grand narratives, they have all too frequently failed to register adequately the crucial displacements, ambivalences, reversals, and "he-he-hesitancies" which constitute the colonial psycho-symbolic domain, and which are themselves the loci of powerful historical forces.(3)
Preoccupied as he is with the complexities and complicities, the symptoms and the effects of manifold forms of both domination and resistance, Joyce suggests a different orientation for postcolonialism. Against that temporal, linear rendering of the term which grossly oversimplifies the intricate and uneven processes of decolonization, he foregrounds the continuities and discontinuities of power which circulate through, but traverse well beyond all confines of time. And as it traces not only the prominent contours but also the micro-mechanics of Irish colonial identity-formations, so Finnegans Wake provides its own chronos of colonialism's multiplicity of forces and ever-shifting power relations, its own peculiar history of the postcolonial. For as Joyce recognized, colonization broadly conceived and specifically enacted is never a unilateral transaction or a straightforward march, but a meandering series of negotiations involving a seemingly infinite set of relationships and their unceasing consolidations, betrayals, reversals, and inversions. Thus colonial relations (which as Finnegans Wake would have it are a synecdoche for all relations) are dialectical. Not, however, in the sense that they move inexorably toward some enlightened end or inevitable outcome, but strategically, as part of an incessant struggle in which every response provokes a counter-response, an on-going war in which the outcome of any given battle is impossible to predict. Hybridity, insurgency, and syncretism then are not simply theoretical or potential historical decenterings promised by or resulting from "post-colonialism," but the essential qualities of all cultures which the colonial experience throws into sharp relief.
Clive Hart (1982) has suggested, in response to the multiple dilemmas Finnegans Wake poses for orthodox models of literary analysis, the necessity of finding some middle ground of reading between the proverbial forest of obscurantist theoretical discourse and the trees of conventional close reading. But in identifying the precarious betweenness facing the reader of Joyce's text, Hart echoes an altogether different kind of betweenness, that of Homi Bhabha's "colonial signifier": "neither one nor the other," the colonial signifier is "an act of ambivalent signification" which "sows confusion" as it cuts across the oppositions through which we think cultural difference. And it is in that confusion, in that sowing of "colonial non-sense" that the colonial signifier "creates its strategies of differentiation that produce an undecidability between contraries or oppositions" (1982, 128). Articulating as it does crucial issues surrounding the processes of identity formation against and across cultural boundaries, Bhabha's work is heavily indebted to the Derridean concepts of differance and deferral. In foregrounding the contentiousness of colonial relations, however, Bhabha's theorizing - like Joyce's practice - reminds us in turn of the manifold ways the logic of deconstruction itself has been shaped by the anti-colonial assault upon the stable and transparent universal subject of imperialism. And just as Bhabha locates a productive undecideability in the figure of the colonial signifier, so Joyce identifies the "he-he-hesitancy" of a betweenness marking the agonism of domination and resistance.
The plot, such as it is, of Finnegans Wake revolves around the search for a missing letter; a letter that purports to document HCE's innocence (or at least to clarify his "offense") and thus offers the possibility of redemption from his guilt. But it is also, synecdochically, the missing letter that promises fulfillment, the "hole-y" Word that will restore language to its prelapsarian state. And, finally, the letter is the historical document that promises to reveal nothing less than the Meaning of Existence. But as Finnegans Wake makes clear, both in the mythologies that grow up around the missing or absent letter and in the proliferation of stories, rumors and gossip that surround HCE and his "crime," the letter will never be recovered and all we will ever know of it are the stories, the myths, and the rumors that various ideas of its existence generate. Historiography, as Joyce's work demonstrates again and again, is never simply constituted by the objective representation of fact, is never quite the detached, dignified enterprise of its own invention. Interests are the always-already which invariably if often opaquely, determine the scientificity of history's grand narratives.
There is, of course, nothing that historiography can do to eliminate such distortion altogether, a distortion built into its optic as it were. But what it can do, as Ranajit Guha reminds us - and what Finnegans Wake does, relentlessly - "is to acknowledge such distortion as parametric - as a datum which determines the form of the exercise itself, and to stop pretending that it can fully grasp a past consciousness and reconstitute it" (1983, 33). Joyce not only acknowledges that distortion so often actively suppressed in colonial histories, he exploits it as the informing structural principle of his text.
One example, the various metacommentaries which appear throughout the text, chosen relatively at random from dozens of possibilities, should suffice to make my point. Whereas these exegetical asides purport to aid the frustrated reader and to provide a kind of key to translation, they have just the opposite effect. Thus while a passage like the following seems to indicate something about the nature of the missing letter, and by extension about the text itself, its tantalizing approximation to sense only serves to add to the confusion:
And so it all ended. Artha kama dharma moksa. Ask Kavya for the kay. And so everybody heard their plaint and all listened to their plause. The letter! The litter! And the soother the bitther! Of eyebrow pencilled, by lipstipple penned. Borrowing a word and begging the question and stealing tinder and slipping like soap . . . . Wind broke it. Wave bore it. Reed wrote of it. Syce ran with it. Hand tore it and wild went war. Hen trieved it and plight pledged peace. It was folded with cunning, sealed with a crime, uptied by a harlot, undone by a child. It was life but was it fair? It was free but was it art? The old hunks on the hill read it to perlection . . . . And that was howframm Sin fromm Son, acity arose, finfin funfun, a sitting arrows. Now tell me, tell me, tell me then!
What was it?
A . . . .!
? . . . . O! (Joyce 1976, 93-94)
"Kay" resounds in that first sentence; the kay becomes the key once the code is cracked. If "The letter!" is a synecdoche for the text itself, then "Borrowing a word and begging the question and stealing tinder and slipping like soap," certainly sounds like code, but a cryptic code at best. A list of musical references follows, with Irish songs and singers from Thomas Moore and T.D. Sullivan to "Timm Finn again's weak." "Finn again's weak," funnels back into the title (with its missing apostrophe restored) and may indicate that song is a containing trope for the letter. Or not. Like some ancient oracle, this kay answers our questions with questions: "It was folded with cunning, sealed with crime, uptied by a harlot, undone by a child. It was life but was it fair? It was free but was it art?" Finally, the anxious textual voice demands:
Now tell me, tell me, tell me then!
What was it?
A . . . .
? . . . .O!
What manner of key is this? The answer: a kay and not a key. A key with an Irish brogue possibly (as tay is to tea) but a key that, try as we might, will never fit the kay-hole that is Finnegans Wake.
Operating semantically in a variety of ways - aurally, phonetically, graphically - each of its component parts works simultaneously to supplement and to displace the others. And in constantly forcing its reader to vacillate between the one and the other, between kay and key, it deliberately confounds and compromises the boundaries of "natural" categories. Is the "prestatute" in the "we free state" Irish "charter" a deterministic character trait, a national or individual essence? Or is it a fatal flaw, a predetermined (prostituted, and hence) fallen state? Or maybe they're one and the same thing? The "ambiviolence" generated out of the incongruent aural and visual connotations marks the violent act of erasure or suppression enacted in the establishment of meaning, the exclusionary privileging of one term over another involved in any simple choice between opposites: is tay the Irish phonetic spelling of standard English tea, or a different word altogether? Again, these sorts of distinctions are rendered irrelevant. The oppositions the text continually endeavors to establish - between brothers, between generations, between conquered and conqueror, even between sexes - it simultaneously undoes: there is no bringing together without some form of sundering. Nor is there fixity, stability or stasis, only productive or generative struggle. This textual insurgency - the endless interpositions, diversions, and obfuscations that disrupt the historicist's would-be ineluctable linear flow of time and narrative toward an eschatological moment - underscores the "non-sense" experience of colonialism's cultural misapprehensions.
On one level, then, it would be foolish to argue with Terry Eagleton when he claims of Finnegans Wake that it "blend[s] diverse cultures as indifferently as it does because they have all been magically leveled, released by the signifier from the power relations which hold between them in everyday life." Joyce's "skeptical distance from the political," Eagleton goes on to conclude, "is in this sense one source of its subversive force" (1995, 270). Joyce's leveling capacities are indeed unrivaled. Yet if Finnegans Wake were the creature Eagleton imagines it to be, the purely linguistic text, how much less rich a book, and how much more feeble its "subversive force," than what I want to claim for it here.
For Eagleton, Joyce's great triumph was his appropriation of the English language for decidedly non-English ends, by which he "revers[ed] the colonial power relation at the level of discourse." But that success came at a great cost. For in choosing exile and an avant-garde aesthetic, he was "too quick to adopt the callow modernist credo that language can be a sufficient home in itself" (1995, 269). Cut off from some presumed organic connection to his "native culture," Joyce thereby condemned himself to compensations for powerlessness and "fantasies of omnipotence." This is an old lament, and no more interesting for being dressed up as something new. The textual insurgency of Finnegans Wake does indeed manipulate the discourses which ground hegemonic colonial rule. But insurgency in Finnegans Wake isn't exclusively or even primarily a discursive operation, and the confusion sown by the ambivalent signification of colonial nonsense extends well beyond deconstructive-style wordplay. Far from "magically" leveling heterogeneous cultures and cultural forms in some sort of escapist fantasy outside the network of power relations, then, Joyce in fact delineates the cacophonous clash of contesting forces within the ever-shifting but inescapable field of power.
Thus Joyce is a kind of cartographer of power, and Finnegans Wake the three-dimensional map in which the struggle between domination and resistance plays itself out across and between the landscapes of bodies, of minds, and of emotions. And in its refusal to conform to the linear, temporal demands of conventional forms, and in the way it registers the historical event not in terms of epic men, sweeping movements, or great reigns, but rather in terms of those actions and he-he-hesitancies which produce the reactive indices of crisis rippling across the otherwise smooth surface of colonial, as well as other forms of domination, Finnegans Wake is an extraordinary example of postcolonial history. For if postcolonial history is genuinely to distinguish itself from colonial history in any significant way, it must be in this: that it articulate the landscape of this hidden history of struggle, visible primarily in the signs of crisis it provokes.
In its treatment of the event, then, not as part of a historical continuum, but as demonstrative of an ongoing struggle of forces, Finnegans Wake offers a decisive alternative to colonial history. And in this respect at least, Joyce is very much the anti-colonial writer that some recent critics have found him to be. But to leave it at that is to succumb to the reductive either/or trap of colonialism's interdependent oppositions - colonizer/colonized, civilized/barbarous, native/interloper - just as it grossly oversimplifies the complex and uneven processes of decolonization and an emergent nationalism. For it is not just the usurpation of power in the interest of colonial domination that Joyce is intent upon dissecting, but the fluidity of power and the exchange of force flowing through the circuits of the social field.
If Joyce was an ambivalent, sometimes-nationalist at best, his ambivalence stems from an unsentimental view of the manner in which many Irish nationalists sought to exercise what power they possessed as narrowly and as intolerantly as the colonial rulers they sought to overthrow. Moreover, their complete indifference to differences other than those defined by the logic of colonialism Irish, Celtic/Anglo-Saxon, Catholic/Protestant, Nationalist/Unionist) resulted in the hegemonic domination of their own cultural others, including Unionists, women, and non-Catholics. And finally if those same nationalists sought to consolidate national unity around nostalgic, simplistic images of the nation buried in some ideal, pristine past, they did so in ways that were often as racially overdetermined as any of those perpetrated against them by the English. It is just this obsession with originary recovery, an obsession shared by both colonialist and nationalist histories, that Finnegans Wake relentlessly refutes.
Thus to the extent the text is "about" something, it is about the appropriation, circulation and distribution of power and the persistent reciprocity of (an always unequal) relationship of forces: the supersession of Finn by HCE; the supersession of the parent by the child; the persecution of HCE which slips into HCE's persecution of others; the dominance of HCE over ALP and vice-versa. The list goes on and on. These forces, or what Joyce calls sigla in Finnegans Wake, have been the source of much confusion. At one extreme, read as and within the conventions of the traditional novel with its reliance on the concept of character, Finnegans Wake is presented as a novel about "anybody, anywhere, anytime" (Tindall 1969, 3), and the siglum HCE as a type of epic everyman. At the other extreme, such humanist notions of agency and individuality are supplanted by the discovery of a radical subjectivity which obliterates every possibility of collectivity, so that "nothing remains but differences" (Sollets 1978, 108). But Joyce's sigla are neither transhistorical abstractions nor the scattered remains of the human subject. Rather, they are the manifestations of specific and local (often extremely local) historical energies positioned within a range of intersecting and overlapping relationships, from the micro-dynamics of the domestic to the macro-struggles of nations, all figured within the force field of power. Power not as a form or thing-in-itself, but something which only comes into being and circulates through a network of forces.
For Joyce, following Bruno, the concept of a single force is meaningless; force exists only in relation to other forces, other resistances. As he wrote to Harriet Shaw Weaver by way of explanation, Bruno's philosophy "is a kind of dualism - every power in nature must evolve an opposite in order to realise itself and opposition brings reunion" (1957, 224-25). Keeping in mind Joyce's later caveat to Weaver, regarding his use and abuse of both Bruno and Vico - "I would not pay overmuch attention to these theories, beyond using them for all they are worth" (1957, 241) - it is safe to say that what Joyce recognized in Bruno's theory of polarities wasn't so much a model of Nature as a model of Culture. That is, a model of how history unfolds, on an individual as well as a collective level. Opposing principles, Finnegans Wake reminds us again and again are, as Bruno suggests, interdependent. But there is no "reunion" for Joyce, or at least no reconciliation. There is only struggle and the dynamism it generates.
Sigla, then, function as the site of multiple and often conflicting forces, inextricably ensnared in the social nexus: their respective "meanings" are not immanent, but issue from relationship and structure. Furthermore, sigla operate on a number of levels of abstraction, moving from the concrete to the purely abstract. Three levels are fairly easily distinguishable, if never stable. The first is represented by Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (or perhaps the publican Porter) and his wife Anna Livia Plurabelle; the second consists of various historical, geographical and psycho-imaginative manifestations of these two figures (Finn, Howth Castle and Environs, the River Liffey); and the third is constituted by the various sigla themselves. Opposing forces are more stable as they become increasingly abstract, less stable as they move toward the concrete. Thus the "character" HCE is always HCE and not HCE at the same time. That is, never quite the self-bounded, self-consistent and unique subject "he" imagines himself to be,(4) but those three letters embody the characteristics and contradictions of those forces which have historically driven imperial ventures.
ALP represents the River Liffey, and by extension cyclicity and nature; HCE is Dublin, linearity and culture. In opposition to ALP's drive toward secularity, neutrality and assimilation, HCE forces are compulsively religious, judgmental and repressive. If it is not quite accurate to say that, "like God [the siglum representing HCE] is a goal, a thing sought, a retort to the enigma of creation, a potentially dangerous but obsessively desired power or truth, a thing endowed with sanctity" (McHugh 1975, 12), it is clear that the letters HCE represent various fallen states and their correspondent desires for redemption. From the fall of Finn, legendary Irish hero and HCE-figure of Vico's Heroic age, reluctantly giving way to a new Human one, to the fall of Tim Finnegan off a ladder, only to be resurrected at his own wake by a drop of spilled whiskey, HCE figures are the inheritors of Original Sin and Adam's curse, unable to extricate themselves from the cycle of sin, guilt and redemption.
Within the highly charged morality of this fundamentally Christian ethos, HCE figures are subject to and vacillate between two characteristic qualities - aggressive self-satisfaction and shame. On the one hand, HCE is a patriarchal figure: a father, like God and Adam; a propagator, like Noah; a planter, like Henry II. But on the other, his authority is under a constant, double-edged assault: internally he is haunted by the guilty suspicion of his own Original Sin, his expulsion from the Garden, and his ultimate inability to measure up (to God or the Precursor); externally, the agonistic model of truth upon which his authority is based - "Has he hegemony and shall she submit?" (Joyce 1976, 573) - is challenged by the mere existence of ALP's very different forces, by her refusal to play by his rules.
The passage in which Earwicker meets the cad with the pipe (1976, 3536) highlights HCE's shame: "cad with a pipe" followed by "luciferant" introduces the theme of sexual misconduct, deviance, guilt; specifically, the exploitation of a young girl by an older father figure. This leitmotif gets developed throughout with references to an ostensible act of sexual exposure ("the copperstick he presented") and appears repeatedly in the text in other configurations, from Jarl Van Hoother and the Prankqueen to Lewis Carroll's relationship to Alice Liddell. The trace of sexual deviance - requited or unrequited, acted upon or merely fantasized - produces a not-quite-repressible guilt, which in turn displays itself in the HCE figures' characteristic anxieties. The defensively flustered "hakusay accusation" and Earwicker's need to testify on his own behalf, in stuttering embarrassment - "I am woo-woo willing to take my stand, sir" - exemplify HCE's conflicted double desire: to exonerate himself and to cover up his crime/sin.
There is a clear correlation between HCE's stuttering, the words and phrases he gets hung up on ("mewmew mutual daughters," "ruru redemption," for instance), and his various obsessions. Daughters and redemption are both clearly associated with the sin/guilt/forgiveness cycle. But the stutter reveals other neuroses as well. "Shsh shake co-comeraid," and "fibfib fabrications," introduce two other interconnected themes. Fabrication echoes the fallen state of humanity, our less than God-like being, and recalls the "he-he-hesitency" of HCE. "Hesitency" evokes the forger Piggott,(5) and by extension a whole cast of other fakes, frauds and fabricators; Earwicker (the usurper of Finn's rightful position), Rabworc-aka-Crowbar, Shem as the forger Jim the Penman (and also that other penman named Jim, the author of the "usylessly unreadable Blue Book of Eccles"). "Shsh shake co-comeraid" plays upon notions of community and camaraderie, though as the stutter indicates, such themes exacerbate HCE's anxieties. For HCE is an outsider: "So this is Dyoublong?" The HCE of "High Church of England" emphasizes Earwicker's links to Protestantism, and HCE may be Cromwell or William III, or a Dane like Earwicker, or he may just be a low down sham of a man like Shem, but even in his own home he is an outsider, an interloper, an invited or uninvited guest.
As "Dyoublong" - in its doubleness both a question and an imperative - insists, Dublin itself is in some sense an HCE figure, or at least the product of HCE forces. Just as significantly, its doubleness betrays a certain complicity between conquered and conqueror, a treachery at the center in collusion with the outsider's violation which reverberates in the invitational "come[-]raid." Synecdochically, then, this doubleness or dividedness corresponds to the antinomic sides of HCE, antinomies that each have antinomies of their own. HCE appears at times to be the colonized, an oppressed colonial subject humiliated by the suspicion that just maybe the colonial power is right, that he is guilty/base/uncivilized, and that he has perhaps allowed, or even invited, his own subjugation. Equally, he is unrepentant, a fervent nationalist, antagonistic toward all things imperial. His shame and aggressive self-satisfaction are part and parcel of the self-love/self-hate colonial matrix.
More often, though, he is colonizer, oppressor, would-be totalitarian. This is the HCE of Book III, Chapter 3, part of which Joyce published in 1930 as "Haveth Childers Everywhere." The section encapsulates the diversity of the various HCE figures and is, according to McHugh, "an eloquent self-vindication by the founder, architect, viceroy and Lord Mayor of Dublin telescoped into one person" (1976, 20). Numerous references to cities litter the pages as HCE rehearses the list of his achievements since coming to Dublin. Here we find the archetypal HCE figure: invader/founder/builder/settler/domesticator. This is HCE as Adam out of the Garden; the carpenter Tim Finnegan and Ibsen's Masterbuilder; Romulus and Remus; Cromwell and William III; Noah, Strongbow, St. Patrick, Wellington, Napoleon, Pope Adrian, Henry II and a whole host of others who have come from afar in search of booty, or more land, to convert the pagans, or subdue revolt, or perhaps just for the adventure of it all.
But because the sponsoring authority is so unstable - based, as it is, upon illegitimate claims and undermined by HCE's own sense of fraudulence and inadequacy - it must be relentlessly and often coercively renewed. This is the agonistic HCE who "wage[s] love" on ALP (Joyce 1976, 547). Michael Begnal (1986) sees this as a "celebration" of HCE's love for ALP. But he ignores the intrinsic violence of HCE's notion of courtship. Begnal finds the following "as touching as it is forthright":
I abridged with domfine norsemanship till I had done abate her maidan race, my baresark bride and knew her fleshly when with all my bawdy did I her whorship . . . . And I cast my tenspan joys on her, arsched overtupped, from bank of call to echobank, by dint of strongbow . . . so streng we were in one, malestream in shegulf." (Joyce 1976, 547)
Forthright maybe, but touching? This is the language of mastery, HCE's subjugation/domestication of ALP, not as Begnal would have it, "Earwicker['s] attempt to improve Anna Livia's mind" (1986, 107). And yet, as Joyce never fails to remind, attempts at mastery are always, ultimately, doomed to failure. ALP is the river and, by extension, in its everchanging/neverchanging cyclicity, life itself, absorbing into its stream all that HCE's civilizing force has produced.
In the last of a series of three short articles surveying the Irish political situation, written in 1907 for the Triestine newspaper II Piccolo della Sera, Joyce recounted a story about the prosecution on murder charges of an old Irish-speaking patriarch at the hands of an Anglo-Irish magistrate. The trial was conducted, of necessity since neither the old man nor any of the others accused knew English, through the medium of an interpreter. Not surprisingly perhaps, the proceedings were alternately comic and tragic. "Ask the accused if he saw the lady that night," the judge began, and after having the question translated for him, the old man "broke out into an involved explanation, gesticulating, appealing to the others accused and to heaven. Then he quieted down, worn out by his effort, and the interpreter turned to the magistrate and said: 'He says no, 'your worship.'" "Ask him if he was in that neighborhood at that hour." And again, as Joyce describes it, "the old man began to talk, to protest, to shout, almost beside himself with the anguish of being unable to understand or to make himself understood, weeping in anger and terror." The translation? "He says no, 'your worship.'" At the conclusion of the proceedings the old man was declared guilty and summarily condemned to hang, whereupon "the executioner, unable to make the victim understand him, kicked at the miserable man's head in anger to shove it into the noose" (Joyce 1964, 197-98).
For Joyce, "this dumbfounded old man" stands specifically as a symbol of the Irish nation at the bar of an English public unwilling and unable to "hear" or to "make sense of" legitimate Irish grievances. "The observer can do no less than ask himself," he continues, "why St. George's Channel makes an abyss deeper than the ocean between Ireland and her proud dominator." Thus the anecdote is equally indicative of and registers the more generalized communicative impasse implicit in Bhabha's "colonial nonsense": that abyss of misunderstanding that even the best translations - across time, across space, across languages, and peoples - fail to bridge fully and, by their failure, undermine the enlightenment ideals that structure the colonialist project. This colonial nonsense is situated at the heart of contemporary Irish playwright Brian Friel's (1984) widely acclaimed play Translations, and I want to conclude with a brief excursus through that work. For Friel, meditating on the activity of translation in a multitude of forms, brilliantly dramatizes the operative tensions of cultural difference so central to Finnegans Wake.
"What's the weapon?" the native Irishman Doalty Dan Doalty is asked when he first appears on stage carrying a surveyor's pole. Doalty it seems is a bit of a saboteur, engaged in some clever fun at the expense of the British military come to the western Irish village of Baile Beag on a cartographic expedition. On the surface, the mapping appears a benign enterprise, simply a survey of the local terrain. But the play is set, as Friel informs us, in 1833, just four years after Pitt's long-promised Catholic Emancipation had finally come to pass. With the failure of the Act of Union to magically transform the Irish into docile subjects, Britain had embarked on a campaign to gain, once and for all, a systematic control of its oldest and most intransigent colony. And central to the play's events are those processes - the creation of a national school system to replace the Catholic hedge-schools, the institution of English as the language of commerce, and the Ordnance Survey which remapped the island and standardized (that is, anglicized) its place names - by which the Empire hoped to more fully assimilate the Irish citizenry or, barring that, better control them. As a part of that general project of assimilative containment and anglicization, the remapping of the island not only contributed significantly to the demise of the Irish language, it was equally a central strategy in the imperial quest for absolute political control: a control premised upon a surveillance so complete, so all-encompassing, that no detail could escape its gaze; an imperial dream in which "no part of the Empire is without surveillance, no crime, no offence, no contravention . . . remains unpunished, and [in which] the eye of the genius who can enlighten all embraces the whole of this vast machine, without, however, the slightest detail escaping his attention" (Treilhard 1979, 217).
But the panoptic fantasy is just that - a fantasy. In spite of its best efforts, the imperial gaze never exhausts its field of vision. Doalty constantly confounds the surveyors by moving their equipment, twenty feet here, thirty feet there, just enough to agitate and confuse them, to make them check and recheck their equipment, but not enough to give the game away. It is, as another character says, a "gesture," "just to indicate . . . a presence." In labeling the surveyor's pole a weapon, Friel underscores the subterranean nature of the war being conducted just beneath the surface of the ostensibly benevolent anglicization of post-Union Ireland. Thus if the surveyor's pole is part of the material of a more efficient control of the country, that weapon is nonetheless double-edged. It serves equally as an Irish means of confusing and confounding, of subverting through misdirection, that very effort at total control.
If Irish writing has evinced an interest in, even an obsession with failed connections, miscommunications, and people speaking at cross-purposes, that preoccupation is undoubtedly linked to a historical despair associated with every effort to communicate not only across the Anglo-Irish cultural divide, but within the cultures of Ireland itself. Translations demonstrates the fundamental untranslatability of disparate cultures and it is this untranslatability, this colonial nonsense, that serves as the lesson of Joyce's old Irishman before his English prosecutor. How then, given the English magistrate's unwavering sense of his own reasonableness and civility (a self-identity confirmed by and thus dependent upon the production of an Other who is irrational and uncivil), can the old man avoid the dual stereotypes of agreeable angel or avenging ape? How is he to "indicate a presence"? For Joyce, both in the magisterial strangeness of Finnegans Wake and its pedestrian power struggles, the answer lies in the gesture: the gesture which belies every historical or ethical rationale and exposes it for what it is - the always-already interested effort to cobble together, out of the heterogeneous fragments of the past, a homogeneous narrative of evolutionary development.
If, for the young Stephen Dedalus, history was a nightmare, it was just this form of traditional history, fashioned as natural, transparent, inevitable, that he envisioned. Stephen's remark has often been cited to support a view of Joyce's own detachment from life; as illustrative of an escape into the cordon sanitaire of art. But to read that despair back through the incredible dynamism of Finnegans Wake is to recast the terms of the investment entirely. In the same way that notions of textuality and the modern novel are performatively transformed in the shift from Ulysses to Finnegans Wake (a shift that begins mid-way through Ulysses itself), so too, the notions of history, of subjectivity, and of human agency contemplated in the former give way to radical new configurations in the latter. For nineteenth-century Irish nationalists like Thomas Davis and Samuel Ferguson, there were "great gaps" in Ireland's fragmented colonial history which could only be filled in through acts of historical reconstruction. But for Joyce, reading in that colonial rupture the undisguised sign of the discontinuous and divided nature of all human history, contingency is, if not an ontological then certainly an epistemological given: the sign of the contradictions, contrarieties, displacements and duplicities which, literally, make-up our individual and collective historical beings.
The history that Stephen bemoans in Ulysses is, then, on one hand, the facile, mechanistic history of the liberal Englishman Haines ("We feel in England that we have treated you rather unfairly. It seems history is to blame") and, on the other, the equally facile, nostalgic-mnemonic history of the Orangeman Deasy's "Glorious, pious and immortal memory. The Lodge of Diamond in Armagh the splendid behung with corpses of papishes. Hoarse, masked and armed, the planter's covenant. The black north and true blue bible. Croppies lie down" (Joyce 1986, 17, 26). Between two versions of history - one radically impersonal, the other radically subjective - and two modes of power - a foreign church and a foreign state - Stephen, like Joyce, seeks to elaborate new forms of identity interstitially, in the crevices of those differentially overdetermined networks of forces.
1 Recent work suggests that postcolonial theory has at last seemed to filter into the Joyce industry. On Postcolonialism and Finnegans Wake, see Nolan (1995) and Hofheinz (1995). On Joyce's relationship to postcolonialism in a broader context, see Cheng (1996-97), Duffy (1994), and especially the insightful work of Lloyd (1993). Seamus Deane (1985) has been tremendously influential in recasting Joyce, and Irish writing more generally, in colonial and postcolonial terms, most powerfully in his Celtic Revivals.
2 "If the theory promises a decentering of history in hybridity, syncretism, [and] multi- dimensional time. . . . " McClintock writes, "the singularity of the term effects a re-centering of global history around the single rubric of European time" (1992, 86). The temporal pressure of the "post-" then, she goes on to argue, "confers on colonialism the prestige of history proper; colonialism is the determining marker of history" (86). If she is perhaps too quick to dismiss the irreversible global transformation effected by European colonialism, and if her remark ignores the stubborn fact that even after colonial independence everything is - in Yeats's famous ambiguous phrase - "changed, changed utterly," still McClintock's point is suggestive.
3 This is not to argue that concepts such as mimicry, hybridity, and the like have been neglected in postcolonial theory and practice. On the contrary, those terms, after Bhabha's (1994) groundbreaking work, have been so thoroughly incorporated into the critical language as to be in dire need of the kind of reconsideration Joyce's text demands. Moreover, they are nearly always employed unilaterally from an oppositional perspective, used to map the hesitancies and displacements that thus appear to mark the colonizer alone. But ambivalence, which is antithetical to development, cuts across both sides of the colonial divide, the disruptive preserve of the colonized as much as the colonizer.
4 "HCE" is not, I would argue, a gender-specific designation, though it often, even usually, manifests itself as such. The three disembodied letters are markers for Joyce's designated siglum and the collection of forces gathered under that sign. I refer to "HCE" as "he" for the sake of clarity only. Gender categories in Finnegans Wake are as unstable as every other category, as can be seen in the merging of Shem's voice with ALP's. And Shem often assumes ALP characteristics in opposition to Shaun's HCE ones (though Shem has his own HCE qualities as well).
5 Piggott forged an incriminating letter in an attempt to implicate Parnell in the Phoenix Park murders, but was found out through his misspelling of the word "hesitancy" - a series of events one could only find in the tragi-comic world of Irish history, and which, no doubt, go a long way toward explaining Joyce's peculiar view of history.
Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. 1989. The empire writes back: Theory and practice in post-colonial literatures. New York: Routledge.
Begnal, Michael. 1986. Dreamscheme. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.
Bhabha, Homi K. 1994. The location of culture. New York: Routledge.
Cheng, Vincent. 1995. Joyce, race, and empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
-----. 1996-97. Of canons, colonies, and critics: The ethics and politics of postcolonial Joyce studies. Cultural Critique 35 (Winter): 81-104.
Deane, Seamus. 1985. Celtic revivals: Essays in modern Irish literature, 1880-1980. London: Faber.
Duffy, Enda. 1994. The subaltern Ulysses. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Eagleton, Terry. 1995. Heathcliff and the great hunger: Studies in Irish culture. New York: Verso.
Foucault, Michel. 1979. Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. New York: Vintage.
Friel, Brian. 1984. Selected plays. Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press.
Guha, Ranajit. 1983. The prose of counter-insurgency. In Subaltern studies II: Writings on South Asian history and society. Ed. Ranajit Guha. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Guha, Ranajit, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, eds. 1988. Selected subaltern studies. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hart, Clive. 1982. Afterword: Reading Finnegans wake. In A Starchamber quiry. Ed. E. L.Epstein. New York: Methuen.
Hofheinz, Thomas C. 1995. Joyce and the invention of Irish history. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Joyce, James. 1957. Letters of James Joyce. Ed. Stuart Gilbert. London: Faber.
-----. 1964. The critical writings. Ed. Ellsworth Mason and Richard Ellmann. New York: Viking
-----. 1976. Finnegans wake. New York: Penguin.
-----. 1986. Ulysses. New York: Random House.
Lloyd, David. 1987. Nationalism and minor literature: James Clarence Mangan and the emergence of Irish cultural nationalism. Berkeley: University of California Press.
-----. 1993. Anomalous states: Irish writing and the post-colonial moment. Durham: Duke University Press.
McClintock, Anne. 1992. The angel of progress: Pitfalls of the term "post-colonialism." Social Text 31/32: 84-98.
McHugh, Roland. 1975. The sigla of "Finnegans wake." Austin: University of Texas Press.
Nolan, Emer. 1995. James Joyce and nationalism. New York: Routledge.
Sollers, Phillipe. 1978. Joyce and co. In In the wake of the wake. Ed. David Hayman and Elliot Anderson. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Tindall, William York. 1969. A reader's guide to "Finnegans wake." New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux.
Treilhard, J. B. 1979. Quoted in Michel Foucault, Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison (New York: Vintage), 217.
Mays is associate professor of English and co-director of the Institute for the Study of Modern Life at the University of Southern Mississippi. He is the author of Nation States: Colonialism, Nationalism, and Irish Culture.
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|Date:||Sep 22, 1998|
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