Thursday, September 5, 2013

Reading a River Passage: ALP on page 153

Nothing enlivens a Finnegans Wake reading group like the appearance of ALP and her playful, flowing river prose. During our most recent meeting, while reading the fable of the Mookse and the Gripes we came upon the beautiful paragraph atop page 153 where the Mookse "came... upon the most unconsciously boggylooking stream he ever locked his eyes with."
This paragraph (and really this entire page) turned out to be extremely rich in references and layers of meaning, moreso than usual. Marinating on the river passage later on when I got home, some fresh interpretations flowed out so I'd like to briefly examine what's at play here.

Here's a look at the passage:
he came (secunding to the one one oneth of the propecies, Amnis Limina Permanent) upon the most unconsciously boggylooking stream he ever locked his eyes with. Out of the colliens it took a rise by daubing itself Ninon. It looked little and it smelt of brown and it thought in narrows and it talked showshallow. And as it rinn it dribbled like any lively purliteasy: My, my, my! Me and me! Little down dream don't I love thee! (pg. 153)
Well, first thing of note is that the initials of ALP (indicating the river mother Anna Livia Plurabelle) appear twice here: "Amnis Limina Permanent" (Latin: "the bounds of the river remain") and "any lively purliteasy."

We also have the number associated with ALP, 111 ("one one oneth") which stands for renewal but also in Japanese characters represents a river (with the middle line as the flowing river with surrounding banks). [Which I must have learned from here.]

I love that phrase "the most unconsciously boggylooking stream"---Ulysses was famous for its stream of consciousness technique but Finnegans Wake represents the everflowing stream of the unconscious, the prose of the book is that river itself (first word of the text being "riverrun"). This river is always flowing under the surface, whether we're awake or asleep. The word "boggy" means watery, soft, wet and actually stems from an Irish-Gaelic word meaning "soft".

"Out of the colliens it took a rise by daubing itself Ninon." Enjoyed this line when we read it as Colleen is my girlfriend's name (Irish word meaning "young girl") but it's also the French colline which means "hill"---the river begins up in the hills where it rains and then flows down. The word "daubing" means to cover a surface but also implies "dubbing" or naming (and surely includes a reference to Dublin too). "Ninon" is a great word---here is condensed a reference to the fascinating historical character Ninon de Lenclos (a French female courtesan and patron of the arts, aunt of Voltaire), while also tying together the Greek words nun ôn ("ever present") and ninnion ("baby, doll"). The ever present, female river essence flows on through history.

"It looked little and it smelt of brown and it thought in narrows and it talked showshallow."
Throughout the Wake, the river is described as being brown and dirty, just like the tea-colored Liffey in Dublin. It's also brown because it carries the dirt and debris of history toward constant renewal. I could also go off on a long riff about Anna Livia Plurabelle's African roots ("a bushman woman, the dearest little moma ever you saw" pg. 207), but that's a post for another time. Anna Livia's hair is also frequently described as being brown or auburn, "she's flirty, with her auburnt streams" (p. 139).

"And as it rinn it dribbled like any lively purliteasy"
As it ran, or flowed (German rinnen = to run, flow) it sang a little song in a purling language. That word "purl" appears a few times in the Wake, a simply beautiful word that refers to the rippling murmur of water.

The song "dribbled" by the river is to the tune of the old folk song "Little Brown Jug":

These lyrics are interesting, though:
"Little down dream don't I love thee!"

The "down dream" is the "brown stream" but I wondered for a while about the word down here. Why "down"? For one thing, rivers flow downward, starting up in the hills and flowing down by gravity. That's what keeps it flowing. It's also the "little down dream" of one sleeping underneath a down blanket or a down pillow. Down is the fine feathers of birds, especially baby birds, that is so soft and cozy that it's used in pillows, blankets, and jackets. This also brings to mind another version of ALP that frequently appears, that of the hen. And of course the egg is a major symbol in the book that recurs often.

Let all that trickle through your mind tonight as you rest and slowly slip into the "unconsciously boggylooking stream" that lies everflowing within us all.

1 comment:

  1. It's nice to return to and reflect on this passage from a part we already read. I don't recall that we particularly stopped on this bit, but I think we all enjoyed the Mookse and the Gripes portion quite a lot.

    I especially like your reminding us that the Liffey is a dirty brown river, and its connection with the tea theme running throughout.