Thursday, August 26, 2021

Beyond the Portal: Further notes from reading FW Book I.3-4

The text of Book I.3-4 of Finnegans Wake is so inexhaustibly rich (the word for it on pg 91 is "inexousthausthible") that my notes on this part of the book keep growing the more I think on it and each note could expand into its own area of study. Without going too deep into any of these subjects though, I'm going to share below some cursory and mostly disconnected observations from reading this part of the Wake. Consider these expanded footnotes to my previous post on The Portal


Ishtar Gate reconstruction in Berlin Museum


In my last post, focusing on the scene of a confrontation at a pub gate, I talked about the image of the gate as a portal to the afterlife or to the underworld. I later learned that the name for the city of Babel, as in the Tower of Babel, comes from the Akkadian bab-ilu which literally means "Gate of God" stemming from the same root as the name of Babylon. This section of the Wake touches on this etymological link in a few ways where the attacker at the gate is described: "This battering babel allower the door and sideposts, he always said, was not in the very remotest like the belzey babble of a bottle of boose" (FW 64.10-11, emphasis added). The passage on pg 69 of FW all about the Gate prominently mentions the Babylonian goddess Ishtar (to whom the Ishtar Gate of Babylon was dedicated) and, later on, in the last two pages of chapter 4, we find references to Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, and ALP sings the lyrics to a song called "by the waters of babalong" (FW 103) or Babylon. I think this chapter ending on pg. 103 is an echo of the chapter ending on pg. 74 where HCE drifts off into deep sleep at the sound of rain drops, whereas here it's the sound of a rushing stream, the waters of Babylon. My last post touched on the appearance of a ziggurat on pg 100 in the phrase "beaconsfarafield innherhalf the zuggurat" where HCE himself seems to have been buried inside a tomb within an illuminated ziggurat. The Tower of Babel legend is thought to be based on the Ziggurat of Ur, the ziggurat being a meeting point or portal between this realm and the ethereal realm, in other words a "Gate of God." Generally I think the clusters of references to Bablyon and Ur (and elsewhere in the text, clusters of references to the Garden of Eden) are intended as a way of signaling the main character fallen asleep is descending back to origins---in deep slumber he's going back to the world of the womb, "backtowards motherwaters." (FW 84.30-31) 


The Bat

The attacker at the gate wields a "fender" or some type of a cudgel weapon that morphs and changes appearance throughout chapters 3-4. Details of the story keep changing---there was an attacker banging a bottle at the locked gate, or it was an encounter in the streets with the legless strangler Billy-in-the-Bowl, or there was a no-holds-barred wrestling match with an armed burglar. Joyce intertwines random details from various real-world contemporary newspaper accounts of crimes and trials. Witness accounts vary, "our mutual friends the fender and the bottle at the gate seem to be implicitly in the same bateau" (FW65.35-36) it says at one point, while earlier a witness declares "No such parson. No such fender. No such lumber." (FW 63.11) On page 81, the object is made to appear like a crowbar that a burglar and his victim wrestle over: "catching holst of an oblong bar he had and with which he usually broke furnitures he rose the stick at him." (FW 81. 31-32) On the next page the object could be a Webley revolver pistol, when, in the middle of their "collidabanter" it says "a woden affair in the shape of a webley" (FW 82.16) falls out of the burglar's pocket. On pg 84 it's a "humoral hurlbat" a bat used in the Irish sport of hurling. Later on pg 98 the weapon evolves again through rumors and kaleidoscopic views, "Batty believes a baton while Hogan hears a hod yet Heer prefers a punsil shapner and Cope and Bull go cup and ball." The presence of bat and ball suggest cricket and/or baseball references here, but more on that in a moment. As discussed in my last post, in the book Wake Rites, George Cinclair Gibson describes the "Batter at the Gate" confrontation as paralleling certain rituals of the ancient Irish druids. One of these rituals, which were designed to divest the old king of his powers, apparently included a hostile druid confronting the king at a doorway while aggressively wielding the wooden "shamanistic device" known as a bull-roarer. Gibson gives a good argument for the mysterious wooden object in this part of the Wake being a bull-roarer (see Wake Rites, p. 88-90) and notes that J.S. Atherton in his Books at the Wake observed that Joyce definitely knew about this druid device. 


Wicket Gate

Joyce in his notes titled this section "Batter at Gate" and I'm intrigued by the use of the word batter here because, as the story morphs and mutates, there are noticeable elements of cricket and baseball. The mysterious wooden weapon wielded by the attacker becomes a bat (p. 84.04) and in the pages describing the gate at one point it says the attacker "went on at a wicked rate" (FW 70.32) which Fweet notes as an echo of "wicket gate" which could be the wicket in cricket. Peter Chrisp wrote a really fascinating blog post describing how Joyce was a lifelong fan of cricket with an extensive knowledge of the game's golden age players. There are tons of references to the gameplay of cricket and famous cricketers within the Wake. Notice also how the "trilithon" version of HCE's siglum resembles a wicket:

A wicket used in cricket. The name comes from wicket gate, a small gate.

trilithon E siglum for HCE

The confrontation at the gate gets re-examined and re-litigated in this part of FW and each time the details change. The identities of the two combatants can seem to blur, the presence of a "fender" as weapon helps confuse offender and defender. The nature of the clash changes. By the time we get deep into chapter 4, evidently the clash at the gate involved somebody throwing a stone. The attacker under questioning "would swear... he did not fire a stone either." (FW 91.08-11) Knowing Joyce had a love for cricket, and knowing also (after reading Brian J. Fox's insightful and well-researched book James Joyce's America) that Joyce closely tracked American popular culture of the time and filled FW with American pop cultural references, I think it's highly plausible Joyce was aware of American baseball and included it within the Wake. Seasoned Joyce scholar John Gordon apparently agrees---in his annotations for this section, he expands on the phrase "Pegger's Windup" (FW 92.06) with this: "given this chapter’s plethora of American idioms, 'pitcher’s windup' seem highly probable here.  (For non-American readers: in baseball, a pitcher will gyrate his body before fixing it in position before releasing the ball.  See 91.11-2 and note.)" His additional note from pg 91 refers to "Pegger Festy" where he explains the name has to do with someone throwing stones. Looking a little more closely at this page reveals more potential allusions things that sound like baseball, cricket, bat and ball games:

91.26: "as true as he was there in that jackabox that minute"  [baseball batter's box]

91.27: "or wield or wind" [wield a bat, wind up to pitch]

91.30-32: "if ever in all his exchequered career he up or lave a chancery hand to take or throw the sign of a mortal stick or stone at man"  [take or throw, pitcher's signs, stick or stone]

Following "Pegger's Windup" and "Pegger Festy" we also get "Wet Pinter" (FW 92.07) which, although likely anachronistic, could be an allusion to baseball terminology where a pitcher with good precision is said to "paint" the edges of the strike zone. With a batter at the gate and someone winding up to fire or peg a rock, and words like "sockdologer" on pg 91 (American slang for a decisive blow) there's definitely the impression of a clash resembling the pitcher/batter confrontation in baseball. Since this part of the Wake deals so much with origins, bringing in Babylon and numerous references to Adam & Eve, I think it's possible Joyce is touching on the metaphorical underpinnings of bat and ball games like cricket and baseball. In her insightful study of baseball and mythology Ground Rules: Baseball & Myth (1995), Deanne Westbrook quotes from the novel The Celebrant where Christy Mathewson theorizes on the origins of bat and ball as ancient weapons, stone and stick, perhaps even the first murder weapons:

"Throwing and clubbing. What could be more ancient?... We have to grant that our prehistoric forebears employed those same arts against the creatures of nature--indeed, against one another. Even in holy writ, mustn't we imagine that Cain slew Abel with a stone guided by the bare hand, or a club wielded as a bludgeon? Think of it. I stand on the pitcher's mound, the batter at home plate. We are surrounded by every manifestation of civilization... Yet my action in throwing and his in swinging are echoes of the most primitive brutality." (Ground Rules: Baseball & Myth, p. 110) 




When I shared that last post, a commenter replied asking "no turnpike?" So let's discuss the turnpike. The turnpike, as in a turnpike road where a toll is taken, and more specifically referring to the old turnpike road system in Dublin from the 1700s-1800s, appears frequently in Finnegans Wake usually in connection with HCE who is "our family furbear, our tribal tarnpike" (FW 132.32). The turnpike first appears on the opening page with "their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock out in the park" (FW 03.22) where "the knock out in the park" refers to Castleknock, the district on the western side of Phoenix Park in Dublin. So there must have been a turnpike road there, but Fweet also alludes to a turnpike in Chapelizod, the area south of Phoenix Park where the action of the Wake is supposed to take place. HCE and his family are ostensibly asleep in their home above the pub owned by HCE, which is generally considered to be the Mullingar House pub in Chapelizod. When we meet HCE at the beginning of chapter 2, he's "jingling his turnpike keys" (FW 31.01) and is said to be "a turnpiker who is by turns a pikebailer no seldomer than an earwigger!" (FW 31.27-28). 

I think the turnpike takes on an additional meaning in the Gate passage I previously examined from page 69 where we read: "Now by memory inspired, turn wheel again to the whole of the wall." This is apparently referring to another very real pub in the vicinity of Phoenix Park, a pub known as The Hole in the Wall (formerly known as Black Horse Tavern). The Hole in the Wall pub is located in the district of Ashtown just north of Phoenix Park, and the phrase "turn wheel again" refers to the turnstile (or turnpike) set in a hole in the adjacent Phoenix Park wall. You can see the turnstile in the wall here in this old photograph:

Looking at Google street view, you can see the turnstile is still there to this day in the same spot:

I am left wondering why, though, if the action of the Wake is supposed to take place at Mullingar House in Chapelizod on the southern edge of Phoenix Park, why the scene would shift across the park to the Hole in the Wall pub in Ashtown. Maybe it's got something to do with the recurrent theme of HCE walking through Phoenix Park at night and either being accosted or encountering girls peeing or some other vague incident. Or maybe it makes more sense that the belligerent drunk who's banging at the locked gate would be stuck behind a locked turnstile. For what it's worth, the trek across the park from the pub in Chapelizod to the pub in Ashtown is about a 45 minute walk:

I am actually in Dublin right now as I type this and I'm planning to get over there this week to explore both of those pubs and the space in between.


Via Heraklea

Ancient intersection of the Via Appia and Via Ardeatina by Piranesi

We touched on roads in relation to the turnpike above, but later in chapter 4 the references to roads proliferate so much that it's worth taking a closer to see what's going on. On page 80, while the street-cleaner and scavenger Kate Strong is delivering her witness account of what transpired, she mentions "there being no macadamised sidetracks on those old nekropolitan nights" (FW 080.01-02)---where the allusion to macadamization refers to a method of making or repairing roads, and "nekropolitan nights" could be an allusion to how Roman roads were lined with tombs and gravestones since the dead were forbidden to be buried within the city walls---and then over the next few pages we get several references to roads and paths. 

The allusions to roads cluster especially on page 81 where we get this interesting line: "If this was Hannibal's walk it was Hercules' work." (FW 81.03) The many references to roads and particularly this conjunction of Hannibal and Hercules and a pathway ("Hannibal's walk") took on a new meaning for me when I read Graham Robb's groundbreaking book The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts (2013) which is essentially a prehistory of the Roman road system. Robb mainly focuses on what's known as the Via Heraklea, an ancient road originally constructed by the Gaulish Druids extending from the tip of present-day Portugal along the southern edge of the Iberian peninsula up through the Alps. The road was said to be in the footsteps of Herakles who was originally a sun god, and Robb thoroughly lays out a convincing argument that the Druids, who were masters of astronomy, laid out the road to be in perfect alignment with the rising of the sun at the summer solstice and the setting of the sun at the winter solstice (the reference to "middle earth" in the book's title has to do with the Druids attempting to align the earthly world or middle earth with the upper world of the sky). As for the connection between Hannibal and Hercules in that line from FW pg 81, Robb offers this (mind you, he makes no direct reference to anything from Finnegans Wake):

Ancient writers who described the Carthaginian invasion knew that Hannibal saw himself and wanted to be seen as the successor to Herakles. He would march across the mountains in the footsteps of the sun god, shining with the aura of divine approval. (The Discovery of Middle Earth, pp 18-19)
When Hannibal stood at the Matrona in the early winter of 218 BC, watching his elephants stumble down to the plains of northern Italy, he knew that he was standing in the rocky footprints of Herakles. His strategists and astrologers, and their Celtic allies and informers, were certain that the sun god had shown them the way. (ibid, p 21)

"If it was Hannibal's walk it was Hercules' work."
(FW 81.03)

Via Heraklea, from The Discovery of Middle Earth by Graham Robb

I have no idea how Joyce would've known about the Druid Geodesy underlying the Roman road system or whether he knew about the Via Heraklea, but the connecting clues in this part of the Wake certainly give credence to Joyce being aware of what Robb discusses in his book. For example, Robb emphasizes that the ancient Celtic road system in Gaul was designed during the Iron Age, and on pg 79 line 14 of the Wake we read of "those pagan ironed times." That quote immediately precedes the appearance of clusters of references to roads and paths in the text. Then we have on pg 81, "If it was Hannibal's walk it was Hercules' work" which is followed by a paragraph making multiple references to roads including a treacherous mountain pass---"in the saddle of Brennan's (now Malpasplace?) pass" (FW 81.14-15) where Brenner Pass is a mountain pass that goes through the Alps.

And as regards the Via Heraklea as a solstice road, the very next page after the Hannibal/Hercules/roads passage mentions "the solstitial pause for refleshmeant" (FW 82.10) followed by the appearance of "Yuni or Yuly" (FW 82.28) and "Yuletide or Yuddanfest" (FW 82.36) which would be June/July and Yuletide/Judenfest (Christmas/Jewish holidays), in other words the summer solstice and winter solstice. I should also mention that one of the figures who frequently comes up in Graham Robb's book is the Celtic tribal leader Vercingetorix who led a failed rebellion against the Romans, and Vercingetorix also appears numerous times in FW, including three times in the section of the book we're focusing on here. What any of this has to do with the confrontation at the pub gate, I'm not entirely sure. Notably, the Roman roads are often punctuated by archway gates. In my last post, I touched on the idea that the gate threshold has to do with HCE crossing over into the night-world akin to Osiris going into the underworld in his night boat. Osiris travels under the earth amid the stars and this part of the Wake, besides containing references to the astronomically-aligned Druid road system, is also loaded with references to astronomy and astrology, but that's a topic for another day. 


H.E.R.E. C.O.M.E.S. E.V.E.R.Y.B.O.D.Y.

Among the many fun easter eggs to discover in Finnegans Wake are the instances of meta-reference where the book tells you about something specific located elsewhere in the book. One interesting example of this appears on page 6 where it says "see peegee ought he ought" (FW 006.32) and if you read that as "see pg 88" and look to page 88 of the book, what stands out is the long acronym that spells out the name Here Comes Everybody: "Helmingham Erchenwyne Rutter Egbert Crumwall Odin Maximus Esme Saxon Esa Vercingetorix Ethelwulf Rupprecht Ydwalla Bentley Osmund Dysart Yggdrasselmann" (FW 88.21-23). I mentioned in the last post that in this part of the Wake, HCE either encounters or is seen to embody dozens of mythic gods and historic kings from various cultures and I think that's evident in this long name here. But also, that line from page 6 "see peegee ought he ought" is, according to the notes in Fweet, also a specific reference Joyce was making to an image plate shown between pgs 88-89 of a 1911 book by a French Egyptologist, Gods and Kings of Egypt by Alexandre Moret, and that specific plate displays an image of "The Wake of Osiris" not just the wake but the awakening, according to the mythology a revival via sexual arousal brought about by his sister Isis to resurrect him. You can read more about all of that here. I bring it up to further emphasize the identification of HCE with Osiris who was also known as Osiris-Unnefer and I read somewhere that Unnefer could be why Joyce gave his hero the first name of Humphrey.


The Canon

That memorable line from the closing pages of chapter 4 "the canonicity of his existence as a tesseract" (FW 100.34-35) provokes many ideas. I previously discussed how, at this stage in the text, HCE as a person with an identity has been obliterated (either in deep sleep or in the transition thru the underworld after death) and here on pg 100 he has become "the prisoner of that sacred edifice" (FW 100.25), buried like an entombed pharaoh king inside of some kind of tesseract ziggurat, "innerhalf the zuggurat" (FW 100.19). 

Focusing on that word "canonicity" though---it's apparently a real word that Joyce took from apocrypha about the New Testament but I think there is more to it. HCE entombed inside a ziggurat tesseract is also HCE or Here Comes Everybody or all of human knowledge, myth, history, inventions, tools, and treasures buried inside The Canon of the book, the tesseract cube that is the book Finnegans Wake itself. Similar to how HCE in the Wake is made to literally embody the collective corporal body of the city of Dublin itself, his existence here has become the canon, and "the canonicity of his existence as a tesseract" means Joyce's Everyman buried forever inside the literary canon along with all of his "inhumationary bric au brac"(FW 77.33), the gems and artifacts to be discovered by the reader who exhumes the tomb of the text. 


The Trial

While the text grows increasingly opaque, the noticeable narrative throughout Book I.2-4 revolves around a scandalous legal trial, the details of which are always vague and obscured yet we return to the courtroom scene over and over. Witnesses give their differing accounts of what happened, lawyers cross-examine, judges convene in chambers, one of the defendants even rips a loud, stinky fart that shocks everyone. Besides bringing in details from several legal trials of his era, Joyce also weaves into the text details from the tragic wrongful conviction of Myles Joyce, an Irish peasant who spoke no English but was tried in an English court, convicted of massacring a family, and executed in 1882, the year Joyce was born (Myles Joyce was posthumously pardoned in 2018). That trial was impactful for James Joyce, he published an essay about it in 1907,  "Ireland at the Bar".

Also, though, for virtually the entire time Joyce was composing Finnegans Wake in the 1920s and 30s, he himself was essentially on trial in courtrooms in the United States for the scandals around his banned book Ulysses. The more the reader can understand that, the clearer it becomes why so much of the Wake, beyond even these chapters about the trial, uses a style of interrogation and intensive questioning trying to get to the bottom of something. A recent book by Brian Fox James Joyce's America sheds some clarifying light about all of this:

The first part of the Wake to be drafted, Book I.2-4 in the finished work, deals with introducing HCE and his alleged crime and subsequent trial. The earliest drafts make clear that Joyce's own writing is under indictment here as well... The narrative voice immediately follows accusation with defence and counter-accusation---a move that will be repeated numerous times throughout the finished work... (James Joyce's America, p. 184)

Fox goes so far as to argue, convincingly I think, that the central theme of a crime and a legal trial in Finnegans Wake has to do with the scandals of Joyce's American reception (specifically, the trials over the chapters of Ulysses published n the Little Review, Joyce's American copyright struggles and the piracy of his work by Samuel Roth, and the federal ban of Ulysses). Fox writes:

The core theme of HCE's alleged crime in the park and its subjection to trial and defence from the start involves those adversarial elements of Joyce's American reception linked to legal confrontation...
Indeed, so much of the book is concerned with defending or indicting the alleged crime or crimes in the park that Joyce's response to his own exploitation [via Roth selling pirated editions of Ulysses & Finnegans Wake in USA] and condemnation---the incorporation into the work of its hostile reception---is arguably one of the primary themes of the Wake itself." (James Joyce's America, p.  184-185)

(Thank you Peter Coogan and the whole Austin Finnegans Wake Reading Group.)