Thursday, February 28, 2013

he always indeed looked, constantly the same as and equal

The leading male character in Finnegans Wake, Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, is mentioned by name in a bewildering array of variants:

Haroun Childeric Eggeberth
he calmly extensolies.
Hic cubat edilis.
How Copenhagen ended.
happinest childher everwere.
has its clever mechanics and each
Hush! Caution ! Echoland
How charmingly exquisite!
heathersmoke and cloudweed Eire's
Hither, craching eastuards,
hence, cool at ebb,
hatch, a celt, an earshare
here, creakish from age and all now quite epsilene,

and hundreds more versions, some more obscure than others, though my favorite is Here Comes Everybody. HCE is everybody, or every Finnegan, which is to say every Irishman, which is to say every man descended from Adam after the Fall in the Garden. I am pretty sure this is what Joyce is getting at, at least in part. HCE is also short for Howth Castle and Environs, a very old structure that overlooks Dublin Bay. The mouth of the River Liffey is Dublin Bay. This is also significant.

Howth Castle and Environs is a stand in for the city of Dublin, which is also an aspect of Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, which means that Dublin is human society post-Fall. The River Liffey (also known as Anna Liffey) is a stand in for Anna Livia Plurabelle, or ALP, or the wife of HCE. The Liffey (the wife, Eve, Ireland itself, the earth, nature, etc) is the pure and innocent place where the sinful HCE has set up shop. I think. Anna Livia Plurabelle, whose monologue ends Finnegans Wake in much the same way Molly Bloom's monologue ends Ulysses, turns out therefore to be the narrator of the entirety of Finnegans Wake, because the final sentence of her monologue wraps around the whole of the book to become the first sentenct of the first chapter. So, as I say, ALP narrates Finnegans Wake. Who is speaking is just as tricky a problem as what is being said.

What is being said, I think, becomes more clear to me as I read on. The language, or Joyce's many languages, are starting to make sense and sounding more like English, which is either a good sign or a bad sign; I can't say which. I don't know what this book is doing to me. Many of the characters in it (maybe all of them?) are asleep, and the language is the language of dreams: symbolic, shifting, confusing and coiling about itself. Possibly the whole thing is a dream dreamt by ALP, by the River Liffey, by Ireland. Ireland dreams of her own fall and wishes for her revival. Maybe. I can't say so I keep reading.

I'm not sure what I think about when I read this book. I am amused often because the tone is comic, a nod I suppose to the comic story of Finnegan's wake, but there's also a great sadness here, a great bitterness and swelling anger at something but I'm not sure what. Perhaps I've read too much Chekhov and so I read into Joyce's novel a sympathy for the Fallen humanity that Joyce doesn't intend. HCE lies about being lied about, and everyone is scandalized but nobody is in any state to be throwing the first stone. Is this what the book is about? I don't know. I keep reading, because I want to see what Anna Livia Plurabelle's soliloquy does after all of this other stuff.

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