Analysis and Discussion - Book One Chapter One of Finnegans Wake.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Here is something I am gonna throw out, my notes on the first few pages of Chapter 1 as I go along. Please comment on this as well as post your own thread. I was thinking we could do chapter at a time but that is too much maybe? So just update this as you go along with things you notice. You don't have to do every page or anything but you can if you want and it would be appreciated.

Anyway, here is the beginning, my reading:

(3:1) riverrun: 1) French, "Let Us Dream"; 2) French, "See again"; 3) "err" is in there; 4) "Reverand"

I certainly don't plan to go as far in depth into every word, though I possibly could. I don't actually know french, I just have those notes in my book. Likely it is not exact french, it is just a liberal reading, much the way you can also get "Reverand" out of it. Why Reverand? Because this is a book, and a book is a work of text, and so it is a letter as well as a book, and it is all books and all letters, and if it is a letter it needs a recipient, so perhaps this is a hastily scribbled note to a priest. Hmm?

(3, 3) HCE: "Howth Castle and Environs"

(3, 4-14) This seems to be a paragraph of things that have not yet happened. There seem to be seven things?

  1. Sir Tristram (Tristan of Tristan and Isolde, the wagner opera, conflated with someone else?) has not yet come back to fight some sort of war.
  2. Tom Sawyers rocks had not yet exagerated themselves? Gotten bigger? Tom Sawyer had not yet gotten big rocks? Something about "doublin his mother" which is incest as well as our first refence to the city of Dublin.
  3. A voice had not yet bellowed "mishe mishe" from a fire. This is easy, Moses on the mountain. Mishe Mishe, my notes tell me (sorry, I dont mean to cheat!) means "I am, I am." This is god as a burning bush introducing himself to moses. But here, moses the lawgiver is identified with "tauftauf thuartpeatrick." Since this is after all about ireland, let us then assume that this is a reference to St. Patrick as a conflationary figure for Moses. That's my theory anyway.
  4. Not yet (though shortly afterwards) had a "kidscad buttended a bland old isaac." Well, this must surely be Jacob and Esau, where Jacob wears a goatskin to trick his blind father Isaac.
  5. The Sosie Sisters had not yet gotten angry at Nathan and Joeseph?
  6. Rot a peck of pa's malt - is this a reference to Noah the brewer getting drunk on his own wine and his son Shem mocking him?
  7. Not yet had the rainbow been seen above the water.

So what does this all mean? Well, I think this all means "before the fall." Items one through 6 are allusions to biblical sins; item 7 is the mark of god's forgiveness and of peace. Or does the rainbow simply mark God's sin, his destruction of the earth?

(3, 15) The fall. There are 7 100-letter "thunderwords" in this text. They each have a theme, usually with a dozen languages and loosely conflated vocab words. What seems to be the theme in this word?

Then we get something about the fall of a "once wallstrait oldparr". This is of course the crash of wallstreet, there is some humpty dumpty thrown in, and a vague image of a man sorta falling over. This is the fall, this is the apple, this is the sin of humanity.

Note we get orange and green, the colors of ireland I believe, and "devlinsfirst loved livvy." Dublin the city is on the Liffy River, and through this text we are gonna get references to a sort of romantic relationship between Dublin and Liffy, and all men and all women, and HCE and ALP, etc. It'll come.

Page four seems to open with descriptions of precivilized primal conflict, names of various tribes thrown in. Vague sense of war and bloodshed and chaos after the fall. Ostrogoths vs Visigoths etc.

(4, 14) Iseut! A reference to Isolde of Tristan and Isolde? We had him on page 3. He had not yet begun his war, it said. Maybe this is his war, his war is all human war and that is what was listed first in the "before the fall" list and now it is the first thing we get after the fall. And for a woman, so fall = phall, see below.

End of this paragraph: "phall if you but will, rise you must: and none so soon either shall the pharce for the nunce come to a setdown secular phoenish." So this is the fall, chaos, and he says "you will fall but you will rise." and there is a reference to a phoenix, the bird of regeneration. Also some dirty humor, I think, where he spells fall phall implying phallus - fall if you must, but you will rise again. Get it? Har. So we get redemption with rising with phoenix with penis.

That's the kind of book this is.

Next Paragraph is about Big Mister Finnegan, who lived apparently in those days, so long ago that no letters can reach him - not numbers or deutoronomy or helviticus or judges. These are all books of the old testament. Finnegan lived before the old testament?

And there we have him, trying to check his future in some sort of fortune-telling involving water when suddenly it is guiness. He was apparently a builder of some sort - Tower of Babel?

Line 28, Addle Liddle Phifie, ALP => Anna Livia Plurabella. This is the main female presence.

Line 32, Haroun Childeric Eggberth -> HCE

So we get him with a trowel and mason's tools and it is a reference perhasp to Leopold Bloom who was a mason in Ulysses, or not, but anyway he is building and he builds a sky scraper.

And this tower has a burning bush on top as decoration, it goes above the himalayas and into the heavens. I think we can safely call this the tower of babel.

Laurence O'Toole clamoring up and Thomas Beckett tumbling down. These two are very important figures in this book, old bishops. Someone wanna look up some details? I don't remember but they stand for opposites. They are the sons of HCE, I believe.

Then we get someone laughing at Mr Finnagain. And a reference to Mr. Finn, which I believe is Finn McCool, an Irish folkhero. He is the same person but not. Finn is told that he will be Finn Again. He is compared to wine, which becoms vinegar and presumably Wine Again (finnegan).

INTERLUDE: Finnegans Wake takes its title from an old irish folk song. In this song, the main character finnegan is a mason, he is standing on his ladder fixing some bricks or a wall or something and he falls off and hits his head and dies. They have a funeral and at the wake a fight breaks out, and in the process some whiskey splashes on his face. He revives and says "Ye fools, did ye think I was dead?" and that's the song. Joyce is equating that with the fall in the garden, and also with the tower of babel (the ladder). The tower is destroyed, language loses meaning (the text) and we are in a fallen state.

The text then works into discussions of this and that and a passage about what caused the fall. Some say (bottom of 5) that it was a loose brick and others that it was finnegans fault. There are 1001 stories (arabian nights). That paragraph seems to end with a poet masturbating? Which is perhaps JJ's acknowledgment of the worth of this literary misadventure.

And that brings us to the middle of page 6. I am gonna stop here. Feel free to explore any degree you want on this page. Big posts, small posts, comments - just participate!

What think you of my theories?


Blogger chhunny said...

I like the fall and the forgiveness that you've outlined. I'll just comment on the first paragraph: "riverrun," well a river runs to the ocean, or a larger body of water and is made larger by smaller rivers--so where is this particular river running to? "past Eve and Adam's," that is, past the origin of humanity. So there is an emphasis on a world before humans, but "past Eve and Adam's" could also mean more than Adam and Eve (who together represent Christian thought); so now we are in a world that is pre-human, and emphatically pre-Christian. But, of course, then we "recirculate" back to a time of people.

But I am puzzled by the capitalization. Only Eve (mentioned before Adam, notably), Adam, Howth, Castle and Environs are capitalized. EAHCE--each? eek? ease?

My favorite part about this is that there are no limits to the possibilities--it seems like nothing is too proposterous an idea. This will be exciting! Thanks for setting it up.

11:29 PM

Blogger Mykola said...

Woohoo, a first comment!

Good catches. The river is indeed running somewhere, I have some ideas but I dunno that I wanna spit all that out cuz it is too early. I hadn't caught the EAHCE; I am tempted to say that it's only because those are the only proper nouns, but somehow I am not quite sure.

One point you may not be aware of is that some people hold that the first sentence is the completion of the last sentence, so if you want a better sense of where the river is from and where it is going you need to read the whole book.

And why Eve first? Interesting. This is all about men and women, perhaps we will find an answer.

Should I start a blog that is just "Questions that need answers" so we can make a checklist of things to look for as we read? I think I may.

Anyway welcome aboard!

11:34 PM

Blogger the woid said...

Disorganized thoughts:

(3:1) riverrun:
supplementary information:
rêver: French verb for "to dream"
revoir: French verb for "to see again"
verr: French future/conditional tense stem for the verb "voir"

One additional thought: I'm guessing that Nick and Chhunny didn't explictly write this because it struck them as obvious, but I think that it's important to note that the river very likely refers to Finn's "stream-of-(dreaming)-consciousness," a term which had been invented as a product of the modernist era which writers like Joyce and Woolf ushered into popular intellectual culture. I wonder, though, if "riverrun" is a command of sorts, especially because a narrator seems to have an active presence in this first paragraph thanks to the word "us" ("brings us by a commodious vicus").

(3: 6) "[Sir Tristram's] penisolate war"--etymology analysis: "penis" "isolate" "peninsulate"

(4: 3) "Baddelaires"--could be a reference to the French poet Baudelaire, author of "Les Fleures du mal" (Evil Flowers)

(4) "tete"--"tête" is the French word for "head"

(4: no idea): "caligulate"--etymology: "calculate," "Caligula-ate" (Caligula: Roman Emperor after Tiberius, notorious for his bizarre sexual orgies)

(4) "maisonry"--"maison" is the French word for "home," so the etymology is: "maison," "masonry"

(8) "This the way to the museyroom"--"museyroom" etymology: "muse's room," "music room," "mushroom"

(8) "Mind your hats goan in!" begins a very long paragraph, and 10 "Mind your boots goan out" ends it

I would have liked to go more in depth tonight, but I would like more now to go to bed soon. I'm definitely enjoying this so far, though! Can someone please post thoughts on page's 1 gender role inversion of "Eve and Adam's?" I'm not sure what to think.

10:13 PM

Blogger Mykola said...

museyroom is museum - it is the character Kate, the Old Female archetype, guiding the reader through a museum regarding the fall of Napolean at Waterloo. I believe this is a reference to an actual museum in phoenix park, dublin. Phoeniz park is very important. Note in the long paragraph of lists she is pointing out things from battles and uniforms and the like - she is introducing herself as an old guide, someone who was there before the Titan fell and who will now take us through his rise and fall. Napolean is of course conflated with HCE.

Let's make the gender role inversion a separate post instead of more comments in this thread. I will add it to the "things to keep an eye on" blog I will create.

But by no means don't stop commenting, so far so good. Let's get past the first few pages ;).

I will open the chapter two blog tonight.

10:22 PM

Blogger the woid said...

I just read on wikipedia that Joyce told a patroness that The Wake is a "history of the world."

10:43 PM

Blogger Mykola said...

The history of the world, he says, as dreamed by an old man laying by a river, dying. It's a glorious image.

Man is city is civilization is rise and fall, woman is river is water is nature is flow, but also rise and fall (evaporation/rain). The old man by the river could be Dublin by the Liffy or Rome on the Tiber or anything, right, stasis in the face of flux.

I loves it.

11:06 PM


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