John Paul Riquelme, ‘Twists of the Teller’s Tale: Finnegans Wake’, in James Joyce: An Joyce International Perspective, ed. Bushrui & Benstock (1982)

[…]

Numerous passages of Finnegans Wake focus, though foten not exclusively, on the process of artistic creation. Many of these passages concern either Shem the Penman or one of the letters that appear repeatedl during the narrative. In the Wake, Joyce adops a protean narrating persona. This labile teller describes a chaacter, Shem the Penman, who writes books that are the fictional equivalent of the author’s boks, As several passages suggest, these texts are self-representations of Shem. Through this curious, pseudonymous, fictional presentation of the author as Shem and of Shem as an author in Finnegans Wake, Joyce’s narrator manipulates the complicated relationships among author, teller, and tale with comic intensity. He does so by focusing on the doubling of self that accompanies every act of narrative, every adoption by an author of some persona as teller. We perceive the manipulaiton and doubling in the Wake in part because Joyce incongruously assigns his own [83] works to Shem. By implicatin, Joyce’s texts, like Shem’s, including the Wake itself, are self-representations of the character who is an author and of the real author. As autobiographical fiction, then, the Wake extends and distinguishes itself from Joyce’s other autobiographical narratives by invoking them and their writer. For Joyce to assign his own published works openly to a character is an new departure […] While the tale presents character, in this case as an author, it also constitutes a representation of the teller as the real author’s narrating persona. […] To complicated the situation, the reader can become enmeshed in something like these configurations. We tend to lose our distance from them, if only temporarily, for at least two reasons. On the one [84] hand, the language of the Wake forces us to collaborate with Joyce by rewriting his text as we read it through our actively recreative response. But more to the point about the specific representation of Shem in 1.7, he is described as both reader and author. […] (pp.83-85.)

Through the virtuoso and protean power of imaginative enactment and making associated with acting, writing, and printing, in Finnegans Wake, homo ludens as homo faber mimes, in comic Promethean fashion, the status traditionally associated with the godhead. Since human creations are full of the misprints, hints, and concealments (such as Shern’s concealment behind his squirtscreen), for which paper is one medium, the words of ‘the book of Doublends Jined’ (20.15-16) will be bound, as are all words in books, to require multiple readings. These readings include the repeated perusals of the printer’s. proofs needed for making corrections and revisions. And they are the multiple meanings that proliferate until the person who opened the book ‘closeth thereof the’ (20.17-18). The closing of the Wake, its final word, is, of course, ‘the’. The distinction made between ‘finally’ and ‘endlike’ (20.11-12) in the passage about Gutenmorg indicates that ‘the’ is not likely to be entirely final. Eventually, that is, finally but not absolutely finally, reader and author reach a state of repletion that is more a filling up (‘fillstup’ [20.13]) than a full stop. The book’s last ‘the’ lacks the punctuation of the full stop, since the end is the ‘int’. Reader and author reach a provisionally final state when they’meet with the acquaintance of Mister Typus, Mistress Tope and alfthe little typtopies’ (20.12-13) in such a way that the words can be bound over for closure though not for ending in any categorical sense. When such closure takes place, the general, the myth, type, or archetype becomes incarnated in a specific place and at a specific occasion (in two senses of topos). Type as model then proliferates as ‘typtopies’, both further incarnations of the myth and multiple copies in the typeface of printed books. In the making of the book, the typed copies of MSS are set in printing type to make passages (topoi again). In their complementary experiences with the text, [100] reader and author meet with the acquaintance and make the acquaintance of type and topos as they become familiars of the text. The author meets with the printer, the person acquainted with types who is indispensable for publishing. And the author as teller meets with the reader, who must already be acquainted with printing type in order to experience the text. At the same time, the author makes the reader into a new acquaintance by creating the reader’s persona. If the author chooses, as Joyce did, he can develop strategies for letting the reader perceive the continuity and overlap of reading, writing, and printing in the bookmaking process. Through the allusions to printing in the Wake, the reader can realize the experience of meeting author and printer, the acquaintances of type and typos. The writer, his text as epistle, and his printer concerned with letters, all together ‘once for omniboss step rubrickredd out of the wordpress’, when the rubrics are read. (pp.100-101.)

* * *

At this point it is worth pausing briefly to consider why Joyce decided to include printing terms in his text. Hugh Kenner has recently commented that Ulysses ‘was set in type the Gutenberg way, by hand’: ‘There had been typesetting machines for 30-odd years, but Ulysses was surely the biggest book of any importance to be set by hand since William Morris had set the Kelmscott Chaucer in 1893-96. … Moreover, the Ulysses typesetters, of whom there were at least 26, lived in Dijon and knew no English whatsoever, which means they held strings of meaningless letters in their heads while swivelling back and forth between typescript and typecase.’ This situation surely contributed to the statement in the Wake that the letter has ‘a multiplicity of personalities inflicted on’ it (107.24-25). Given the problems Joyce had with publishers prior to Ulysses and the nature of the printing of that book’s first edition, by the time Joyce came to write Finnegans Wake, he must have largely integrated the giving of instructions to printers into his notions of writing and reading. Since his printers were his readers and, inevitably, he was theirs when he received proofs, Joyce must have considered the printer to be his collaborator and, frequently, his antagonist. In consequence, printing terms become primary metaphors as well as literal descriptions for the making of his books.

The printing terms have an advantage over other metaphors for literary creation. They can be rendered more immediately in the reader’s experience of the book than other language describing [101] writing since we have before us printed matter. There is always a large disparity in any narration that ries to present the physical and imaginative acts of writing something down. In A Portrait, for example, we do not see Stephen’s handwritten stanzas when he writes the vilanelle on the rough surface of a cigarette backet. We cannot. Instead, we perceive the stanzas neatly printed in italic type. In the Wake, Joyce can create more immediate effects using printing terms and typography. In II.2, the Schoolroom chapter, one of Shem’s avatars, Dolph, gives his brother Kev instructions for constructing a geometrical figure that represents ALP’s genitals. [Note: Louis Mink mentions several interpreationats of the diagram while explaining his geometric view in “Introduction” to Finnegans Wake Gazetteer, Indiana UP 1978, pp.xxv-xxvi.] The procedure consists of first marking a point ‘A’, or alpha, on the left, then a point U, or lambda, on the right. These are the centres for drawing two intersecting circles of radius AL, one of whose intersections determines the point “P”, which is marked last at the bottom of the diagram. On the page in which Dolph directs the connecting of the letters into a triangle, or delta, the left-hand margin contains the following comment in italics: ‘Zweispaltung as Fundemaintalish of Wiederherstellung’ (296.L1). Next to that comment Dolph is instructing Kev ‘to mack a capital Pee for Pride down there on the batom’ (296.3-6). The marginal comment, which means ‘division into two is fundamental to restoration’, resembles the statements in Ulysses that without sundering is no reconciliation. But zweispaltig also happens to be a German typographical term that refers to printing in double columns. The marginal comment, then, resembles the author’s direction to the printer to set a page with double columns. And that is how the pages of this chapter are set, with double columns of marginal comments flanking the central passages. While Kev is directed to make a capital P at the bottom of the diagram, we are told by the superscript indicating a footnote to look at the bottom of the page. There we find that the first word of the note begins with a capital P. Dolph’s instruction is like the typical instruction a proof reader gives to a printer to make a letter a capital. Through his use of typography and a typographical term Joyce is able to align Dolph’s instructions for constructing the diagram with the author’s instructions to his printer for making the page and with his directions to his readers. All are involved in analogous activities. The literal directions of movement involved are from the left to the right and then down. And those are the directions along which writing and reading proceed. [102].

[…]

The book is self-moving, self-perpetuating, and selfconsuming, ‘autokinatonetically preprovided with a clappercoupling smeltingworks exprogressive process’ (614.30-31) that produces both fusion and purification by smelting. The ‘smeltingworks exprogressive process’ is the end of the making of Work in Progress (the original, provisional title of the Wake) through a reversal identical with the first step in the production of new books. The ‘decomposition’ mentioned in the paragraph includes the taking apart of composed type. This ‘endnessnessessity’ (613.27) anticipates the process of composing and decomposing again. In order for ‘heroticisms’ to ‘be there for you’, there must be available ‘the dialytically separated elements of precedent decomposition for the verypetpurpose of subsequent recombination’ (614.33-35). The recombination occurs ‘anastomosically’ (615.5) by the fitting together of pre-existing parts, both of type and of’the ancient legacy of the’ past recycled in each new work. Through anastomoses, the new text emerges ‘type by tope, letter from litter’, out of the leavings of the literary tradition to express ‘the sameold gamebold adomic structure of our Finnius the old One’ (615.6-7). At this finish of the text, the reader ‘finally (though not yet endlike)’ makes the acquaintance of ‘Mister Typus, Mistress Tope and all the little typtopies’ (20.12-13) announced in the first chapter. That acquaintance accompanies our perception of the book’s ‘adomic structure’. In that structure, the atom is an Adam within a ‘Finnius’, a beginning within an end. (p.107.)

[…]

[Riquelme describes the structure of FW as a kind of Möbius strip:] ‘The interlocking strips originatinf from one Möbius strip all tell versions of the same story contained in the source that they replicate with variations. [110]. Each new piece of paper, though only part of the first strip, tells its own rendition of the whole story. We have here something like the production of clones, the original entityt being divided and doubled into simulcra of itself possessing relationed genetic structures. Like the parts of Humpty Dumpty, it seems hardly possible to put the fragments back together again into an original shape. […] Penelope, we recall, was an unraveller as well as a weaver. (pp.111-12; End.)

 

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