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‘The last word in stolentelling!’ Magpies and the collage aesthetic in Finnegans Wake

June 2, 2013

Everything had broken down and new things had to be made out of the fragments. Collage was like an image of the revolution within me – not as it was, but as it might have been.

Kurt Schwitters

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‘Nom de plume!’

James Joyce’s fascination with the divinatory dimensions of birds is evident from his highly autobiographical book, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

Why was he gazing upwards from the steps of the porch, hearing their shrill twofold cry, watching their flight? For an augury of good or evil? A phrase of Cornelius Agrippa flew through his mind and then there flew hither and thither shapeless thoughts from Swedenborg on the correspondence of birds to things of the intellect and of how the creatures of the air have their knowledge and know their times and seasons because they, unlike man, are in the order of their life and have not perverted that order by reason (Wordsworth Classics edition 1992, p.173).

The correspondence of the image of the magpie to Finnegans Wake, Joyce’s ‘Primer of Black and White Wenchcraft’ (FW 269. F4),* his ‘book of the night’ – ‘Maggis, nick your nightynovel!’ (FW 54.21) – is therefore no surprise in respect to the book’s gathering of ‘litters from aloft’ (FW 17.28), ‘written in lappish language with inbursts of Maggyer’ (FW 66. 18-19). The play of luck and chance furnished much of what Joyce needed as he drew, magpie-like, on ‘Countlessness of livestories’ (FW 17.26-27), scattered textual materials and motifs which are not inert fragments ‘but active elements and when they are more and a little older they will begin to fuse of themselves’ (James Joyce, letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver, 9th October 1923). This perception of the motivated nature of his materials is redolent of the letter and number mysticism of the Kabbalah, Tarot and ‘Rosicrucian linguistics’, in which ‘Every letter is a godsend’ (FW 269.17), with the implication that such letters spell the downfall of the gods. In this respect, Molly Bloom’s unpunctuated (‘nostop’) soliloquy at the end of Ulysses prefigures the cartomantic underlayers of Finnegans Wake which convey its dreamladen themes, as she recalls telling her fortune by cards:

he was on the cards this morning when I laid out the deck union with a young stranger neither dark nor fair you met before I thought it meant him but hes no chicken nor a stranger either besides my face was turned the other way what was the 7th card after that the 10 of spades for a journey by land then there was a letter on its way and scandals too the 3 queens and the 8 of diamonds for a rise in society yes wait it all came out and 2 red 8s for new garments

Thus Finnegans Wake itself hinges on ‘a letter on its way and scandals too’, a letter ‘to last a lifetime for Maggi beyond by the ashpit’ (FW 211.22),* ‘piously forged palimpsests’ (FW 182.2) written by the artist-prophet Shem (James Joyce’s alter ego in the book), seemingly at the behest of the archetypal woman ALP (B.Benstock 1965, Joyce-Again’s Wake, Seattle: University of Washington Press, p.9): ‘bespaking the wisherwife… A Laughable Party’ (FW 66. 15-17). Anna Livia Plurabelle (ALP), seemingly a development of the character of Molly Bloom, is the personification of Dublin’s River Liffey and every river in the world, the spouse of the patriarch, Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (HCE). She is an archaic, commodified figure of the traditional woman, the wife and the mother, but made ‘to resignify utopian desires in the present of Joyce’s writing’ (McGee 2001, Joyce Beyond Marx, New Haven: Yale University Press, p.277).

‘Birdflights confirm abbroaching nubtials.’

The appearance of the Latin term, ‘SORTES VIRGINIANAE’, in the right hand margin of page 281 of Finnegans Wake, is an allusion to the fortune-telling practice known as sortes virgilianae, whereby a book of Virgil’s would be opened at random and whatever passage is chanced upon is interpreted to seek guidance; this technique also offers an interesting way to ‘read’ the Wake: This Latin term appears parallel with the exclamation in the main text, ‘Margaritomancy!’ (FW 281.14 ). Initially, I thought, ‘Ah, divination by magpies! One for sorrow, two for joy, and all that’ – after all, the French for magpie is margot (the pet form of Marguerite), just as Mag is a diminutive of Margaret. In fact, margaritomancy means fortune-telling by pearls, but then magpies could conceivably be named after some of the brightest baubles they would be attracted to anyway. Joyce consistently plays on this ‘confusion’, sometimes in the most oblique way, such as ‘upsadaisying coras pearls out of the pie’ (FW 363.3-4) (The French for ‘daisy’ as well as ‘pearl’ is marguerite).

The magpie is a medium-sized crow with proportionately the longest tail of the tribe, diamond-shaped when fully spread (R.T. Peterson, G. Mountfort, P.A.D. Hollom, 1993 Birds of Britain and Europe, London: Collins, p.215). One literary template for Finnegans Wake  is ‘the longest tale’, The Thousand and One Nights, told – according to the ‘Magis landeguage’ (FW 478.9-10) written by Joyce – by ‘the inseparable sisters, uncontrollable nighttalkers, Skertsiraizde with Donyahzade’ (FW 32.7-8). The ‘revelatory’ implications of Joyce’s transcription of Sheherezade’s name as ‘skirts are raised’ is a reminder that the mosaical, kaleidoscopic form of Joyce’s textual collage is a transcription of ‘the grandest gynecollege histories’ (FW 389.9). Moreover, Sheherezade’s tale has a redemptive purpose: her sister, Donyazade is about to marry the brutal king Shahriyar who, in jealousy, has already had one thousand of his previous brides beheaded on consecutive wedding nights, like some ‘blowbierd’ (FW 332.22).

And I said, ‘Okay, so what would you like?’ I tried to make him talk about how he felt. He said all the bombs dropping and blindly killing women, children… Unfortunately, there were more and more mothers with children stopping, so it was even more important I was talking to him and asking him what he wanted.

Ingrid Loyau-Kennett

So it is that, for the next 1,001 nights, Sheherezade’s story-telling is the cause, not only of her and her sister’s deliverance, but of all the virgins in the harem, as the king falls in love with her. That there is a similar redemptive impulse informing Finnegans Wake is suggested by the most obvious structural resemblance to The Thousand and One Nights: that the Wake ‘finishes’ at dawn, mid-sentence; just as Sheherezade leaves off storytelling at dawn, halfway through an unfinished story, which leaves the king wanting the tale to be continued. It is the recurrence of a cosmic crisis in the Wake which drives its ‘Tobecontinued’s tale’ (FW 626.18); it reprises, among a multitude of other motifs, the biblical themes of the Fall from Eden – ‘Giant crash in Aden’ (FW 324.36) – and the ‘catacalamitumbling’ (FW 514.11) of the Tower of Babel, ‘the magpyre’s babble towers scorching and screeching’ (FW 354.27-28), ‘a burning bush abob off its baubletop’ (FW 5.2).

The book is punctuated ten times by the hundred-letter ‘thunder-word’ of God, ‘ten canons in skelterfugue’ (FW 121.28) which precipitates the fall of Finnegan/HCE – falling ‘from story to story like a sagasand to lie’ (FW 374.36-375.1) – an ‘everyman’ equated with the figure of Humpty Dumpty falling off the wall, ‘lying high as he lay in all dimensions’ (FW 498.28), like the cosmic archetype of Kabbalistic mysticism, Adam Kadmon, the primordial man comprised of the totality of the ten lights of creation (S.A.Spector 2001 ‘Wonders Divine’: The Development of Blake’s Kabbalistic Myth, London: Associated University Press, p.42): ‘the eversower of the seeds of light to the cowld owld sowls’ (FW 593.20). Recognisable too, ‘in the deification of his members’ (FW 498.21) is the dismembered Egyptian god, Osiris, whose missing member it is the task of Isis to find. Depicting the roll of thunder that marks the end of a cycle, the tenth word has 101 letters to make the total 1,001 letters for each of the Arabian Nights (Benstock 1965. p.199).

Jean_Dodal_Tarot_trump_16

By its act of gathering, the elemental class of human society appoints itself to introduce order among the products of the elemental power of nature.

Karl Marx 1842 ‘Debates on the Law of Thefts of Wood’. Rheinische Zeitung.

‘All the world’s in want and is writing a letters’

This fallen world and the effort it invites to piece things back together – ‘getting umptyums gatherumed off the skattert‘ (FW 345.18) –  is redolent of the decisive crisis of all divine and created being in the Lurianic Kabbalah, the shevirah, ‘the shattering of the vessels’, and the tikkun, the harmonious correction and mending of the flaw which came into the world through the shevirah (Gershom Scholem 1965 On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism, New York: Schocken, p.110), identified by Luria with the image from the Zohar of the ‘dying of the primordial kings’, destroyed by the excess of ‘stern judgment’ within them. These vessels which bore the divine light have shattered, their fragments falling to the world of creation. Traces of the light adhered to the shards, remaining hidden within the varieties of existence: ‘You should aim to raise those sparks hidden throughout the world, elevating them to holiness by the power of your soul’ (D.C. Matt 1996 The Essential Kabbalah San Francisco: Harper Collins, p.97).

We encounter the ‘original hen’ (FW 110. 22), Biddy Doran, engaged in this redemptive task – ‘And where in thunder did she plunder?’ (FW 209.12)  – scratching and picking through the ‘moppamound’ (FW464.26-27)(Lat. mappa mundi – map of the world) looking for the ‘parchment pied’ (FW 395.4) buried in ‘this Aludin’s Cove’ (FW 108.27), the tomb/womb which is the microcosm of this fallen world, alluding to the ludic quality of the punning and word-play which Jorce rejoices in. The writer of the Wake seems to have taken on the task of both reflecting this fragmentary reality at the same time as attempting to remake it, in a tikkunic gathering together of the ‘litterish fragments’ (FW 66. 25-26) of ‘The Reverest Adam Foundlitter’ (FW 420.35). Likewise, the reader partakes of this process of making sense of the text, participating actively in the construction of meaning from the ‘Ibscenest nansence’ (FW 535.19).

Recollection is a deliberate hunting through the contents of memory, but it is not simply a process of recovery but of finding connections in order to recover something in a particular way.

D.P.Verene 1993  ‘Two Sources of Philosophical Memory: Vico versus Hegel’, pp. 56-57

‘With my ropes of pearls for gamey girls’

The diagram on page 293 of the Wake, a depiction of this midden mound, is symbolic of the whole of the book, the entire substance of the text condensed in this ‘knutshedell‘ (FW 276 L). Introduced in the ‘geometry lesson’  or ‘Nightlessons’ chapter as Euclid’s first proposition, it is an ‘elementator joyclid’ (FW 302.12), the object of the voyeuristic gaze of the twins, who are being inducted into the mysteries of ‘the whome of your eternal geomater’ (FW 296-297). 

What has hitherto not been remarked on is that the diagram can also be seen as a chattering magpie in flight, the arc of its flapping wings extended to form two circles, which enclose the full spread of its diamond-shaped tail. As such, it encapsulates Joyce’s fascination with the divinatory aspects of birds in flight, first given literary expression in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: ‘They were flying high and low but ever round and round…circling about a temple of air’ (Portrait, p.173). In Roman augury, the Latin term templum means ‘a space in the sky or on earth marked out by the augur (the reader of omens) for the purpose of taking auspices; divination is then based on reading the movements of birds in the templum of the sky’ (J.Belanger 2001, endnote to 1992 Wordsworth edition of Portrait, p.232). As Joyce describes it, the colonnade above him ‘made him think vaguely of an ancient temple and the ashplant on which he leaned wearily of the curved stick of an augur’ (Portrait, p.173), a passage in which he identifies with the image of the bird-headed Egyptian scribe god, Thoth, ‘writing with a reed upon a tablet and bearing on his narrow ibis head the cusped moon’ (173). Of course, the taking of auspices is derived from the Latin avis (bird) and specere (to observe) – an auspicious motif which recurs throughout Finnegans Wake: ‘you with your dislocated reason, have cutely foretold… by the auspices of that raven cloud, your shade, and by the auguries of rooks in parlament, death with every disaster’ (FW 189.33-34)

The diagram on page 293 of Finnegans Wake

The diagram on page 293 of Finnegans Wake

The diagram on page 293 is such a templum, – an ominous ‘magpie chart’ with its ‘megnominous’ (FW 331.22) allusions concealed within layer upon layer of text. It is a ‘radiooscillating epiepistle’ (FW 108.24), ‘from th’other over th’ether‘. (FW 452.13), of two interlinked ‘o’s which radiates through the book, the os (French ‘bone’) or missing member that Isis seeks to piece Osiris together (M.Solomon 1969 Eternal Geomater: The Sexual Universe of Finnegans Wake Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, p.64) – ‘She has a gift of seek on site’ (FW 5.25). Her ‘meusic before her all cunniform letters’ (FW 198.24-25), which evokes the musical babble of the river Meuse as well as a mosaic, is a ‘collideorscape’ (FW 143.28) transforming linguistic utterance: ‘Uteralterance or the Interplay of Bones in the Womb‘ (FW 293. L), its ‘lappish language’ prefiguring Helene Cixous’s écriture féminine

The diagram is a pictorial representation of Shem/Joyce’s transcription of the lost letter from one chattering Maggie to the other gossiping Maggie across the river in which they launder the dirty linen in public of the protagonists of the novel: ‘Well wiggywiggywagtail, and how are you yaggy? With a capital Tea for Thirst. From here Buvard to dear Picuchet’ (FW 302.7-10). Not only is the wagging tail of the pie mentioned but also the French bavarde (‘gossip, chatter’) which provides the prefix for bavarde pie (French ‘magpie’). Also evident is Joyce’s ‘magpification’ of Flaubert’s unfinished novel, Bouvard et Pécuchet, about two Parisian copy-clerks. Likewise, Shem/Joyce ‘did but study with stolen fruit how cutely to copy all their various styles of signature so as one day to utter an epical forged cheque on the public’ (FW 181.14-16), the pica of epical indicating the not-so-concealed presence of the magpie, ever present within ‘duominous mezzotinties’ (FW) of the diagram, which depicts the joy, dappled with sadness, of earthly incarnation, the material life and its sacraments like ‘eelpie and paleale’ (FW 296.26) in a phonetic and ‘backwords’ allusion to the letters of ALP, who unites the contraries of the two Maggies.

A tiled floor in the entrance hall of Johnstown Castle, from here.

A tiled floor in the entrance hall of Johnstown Castle, from here.

The presence of magpies is central to the construction of this ‘avian diagram’ of conjoined circles which form the ‘aquolittoral trilitter’ of ALP () as Dolph explains to his brother Kev in the ‘Nightlessons’ chapter: ‘mack a capital Pee for Pride down there on the batom where Hoddum and Heave, our monsterbilker, balked his bawd of parodies’ (FW 296.5-7). In the bird of paradise reference, appearing elsewhere as ‘a parody’s bird’ (FW 11.9), is an allusion to the Pierides of Greek myth; nine nymphs who challenged the nine Muses to a singing contest and lost. In revenge, the Muses transformed them into magpies. In every play upon the word ‘paradise’ in Joyce’s text – ‘as per periodicity’ (FW 577.20-21) – we should be alert to the chattering of the Pierides, just as play upon the Latin word pica (‘magpie’) offers a clue to the presence of these birds ‘circumpictified’ (FW 230.32) within the ‘pixy’s loomph’ (FW 583.33) of the diagram: ‘I wish auspicable thievesdayte for the stork dyrby. It will be a thousand’s a won paddies. And soon to bet’ (FW 325.6-7) – (Incidentally, Ruler of the World won the Epsom Derby today, 1.6.13). ‘Auspicably suspectable’ (FW 362.23) also is the presence of Spica, the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo (Alpha Virginis), representing an ear of barley held in the hand of the goddess: ‘to hould the wine that wakes the barley, the peg in his pantry to hold the heavyache off his heart’ (FW 362.19-21).

Well, what is gambling… but the art of producing in a second the changes that Destiny ordinarily effects only in the course of many hours or even many years, the art of collecting into a single instant the emotions dispersed throughout the slow-moving existence of ordinary men, the secret of living a whole lifetime in a few minutes…?

Anatole France, The Garden of Epicurus, tr. Alfred Allinson (N.Y.: Dodd, Mead, 1923), pp. 22-25 in WB TAP: 498

The delineation of the pi symbol at the apex (not forgetting that pi is Welsh for magpie) is written as ‘mick your modest mock Pie out of Humbles up your end’ (FW 296.8-10). This is a lesson in ‘mythametics’ and ‘aristmystic’. With its black and white plumage, the magpie is a living symbol of the oppositional coincidence which structures Finnegans Wake, mapped out in the diagram as the upper, ‘light’ triangle’ and its ‘bluishing refluction below’ (FW 299.17-18) – the downward-pointing, ‘dark’ triangle, which is ALP’s ‘shamemaid’ (FW), Issy, a Persephone/Proserpine to ALP’s Demeter/Ceres, a ‘chthonic solphia’ (FW 450.18) in her ‘underworld of nighties and naughties and all the other wonderwearlds!’ (FW 147.27-28).

‘Persianly literatured with burst loveletters’

The diagram, a vesica piscis (‘fish bladder’), ‘means astronomically at the present day a starry conjunction; and by a very intelligent transfer of typical ideas a divine marriage’ (Edward Clarkson in W. Stirling 1897 The Canon London: Elkin Matthews, p.13). Thus it is ‘a little theogamyjig’ (FW 332.24), a divine wedding dance mentioned in the same passage as an allusion to the Chinese myth of the magpie bridge across the Milky Way which unites two lovers, a Cowherd and a Weaver, once a year; an event which in the coincidenta oppositorum of the Wake is also a breach of the peace: ‘a bridge of the piers, at Inverleffy, mating pontine of their engagement’ (FW 332.27-28). The lovers have been separated by the Sky God, Zhi Nu, placed on the star, Vega; her lover, Niu Lang, is on the star Altair, on the other side of the Milky Way. Only on the seventh day of the seventh month in the Chinese lunar calendar can they be reunited, with the assistance of magpies who form the bridge. Today, it is the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day, falling in 2013 on August 13th. The myth of the Weaver Woman has been connected with ancient Chinese festivals of youth, in the course of which young peasant men and women met at the edge of the water and exchanged songs before coupling (Y. Bonnefoy 1993, Asian Mythologies, University of Chicago Press, pp.237-238): ‘meeting waters most improper’ (FW 96.14)

Aquila_constellation_map

The star Altair is the brightest in the constellation of Aquila (the eagle which carries the thunderbolts of Zeus/Jupiter in its beak), a constellation which bears a striking resemblance to the central rhombus of the diagram – ‘Miracle Squeer’ (FW 384.10) – drawn out by Dolph for his brother Kev in the ‘Nightlessons’ chapter: ‘As Rhombulus and Rhebus went building rhomes one day’ (FW 286. F1). Dolph (an avatar of Shem/Joyce and perhaps identifiable with Delphinus in the above star chart) delineates Euclid’s first proposition such that the constellation of Aquila is identified with ALP at the same time as the Weaver Woman of Chinese myth is evoked: ‘construct ann aquilittoral dryankle Probe loom!’  Indeed, Altair occupies a position analogous to the letter A on the diagram.

The perimeter of the conjoined circles forms a ‘paradismic perimutter’ (FW 298.28-29), another paradisal reference which evokes the German for ‘mother-of-pearl’, a common Ashkenazi Jewish surname and a fallen angel in Persian folklore, the peri. The ‘filmacoulored featured at the Mothrapurl skrene’ is about ‘Michan and his lost angeleens’ (FW 443.34-35) In Thomas Moore’s Paradise and the Peri (18  ), the peri is eventually admitted back to Heaven when she has returned with a tear she has retrieved from the cheek of a repentant old sinner in Syria who has been moved by the sight of a child praying. The twin ‘magpyre’s babble towers’ are depicted in The High Priestess card of the Rider/Waite version of the Tarot as the white and black pillars – Japheth and Boaz – of Solomon’s Temple, standing on either side of ‘the daughter of the stars’ (Waite 1910: 76), an image Joyce may have been mindful of when he wrote: ‘And I sept up twinminsters, the pro and the con… freely masoned… descent from above on us, Hagiasofia of Astralia’ (FW 552. 3-7).

RWS_Tarot_02_High_Priestess

Thus faraclacks the friarbird’

The trope of the ‘fallen woman’ also runs through Finnegans Wake, as both agent of the fall of Finnegan/HCE and agent of the rise of humankind. She is symbolised by such diverse figures as Eve, the Sophia of Gnosticism, Persephone and Mary Magdalene, mediated through the characters of ALP and Issy. Joyce may have been aware of the role of chattering magpies in determining the location of Osney Abbey in Oxford: ‘and remarxing in languidoily, seemingly much more highly pleased than tongue could tell at this opening of a lifetime and the foretaste of the Dun Bank pearlmothers’ (FW 83.15-17). It was founded in 1129 by Robert D’Oyly at the urging of his wife, Edith Forne, a former mistress of Henry I, on the spot where chattering magpies were seen by her to gather, ‘with pious clamour’ (FW 110.36). On her regular walks around the meadows of the Isis, Edith would observe them gathered together in a tree by the river ‘making a great Chattering, as it were at her’, to quote from the Wake, ‘such a miry lot of maggalenes!’ (FW 453.19). Asking her confessor the meaning of it, he told her that they were so many lost souls in Purgatory uttering their complaints aloud to her, hoping she would do them some public good: ‘Pious, a pious person. What sound of tistress isoles my ear?’ (FW 486.20-21). So it was that Osney Abbey was established for them, ‘floating on a still stream of isisglass’ (FW 486.23-24). The location is wholly consonant with the Isian themes that flow through Finnegans Wake, particularly the association of women and watery places and the architectonics of a text founded on ‘a groundplan of a placehunter’ (FW 585.22), depicted on page 293.

Osney

Likewise, if the masonic history – that Joyce was more than acquainted with – is to be believed, the builders of Osney Abbey would have determined the form of the building using the vesica piscis, (‘fish bladder’ – the ovoid shape formed by the overlap of the two circles), ‘a symbol applied by the masons in planning their temples’ (W. Stirling 1897 The Canon London: Elkin Matthews, p.12). It is said to determine the architecture of all the Gothic cathedrals and ecclesiastical foundations like Bath Abbey, sited by the hot springs dedicated to the goddess, Sulis. In Joyce’s wordplay on isinglass – the gelatinous substance prepared from the swimming-bladders of fish like sturgeon and cod – Osney presents itself as ‘a cathedral of lovejelly’ (FW 486.18). More recently, the vesica has been linked to the Order of the Garter and the construction of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, ‘our windtor palast’ (FW 551.1).

It is the architectural role of the vesica piscis that Joyce alludes to in ‘the acoustic and orchidectural management of the tonehall’ (FW 165.8-9), evoking both the home of the Tonhalle Orchestra in Zurich and tonhallal, Hungarian (‘Maggyer’) for tuna fish. This architectural dimension of the fish bladder is reiterated in the phrase  ‘tunnibelly soully’ (FW 113.36-114.1) with its allusions to the Temple of Solomon.

In Requie, Labor // Peacham H. Minerva Britanna A Garden of Heroical Deuises, furnished, and adorned with Emblemes and Impresa's of sundry natures.London, 1612. – p.184

In Requie, Labor II Peacham H. Minerva Britanna A Garden of Heroical Deuises, furnished, and adorned with Emblemes and Impresa’s of sundry natures.London, 1612. – p.184

‘Paradox lust’

It is no mere coincidence that pi – depicted at the apex of the diagram – expressed as a fraction is 22/7, a numerical expression of the feast day of Joyce’s ‘mairmaid maddeling’ (FW 352.8), Mary Magdalene on 22nd July. Her festival is mentioned more than once in the Wake: ‘here witdnessed with both’s maddlemass wishes to Pepette’ (FW 413.23-24); ‘from poor Mrs Mangain’s of Britain Court on the feast of Marie Maudlin’ (FW 434.15-16). The two Maggies, the two laundresses on either side of the Liffey, have witnessed all the events in the book – ‘in imageascene all’ (FW 331.30). They are also the ‘pair of sycopanties with amygdaleine eyes’ (FW 94.16-17) who have tempted the patriarch HCE/Finnegan, evoking both the ‘fallen’ Magdalene and the amygdala (Greek ‘almond’) which describes the ovoid vesica piscis formed by the two overlapping circles: ‘a daintical pair of accomplasses!’ (FW 295.26-27). Like the opposing triangles which form the central lozenge, they embody light (bawn) and dark: ‘thence those laundresses (O, muddle me more about the maggies! I mean bawnee Madge Ellis and brownie Mag Dillon)’ (FW 586.13-15). As a representation of the inseparable sisters, ‘a suomease pair’ (FW 329.2) in ‘that siamixed twoatalk’ (FW 66. 20-21), embodying the dual aspect of the character of Issy, ALP’s daughter, according with Joyce’s characterisation of ‘the tulippied dewydress’ (FW 331.8-9), ‘two madges on the makewater’ (FW 420.7), ‘my trysting of the tulipies’ (FW 146.7), who ‘cometh elope year, coach and four, Sweet Peck-at-my-Heart picks one man more’ (FW 143.1-2).

alice-b-woodward-peter-pan-mermaid-on-a-rockIn medieval Christian iconography the figure of the mermaid symbolises the sin of luxuria – lust – her mirror and comb emphasising the notorious link of luxuria with vanity: ‘Her shellback thimblecasket mirror only can show her dearest friendeen’ (FW 561.16-17). In a luminous passage Joyce combines the sins of lust and vanity with the mysteries of Egypt: ‘loomends day lumineused luxories on looks’ (FW 548.27-28).

Rhomboid cosmetic palette from Ballas, Egypt, Predynastic. There are traces of red pigment on one side. Bolton Museum.

Rhomboid cosmetic palette from Ballas, Egypt, Predynastic. There are traces of red pigment on one side. Bolton Museum.

It is a ‘profane illumination’ continued in this evocation of the veil of Isis and the wisdom of the salmon/Solomon: ‘And if you flung her headdress on her from under her highlows you’d wheeze whyse Salmonson set his seel on a hexengown’ (FW 297.1-4). In alchemical philosophy, the upward-pointing triangle is identified as the ‘fiery triangle’, while the downward-pointing is the ‘watery triangle’. When these triangles have completely interpenetrated each other to form the six-pointed Seal of Solomon ‘the work of rebirth and reunification with Sophia will be complete’ (A.Roob 1997 Alchemy and Mysticism Koln: Taschen, p.173): ‘the marmade’s flamme!’ (FW 464.6).

SAM_6499

The diamond-shaped glass tray of an Edwardian dressing-table set, with six-pointed star and splayed ‘plumage’ motifs:  ‘I bet you use her best Perisian smear off her vanity table to make them look so rosetop glowstop nostop.’ (FW 143.36-144.1)

‘And all the world’s on wish to be carrying a letters’

In its gathering and hoarding behaviour the magpie symbolises the accumulative principle of the Wake, its love of luxury consonant with Asger Jorn’s characterisation of the ‘aesthetic product’ as

an independent and thereby in itself impossible force, which does not immediately find a place in the context of necessity, a meaningless absurdity, pure and free action and thus really the unusable superfluous force of matter or luxury. (Held og Hasard. Dolk og guitar (Luck and Chance. Dagger and Guitar), 1963, p.54, trans. Peter Shield, from P. Shield 200 Comparative Vandalism).

This ‘unusable superfluous force of matter or luxury’ is personified in Joyce’s portrayal of the ‘paradismic perimutter’ ALP and her tendency ‘to expense herselfs as sphere as possible… in all directions on the bend of the unbridalled’ (FW 298.27-30). In the austere world of economic reason and utility to which we have fallen, politicians and arts professionals speak a common language, in which ‘culture’ is the ideal commodity that sells all the others, where the abundance of commodities on display in their shopping malls and temples of consumption – in Istanbul and beyond – corresponds to our real poverty. To their finite, economistic world view, the dream of a world of uncommodified, infinite creation must be as incomprehensible, absurd and meaningless as magpies’ chatter:

I will dream telepath posts dulcets on this isinglass stream… and ’twill carry on my hearz’ waves my still waters reflections in words over Margrate von Hungaria, her Quaidy ways and her Flavin hair, to thee, Jack, ahoy, beyond the boysforus (FW 460.21-27).

“the 8 of diamonds for a rise in society” – Molly Bloom, Ulysses.
An oxygon is naturally reclined to rest – left marginal note, page 284, Finnegans Wake, accompanying the appearance on line 11 of the ‘zeroic couplet’ (FW 284.10) of the infinity  symbol:


* I follow the convention of quoting from Finnegans Wake (FW) with the relevant page and line or footnote number.

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