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‘Flowey and Mount on the brink of time’

September 5, 2013
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Bergen, viewed from the top of Mount Fløyen. (Picture: Wikimedia Commons).

Within James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake there is a subtle vein of allusions to ‘the gateway to the fjords’, the Norwegian city of Bergen, an extension of the same web of associations spun from the city of Dublin, tied to the lives of Anna Livia Plurabelle (ALP) and her spouse, Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (HCE). The most obvious appearance of the old Norwegian capital is in the description of ALP as ‘victuum gleaner’ (FW 364.33-34) as she ’rounded up lost histereve’ (FW 214.1), those ‘Countlessness of livestories’ (FW 17.26-27) written off in the ‘goahead plot’ of official, establishment history, written by the victorious: ‘Well, she bergened a zakbag, a shammy mailsack… off one of her swapsons, Shaun the Post’ (FW 206.9-11). In the Wake‘s anthropomorphised landscape ALP personifies the flow of the River Liffey, while the head of HCE looms over her outflow into Dublin Bay as ‘the Narwhealian captol’ (FW 23.11), Howth Head:

riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

(3.1-3).

HCE, described in “The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly” as ‘A Norwegian camel old cod’ (FW 46.21), is a fallen, sleeping giant, ‘on the flounder of his bulk like an overgrown babeling’ (FW 6.31), lying in a dream state while

from fjord to fjell his baywinds’ oboboes shall wail him rockbound (hoahoahoah!) in swimswamswum and all the livvylong night, the delldale dalppling night, the night of bluerybells, her flittaflute in tricky trochees (O carina! O carina!) wake him.

(6.36-7.1-3).

'Flou inn, flow ann' (FW 20.35). Approaching the port of Bergen. Behind it rises Mount Floien, up which climbs the funicular railway, visible as a vertical line of lights.

‘Flou inn, flow ann’ (FW 20.35). Approaching the port of Bergen. Behind it rises Mount Fløyen (‘Flowey and Mount’), up which climbs the funicular railway, visible as a vertical line of lights.

Arising at least twice in the Wake is one of the seven mountains – fjellet – which surround Bergen: Fløyen, or Fløyfjellet. It appears in the phrase, ‘Flou inn, flow ann’ (FW 20.35), where the riverine flow of Anna Liffey through Dublin seems to dissolve the boundary between water and stone as Howth Head/Fløyen merge with the babelian stream-of-consciousness of ‘flowy Ann’. Further downstream, Fløyen emerges as ‘Flowey and Mount’ (FW 197.14), in a narrative current first rehearsed in ‘flower of the mountain’, Molly Bloom‘s closing soliloquy in Ulysses. The context for this is the marriage of ALP and HCE – ‘Big Maester Finnykin with Phenicia Parkes’ (FW 576.28-29) – subject of the gossip of the two washerwomen on the banks of the Liffey:

Was her banns never loosened in Adam and Eve’s or were him and her but captain spliced? For mine ether duck I thee drake. And by my wildgaze I thee gander. Flowey and Mount on the brink of time makes wishes and fears for a happy isthmass.

(197.11-15).

In the Wake’s condensation of the universal in the particular and the particular in the universal – ‘Som’s wholed, all’s parted’ (FW 563.31) – the two ports of Dublin and Bergen emerge ‘yuthner in yondmist’ (FW 7.29-30), becoming ‘a part of the whole as a port for a whale’ (FW 135.28-29). They are locations where HCE is ‘Landloughed by his neaghboormistress and perpetrified in his offsprung’ (FW 23.29-30), the scene of a continuous domestic and cosmic drama: ‘Him her first lap, her his fast pal, for ditcher for plower, till deltas twoport’ (FW 318.12-13).

The Nightmare of History

Fløyen and Howth are both incorporated into the dreaming consciousness of HCE by the tramway that once ran to the top of Howth Head – Benn Edair, in Gaelic – and the funicular railway that still connects Bergen with Fløyen Mount. And so, we are carried, ‘faultering along the tramestrack’ (FW 81.7) which proceeds to ‘where his dreams top their traums halt (Beneathere! Benathere!)’ (FW 81.16-17).

Howt_Tram

‘Finiche! Only a fadograph of a yestern scene’ (FW 7.15). The tramway up Howth Head c.1922 (from here).

This dream track ‘Upon Benn Heather’ (FW 7.28) seems to be interior to the ‘cranic head’ (FW 7.29) of HCE, rattling along as ‘the night express sings his story, the song of sparrownotes on his stave of wires’ (FW 135.34-35). Yet, at the same time, the ‘locative enigma’ (FW 135.26-27) of consciousness means that ‘it’ cannot be confined within isolated individuals as some measurable quantity, separate from the world, for ‘Finight mens midinfinite true’ (FW 505.24-25). As an infinite field, perceptible only in its effects, consciousness also has a macrocosmic dimension  – ‘O my shining stars and body!’ (FW 4.13) – so that the Howth tram/traum/dream becomes ‘a vehicule for arcanisation in the field’ (FW 135.27), ‘voguener and trulley’ (FW 577.13-14) following the course of the Milky Way and its conveyance of departing and returning souls:

The greek Sideral Reulthway, as it havvents, will soon be starting a smooth with its first single hastencraft. Danny buzzers instead of the vialact coloured milk train on the fartykket plan run with its endless gallaxion of rotatorattlers and the smooltroon our eldereens rememberem as the scream of the service, Strubry Bess. Also the waggonwobblers are still yet overdue to precipitate after night’s combustion.

(604.12-18).

This ‘alptrack’ (FW 577.23) surely recalls the alpdrück (German for nightmare), which is a ‘rightrare rute’ (FW 606.31) leading to the interior monologue of the ‘Awaywrong wandler’ (FW 606.31) in Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus, a semi-autobiographical projection of James Joyce. Stephen – whose namesake, Daedalus, invented the labyrinth – concludes that ‘History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake’.

Finnegaard

Old street sign, Bryggen, Bergen. In the three-looped bow there is an unintended resonance with the three recurring phases of Giambattista Vico’s history, which structures Finnegans Wake: ‘a commodius vicus of recirculation’ (FW 3.2). It also has similarities with the symbol adopted by the Bauhaus Situationist in Scandinavia.

‘While hovering dreamwings, folding around, will hide from fears’ and ‘guard my bairn’ (FW 576.15-17), so Big Maester Finnykin with Phenicia Parkes are entreated to mind the children (ultimately, the whole of humankind through all time) as they sleep:

we beseach of you, down their laddercase of nightwatch service and bring them at suntime flush with the nethermost gangrung of their stepchildren, guide them through the labyrinth of their samilikes and the alteregoases of their pseudoselves

(FW 576.30-33).

And if there was a soundtrack ‘to join in the mascarete’ (FW 206.13-14)? Perhaps ‘the other Water Music’, Telemann’s Hamburger Ebb’ und Fluth from 1723

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‘from fjord to fjell his baywinds’ oboboes shall wail him rockbound (hoahoahoah!) in swimswamswum and all the livvylong night, the delldale dalppling night, the night of bluerybells, her flittaflute in tricky trochees (O carina! O carina!) wake him’ (FW 6.36-7.1-3).

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