Reverse-Reading: Beautiful, Fierce, Unkempt

Start to Finish

Go, Set, Ready!

There are lots of ways to read Joyce, and really, none of them are conventional.

After all, Joyce’s writing remains outside even today’s boundaries of convention – a full century later. So for the nonce (but not really), I’d like to recommend the following programme: Start by reading Finnegans Wake, and when that’s done, read Ulysses, then A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and finally Dubliners. Do this as if these books were written in this order, as if they were intended to be read in this order, as if this were their natural order of ascending complexity, and no fool in their right mind would dare even crack open Dubliners without first having fully immersed themselves in the later works – particularly Finnegans Wake.

It’s a little something I like to call Reverse-Reading, a practice that brings insights into the earlier works that quite simply would not be possible otherwise. I wouldn’t be surprised actually if the term has been used before, for the practice itself certainly has. Some of my favorite Dubliners studies are in fact by Finnegans Wake scholars: John Gordon and Margot Norris come immediately to mind (links are to the books I recommend). John’s wonderfully dense reading of A Little Cloud pairs itself beautifully with the “Issy” character outline in Finnegans Wake, and Margot has a brilliant Reverse-Reading of Two Gallants that places the events it describes after those of Ulysses – as if it were a sequel. Plus, a great many Wake scholars – John and Margot included – have observed that the washerwomen of Finnegans Wake who “tuck up” their sleeves as they prepare for their day’s work at the beginning of chapter 8 (FW196.8) are later seen “pulling down” those same sleeves as they come in from their day’s work at the beginning of Clay.

I discovered a pretty amazing Reverse-Reading of my own a while back – it’s of a single short story, the second in the Dubliners collection – An Encounter. The story itself is a short and simple read – one of the quickest in the book – and while it is celebrated for its visceral depiction of youthful awakenings, it’s often misunderstood as one of the “lesser” Dubliners installments, generally when compared to ArabyA Little CloudThe Dead, etc. A straightforward Reverse-Reading of An Encounter from a Wakean should hopefully – well – reverse this misconception.

So why is this story so often marginalized? Most complaints center around the seeming lack of structure. An Encounter is a bit of a structural salmagundi for non-Wake readers; as John Wyse Jackson and Bernard McGinley so well observe (p. 20):

…this is not one story, but two half-stories. A narrative that starts out about the Dillon brothers loses one of them, then the other: the business of miching from school is then bolted on to the account of the strange meeting. Most exasperating of all, [the story has] no conclusive ending. The inconclusive petering out shows how much Joyce needed catching up with by the contemporary reader. He still does.

“Contemporary readers” might very well be stumped, but none of these “inconclusive peterings-out” should hold the least amount of concern for the Finnegans Wake reader. Conclusive endings? Who needs endings at all? Half-stories bolted together? Pshaw – try half-words bolted together. And so what if Joe Dillon is completely vanished from the narrative before the first page is half-over? Do Wake readers care that “Sir Tristram, violer d’amores,” the first character to be introduced in Finnegans Wake (3.04), makes no further appearance? Hardly.

For one thing, “Sir Tristram” doesn’t really vanish at all – his ‘love-violations’ continue deep into the book and even build in scope – it’s only his name that changes. Granted, his name changes a lot – at every available opportunity in fact – as many as five times within the book’s first full paragraph alone: “topsawyer’s rocks”, “tauftauf thuartpeatrick”, “a bland old isaac”, “twone nathandjoe”, “Rot a peck of pa”, etc. In Joyce’s world, characters are identified by their actions; names are as interchangeable as playing cards.

This program of identification is not arbitrary randomization – it has movement toward a purpose, and is key to understanding Joyce’s revolutionary method of character development, which he actually gives a name to in Ulysses:

METEMPSYCHOSIS

That’s right – Metempsychosis – the only ten-dollar word in Ulysses that you don’t have to look up in the dictionary, for Leopold Bloom himself gives it a full and extended definition in the ‘Calypso’ chapter: reincarnation, “the transmigration of souls”, the phenomenon whereby an individual’s psychological value is transferred from one persona to another. This is how Cranley from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man can transmigrate to Buck Mulligan in Ulysses and then on to Shaun the Post in Finnegans Wake, for example. My favorite description of how the transmigration works comes from Ananda K. Coomaraswamy* who, like Bloom, ties the concept of transmigrating to that of karma:

Snooker[Imagine] a series of billiard balls in close contact: if another ball is rolled against the last stationary ball, the moving ball will stop dead, and the foremost stationary ball will move on. Here precisely is Buddhist transmigration: the first moving ball does not pass over, it remains behind, it dies; but it is precisely the movement of that ball, its momentum, its karma, and not any newly created movement, which is reborn in the foremost ball. […] Nothing is transmitted but an impulse, a vis a tergo, dependent on the heaping up of the past. It is a man’s character, and not himself, that goes on.

*Buddha and the Gospel of Buddhism, pp. 107-108. The original “new age” movement, spearheaded by Coomaraswamy, Helena Blavatsky, W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory et al was very much en vogue in Dublin during the period of An Encounter‘s composition, and while Joyce couldn’t ultimately stomach all of the mystical mumbo-jumbo, he did spend some time studying it; he was even seen walking about Dublin carrying a copy of H. S. Olcott’s Buddhist Catechism as if he were a clergyman carrying a prayerbook.

Returning to An Encounter, Joe Dillon does indeed appear to completely vanish from the story with a simple two-sentence paragraph:

Everyone was incredulous when it was reported that he had a vocation for the priesthood. Nevertheless it was true.

Appearances can deceive, however. True, Joe Dillon – much like the billiard ball in Coomaraswamy’s metaphor – has been ‘stopped dead’; it’s as if entering the seminary is tantamount to a death sentence in fact, for no further mention is given to Joe or his “war dance of victory”. But even here in this brief half-page of text, Joe Dillon’s actions have already ‘heaped up’ enough momentum so that the karmic impulses he started – a morbid blend of aggression and piety – are easily transmitted to the character of Father Butler on the following page, who, though he no longer wears a tea cozy on his head shouting “Ya! yaka, yaka, yaka!”, is indeed found humiliating his students as he teaches them Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic Wars as if he expected them to memorize it:

—This page or this page? This page? Now, Dillon, up. Hardly had the day… Go on! What day? Hardly had the day dawned… Have you studied it? What have you there in your pocket?

No simple change of plotline can eliminate the influence of this future priest; it remains ubiquitous throughout the story: Mahoney bullies the smaller children in the street in likely response to being bullied himself by the even bigger Joe Dillon. The narrator’s haughty attitude towards “National School boys” is lifted directly from Father Butler’s ‘rebuke’, and Leo Dillon’s cowardly choice to forgo the miching adventure is influenced most likely by both brother and priest. Mahoney’s question, “what would Father Butler be doing out at the Pigeon House” is not nearly so rhetorical when viewed in this light.

Like Joe before him, younger brother Leo Dillon is also expelled from the narrative after brief prominence as its central figure. This second disappearance raises the question as to whether Leo’s character transmigrates as well, and again, if we look to the behavior patterns, especially the specific role Leo plays up to the point the other boys abandon him, I believe that an answer reveals itself. One has almost to look twice at the phrase: “…the confused, puffy face of Leo Dillon awakened one of my consciences” to notice that the word employed here is ‘consciences’ rather than ‘consciousness’. On the surface at least, consciousness would be a much tighter semantic fit given its pairing with ‘awakened’. But the story’s central issue has less to do with awareness per se than than it does with moral rectitude. After all, An Encounter‘s final sentence shows us a ‘penitent’ (i.e. ‘conscientious’) narrator – the direct result of having seen another ‘confused’ face, this time with “bottle-green eyes peering…from under a twitching forehead.”

Evidence that this nameless and deeply troubled stranger in the field at Ringsend is the abandoned and transmigrated soul of Leo Dillon, though perhaps less direct than Joe’s vocational connection, nevertheless abounds. Soon after his appearance, the stranger’s behavior is observed as unusual: “I wondered why he shivered once or twice as if he feared something…” As his attitude is “strangely liberal,” maybe this phantom fear is of humiliation or castigation from the likes of Father Butler or Mr. Ryan. That “his accent was good” indicates higher, perhaps Jesuitical education, but the strongest argument for the stranger’s metempsychotic link to Leo Dillon is his warped sexuality and sadism, which could easily be an advanced stage of what originated in childhood as overeating, idleness, and inability to adapt to an environment of constant bullying, derision, and oppression.

So next question: is there a third? This is after all a story about childhood, and children’s stories invariably require a third occurrence in order to reach completion. In fact, the story itself seems to be keenly aware of what has come to be commonly known as the “Rule of Three“:

When we came to the Smoothing Iron we arranged a siege; but it was a failure because you must have at least three.

The story’s third banishment is of course Mahoney, who, when he runs off to chase the cat, disappears from the narrative much like the Dillon brothers before him. For a full two pages – taking us nearly all the way to the end of the story – the young narrator’s interaction with the pedophilic stranger so completely dominates the narrative that Mahoney himself seems to forget he’s still part of it:

—Murphy!
My voice had an accent of forced bravery in it, and I was ashamed of my paltry stratagem. I had to call the name again before Mahony saw me and hallooed in answer.

Note that for a moment at least, Mahoney here becomes ‘Murphy’, a very brief identity-shift which, while it falls just short of outright Dillon-style metempsychosis, nevertheless touches on the story’s pattern of exile and transformed return. This is not just a clever storytelling trick – it actually points us toward the nature of the narrator’s final penitence, the real karmic momentum of An Encounter which has been accrued not by Mahoney nor even the Dillon brothers, but by the narrator himself. It is the narrator’s personal agenda – his longings for a sense of personal agency, for adventure abroad, for distinction from the common rabble – that drive the plot forward. Notice, too, that in the three stories which he narrates, we never learn his real name – the only name we’re ever given is a pseudonym – ‘Smith’:

—In case he asks us for our names, I said, let you be Murphy and I’ll be Smith.

The good Reverse-Reader should here recall the finale of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where Stephen Dedalus, obviously one-and-the-same as the narrator of the first three Dubliners stories, likens himself to a blacksmith in the novel’s penultimate sentence, and note once again how Joyce slyly invokes moral rectitude by swapping the word ‘consciousness’ with its phonetic double, ‘conscience’:

I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

Awe-inspiring though Stephen’s declaration here may be, it is also dangerously arrogant – bordering on self-apotheosis – and contains within it a seed of his Icarus-like fall in Ulysses. Who is this young upstart to claim he can create his race’s conscience? Even given such a power, what’s to prevent him from abusing it? It is the narrator himself who ejects the Dillon Brothers and Mahoney from his story, and his motivation for doing so should be obvious: this is his adventure, and he’ll do whatever it takes to eliminate any and all rival protagonists. Ethically, his actions are highly questionable; he in fact commits all three types of “sin” as defined by the Catholic church:

  • Sin by thought:
    Elitism and bigotry; “I was afraid the man would think I was as stupid as Mahony.”
  • Sin by word:
    Malice and gloating: “We revenged ourselves on Leo Dillon by saying what a funk he was and guessing how many he would get at three o’clock from Mr. Ryan.”
  • Sin by deed:
    Deception and theft: He pockets Leo Dillon’s sixpence.
    (An interesting side note: The law of karma – being the equivalent of ‘sin’ in Buddhist theology – requires that this stolen sixpence eventually be surrendered, and it can be no coincidence that the narrator winds up paying an unnecessary sixpence at the bazaar’s turnstile in Araby:

I could not find any sixpenny entrance and, fearing that the bazaar would be closed, I passed in quickly through a turnstile, handing a shilling to a weary-looking man.

Thus do the various stories in the Dubliners collection start to inter-connect.)

So An Encounter‘s principle meditation – be it Buddhist, Christian, secular or what have you – is undeniably moral: All actions reap consequence. The final sentences show us a narrator who has truly reaped as he has sown, whose actions in thought, word, and deed have succeeded in forging his friends into monsters – one of which is about to grab him by the ankles. His only hope of escape from the smithy-of-his-soul’s own creation, then, is to return to Mahoney and relinquish to his friend that which he had up to this point so zealously coveted for himself – the title of True Hero:

How my heart beat as he came running across the field to me! He ran as if to bring me aid. And I was penitent; for in my heart I had always despised him a little.

That the nearly forgotten Mahoney with his paltry catapult and boorish ways should wind up charging to the rescue here is perhaps the most touchingly ironic detail of the entire Dubliners collection. No conclusive ending? I say it again – pshaw. The stunning irony here is that Joe Dillon and his ferocious tactics never really vanished at all; the narrator may have tried to write them out of his story, but by the end, he finds himself very much needing them, and much like Little Chandler and Gabriel Conroy, must then endure a profound humbling. An Encounter‘s ending is every bit as powerful as those of A Little Cloud or The Dead – perhaps even more so.


I don’t have much interest in defending my metempsychosis reading in terms of being definitively what Joyce intended when composing An Encounter. After all, the narrative elisions in this story can be filled in any number of ways, and if this reading somehow interferes with other alternate readings, then into the dustbin it goes, no further questions asked. I can only reiterate that this is a Reverse-Reading, that these kinds of imaginative insights can only be fostered by Reverse-Reading, and even setting the question of Joyce’s intentionality aside, this particular story now has an uncannily strong narrative cohesion, very much thanks to Reverse-Reading.

And the Reverse-Reading insights continue. Any Finnegans Wake reader should recognize an early Shem/Shaun study in the diametrically opposed temperaments of the Dillon brothers, and there is a specific Shem/Shaun sub-category that conforms to the Dillon brothers near-perfectly: the Jiminies from the ‘Prankquean’ passage (FW pp. 21-23) which I blogged about a few posts ago. In the ‘Prankquean’, we have a pair of brothers (“Jiminy” = Gemini: twin brothers), one of which is comic (“Hillary” = hilarity), the other tragic (“Tristopher” = Italian/Spanish/Portuguese: triste, sad), along with a third companion, a “dummy”. Each in their turn are “kidsnapped up” (= vanished) by the Prankquean and returned with a difference: Hillary (= Joe) is “convorted” (= converted/distorted) into a “tristian” (= sad christian = Fr. Butler), and Tristopher (= Leo) becomes “provorted” (= perverted/distorted) into a “luderman” (= German: luder man = scoundrel-man / Irish: ludramán, lazy idler = Ringsend pedophile). A third “kidsnapping” is presumably about to be visited upon the “dummy” (= Mahoney, described as “stupid” by the narrator), but is aborted by a thunderclap (= An Encounter‘s shocking finale).

As I demonstrated in “The Prankquean Matrix,” Joyce puts the “rule of three” storytelling trope to very specific use in his works, always casting a female in the role of instigator against a stubborn male protagonist. On the surface, An Encounter appears bereft of any female characters whatsoever, but females are by no means completely absent – the story contains a total of three (!) very striking yet etheric evocations of feminine power:

  • “…the peaceful odour of Mrs Dillon was prevalent in the hall of the house.”
  • “I liked better some American detective stories which were traversed from time to time by unkempt fierce and beautiful girls.”
  • “I watched him lazily as I chewed one of those green stems on which girls tell fortunes.”

Given these oddly supernatural descriptions, I would argue the feminine link to be metempsychotic. The word “metempsychosis” is itself introduced in Ulysses on an absolute tidal wave of feminine imagery in the ‘Calypso’ chapter – a chapter rife with meditations on feminine processes and symbols of feminine power. When asked by Molly to define the word, Bloom turns to a picture of a bathing nymph he has hanging over the bed, and gives a very odd but tellingly associative definition:

—Metempsychosis […] is what the ancient Greeks called it. They used to believe you could be changed into an animal or a tree, for instance. What they called nymphs, for example. (U 4.375)

Typically, Bloom here confuses his concepts – his nymph analogy is much more like metamorphosis than transmigration, but the nymph’s presence here serves Joyce’s overall purpose by permanently associating metempsychosis with the feminine. This imagery in fact builds throughout the novel, so that when we reach Bloom’s hallucination in ‘Oxen of the Sun’ we have a near-literal apotheosis:

And lo, wonder of metempsychosis, it is she, the everlasting bride, harbinger of the daystar, the bride, ever virgin. It is she, Martha, thou lost one, Millicent, the young, the dear, the radiant. How serene does she now arise, a queen among the Pleiades, in the penultimate antelucan hour, shod in sandals of bright gold, coifed with a veil of what do you call it gossamer. It floats, it flows about her starborn flesh and loose it streams, emerald, sapphire, mauve and heliotrope, sustained on currents of the cold interstellar wind, winding, coiling, simply swirling, writhing in the skies a mysterious writing till, after a myriad metamorphoses of symbol, it blazes, Alpha, a ruby and triangled sign upon the forehead of Taurus. (U 14.1099)

Notice how Bloom’s associative cluster links the feminine not just to metempsychosis, but to the very concept of mutable identity, whether it be through transmigration, “myriad metamorphoses of symbol,” or what have you. This is nothing less than a portrait of the Goddess Metempsychosis, the Goddess Metamorphosis, Molly, Milly, Martha, Seaside Girl, Pleiadean queen, etc. By naming her differently at nearly each occurrence – thus making her as formless and mutable as water itself – Joyce gives us the freedom to assign to her whichever epithet we want. ‘Anna Livia Plurabelle’ is the general first choice for most Finnegans Wake readers, particularly when Joyce comes up with a sentence likes this:

In the name of Annah the Allmaziful, the Everliving, the Bringer of Plurabilities, haloed be her eve, her singtime sung, her rill be run, unhemmed as it is uneven! (FW 104.1-3)

For present purposes I’ll simply call her The Prankquean. Unkempt, fierce, and stunningly beautiful, her matrix is given its very first full expression in Joyce’s canon with An Encounter, which I’ll summarize using the formula I developed in “The Prankquean Matrix“:

  • Once upon a time, a thing happens
    A young boy (the narrator) seeks adventure. In his words,”I wanted real adventures to happen to myself.”
  • As a result, three things happen, one after the other
    Exercising his right as author of his own story, he banishes three schoolmates who threaten to usurp his position as chief protagonist.
  • The first thing goes POW
    He banishes Joe Dillon, who returns as Father Butler via metempsychosis
    .
  • The second thing also goes POW
    He banishes Leo Dillon, who returns as the “queer old josser” – again via metempsychosis.
  • But the third thing goes BOOM
    He banishes Mahoney, who returns to the rescue as “Murphy” – via metamorphosis.
  • And now it’s a new thing
    Penitence.

I’ll let Joyce himself have the final word here. As you either watch the following video or read Finnegans Wake pp. 21-23 (on which it is based), consider how the events of An Encounter are echoed in its narrative:

Prankquean Video Screen

The ‘Prankquean’ Video – by JoyceGeek

Bloomsday Lives! – a Postmortem

David Norris & friends, Dublin, Ireland

What is Bloomsday, and why the big ruckus?

Last week, JoyceGeeks from around the world either traveled to Dublin or gathered in their various hometowns to read from and generally celebrate a true nerd’s holiday: Bloomsday – the anniversary of a bunch of fictional events depicted in a single 24 hour period: June 16, 1904. Readings from Ulysses, music from Ulysses, pints from Ulysses, and food from Ulysses. As to this last, Bloomsday cuisine often includes gorgonzola cheese sandwiches with mustard, half-masticated seedcake from the mouth of a better-half, and for the really bold: pork kidneys fried in butter, a little burnt on one side. Eccentric maybe, but we do it all with relish and absolutely no apology. Explaining why does take a bit of doing, though:

Colbert at Bloomsday

Stephens Colbert and Lang, Symphony Space, NYC

For one thing, literary events don’t generally get marked down on calendars for annual observance, let alone full-blown celebration. Really famous writers’ birthdays and publication dates are sometimes taken note of on NPR, but only if the anniversary happens to be a multiple of 50, or maybe 25 if the author is super-famous. The only birthday to be consistently rolled out every year for festivals and the like is Shakespeare’s. Ultimately, academic conferences are about as far as most celebrations go. This makes 16 June 1904 a real anomaly: it’s the only date in literature to be annually celebrated, and it’s not only celebrated, it’s HUGELY celebrated, not just in Dublin but world-wide – just about everywhere: New York, Sydney, Beijing, Zurich, Tokyo, Trieste, Boston, Buenos Aires, Chicago, Santa Fe. And it doesn’t matter what year it is – newspapers run articles on Bloomsday every mid-June, every year. Why is this?

Bloomsday Paris

Paris, France

It can’t simply be because of the date’s biographical significance, which is of course no small matter; it is after all the day Joyce fell in love with his future wife Nora Barnacle – erotic details of which can be found in the famous 1909 letters. But countless other great works of literature are dedicated to better-halves: Zelda Fitzgerald, Carlotta Monterey, etc. Plus, autobiographical though it may be, Ulysses does not contain any account whatsoever of Stephen Dedalus (Joyce’s self-portrait) meeting or even acknowledging the presence of a potential life partner. His interactions are nearly exclusively with men: Mulligan, Haines, Deasy, Crawford, McHugh, Russell, Eglinton, Lyster, Best, Artifoni, Lynch, Carr, finally Bloom. Stephen’s encounters with the feminine amount to barely a handful: the milkwoman, Dilly, the whores, the ghost of his dead mother. Molly Bloom, the character most strongly associated with Nora, barely even appears on his radar.

Bloomsday Melbourne

Melbourne, Australia

So if anything, the 6/16/04 of Ulysses is an anti-biographical date, a “what if” scenario in which Joyce has to navigate the day without the grace of budding love to see him through. In fact, Joyce swapped out his 16 June love-encounter with a much less pleasant one, the biographical counterpart of which actually took place six days later. It’s worth noting that on June 22, 1904, Joyce was punched in the face by an unknown Irish ruffian and was dusted off and tended to by one Alfred Hunter, a local Dubliner with a natural inclination towards kindness, and upon whom Joyce patterned some of the makeup for Leopold Bloom. It is this encounter, not the romantic tryst, that’s given extensive and expanded treatment in Ulysses.

Bloomsday Berkeley

Berkeley, CA

Acts of kindness are certainly worth writing about, but again, why haul the date out to be annually celebrated with readings, music, Guinness, Edwardian dress et cetera over an event that actually happened six days afterward? If I were a world historian, I’d be tempted to say that nothing happened on June 16, 1904, and I think Joyce would have seconded my motion. Even the most dramatic details of Joyce’s own 1904 experience – his falling in love with Nora, his departure for Trieste, his estrangement from longtime friend Oliver St. John Gogarty because Gogarty fired gunshots over him while he was trying to sleep – all these would have made for spectacular fiction and could have easily been worked into the fabric of his book.

Bloomsday Bryant Park

Bryant Park, New York City

But no – they were all without exception deliberately left out of the June 16th of Ulysses. Gogarty and Nora appear in the novel as Buck Mulligan and Molly, of course, but Joyce’s explosive encounters with them are softened, even excised. What we’re left with are a series of utterly pedestrian events; nobody dies, nobody falls in love, no plots are hatched, no-one even so much as wins at the racetrack. It’s a day that shows no sign of changing to a better tomorrow nor even warning us to wake up to the changes that need to be made. It’s neither rewarding nor cathartic for anyone, really…

Bloomsday Northampton

Northampton, England

…unless of course you include that awkward, nearly failed attempt at kindness that Bloom offers Stephen near the end of the novel. There’s no indication that the event itself will be remembered by Stephen, who is out-of-his-mind-drunk by then, nor even by Bloom, who will eventually have to forget the day’s events in favor of more pressing matters: his shaky finances, his troubled marriage, his daughter’s potential teen-pregnancy. That Bloom should set these matters aside for a few hours in favor of bucking up Stephen Dedalus – a man he hardly knows – is not in itself particularly wise, but it is kind.

Bloomsday Philly

Philadelphia, PA

And without that kindness, I don’t think Joyce would have been able to endow his prose with the heroic qualities he did. Bloom’s taking a moment to masturbate on the beach in the ‘Nausicaa’ chapter would not have been treated by Joyce as a magnificent flourish of Don Giovannism were Bloom not kind-hearted, and his escape from a group of antisemitic rakes in the ‘Cyplops’ chapter could certainly not have been described as a rapturous ascent to heaven. In fact, I would say that none of Joyce’s grand prose experiments would have worked at all had he not placed a genuine, decent character at his novel’s epicenter.

Bloomsday Boston

Boston, MA

At it’s core, Ulysses is one man’s at-times-feeble-but-never-wavering daylong attempt to positively contribute to the community upon which he depends. To allow us to witness and celebrate such effort as it would happen on an average – as opposed to extraordinary – day is perhaps Joyce’s greatest contribution to world literature. And lest we forget, the term “Bloomsday” is itself an inversion of cruelty, being a play on “Doomsday”, humankind’s great nightmare-slash-fantasy in which such concepts as kindness and community are rendered utterly moot. Well to that I say: Bloomsday is coming. Let it thrive.

Bloomsday at Sandycove

Dalkey (Sandycove), Ireland

Here’s to June 16, the great day on which a small but nevertheless global community gathers to read from the greatest novel of the 20th century and share in its truly magical prose. Actors and scholars are often called upon to do the heavy-lifting, but properly the day belongs to clergy and laity alike. Here in my beautiful hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico, readers included actors, educators, writers, performance artists, filmmakers, painters, dancers, musicians, poets, journalists, iconoclasts of all ilk. I have them listed below by name with hyperlinks to each – some have their own websites, a couple even have their own Wikipedia pages, while still others have yet to build a web-profile – in which case a review or press release for some project they were part of is inserted. Without exception though, they are all of them ferocious participants in making their community a better place to live:

Acushla Bastible, Garrick Beck, Daniel Bohnhorst, Letitia Chambers, Melissa Chambers, Mary-Charlotte Domandi, Lisa FosterDeco Bernadette Freeman,  Charles Gamble, Michael Graves, Maureen Joyce(!) McKenna, Pen La Farge, Bruce C. Mckenna,  Vanessa Rios Y VallesBird ThompsonAlice Van Buren, Max Walukas, Alaina Warren Zachary, Elizabeth West, and Mary Woods.

Big thanks to all who helped to make it real.

Bloomsday Santa Fe

Santa Fe, NM, 2015 – left: Dan Bohnhorst (Stephen Dedalus) and Acushla Bastible (narrator) reading from the ‘Telemachus’ chapter with a powerpoint libretto running behind / center: your host / right – Vanessa Rios Y Valles, one of eight Molly readers, approves of the final word.

Addendum 06/18/2018:

Each year since I first published this post, Bloomsday in Santa Fe (as we’ve come to call it) has continued to grow and flourish. Many additional readers and artists have contributed their energies to this event, including Gerry Carthy, Leslie Dillen, Sabina Dunn, John Flax, Grant Franks, Martha Franks, Larry Glaister, Lynn Goodwin, Rod Harrison, Scott Harrison, Glenna Hill, Tara Khozein, Kent Kirkpatrick, Dylan Marshall, Westin McDowell, Jono Manson, Scott Plunket, Kirste Plunket, Alexandra Renzo, and Karina Wilson.

The Prankquean Matrix: a JoyceTrope


Once upon an amalgam…

…a wise old wolf gave each of his three pigs a bag of talents. Two of the wicked stepsisters – their names were Goneril and Regan – were lazy and stupid and built their houses out of straw and sticks. So no matter how much the Big Bad Lear huffed and puffed, he couldn’t get the glass slipper to fit on a single foot, for the first bag of talents was way too hot and the second was far too soft.

But Cordelia’s bag of talents was just right, for she had built hers out of bricks.

So when Papa Lear found Cinderella sleeping in his bed, he cried, “Nothing will come from nothing,” and added, “Thou wicked and slothful servant, cast ye into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And he married her and they all lived happily ever after. The End.


This is what happens after you’ve read enough Finnegans Wake; stories become confounded and start blending together, especially if they exhibit even slight similarities. Matthew 25:14-30 melds into act I scene 1 from King Lear, who then becomes the Big Bad Wolf, who then somehow fits a glass slipper onto Cinderella, who in her turn becomes Goldilocks and so on. Distinctions such as ‘happy ending vs unhappy ending’, ‘wolf-and-pigs vs father-and-daughters’, ‘bags-of-talents vs bowls-of-porridge’, et cetera start to matter much less than the structural scaffolding these stories are all built on, for the pattern is unmistakably predictable:

  • Once upon a time, a thing happened.
  • As a result, three things happened, one after the other.
  • The first thing was a thing, and it went POW.
  • The second thing was a different thing from the first thing, but not really, for it also went POW, or maybe KA-POW.
  • But the third thing was a totally different thing, and it went BOOM, or maybe WHOOSH or THUD.
  • And we all learned a new thing. The end.

Apply this outline to any of the stories referenced in my little amalgam and they all fit, without exception. A whole bunch of others do as well – here’s just one example:

  • Once upon a time, a thing happened.
    A giant beanstalk  grows in Jack’s back yard.
  • As a result, three things happened, one after the other.
    Jack climbs/descends the beanstalk three times.
  • The first thing was a thing.
    Jack steals a bag of gold, “Fee-fi-fo-fum” etc.
  • The second thing was different but not really.
    Jack steals the golden goose, “Fee-fi-fo-fum” etc.
  • But the third thing went BOOM / WHOOSH / THUD.
    Jack steals the magic harp, which cries out (BOOM), the giant chases Jack (WHOOSH), who chops down beanstalk (THUD).
  • And now it’s a new thing.
    Jack and his mother are rich and never have to work again.

Sometimes called the Rule of Three, this storytelling trope is pretty much the oldest one in the book, and it’s used and re-used by writers to this very day. It arguably plays roles in Freytag’s pyramid, Campbell’s hero-journey, and perhaps even Aristotle’s formula for successful drama, vide his great exemplar, Sophoceles’ Oedipus Rex:

  • Once upon a time, a thing happened
    Oedipus vows to find Laius’ killer.
  • As a result, three things happened, one after the other
    Three old men are summoned to testify.
  • The first thing went POW
    The first old man (Tiresias) implicates Oedipus as the killer. Oedipus responds with threats.
  • The second thing also went POW
    The second old man (first shepherd) gives evidence further implicating Oedipus, who responds with more threats.
  • But the third thing went BOOM
    The third old man (second shepherd) confirms the guilt of Oedipus, who responds by blinding himself.
  • And we all learned a new thing
    Destiny is a bitch.

(MacBeth comes to mind here as well, with the three witches and their whole Glamis/Cawdor/King business.)

So with such literary heavies as Sophocles and Shakespeare (as well as Dante, come to think of it) weighing in, James Joyce certainly wouldn’t allow himself to be left out. He enters into this fray with an eye to creating a very specific effect, however, and so adds his own set of rules to the trope’s makeup. I call it the “Prankquean Matrix” to distinguish it from the general “rule of three”, and I take my moniker from one of the more celebrated passages in Finnegans Wake

…and it goes a little like this:

Prankquean Video ScreenJoyceGeek Presents: The Prankquean Video

Sure, the language here is difficult – it’s Finnegans Wake after all. But knowledge of the source material Joyce used for this passage (Grace O’Malley & the Earl of Howth, St. Patrick & the druid, Grania & Dermot, etc.) is hardly a prerequisite for understanding pp. 21-23 (though it’s certainly always a good thing to have). Every bit as simple as ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, the story’s structural breakdown is almost sophomoric:

  • Once upon a time, a thing happened
    Jarl von Hoother is holed up with his three charges: the jiminy Tristopher, the jiminy Hilary, and the dummy.
  • As a result, three things happened, one after the other
    The Prankquean riddles Jarl and kidnaps his charges.
  • The first thing went POW
    “Mark the wans” etc.
    Jarl shuts the gates, the prankquean nabs jiminy Tristopher.
  • The second thing also went POW
    “Mark the twy” etc. Jarl shuts the gates again
    , the prankquean nabs jiminy Hilary.
  • But the third thing went BOOM/WHOOSH/THUD
    “Mark the tris”etc. (the prankquean is presumably about to nab the dummy), Jarl is provoked / Thunder.
  • And we all learned a new thing
    The fable concludes with a number of “morals”.

So leaving aside the typically impenetrable linguistic details, what we have here is almost pure archetype, and if we want to suggest an avatar for the trope as Joyce used it, the distorted language actually serves to create some critically helpful ambiguities:

  • Is it a happy ending?
    No telling.
  • Which character is the villain, which the hero?
    Again, no telling.
  • Is the Moral’s tone cautionary or simply observational?
    Perhaps both, perhaps neither.

The only unambiguous issue here is gender – a female (prankquean) provokes a male (Hoother) three times etc – and with one single exception (that I could find), Joyce assigned these specific gender roles each and every time he incorporated the ‘rule of three’ into his writing. The exception can be found in the following extremely subtle example which, as always, Joyce created to a purpose:


from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

(The prankquean matrix pattern will become much more blatant as we progress through more examples, but uncovering its subtle occurrences in Joyce can be as fun a parlor-game as finding the H.C.E. acrostic in Finnegans Wake.)

Immediately before Stephen Dedalus vomits “profusely in agony” in chapter three, he imagines the demons of his Roman Catholic Guilt following a “hither and thither” pattern. This phrase: “hither and thither” – which I’ve highlighted in red below – is repeated exactly three times, and will be later developed into something of a leitmotif in Joyce’s other works:

Creatures were in the field: one, three, six: creatures were moving in the field, hither and thither. Goatish creatures with human faces, horny­browed, lightly bearded and grey as india-rubber. The malice of evil glittered in their hard eyes, as they moved hither and thither, trailing their long tails behind them. A rictus of cruel malignity lit up greyly their old bony faces. One was clasping about his ribs a torn flannel waistcoat, another complained monotonously as his beard stuck in the tufted weeds. Soft language issued from their spittleless lips as they swished in slow circles round and round the field, winding hither and thither through the weeds, dragging their long tails amid the rattling canisters. They moved in slow circles, circling closer and closer to enclose, to enclose, soft language issuing from their lips, their long swishing tails besmeared with stale shite, thrusting upwards their terrific faces . . .
Help!

This rather ‘goth’ passage takes place near the novel’s center, at a point where Stephen’s aesthetic is still very much in incubation. As Stephen matures, the narrative associations in the novel mature as well, so that by the end of the fourth chapter, we have a near perfect inversion of the above passage, again with a threefold repetition of “hither and thither”, and again followed immediately by a foundation-shaking catharsis:

She was alone and still, gazing out to sea; and when she felt his presence and the worship of his eyes her eyes turned to him in quiet sufferance of his gaze, without shame or wantonness. Long, long she suffered his gaze and then quietly withdrew her eyes from his and bent them towards the stream, gently stirring the water with her foot hither and thither. The first faint noise of gently moving water broke the silence, low and faint and whispering, faint as the bells of sleep; hither and thither, hither and thither; and a faint flame trembled on her cheek.
—Heavenly God! cried Stephen’s soul, in an outburst of profane joy.

The larger sections of which these two passages are a part also invite careful cross-comparison. Both are stunning outpourings of lyrical prose with near identical syntax and rhythm, and as the above examples demonstrate, the vocabulary even matches from time to time. One could argue that the second passage simply sublimates the first.

But this is more than mere sublimation. The girl in the stream – much like Dante’s Beatrice – is a kind of herald, trumpeting a permanent associative shift in Joyce’s prose. From this point on, Stephen (and Joyce by proxy, of course) will hold fast to two basic associations:

  1. The phrase “hither and thither” will be used exclusively to invoke the feminine and/or water.
  2. The ‘rule of three’ trope will be used exclusively to describe a female-to-male interaction as defined by the Prankquean Matrix.
(This blogpost is all about association #2, of course, but very quickly: the “hither and thither” examples to which I refer are mostly from Finnegans Wake: p. 158 lines 25 & 32, p. 216 line 4, p. 452, lines 27-28, etc. There is at least one from Ulysses as well, though: Gabler ed. p. 288, line 626.)

So turning to Dubliners…

(… and yes, I know, Dubliners is an earlier work than Portrait. I place it later in my mind because I assume it to have been composed by a post-Portrait Stephen Dedalus, i.e. a matured Joyce who has already worked out his aesthetic guidelines.)

Three-fold female-to-male interactions are everywhere in Dubliners, and often constitute the structure of entire stories. Here are just a few examples:

Counterparts

  • Three things happen, one after the other:
    Farrington (male) is denied access to three females: Miss Delacour, the nameless London woman, and Mrs Farrington
  • The first thing went POW:
    Miss Delacour smiles broadly  / Farrington is emboldened.
  • The second thing went KA-POW:
    London woman brushes past Farrington  / Farrington is aroused.
  • But the third thing went BOOM:
    Mrs Farrington goes to the chapel instead of cooking dinner  / Farrington is enraged.
  • And now it’s a new thing:
    Farrington beats his son.

Clay

  • Once upon a time, a thing happened:
    The Donnellys throw a Hallow’s Eve party..
  • As a result, three things happened, one after the other:
    Maria (female) embarrasses herself three times in front of Joe Donnelly (male).
  • The first thing went POW:
    Maria loses the plumcake and nearly cries outright  / Joe comforts her.
  • The second thing went KA-POW:
    Maria suggests a reconciliation with Alphy  / Joe rebuffs her.
  • But the third thing went THUD:
    Maria sings poorly / Joe is moved, becomes maudlin, weeps.
  • And now it’s a new thing:
    Joe’s corkscrew is missing.

The Dead

  • Once upon a time, a thing happened:
    The Misses Morkan host their annual dinner.
  • As a result, three things happened, one after the other:
    Three females (Lily, Miss Ivors, Gretta) provoke Gabriel Conroy.
  • The first thing went POW:
    Lily: “The men that is now is only all palaver” etc. / Gabriel is irritated.
  • The second thing went KA-POW:
    Miss Ivors: “West Briton!”  / Gabriel is aggravated.
  • But the third thing went BOOM:
    Gretta:
    “I think he died for me.” / Gabriel is devastated.
  • And now it’s a new thing:
    Generous tears, etc.

All of these stories adhere to Joyce’s prankqueanish gender assignments – females provoking males. They are all neatly divided into three sections: ‘Counterparts’: work / pub crawl / home, ‘Clay’: work / shopping-spree / party, ‘The Dead’: before / during / after dinner. And seemingly random references to the number three are almost comically ubiquitous throughout all of these stories: Farrington’s son offers to “say a Hail Mary” exactly three times, during the course of ‘Clay’ exactly three items are lost and Maria’s nose is described as nearly touching her chin exactly three times, and Gabriel famously toasts “the Three Graces (Joyce’s capitalization) of the Dublin musical world”. These occurrences are prankquean obliques – not examples of the prankquean trope by themselves but merely signals of her matrix’s presence.

There are many more prankqueanish instances in Dubliners than just these three, but these are the most obvious, and three, after all, is the magic number here. I’ll save the other Dubliners examples for a later post.


Moving onto Ulysses…

The opening of the ‘Calypso’ chapter has a rather cute exchange:

  • Once upon a time, a thing happens:
    It’s breakfast time.
  • As a result, three things happen, one after the other:
    The cat (female) approaches Bloom (Male) “with tail on high”.
  • The first thing goes:
    “Mkgnao!” / Bloom offers milk.
  • The second thing goes:
    “Mrkgnao!”  / Bloom withholds milk, taunting the cat.
  • But the third thing goes:
    “Mrkrgnao!” / Bloom pours the milk.
  • And now it’s a new thing:
    “Gurrhr!”

This exchange appears to be a trivialization of the pattern, but notice: the cat’s vocalizations are not mere repetition. Each one builds off of its predecessor, inserting a vocal “r” with each new utterance. Had Bloom continued to withhold milk, we can assume the fourth would be “Mrkrgrnao!” As is typical with Joyce, however, the pattern breaks after three.

It’s worth noting that the cat’s mewing sound ends each time with “nao”, a sound to be echoed later – and again thrice – by young Tommy Caffrey at the beginning of the ‘Nausicaa’ chapter:

—Tell us who is your sweetheart, spoke Edy Boardman. Is Cissy your sweetheart?
—Nao, tearful Tommy said.
—Is Edy Boardman your sweetheart? Cissy queried.
—Nao, Tommy said.
—I know, Edy Boardman said none too amiably with an arch glance from her shortsighted eyes. I know who is Tommy’s sweetheart. Gerty is Tommy’s sweetheart.
—Nao, Tommy said on the verge of tears.

Now this is true trivialization: no signs of change nor accrual from one instance to the next, and apart from the narrative shift to Gerty, nothing significant happens as a result, certainly not ‘BOOM’. So this doesn’t really qualify as a true prankquean exchange. Rather, this passage is another prankquean oblique – a signal to be on the lookout for the true pattern in the pages to come, and sure enough, careful scrutiny reveals the following:

  • Once upon a time, a thing happens:
    Gerty (female) and Bloom (male) are on the beach in Sandymount.
  • As a result, three things happen, one after the other:
    Gerty reveals herself to Bloom in three different ways.
  • The first thing goes POW:
    She kicks the ball and makes eye contact with Bloom.
  • The second thing goes KA-POW:
    She removes her hat and reveals her hair, “raising the devil” in Bloom.
  • But the third thing goes BOOM/WHOOSH/THUD:
    She arches back to reveal her knickers. Bloom bastes his loins.
  • And now it’s a new thing:
    “Cuckoo Cuckoo Cuckoo” (3x)

All of this is of course merely prep-work for the ‘Circe’ chapter, which works countless prankqueanish echoes and variants into its narrative, from the three wealthy socialites of Bloom’s hallucination (Mrs Bellingham, Mrs Yelverton Barry and the Honourable Mrs Mervyn Talboys) to the three whores whom he and Stephen encounter in the flesh (Zoe, Kitty and Florry). Nothing in ‘Circe’ is clean, however, so the pattern doesn’t seem to take a solid hold here as it does elsewhere, although certainly the apparition of Stephen’s mother feels very much like ‘the third thing that goes BOOM’. Plus, it can hardly be mere coincidence that the mother’s appearance comes as a near-direct consequence of the pianola’s playing “My Girl’s A Yorkshire Girl, a song in three-quarter time with three verses about three men who share a single woman. If this isn’t enough to establish Joyce’s commitment to the pattern, nothing is.


So then, back to the Wake.

A major problem arises with what properly should be the Pankquean Matrix’s ultimate expression: Finnegans Wake pp. 219-259, “The Mime of Mick, Nick and the Maggies” (Joyce’s own title). It’s a chapter rife with Prankquean signposts: It culminates with a thunderword (#7) and concludes with overtones of a “moral” – the final sentence of the chapter being one of the most lauded in the entire book. And it contains numerous threefold interactions between male and female, most notably on page 225:

—Have you monbreamstone?
—No.
—Or Hellfeuersteyn?
—No.
—Or Van Diemen’s coral pearl?
—No.

…repeated with a difference on page 233:

—Haps thee jaoneofergs?
—Nao.
—Haps thee mayjaunties?
—Naohao.
—Haps thee per causes nunsibellies?
—Naohaohao.

This last interaction is of course famously evocative of tearful Tommy Caffrey’s exclamations in ‘Nausicaa’, and much like Bloom’s cat, develops a phonetic accrual from one utterance to the next.

So you may be well asking the same question Wake scholars have been asking for three-quarters of a century now: With the first exchange from p. 225 looking an awful lot like the thing that goes POW, especially when paired with the KA-POWish one on p. 233, where’s the third exchange preceding the BOOM on p. 257?

Answer: there is none.

…at least none that the scholars can agree on. One of my favorite Wake scholars, John Gordon, sees it happening on p. 247:

Boo, you’re through!
Hoo, I’m true!
Men, teacan a tea simmering, hamo mavrone kerry O?
Teapotty. Teapotty.
Kod knows. Anything ruind. Meetingless.

I’ve also heard it argued that it takes place on p. 249:

—I rose up one maypole morning and saw in my glass how nobody loves me but you. Ugh. Ugh.
All point in the shem direction as if to shun.
—My name is Misha Misha but call me Toffey Tough. I mean Mettenchough. It was her, boy the boy that was loft in the larch. Ogh! Ogh!

A great many scholars, including Bernard Benstock, Margaret Solomon, Grace Eckley, and Danis Rose all argue that it takes place on page 250:

—Willest thou rossy banders havind?
He simules to be tight in ribbings round his rumpffkorpff.
—Are you Swarthants that’s hit on a shorn stile?
He makes semblant to be swiping their chimbleys.
—Can you ajew ajew fro’ Sheidam?
He finges to be cutting up with a pair of sissers and to be buy­tings of their maidens and spitting their heads into their facepails.

Still others place it on p. 252:

—Now may Saint Mowy of the Pleasant Grin be your ever­glass and even prospect!
—Feeling dank.
Exchange, reverse.
—And may Saint Jerome of the Harlots’ Curse make family three of you which is much abedder!
—Grassy ass ago.

And Roland MacHugh, perhaps more persuasively than anyone else, claims in his Annotations (with Slepon chiming in as well) that the final exchange is on p.253:

But Noodynaady’s actual ingrate tootle is of come into the garner mauve and thy nice are stores of morning and buy me a bunch of iodines.
Evidentament he has failed as tiercely as the deuce before for she is wearing none of the three.

While there are good arguments for all of these speculations (and probably more), I think they’re all likely fueled by little more than a desire for the pattern to be completed. Joyce has, of course, quite deliberately built up these expectations over the course of four novels, but his writing really only ever consistently follows one rule, and here it is:

Rules are for breaking.

The ‘Mime’ chapter is, after all, a study of childhood, and children never respond to rules very well.

This, in my view, is the ultimate function of the Prankquean Matrix. The vast majority of examples from Joyce’s works I’ve cited here involve the male figure experiencing a disruption of one kind or another – of routine, of agenda, of rigid thought-pattern. In this sense, the Prankquean Matrix actually functions as more of a formula for change than it does a trope for storytellers, and this is the reason I believe Joyce so consistently assigned a feminine/puerile value to the disruption. Women and children may be first onto the lifeboats, but in a world ruled by men, they are the marginalized, inconvenient voice of the other that need only be pushed aside in order to go boom.

Prankquean Collage 1

Wakean Tourism: a Cartography of the Soul

Walking tours of Dublin are an absolute treat – some argue necessity – for the curious Joyce reader. You can do it either through the Joyce Centre on Great George’s Street, the James Joyce Summer School, or simply using xerox photocopies of the numerous maps from Don Gifford’s annotation books. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dubliners, and especially Ulysses will come to light in many wonderful and surprising ways, and the city of Dublin is very much ready to accommodate you if you’re seeking to visualize the experience contained in these three books.

Finnegans Wake is a different matter, though, and not just because its prose is difficult. For one thing, most of the Wake‘s Dublin references are to Phoenix park, and the Dublin tourism industry doesn’t seem to have any interest in providing Phoenix park/Chapelizod tour buses for Wake enthusiasts. We’re pretty much on our own, I’m afraid, and it’s not easy. The Phoenix park is Eurasia’s seventh largest municipal park, meaning a whole lot of legwork. It’s worth it, though, and not just for Wake readers. Surprisingly, the Wakean tour of Phoenix Park provides crucial insight into the other books – especially Ulysses. It is a little tricky, though. So where better to start than…


The Famous Quotation

The following is a famous quotation. No, I mean it – it’s really famous. I’ve heard it read out loud at Joyce conference panels so many times that as soon as I hear the words “Joyce once told Frank Budgen…” I already know what’s coming, and I have to actively prevent my eyes from rolling. For Joyceans, it’s basically the equivalent of “Four-score and seven years ago”, and it’s emblazoned on virtually every single Joyce guidebook and map the Dublin Tourism Center on Suffolk Street can shove into your hands:

“I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day sud­denly dis­appeared from the earth it could be recon­structed out of my book.”

-from Budgen’s James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses

Grandiose and provocative though this second-hand quote may be, it’s also hackneyed, simplistic, and hardly ever scrutinized. If we are to assume – as Budgen clearly intends us to – that Joyce meant Ulysses when he said “my book”, the Dublin we’d be reconstructing from its pages wouldn’t have a Wellington Monument…Wellington Monument

…or a Magazine Wall…Magazine Fort     …or a Dublin Zoo…Dublin Zoo

…or a Fifteen Acres…

Fifteen Acres

…or any other salient feature of the Phoenix Park for that matter:

Phoenix Park2015 GoogleMaps image with 1904 placenames
(present name/state in parens)

Perhaps Budgen mis-heard his friend saying “my books” – plural, for just about everything in the the above map is referenced in Finnegans Wake – in most cases repeatedly, and some ubiquitously. According to Louis Mink, over 300 direct references to and meditations on the Phoenix park and its features are distributed more or less evenly throughout the book, with that number essentially doubling if you include Chapelizod, the small strip of high-end suburbia that hugs the park’s southern border along the Liffey.

Ulysses is another matter entirely.

I encourage anyone interested to word-search the above place-names in a Ulysses etext – some of them are there, but without exception their references are marginal and unenlightening. Bloom recalls a water well near the “Hole in the Wall” (U5.296-7, 17.210), Molly imagines a trip “to the furry glen or the strawberry beds” (U18.948), and Stephen… …umm, okay Stephen doesn’t think about the park … or anything in it … or around it … at all. Add Bloom’s occasional and extremely vague, misinformed references to the “Phoenix Park Murders” of 1882 (more than twenty years previous), and there’s your complete list of meditations on Phoenix Park by the three main protagonists of Ulysses. There are a few other exceptions, and other characters give the park occasional mention, but that’s pretty much it. (Chapelizod also receives virtually zero mention in Ulysses. For the record, here’s the one exception from the ‘Aeolus’ chapter [U7.732]: “Ignatius Gallaher we all know and his Chapelizod boss, Harmsworth of the farthing press…”)

More to the point – and this is the big shocker – the only event in the whole of Ulysses to actually happen within the park’s boundaries is the following sentence:

William Humble, earl of Dudley, and lady Dudley, accompanied by lieutenant­colonel Heseltine, drove out after luncheon from the vice­regal lodge. (U10.1176)

…and that’s it – period. In sum, there is no Phoenix Park to “reconstruct” from the pages of Ulysses in terms of description. This is kind of astonishing considering the amount of sheer acreage the park constitutes: Most Joyce-readers are aware of the fact that Phoenix Park is big, but it’s still shocking to see just how enormous it is when you compare it to Dublin City as defined by its canals:Dublin and Phoenix ParkEven if you argue that Phoenix Park isn’t really part of Dublin City “proper”, you still have to explain why the novel would come so close to completely ignoring it, especially since four of its chapters take place much further away from city-centre than the park:Dublin & EnvironsPlus, while no actual Bloomsday event take place in Howth, Howth would certainly be easier to reconstruct from Ulysses than Phoenix Park, as would Gibraltar, for that matter.

So I’m going to do something that should make the Freudians out there smile (and everyone else grimace, consequently) and argue that James Joyce makes the Pheonix park as conspicuous by its absence in Ulysses as its presence is in Finnegans Wake. By way of example: three of Phoenix Park’s most noticeable features – all within Dublin’s city limits and all major locales in Finnegans Wake – are given no mention whatsoever in Ulysses, and careful comparison reveals an interesting pattern. We’ll start with the “biggie”:


The Wellington Testimonial

The Wellington Monument (officially “Testimonial”) is famously “toured” in the early pages of Finnegans Wake (the “Museyroom” passage, pp. 8-10) and from there, references to either Wellington, his memorial, or the Museyroom run all the way through the book.

Its COMPLETE absence in Ulysses could only be deliberate. The W.M. was by far the tallest structure in 1904 Dublin, over half-again as high as Nelson’s Pillar (the second tallest), and not to be outreached until 2003 by ‘the spire’. It would have been visible from any Dublin rooftop or southern quay on the west side of town. Joyce could easily have had Bloom take note of it any one of the numerous times he crosses a bridge over the Liffey, not to mention when he’s buying Sweets of Sin at the bookstall on Wellington(!) Quay – that would have been the perfect place to make mention of the monument, both thematically and practically:

Victoria Quay DublinBut no – neither he nor anyone else in the novel ever take time to notice or even think about the single largest landmark within Dublin city limits.

So what gives? Joyce didn’t have any kind of “author’s allergy” to it, witness Dubliners:

“Gabriel’s warm, trembling fingers tapped the cold pane of the window. How cool it must be outside! How pleasant it would be to walk out alone, first along by the river and then through the park! The snow would be lying on the branches of the trees and forming a bright cap on the top of the Wellington Monument. How much more pleasant it would be there than at the supper-table!” (‘The Dead’)

Here’s where visiting the Phoenix park itself really starts to pay off. Gabriel Conroy’s idealized and overly-sentimental attitude would be immediately quashed if he actually did what he contemplates here. The Wellington Testimonial sits in the middle of a tree-less, shelter-less field and once you’re there, the obelisk is utterly impossible to take in – it’s just too big. Even with a foot of snow on it, Gabriel still wouldn’t have been able to see a “bright cap” at the top, and what he could see would have been even more vandalized than what I photographed in 2002:WM DetailsBecause of the design of the monument itself, I had to hold my camera way above my head in order to get these shots – getting them head-on would have required a telescopic lens. And note: the Irish are very careful not to vandalize memorials to people they like – O’Connell, Parnell, Larkin, etc., and climbing high enough to put the paint(?) on these inset plaques would have taken a lot of determined effort. This is the kind of stuff they were doing to King Billy’s statue, General Gough’s statue and Nelson’s Pillar before eventually blowing them up. Ask a native Dubliner why they didn’t do the same with Wellington, they’re likely to tell you that the Archduke was born in Ireland, and so gets a pass. I’m personally skeptical of this response: Wellington himself denounced his Irish lineage by quipping that a man born in a stable was not a horse – a deliberate insult if you ask me. I think a much more likely explanation as to why the W.M. wasn’t destroyed during the Troubles is because it’s made of solid stone and would basically require an ICBM to level; getting rid of the pillar was hard enough. The point is Wellington’s monuments and statues are loathed and vandalized all over the the current and former British Empire, from Ireland to India. Of course they’re also celebrated; Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington is nearly as much a synecdoche for British imperial power as the royals or the Union Jack. The inscription on the right-hand side in the above photos reads:

Asia and Europe, saved by thee, proclaim
Invincible in war thy deathless name,
Now round thy brow the civic oak we twine
That every earthly glory may be thine.

This borders on straight-up supplication – the only thing missing is the “amen” at the end. No: Gabriel Conroy was wrong. No self-respecting Irishman claiming Nationalist sympathies would find the Wellington Monument during a nighttime January snowstorm even remotely pleasant.

Even in broad daylight the place is creepy.


The Magazine Wall/Starfort*

*Louis Mink makes a dis­tinc­tion bet­ween the Ma­ga­zine Wall – just south of the park, and the Magazine Star­fort – within the park. Joyce him­self doesn’t bother making this dis­tinc­tion, however, so neither will I.

Built in 1734 by the occupying British army in case of revolt by the natives, the Magazine Wall/Starfort – is about a half-mile west of the Wellington Monument. Here’s the GoogleMap aerial view:StarfortAnother locale that receives ubiquitous mention in Finnegans Wake (p. 44-47 et al), the Magazine Fort sits atop a hill (also mentioned frequently in the Wake – vide FW7.31-32 et al) where you can get a fairly decent view of the surrounding area. But the fort itself is essentially impossible to take in by the naive Joycean tourist. An enormous trench and thick overgrowth surround the entire structure, which is itself closed to the general public due to its current state of disrepair.Starfort OvergrownAttempts have been made to turn the fort into a museum, but what kind of traffic would this blatant reminder of Ireland’s Troubles receive? Were it not so sturdily constructed, my guess is that it would have been demolished long ago.

Creepy creepy. Unpleasant to visit, unpleasant to think about, the Magazine’s excision from the minds and memories of the denizens of Ulysses is somewhat understandable, and if you pair it with the neighboring Wellington Monument, you start to see a pattern of sorts – at least I do.


The Dublin Zoological Gardens

Like the Wellingtom Monument and Magazine Wall, the Dublin Zoo receives detailed and lyrical treatment in Finnegans Wake (pp. 244-246), and again, no mention in Ulysses whatsoever.

But wait a minute – zoos are much more pleasant to visit. Witness these stills from the Dublin Zoo website:Dublin Zoo Conposite…very pleasant indeed. I’ve been to the Dublin Zoo myself, and the habitats were quite nice – even if the animals within them didn’t seem particularly thrilled to be there.

Of course, one should bear in mind that zoos back at the turn of the century were a little different:Jardin de Plantes 1902This sketch was taken at the Jardin de Plantes, Paris, in 1902. I couldn’t find any comparable Dublin Zoo photos, but we can assume conditions in Dublin were just as bad if not worse. Joyce wouldn’t have gone anywhere near such a place, and not just because of the sickening prison-like atmosphere, or that the idiot dangling the doggie-bag half-a-meter from the tiger or the moron who laid his sketchbook inches away from the male lion’s grasp were likely to lose an arm. Admission in 1904 was prohibitively expensive for most Dubliners; only the posh, mostly pro-British class had any real access to it, and judging from the above photo, their behavior inside would have been further testimony to the Brits’ general attitude of imperial entitlement.

Creepy creepy creepy.


Nightmare Fuel

The hard fact is that unless you were a polo-player, Phoenix Park would have been a miserable place to go on a Thursday in June 1904, even imaginatively. Any mention of Phoenix Park in Ulysses is likely to have the word “murder” nearby, and when you look closely at the final passage in ‘Wandering Rocks’, the Viceregal Cavalcade (avatar of imperial subjugation and the park’s single issue) is spit out of the Park’s mouth like a trail of venom and stops the entire city dead in its tracks as it makes its way to the Mirus Bazaar on the other side of town, nearly trampling Denis Breen, Dilly Dedalus and others in its violent wake.

So while Finnegans Wake is all that Joseph Campbell, Michael Begnal and others say it is – with its mono-mythologies blending the phoenix with Christ with the Buddha etc. all into a glorious dreamscheme of pluralistic humanity, it’s also the very unpleasant thing that Edmund Wilson, Kimberly Devlin and others say it is – the unreadable, the unthinkable, the impenetrable, the nightmarish. The museyroom passage tickles us with “tip” and its goofy cadences, but it also recounts some of humankind’s bloodiest pre-20th century battles. The “Magazine Wall” may very well be where Earwicker gratifies his desires, but it’s also where he is caught, mugged and humiliated. And while the cries of the zoo animals recounted in the Mime chapter may be stunningly lyrical (some argue it to be the most beautiful passage in the book), they’re also the cries of the caged, the oppressed, the conquered.

Chances are that this is the real reason why the Dublin Tourism Office doesn’t have much to offer Wake readers. Finnegans Wake has lots of lightness and comedy in it, but it is in its essence a study of the shadow-self, that part of us we prefer not to look at. Perhaps obfuscating the language is Joyce’s way of enticing us to look anyway.