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

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.