Chapter Five

Shut Your Mouth, Close Your Eyes:
The Cable in Joyce's Finnegans Wake


In 1870, a new cable was laid between England and France, and Napoleon III used it to send a congratulatory message to Queen Victoria. Hours later, a French fisherman hauled the cable up into his boat, identified it as either the tail of a sea monster or a new species of gold-bearing seaweed, and cut off a chunk to take home.

Neil Stephenson[1]

I. Introduction

"Or was it you shot the lord lieutenant of Finland between you?" J.J. O'Molloy asks "in quiet mockery" to Stephen Dedalus in the "Aeolus" chapter of Ulysses. "You look as though you had done the deed. General Bobrikoff" (U 7.600-02). Bobrikoff, the governor-general and commander in chief of the Russian military in Finland, was assassinated June 16, 1904, at approximately 8:35 AM Dublin time.[2] As "Aeolus" takes place in the offices of the Freeman's Journal around noon on the same day, news of the assassination would have had to travel across Europe in a matter of hours. How O'Molloy came about this information is uncertain, but the sheer absence of any referent beyond the general's name suggests that the event was common knowledge even to non-reporters like Stephen, who responds to O'Molloy by saying, "We were only thinking about it" (U 7.603). In other words, the event was "wired" to Dublin through a process that, in the context of Joyce's narration, remains invisible.

"Aeolus" is largely focused on the power of communication, both human and mechanical: telephones buzz, printing presses whirl, telegrams are received and sent, editors bark orders at assistants, conversations blur into one another, and newsboys shuffle in and out at a furious pace. Through the course of this chapter, nearly every rhetorical strategy and oratorical trick is exploited for emotional, intellectual, and comedic effect. These effects, however, are contingent upon the mediums (oration, telephone, telegraph, newspaper) through which the information can be transmitted and received by listeners or readers. What makes O'Molloy's brief reference to General Bobrikoff so compelling is not the news itself but rather his effacement of the technological process that enabled him to receive the information. Technology, in this case, serves as a means toward rhetorical empowerment: a position of authority determined by the substitution of the speaker for the machine.

Technology gives individuals access to information; to be denied the technological means to access information is to be denied the power that the information contains. In 1904, the year Ulysses is set, the telephone and the telegraph enabled the men and women of Ireland to learn of events such as the assassination of a Russian General almost as soon as they occurred. The means whereby this information was acquired is not important in this particular case because the technology worked: it distributed the correct information. A technology like the telegraph was, in Joyce's time, so much a part of everyday life that the process of sending and receiving a message through the telegraph office is virtually invisible unless one notices a mistake in the transmitted message. The power and the promise of technology, in this sense, can only be realized if all the wires are in place and everything works as it is supposed to. When something goes wrong, what is revealed is not only the fallibility of technology but also the figures (operators, programmers, broadcasters) who otherwise remain hidden behind machines that speak for them.

Midway through his walk along Sandymount Strand, in the "Proteus" chapter of Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus recounts the day he received "a blue French telegram, curiosity to show," reading: "Nother dying come home father" (U 3.197-99). The cable, which was sent from Simon Dedalus in Dublin to Stephen in Paris, follows the rules of telegraphy by compressing significant information into a few generalized words. The purpose of this brevity and uniformity is both to minimize the high cost of sending a telegram-a cost that was even greater considering the Dedalus' poverty-and to protect the information itself from the many wavering eyes that receive and transmit the message along its path. This particular telegram contains information that is central to Stephen's thoughts and actions on June 14, 1904, but the reason he remembers it at this time is not due to the significance of the event but the "curiosity" of a misspelled word.

At the start of "Proteus," Stephen contemplates the "ineluctable modality of the visible" and audible (U 3.1, 13). Human beings, he surmises, cannot understand the totality they aspire towards because time and space limit perception of the exterior world to a particular place and a particular time. Technology's grand promise is to alleviate humanity's limitations and to assist in the acquisition of knowledge. Stephen's memory of a misspelled cable, however, suggests that the very machines invented to overcome limitations are themselves products of humanity's errant systems of knowledge. The missing "m" in the word "mother," is not a result of faulty wires but faulty telegraphers, who misunderstood the sounds transmitted to them over a cable and transcribed them accordingly. The word "Nother," then, foregrounds the physical process of sending and receiving a telegram, emphasizing the color of the paper, the misspelled word, and the message's journey from Dublin to Paris, over the information contained in the document.

Eugene Jolas, writing about Finnegans Wake ten years before its publication, notes that, "The real metaphysical problem today is the word."[3] That is, in a culture where meaning is shaped more by cameras, radios, telephones, and telegraphs than it is by novels and newspapers, the importance of words is diminished. Jolas goes on to say that, "When the beginnings of this new age are seen in perspective, it will be found that the disintegration of words, and their subsequent reconstruction on other planes, constitute some of the most important acts of our epoch."[4] In other words, the fact that Stephen remembers "Nother" because of its absent "M" is not merely a curiosity but a condition of modern life. The misspelled word reveals the cable to be both a letter sent by his father and electrical impulses transmitted from one place to another. In other words, the currents that appear on the other end of the telegraph wire as sound are as much a part of Stephen's telegram as the message initially written by his father in Dublin. As Jolas and others in this period argue, when words are reducible to mechanical functions, the meaning that is taken from them must be reconstructed.

The notion of reconstructing words, language, and meaning is explored in detail in Joyce's final novel, Finnegans Wake, which, in many ways, is a book full of "Nothers." At the center of this novel is a series of figures through which Joyce's universe is narrated. These figures-which are at once individual characters, animals, representations of nations, races, religions, historical personages, symbols, elements of the Dublin landscape, and mere words-act out a variety of different stories, riddles, crimes, wars, births, deaths, games, and lessons, all of which are connected to a figure named Finnegan, whose presence in the text itself is ambiguous at best. These figures cannot be named or identified as stable bodies because their identities are always in flux: names change from paragraph to paragraph, motives and desires fluctuate and disappear altogether, and physical descriptions move from human to stone to temple and back to human within the span of a single sentence. The figures are, in short, impossible to locate and define because they are always becoming a-"Nother."

One of the recurring motifs in Finnegans Wake is the search for origin, be it the origin of a crime, the origin of a nation, the origin of a human being, or the origin of the novel itself. One means by which the figures attempt to locate and establish origin is through communication technologies such as the telegraph, telephone, radio, and television. Each of these devices are frequently referenced in Finnegans Wake, from "telephone directory" (FW 118.13) or the "tellafun book" (FW 86.14) to "message[s]" (FW 19.23, 232.09) and "phone, phunkel, or wire" (FW 502.33). These references create a panoply of audio images, each connected to one another, just as each word in a sentence connects to every other word. However, these technologies are unable to establish a clear link between bodies due to the noise produced by the novel's linguistic technology, which disrupts the narrative and effectively reveals a tangential and "unnatural" correspondence between words and things. The cable in Finnegans Wake attempts to link conscious language and unconscious desire; as such, it not only functions as a microcosm of Finnegans Wake but also as a comment upon the limits of technology in a mechanized, scientific world.

The cable plays two central roles Finnegans Wake. The first is within the narrative, where specific, recurring cables facilitate communication between figures or between text and readers. The cable's second and more significant role is metaphorical: it helps shape the novel's construction of reality, defined as it is by an unconscious "dreamer" whose inability to access the exterior and conscious world of language, representation, and signification is read by John Bishop (among others) as a primary metaphor for the novel's structure. The "story" of Finnegans Wake can be read as a mapping of human sensations and perceptions into language through a metaphorical linking of body, technology, and sound. This chapter will examine the cable metaphor, both as it relates to communication within and without the novel and as it functions to uncover a particular sense of reality. Above all, the cable establishes its link between interior and exterior through a rejection of aberrant or abject desires. By imposing a linear and identifiable structure onto the text, the cable acts to control the novel's fragmented textual universe. By employing the metaphor of the cable, Joyce uncovers the political, cultural, and social mechanisms at work in the shaping of modern culture by pushing technological and linguistic metaphors to their extremes.

II. Bodies, Dreams, Methodologies

"Lord knows what my prose means," Joyce notes in a 1934 letter to his daughter Lucia, referring to his "work-in-progress," Finnegans Wake. "In a word, it is pleasing to the ear. And your drawings are pleasing to the eye. That is enough, it seems to me."[5] Certainly, Joyce's preference for the sound of his work is not surprising, considering both the artist's musical aspirations and the fact that his eyesight was so poor he was forced to compose much of the Wake "with the aid of three magnifying glasses and his son."[6] By suggesting that Finnegans Wake's "pleasure" derives from sound, however, Joyce seems to be favoring the emotional and visceral impact of his writing over the structural and literary conventions focused upon by critics. That this emotional emphasis is linked with the sound of Joyce's prose is striking, considering that writing is predominantly a textual medium. What this suggests is that sound should not be considered merely a supplement to the narrative, plot, and themes of this work, but rather it should be considered as one of the primary means through for which Joyce intended his novel to be understood. From the 101-letter thunderword on the book's opening page to the final lines of the "Anna Livia" chapter (I.8), in which Joyce attempts to render in prose the sounds of a river merging with the ocean, sound's function in Finnegans Wake is communicative: it conveys information from figure to figure and from text to reader.

Most critical analyses of Finnegans Wake take, as their starting point, a few generally accepted fragments of information. One of these pieces of information is the fact that Joyce patterned his work after Giambattista Vico's The New Science: that is, the Wake's four "books" correspond to the four key moments in Vico's cyclical pattern of human history.[7] However, Vico's influence on Joyce's work cannot be limited to the novel's base structure. As Joyce notes in a letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver, "I would not pay overmuch attention to these theories, beyond using them for all they are worth."[8] Vico's general theory is merely an aspect of a larger argument concerning the relationship between the construction of language and the development of social relations. In particular, the significant role played by sound in Joyce's work can be traced back to Vico's theory that language began when someone misinterpreted the sound of thunder as the voice of God: the same time that the divine character of Jove took shape-the first human thought in the gentile world-articulate language began to develop by way of onomatopoeia, through which we still find children happily expressing themselves...[9]

These "childish" cries became the very language of civilization:

Human words were formed next from interjections, which are sounds articulated under the impetus of violent passions. In all languages there are monosyllables. Thus it is not beyond likelihood that, when wonder had been awakened in men by the first thunderbolts, these interjections of Jove should give birth to one produced by the human voice: pa![10]

According to Vico, the social landscape of western culture originated with the translation of a thunderclap from a noise into language. Significantly, the first "word" spoken is "pa," or "father," which, as Vico notes, is a "divine title" arrogated to "The strong men in the family state, from a natural ambition of human pride."[11] Patriarchal cultural, then, is "divined" into being when sound itself is harnessed into material, discernible language. The power of thunder-the power of nature to shape and define life-is alchemetically reconfigured into social space by "certain men" who are able to mimetically reproduce the power of nature through their own voice. Father, here, is defined as the controller of language and is identified through such titles as king, lawmaker, judge, or tyrant. By contrast, to exist outside the privileged position of father is to be denied the power to determine meaning: that is, to exist in a world shaped and defined by others.

In Finnegans Wake, the narrative power to define and shape reality is located in an unconscious, dreaming body whose Wakean identity is referred to as HCE. According to the traditional reading of the novel, HCE is the owner of a pub or a grocery store; he has a wife (ALP), two sons (Shem and Shaun), and a daughter (Issy). Within the course of his "dreams," HCE is accused of a crime in a park, put on trial, forced to flee from his home, to hide, and to die, only to return to life and see the entire process repeated over again. Although individual critics will disagree over the stability of these figures or the accuracy of this brief outline, the names and identities of the figures and the notion of a "crime in the park" are generally accepted to the point that they often go unexplained in critical analyses. What is not generally accepted is the specific identity of this dreamer and the location (both spatial and temporal) of the dreaming body. The reason why the dreamer's identity is in dispute is really a product of the novel's narrative structure. As Margot Norris notes,

The great problem ... is that the reader is trapped inside the dream in Finnegans Wake. A dream can't be analyzed from the inside, because the dream is precisely the place where self-knowledge breaks down. The dreamer confronts a disguised message from his own unconscious. He is unable to know his unconscious directly, and yet it is utterly and truly himself.[12]

How can one identify the dreamer within a text that is describing a space that, by definition, resists conscious thought's attempts to describe it? One possible answer to this question is offered by John Bishop, who, in Joyce's Book of the Dark: "Finnegans Wake," argues that Joyce's novel is "a reconstruction of the night-and a single night-as experienced by 'one stable somebody' whose 'earwitness' on the world is coherently chronological."[13] In other words, the text itself is a narrative of a sleeping body, situated in a particular place at a particular time. Because, Bishop argues, the dreamer's body is asleep and therefore "dead to the world" like a tomb or coffin or ship, the exterior space which surrounds HCE is entirely separate from the conscious world of Earwicker's waking thoughts; consequently, the body itself is localized in its own textual universe. This sleeping body, however, is always exterior to and separate from the text itself, just as a sleeping, unconscious body is separated from its immediate surroundings. The body's control over the narrative, however, is significant and is determined largely by the intermittent influence of sound from the exterior world to the dreaming body's ears. As Joyce notes in a letter to William Bird, "in sleep our senses are dormant, except the sense of hearing, which is always awake, since you can't close your ears. So any sound that comes to our ears is turned into a dream."[14] While this is a rather reductive interpretation of the sleeping process, it does set up a way of reading the dreamer's ears as a doorway between the novel's figures (HCE in particular) and the world outside the novel. Finnegans Wake is filled with countless references to hearing, deafness, noise, mumbling, and all other auditory functions. In I.2, for instance, HCE's name is associated with "earwuggers" (FW 31.10-11), or earwigs, an odd bug that is so named because, as one entomologist notes, "it creeps into the ears of incautious sleepers in the open air, and so worms its way to the brain, grows to a gigantic size."[15] The ears, in other words, serve as a way into HCE's body because they function as holes through which voices, noises, air, and bugs burrow inside, infiltrate the body, and translate aberrant sounds into information (be it words, images, impressions, or objects).

Because Finnegans Wake is a written text, the sounds heard by a dreaming body cannot literally be represented on the page; in order to hear the sounds, a series of translations must take place. The first translation occurs when the sound is received and processed by the neural synapses of the dreaming body's cerebral cortex; from there, the sound is assigned a certain meaning based upon the configuration of the dreamer's brain and his or her past experiences; finally, the sound and its associative definitions are incorporated into the dreamer's dream. This process of receiving and processing sounds into dreams is complex and will inevitably result in faulty or inaccurate translations. According to Freud, however, these inaccuracies are the very mechanisms through which "dream-thoughts" are constructed. By "dream-thoughts," I am referring to the "wishes" that are fulfilled only in the narrative context of the dream (known as the "dream-content"). One of the chief mechanism used to construct these thoughts is condensation, which "is brought about by omission: that is, that the dream is not a faithful translation or a point-for-point projection of the dream-thoughts, but a highly incomplete and fragmentary version of them."[16] This fragmentation occurs because censoring mechanisms in the conscious mind omit the aspects of the subject's wishes that are considered taboo. The censored wishes, however, do not disappear but are displaced by what Freud describes as "a psychical force...which on the one hand strips the elements which have a high psychical value of their intensity, and on the other hand, by means of overdetermination, creates from elements of low psychical value new values, which afterwards find their way into the dream-content."[17]

The "psychical value" at the center of Freud's dream analysis is defined elsewhere as the subject's super-ego, which is "the influence, essentially, of what is taken over from other people."[18] In other words, Freud's "psychical value" is socially determined; as such, it is defined by the same "Law of the Father" that Vico mentions in relation to the sound of thunder and the formation of language. Just as Freud's dreams and Vico's thunder both posit a relationship between language, power, and psychic or metaphysical forces, so too does Finnegans Wake's specific and deliberate organization suggests the presence of psychical forces that shape and define the manner and presentation of the dreamer's single night. The Wake's use of portmanteau words and leit-motifs, for instance, suggest Freud's use of condensation, displacement, and disavowal; likewise, the novel's 101-letter thunderwords are a direct link to Vico's thunder and its effects upon social organization.

Of the many psychical forces in Finnegans Wake, however, some of the most significant are the images of and references to modern machines. These devices are given a great deal of attention in Joyce's novel because they are central methods of communication in the twentieth century. Just as machines like the telephone, telegraph, and radio allow individuals to communicate across vast distances at incredible speeds, so too do these machines function in Finnegans Wake as bridges between the dreaming body and the exterior world of consciousness and language. In other words, sound technologies function in the same manner as leitmotifs, portmanteau words, and other structuring devices by offering a way for readers to understand the "psychical values" which structure the text's narrative.

In the essay, "The Hieroglyphs of Engined Egypsians: Machines, Media, and Modes of Communication in Finnegans Wake," Donald Theall suggests the following:

Imagine Joyce around 1930 asking the question: what is the role of the book in a culture which has discovered photography, phonography, radio, film, television, telegraphy, cable, and telephone and has developed newspapers, magazines, advertising, Hollywood, and sales promotion? What people once read, they will now go to see in film and on television; everyday life will appear in greater detail and more up-to-date fashion in the press, on the radio, and in television; oral poetry will be reanimated by the potentialities of sound recording.[19]

Theall's speculations are plausible, at least if one considers the use to which Joyce puts each of the referenced technologies. As Theall notes in his book, James Joyce's Techno-Poetics, "The new technological culture attracted Joyce's artistic interest since it was the ground for interrelating various aspects of the everyday world in which he lived," including politics, urbanization, psychoanalysis, electrification, and mechanization.[20] Theall is right to incorporate sound recordings and radios into the larger discussion of technologies and modern culture in Joyce's novel. However, allusions to sound technology are different from references to visual medias like fashion and television because sound and their receptors (namely, the ears) supplement the novel's overriding narrative by situating HCE between conscious and unconscious worlds. As Theall notes, "The development of the Morse code partly marks the moment when the transmission of written language is electrified, which led to analyzing language itself as a system of codes."[21] The significance of a sound technology like the telegraph, then, is different from the significance of urbanization or politics, in that the notion of electrical coding is both literally and symbolically linked to the ideas which structure the very words that constitute Finnegans Wake. As such, Wakean references to the cable can be viewed both as cultural and historical markers, for they indicate the changing relationship between writing and communication, and act as metaphors for the composition of Finnegans Wake itself.

III. Cable, Mark, Narrative

While there are numerous references to telegraphs, telegraph operators cables, and Morse code in Finnegans Wake, perhaps the most interesting is a recurring message transmitted between the brother figures, Shem and Shaun. The historical reference for this message can be traced to Joyce's relationship with his younger brother, Stanislaus, who is often viewed as Joyce's model for Shaun, just as Joyce himself is the model for Shem. As with Shem and Shaun, James and Stanislaus's relationship was antagonistic; this was due primarily to the monetary problems that plagued Joyce throughout his life. As Richard Ellmann notes in his biography, "Joyce was incapable of keeping money about him, and inevitably began to ask" others for assistance.[22] While Joyce continued borrowing money up until his death, in the years before World War I, when Joyce and his family lived in poverty in Pola, Rome, and Trieste, Stanislaus was Joyce's chief means of economic support. Even when Stanislaus "was forced to live on bread and cooked ham" and could not afford to buy a suit, Joyce hounded his younger brother for money.[23] Although three volumes of Joyce's letters and other correspondences have been published, and many others exist in archives, the telegraph that is specifically referenced in the Wake is not among them.[24] Nevertheless, the issue of money was so crucial to James and Stanislaus' relationship that it seems entirely plausible that such a telegram did, at one time, exist.

It is likely that the tension evident in the Shem and Shaun figures in Finnegans Wake can be traced to the tension between the Joyce brothers in this period. This tension was also present when Joyce wrote the majority of this novel. For example, in August 1924, Stanislaus sent Joyce a letter detailing his opinion of Joyce's then Work-in-Progress,[25] noting that "It is unspeakably wearisome," and that it may be "the witless wandering of literature before its final extinction."[26] Although these words do not automatically suggest malice on Stanislaus' part, it is important to note that they were written and read by Joyce during the years in which the majority of Finnegans Wake was being composed. In particular, 1923-24 are the years when Joyce wrote chapters I.3, I.7, and III.3-that is, three of the four chapters which contain a telegraphic message (FW 60.26-29, 172.22-26, 315.31-33). The fourth message (FW 488.27-28) occurs in chapter II.3, the so-called "Norwegian Captain" chapter, which was written in 1936, and which is noteworthy for its preponderance of technological references (which I will discuss later). Although the actual wording of the message changes each time it occurs, the basic structures (themes, tropes, and figures) remain constant in all four.

The first cable occurs in I.3, a chapter in which, as Danis Rose and John O'Hanlon note, readers "consider the shreds of recorded evidence regarding" HCE's crime in the park, which is detailed in the previous chapter.[27] These "shreds of recorded evidence" are contained largely in the form of fables and rumors. However, the addition of numerous technological references-"television," "telephony" (FW 52.18), "wineless Ere" (FW 53.04, both Homer's "wine-dark sea" and wireless), photography (FW 57.23-29), and telegraphy (FW 60.26-29)-suggest a link between these ersatz rumors and the documentation process employed in both journalism and police investigation. In fact, the cable reference occurs during an "on the street" interview of various figures regarding their opinions of HCE's crimes. Among the interviewees is one "Caligula" or "Mr Danl Magrath," an Australian bookmaker whose opinion comes in the brevity of a telegraph: "striving todie, hopening tomellow, Ware Splash. Cobbler" (FW 60.26-29). The "Caligula" reference refers to the corrupt Roman emperor, and its connotations of absolute depravity and excess are consistent with characteristics generally accorded to Shem by his brother, Shaun. This depravity is magnified by the figure's connection with Australia, a continent whose European inhabitants are descendants of prisoners[28] or "poorusers" (FW 60.27). Likewise, the fact that Danl Magrath is a "bookmaker" or a writer is also indicative of Shem, who is referred to as the penman, the creator, in contrast to Shaun, the postman.

Although the context suggests that this message is a comment on HCE, the message focuses upon the differences between Shem and Shaun. The only reference that could relate to HCE is the phrase, "here today, gone tomorrow," which could be a comment on the transience of HCE's life (i.e., it does not matter if he committed a crime or not because eventually he will die like everyone else). At the same time, today and tomorrow are, like Shem and Shaun, opposites. Further, the phrase "Ware Splash" is unclear; the two words together, however, suggest a scattering of "wares" or articles of a similar kind. This could indicate a separation into distinct components of the very identities that the Shem/Shaun binary purports to construct. "Cobbler," finally, is defined variously as: "cabler," or the person sending the telegram, an Australian slang term for "mate," and an occupation involving the mending or tying together of various strands of material (usually leather) into a coherent shape. Each of these definitions suggests the cable itself: a shaper of identities able to bring the "mates" together and to separate them into categories such as sender (Shem) and receiver (Shaun).

Within the communicative channel opened up by telegraph, Shem and Shaun become separable figures, one sending a message and the other receiving it. The connection between the message and the conflicting brothers is magnified in the second cable, which is located in the "Shem" chapter (I.7), and which has Shaun as its primary narrator. Throughout the chapter, Shaun levies a barrage of insults at Shem, ridiculing his filth, depravity, arrogance, stubbornness, stupidity, and obsessions. The question asked at the beginning of the chapter, "when is a man not a man?" is answered: "when he is a...Sham" (FW 170.05, 23-4). Shem speaks both the question and the answer, but Shaun narrates the passage and, hence, positions his brother as the "base" or the abject figure. To Shaun, Shem is incapable of honesty and practicality; coincidentally, he is also the artist or the "shaman," whose creativity is maintained by his businessman brother. The cable reference in this chapter highlights this division. Shaun tells of the time Shem "cabled...from his Nearapoblican asylum to his jonathan for a brother: Here tokay, gone tomory, we're spluched, do something, Fireless"-to which Shaun "had answer: Inconvenient, David" (FW 172.22-26).

While the similarities between this cable and the previous one are obvious-particularly the phrases "here tokay, gone tomory" and "we're spluched"-what stands out is the appearance of a second cable, which purports to be an answer to the first. This suggests (among other things) that the first cable successfully sent a message from one brother to another. As such, the identity of the figures, in this case, is reinforced, marked, and defined. Moreover, many elements within the cable readily reinforce the base/high dichotomy upon which Shaun so readily insists. The "Nearapoblican asylum," for instance, suggests Napoleon, Neapolitan, pubs, publicans, and insane asylums; as such, Shem is figured as both insane and drunk. Moreover, the Napoleon reference adds to this definition an excessive need for power. Although there is still a question of the referent, the phrase "we're spluched" is connected to two significant terms: "splurged" (excess, overabundance) and "spliced" (weaving or fusing together). While the word "splurged" reinforces Shaun's construction of Shem, marking him as excessive and out of control, the word "spliced" implies a clear connection between Shem and Shaun, thereby implicating Shaun in the Shem's depravity and calling into question the moralistic tone Shaun uses throughout the chapter.

In her work, Architecture and Text: The (S)crypts of Joyce and Piranesi, Jennifer Bloomer notes that, "Shem and Shaun are unstable as individuals. They flow in and out of each other; they are always becoming. There is always difference, but it will not hold still."[29] Just as the Wake itself traverses axes, never positioning itself as one thing or another, so too do Shem's and Shaun's identities diffuse so that one cannot be distinguished at any given moment without a reference to the other. The references to David and Jonathan both reinforce this binary and call its tautology into question. The Biblical friendship could be read as furthering the opposition between the brothers by marking their identities as separate and separable; however, it also brings them together by focusing attention not upon their differences but upon their friendship. The King James Version of the Bible tells that "the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul."[30] This close relationship was tested when Jonathan's father, King Saul, attempted to kill David on numerous occasions. In each case, Jonathan prevented the murder by either pleading with his father for David's life or by tricking his father long enough for David to escape. In the Joycean context, David and Jonathan's struggle against Saul exemplifies the two brother's desire to defeat the father figure, HCE, and take his place. In order for Shem and Shaun to defeat the father, however, they must resolve their differences and unite into a single unit, ShemShaun. In this case, although the reference to David and Jonathan suggests that a union is possible, the phrase, "Inconvenient, David," suggests that Shaun, in the guise of David, is unwilling to make such a connection.

Shaun's definition of Shem as "his jonathan for a brother" identifies Shem in the traditional Shaun role: that is, as a loving, caring figure who risks his own life for another's. Shaun's "inconvenient" reaction, by contrast, seems better suited to Shem, for it suggests selfishness, laziness, and stubbornness. In other words, while the link between Jonathan and David both unites and divides Shem and Shaun, it also problematizes the very constructions of "Shem" and "Shaun," so that it is unclear which brother is whom, or if there even is a difference between them. The signature, "Fireless," extends this breakdown of identities even further. While "Fireless" connotes such things as impotency and/or loss of charm ("he doesn't have that fire anymore" or "she's lost her spark"), it also suggests "wireless" or radio communication, a technology which extended the human voice beyond the physical materials required by telegraph cables. This same dichotomy between cable and wireless technologies is expanded upon in the fourth cable reference, which occurs in III.3, a chapter in which Shaun, described here as "Yawn" (FW 473.01), "lies sprawled in semi-consciousness on the ground" and is then questioned by the four historian figures "regarding some of the events already narrated."[31] Although the figure of Yawn speaks with many different voices through the course of this chapter,[32] the figure of Shaun is clearly discerned in several instances. In one of these, Yawn discusses "my allaboy brother, Negoist Cabler" (FW 488.21), who is configured here both as "negro," Wyndham Lewis' Egoist, and Australian (suggesting the earlier cables, while adding a racial component that fixes Shem as the "blackened" figure). The "Cabler," here, is a "skipgod," a "sender of the Hullo Eve Cenograph" (FW 488.23-24), which suggests the Greek kenographos, a word meaning empty writings or writings which appear to exceed the boundaries of space and time. The description of Shem includes a reference to Hy Brazil, which is a legendary island west of Ireland that is known for eternal peace. The phrase, "middle Erse clare language" (FW 488.25), while suggesting both the middle east and the middle of his ass, is most likely a reference to "middle earth," an archaic term for the spiritual plane between heaven and hell. While these mythological references highlight modern technology's ability to eradicate the distance between Australia and Ireland, by reading technology in mythic terms, the passage also suggests that the cable originated in a place beyond spatial or temporal boundaries.[33]

Whatever the origin of the cable, its message is nevertheless familiar: "Punk. Starving today plays punk opening tomorrow two plays punk wire splosh how two plays punk Cabler" (FW 488.27-28). While the reference to "Cabler" suggests the word "cobbler" from the previous message, it also suggests the operator who transmits the cable. Besides "Cabler," the most notable word in this message is "punk," which is both an archaic term for tinder (again suggesting the "Fireless" signature) and a term that connotes anarchic or political insurrection (hence the "Punk" movements of the late twentieth century). Whereas "Cabler" hints at a clear and accurate transmission, "punk" implies static: a disruption that causes the cable to become indecipherable. This is enforced by the reference to "wire splosh," which suggests the image of a wire being disentangled from a machine and interrupting (with a "splosh") the transmission. Static, miscommunication, and erratic signals are all products of modern communication; likewise, they are still part of radio and telephone experiences today. Static, however, is often perceived as much more than simple interference. As I note in previous chapters, the early history of sound technology is replete with inventors and enthusiasts who saw in the sounds generated by these machines a living force that could unlock the secrets of the universe. Static, in short, can be read both as a noise and as a gateway to another dimension. Likewise, Finnegans Wake itself is a form of static, which disrupts language by injecting "noise" into the text. Like Thomas Watson and Ellie Arroway, the figures in III.3 do not ignore the noises that compose the Wake, but rather attempt to decipher them, understand them, and extract from them some semblance of truth.

In the first two cables, there is a dual desire both to affix meaning (to use the cable to differentiate the brothers) and to destroy, conflate, and undermine meaning. In the fourth cable, the focus is upon the medium of telegraphy and its transmission of static and signal across unknown distances. The third cable, which occurs in II.3, plays with each of these conventions by presenting a narrative sequence that obfuscates their identities altogether. Most critics agree that this chapter takes place in the pub owned and operated by HCE; most also agree that a radio set is figured prominently within the social space of this pub. The first part of the chapter focuses upon a story about Kersse the tailor and a Norwegian captain. According to Ellmann, the story derives from a story told to Joyce by his father, "of a hunchbacked Norwegian captain who ordered a suit from a Dublin tailor, J.H. Kerse of 34 Upper Sackville Street. The finished suit did not fit him, and the captain berated the tailor for being unable to sew, whereupon the irate tailor denounced him from being impossible to fit."[34] In Joyce's novel, the Norwegian captain is named Pukkelsen, and the tailor is called Kersse. Another figure, McCann (the ship's husband), acts as mediator between the sailor and the tailor. While Pukkelsen is largely connected with HCE, and Kersse is connected with the Cad (HCE's antagonist in book I), the McCann figure is most likely Sigurdsen, a figure who is identified both as HCE's servant and as a police officer.[35] While neither Shem nor Shaun are clearly identified in this chapter (they are asleep upstairs), aspects of the brothers are evident throughout.

Before the cable's transmission, Pukkelsen arrives in the pub and says, "Good marrams" (FW 315.21) to the patrons, whereupon he "shot the three tailors" (FW 315.11, serves them drinks). The captain has "left his stickup in his hand [either an umbrella or a penis] to show them none ill feeling" (FW 315.16-17). This refers to HCE's actions in I.2, where he either exposed himself to three young girls, masturbated while watching them undress and/or urinate, or masturbated while watching them with two soldiers. That he performs this action before "three tailors" suggests a connection between this scene and the earlier scene, as well as a connection between the tailors and the girls. Following this salute, Pukkelsen asks if anyone has seen "suchenson, a parnicular fraimd of mind" (FW 315.30-31), whom he needs to "talka hold of hems, clown toff, tyre hug fliorten. Cablen: Clifftop. Shelving tobay opprelong tomeadow. Ware cobbles. Posh" (FW 315.31-33). If Pukkelson is the message's author, "suchenson" is its intended receiver. If this is accurate, the message can be read as orders by the captain for his assistant to "shelve" today, or put the day aside, and "opprelong tomeadow," or prepare to set off tomorrow. The "Posh" signature, in this case, would be an acrostic nautical reference meaning "port out starboard home."[36] However, the passage could also refer to HCE's role as pub owner; in this case, HCE might be instructing his assistant to shut up (or close up) for today, and announce that they will be open tomorrow. In either case, the relationship between master and servant, or boss and employee, remains the same: one mediated by power and authority. There are suggestions, moreover, that this relationship is linked to Irish history and Ireland's role as servant to foreign masters. For example, the references to "clown toff," "Clifftop," and "tyre hug fliorten" (ti og fjorten is Danish for "10 & 14") all suggest the battle of Clontarf, which took place on Good Friday, 23 April 1014. Often called "Brian's Battle," the battle of Clontarf ended Danish rule in Ireland but saw the death of the Irish king, Brian Boru, who was attempting to unite the island under one ruler. That the battle mentioned here is one which ends colonial rule over Ireland suggests why Pukkelsen, the Norwegian, would direct suchenson to "port out starboard home." However, the death of Boru, combined with the fact that the battle took place on Good Friday-the day marking Jesus' crucifixion and death-suggest that the cable immediately following these Clontarf references suggests the possibility for a resurrection (as the "opprelong tomeadow" suggests).

The resurrection occurs in the next paragraph, when an unidentified speaker (most likely one of the tailors) exclaims: "-Skibbereen has common inn, by pountauntique, with pokeway paw, and sadder raven evermore, telled shinshanks lauwering frankish for his kicker who, through the medium of gallic" (FW 315.34-36). As Skibbereen suggests both a town in Ireland and the Norwegian word for skipper, the figure to which the speaker is referring seems to be an Irish version of Pukkelson: that is, a Scandinavian invader who "has common inn" (has something in common) with the customers in the pub. In short, Skibbereen is HCE, the Protestant and Scandinavian pub owner (owner of an "inn"). This conflation of master and servant, or colonizer and colonized, suggests the conflation of Shem and Shaun evident in earlier cables; however, in this case, the division between these opposite identities seems to have fused them together. At least, that is how it appears; several pieces of information, however, complicate this fusion. One of these is the phrase, "by pountauntique," which combines the words "taunt" and "pneumatique." The most familiar definition of "taunt" is to ridicule or reproach in a mocking or contemptuous manner; however, it is also used as a nautical term to describe an unusually tall mast. The word "pneumatique," meanwhile, refers to a French postal system that uses tubes and compressed air to send and receive messages across various parts of a building or a city. While the pneumatique resembles the cable, for both send messages across distances, the fact that this system functions as a postal system also indicates Shaun's presence, for he is identified as the postman. Likewise, while the addition of "taunt" adds the element of contempt and ridicule that evident in Shaun's attacks on Shem, the word's nautical definition suggests both a very erect penis and Pukkelson's Viking and colonizer heritage. In short, there are numerous overtones to colonization, ridicule, and Shaun's attacks on Shem in the description of Skibbereen's return.[37]

After Skibbereen arrival is announced, there is a reference to "lauwering frankish for his kicker." The word "lauwering" suggests lowering, layering, lawyering, the Italian word labhair ("speak"), and the Dutch word Lauw ("law"). Although "frankish" suggests the English term "frank" (abrupt), the word "kicker" can mean "sidekick,"[38] the Norwegian kikke ("to peep"), or the Dutch kijker ("spectator"). Depending upon which definition one chooses, the phrase could imply speaking frankly to the spectator, speaking the law frankly to a sidekick, or lowering the spectator, to name a few. Within the context, the legal definition is most likely because the passage appears to be identifying the speaker of the next passage: "-Pukkelsen, tilltold" (FW 316.01).[39] In this phrase, Pukkelsen is literally translated "Humpson," while "tilltold" means "charged, accosted." Since the reference to a hump suggests HCE (Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker), the phrase would seem to be charging HCE for a particular crime. Although the crime is left unstated, this accusation certainly suggests that the speaker is either a police officer or a lawyer. Moreover, the lawyer/police officer suggests Sigurdsen, who often takes the role of constable, as in I.1's "Comestipple Sacksoun" or I.7's "Petty constable Sistersen of the Kruis-Kroon Kraal" (FW 15.35, 186.19). Later in II.3, Sigurdsen acts as policing agent by throwing customers out of the pub when it closes (FW 370.30-35). In this passage, the reference to "tilltold" suggests that Sigurdsen occupies two roles. Not only is he a policing agent, but he is also a servant rising up against a foreign master, just as Brian Boru rose up to defend Ireland against the Vikings. In short, HCE's arrival purports to unite the divisions which separate master and slave, Shem and Shaun, Irish and Norse; however, the rhetorical accusations reinforce the divisions by focusing attention upon the contradictions at work in the attempt to merge opposing forces.

These differences are magnified following HCE's "tilltold": "That with some our prowed invisors how their ulstravoliance led them infroraids, striking down and landing alow, against our aerian insulation resistance, two boards that beached ast one, widness thane and tysk and hanry" (FW 316.02-05). Although it is difficult to determine who is "they" and who is "us," it is likely that the warring factions in this passage are HCE and the Irish pub patrons, or HCE and Sigurdsen. As the reference to Ulster in "ulstravoliance" indicates, however, the conflict's parameters are larger than a single pub; rather, it could represent any conflicts between masters and servants, from the Norse and the Irish in the eleventh century to the English and the Irish in the twentieth. The aggressors, "our prowed invisors" (or "the proud invaders"[40]), appear to invade a territory protected by "infroraids" (both air raids and infrared, a technology which enables an army to see in the dark) and "ulstravoliance" (ultraviolet light, which is light that cannot be seen by the naked eye). In other words, the defender can watch the blind invader's every move ("invisors" suggests "invision," or want of vision).

If the invader is a magnified version of HCE, it would appear that Sigurdsen and/or the patrons (as the army defending its territory) now claim technological powers that transcend night and day. Although this reversal of technological powers has implications for discussions of race and national identity in Finnegans Wake,[41] it further suggests sound technology's central role in the construction of power, language, and identity. This is best expressed in the phrase, "aerian insulation resistance," which not only suggests "Aryan" and the resulting references to Nazi ideology,[42] but also "aerials," the devices used to capture radio signals. As I noted, this chapter was written in 1936 and 37, during a period when the various nations of Europe were preparing for what would become World War II. During this time, the Nazi party was intent upon spreading its message of fascism and anti-Semitism throughout Germany and across Europe. One of the chief means by which this message was transmitted was through radio. In Germany, the party organized "wireless wardens" and "block wardens" in every town and city, in order "to install communal receiving sets, organized group listenings, laid down rules about the erection of aerials, and reported on illegal listening-in to foreign stations."[43] When one has the means to disseminate information, one can control and order a society towards a particular conception of reality. Joyce's use of the phrase "aerian insulation resistance" suggests that the two signifiers, "insulation" and "resistance," act as shields against attacks by "aerians" (be they aerials or Aryans). These attacks, however, involve language and communication, not bombs and guns, and thereby align the wireless powers of radio with the powers of rhetorical hegemony, revealing the very totalitarian desires which are implied in this metaphysical struggle to move beyond language and to express something absolute, permanent, and pure.

The idea of "pure" expression emerges here as a critique of the notion that art is separate and separable from everyday life. As Margot Norris notes, "Joyce's texts challenge...the bourgeois legitimation of modern art's autonomy by exposing how art's aesthetic discourse tells political lies about itself."[44] In Norris' argument, the myth of artistic autonomy is revealed as a facade in Joyce's writings, for in the details and expressions of everyday life, Joyce highlights the pain and the struggles that were evident in Ireland and other parts of the world. The "political lies" which shield Sigurdsen and the defenders from "aerian" attacks by an invading army certainly highlights the uses and abuses to which Nazi Germany employed the radio and other communicative and propaganda devices to deceive and distort reality toward particular ideological ends. It also highlights the mechanisms available to counteract such propaganda. Just as Brian Boru's victory comes despite his death, so too are the defenders in this brief battle able to withstand the violence of rhetorical warfare by shielding their eyes and ears against attacks from above and afar. The result of this battle is a return to a time of "Prepatrickularly" (both pre-St. Patrick and prelapsarian), where "they summed. Kish met. Bound to" (FW 316.05-06).

The act of transmitting a message in Finnegans Wake always involves a process of translation that inevitably changes the message. In some cases, the change involves only a letter or two; in other cases, however, the message itself is censored before it can be transmitted. In order for a message to escape this censorship, it would necessarily need to be free of the very limitations which the cable exemplifies: namely, a dependence upon material objects (be they cables or letters) to transmit and translate the messages as they are sent. Finnegans Wake's continual search for answers to questions beyond the comprehension of the various figures implies a search for a form of communication that eschews a materiality that only add to the "middenpile" of memories. Just as Marinetti aspired to reinvent art through "wireless imagination," so too do the references to the cable in Finnegans Wake aspire toward an imagined wireless transmission, outside the bonds of language and limitation.


1 Neil Stephenson, "Mother Earth Mother Board." Wired 4.12 (December 1996): 123.[back]

2 Don Gifford, with Robert J. Seidman, "Ulysses" Annotated: Notes for James Joyce's "Ulysses," 2nd ed. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: U. of California Press, 1988), 140. Gifford notes that "Nikolai Ivanovitch Bobrikoff (1857-1904), a Russian general, governor-general, and commander in chief of the military district of Finland (1898-1904). He was given dictatorial powers, and he used them ruthlessly to suppress Finland's constitutional liberties and to carry out the policy of Russianizing Finland. The New York Times, 17 June 1904, characterized him as 'a typical Russain tyrant.' He was assassinated by Eugene Schaumann, the son of a former Finnish senator, on 16 June 1904 at 11:00 A.M. Helsinki time; since it would have been 8:35 A.M. Dublin time, the news would have reached Dublin in the course of the morning."[back]

3 Eugene Jolas, "The Revolution of Language and James Joyce," in Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress (New York: New Directions Books, 1962), 79.[back]

4 Ibid., 79.[back]

5 James Joyce, Selected Letters of James Joyce, edited by Stuart Gilbert (New York: The Viking Press, Inc., 1957), 341.[back]

6 Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, 2nd. ed. (New York: Oxford U. Press, 1982), 570. Joyce's singing voice was so remarkable that he once contemplated a career in music, only to give up the idea when he learned the high cost of lessons. His eyesight problems stemmed from repeated cases of glaucoma and iritis, which forced him to undergo numerous eye operations.[back]

7 Vico's cyclical theory of human history encompasses three distinct stages-the divine, the heroic, and the human-followed by what he called a "ricurso" stage, wherein the social organization is destroyed, so that the cycle can begin again. The linearity of history, then, is a misnomer, for societies rise and fall according to various social patterns and processes, not according to a progressive and linear ascendancy toward enlightenment.[back]

8 Joyce to Harriet Shaw Weaver, 21 May, 1926, Selected Letters, 241. In this reference, Joyce refers not only to Vico's theories, but also those of Giordano Bruno.[back]

9 Giambattisa Vico, The New Science of Giambattisa Vico, trans. Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch (Ithaca and London: Cornell U. Press, 1976; originally published 1744), 150.[back]

10 Ibid., 150.[back]

11 Ibid., 150.[back]

12 Margot Norris, The Decentered Universe of "Finnegans Wake" (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1974), 78.[back]

13 John Bishop, Joyce's Book of the Dark: "Finnegans Wake" (Madison, WI: U. of Wisconsin Press, 1986), 283.[back]

14 Ellmann, 546-47.[back]

15 Cited in Bishop, 297.[back]

16 Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, trans. James Strachey (New York: Avon Books, 1965, originally published 1900), 315.[back]

17 Ibid., 343. Author's emphasis.[back]

18 Freud, An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, trans. James Strachey (New York and London: W.W. Norton & Co., 1969, originally published 1940), 16.[back]

19 Donald F. Theall, "The Hieroglyphs of Engined Egypsians: Machines, Media, and Modes of Communication in FW," in Joyce Studies Annual, ed. Thomas F. Stanley (Austin: U. of Texas Press, 1991), 137.[back]

20 Theall, James Joyce's Techno-Poetics (Toronto: U. of Toronto Press, 1997), 33.[back]

21 Ibid., 56.[back]

22 Ibid., 226.[back]

23 Ibid., 227. [back]

24 Ellmann (204) notes that, in the Joyce collection at Cornell, there is one surviving cable sent by Joyce to Stanislaus. It was sent by Joyce to Stanislaus to announce the birth of his son, Giorgio; it reads, "Son born Jim."[back]

25 The passage Stanislaus refers to in this letter appeared in the transatlantic review in April, 1924, and was eventually published in Finnegans Wake in II.4, 383-99.[back]

26 Quoted in Ellmann, 577.[back]

27 Danis Rose and John O'Hanlon, Understanding Finnegans Wake: A guide to the Narrative of James Joyce's Masterpiece (New York and London, Garland Pub. Inc., 1982), 44.[back]

28 It is important to note that many of the prisoners sent to Austrailia were Irish.[back]

29 Jennifer Bloomer, Architecture and Text: The (S)crypts of Joyce and Piranesi (New Haven: Yale U. Press, 1993), 100-01.[back]

30 I Samuel 18:1 KJV.[back]

31 Rose and O'Hanlon, 242.[back]

32 Rose and O'Hanlon note on p. 242: "Out of Shaun (Yawn) arise the multiple voices of the principal characters of the Wake. They speak in turn. It is as if the people in the dream are innate in Yawn."[back]

33 The words "wireless" is, in fact, mentioned by name on the following page: "In this wireless age" (FW 489.36).[back]

34 Ellmann, 23. Note: the second part of II.3 includes numerous technological references, particularly to the wireless and to television. I discuss this in detail in chapter seven.[back]

35 McHugh, The Sigla of "Finnegans Wake" (London: Edward Arnold Ltd., 1976), 123-24.[back]

36 As this is the "Norwegian Captain" chapter, "home" would most likely indicate Norway.[back]

37 "Sadder raven evermore" also complicates the fusion of identities suggested by Skibbereen. The phrase is a reference to Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven," which is (on one level) about the inability to know names, places, or individuals, and to desire knowledge beyond human thought and language. This is expressed most prominently in the phrase quoted in this passage: "Quoth the raven, 'Nevermore.'" The raven, here, embodies the notion that language is limited in what it can express.[back]

38 "Sidekick," in this case, would most likely refer to sutchenson or Sigurdsen.[back]

39 The passage continues by noting that this lawyer will speak frankly for the spectator or sidekick "through the medium of gallic." Gallic could be either French or Gaelic, but as this passage includes several French phrases, including "pountauntique" and "pokeway paw" (or pourquoi pas), it is likely that "gallic" refers to French.[back]

40 McHugh notes that "the proud invader" is a line in the song "Let Erin Remember the Days of Old."[back]

41 For information on the issues of race and national identity in Joyce's writings, see Vincent J. Cheng's Joyce, Race, and Empire (Oxford and New York: Cambridge U. Press, 1995).[back]

42 Nazi ideology, at its most fundamental level, taught that members of the Aryan race, because of their fundamental superiority over other races, must both "insulate" and "resist" the tainting of their "purity," while seeking at all costs the destruction of those who against the authority of the Nazi party.[back]

43 Derrick Sington and Arthur Weidenfeld, "Broadcasting in the Third Reich," in Strauss, 230.[back]

44 Margot Norris, Joyce's Web: The Unraveling of Modernism (Austin.: The U. of Texas Press, 1992), 7.[back]

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