restricted access Apostrophizing the Feminine in Finnegans Wake
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Apostrophizing the Feminine in Finnegans Wake

Finnegans Wake. What only certain readers of Joyce's text hear as I say these words is the absence of the apostrophe marking the possessive position of "Finnegan" in relation to "wake." Others not aware of Joyce's grammatical revisions will hear—rather predictably—the operation of the apostrophe that they cannot see: Finnegan's wake. Although the apostrophe cannot be enunciated, it makes itself heard. It also insists on being seen, precisely because it is not there: helpful editors and printers continue to reappropriate the apostrophe to its (appropriate) place. Indeed, the missing apostrophe of this title announces its presence and finds a life of its own against all efforts to eliminate its subversive workings in the Wake.

The missing apostrophe of Finnegans Wake creates discomfort, if not outright embarrassment.1 It produces a sense of unease, a stepping out-side [End Page 587] comfortable boundaries of the known and predictable because it demands a putting aside of familiar reading strategies. By its absence, the apostrophe calls attention to recognition of the Wake as a written text, whereas reading strategies make the Wake accessible by insisting on the "telling" qualities of its production, thus repressing its written forms.2 The repression of apostrophe as rhetorical form is bound, almost inexpressibly, to the repression of apostrophe as grammatical marker in Finnegans Wake. Apostrophe gives itself to this double suppression through its structure, which both binds and unbinds the subject. The Wake traces these "apostrophic" effects through ruptures in traditional grammatical forms, rhetorical conventions, generic limits, and formal textual features.

The missing apostrophe of Finnegans Wake signals an inherent failure within the structure of apostrophe to bind the subject (Finnegan) to a consistent, singular, and coterminous identity. Apostrophe functions through failure: it points to the inevitable slippage of subjectivity and the limit of figurability. The law of apostrophe, which is not unlike the law of genre articulated by Jacques Derrida, operates negatively—always producing the terms of its own violation. Sexual difference, for instance, is figured in the Wake as the suppressed feminine of the apostrophic structure, a violation of rhetorical and grammatical codes—indeed, a resistance to and subversion of these phallogocentric laws. A rational (masculine) logic constructs its "sense" against an irrational (feminine) "nonsense" and figured through the gendered familial structures of the Porter family. To follow the (missing) apostrophe of the Wake is to follow its simultaneous suppression and reinforcement, to learn how the family is structured around sexual difference, a structure that can operate only through the repression of (the knowledge of) sexual difference.3 We can retrace some of these effects by investigating the work of apostrophe within the genre of the love letter (as literary genre and social contract) and the movement of alphabetic letters (A, E, O, and l, p, s) that reveal a relation between censorship and authority, sexual difference and cultural marginality. Further, the apostrophe opens the textual space for the footnotes in Book II.2, where Issy as representative of denigrated domestic language, female [End Page 588] speech, explodes the sexual-textual code of family structures and scholarly pretensions. She discovers the female body as a place of "scripture" and "stripture," a text open to the violations of patriarchal inscription.

I. Dividing the Paternal one and the Mirror (M)other

Apostrophe simultaneously calls to memory and the absence of recall, the vigilance and failure of censorship—a repression. The missing apostrophe of Finnegans Wake also directs us toward a double path of elaboration and displacement: "Who speaks?" "Who writes?" It opens a correspondence of doubles, I and you, the sender and projected receiver of secret messages. The Wake unfolds in scenes of writing, where letters are written, posted, concealed, discovered, plagiarized, falsified, and used to seduce, threaten, blackmail, and expose. The plot turns on questions of authority, which is contested through the very act (of writing) that would seem to establish—or underwrite—its claims. The Wake examines the nature of "correspondence" and disputed authority in twins and doubles (Shem and Shaun, the "sosie sesthers," Issy and her mirror image) and through failed efforts to establish the omnipotence of the Name of...