- Joyce’s Rare View: The Nature of Things in “Finnegans Wake,”
In his introduction to Joyce’s Rare View, Sebastian D. G. Knowles aptly summarizes the book’s formative assertion about Finnegans Wake: “In the game of perception, oblique trumps direct” (1). This point is taken from Richard Beckman’s discussion of Joyce’s inversion of all calls for clarity and, in particular, from his discussion of the Wake’s devilish insistence on oblique rear perspectives. Beckman follows such tropes as “rare view” (arsewords) (3), oblique vision, and glimpsing. More than merely interesting motifs within the Wake, these are “the necessary means of taking it in” (1). Beckman’s knowledge of the Wake is immanent within his approach: he plucks a resonant term from the book’s many microcosms and makes sense of its multiple resurrections in puns and references that scatter across the text. His work thus not only provides delightful insights and readings of Joyce; it also gives us a canny new lens for interpreting the most infamous of Joyce’s texts.
Joyce’s last book’s “myriadminded[ness]” has been a challenge for scholars, who have too often shut down its proliferant tendencies by sorting it into categories (U 9.768, 769). Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson’s Skeleton Key was a helpful but flawed early version of this, followed by several extraordinary resources: James S. Atherton’s The Books at the “Wake,” Clive Hart’s Structure and Motif, and the Third Census by Adaline Glasheen.1 The next wave of scholarly books explored the linguistic, deconstructive, psychoanalytic, and narrative aspects of the Wake. To all of this, Beckman brings a talent for managing the micro-and macroscopic aspects of the work, delivering narratives that are both accessible and sensitive to Joyce’s disruptions of narrative, categories, and summary claims.
The book is divided into two parts—”Views from Afar” and “Views from Anear.” In Part 1, “Views from Afar,” Beckman emphasizes the theme of “behindscenes” (3) in five chapters concerned with what Lucy McDiarmid might call the “art of controversy.”2 Here we follow Joyce’s comic sideways critiques and quarrels with ideas current in his time. Beckman’s treatment of Joyce’s potential interlocutors involves a savvy use of circumstantial evidence and deeper knowledge of their arguments. He begins by tracing Joyce’s deconstruction of the front/ back or right/wrong way of looking at a tapestry, which challenges John Henry Newman’s emphatic demand for clear images.3
Part of Beckman’s strategy is to compare and contrast aspects of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, implicitly correcting a longstanding tendency to read the Wake as a continuation of conceptions and positions set forth in Ulysses. In “An Ungentleman’s Club: The Wrong Side of [End Page 604] Honor,” he takes his point of departure from Cardinal Newman’s satiric casting of the term “gentleman,” noting the differences between Ulysses’s Leopold Bloom and Finnegans Wake’s HCE. Despite Enlightenment claims that a gentleman should be a secular humanist, Beckman notes that the label was mostly reserved for Protestants. For Beckman, HCE would be a logical applicant for that label. Yet, while a dandy, HCE’s political ambitions and urgencies undermine any claims he might make to “gentlemanly” behavior. Kenneresque in his transformative understanding of Bloom,4 Beckman finds that “Bloom the Jew, while lacking the externals, in a cryptic way is a kind of gentleman. . . . lacking style but not gentleness” (24–25). More valuable than any implied quarrel with Newman is this meditative re-working of the concept and Joyce’s challenge to the opposition between those who might be and those who cannot be so named. Jewish members of society were excluded from the category, as Beckman reminds us, and so Joyce’s location of a gentleman’s qualities in Bloom serves to refurbish the term while dismissing its celebrated, classed exclusivity.
In “‘Whyfe of his bothem’: The Wrong Side of Marriage,” Beckman focuses on Joyce’s dismissal of the importance of the...