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An Introduction to Sigla

From: Dublin James Joyce Journal
Number 4, 2011
pp. 107-111 | 10.1353/djj.2011.0004

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Sigla (singular siglum or sigil) are marks made by Joyce in his Finnegans Wake manuscripts, predominantly in the collection of notebooks held by the Poetry Collection, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Two different motivations for their study exist. Firstly, we may wish to document the sigla, to record their locations in the manuscripts and hence deduce their ostensible functions for Joyce during the composition of ‘Work in Progress’. Alternatively, our concern may be simply to understand Finnegans Wake. The sigla appear to denote entities encountered in its text. We can observe these sigla where there is something to gain, or otherwise ignore them. A substantial proportion of the matter in the Buffalo Notebooks appears never to have entered Finnegans Wake. For some scholars this material is just as interesting as that which was utilized and it is sometimes claimed that the notebooks form aesthetic objects in their own right. I do not subscribe to this view. My only concern is to make sense of the printed pages and here I think sigla can provide considerable assistance.

It is, however, true that Joyce seems in places to assume that his reader possesses some acquaintance with the manuscripts, for there are sigla printed at several points in the Finnegans Wake text. For example:

the meant to be baffling chrismon trilithon sign , finally called after some his hes hecitency Hec, which, moved contrawatchwise, represents his title in sigla as the smaller Δ, fontly called following a certain change of state of grace of nature alp or delta, when single, stands for or tautologically stands beside the consort

(FW 119.17–22).

The reader might ask what advantage results from substituting for HCE. After all, the three letters can be pronounced in discussion and printed with a standard typeface. My response is that using the siglum liberates its referent from ties to specific localities and ingredients. The of chapter I.1 consists largely of unrealistic components: Finnegan, who is resurrected by whiskey, Finn MacCool, the giant who acquires wisdom from a salmon, itself a component in , and even inanimate objects like the Hill of Howth. In chapter I.2 by contrast we have plausible individuals: Earwicker (HCE), a hesitant public figure subsuming for instance Parnell and Wilde. The transition from mythical to realistic occurs at the end of I.1: Finnegan is told that Earwicker has arrived, a substitute for the Salmon of Wisdom:

Finn no more!

For, be that samesake sibsubstitute of a hooky salmon, there’s already a big rody ram lad at random on the premises […]

(FW 28.34–6).

Where else in Finnegans Wake is especially distinctive? Chapter I.6 consists of twelve questions and answers. In the manuscripts each is marked with a siglum, the first with . The question comprises thirteen pages of attributes, all condensed at the end into one person, Finn MacCool, but partakes as much of the realistic phase, so our distinction fails here. In the last twenty-two pages of chapter III.3, the presentation is comparatively realistic, with a public figure (Lord Mayor of Dublin) whilst the remainder of Book III moves to a private perspective, continued into Book IV, where the scenic element returns. Or, as Eugene Jolas recalls Joyce having said: ‘Time and the river and the mountain are the real heroes of my book’.1

Another siglum covering a diversity of expressions is ⋀. Shaun the gluttonous singing postman is a concrete figure in chapter III.1 and quite distinct from the lecherous parish priest Jaun of III.2, the somnolent Yawn of III.3, and the child Kevin in III.4. In letters to Harriet Weaver, Joyce indicated these four by subscripts ⋀a, ⋀b, etc. But elsewhere in Finnegans Wake quite different manifestations of ⋀ occur. He has a question and answer in I.6 (no. 11) in which he is Professor Jones, modelled on Wyndham Lewis. If we insist on calling him Shaun, we can expect confusion with the III.1 figure.

⋀ is opposed and balanced by , who again has a chapter to himself, I.7, where he is called Shem, except at the end where he is Mercius and his counterpart Justius. Very different ⋀/ pairs are found throughout...

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