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Seánsong, or whatyoumacormack, in Finnegans Wake

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 44, Number 4, Summer 2007
pp. 719-736 | 10.1353/jjq.0.0014

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Ear! Ear! Not ay! Eye! Eye!

Finnegans Wake 409.03

All is in all.

Heraclitus

In the first chapter of Book III in Finnegans Wake, Shaun, the decorous half of the Shem-Shaun dualism that plays on the stage of the dream therein, morphs into a variety of other, not always decorous, identities, including another Shaun or John: the world-renowned Irish tenor John McCormack. Numerous allusions in the text of Book III indicate this—references to McCormack’s success and fame, repertoire, Catholicism, eating habits, and sartorial preferences.1

Shaun as the self-indulgent, robustly human McCormack, how-ever, does not merely appear on the dreamer’s stage; rather, he metamorphoses in shape and substance. Sometimes simultaneously and sometimes sequentially, Shaun-John McCormack assumes a variety of identities that call to mind the three ages in Giambattista Vico’s cyclical theory of history,2 though the changes occur with the apparently random order of an unfettered literary whim rather than in subscription to a pattern defined by Vichian historical theory. Joyce admits to being influenced to some degree both by Vico and by Giordano Bruno (JJII 59–60), who theorized that all opposites are united in their infinite measure and elements that are logically contradictory in the finite world coexist without contradiction in the infinite universe.3 While Joyce may not have fully embraced Vico’s cyclical views of history or Bruno’s reconciliation of opposites, he did not hesitate to appropriate them wholeheartedly for his art.4 This essay explores the artistic resources that Joyce found in Vico and Bruno to effect one of many artistic ends in Book III—the metamorphosis of Shaun into the real-life, if also metamorphic, character of McCormack, a person with whom the dreamer, whoever the dreamer may be, is obsessed.5

Throughout Book III, and especially in its first chapter, allusions to McCormack’s recordings and repertory abound, and in them, too, lie illuminations of the opposing aspects of his variously divine, heroic, human, and chaotic nature. The following passage provides an example. In it, McCormack’s voice is heard coming over the airways:

Overture and beginners!

When lo (whish, O whish!) mesaw mestreamed, as the green to the gred was flew, was flown, through deafths of durkness greengrown deeper I heard a voice, the voce of Shaun, vote of the Irish, voise from afar (and cert no purer puer palestrine e’er chanted panangelical mid the clouds of Tu es Petrus, not Michaeleen Kelly, not Mara O’Mario, and sure, what more numerose Italicuss ever rawsucked frish uov in urinal?), a brieze to Yverzone o’er the brozaozaozing sea, from Inchigeela call the way how it suspired (morepork! morepork!) to scented nightlife as softly as the loftly marconimasts from Clifden sough open tireless secrets (mauveport! mauveport!) to Nova Scotia’s listing sisterwands.

Tubetube! (FW 407.10–22)

That exclamatory “Tubetube!” at the end of the paragraph no doubt alludes to and celebrates the wireless wonders of the radio, which carries Shaun-John’s voice vast distances. The disyllabic “Tubetube,” however, can also be read as a tetrasyllabic pun on the infinitive “to be, to be” or even as an ungrammatical conflation of the French or Latin second-person pronoun tu and the English copulative be. But tu/to be whom?

The answer might appear in the allusion earlier in the paragraph to the sixteenth-century Italian composer Giovanni Palestrina’s motet “Tu es Petrus,” based on the Latin text of the Gospel according to St. Matthew 16:18, in which Jesus says to the first of his disciples, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” From that charge were the teachings of Christ spread the world over, as Peter became the foremost soldier in the ranks of the Lord, the first pope, and the patron saint of the Roman Catholic Church. A messenger bearing the word of God, Peter shares a role with the Greek messenger of the gods, Hermes. Etymologically, they also share a name, for just as petra in Latin is rock, herm in Greek is stone, and together they enrich the allusively elaborate literary texture out of which emerges the Irish tenor...



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