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In the "nummifeed confusionary": Reading the Negative Confession of Finnegans vMake Damon Franke Were he dying, I said, down he must come. Anger led me sometimes to slight excesses of language. I could not regret them. It seemed to me that all language was an excess of language. Naturally I confessed them. I was short of sins. —from Beckett's Molloy On February 17th, 1923, at the site of the ancient city of Thebes, after months of excavation, Howard Carter finally opened the burial chamber of Tutankhamen and with it the legend of King Tut's curse. Three weeks later in Paris, Joyce wrote the first fragment of what would become an equivalent Pandora's Box for literature, Finnegans Wake. In the following passage from this work, Joyce notes the shared birth "month," in Western eyes, of the Wake and King Tut's tomb and comments on cultural practices used for receiving grace in the afterlife: "by preventing grace, forgetting to say their grace before chambadory, before going to boat with the verges of the chaptel of the opering of the month of Nema Knatut."1 Spelling "Tutankhamen " backwards and punning on a central section of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Chapter of the Opening of the Mouth, exemplify JNT: Journal of Narrative Theory 30.1 (Winter 2000): 55-95. Copyright © 2000 by JNT: Journal of Narrative Theory. 56 JNT common enough devices in the Wake, but this passage also weaves together Catholic and Egyptian rituals and their accompanying need to be known and said before "everlasting life" can be bestowed. As I will show, confession is a central ritual multivalently coded into the Wake, a text that wants to please both the "vergers of the chapel" and the "verses of the Chapter of the Opening of the Mouth." At the same time, this study of confession in a text whose narrator is "dead to the world" comments on the act of reading the Wake and reading in general, for the very nature of the ritual of confession teaches us about the interpretation and duplicity of language. Indeed, of equal importance to Catholic and ancient Egyptian cultures is the efficacious role of language in their analogous "death-bed" confessions. During the most overt confessional moment in Finnegans Wake, the last few pages of "Shem the Penman," the figures of Shem and Shaun, now appearing respectively as Mercius and Justius, conspire to obfuscate Shem's writing or the "house" "O'Shame" (FW 182.30) and thereby counter the mandate of the Catholic doctrine "to declare openly." Inscribed as the confessor/reader throughout the Wake, Shaun/Justius opens the tête-à -tête with a pun on the standard formula of the Catholic confession : "Where have you been in the uterim . . . since your last wetbed confession ? (FW 187.36-188.1). Immediately Shaun foregrounds the deviant complicity in their interlocution by stating: "I advise you to conceal yourself (FWX 88.1-2). On the other hand, Shaun initially begins his questioning in a fashion akin to the hermeneutic, normative function of the auricular confession made famous by Foucault. Wanting to "pry" open and into Shem's sins, Shaun asks, "Cur, quicquid, ubi, quando, quomodo, quoties, quibus auxiliis" (FW 188.8-9). As John Bishop notes, these "seven Latin adverbs [why, who, where, when, how, how often, and, my favorite, with what assistance] are those taught to priests for use in the confessional" in order to help "the confessor to determine the nature of his client's sin" (424 n.21). However, Shaun does not offer absolution, impose a penance, or interpret Shem's "telltale stories," "fluefoul smut," and "seedy ejaculations " (FW 183.11-23). Instead, Shaun informs Shem that he has been "adding to the malice of your transgression, yes, and changing its nature, (you see I have read your theology for you) alternating the morosity of my delectations" (FW 189.2-5). By assisting in concealing Shem's "stinksome inkenstink" (FW 183.6), Shaun compounds the "sins" because, in \n the "nummifeed confusionary" 57 Catholic terms, deliberate concealment suffers the "mortal sin of sacrilege " (Kelley 198). Nevertheless, Shaun implies that having "read" theology enables him to change the "nature...


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