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  • Joyce’s “meanderthalltale”Tracing the Passed/Past in Finnegans Wake
  • Kimberly J. Devlin (bio)

Toward the end of the opening chapter of Finnegans Wake, the voice of an imagined eulogist warns HCE as “Mr Finnimore” (FW 24.16) about the dangers of waking. The speaker’s rationales relate to the perils of exploring the urban landscape: The dreamer would probably get lost, given changes in the roading; his feet would be endangered by the damp; unpleasant noises would disturb his hearing; and his vision would be assaulted by a sick bankrupt man and a fallen woman with an illegitimate child (see FW 24.17–24). This synaesthetic dystopia is part of a larger dream language of anxiety that closes I.1.1 The eulogist concludes, with questionable persuasiveness, that HCE is better off in a furnished structure that resembles the interior of an Egyptian burial “manument”—a monument for a man as opposed to an immortal (FW 25.16)—so that ultimately he will be “Finn no more!” (FW 28.16). The image of the entombed self is repeated in I.3, in variant terms:

just thanabouts the iron gape, by old custom left open to prevent the cats from getting at the gout, was triplepatlockt on him on purpose by his faithful poorters to keep him inside probably and possibly enaunter [i.e., in case] he felt like sticking out his chest too far and tempting gracious providence by a stroll on the peoplade’s eggday, unused as he was yet to being freely clodded.

(FW 69.23–29)

This warning about strolling around the city has some telling quirks that express claustrophobia: Gates are customarily kept shut to separate antagonistic animals, but here one is “by old custom left open,” revealing the dreamer’s desire for freedom of movement or means of escape.2 The [End Page 45] iron barrier becomes a “gape” (which includes a condensation of gate and gap) in another suggestion of the need for an opening of some sort. His “poorters” (probably the Four) are the ruthless guardians of the threshold between life and death, who purposely keep him securely locked up, even though he is not accustomed to “being freely clodded”—that is, covered with clods of turf. Their purposeful confinement of HCE repeats with a difference the eulogist’s initial instructions to a fellow mourner to keep the dreamer from rising by pinning him down: “Hold him here, Ezekial Irons, and may God strengthen you!” (FW 27.23–24).

Ongoing images of the self as passed away, buried, entombed, and/or recumbent constitute perhaps the strongest leitmotif in Finnegans Wake.3 More specifically, they reveal Joyce’s interest in methods that explore and record both the passed and the past in his “meanderthalltale” (FW 19.25): anthropology, paleontology, and archaeology (although these fields are distinct, Joyce often merges them). The latter two may be the referent of the phrase “photography in mud” (FW 277.25–26). The aims of this essay are threefold: first, to examine one source book—only mentioned briefly in recent criticism—that Joyce used to learn more about the pre-history of writing; second, to interpret a few scenes that evoke these three investigative fields, one scene in its relation to the trope of synecdoche; and finally, to explore the implications of ALP as the agent of excavation and burial.

To expand his understanding of these means of historical inquiry into the passed/past, Joyce turned to a writer named Edward Clodd, who wrote a book called The Story of the Alphabet: it is technically anthropological, but has clear archaeological references—for example, in the discussion of Heinrich Schliemann’s claims to discovering the artifacts of Troy.4 Clodd’s interest in burial sites and their markings (as sources for tracing alphabets) may have led to the pun, in the neologistic past tense verb, describing HCE’s fear of subterranean interment: “unused as he was yet to being freely clodded.” According to Geert Lernout, Joyce asked Sylvia Beach to order Clodd’s book for him relatively early in his overall composition of the Wake (1922–39), when he was visiting Belgium in 1926. Lernout adds that The Story...


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