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  • Building Metonymic Meaning with Joyce, Deleuze, and Guattari
  • Gabriel Renggli (bio)

bodies, cities, words: how to make a unity from a plurality

HCE serves at least a double function with regard to cities and city-building in Finnegans Wake. Geert Lernout aptly describes him as "the builder of cities who is interred in the landscape."1 As Tim Finnegan, HCE is a builder; he carries a hod in order to rise in the world. But as the giant Finn MacCool, he doesn't so much rise as drop: Stretched out along the river Liffey in his sleep, he forms part of the landscape. What does this double role entail? What are we to make of Joyce's folding together of disparate meanings in a manner that creates this fusion of the builder and the ground, of the body and its surroundings, of the phenomenon and its situation? What should we do with meaning that is already in the process of becoming different meaning, that is changing before our very eyes?

When HCE appears as "Howth Castle and Environs" (FW 3.3), this tells us that he is an environment, specifically the geography of Dublin. He embodies this geography in his manifestation as the "form outlined aslumbered, even in our own nighttime by the sedge of the troutling stream [ . . . ]. Hic cubat edilis" (FW 7.20–3). That this slumbering form relates to Dublin is again indicated when we read that "the humptyhill-head of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes: and their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock out in the park" (FW 3.20–2). Roland McHugh comments: "If Howth is the head of a sleeping giant, his feet stick up in Phoenix Park."2 Moreover, the city HCE describes himself as building in chapter III.3 of the Wake may likewise be Dublin. This would make it a city built on and [End Page 122] by and arguably of HCE—given that he is a "man of hod, cement and edifices" (FW 4.26–7). He is the city's foundation and its builder, as well as the city itself.

I propose to think about this connection between the entity and its environment by reading Joyce's alignment of body and city in the direction that is perhaps less intuitive. It is not that the city is a body (a living, breathing, organic whole). It is rather that the body is a city: constantly under construction, transformed, expanded, reduced, and repurposed as it appears in different narratives—in HCE's case, as the body of a humpback, of a giant, of an egg, and so on. And since the body is sometimes in the city or part of the city, to say that it is the city entails a metonymic sliding of one thing into another, as I will detail in the following. I will furthermore suggest that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's thinking on connectivity and transformation brings out important implications of this Wakean effect. When the Wake's bodies and spaces undergo transformations that may seem beyond anything applicable to the real world, they challenge us to think about the reality of chaos, development, and change. Although the malleability of its characters may strike us as one of the Wake's more aggressively anti-realist aspects, the dependence of entities as well as meaning formations on the contexts in which they appear is not simply a break with reality. It can be read as a writing strategy concerned with the ongoing construction of the world of our lives, both in terms of physical space and of what Jacques Lacan calls the symbolic order.

We see something of the former aspect in how the city-building passage in III.3 depicts the material situatedness of the city's inhabitants. For one thing, HCE's city is bursting at the seams. There is a level of overpopulation—"fair home overcrowded" (FW 543.22)—with which the infrastructure cannot cope: "house lost in dirt and blocked with refuse" (FW 543.32–3). This affects the city's inhabitants in their material, corporeal, politico-somatic existence. It leads to a loss...


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