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Playing with Thistlewords (James Joyce)


A theatre piece and reading of Finnegans Wake, written by Philip Harvey and delivered by Juliette Hughes at Bloomsday in Melbourne, 2006.

[Lecturer, model and graffitist. Lecturer speaks from podium. Model represents the anatomy, and his features are pointed at by the lecturer with her pointer. Graffitist can be on far end of stage, or somewhere, spray-painting the name of each feature onto huge sheets of butcherpaper as the feature is named. The titles of each section are not read out; they simply serve as eye cues for the lecturer.]

For the Clearer of the Air from on high has spoken in tumbuldum tambaldam to his tembledim tombaldoom worrild and, moguphonised by that phonemanon, the unhappitents of the earth have terrerumbled from firmament unto fundament and from tweedledeedumms down to twiddledeedees.

Which brings us straight to the point. Today I intend to explain, by circuitous means in these manifest circumstances, how language works. And the first port of call is The Ear. [Places pointer dangerously close to the model’s ear.] Your main text today for this anatomy of language is that unspeakable novel that must speak its name, James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. This speakable novel that invites silent reading. This text that, unlike Ulysses, no authorities have ever called ‘dirty’, probably because they wouldn’t read it.

One seekings. Not the lithe slender, not the broad roundish near the lithe slender, not the fair-sized fullfeatured to the leeward of the broad roundish but, indeed and inneed, the curling, perfect-portioned, flowerfreckled, shapely highhued, delicate features swaying to the windward of the fair-sized fullfeatured.

Was that in the air about when something is to be said for it or is it someone imparticular who will somewhereise for the whole anyhow?

Which brings us soon enough to The Brain, situated up here in the attic, underneath the thatch-work. [Circles braincase with pointer.] Where would we be without it? Well, for starters, grammar would be out the window. Which came first, my words or granma’s? Joyce replies to the question:

Soon jemmijohns will cudgel about some a rhythmatic or other over Browne and Nolan’s divisional tables whereas she, of minion’s novence charily being cupid, for mug’s wumping, grooser’s grubbiness, andt’s avarice and grossoper’s grandegaffe, with her tootpettypout of jemenfichue will sit and knit on solfa sofa. Stew of the evening, booksyful stew.  But all is her inbourne. Intend. From gramma’s grammar she has it that if there is a third person, mascarine, phelinine or nuder, being spoken abad it moods prosodes from a person speaking to her second which is the direct object that has been spoken to, with and at. Take the dative with his oblative for, even if obsolete, it is always of interest, so spake gramma on the impetus of her imperative.

 I don’t need to remind anyone here of the neurobehavioural model of dyslexia. Poor memory of movements is called dysnemkinesia. Poor phonics processing is dysphonesia, while dyseidesia is poor visual memory for symbols. Connections are hard to make. Words can sound ten ways and words can be written round the wrong way, in incorrect order or compounded. Words and sounds come out differently, even when we know the words. The Wake adds these ingredients to the cake. And let me make this emphatic before you start thinking the life of the Brain is the life of Brian, the same is true for the complex intersections of dyslexia we each have encountered in our time, even if we didn’t recognise them: dysnemeidesia, dysnemphonesia, dysphoneidesia and dysnemphoneidesia. 

James Joyce was not dyslexic. For example, listen to this:

There is comfortism in the knowledge that often hate on first hearing comes of love by second sight. Have your little sintalks in the dunk of subjunctions, dual in duel and prude with pruriel, but even the aoriest chaparound whatever plaudered perfect anent prettydotes and haec genua omnia may chance it in spite of all your tense accusatives whilstly you’re wallfloored. It’s a wild kitten, my dear, who can tell a wikling from a warthog. For you may be as practical as is predicable but you must have the proper sort of accident to meet that kind of a being with a difference. Flame at his fumbles but freeze on his fist. Every letter is a godsend, ardent Ares, brusque Boreas and glib Ganymede like zealous Zeus. the O’Meghisthest of all. To me or not to me.

Another way of appreciating The Brain in this context is given on page 123, where Joyce connects language-making with love-making, meanwhile satirising psychoanalytic literature of the day:

Duff-Muggli, who now may be quoted by very kind arrangement (his dectroscophonious photosensition under suprasonic light control may be logged for by our none too distant futures as soon astone values can be turned out from Chromophilomos, Limited at a millicentime the microamp), first called this kind of paddygoeasy partnership the ulykkhean or tetrachiric or quadrumane or duck and drakes or debts and dishes perplex (v. Some Forestallings over that Studium of Sexphonologistic Schizophrenesis, vol. xxix, pp. 2-555) after the wellinformed observation, made miles apart from the Master by Tung-Toyd (cf. Later Frustrations amengst the Neomugglian Teachings abaft the Semiunconscience, passim) that in the case of the littleknown periplic bestteller popularly associated with the names of the wretched mariner (trianforan deffwedoff our plumsucked pattern shapekeeper) a Punic admiralty report, From MacPerson’s Oshean Round By the Tides of Jason’s Cruise, had been cleverly capsized and saucily republished as a dodecanesian Baedeker of the every-tale-a-treat-in-itself variety which could hope satisfactorily to tickle me gander as game as your goose.


[Lecturer gives seven very deep breaths from the bottom of the lungs before continuing, at the front of the stage. Model follows suit.]

Breathing. God it’s good for you! And so long as we have breath, inspirited we ask the question:

And how war yore maggies?

Answer: They war loving, they love laughing, they laugh weeping, they weep smelling, they smell smiling, they smile hating, they hate thinking, they think feeling, they feel tempting, they tempt daring, they dare waiting, they wait taking, they take thanking, they thank seeking, as born for lorn in lore of love to live and wive by wile and rle by rule of ruse ‘reathed rose and hose hol’d home, yeth cometh elope year, coach and four, Sweet Peck-at-my-Heart picks one man more.

After Joyce’s death, his wife Nora took visitors to the cemetery in Zurich, which adjoins the zoological gardens, and there she would say, “My husband is buried there. He was awfully fond of the lions – I like to think of him lying there and listening to them roar.”

[Very, very loudly, all]: ROAROTORIO.

The turbulence of her husband, and his keen pleasure in sound, were her dominant recollections of him.

Sounds are regulated and modulated through The Larynx. [Points pointer at the neck of the model, whose Adam’s apple is bobbing up and down nervously.]  It is sobering to consider that every word, every phrase, every page of Finnegans Wake was spoken aloud, sung aloud, recited and tested again and again day and night  till Joyce was sure that the sounds were right. Listen to this description of the interior of The Haunted Inkbottle, no number Brimstone Walk, house of Shem the Penman, latterly known as Famous Seamus. Imagine the intensity of concentration over the sound of every word:

The warped flooring of the lair and soundconducting walls thereof, to say nothing of the uprights and imposts, were persianly literatured with burst loveletters, telltale stories, stickyback snaps, doubtful eggshells, bouchers, flints, borers, puffers, amygdaloid almonds, rindless raisins, alphybettyformed verbage, vivlical viasses, ompiter dictas, visus umbique, ahems and ahahs, imeffible tries at speech unasyllabled, you owe mes, eyoldhyms, fluefoul smut, fallen lucifers, vestas which had served, showered ornaments, borrowed brogues, reversibles jackets, blackeye lenses, cutthroat ties, counterfeit franks, best intentions, curried notes, upset latten tintacks, unused mill and stumpling stones, twisted quills, painful digests, once current puns, quashed quotatoes, messes of mortgage, seedy ejaculations, limerick damns, crocodile tears, spilt ink, highbrow lotions, kisses from the antipodes, presents from pickpockets, glass eyes for an eye, gloss teeth for a tooth, war moans, special sighs, longsufferings of longstanding, ahs ohs ous sis jas sos yeses and yeses and yeses, to which, if one has the stomach to add the breakages, upheavals distortions, inversions of all this chambermade music one stands, given a grain of goodwill, a fair chance of seeing the whirling dervish, Tumult, son of Thunder, self exiled in upon his ego a nightlong a shaking betwixtween white or reddr hawrors (may the Shaper have mercery on him!) writing the mystery of himself in furniture.


Wash quit and don’t be dabbling, says the washerwoman to the washerwoman, tuck up your sleeves and loosen your talk-tapes.

The talk-tape, [directs pointer toward the tongue of the demonstration model, which is jutting out as far as is humanly possible] languorously and lubriciously located in the oracular orifice, learns its lessons well. Elsewhere the mouth is named:

The Old Sot’s Hole that wants wide streets to commission their noisense in. And my waiting twenty classbirds, sitting on their stiles! Let me finger their eurhythmytic. And you’ll see if I’m selfthought. They’re all of them out to please. Wait! In the name of. And all the holly. And some the mistle and it Saint Yves. Hoost! Ahem! There’s Ada, Bett, Celia, Delia, Ena, Fretta, Gilda, Hilda, Ita, Jess, Katty, Lou, (they make me cough as sure as I read them) Mina, Nippa, Opsy, Poll, Queeniee, Ruth, Saucy, Trix, Una, Vela, Wanda, Xenia, Yva, Zulma, Phoebe, Thelma. And Mee! Then everyone will hear of it. Whoses wishes is the farther to my thoughts.

Boys and girls come out to play with, lo and behold, an alphabet. Tongue-wagging, tongue-twisting, tongue-thrusting, thus they speak, and as one word enters another, sounds remake the language, life-giving lingo. Eeny-meeny-miney-moh, new words for old, alternative eternities.

For his root language, if you me whys, Shaun replied, as he blessed himself devotionally like a crawsbomb, making act of oblivion, footinmouther! (what the thickens else!).

For example, get your tongue round this!


The hundredlettered name again, last word of perfect language. But you could come near it, we do suppose, strong Shaun O’, we foresupposed. How?

Peax! Peax! Shaun replied in vealar penultimatum. Tis pebils before Sweeney’s as he swigged a slug of Jon Jacobsen from his treestem sucker cane. Mildbut likesome! I might as well be talking to the four waves till tibbes grey eves and the rests asleep. Frost! Nope! No one in his seven senses could as I have before said, only you missed my drift, for it’s being incendiary. Every dimmed letter in it is a copy and not a few of the silbils and wholly words I can show you in my Kingdom of Heaven. The lowquacity of him! With his threestar monothong! Thaw! The last word in stolentelling And what’s more rightdown lowbrown schisthematic robblemint!

All of which brings us to the issue in hand: Writing.

[Points pointer at model, whose hands are alternately, in mime, typing on a keyboard and inscribing copperplate across the air.]

Important characters in this book are the four gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, who have their own composite character named Mamalujo. Forget the commentators! One crucial means to an understanding of Finnegans Wake is the celtic gospel-book, The Book of Kells. Follow the patterns and links in Kells and you will see how Joyce’s book is constructed. Pages are spent in excruciatingly detailed description of Kells. Again, Joyce explains language by his own circuit:

Note the cruciform postscript from which three basia or shorter and smaller oscula have been overcarefully scraped away, plainly inspiring the tenebrous Tunc page of the Book of Kells (starting with old Matthew himself, as he with great distinction said then just as since then people speaking have fallen into custom, when speaking to a person, of saying two is company when the third person is the person darkly spoken of). Note the droopadwindle slope of the blamed scrawl, a sure sign of imperfectible moral blindness; the toomuchness, the fartoomanyness of all those fourlegged ems: and why spell dear god with a big thick dhee (why, O why, O why?) : the cut and dry aks and wise form of the semifinal; and, eighteenthly or twentyfourthly but at least, thank Maurice, lastly when all is zed and done, the penelopean patience of its last paraphe, a colophon of no fewer than seven hundred and thirtytwo strokes tailed by a leaping lasso – who thus at all this marvelling but will press on hotly to see the vaulting feminine libido of those interbranching ogham sex upandinsweeps sternly controlled and easily repersuaded by the uniform matteroffactness of a meandering male fist?

Two may play that game, so Joyce as easily portrays, or betrays, the inheritor of this thing Writing, Shem the Penman. What I have written, I have wrotten, Joyce seems to be saying:

You see, chaps, it will trickle out, freaksily of course, but the tom and the shorty of it is: he was in his bardic memory low. All the time he kept on treasuring with condign satisfaction each and every crumb of trektalk, covetous of his neighbour’s word. Without one sigh of haste, like the supreme prig he was, he spent his whole lifelong abusing his dead ancestors wherever the sods were and one moment tarabooming great blunderguns about his farfamed fine Poppamore, Mr Humhum.  Unconsciously he explains, with a meticulosity bordering on the insane, the various meanings of all the different foreign parts of speech he misused and cuttlefishing every lie unshrinkable about all the other people in the story, leaving out, of course, foreconsciously, the simple worf and plague and poison they had cornered him about until there was not a snoozer among them but was utterly undeceived in the heel of the reel by the recital of the rigmarole.
When I read these texts aloud you hear songs and speeches and clichés all turned into poetic rush. Meanwhile, everything I have just recited in this lecture also has double meanings, puns, and word plays only observable with the eye.

[Points pointer at model’s eye, narrowly avoiding a terrible accident.]

In this regard it is easy not to quote the groundbreaking work of Wilhelm Wilson of the University of Oxford, in particular his recent article ‘The discourse of Rubicon : subconceptualist materialism and postdeconstructive cultural theory.’ I quote:

In the work of Yeats, a predominant concept is the concept of semantic truth. The subject is interpolated into a precapitalist demodernism that includes consciousness as a whole.

“Language is intrinsically meaningless,” says Marx. It could be said that Sontag promotes the use of subconceptualist materialism to challenge society. Conversely, Derrida states, “Class is part of the economy of consciousness.”

However, according to Hubbard, it is not so much class that is part of the economy of consciousness, but rather the rubicon, and some would say the paradigm of class. Therefore, in Dubliners, James Joyce affirms the cultural paradigm of consensus; in Finnegans Wake he reiterates postdeconstructive cultural theory. If the subsemioticist paradigm of narrative holds, we have to choose between subconceptualist materialism and neocapitalist narrative.

However, the premise of patriarchal materialism suggests that discourse comes from the collective unconscious, given that truth is interchangeable with art. Any number of narratives concerning not situationalism, as Sontag would have it, but subsituationalism may be revealed.

In a sense, the subject is contextualised into a subsemioticist paradigm of narrative that includes reality as a reality. The characteristic theme of the works of Joyce is the defining characteristic, and eventually the meaninglessness, of postcultural sexual identity.

Thus, an abundance of discourses concerning postdeconstructive cultural theory exist. Finnis holds that we have to choose between Baudrillardist simulacra and the dialectic paradigm of context.

Stating in conclusion: If the deconstructive paradigm of reality holds, we have to choose between the subcapitalist paradigm of context and cultural deconstruction. The characteristic theme of the works of Joyce is not theory, but pretheory.

And if anyone wants a citation to the full text of that article they can see me after the lecture.

We don’t want Wilhelm Wilson to have the final say, though he does unconsciously raise an important issue: how do we read Joyce? This paradox of the hand writing and the eye reading may best be encapsulated by Jim himself. Let me conclude this linguistic anatomy with the question asked on page 143:


Now, to be on anew and basking again in the panorama of all flores of speech, if a human being duly fatigued by his dayety in the sooty, having plenxty off time on his gouty hands and vacants of space at his sleepish feet and as hapless behind the dreams of accuracy as any Camelot prince of dinmurk, were at this auctual futule preteriting unstant, in the states of suspensive exanimation, accorded, throughout the eye of a noodle, with an earsighted view of old hopeinhaven with all the ingredient and egregiunt whights and ways to which in the curse of his persistence the course of his tory will had been having recourses, the reverberation of knotcracking awes, the reconjungation of nodebinding ayes, the redissolusingness of mindmouldered ease and thereby hang of the Hoel in it, could such a none, whiles even led comesilencers to comeliewithhers and till intempestuous Nox should catch the gallicry and spot lucan’s dawn, byhold at ones what is main and why tis twain, how one once falling, the nimb now hihilant round the girlyhead so becoming, the wrestles in the womb, all the rivals to allsea, shakeagain, O disaster! shakealose, Ah how starring! but Heng’s got a bit of Horsa’s nose and Jeff’s got the signs of Ham round his mouth and the beau that spun beautiful pales as it palls, what roserude and oragious grows gelb and greem, blue out the ind of it! Violet’s dyed! then WHAT would that fargazer seem to seemself to seem seeming of, dimm it all?


A collideorscape.


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