22nd April 2016

In our April seminar we covered just seven lines, 534.3-10 (‘Tiktak’ to ‘as this is’). As usual, we began by going around the room and offering initial observations. These included: the similarity of ‘tiktak’ to parts of ‘Sirens’; the presence of the BBC (‘Big big Calm’); traces of Bloom in ‘Thom’s’ and ‘ecclesency’; a touch of the legalese we’ve noted in previous weeks; the Yeats/Yates/Easty anagram and possible suggestion of theosophy.

 

However, the usual word-by-word, or line-by-line reading soon broke down, not least because of the sheer difficulty we found in these seven lines (and especially the first four). It is evident how easy it is to mishear or think you’ve heard something else in these four lines, spoken most likely by the four old men (and here we looked at some drafts to check who the speaker was intended to be).

 

‘Tiktak. Tikkak’

While this sounds like the taps of the blind stripling of ‘Sirens’, we also noted that the sound suggests ‘kaka’ (shit). Is it radio static?

 

‘Awind abuzz water falling’

This line conspicuously rehearses the rhythm of the work’s last line (‘a way a lone a last a loved a long the’) if in a somewhat unexpected place. We recalled the waterfalls of ‘Circe’, but couldn’t think how water could be related to hearing.

 

‘jew placator’

A literal reading just didn’t work for us here: who is the jew placator, and why would jews need placating? Does this have any immediate relevance to Europe in the 1930s? Or, is this a Freudian mishearing of ‘duplicator’, written into the text itself?

Duplicator suggests paracusis duplicator, the hearing disorder which is related to Meniere’s Disease. Notably, Swift had Meniere’s disease and Oscar Wilde’s father, a doctor, was especially interested this aspect of his health, arguing that Swift had wrongly been diagnosed with madness in the final years of his life when his behaviour should instead have been recognised as a result of Meniere’s Disease. Are the four old men diagnosing each other? Or attempting to repeat each other and getting it wrong? To this end, ‘duplicator’ suggests an echo, but little of this sequence of four comments (one hesitates to call them ‘replies’) sounds like anything that comes before.

It’s also worth noting that ‘a cowe’ should actually be ‘a cows’ (we checked the drafts): is there a touch of Dreyfus here, if ‘a cows’ might sound like J’Accuse, and given the mention of ‘jew’ in the same line?

 

‘Big big Calm, announcer’

Here we paused to think about Joyce’s interest in and possible knowledge of radio. Of course the BBC was founded in 1922 and in 1931 a programme about him, presented by Harold Nicholson, was censored. We observed that the majority of voices on the radio at this time would be plummy RP voices, quite different to Joyce’s own.

‘It is most Ernst terooly a moresome intartenment’

Maurice Ernst was a lawyer of Greenbaum, Wolff & Ernst, the firm that successfully got Ulysses into America; does that make Ulysses an entertainment? Or is there something of ‘internment’ instead? Similarly ‘moresome’ might as easily be read as wholesome. But this would be undermined – as so often – by the language: a ‘Colt’s tooth!’ is a tart, a term used to describe the Wife of Bath.

The legalese continues with ‘tandsel’ which we glossed as ‘counsel’, though we also noted the suggestion of Hansel and Gretel. Is it important that Hansel and Gretel is set at a time of famine?

 

‘I protest there is luttrelly not one teaspoonspill of evidence at bottomlie to my babad, as you shall see, as this is’

The Luttrell family was a prominent Anglo-Irish one; Thomas Luttrell was an active member of the Privy Council of Ireland and his son Sir James Luttrell was High Sheriff of County Dublin. The father was especially known for his English ways; and HCE, we noted, keeps trying to come back to a sense of Anglo-Irish respectability. Certainly there is a strong knowledge of English politics running throughout this section, inasmuch as that can be separated from Irish politics for Joyce.

‘Bottomlie’ suggested to us the remarkable Horatio Bottomley, the journalist/swindler/founder of ‘John Bull’ magazine, eventually jailed for his part in the Victory Bonds Club chaos.

 

This may read as a short entry, but it was stimulating session that called for slow deliberation. We begin again in May, from ‘Keemun Lapsang’ (534.11).

 

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