We met on Friday 24th March and managed to read just eight and a half lines, thus dragging our monthly average down slightly. We began at 535.36.
‘That was Communicator, a former colonel’
Who is the Communicator? Is it the person at the other end of the séance, or is it the person their voice passes through? We decided, in this instance, that it’s the person in the other world, here Raymond, the son of Sir Oliver Lodge, the latter of whom was a prominent spiritualist. Lodge developed some of the key technology behind early radio, which picks up some of the themes of previous pages (‘Big big Calm, announcer!’). His son Raymond died in WW1, and Oliver attempted to contact him through séances.
‘A disincarnated spirit, called Sebastion’
This portmanteau allows Joyce to create a new concept – something between being disembodied and being reincarnated – and stresses the overwhelming loss of bodies during WW1 warfare, such as happened to Raymond Lodge. On this note, we thought of the trend for séances during the War. ‘Sebastion’ alludes to Sebastian Melmoth, Wilde’s pseudonym after his trial, picking up the Wildean lines from last month. The name here also contains ‘bastion’, adding to the military feel of this part of the passage. There’s also, of course, a gay subtext at work in the allusion to St Sebastian, and perhaps a reference to the Portuguese and Brazilian myth of Sebastianism, according to which King Sebastian of Portugal will return to save Portugal – a myth that structurally shares some similarities with the Wake.
‘Rivera in Januero’
We noted many allusions in this line: to the trend for holidaying in the French Riviera; perhaps to Diego Rivera; obviously, to Rio de Janeiro.
‘(he is not all hear)’
Originally reading ‘here’ in a draft, the line works both as a pun – ‘he can’t hear’, and also ‘we can’t hear him’- about the séance, and as a literal note on its circumstance – Oliver Lodge, or whoever, really isn’t with them. We also that the description is that someone is usually not all there, not here. Given the context, the line suggests hearing loss from war damage.
‘may fernspreak shortly with messuages from my deadported’
This part of the sentence seems especially dense with meaning. May surely means will, in this context. Ferns, we recalled, are significant in ‘Clay’, in that context because they reproduce asexually: here, might that asexual reproduction suggest something resembling an echo chamber? The pattern that ferns make also suggest the Book of Kells, and the spirals and cycles of life. As we had an English/Portuguese mashup before, we have an English/Germanic one here, obviously. ‘Shortly’ is also ambiguous – does it mean ‘presently’, or does it mean that the messages will be short and clipped, as one might expect from a séance? Messages from the other side might assuage people attending the séance, though a ‘messuage’ is also a dwelling house that comes with land and outbuildings. ‘Deadported’ suggested ‘dear departed’, deported, porter (the stout), porter (one who carries something off), transport, and much more besides.
‘Let us cheer him up a little and make an appunkment for a future date’
We noted that the two halves of this sentence seem rather different in tone. The first has a feeling of an MC at a music hall variety about it. Or, perhaps, a rather English, euphemistic avoidance of discussing the real issue: can you really cheer someone who has been through a war? How do we plan to cheer him, anyway? We thought via the services of a prostitute – punk – noting the ways that Joyce uses the word ‘appointment’ in Ulysses (‘Appointment we made knowing we’d never, well hardly ever’; ‘Always off to a fellow when they are. They never forget an appointment. Out on spec probably’; ‘I never thought hed write making an appointment I had it inside my petticoat bodice all day reading it up in every hole’). Yeats’ poem A Drunken Man’s Praise of Sobriety was also in our mind, it also using the word ‘punk’.
‘Hello Commudicate! How’s the buttes? Everscpistic!’
‘Commudicate’ contains both communicate, and so communicator, but also suggests the ‘mudders’ of the previous paragraph. ‘Buttes’ – especially the subject/verb agreement in this sentence – took us longer to unpick. Is he really asking ‘how’s the body?’, which seems insensitive, to say the least, to someone who’s been in the trenches, as does ‘how’s the battle?’. How are the boots? This would recall the image in Ulysses of young Paddy Dignam thinking about his father and the pawned boots. Or might ‘boots’ allude to the person who serves the beer in a pub (cf the boots in Sirens)? Meanwhile, the final word suggests the condition of being ‘ever sceptical’, antiseptic, or maybe even Episcopalian.
‘He does not believe in our psychous of the Real Absence, neither miracle what nor soulsurgery of P. P. Quemby’
This line seems even more complex than the previous one. Is this an allusion to a psyche? What’s the Real Absence, if not real absinthe? Does ‘ous’ of psychous allude to nous, or to a noose? The second half of the sentence suggests the importance of the Eucharist, in the ‘miracle wheat’ and Fweet explains the story behind the real fraudster P. P. Quemby.
‘He has had some indiejestings, poor thing, for quite a little while, confused by his tongue of bauble’.
The second syllable of ‘Indiejestings’ takes us back to Wilde, especially if you read Mulligan’s line (‘bursting with money and indigestion’) in here too. ‘Jest’ also suggests ‘fun’, as in ‘funferal’. The second half of the line might allude to the tower of babel, or the confusion of tongues, the name of the book Joyce alludes to in the previous sentence (we’ve discussed this in previous sessions recently, too). Is our Wildean figure confused in body (indigestion) and mind (babbling), or is the line a bit more sexual than that (tonguing of baubles)? The confusion of tongues theory of trauma refers to the sexual seduction of a child by parents, which seems relevant to the Wake. As in the earlier lines of the paragraph, there’s a strong sense of ventriloquism here.
We will meet again on Friday 5th May – delayed because of Easter and other commitments – reading from 536.08 (‘A way with him!).