Sunday, October 24, 2010

Finnegans Wake, page 141 or Summon in the Housesweep Dinah

Close readers of this blog (and if you're not a close reader, what the heck are you interested in Finnegans Wake for?) will note that there has been not only a substantial lapse since the last post, but a few pages missed here as well. With 2/5ths of our group out of the country for awhile and some scheduling problems, we haven't met as regularly as we did, and for my part my mother's death at the end September has put blog posts a bit in the background. But we've been meeting and I will be posting. I thought I would just start where we picked up this last Wednesday, which was on Riddle 6, which is a short one, and then go back as things come to me.

For one thing, we decided not to get too far into the text this time, as our reading venue, The Poet and Patriot pub, was televising the National League playoffs, and some in the group were, uh, distracted by this fact. Although we agreed that Joyce probably wouldn't have minded sharing the spotlight, we thought it would be best to just review where we've been in between exciting plays. Since A. had been absent the time before, we, or at least I, took pleasure in making her guess what the answer to Riddle 4, What Irish capitol city ((a dea o dea!)of two syllables and six letters, with a deltic origin and a nuinous end, (ah dust oh dust!) was. What's fun about this part is that it isn't just Dublin, as we might complacently expect, but has been humorously stretched to mean Belfast, Cork and Galway as well. These are the capital cities of the four Irish provinces, Leinster, Ulster, Munster and Connacht. And I really liked the comment in the Campbell Skeleton Key that points out that the answer lies in not only guessing these, but in harmonizing them, which puts these separated entities under the blending influence of the riverlike ALP, who mixes all together into one and then separates things out again.

Another thing that came up in our catching up segment was that C. read a passage from one of our explanatory texts, whose author I can't remember just now, which cautioned that reading Finnegans Wake is not merely an associative process, where anything you think is right is right. It is a matter of context, tone and a few other factors that escape me. Although initially deflating, because with the Wake it helps to think that if you're getting anything, you're getting something. Apparently, though, what you might be getting is getting it wrong. 

However, ultimately, this is encouraging. The Wake is not a ragbag, after all. Something would be taken away from our aha moments if it was all just about projecting our own thoughts on to the text. And intuititvely, this strikes me as right as well. Joyce knows exactly what he's doing and he wants you to figure out just what that something is. 

Here's another point that we couldn't quite clear up for ourselves. We knew that HCE had been entombed, but we didn't actually remember him dying. We came across 'the death and resurrection of HCE' a couple of times in our secondary texts, but as far as we were concerned, there had only been the trial. Maybe that will become clearer to us at a later date. 

Anyway, on to this short riddle. Having been riddled about the the father, the mother, the home, the city and the manservant, we now come upon this one about the housemaid. Once again, I find  John P. Anderson's Finnegans Wake: the Curse of Kaballah very insightful. Of course, the title of the riddle is a pun on the old song, "Someone's in the Kitchen With Dinah". According to Anderson, Dinah is a housekeeper like Kate, and Dinah is also slang for "slave", perhaps because Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, was abducted and taken into captivity in the narrative of the Hebrew Bible. It does make me curious about the story behind our American song as well. 

...Hmm. I think I just did a bit of actual scholarship. I looked up "Someone's In the Kitchen With Dinah", and found this long but interesting thread about the song. Once you get past the theories that Dinah was 1.a locomotive, and 2. "dinnah", you discover that there was another minstrel song called Old Joe, which has a verse that goes, "Dere's someone in de house wid Dinah." That line rings more true to Joyce's riddle title, and this would make sense, as according to the thread, "Dinah" crossed over to England in about 1840, and the version quoted was collected in the Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads. What's interesting to me is that Riddle 5, about the houseman, is answered "Pore ole Joe!" For some reason, I had immediately thought of the American ballad "Old Black Joe" when I read that, and it turns out I was righter than I knew.

Well, I'd like to go over the tiks and toks of the riddle as well, but frankly, Mr. Anderson will do a better job of that than I ever can, and this post is getting a bit long. 

Also, I think the majority of the group would like me to end with:
Go Giants.  


  1. Great post and I'm sorry to hear about your mother.

  2. Thank you, PQ. I notice that you've been doing some recent blogging about Portrait yourself.

    We may meet again tomorrow, but we've been having some scheduling problems.

    Thanks for your condolence. We were meeting with the minister today to prepare her service, so this is up for me at the moment.