|Washers at the Ford, by Heather Ryan Kelley|
We meet again tomorrow, and though this will be a slapdash affair, I will try to put something down here, as a little jog to memory, as I have now failed to chronicle three meetings--one through absence and two through sheer sloth. I will just briefly mention that the meeting before this one ended our time on Chapter 7, the Shem chapter, and we were all struck by the beauty of the ending, which heralds in Anna Livia Pluribelum.
slipping sly by Sallynoggin, as happy as the day is wet, bab-
bling, bubbling, chattering to herself, deloothering the fields on
their elbows leaning with the sloothering slide of her, giddy-
gaddy, grannyma, gossipaceous Anna Livia.
He lifts the lifewand and the dumb speak.
ALP is also the river and so these wet and watery images. It was a felicitous coincidence, as A. pointed out that we were treated to a downpour outside as we read. I credit to the Wake's shamanic poweres.
Chapter 8, which we began this last time begins with two washer women on the banks of the Liffey, which of course is always ALP. The chapter is sometimes referred to as The Washers at the Ford. We learned that the Irish name for Dublin is Baile Átha Cliath, which means 'town of the hurdled ford', and I just now found out, though someone may have mentioned this already that there is a fairy of Gaelic legend called the bean nighe. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about this creature:
As the "Washer at the Ford" she wanders near deserted streams where she washes the blood from the grave-clothes of those who are about to die. It is said that mnathan nighe (the plural of bean nighe) are the spirits of women who died giving birth and are doomed to do this work until the day their lives would have normally ended.
At any rate, one is young and the other old, these aspects of the eternal feminine being already present elsewhere in the book. They are gossiping about Anna Livia:
tell me all about
Anna Livia! I want to hear all
about Anna Livia. Well, you know Anna Livia? Yes, of course,
we all know Anna Livia. Tell me all. Tell me now. You'll die
when you hear.
As our newest member, Ch. was quick to point out, that O is circular and so represents the circular cycle of the book as a whole. Our Campbell companion mentions that the shape of the opening is a delta, which is also a female symbol.
The Shorter Finnegans Wake, which you can find in the sidebar and which I am referring to now, says that Joyce by his own count spent 1200 hours on this chapter and that a big chunk of that was working in the puns for the 350 river names which he has hidden in this part. (Come to think of it, a delta is also a river word.)
Let's see--we also got on to Anabaptists and abcedarians. Ch. was again helpful in informing us what abcedarians are, and I am reinforcing my memory here by looking it up and affirming that an abecedarian is a beginner in anything. But the Joyce word is antiabcedarian. My old standby, John P. Anderson's Joyce's Finnegans Wake: the Curse of Kabbalah, he notes that the Abcedarian relief society was founded to bring relief to teachers and their families, so to be antiabcedarian would be to be against human connection.
We learned, for what purpose I do not recall that Anabaptists believed in making an adult confession of faith and so rejected infant baptism. Now I see, and vaguely remember from our discussion, that Abecedarian Anabaptists were a particular sect, who disdained all human knowledge, even that of learning to read, believing that God would provide all knowledge necessary. Not quite Joyce's method, I'm thinking.
We also have a lot of Old Testament associations here--Solomon and Sheba, camels. I took particular pleasyre from the mixing up the word Egypt as Igypt, which brings it in close proximity to the Irish way of saying idiot as eejit. (It comes up alot in Irish crime fiction.)
We also had some interesting thoughts about Adam and Eve appearing here, which takes us back to the beginning, not only of the human story, but also to the beginning of the Wake itself.
T. thinks that Joyce had the faith in language to trust it to tell the story rather than feeling he had to work out a plot--that it would come out of the language itself. Perhaps we'll talk more about that.
C. has also thought on a bigger scale about all this, which is that the book begins with the father myths of HCE, which are also our historical understanding of our place in life. The Shem/Shaun split is our contemporary here and now. Now we move on to the ALP themes which of course are about the work of the feminine, but also about the great reconcilement. Or so I suppose.
Both L. and A. had a response to this in subsequent email. A. has gotten deeply into the numerical meanings of the figures, and it got me interested enough at the time to look up this and I'll post this link so that anyone who actually has access to JStor can read the whole thing if they want. And here
is a piece by someone who really gets into the numbers theory of the book as well. I didn't read it.
(The picture comes from a blog discussing the Joycean influence on the artist's work.)
I'll close by saying do take a moment to read PQ's very Joycean tribute to an older friend of his who died recently. I think it's quite lovely.