Thursday, April 2, 2015

stewed letters

“(and may his hundred thousand welcome stewed letters, relayed wand postchased, multiply,
ay faith, and plultiply!) page 404 to 405

The question came up as to what Joyce was driving at in the phrase 'stewed letters' , and though we came up with some thoughts about the general sort of stew that the Wake is, I thought I'd search around in case there were any other ideas about it. So I came eventually to an essay called "Their Synaptic Selves: Memory and Language in Beckett and Joyce" by Dustin Anderson, and you can read the whole thing right here if so inclined. As I don't really know much about Beckett other than seeing a play or two, I just skimmed on through to the part I was looking for. In Chapter 4, which he amusingly titles "A Digestive Tract: or a Journey Down the Gullet with Shaun the Post", Anderson says

Letters are what are stewed here, but as we have seen earlier in Book II, chapter II writing/letters and the body are interchangeable: first in “it’s me chews to swallow all you saidn’t you can eat my words” [FW 279:4], and later in the twins’ essay assignments we find, “And Trieste, ah Trieste ate I my liver! Se non é vero son trovatore.” [FW 301:16-17].

Anderson goes on to note that there's a lot going on about food here, as we noticed too, especially as it was getting on for seven and none of us had had our supper. He points out that the burning of Giordano Bruno is presented as a death/food pun on the words "stake" and "steak" and that there are "at least a dozen examples of steak and staking on pages 405-406."

"But what he really thinks we should notice is a point Anthony Burgess first pointed out, which is that Shaun is the “greedy eater of his father’s substance” (259). The ceremony (be it execution or consecration) is only of peripheral importance."

As we had talked initially about a passage from Campbell that Tom read to us, which among other things tells us that HCE is only dreaming of an idealized son's future, a future that will never be because the son is all mixed up in waking reality and cannot just be the simple projection of his father's wish even if he wants to be, this image of the greedy eater Shaun was arresting to me, and even a little creepy. But Anderson doesn't mean it so:

"The real meat of the issue is what we see appear during “Oxen in the Sun,” which is the process of
transforming or recreating the consumed into a new product."

Still, though.

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