On the voice of Joyce
Joyce, who died only two years after the publication of Finnegan’s Wake, had time to leave one clue. His book, he said, would come clear to the reader if the reader listened to its music. Indeed, Joyce demonstrated how potent this music is when he made a recording of part of the end of Book I, the Anna Livia Plurabelle section.
But, alas, Finnegan’s Wake does not disclose a great deal of its music to a reader unschooled in interpretation of the artist’s notation; the script is not phonetic, so that we are often unsure how to pronounce a word, and much of the richness and complexity is only revealed to the eye. We cannot chant a geometrical figure, an E on its back, or a hundred-letter thunder-word (paradoxically, it is only the eye that can recognise the thunder). Many of the puns have a strong visual element, ‘hesitancy’ and ‘hesitency’ sound the same, and the whole point of the Shem-Shaun lesson is that we should imagine ourselves looking at a book with marginal glosses and footnotes.
But the appeal is ultimately to the auditory imagination, which is what Joyce probably meant, and the book is music perhaps in the sense that the orchestral score one reads in bed is music. A bad score-reader tackling, say, Wagner’s Ring (which Finnegan’s Wake in some ways resembles) may not be able to hear much with his inner ear, but he may be able to recognise the recurrence of the Leitmotive by their configurations on the stave. So when we see an allomorph of the ‘ppt’ which Swift used when he wrote to Stella, we can be pretty sure that Iseult la Belle is somewhere around. When the great initials HCE (HCE is a genuine musical phrase, incidentally; in Germany, H is B natural) appear, often imperceptible when the enshrining phrase is read aloud, we know that, however much we may seem to have modulated, we are really not very far from home.
Sometimes, on the other hand, sheer sound triumphs. The bird that traditionally calls ‘More pork’ cries instead ‘Moor Park’, and we are with Swift, caged in the home of Sir William Temple. Hidden verse-rhythms only come out of the prose when hearing is switched on. In other words, we need two things for the full appreciation of the texture of Finnegan’s Wake – the printed book and the voice of Joyce on long-playing records.
Here Comes Everybody, Faber, 1965