3. Do you think FW concerns sexual matter too much?

Fritz Senn wrote ([Incects Appalling; pp. 36-39] in Twelve and a Tilly edited by Jack P. Dalton and Clive Hart in 1966; Faber and Faber) ---- (Page 36) Finnegans Wake teems with insects. Its hero is an earwig; his family is introduced at the end of the first chapter as a verminous horde: 'he's such a grandfallar, with a pocked wife in pickle that's a flyfire and three lice nittle clinkers, two twilling bugs and one midgit pucelle'(29.6). Above all, the fable of the 'Ondt and the Gracehoper' is consistently entomological. Joyce's heavy emphasis on this particular crawl of life must have several reasons. One may be that insects bring to mind the irresistible fecundity and the ubiquitous persistence of low animal vitality; another that, by their metamorphoses through various stages, insects are ideally suited to stand for the important aspect of perpetual changing forms in the Wake. I believe that one further significance of the insect theme may warrant more attention than it has so far received. The Gracehoper in the fable intends 'to commence insects' (414.26): to commence, or beget, or breed, insects corresponds, it seems, to committing incest. That Joyce is doing more than momentarily availing himself of an easy opportunity to permute a few letters may be borne out by the following considerations. Incest looms large in FW, not, in the first place, because of Joyce's indebtedness to Freudian doctrine (though that plays its part) but simply because, in its own terms, everything takes place within the one family. Lovers ultimately are parents, while children, brothers and sisters, are all as 'entomate as intimate could pinchably be'. Appropriately, several groups of insects, notably ants and bees (where the burden of parturition is relegated to one female queen), are necessarily incestuous. Incest occurs also in many of the myths on which FW repeatedly draws: creative paternal gods and proto-parents entail an incestuous origin of gods and men. This connexion may explain to some extent why the 'Ondt and the Gracehoper' contains an abundance of references to both insects and creator-gods, especially Egyptian ones, who were notoriously incestuous.
(Page 38) Thus it may not be surprising if honest Shaun, dimly conscious perhaps that his subject is going to be somewhat unpalatable, experiences some qualms when about to embark on his tale. That may be why he starts off with an apology and an attempt at a disguise ('apologuise', 414.16), and why he has first to negotiate a hundred-letter-long cough of embarrassment, occurring significantly after the consanguineous and insectuous word 'cousis': cousin and sis, but also French cousin, gnat. His audience did well to encourage him: 'Have mood!' (Habe Mut, Ger. for 'Take courage'). I suspect this is meant to lead us back to another injunction to muster up courage: 'Mummum' (259.10), Mumm being a colloquial German expression for courage. This word immediately introduces chapter ten, the geometry lesson, which is concerned with the sons' knowledge of their mother's genital organs -- a tabooed subject ('Mum! Mum!') if ever there was one. It takes courage to tackle it, just as it takes courage to venture on the related fable of the disputing insects, in which, incidentally, 'Mummum' is echoed as 'Hummum' (416.2). The subject is identical, and the brothers' summum bone of contention is always their mum or their sister. Incest may be natural with gods, men and insects, but ultimendly it is a crime and a sin. Thus it is not only one cause of the perpetual crimean wars of opposing sectarian fathers and sons and brothers, but it is also intimately involved in Earwicker-earwig's sinful crime in the park. From his name and from 'the bynames was put under him' we may indeed gauge that 'our old offender was humile, commune and ensectuous' (29.30).
Petr Skrabanek wrote ([Finnegans Wake - Night Joyce of a Thousand Tiers; pp. 229-240] in James Joyce: The Artist and the Labyrinth edited by Augustine Martin in 1990; Ryan Publishing) ---- (Page 230) Finnegans Wake with its 'sexophonologistic Schizophrenesis' (123.18) however, in distinction to Ulysses, was never banned, despite its 'seedy ejaculations' (183.23) and the 'fluefoul smut' (183.15), as all the four-letter words have been variously inflected, differently pronounced, otherwise spelled' (118.26). The scatological eschatology also seems to have escaped the attention of vigilant censors. The verbal diarrhoea, the riverrun, of the floozie in the jacuzzi, is punctuated by ten thunderous farts, totaling 1001 letters. Thousand and One Nights of tails within tales, of tumescence and detumescence, of drinking and pissing, of eating and defecation, 'turning breakfarts into lost soupirs' (453.11). In the upside down universe of the Wake, God's creative breath becomes Devil's fart, and paternoster, 'farternoiser' (530.36). The sound of Finnegans Wake is that of chamberpot music. If Ulysses was a day book, a stream of consciousness of one man, Everyman Bloom, Finnegans Wake is a night book, a nightmare stream from the unconscious of all men, of Nomen. Bloom's day is followed by Noman's night. The action takes place 'nowhere', now and here, in Noman's land. 'This nonday diary, this allnights newseryreel', (489.35). The time is 'nowtime' (290.17), 'noughttime' (349.06). Just like the proverbial Heraclitean river, you can never step into the same stream of Finnegans Wake twice. 'Every word [is] bound over to carry three score and ten toptypsical readings throughout the book of Doublends Jined' (20.14). The reader, like Theseus, is lost in the labyrinth of theses and antitheses fusing into new syntheses. Each pair of Heraclitean opposites form both a unity and plurality, but if Heraclitus was known as 'the weeping philosopher', Joyce, 'the tragic jester' (171.15) is 'agush with tears of joy' (178.12), as there is 'lots of fun at Finnegan's wake'. (Fun in Japanese means 'excrement'). It's 'hugglebeddy fann' (616.01). The readers of Finnegans Wake are of two types; those who pretend to read it and those who read it to pretend. But each time the reader turns the revolving drum of the Finnegans Wake prayer-wheel, it sends up new revolting blasphemies.
Richard Brown wrote (in James Joyce and Sexuality in 1985; Cambridge University Press) ---- (Page 78) It has become familiar to talk about the sexuality presented in Joyce's works as fundamentally perverse. According to Tony Tanner, Finnegans Wake is a type of novel where sexual perversity and such linguistic perversions as punning coexist as parts of a greater collapse of linguistic and personal relationships associated with the breakdown of bourgeois society. Colm MacCabe takes up the theme, describing both Joyce's manner of writing and the presentation of sexuality in his work as perverse. Joyce deliberately sought out and exposed the perverse and the anomalous in his presentation of sexual relationships. He chose to depict a married couple whose sexual life sits uneasily with narrow definitions of sexual normality, and highlighted those definitions so that their narrowness might be made plain. Through his reading of Catholic Church writings on sexuality he constructed an idea of sexuality which fits post-Freudian shifts in our conceptions, and focused the attention of his fiction on issues like masturbation and contraception where that shift in sexual ideas was most significantly felt. In terms of the close definitions of heterosexual, genital and reproductive normality which his authorities offered, most kinds of sexual experience, even the far from unusual experiences of Leopold and Molly Bloom, must be classified as perverse, but along with these apparently normal sexual activities that are seen to be perverse under the microscope of casuistical definition, Joyce's fiction parades an interest in more obviously or outrageously perverse types of sexuality. Ellmann notes that the element of sexual perversity in the Hunter divorce case added to Joyce's interest in it. In its investigation of sexual perversity the fiction is significantly contemporary with the scientific 'discovery' and classification of sexual experience which, I argued at the start of this chapter, was a striking part of the growth of sexual science at this time. Which perversions does Joyce's fiction treat, and what was his reading and interest in the field? Perhaps the first area of sexual perversity which commands attention is that of homosexuality. For Havelock Ellis there was a difference of quality between the 'perversion' of the sexual instinct and what he called its 'inversion'. Freud borrowed and sharpened the distinction, differentiating between deviations of erotic 'aim' and those of erotic 'object'. Joyce, we may feel, might reflect this special status of homosexuality in his work.
(Page 83) Yet, for all the attention to the perverse in Joyce, there is no single character, except perhaps the man in 'An Encounter', who might be called sexually deviant in the Krafft-Ebing sense. On the contrary, Joyce is most keen to present his central characters with a variety of shades of sexual taste as if to suggest that such varieties are intrinsic to human psychology. Neither his attitude nor his terminology are suggestive of Krafft-Ebing so much as of a wide knowledge and reading of the available writings, some serious and scientific, but others, like Sherard's book on Wilde used for the very unreliability of their understanding. The idea that sexual psychology consists in such a variety of erotic taste has most in common with the Freudian notion of the 'polymorphous perversity' of the sexual instinct, explained in Freud's Three Essays on Sexual Theory.
Margaret C. Solomon wrote (in Eternal Geomater in 1969; Southern Illinois University Press) ---- (Page viii) FINNEGANS WAKE is a funny book, and I do not wish to spoil the joke by over-sexplication. Nevertheless, my analytical re-readings -- occasioned by a curiosity about constant linguistic overtones -- have led to a far greater understanding, on my part, of the reasons for the major symbols of the book: namely, the male and female sexual organs of the human body. It has been fascinating to watch these stylistic components of a newly-created universe expand and contract, turn inside out and shift dimension -- in the manner of an optical illusion: -- all at the will (sometimes perverse) of the god-like artist. The sexual symbolism of the novel is pertinent to all historical, religious, cultural and psychological human processes; it is particularly relevant to the opposition and occasional precarious unification of art and religion, as exemplified by the twins, Shem and Shaun. Joyce's desire to reveal and, at the same time, his compulsion to conceal the sexual symbolism result in the scatogical subtlety of a non-malicious practical joke; yet, behind the comedy there is still an earnest not-so-young man. Moreover, the fact that Joyce used people to stand for genitals, and geometrical symbols to stand for people, gives the entire novel such formal weight that any discussion of content apart from structure is impossible. The devious elaboration of the word itself, plus the fact of its circling back on itself from the end to the beginning of the book, gives meaning to the endless recurrence of countless lives that take off in all sorts of directions and yet end and begin the same over and over again. Joyce deals with triangles and squares, mathematical equations and logical and rational formalisms because he had to counter-balance a tendency toward near-maudlin sentimentalism -- an Irish come-all-you sensibility -- to mortify his senses, so to speak, as Stephen tried to do after the preacher had put the fear of hell in his soul. In Finnegans Wake, real banality of theme, a tremendous sense of family and history, deep religious inclinations (which are continually slapped down by impiety and derision), and a longing for identity -- all of which are revealed in the sexual preoccupation -- are hidden behind a strictly formal genius. The human paradox which is Joyce and which, in Finnegans Wake, he shows to be every man, cannot be wholly communicated except through form.
Shari Benstock wrote ([Sexuality and Survival in Finnegans Wake; pp. 247-254] in The Seventh of Joyce edited by Bernard Benstock in 1982; Indiana University Press) ---- (Page 247) In handing down a decision on the possible obscenity of Ulysses, Judge John Woolsey remarked that "whilst in many places the effect of 'Ulysses' on the reader undoubtedly is somewhat emetic, nowhere does it tend to be an aphrodisiac." Indeed, Judge Woolsey held that the book was not "pornographic" because he did "not detect anywhere the leer of the sensualist." The common reader in search of a sensual thrill probably lacks the patience, if not erudition, to make Ulysses the instrument of his pleasure. And if this be true of Ulysses, what of Finnegans Wake? By most accounts it appears to be a dirty book, where even a Judge Woolsey might find an occasional "leer of the sensualist" (belonging to a Dante Alighieri, a Jonathan Swift, a Charles Dodgson, or a Daddy Browning), and there certainly seem to be a number of nubile young women available as the objects of affection, disporting themselves for their own and others' pleasure. But is there sex in Finnegans Wake? And, if so, is it pleasurable? Perhaps the prejudices of my own reading of this text should be revealed at the outset. From what I can tell, all the sex there is in Finnegans Wake (and there's not much, really) happened in the past and is rather foggily remembered in the present, making assessments of pleasure or pain a bit difficult to support; what sex there is in the present is unsuccessful, presuming a less than ecstatic estimate of its joyfulness. Indeed, more seems to rest in the sensual leer or the provocative come-on than ever gets itself actualized, and what's "dirty" about the book exists in dream, revery, fantasy, and memory. Depending on what limits of the narrative one subscribes to, all events may be displaced into the past, even those which seem to be happening in the present. And perhaps this displacement was important to Joyce, who certainly chose to keep the crucial events at 7 Eccles street on June 16 offstage of Ulysses, and whose linguistic encrustations in the Wake give the sense that all events hold sexual potential without the necessity of committing them to fact. The Wake seems premised on the notion that sex is the downfall of man ("First we feel. Then we fall"), and all action conspires to sexual implication: brothers' battles, children's lessons, sister's make-believe, mother's worries, father's drinking. And history serves as well as the family: from Wellington's monument to Nelson's pillar, the landscape of Ireland offers the potential for a sexual mapping, from the humptyhill-head of Finnegan himself down to his tumptytumtoes.
Cheryl Herr wrote (in Joyce’s Anatomy of Culture in 1986; University of Illinois Press) ---- (Page 275) [Religion and Incest] Finnegans Wake does not let the matter rest when it locates some of the determinants of religious doctrine in the economic matrix of society and in social convention, whether middle-class, aristocratic, or folkloric. Rather, these factors are themselves kept from assuming the authority of final causes through narrative attention to the metaphor of the family that ties together discussion of the social order and discussion of religion. On the one hand, the narrative presents the family circle as the arena in which social and especially sexual relations are learned. On the other hand, the Wake undermines the notion that those learned relations are in any way "right," or conversely that incestuous desires, for instance, are "wrong." Describing the world through the dream culture of a desirous father, the narrative sets up the priest as false parent and the church's dictates as merely the opinions of such. In particular, the repeated connection in Finnegans Wake of family relations with incest casts a comically lurid light on the society's ideals of parent-child and sibling behavior and on the sanctity of the priesthood itself. Jaun, of course, is one of the false fathers in question. Shortly after Jaun meets the twenty-nine schoolgirls by the riverbank, the girls rush for the post, in this case both their letters and Jaun himself, and express their desire to "read his kisshands" (FW 430.20-21). We know that the girls respond to him in typically adolescent fashion -- they are attracted to his smell, his sexy look, and, in particular his "full fat pouch" (FW 430.30). Interestingly, Jaun responds to their anticipated enthusiasm for him by dropping the guise of a postman (or even of a wanderer) and adopting an episcopal (or higher) role. That is, as they come toward him, he takes on a priestly role to suit his audience of supposedly virginal convent girls. As they crowd around him, Jaun in greeting "doffed a hat with a reinforced crown" (FW 430.17- 18). What Roland McHugh finds to be a "crown of thorns" is just as much part of the costume of a bishop or other ecclesiastic, the peaked hat worn for ritual functions. Hence Jaun's being kissed by the girls is significant; like the pope, he has "kisshands" or hands more appropriate for kissing than for delivering mail. To reinforce the implications developed by the term "kisshands" and by the wearing of a mitre, Jaun is called not only Issy’s brother but also her "benedict godfather" (FW 431.18). The term is curious and suggests both that Jaun is well-disposed toward Issy to the point of wanting to father her and to deliver to her not a letter but a blessing (Latin benedictus: blessing), and that he is also a pope perhaps a false one. Although the eighteenth century saw Benedict XIV installed as a legitimate pope, in the eleventh century the anti-pope Benedict X had a brief reign. Beyond its Latin meaning and its Elizabethan sense, "Benedict" thus suggests also the political tensions which led to the election and forced investiture of the pretender popes. Not only is Jaun associated with this ambiguous papal name but his priestly role is as assumed as is his role of "godfather." Within this conflation of paternalisms, he plays out the desire of HCE for Issy and his own sibling lust. Although as a priest Jaun would be barred from sexual activity, he does begin his discourse with the assertion, "I rise" (FW 432.4), and the sermon is punctuated throughout by his obvious verbal advances to his sister/fantasy-lover/mother Issy. Jaun maintains that love is good when it is "cistern-brothelly" and that the right man is a husband or another "respectable relative of an apposite sex" (FW 436.14,17). As with Father Mike, who speaks in "soandso many nuncupiscent [nun-desiring?] words" (FW 432.l0), for Jaun sex is verbal, and preaching is a means to physical excitement. Ironically, a clerical economy is posed against the economy of desire. The church attempts to fill, via good books, magazines, sermons, and retreats, the mind of the populace, but Jaun's experience suggests that in practice, desire not only fills every gap in religious discourse but also usurps that discourse. For all of its efforts to maintain the sanctity of the Catholic home, the church that Finnegans Wake presents sets up surrogate parental relations with its spiritual children only to taint those relations with the persistent demands of the flesh. Jaun's deceitful use of the priestly-paternal role comically critiques the authority of the church in that he associates religion with sexual desire. The discourses that are antithetical in Western tradition (the church repudiating sexuality in its pastors, creating from the very absence of sexuality a kind of religious presence) are in the Wake identified to the discomfiture of both sides. Ultimately, in Finnegans Wake, most if not all events, artifacts, and relations are surrogates for sexual activity; sex both describes the vibrating center of Wakean culture and circumscribes all functions. Hence, Jaun echoes the concerns of the church in Joyce's Ireland, but all propriety is undermined by the heated call of consanguinity. Not only is the church's authority thus questioned in the narrative, but so is the familial and social order which it regards as divinely ordained. To see incest as a sin does, after all, presuppose a norm: the "right" relations of a family and of sexual beings in a society. Yet the Wake persistently undoes our confidence in labeling anything "right." Hence the opposition of normative and deviant sexuality, of natural and unnatural family relations, falls away in the dreamworld of the Wake in which all desires are in some sense spoken and all scenarios played out. In fact, the Wake provides a good deal of evidence that family sexuality is indeed the "norm" from which intercourse with the Other developed. Ultimately, Joyce rewrites the moral system of Western culture to account for incest as a sexual model, the results in Finnegans Wake being to sever the sexual from the moral. While the historical religious morality alluded to in Jaun's sermon and throughout the Wake reinforced the hegemonic interests of the church by extending its influence into every corner of Irish family life, Finnegans Wake destabilizes that system of conduct by highlighting economic imperatives, the dictates of conventionality, and the indiscriminate demands of the flesh. In sum, the Wake targets the sources -- not revelation but economic utility and cultural conventions -- of popular religious doctrine. Of course, the preachers of Joyce's day were disconcerted by those phenomena Jaun denounces -- loose behavior, bad books, the change in tenor of the age -- but Jaun's send-up of a sermon would have us agree that the denunciatory posture of the institution had a lot more to do with maintaining its social hegemony than with anything approximating divine afflatus. The "lessions of experience" on which Jaun bases his message to the girls are thus not only lessons but also lesions -- spots in the cultural surface which reveal the perhaps not diseased but certainly dis-eased intertwining of dogma and economics, of spirituality and the social order. The countercurrents to authority established in III,ii epitomize Joyce's anatomy of his culture, for his narratives persistently expose conditions of censorship, institutional competition, and a deceptive binary structuring of ideas in order to challenge domination in all of its protean forms.
Michael H. Begnal wrote (in Dreamscheme; Narrative and Voice in Finnegans Wake in 1988; Syracuse University Press) ---- (Page 111) None of the three Earwicker children seems guilty over some sort of purported sexual relationship with one of the parents, and marriage is certainly not in the picture for Issy, at least not with Shem or with Shaun. It is true that Earwicker notes his daughter's growing maturity, but Anna Livia never even notices anything sexual about the sons. There is indeed a great deal of sexual innuendo throughout the narrative, but the only sexual activity which is described takes place between adults. There is a definite difference between the way sexuality is treated in the Wake in the children's context and the way it functions with the grownups. As was mentioned earlier, the only physical lovemaking which actually takes place in the novel is that between Tristan and Isolde and Earwicker and Anna Livia. With the children, sex is usually treated as a dirty joke, something responded to with a snigger, rather than a lustful sigh. As we have seen, Shaun is the master of the sexual allusion or the double entendre here, sometimes consciously and sometimes not, while Shem is virtually oblivious to the whole thing. Issy looks for the joke or the pun possibility, as she does in the Lessons chapter; responding to Shem's comment that the geometry homework is as plain as day, she says, "as plane as a poke stiff" (296.29), followed by a footnote that shows she is aware of more than a pikestaff: "The impudence of that in girl's things!" (296.fn.5). But this does not mean that sex is on the minds of the children to any obsessive degree, and they certainly are not very much troubled by it, any more than would be any halfway normal adolescent. The Earwicker siblings can be as ornery and cantankerous, and as mutually understanding, as any ordinary brothers and sisters can be, and we distort the Wake's basic aim of the depiction of a family if we look too hard for the unusual or abnormal sexuality which simply does not appear in the narrative.
(Page 113) As a final note, it should also be stated that the last few pages of the Wake demonstrate a coming together, rather than a sundering. If nothing else, there is fusion and form. To be sure, Anna Livia is more than aware of her husband's foibles and faults, as is Molly Bloom, but there is no reason to take literally ALP's fear that she may soon be replaced by "a daughterwife from the hills again" (627.02). Such behavior would be heavily frowned upon by the Catholic Church in Ireland. Actually, in her dream monologue Anna Livia is becoming that very "daughterwife" herself, as Earwicker metamorphoses in her mind into both father and husband. In what is almost her final statement, this change and fusion becomes clear to the reader. Prefaced and closed by a Molly-like affirmation, Anna Livia transcends age and accepts both roles at once. "Yes. Carry me along, taddy, like you done through the toy fair! If I seen him bearing down on me now under whitespread wings like he'd come from Arkangels, I sink I'd die down over his feet, humbly dumbly, only to washup. Yes" (628.08).
Barbara DiBernard wrote (in Alchemy and Finnegans Wake in 1980; State University of New York Press) ---- (Page 76) The incest theme in Finnegans Wake most often concerns HCE's desires for his daughter Isabel. As the supposedly dead Tim Finnegan he stirs when the mourners at his wake discuss the two aspects of his daughter, the pure and the sensuous (27.11-24). HCE admits his feelings to the customers in the tavern: "I reveal thus my deepseep daughter which was bourne up pridely out of medstreams unclouthed when I was pillowing in my brime"(366.13-15), and ALP understands that her "sonhusband" is turning away from her for a "daughterwife" (627.01-02). The father usually represses his sexual desires for his daughter, though, veiling them in literary or mythic stories such as Tristan and Iseult; such substitution is consonant with the Jungian theory that the desire for wholeness represented by incest frightens us and that we therefore bury it in our unconscious minds. HCE’s guilt could have been relieved somewhat had he read the alchemical texts in which an incestuous act restores fruitfulness to a sterile land. Unlike HCE, Shaun quite brazenly flaunts his feelings for his sister at times, particularly in III.2. As Jaun, he "made out through his eroscope the apparition of his fond sister Izzy for he knowed his love by her waves of splabashing and she showed him proof by her way of blabushing nor could he forget her so tarnelly easy as all that since he was brother - besides her benedict godfather" (431.14-18). Jaun's overtures to Izzy here show a more than brotherly affection. As her "benedict godfather," he becomes Basilius Valentinus, author of several alchemical texts. "I, Basil Valentine, brother of the Benedictine Order, do testify that I have written this book," states the author of the Twelve Keys, a work which represents the alchemical process in terms of brother/sister incest. In his sermon he suggests that Izzy "love through the usual channels, cisternbrothelly"(436.14), indicating both his Machiavellian attempts to gain his end and perhaps an unconscious understanding that psychologically incest represents a desire for wholeness. The alchemical conjunction of red and white appears in another incestuous passage: Shaun tells his sister, "I'd be staggering humanity and loyally rolling you over, my sowwhite sponse, in my tons of red clover" (451.19-21). Alchemy again reveals Jaun's true desires on 452.08-19 when he employs allusions to Thoth, sublimation, and ether to seduce his sister. The appearance of the hermaphrodite in Finnegans Wake also exemplifies the union of opposites and the use of alchemical imagery. The trial chapter, I.3, begins with a reference to HCE’s ambiguous sexuality: "you spoof of visibility in a freakfog, of mixed sex cases among goats" (48.01-02). The chapter continues with many other allusions to such sexual confusion, as in the references to "his husband" (49.02) and "her wife Langley" (50.06); clearly both HCE and ALP encompass both male and female.