“Great poets are obscure for two opposite reasons; now, because they are talking about something too large for anyone to understand and now, again, because they are talking about something too small for anyone to see.” With this preamble Chesterton introduces his study of that profoundest of nineteenth-century English poets, Francis Thompson. “In one of his poems”, Chesterton continues, “he says that the abyss between the known and the unknown is bridged by‘ pontifical death ’. There are about ten historical and theological puns[1] in that one word. That a priest means a pontiff, that a pontiff [2] means a bridge—maker, that death certainly is a bridge, that death may turn out to be a reconciling priest, that at least priest and bridges both attest to the fact that one thing can get separated from another thing — these ideas, and twenty more, are all tacitly concentrated in the word ‘pontifical’”. It is not an accident that in casting about for some anticipation in English literature of the uncompromising brilliance of James Joyce’s latest work (for, after all, poets are born not made, and — unless another miracle be presumed — the conception of a poet cannot be wholly immaculate), the first name that suggests itself should be that of Francis Thompson, that Crashaw “born again, but born greater”. For Thompson, too, wrote of ” something too large for anyone to understand “, and since infinite greatness is — but for certain flashes when our sight is focussed to a god’s-eye view of the universe — intellectually and linguistically out of our ‘reach, not only is the poet’s vision, in itself, difficult of apprehension, but the language of common speech must often prove inadequate to express concepts perceived sub specie aeternitatis.

There are, in fact, two difficulties (or, rather, two aspects of the same difficulty) to disconcert a reader of Work in Progress. Perplexed, he poses first the essential question “What is it all about?” adding, sotto voce, a plaintive afterthought “Why, anyhow, does the author make it so difficult? [3]

1. The subject of Work in Progress may easiest be grasped by a reference to Vico’s Scienza nuova, a treatise on the philosophy of history which appeared about two hundred years ago. The reception of Vico’s work was that which too often awaits the philosopher attempting a new synthesis of the disparate phenomena which make up world—history. The story goes that a contemporary savant, Capasso, after an unsuccessful attempt to digest Vico’s work, ran ostentatiously to his doctor to have his pulse taken, and a certain Neapolitan noble, asked for news of the writer, tersely replied ”Off his head !” Vico proposed the making of ” an ideal and timeless history in which all the actual histories of all nations should be embodied Human societies begin, he contended, develop and have their end according to certain fixed laws of rotation; there is a recurrent cycle in human “progress”, as in the astronomical domain. (Observe the subtle implications of the title Work in Progress). But this natural history of man is not, as might be expected, to be discovered by a mere series of inductions from past events. The essential facts are embodied in the lives, true or legendary, of national heroes; they are revealed through human personalities, rather than by acts or events. In his preface to Vico’s works Michelet has succinctly set out this relation between the heroic personality and the so-called facts ” of history. “The principle of the New Science is this: humanity is its own creation. The heroes of myth, Hercules whose arms rend the mountains, Lycurgus or Romulus, law-givers who in a man’s lifetime accomplished the long work of centuries — all these are creations of the peoples’ thoughts. God alone is great. When man craved for men—like—gods he had his way by combining generations in an individual, by incarnating in a single hero the ideas of a whole cycle of creation. Thus he fashioned his historical idols, a Romulus or a Numa. Before these shadowy heroes the peoples made obeisance,. But the philosopher bids them rise: ‘That which you adore’,- he says, ‘is but yourselves, your own conception ’. Hitherto mankind believed that all progress was due to chance appearances of individual genius. Political, religious, poetic advance was ascribed to the unexplained talent of certain individuals, splendid but incomprehensible. History was a sterile show, at best a diverting shadow-play. ” The aim of the new science was to illustrate the fundamental unity of history, God’s Work in Progress, which is not based (as, at first sight, it would seem) on sporadic advances due to the accidental genius of individuals, but on a general and inevitable movement of mankind as a whole, a trend recurrent and predictable like that of the tides, embodied, crystallized in great personalities. Thus, speaking of the ‘sages’, Vico remarks that “Solon was neither more nor less than the people of Athens, awakened to consciousness of its rights, the true founder of democracy. Dracon was simply the emblem of an aristocratic tyranny which preceded the change. ” “The diversity of views as to Homer’s birthplace forces us to the conclusion that, when the various races of Greece disputed among themselves the honour of claiming him as one of theirs, it was because they themselves were Homer.

Vico places the beginnings of human history one or two centuries after the Deluge- The earth had grown dry and a storm brooded dark above the hills, on whose summits lonely giants roamed. Suddenly sounded a crash of thunder and, “terrified by this happening whose reason they ignored, they raised their eyes and gazed for the first time heavenwards”. That was the beginning of what we call civilisation. Their fear of the sky (the heavens personify the first of the gods to all primitive peoples) was the beginning of wisdom. it drove them to refuge in dark caverns of the earth and thus arose the idea of the family and man’s first attempt at `virtue’. Hitherto, these giants, like beasts of the field, had fornicated openly with the female of the moment. Now, after the sky-god had spoken by his thunder, they were ashamed of open coition; each took to his cave a single woman and with her, in darkness, founded a family. Thus, for Vico, the etymology of ‘ Jupiter ’ is jus + pater: the sky is not merely the all father but also the source of law and justice, of the family tie and social consciousness. But not only did the voice of the thunder inspire the brutish giants with ideas of shame and justice; the strong emotion of their fear loosened their tongues and they ejaculated the first monosyllable of the language, the name of father, that word which in all tongues has the same root. It is significant that Work in Progress opens with a crash of thunder.

James Joyce’s new work, in fact, (as far as can be judged from the portion of it which Transition has so far published) is, in one of its aspects, a realization of the Italian philosopher’s conception of an ‘“ ideal history “; those ” eternal laws which all nations observe in their beginnings and developments, in their decay and death, laws which, if world upon world were born in infinite eternity, would still hold good for those new worlds Under the variety of external forms there is an essential identity between all peoples, all histories, which is embodied in the legends and lives of their national heroes. Work in Progress is, indeed, a book of heroes, many of whom are merged in the panheroic figure of H. C. E.(Here Comes Everybody). Vico’s work, moreover, is much preoccupied with the root-meanings of words (their associative rather than strictly etymological implications) and he “contemplated the formation of a ‘mental vocabulary ’ “, whose object would be to explain all languages that exist by an ideal synthesis of their varied expressions. And now, after two centuries, such a synthesis of history and of language, a task which seemed almost beyond human achievement, is being realised by James Joyce in his latest work.

To a certain extent, therefore, the verbal difficulties of Work in Progress are accounted for by the nature of the subject. It is obvious that in this composite picture of the life of mankind, where mythical heroes of the past, characters of biblical legend and notabilities of recent times are treated as one and the same protagonist, the style was bound to reflect the kaleidoscopic permutations of the temporal, physical and spatial attributes of the hero”. But in the verbal structure of Mr Joyce’s new work there is a personal element which had already manifested itself in Ulysses and was, strangely enough, overlooked even by appreciative critics. Thus, in a recent study of Ulysses a commentator quotes at length the following passage from the opening of the Oxen of the Sun. (Lying—in Hospital) episode and condemns it as “unconditionally inept and unpardonable “Merely to arrange words in the form of a Chinese puzzle is pointless. it is unfortunate that Mr Joyce has chosen to commit this folly so many times in a work of such significance.” The passage is as follows.

“Universally that person’s acumen is esteemed very little perceptive concerning whatsoever matters are being held as most profitably by mortals with sapience endowed to be studied who is ignorant of that which the most in doctrine erudite and certainly by reason of that in them high mind’s ornament deserving of veneration constantly maintain when by general consent they affirm that other circumstances being equal by no exterior splendour is the prosperity of .a nation more efficaciously asserted than by the measure of how far forward may have progressed the tribute of its solicitude for that proliferant continuance which of evils the original if it be absent when fortunately present constitutes the certain sign of omnipollent nature’s incorrupted benefaction.”

The obscurity of that passage, its prolixity and redundancy — all are deliberate, and artistically logical, For this whole episode of the Oxen of the Sun is constructed so as to follow the growth of the embryo from its dark and formless origin to the hour of its emergence into the light of day, a fully developed and perfected child. The style of this section of Ulysses is at first dark and shapeless. Gradually the diction takes form and clarifies itself till it culminates in a futurist cacophony of syncopated slang, the jargon of our latest and loudest jeunesse nickelée. But, before this outburst, the language ascends in orderly march the gamut of English styles — of Mallory, Mandeville, Bunyan, Addison, Sterne, Landor, Macaulay, Ruskin, Carlyle and others. (It may be noted, however, that, as in the unborn embryo there is often premature development of a certain part, so there are occasional patches in the first section of the Oxen of the Sun where the terseness and clarity of later styles are anticipated)

In the Sirens episode, again, the structure of the chapter strictly follows the form of a fuga per canonem. Not only this, but the terminology is chosen so as to include musical metaphors and terms. “Fall flat”, “sound as a bell”, “all for his own gut”, “stave it off” —— these and many other such idioms were deliberately selected for their musical associations.

The literary device employed by Mr Joyce in these episodes is not, as might appear at first sight, a mere caprice or tour de force, but has its justification in the origins of human speech. The earliest language was (as Vico points out) that of signs; the human animal was, in fact, dumb. He indicated the subject of his thought by pointing a finger at the object. The next stage was the naming of objects by ejaculated monosyllables. Then the name of the thing itself was used by extension to signify a wider, even an abstract, concept. From this view of the origin of language it follows that the use of simile and trope was not, as is generally believed, a poetic artifice, but was imposed on primitive man by the very conditions of his development and limits of his vocabulary. lf we talk of the mouth of a river, for instance, we do not use the word ‘mouth ’because it seems a felicitous metaphor but because the makers of the language could conceive of no possible alternative; indeed, unless we have recourse to scientific jargon, no better term has yet been invented. In carefully adapting his words to his subject—matter, Mr Joyce is not performing a mere conjuring-trick with the immense vocabulary he has at his command but is going back to the original and natural methods of human speech. By extension, in such passages as that quoted above, -. the adaptation of words to subject was carried into the domain of style; but the principle remained the same — the fixing of the reader’s mind on the subject—matter by every possible means, the exploitation of every potentiality of the language to create a complete harmony between form and content.

A common error on the part of both professional and amateur critics is that of applying to new literary forms the quasi-ethical test: ‘Would l wish all modern literature to be composed after this model P ” That test of the universal (of doubtful value even in the domain of conduct) is quite inapplicable to original works of art. It is, rather, the criterion of a masterpiece of literature that it stands alone, and this holds good as well for diction as for form and content. The unusual word-formation of Work in Progress, a constructive metabolism of the primal matter of language, was called for by its subject and is thereby justified, but it will in all probability remain a unique creation — once and only once and by one only. For it is inconceivable that such a method of writing could prevail in general or narrative literature and it would be wrong to see in Work in Progress the promise of a systematic disintegration of language, or any sort of propaganda for an international tongue, a new Volapük or Esperanto. Indeed, disciples of the New Word would defeat their own ends. The word-building of Work in Progress is founded on the rock of petrified language, of sounds with solid associations; were this groundwork to be undermined by a general decomposition of words, the edifice would in time be submerged in the shifting sand of incoherence, there would be a dissolution of logical speech and thought and in the last end man would revert to his brutish state, as it was in the beginning before the Lawfather thundered.

A dangerous game, in truth, the jeu de mots, this vivisection of the Word made Flesh l But so, perhaps, was creation itself- the rash invention of a progressive Olympian with a penchant for practical jokes.

A consciousness of this “joky” side of creation pervades Work in Progress. The world is indeed a Wonderland of perpetual surprises for every Alice of us. In the reductio ad absurdum of the processes of human thought — for absurdity is latent there behind the looking—glass of logic -— Lewis Carroll, that elfin dialectician, excelled; it is noteworthy that he, too, experimented in the composition of picturesque and amusing neologisms, ” portmanteau words ” as his Humpty . Dumpty called them. But Carroll’s inventions were exclusively English and went no further than the telescoping of English words together, whereas the Irish writer’s vocabulary is world-wide — Work in Progress may well be easier reading for a polyglot foreigner than for an Englishman with but his mother tongue -—— and he compresses allusions rather than single words. The difference can best be shown by quotation. Here are two familiar lines from Carroll’s ”Jabberwocky”.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.

They are explained as follows.

“That’s enough to begin with”, Humpty Dumpty interrupted: ” there are plenty of hard words there. ‘Brillig’ means four o’ clock in the afternoon -— the time when you begin broilling things for dinner… ‘Slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy’. You see it’s like a portmanteau —there are two · meanings packed up into one word… ‘ Toves’ are something like badgers — they’re something like lizards —- and ` they’re something like corkscrews. To ‘gyre ’ is to go ` round and round like a gyroscope. To ‘gimble’ is to make _ holes like a gimlet.”

Humpty Dumpty might have added that ” brillig” also suggests the sunshiny hours and “gimble” implies “gambol” but no doubt he guessed that Alice, a clever little girl could see these allusions for herself.

With these a few lines from Work an Progress may now be compared. “Not all the green gold that the Indus contains would over hinduce them (o. p.)[4] to steeplechange back to their ancient flash and crash habits of old Pales time[5] ere beam slewed cable or Derzherr, live wire, fired Benjermine Funkling outa th’Empyre, sin right hand son… “

The last words of this passage are built on an old music-hall refrain, popular in those ‘good old days’ when the “Empire” in Leicester Square was the happy-hunting—ground of the pretty ladies of London town: ” There’s hair, like wire[6] , coming out of the Empire.” An electrical undercurrent traverses the whole of this passage, which alludes to the dawn of pre—history when Vico’s thunderclap came to rescue man from his wild estate; the “’ flash and crash claysBeam slewed cable ” hints at the legend of Cain and Abel, which is frequently referred to in Work in Progress. “There’s hair” has crystallized into “Derzherr” — Der Erzherr (arch-lord) -— with a sidethrust at the hairy God of illustrated bibles. He is a “live wire” – a bustling director. “Benjamin” means literally ‘ “son-of-the—right—hand”; here the allusion is to Lucifer (the favourite archangel till his rebellion) as well as to Benjamin Franklin, inventor of the lightning-conductor. The end of his name is written “— jermine“, in tune with  the German word Erzherr, which precedes, and “Funkling” (a diminutive of the German Funke — a spark), which follows. Also we can see in this word a clear, if colloquial, allusion to the angel’s panic flight before the fires of God. In the background of the passage a reference to the doom of Prometheus, the fire—bringer, is certainly latent. “Outa” — the Americanism recalls “live wire“, as well as such associations as “outer darkness” — Lucifer’s exile in the void. “Empyre” suggests Empyrean, highest heaven, the sphere of fire (from “pyr”, the Latinized form of the Greek root “pur” — fire.)Finally, sin implies at once the German possessive sein (his), and the archangel’s fall from grace.

This passage illustrates the manner in which a motif foliates outwards through the surrounding text, beginning from a single word —— here the “flash” in “flash and crash” has “electrified” the words which follow, and a German formation has similarly ramified into the context. All through Work in Progress similar foliations may be traced, outspreading, overlapping, enmeshed together; at last deciduous, as new and stronger motifs thrust upwards into the light. The difference in texture between such complexity and Carroll’s occasional use of ” portmanteau words is evident, A similar contrast can be established between the neologies of Work in Progress and the new—coined words of Edward Lear, which, though they have not the same currency as Carroll’s, are no less rich in verbal humour. Lear, too, had a gift for depicting droll or fantastic personages.

His Waistcoat and Trowsers were made of Pork Chops;

His Buttons were Jujubes and Chocolate Drops;

His Coat was all Pancakes with Jain for a border,

And a girdle of Biscuits to keep it in order;

And he wore over all, as 0: screen from bad weather,

A Cloak of green Cabbage-leaves stitched all together.

In this “nonsense rhyme” of Lear, The New Vestments, there is a curious anticipation of the idea of comestible dress developed by Mr Joyce in a description of Shaun’s apparel (Transition, n° 12); his “star-spangled zephyr… with his motto through dear life embrothered over it in peas, rice and yeggyolk,”and his “gigot turnups

Lear’s method of dovetailing words together (“scroobious”, ” slobaciously”) may be compared to an Englishman’s way of carving a leg of mutton; he cuts vertically through the meat of sound and the fat of common sense, with an eye only to the funny effect of the chunk removed, whereas the Irish writer (like Tristan at the découpage of the deer and to the wonderment of Mark’s knights) carves his gigot in the continental manner, that is to say, parallel to the etymological bone, following the way the muscles are naturally and anatomically set. Again, like Gibbon’s “solemn sneer”, Lear’s humour often depends on pairs of words, usually adjectives, unequally yoked together. “All the bluebottle flies began to burg at once in a sumptuous and sonorous manner, the melodious and mucilaginous sounds echoing all over the waters and resounding across the tumultuous tops of the transitory Titmice upon the intervening and verdant mountains with a serene and sickly suavity.” A travesty of Gibbon’s use of paired words is found in Ulysses. “Silent in unanimous exhaustion and approbation the delegates, chafing under the length and solemnity of their vigil and hoping that the joyful occurrence would palliate a licence which the simultaneous absence of abigail and officer rendered the easier broke out at once into a strife of tongues.” ln Work in Progress the treatment of pairs of ideas is symbolical, in the exact meaning of that word; ideas are fused together. Thus in “gigot turnups” we have the ideas of leg—of—mutton sleeves and their inferior counterpart, pegtop trousers, turned up in the modern manner, fused into one. Both Lear and Joyce exploit the incongruous, basis of all humour, but, while Lear’s incongruities are laid side by side in comic pairs, Joyce’s are symbolised, merged in one — the exact opposite of the Lear-Gibbon hendiadys. This fusion of ideas is illustrated in the description of the tree of life, “our sovereign being stalk,” and the “origin of spices” (Transition, n° 15). Lear’s extravaganze are airy nothings, soaring on dual wings of candid nonsense, whereas Mr Joyce’s for all their subtile buoyancy, are gravid with the seeds of red magic.

There is also a radical contrast between the humour of Carroll and Lear and the almost demoniac ribaldry of parts of Work in Progress. In the lines quoted above it is significant that the nearly meaningless catch of a London music-hall song should serve Joyce as the warp whereon to weave the story of divine reprisal on a revolting archangel. Of all the aspects of Work in Progress this, perhaps, will prove the most disconcerting to the general reader. The boisterous joviality of certain passages, the verbal horseplay, for instance, of that past-master of conceit, Jaunty Jaun, will certainly offend those who hold that gravity should exclude buoyancy in treating of first and last things. But, after all, the terms “heavy” and “light” are relative; birth and death, the story of the Fall, God’s mysterious ways to man —— all these are tragic or absurd according to the observer’s standpoint; exclusive seriousness, indeed, is a colour—blindness of the intellect.

Given the subject of Work in Progress, the form and language employed followed as a matter of course. The personality of H. C. E., polymorphous yet strangely self-consistent, heroic yet human all—too-human, dominates the book from its broken beginning, the point arbitrarily chosen (since for time—bound man a beginning there must be) for us to set foot upon the circular track of the New History. The difficulties of the text are conditioned by the subject, for the language is world—wide as the theme. Words are built up out of sounds whose associations range over many frontiers, whose echoes ricochet from the ends of the earth. In this spectral realm of gigantic shadows, of river and mountain seen nearly or dimly as the night clouds now lift now close in again, lies revealed the ageless panorama of the race, our own world and yet another. To comprehend this new vision of a timeless world something is needed of the clairvoyant audacity of Francis Thompson’s last poem:

O World invisible, we view thee,

O World intangible, we touch thee,

O World unknowable, we know thee,

Inapprehensible, we clutch thee !


The foregoing remarks may, it is hoped, suffice to give a general view of the method and scope of Work in Progress, but it may not be unprofitable to add a practical illustration of the manner in which to read the work (perhaps not without some mental effort, certainly with ultimate enjoyment) and look for the allusions embedded, obscurely sometimes, it cannot be denied, and beneath the surface, in the text. The following passage is taken from the fragment published in Transitions No. 13 (pp. 17-19) and is reprinted with permission of the editor and author.

Sis dearest, Jaun added, with voise somewhit murky as he turned his dorse to her to pay court to it, melancholic this time – whiles his onsaturncast eyes in stellar attraction followed swift to an imaginary swellaw, O, the vanity of Vanissy ! All ends vanishing! Pursonally, Grog help me, I am in no violent hurry. If time enough lost the ducks walking easy found them. I’ll nose a blue fonx with any tristys blinking upon this earthlight. of all them that pass by the way of the deerdrive or wilfrid’s walk but I‘d turn back as lief as not if I could only spoonfind the nippy girl of my heart’s appointment Mona Vera Toutou Ipostila, my lady of Lyons, to guide me by gastronomy under her safe conduct. That’s more in my line. I’d ask no kinder of fates than to stay where I am, under the invocation of Saint Jamas Hanway, servant of Gamp, lapidated, and Jacobus A Pershawm, intercissous, for my thurifex, with Peter Roche that frind of my boozum, leaning on my cubits, at this passing moment. by localoption in the birds’ lodging me pheasants among, with me hares standing up well and me longears dittoes till well on into the beausome of the exhaling night, picking stopandgo jewels out of the hedges and catching dimtop brilliants on the tip of my wagger for them breezes zipping round by Drumsally do be devils to play fleurt. I could sit on safe side till the bark of Saint Grousers for hoopoe’s hours, laughing lazy at the sheep’s lightning, hearing the mails across the nightrives (peepet ! peepet !) and whippoor willy in the woody(moor park! moor park !) as peacefed as a philopotamus, and crekking jugs at the grenoulls, leaving tea for the trout and belleeks for the wary, till I’d followed through my upfielded neviewscope the rugaby moon cumuliously godrolling himself westasleep amuckst the cloudscrums for to watch how carefully my nocturnal goosemother would lay her new golden sheegg for me down under in the shy orient. What wouldn’t I poach — the rent in my riverside my otther shoes, my beavery, honest! — for a dace feast of grannom with the finny ones, flashing down the swansway, leaps ahead of the swift mac Eels and the pursewinded carpers, rearin antis rood porches astench of me, or, when I’d like own company best, with the help of a norange and bear, to be reclined by the lasher on my logansome, my g. b. d. in my f. a. c. e., solfanelly in my shellyholders and lov‘d latakia the benuvolent, for my nosethrills with the jealosomines wilting away to their heart’s deelight. and the king of saptimber letting down his humely odours for my consternation, dapping my griffen, burning water in the spearlight, or catching trophies of the king‘s royal college of sturgeons by the armful for to bake pike and pie while,O twined me abower in L’Alouette’s Tower, all Adelaide’s naughtingerls, juckjucking benighth me, I’d tonic my twittynice Dorian blackbudds off my singasongapicoolo to pipe musicall airs on numberous fairyaciodes. I give, a king, to me, she does alone up there, yes see, I double give till the spinney all eclosed asong with them. Isn’t that lovely though? I give to me alone I trouble give! And what sensitive coin I’d be possessed of, at Latouche’s begor I’d sink it sumtotal, every dolly farting, in vestments of subdominal poteen at prime cost and I bait you the whole ounce you half on your backboard that I’m the gogetter that’d make it pay like cash registers. And, what with one man’s fish and a dozen mens poissons, I’d come out with my magic fluke in close time, fair, free and frolicky, zooming tophole on the mart as a factor. And I tell you the Bectives wouldn’t hold me. By the unsleeping Solman Annadromus, ye god of little pescies, nothing would stop me for mony makes multimony like the brogues and the kishes. Not the Ulster Rifles and the Cork Milice and the Dublin fusees and Connacht Rangers ensembled. I’d axe the channon and leip a liffey and·drink anny black water that rann onme way. Yip! How’s thats for scats, mine shatz, for a lovebird? To funk is only peternatural its daring feers divine. Behold! Like Varian’s sweeping all behind me. And before you knew where you weren’t I stake my ignitial’s davy, cash—and-cash can—again, I’d be staggering humanity and loyally rolling you over, my sponse, in my tous of red clover, fiehigh and fiehigher and fiehighest of all. I’d spoil you altogether. Not a spot of my hide but you’d love to seek and scanagain. There‘d he no standing me, I tell you. And as gameboy as my pagan name K. C. is what it is I’d never say let fly till I’d plant you, my Gizzygay, on the electric ottoman in the lap of lechery simpringly stitchles with admiracion among the most uxuriously furnished compartments with sybarate cham bers just as I’d run my shoestring into near a million of them as a firstclass dealer and everything. Only for one thing that I’d be awful anxious, you understand, about shoepisser pluvious and in assideration of the terrible luftsucks playing around in the coold amstophere till the borting that would perish the Dane and his chapter of accidents to be atramental to the better half of my alltoolyrical health, not considering my capsflap, an that’s the truth now out of the cackling bag for truly sure for another thing I never could tell the leest falsehood that would truthfully give sotisfiction I’m not talking apple sauce eithou. Or up in my hat. I earnst. Schue!

The above passage occurs in a sermon delivered by Jaunty Jaun to his congregation of the twenty—nine girls who figure as a “female plebiscite ” in Work in Progress. The form is that of a “lenten pastoral” and it is interesting to compare Jaun’s homily with the series of sermons delivered at the “retreat” described in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Jaun is the jovial, blustering type of Irishman who believes in enjoying life, and the advice he gives to his chapel of girls is a cheerful counterblast to the comminations of the Jesuit priests. He has much to say about himself; he is a boaster, but, like many boasters, a bit of a coward. An expert in love-making, he is, one feels, an equally competent love—breaker. The mood of this excerpt is high-spirited fantasy; in texture it is lighter, and in allusion less esoteric, than those portions of the work which deal directly with the main theme; for these reasons, and because it suffers less by excision, this passage has been selected as a suitable introduction to the perusal of Work in Progress

In the notes which follow explanation is given of nearly all the synthetic words or phrases. The commentary, however, does not claim to be exhaustive; some allusions have certainly been overlooked, a few (e. g. Jacobus A. Pershawm, Varian’s) have remained insoluble; moreover, certain interpretations are merely tentative. Indeed, one of the fascinations of reading Work in Progress is that as a mine of suggestion and allusion it is practically inexhaustable; apart from its literary and cosmological innovations, the resolution of its synthetic word structures may well have a special appeal to the present generation of the English—speaking races, whose interest in words — parvis componere magna — is demonstrated by the space reserved in contemporary journals for problems in word—building and word—manipulation.

Voise. — His voice, grown rather hoarse, suggests “noise”,

Sumewhit. — A trifle less than “somewhat”.

Dorse. — He turns his back on her to pay court to his voice,

Onsaturncast. — Upwards (towards the planet) plus “uncertain” (timidly).

Stellar. — The allusion is to Dean Swift’s Stella[7]; in the following sentence Vanissy (Vanessa) continues the motif.

Swellaw. He swallows down an impediment in his throat, looking towards a bird that is not there, a projection of, the “bird” allusion in “swift“. Swellaw, thus spelt, may also suggest celestial ordinance.

Pursonally. — He has been complaining that he wants more . money; Jaun is the sort of man who never has enough of it.

If time… them. — A variant of the proverb Chi va piano va sano. If Mr. Time—Enough lost his ducks, Mr. Walking-Easy found them.

I’lI nose… fonx. — Fonx suggests “funk ” (a blue funk) as well as “fox ”.

With any tristys. — As well as any sad person (Tristram) alive on the earth.

Of all them… —— An echo of the lines ” O all you who pass by etc. ”

Wilfrid’s walk. — This appears to be a child’s name for some animal (c. f. Teddy—bear).

Spoonfind.— The ideas of “kiss” and “waitress” are combined, preparing for “Lady of Lyons” — the title of Bulwer Lytton’s famous play and an allusion to a popular restaurant.

Mona Vera… — The one true Catholic (toutou i.e. fondling and everywhere) and Apostolic Church. Jaun would like to find a girl with a job of her own to support him so that he would not have to work. A teashop assistant would do —— or (for Jaun is here in orders) the Church.

Saint Jamas Hanway. — Jonas Hanway (1712-1786) was the first man to walk the London streets carrying an umbrella. The Londoners threw stones at him.

Pershawm, intercissous. — I am unable to trace the history of this other holy martyr, who was “cut up”, as Hanway was stoned.

Thurifex. — Suggests Thurifer and crucifix. Jaun is fond of his pipe; further references to this come later. Tobacco is, in fact, his favourite incense.

Peter Roche. — “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock etc.” Roche also suggests fish, the roach as well as (I suppose) the anguille sous roche. From this point a “fish” motif begins to insinuate itself. Or, to vary the metaphor, this word sounds the tonic of the key for the following passage.

Frind of my boozum. — C. f. .a line from Moore’s “Meeting of the Waters”. ” ’Twas that friends, the beloved of my bosom, were near. ”

Cubits. Elbows plus Cupids.

With me hares... —— He sees himself spending a night in the woods (Phoenix Park?) amongst the animals. He will be rather frightened, his hair will stand on end, his ears pricked up (longears also implies “rabbits”). This part of Jaun’s sermon is a “pastoral” in both senses, and its language is redolent of the fauna of field and forest.

Beausome. — Suggests bosom and beauty.

Stopandgo jewels. —·— Glowworms.

Dimtop brilliants. —— He will catch misty dew on the tip of his tongue.

Fleurt. — Recalls the French origin of the word ” flirt “— fleurette.

Saint Grousers… This seems to refer to the opening of the shooting season. Jann will stay on the safe side till the lawful season for shooting begins; “Hoopoes’ hours”(?).

Sheep’s lightning. — Sheet lightning is to fork lightning as the sheep to the wolf.

Nightrives. — He hears the night mail—trains going along the river banks.

Moor park! The cry of this Australian bird is said to be “More Pork” ! (c. f. Ade1aide’s naughtingerls below.) Also an allusion to Moor Park where Swift met Stella.

Philopotamus. — An apt variant of hippopotamus.

Crekking jugs… — He will crack jokes with the (Frenchy) frogs and his genoux will knock together with panic. Crekking – recalls “brek—kek—koax” the classical “frogs’ chorus”.

Leaving… trout. —- Jaun is lazy; he will be too slack to bring home his picnic outfit. Belleek is a kind of china.

Neviewscope. —— Cloud—gazing telescope; nepheloscope. (Allusion to Nevsky Prospect? Also, perhaps, to nepotism; Jann is sure to have an amicus in curia.)

Rugaby moon… Rugby plus lullaby. Jaun sees the moon rolling between the clouds like a ball between the muddy feet of the scrum. Westasleep suggests the song “The West’s asleep” (lullaby motif). The moon “goes to sleep” when she reaches the limit of her course.

For to watch… — He will await sunrise.

The rent… — There is a hole in his trousers on the side towards the river. Beavery suggests hat—beaver—brevziary.

Dace…grannom— “Fishing” allusions. The grannom is a fly used by fishermen. The feast of grannom is probably some fishermen’s festival.

Swansway. — A “kenning” for river.

Pursewinded. — Suggests pursy plus short—winded.

Rearin antis. — An echo of “rari nantes”. Jaun, of course, is an easy victor in the Liffey swimming match.

Astench.·—— A stern plus tench plus stench. They would get scent of Jann, from behind, to leeward.

Norange. — The derivation of orange is naranj (Arab:). This is, in fact, the old form of the word (c. f. apron from napperon). There is here a hint of the rainbow motif which appears so often in the work.

Bear. -— Besides the obvious meaning, the word pear (German Birne) is suggested, and the suffix “or two ” (an orange or two) as in “carriage and pair”.

Logansome.—Lonesome plus logan-stone (a poised heavy stone at the river’s edge).

G. b. d. in my f. a. c. e. — An ingenious combination of suggestions for both pipe—smokers and musicians (the notes on the “lines” G B D are between the “spaces” F A C E). The GBD pipe is well known …. Here a “music motif” begins to foliate.

Solfanelly. — Suggests the “tonic solfa” and solfanelli (Italian: matches).

Shellyholders. — Hands cupped like shells.

Benuvolent. —- Italian forms continue. Full of clouds


Jealosomines. — Jessamines plus jealous-of-mine.

Deelight. — The word “delight” is thus stressed in the duet “The Moon hath raised hr lamp above

Saptimber. — Surely it is more reasonable thus to call the month than “the seventh”, when it is really our ninth

Dapping. — A method of fishing. Griffeen (?)

Burning water. — The water would be lit up.

Pike and pie. — Suggests “by and by” The p to b mutation was prepared for above.

O twined… — Echo of a song.

Adelaide’s naughtingerls. ·— Adelaide recalls the song as well as the town.

I’d tonic… — I’d teach my nine—and-twenty blackbirds how to sing. (Echo of the nursery rhyme — with musical and . floral variations.)

Numberous. — Numerosus (musical).

Fairyaciodes. — Variations (fairy —odes).

I give… — This is a translation of the “tonic solfa” names of the notes in the scale (as an italian ear might hear them:do, “Igive”, re, “a king”, and so on): do, re, mi fa, sol, la, si, do. I double give: the high do (C)

Eclosed. — Echoed plus (French) éclore.

I give to me… —— This is the major chord (do-mi-sol—do: CEGC).

Sensitive.- Allusion to the sensitive(note preceding the tonic).

Latouche’s.-— Probably a business in which Jaun thinks of investing: the name is evidently chosen for its musical association (les touches — the keys of a piano). There is here a foliation of French words- The Latouche in question is, perhaps, one of the numerous Huguenot families settled in Dublin (c. f. Bloom’s reflexions-on Miss Dubedat: Ulysses. p. 167. L’Allouette “a lark in clear air”, is T ’ also mentioned in Ulysses; p. 8).

Subdominal. — Abdominal attuned to subdominant. Note how Jaun in (in)vestments combines, as usual, the lucrative with the ritual.

Bait. — Bet adapted to the “fish” motif

Half…— “Sis” is lightly clad; her garments of weigh but half an ounce.

Factor. — Besides the vague “business” allusion in this word there is a suggestion of the French facteur. One of Jaun’s avatars is ” Shaun the Post. “.

Bectives. — A football team.

Solman Annadromous. — Solman[8]  suggests (inter alia) “salmon”(a fish said to be sleepless). Annadromous -— of fish ascending rivers to spawn. The ‘n’ is doubled here so as to form “Anna”, a river prefix often used in Work in Progress. “Anna” seems to be a popular corruption of the Latin amnis; thus the Anna Liffey was shown in old maps as Amnis Livius. Anna Livia (the Eve of the story), “a judyquean not up to your elb ” holds, earlier in the work, a levee of some hundreds of her namesakes from all parts of the earth, including Anna Sequana (Seine), Annie Hudson, Susquehanna and good Ann Trent.

Pescies. — Little fishes (Italian) with, perhaps, a suggestion of “sins” —pêchés.

Brogues and kishes. -— From the Irish expression “ignorant as a kish of brogues (a basketful of little shoes )”. Here the ‘loaves and fishes’ are hinted at.

Axe the channon. -— Channon – ”Shannon” plus “channel”.

Leip a liffey. — Nothing could hold up the advances of Jaun the lover. The leip formation may suggest the “salmon’s leap” (Leixlip).

Annyblack water.Anny, as above, for amnis. Three Irish rivers are called “Blackwater”.

Scats. — Norwegian for treasure; in German Schatz.

Peternatural. — Peter, the “loganstone” of the Church, made a very human slip on three famous occasions.

Its daring… — This passage is obscure; the obvious meaning in this passage Jaun is making love and form what precedes seems to be indulging in a certain exhibitionism. The “forbidden fruit” idea, an invitation to some act out of the normal, seems to be implied.

And before… — This passage goes to the lilt of an Irish song. Jaun is swinging the girl higher and higher in his arms.

Ignitial’s davy. —-— Jaun has a postman’s lamp with him: also afidawit is implied.

Hide.— A recall of the “treasure” theme, as well as Jaun’s skin.

Admiracion. —— She simpers her admiration.

Sybarate…— Separate plus sybarite. The separation has bisected chambers.

Run my shoestring. (American) make easy money. The American note is appropriate, for Jaun is the sort of Irishman who crosses the ocean and makes his pile in the States.

Assideration. — Jaun thinks how cold it is out in the night under the stars (assideration). Luftsucks, a variant of the German Luftzug, a draught.

Borting. — His cold is getting worse and thus he snuffles “morning”; the Danish prefix for departure is bort-.

Perish the Dane. — Weather to perish the Danes — very cold weather. Here Dane suggests “Dean” (pronounced in the Irish manner); a recall of the “Swift” motif. The word “chapter” naturally ensues.

Atramental. —- Detrimental plus “dark” (c. f. atrabilious).

Sotisfiction. — Satisfaction plus “so ’tis fiction”.

Eithou. — I — thou: either.

I earnst… — A sneeze is coming — Schue ! —— Germanically antithetic to “my hat”, and he foreshortens his mendacious “I am in earnest”

[1] Quoi de plus divertissant et de plus instructif, tout ensemble, qu’un beau calembour étymologique? (Victor Bérard: l’Odyssée, p. 106) The importance of Homeric influences on James Joyce’s work can hardly be overestimated, and it is- noteworthy that the Odyssey begins with a pun on the name of its hero: _

[2] With this use of “pontiff” a passage from the Anna Livia (Arma Liffey) section of Mr Joyce’s work, which, in some respects, reminds one of a Homeric ” catalogue ” —— in this case, of rivers, their names welded into words — may be compared. ” Do you know she was calling backwater girls from all around to go in till him, her erring man, and tickle the pontiff aisy-oisy?”.

[3] It is significant that these questions What is it all about? and Why does the author make it so difficult? are the very cris de Coeur of Everyman when some unforeseen catastrophe makes of him a target for the arrows of outrageous fortune, and, baffled by this seemingly wanton cruelty, he asks himself what on earth or in heaven the Demiurge was about when He contrived his labyrinthine universe. Thus, too, Mr. H. G. Wells’ young giant, seeing for the first time the crowded confusion of modern life (vide The Food of the Gods), mutters: ” I don’t understand., What are all you people doing with yourselves? What’s it all for? What is it all for and where do I come in?”

[4] “our people”: indicated by the preceding passage.

[5] Pales, the oldest of woodland gods: “Palestine” is also implied.

[6] “Hair like wire”, curiously enough, brings us back to Lewis Carroll, who may have had some part in the procreation of the phrase. Isa Bowman in her Story of Lewis Carroll (p. 24), speaking of his insistence on accuracy, relates: “I remember how annoyed he was when, after a morning’s sea bathing at Eastbourne, I exclaimed: ‘Oh this salt water, it always makes my hair as stiff as a poker!’ He impressed it on me quite irritably that no little girl’s hair could ever possibly get as stiff as a poker. ‘If you had said stiff as wires, it would have been more like it’ “ Cf. Shakespeare, Sonnet 130.

[7] As in Ulysses, so in Work in Progress, there are many references to “the awful Dean of St Patrick’s”, and in a recent review of a fragment of Mr Joyce’s latest work, published under the title Anna Livia Plurabelle, it was implied that the language of this work was akin to the “little language ” in which Swift addressed MD. As the reviewer wittily observed, “a little language is a dangerous thing “. The comparison was, however, inapt. The prose of Work in Progress is far removed from a ” little language ” of lovers, or those pretty, petty diminutives coined by Presto for Pepette. It is, on the contrary, a great language, an augmentation of the resources of the common tongue, like a language of giants or Homer`s “speech of the blessed gods”. Moreover, a little language is a sort of private code, significant only to those “in the know”. The peculiarity of Mr Joyce’s latest work is its “catholicism”, and most of the difficulties of the text are due to the ubiquity of its allusions.

[8] This association of Solomon and Salmon may be assimilated with the Irish legend of the “salmon of wisdom”; to eat the smallest morsel of its flesh was (as in the the case of the national hero Finn MacCool) to acquire the gift of wisdom and prophesy (c. f. the “tree of knowledge” and Prometheus legends, strands of which are often discernable in the texture of Work in Progress).



Publicado on setembro 12, 2012 at 2:59 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] Prolegomena To Work in Progress, por Stuart Gilbert […]

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