Tuesday, 5 September 2017

AN ANTIDOTE TO JAMES JOYCE’S FINNEGANS WAKE.


riverun, past Eve and Adam’s, past the whole schmear of history and back and again.  Joyce was forty when he felt the ennui of Solomon --nothing new under the sun. I’m a hundred years old (using a round figure here) and still refuse to believe in the vicus of recirculation. Take the Fall, for example. It hasn’t come around to me yet, and it isn’t inevitable. I knew a man once who managed to avoid The Fall. He was an innkeeper like Everybody in Joyce’s epic, who would not give us his name beyond the normative letters HCE. My man (let’s keep it simple and call him Francis), somehow muddled through and kept upright and wallstrait throughout his life. He left school at the age of ten, thinking once he knew how to count clittering up and clottering down, and  how to read and write (punctuation optional), he knew everything he needed for life, or if there was anything lacking he could pick it up on the way. That little slip (if leaving school can be called a slip) is hardly in the same category as the Primeval Fall unless you turn the classroom into a kind of Eden and reverse the whole biblical story so that not eating from the tree of knowledge is the Great Sin, which I personally believe is true. Starving oneself of knowledge and refusing to ascend from animal to human being is the Great Sin, but Francis can’t be accused of that. He continued acquiring knowledge in his own way and he was human enough, all things considered. Since he wouldn’t go back to school, his mother, Mary, apprenticed him to her brother-in-law who was the owner of a smithy.  In spite of her promising name, Mary was not immaculate, but let it not be said that she abandoned her child to fate. Rather she fitted him out with a new pair of boots to step into his new apprenticeship-life.  The smithy was in an out-of-the-way place. It took Francis half a day’s sturdy walking to get there, by which time his toenails were black and blue, and his heels a bloody mess of oozing blisters because the boots were practically, but not entirely new, having belonged, very briefly, to a child who died of the measles, and whose feet had been a tad smaller than Francis’. This painful state of things was soon remedied by cutting a hole into the upper part of the shoe to make room for Francis’ toes and allow air to circulate very pleasantly on a hot summer’s day. It did occur to Francis that the same hole could become a liability when winter came and the weather turned icy, but he did not wait for winter to come.  He ran away in the month of September because he could no longer stand the drubbings he regularly got from his uncle, and since he had kept the cut-off pieces of leather, he was able to exchange his boots for a solid pair of rubbers after convincing a peddler that the patches might be sewn back on and the boots restored to serve another man with smaller feet. And so he returned to his widowed mother, no longer widowed, who considered both the rubber boots and her son’s return a change for the worse.

(To be continued)

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