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The Role of Thunder in Finnegans Wake

The Role of Thunder in Finnegans Wake

ERIC McLUHAN
Copyright Date: 1997
https://doi.org/10.3138/9781442682221
Pages: 328
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442682221
  • Book Info
    The Role of Thunder in Finnegans Wake
    Book Description:

    The study establishes the nature and aims of Finnegans Wake as Menippean satire and interprets the Wake in that light. McLuhan examines Joyce's use of language, and in particular his use of ten hundred-lettered words (thunderclaps).

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8222-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Part I

    • 1 Cynic Satire
      (pp. 3-13)

      Like Shakespeare, who lent his name to a kind of sonnet that existed before him, Menippus gave his to a kind of writing that had been practised for centuries before his time. For Menippus set the basic tone and patterns of the form for subsequent writers. The first Menippean satire in the Western tradition antedates Menippus by several centuries: HomerʹsMargites. We can piece together a sense of theMargitesfrom the few fragments that remain – remarks that Aristotle let slip in thePoetics, some lines in Clement of AlexandriaʹsStromata. Evidently, Margites was a Ulysses-in-reverse. Where wily Ulysses...

    • 2 Finnegans Wake as Cynic Satire: An Ancient Attack on Modern Culture
      (pp. 14-34)

      Mimesis informs the Menippean tradition in two ways. The works that compose the backbone of the tradition mime each other quite consciously and deliberately even while they vigorously assert their individuality.¹ The reader performs the other mimesis while reading: it is crucial both to how the satires work and to the radical difference between Menippism and the rest of satire. The other two strains of satire – Horatian and Juvenalian – rail at or castigate licence, wickedness, perfidy, hypocrisy, stupidity, and weakness, or they exhort the reader or the target to reform. They assume a fundamental separation of reader, writer,...

  6. Part II: What the Thunder Said

    • 3 Introduction to Part II
      (pp. 37-40)

      Finnegans Wakepresents ten thunderclaps. The tenth has an extra letter: the total number of letters, then, is 1,001, and so refers deliberately (if obliquely) to that other book of night tales,The Thousand and One Nights. This allusion is appropriate because, as will be seen in chapter 12, the figure of Aladdin with his glowing magic lamp serves as an image for television, the subject of the final thunder. In terms of the Viconian progression from things to written words, the thunders operate both at the level of things (experiences) and at that of words-as-things. They are simultaneously words...

    • 4 The First Thunderclap: The First Technologies (FW 3–18.36)
      (pp. 41-55)

      Most of the thunder contexts follow a definite pattern: for some pages prior to the thunder word, the scene is set. Relevant themes are interwoven so as to indicate the environmental, cultural, and sensory state prevailing before the thunder metamorphosis. Then, as a new technology is introduced, aspects of this prior situation begin to assume a gradient rise in their intensity of operation. When this rise reaches a peak, the thunderword is ʹspokenʹ and a new technological environment is seen to be in place by means of its effects on the initial components (the closure process). At this point, in...

    • 5 The Second Thunderclap: The Prankquean: She (Stoops) to Conjure – Courtship by Piracy (FW 18.17–24.14)
      (pp. 56-74)

      This thunder comes at the end of one of theWakeʹs more enchanting set-pieces, a fairy tale concerning the legendary piratess, Grace OʹMalley, and her altercation with the lord of Howth Castle. Adaline Glasheenʹs entry in herThird Census of ʹFinnegans Wakeʹmay serve as a summary: ʹIrish legend says Grace sailed to Howth castle and demanded entrance. The earl of Howth refused her because he was at dinner. Angry, she kidnapped his young heir ... and did not return him until the earl promised that his doors would always stand open at mealtime.ʹ The tale is told through twice;...

    • 6 The Third Thunderclap: HCE, The ʹNew Womanly Manʹ (FW 30–47)
      (pp. 75-92)

      The context for the third thunder is the entirety of I.2 (book I, chapter 2) of theWake. It traces the genesis of HCE – Here Comes Everybody – and raises him to the position of prominence he will occupy throughout the ʹcivilizedʹ portion of the thunder cycle. ʹAn imposing everybody he always indeed looked, constantly the same as and equal to himself and magnificently well worthy of any and all such universalization.ʹ (32.19–21)

      The defunct, integral, tribal Finnegan is replaced by the nuclear, civilized HCE family. It numbers five: HCE and ALP, the twin brothers, Shem and Shaun,...

    • 7 The Fourth Thunderclap: The Fall of the Garden Itself (FW 81–93.22)
      (pp. 93-109)

      Thunder 4 occurs two-thirds of the way through chapter 4 of theWake(pages 75–103 of book I). Most of the themes in the chapter are already familiar. The chapter may be divided into three sections; the middle one contains the thunder and takes the form of a courtroom hearing at which HCEʹs and the cadʹs enigmatic alleged indiscretion in the park is discussed.¹ Although questions are posed, answers given, and evidence presented, this is a Menippean court in which nothing really happens. The court, and the palaver, are the point. The hearing serves to put on display some...

    • 8 The Fifth Thunderclap: Belinda the Hen (FW 107.08–125)
      (pp. 110-132)

      The fifth thunderclap occurs about halfway through chapter 5 (104–25) of book I of theWake. The main subject is language and the printing press, while the photograph, another mode of visual reproduction, supplies a technological subplot in the thunder context. One of the most overtly grammatical chapters of the book (the other is II.2, ʹTriv and Quad,ʹ as Campbell and Robinson have dubbed it), this one appears to have been constructed in two sections, later joined by a bridge that contains the thunder.¹

      This narrated chapter is entirely Menippean. The narrator never interposes himself between the reader and...

    • 9 The Sixth Thunderclap: The Phoenix Playhouse (FW 219–59): Retrieval and Revolution: Exits and Entrancings
      (pp. 133-151)

      Material for thunder 6 embraces the first chapter of book II ofFinnegans Wake. Book I contains eight chapters and the first five thunders; book II, four chapters and thunders 6, 7, and 8. Book III also contains four chapters, and the last pair of thunders. Book IV is but a single chapter. As will be discussed later, the four books follow the pattern of the four grammatical levels of exegesis.

      Most of the chapters of book I deal with a character: chapter 1 presents the demise of Finnegan and the pranks of PQ (the daughter, Izzy), and also the...

    • 10 The Seventh Thunderclap: Radio: tribalbalbutience: Hams and Eggs (FW 305–15ff)
      (pp. 152-171)

      In general outline, thunder 7 and its context are an uncomplicated matter: they simply reverse the action of thunder 2 and its dominant theme, PQ. However, there are considerable differences between the two thunders and episodes. To begin with, whereas the tale of the Prankquean took only two and a half pages to recount, the reverse tale covers some twenty-two pages; and whereas thunder 2 is placed near the end of the PQ episode, thunder 7 occurs just over a quarter of the way through the reversed tale and during a passage that could be regarded as an inserted digression...

    • 11 The Eighth Thunderclap: Sound Film: The Royal Wedding (FW 318–34)
      (pp. 172-191)

      Thunders 7 and 8 form a pair or double-plot, as do thunders 9 and 10. Presaged by thunder 6, each of the last four thunders dramatizes the effects of one or another electric technology as producing a phoenix-rebirth of increasingly unified sensory experience. Thunders 7 and 8 are thematically connected by eye-and-ear development and by their relation to the tale of the Norwegian Captain. Similarly, thunders 9 and 10 are connected by their relation to the fable of the Ondt and the Gracehoper. As epyllia, these sections are the most Menippean structural elements ofFinnegans Wake.

      With the present thunder,...

    • 12 The Ninth Thunderclap: The Reciprocating Engine: Joy Sticks and Joyce Ticks (FW 403–419.11)
      (pp. 192-212)

      Book III, chapter 1 of theWake(403–28) displays a greater degree of formal intricacy than perhaps any other chapter of the book. Like II.3, it contains two thunders, 9 and 10; but, though this chapter is brief by comparison, it is extremely difficult to separate the thunders for discussion.

      Chapter 1 of book III presents the metamorphosis of Shaun, a process echoed by the complex and digressive epyllion structure of the chapter as well as by its general theme of transformation. Here we see Shaun in full dress as a postman delivering the mail, retracing some of the...

    • 13 The Tenth Thunderclap: Television: The Charge of the Light Brigade
      (pp. 213-234)

      The technological subject of thunder 10 appears early in III.1 as part of Shaunʹs uniform as a postman. He is described as dressed like Sean the Post in Boucicaultʹs play,Arrah-na-Pogue. He carries a lamp on his belt.¹

      When look, was light and nowʹtwas as flasher, now moren as the glaow. Ah, in unlitness ʹtwas in very similitude, bless me, ʹtwas his belted lamp! Whom we dreamt was a shaddo, sure, heʹs lightseyes, the laddo! (404.11–14)

      Joyce is saying that, in the absence of a light-from-within, the mode of presentation is a pictorial verisimilitude such as emerges in Renaissance...

    • 14 Conclusion
      (pp. 235-239)

      Each thunder ofFinnegans Wakeincludes words that mean ʹthunderʹ and words that mean ʹdoor.ʹ Joyceʹs thunder is at once the sound of a cultural metamorphosis as registered in and by language, the formal cause of those changes, and the act of change itself. The appearance of ʹdoorʹ is appropriate because each thunder is a portal or ʹdiaphaneʹ through which our culture has passed. Each thunder names and dramatizes a cultural and perceptual labyrinth. In theWake, Joyce leads us through these labyrinths a second time – in the wake of the first time, then for cognition, now for recognition,...

  7. Afterword
    (pp. 240-242)

    In ʹThe Frontiers of Criticism,ʹ T.S. Eliot wrote ʹ... the only obvious common characteristic ofThe Road to XanaduandFinnegans Wakeis that we may say of each: one book like this is enough.ʹThe Road to Xanadu,¹ by John Livingston Lowes, is a meticulous ferreting-out of all of the books which Coleridge had read and from which he had borrowed images or phrases to be found in ʹKubla Khanʹ and ʹThe Ancient Marinerʹ – a sort of perfect graduate-student paper. TheWakeis itself an exuberant encyclopaedia of the trivial and the learned. Nothing, implies Eliot, exceeds like...

  8. APPENDIX 1: On the Composition of the Thunders
    (pp. 243-253)
  9. APPENDIX 2: Outline of the Menippean Tradition
    (pp. 254-256)
  10. APPENDIX 3: The Rhetorical Structure of Finnegans Wake [From JJQ, 11, no. 4, Summer 1974, 394–404]
    (pp. 257-266)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 267-324)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 325-334)
  13. Index
    (pp. 335-340)