In the Dark
One of the key episodes in James Joyce’s novel Finnegans Wake is something that occurs in Phoenix Park after midnight, involving the protagonist HCE, two ladies, and three soldiers. What exactly occurred is somewhat obscure, but there was evidently some sort of offense, and rumor of it spread widely.
Joyce’s polymorphous prose allows him to play with this idea both brilliantly and wickedly – there’s a dynamic sense of rumor running amok through transformation, and of course pious denunciations of all kinds are made from all sides, and the mood is one of wrath and retribution, but the events themselves are unrecoverable, not just in fact but in principle, because they rely on different points of view, and even the people who were there are not necessarily certain what occurred.
In reading that book it was of great interest to me that this case should be so important that he would include it as one of his core archetypes or patterns that recur in history, again and again. His ultimate model for this was no doubt the disgrace and pillorying of the Irish politician Parnell, whose movement for national independence was undone by a romantic indiscretion.
But is this pattern really so central, as to deserve a place of privilege in one of the finest novels ever written? All I can say is that since reading the book, I have become aware of precisely this same pattern occurring over and over and over again. Rumor of the event spreads far and wide, and people organize into camps, although no one is precisely sure what occurred. But it was rotten, that’s for sure.
And maybe it was rotten, but there’s a part of myself that increasingly believes that if HCE deserves it, then we all deserve it. And of course, “HCE” stands, among other things, for “Here Comes Everybody.”
Oho, oho Mester Begge, you’re about to be bagged in the bog again. Bugge. But softsies seuf-sighed: Eheu, for gassies! But, lo! lo! by the threnning gods, human, erring and condonable, what statutes of our kuo, who is the messchef be our kuang, ashu ashure there, the unforgettable treeshade looms up behind the jostling judgements of those, as all should owe, malrecapturable days.