‘Yawn's “bamboozelem mincethrill voice”: Blackface Minstrelsy in III.3’

Brian Fox

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For almost a decade the University of London's Finnegans Wake Research Seminar has met on a monthly basis to explore and debate the intricacies of the Third Watch of Shaun – a chapter which, despite its centrality in both narrative terms and the composition history, has not always received close attention. These papers, from the organisers and long-time participants, represent a small proportion of the research that these meetings have inspired. Wim Van Mierlo will talk about III.3's question-and-answer technique; a prominent device for Joyce. His aim is to examine the dynamics behind Joyce’s application of this technique in terms of how it is built up, and how it functions as a Wakean device for getting to the 'truth'. As with all instances of telling in the Wake, the interrogation doesn't get anywhere. Yet its approach to HCE’s 'sin' in Phoenix Park is no less crucial than any other account, not least because of what it tells us about Shaun’s 'psychology' and attitudes. The broader aims of his paper are to open up a discussion of what is meant by 'narrative' and 'psychology' in such an unconventionally novelistic work. Brian Fox will consider the presence of allusions to black and white minstrelry in the Wake, a motif that has implications for a number of the book's comic pairings. He will discuss a passage in III.3 in which the Four prompt Yawn to lay out the 'whole plan of campaign, in that bamboozelem mincethrill voice of yours' (515.27-8). Yawn, as 'Masta Bones' (515.32) and, a bit later, a 'tristy minstrel' (521.22), adopts a minstrel voice in order to recapitulate the alleged incident in Phoenix Park. Fox will argue that the 'minstrelisation' of this moment in the interrogation impacts upon previous chapters where Shem has been racialized in terms of his blackness. He will further suggest that several aspects of the minstrel show are relevant when appreciating the comic mishearings and rhetorical dodges of III.3 – Yawn's pointed inability to provide a straight answer to a 'straight question' (487.25). Finn Fordham will look at the textual representation of different accents in III.3, which is almost exclusively a chapter of dramatic polylogue and presents a rare occasion when Joyce uses 'literary dialect' to indicate accents and, occasionally, to code who's speaking. Wakean hermeneutics has tended to isolate the written word in providing illustrations of multiplicity and indeterminacy, but he will consider the impact on interpretation when we project accents onto the text. He will suggest that we should look at the spoken phrase in order to bring in a new dimension to the way we understand – and misunderstand – the Wake. Finally, Chrissie Van Mierlo will focus on passages in III.3 that are significantly altered/restored in Danis Rose and John O'Hanlon's recent edition. Of particular interest are moments when these interventions appear to alter the flow and logic of the dialogue, or to give a further hint as to who the speaker might be. This paper will explore the editorial rationale behind a handful of the most substantial changes, and posit some interpretative possibilities.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2014
EventA long the krommerun: the XXIV International James Joyce Symposium - Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands
Duration: 15 Jun 201420 Jun 2014


ConferenceA long the krommerun: the XXIV International James Joyce Symposium

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