<= 2020.01.22

Mortal June

This resurrection happened at the tomb, where the various kits and jars containing the organs of the dead man where collected together beneath the funeral couch…. At some time in this period of mourning at the tomb, apparently, just as the funeral ceremony properly began, the inert soul in Amenti stirred dimly, assumed a spectre’s consciousness, and began to move, Osiris-like, towards resurrection. In Joyce’s book of the dead, much the same kind of feeble stirring occurs to the man “tropped head” in the night’s “seemetery” just after the Wake, and his wake, begin:

So may the priest of seven worms and scalding tayboil, Papa Vestray, come never anear you as your hair grows wheater beside the Liffey that’s in Heaven! Hep, hep, hurrah there! Hero! Seven times thereto we salute you! The whole bag of kits, falconplumes and jackboots incloted, is where you flung them that time. Your heart is in the system of the Shewolf and your crested head is in the tropic of Copricapron. Your feet are in the cloister of Virgo. Your olala is in the region of sahuls. And that’s ashore as you were born. Your shuck tick’s swell. And that there texas is tow linen. The loamsome roam to Laffayette is ended. Drop in your tracks, babe! Be not unrested! The headboddylwatcher of the chempel of Isid, Totumcalmum, saith: I know thee, metherjar, I know thee, salvation boat. For we have performed upon thee, thou abramanation, who comest ever without being invoked, whose coming is unknown, all the things… concerning thee in the matter of the work of thy tombing. Howe of the shipmen, steep wall! (26.6-24)

As always at the Wake, it is worth asking whose “eyewitness foggus” we share here: that of a body at its wake, or that of a body not awake? Every element in this passage helps to locate us at the unconscious interior of a corpse drifting darkly toward its resurrection in each of those three distinct regions of space that the Egyptians topologically equated: within the scattered ruins of its own body, within the next world, and within the world-encompassing body of Osiris….

This evocation of American idiom seems to have been Joyce's way of reinforcing the understanding that his hero, at this point in the Wake, has indeed passed into the next world, the other world, the “New World”… the Book of the Dead enables us to see how little contrivance there is in the imaginative transaction by which Joyce transforms America and comparable ends of the earth into ciphers representative of an other or “New World” like Amenti in the Wake. In the Irish experience of the last two centuries, as millions of countrymen left their loved ones and emigrated from their native earth, these places were regions into which neighbors and relatives disappeared forever. Many of Ireland’s emigrants, never again seen alive by their relatives of friends, may just as well have been dead…. Many of those people left behind on their native earth—no less than those who bemoaned the passage of the scribe Ani or the steward Nu into Amenti—must have found the passage of loved ones into the New World of “Amiracles” heartbreaking—as the self-exiled Joyce would well have known.

—John Bishop, Joyce’s Book of the Dark

I said, Rev. Bliss, brothers and sisters, that they snatched us out of the loins of Africa. I said that they took us from our mammies and pappies and from our sisters and brothers. I said that they scattered us around this land …

… And we, let’s count it again, brothers and sisters; let’s add it up. Eyeless, tongueless, drumless, danceless, songless, hornless, soundless, sightless, dayless, nightless, wrongless, rightless, motherless, fatherless—scattered.

Yes, Rev. Bliss, they scattered us around like seed …

… Like seed …

… Like seed, that’s been flung broadcast on unplowed ground …

Ho, chant it with me, my young brothers and sisters! Eyeless, tongueless, drumless, danceless, songless, hornless, soundless, sightless, wrongless, rightless, motherless, fatherless, brotherless, sisterless, powerless …

Amen! But though they took us like a great black giant that had been chopped up into little pieces and the pieces buried; though they deprived us of our heritage among strange scenes in strange weather; divided and divided and divided us again like a gambler shuffling and cutting a deck of cards; although we were ground down, smashed into little pieces, spat upon, stamped upon, cursed and buried, and our memory of Africa ground down into powder and blown on the winds of foggy forgetfulness …

… Amen, Daddy Hickman! Abused and without shoes, pounded down and ground like grains of sand on the shores of the sea …

… Amen! And God—Count it, Rev. Bliss …

… Left eyeless, earless, noseless, throatless, teethless, tongueless, handless, feetless, armless, wrongless, rightless, harmless, drumless, danceless, songless, hornless, soundless, sightless, wrongless, rightless, motherless, fatherless, sisterless, brotherless, plowless, muleless, foodless, mindless—and Godless, Rev. Hickman, did you say Godless?

… At first, Rev. Bliss, he said, his trombone entering his voice, broad, somber and noble. At first. Ah, but though divided and scattered, ground down and battered into the earth like a spike being pounded by a ten-pound sledge, we were on the ground and in the earth and the earth was red and black like the earth of Africa. And as we moldered underground we were mixed with this land. We liked it. It fitted us fine. It was in us and we were in it. And then—praise God—deep in the ground, deep in the womb of this land, we began to stir!

Praise God!

At last, Lord, at last.

Amen!

Oh the truth, Lord, it tastes so sweet!

What was it like then, Rev. Bliss? You read the scriptures, so tell us. Give us a word.

WE WERE LIKE THE VALLEY OF DRY BONES!

Amen. Like the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel’s dream. Hoooh! We lay scattered in the ground for a long dry season. And the winds blew and the sun blazed down and the rains came and went and we were dead. Lord, we were dead! Except … Except …

… Except what, Rev. Hickman?

Except for one nerve left from our ear …

Listen to him!

And one nerve in the soles of our feet …

… Just watch me point it out, brothers and sisters …

Amen, Bliss, you point it out … and one nerve left from the throat …

… From our throat—right here!

… Teeth …

… From our teeth, one from all thirty-two of them …

… Tongue …

… Tongueless …

… And another nerve left from our heart…

… Yes, from our heart …

… And another left from our eyes and one from our hands and arms and legs and another from our stones …

Amen, hold it right there, Rev. Bliss …

… All stirring in the ground …

… Amen, stirring, and right there in the midst of all our death and buriedness, the voice of God spoke down the Word …

… Crying Do! I said, Do! Crying Doooo—

—these dry bones live?

He said: Son of Man … under the ground, ha! Heatless beneath the roots of plants and trees … Son of Man, do …

I said, Do …

… I said Do, Son of Man, Doooooo!—

—these dry bones live?

—Ralph Ellison, Juneteenth

<= 2020.01.22

up (2020.06)

The Warm South
The Roof Rat Review