GENETIC JOYCE STUDIES - Issue 8 (Spring 2008)
 

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James Joyce in Africa

An Expedition to the Sources of the Wake

 

Robbert-Jan Henkes

 

A quoi bon bouger quand on peut voyager si magnifiquement sur une chaise?

— Des Esseintes

 

In March and May 1924, while drafting the first version of Shaun, the chapters that would later become III.1 and 2 of Finnegans Wake, Joyce took two short word-hunting trips to Africa. Until recently, little was known about these missions, although there were some telltale hints in Joyce’s travel notebooks. But now the sources of these travel notes have been discovered. Both African expeditions were tracing the footprints of the Scottish-born missionary Dan Crawford (1870-1926). Crawford spent 33 years in the deepest parts of Africa, in the Katanga region, the huge, rich and heavily disputed borderland of what are now Zaire and Zambia, and he wrote two voluminous accounts of his travels and travails. He is an interesting figure and an unusual missionary, because, as his books show, while propagating the Good Word of the Gospel, he also tried to see things from the side of the unenlightened and as yet unsaved African population. For this commendable attitude, so rare among missionaries, he coined the word ‘thinking black’: missionaries and white people in general had to learn the special kind of logic and way of expressing themselves of the native populations if they wanted to understand them. ‘The negro has a right to be spoken to in his own language,’ is Crawford’s motto, as much a platitude now as it was an eye-opener then. Himself a self-taught and widely-read linguist, he practiced what he preached and he learned at least a dozen of the languages of the regions he travelled in, and he ended up translating the New Testament into Lunda. Because he was a linguist with a fine ear for language, he immediately discovered that the natives were not ‘primitive’ at all, but on the contrary smart and brainy  and highly accomplished users of language, not to be fooled by anyone. To every missionary argument they had their irrefutable counter-argument, steeped in their age-old culture. Crawford soon appreciated that the Word of God was not in direct demand. His mission post served mostly as a center of refuge in those stormy times, when the ‘scramble for Africa’ was in full swing and old empires were uprooted as a result of the pressure of the white powers, in the wake of the ‘Godites’, to bring the Bible and civilization (the precursors of peace and democracy). And civilization meant having to work for money, in order to pay taxes. In the words of Desmond Tutu: ‘When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.’

Crawford’s books are mostly collections, not recollections, gathered from notes he made on the spot. They describe his own wonders and doubts, and that is what made these memoires especially useful for prospective missionaries who wanted to find out about the kinds of people, the attitudes, customs and beliefs of the peoples they were trying to convert.

Joyce, on his word-safari, followed the itinerary of the two books of Crawford closely, and he brought home many specimens of ‘black thinking’, 103 from his first trip and another 75 from his second one. And from these specimens, a good many found a place in Finnegans Wake: 24 straight from the travel notes and another 21 via the transcription of the notes by Mme. Raphael in the 1930s, so you could say that the expeditions were fruitful.

To have a closer look at the kind of lexical material Joyce gathered, the best way is to follow Joyce’s two trails in the wake of Crawford, into the heart of Africa. On his first trek, in the last week of March, he traced the steps of Crawford’s second book, Back to the Long Grass, My Link with Livingstone, published in 1923, on the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Crawford’s famous predecessor in these parts, David Livingstone. From this expedition Joyce collected 103 specimens in the travel notebook Gem Thief (VI.B.1), in between the pages 147 and 157 and on page 162. Or, to be nitpickingly precise, the identified items can be found on 147(c)-148(j); 148(l)-149(g); 151(d)-(f); 151(h)-156(g); 156(i)-157(c); 162(e)-(k).

 

Crawford, frontispice of Back to the Long Grass.

 

Back to the Long Grass starts when Crawford returns to Africa after a four year leave. Now, apparently, his goal is to find the place where Livingstone died, and the tree under which his heart was buried. This is only apparently the case, because in reality Crawford and his wife made this trip from their post in Luanza on Lake Mweru to Ilala already in 1897, as is recounted in Crawford’s 1929 biography by his nephew, G.E. Tilsley. How the Crawfords finally reached the tree is told in the first of the four parts of the book, while the long hard road to the tree was the subject of parts 2 to 4. Joyce followed Crawford’s trail only until the middle of part 3, but even before he sets out, Joyce already intercepts two lexical units from the preface: ‘God gis gove’ and ‘tick of clock’. The first is an Africanism, Crawford apologizing for his ample use of alliteration, which he unconsciously took over from the Africans: “No African sees sense in writing ‘God is love’; by the Medo-Persic law of his language the opening consonant must open every other word in the sentence, thus: ‘God is love’ = “God gis gove,” and so on and so on, all alliterative and musical as a song.” The second unit is a Crawfordism about Livingstone: “There was murder all around him, and plenty of it—also the slavery he abhorred. But not even for one tick of the clock did Livingstone blink the fact that the truest evil in all the wide world is cold, creeping egotism, heartless selfishness.” This will be typical of Joyce’s collecting procedure and we will see that during the entire journey he will alternate specimens of African ways of saying with noteworthy expressions from Crawford’s hand. Also typical will be the circumstance that Joyce will finally put more of Crawford’s turns of phrase in the Wake than black sayings. How this came about, I hope to be able to explain in the conclusion.

 

On Our Way North

The journey North takes us from the train station in Elizabethville to Crawford’s mission post on the banks of Lake Mweru. Along the way Joyce gathers 18 items, mostly linguistic Africanisms. ‘Mr He Sleeps On Waves’ is Livingstone in the eyes of the natives. Livingstone was not only a missionary (although he converted only one person, who later rejected the Christian faith again), but he was also looking for the source of the Nile, believing it to be south of the equator. So Livingstone was constantly splashing about in a boat, hoping to find the hidden source, so clearly but imaginatively drawn on 17th century maps, until he crossed the ‘r[iver] of lastness’, the African way of saying ‘last river’. Crawford spoils the suspense somewhat by explaining how he finally, after a long and hard journey, reached the tree under which Livingstone’s heart was buried. He found the tree with Livingstone’s name carved in it, and the date and place, with the characters grown and deformed over the years. Trees in Africa that have words carved into them are called ‘talking trees’, as Joyce notes. This lexical specimen made it into the text of Finnegans Wake (but only in the 1930s) ‘Talkingtree and sinningstone stay on either hand.’ (FW III.3, 564.30-31)

 

The inscription in the ‘talking tree’ and the fence built by Mr. and Mrs. Crawford.

 

Interesting are the specimens that Joyce missed on his word-hunt. You would have half expected him to jot down the words ‘hoity-toity’ or ‘Mr. Four Eyes’, as the natives called the King of the Belgians when he visited the place. On the other hand, Joyce sometimes catches his prey later. In the preface, Crawford mentions in passing the African idiom for a diary, ‘himself to him’ and though Joyce was too late to catch it here, he does so on the journey South. Likewise he misses the first mention of Livingstone’s last words, ‘How many days to the Luapula?’, but he will be more successful later on. The fine observation that ‘night blots out the world to reveal a universe’ is mentioned twice in Back to the Long Grass, but Joyce nets this item only when he comes across the phrase in Thinking Black, two months later.

Even more interesting are the hidden specimens, words and phrases that he didn’t catch, but that are nonetheless reminiscent of Wakean themes and motives. Within one page of the preface Joyce was able to find the end and the beginning of his book-to-be, when Crawford tells about Livingstone’s ‘last, lorn writing’ (his Last Journals, or ‘himself to him’) and about the never-reached destination of Livingstone’s last words, the Luapula river, which Crawford calls the ‘black, riverine artery that cut off his route’. This experience, an utterly unsubstantiated conviction of having found a word or a phrase that Joyce used in Finnegans Wake, may be a common experience for all Wakean source hunters.

 

The banks of Lake Mweru, with Joyce just behind the promontory.

 

On Our Way South

Here the real journey began. Joyce traveled through barely charted territory, gathering, in the Kingdom of Kazembe, 63 lexical specimens in his travelogue. Kazembe was a King who preferred to use the plural, ‘the Messrs. Kazembe’. He also refused to shake hands: he wanted the visitor to kowtow. By the time Joyce came by, he was already very old and numb on account of his hemp-smoking habits, which the natives called ‘drinking the shameful’. But he remained hospitable and true to the age-old custom that visitors to his Royal Highness may take home the leopard skin rug that the King offered them to sit on during their visit.

Here Joyce started to use the names of the protagonists of his new work for his sightings. He saw in Kazembe the ‘Messrs Earwicker’, and Kazembe’s hospitality was transferred to the original owner of Finn’s Hotel: ‘Finn gives them furniture / as keepsake’. eats, like Kazembe, under a veil, while being ritually cursed by his priests, and he is not allowed to bite, he has to swallow his food according to ‘the python method’. Joyce also spotted Anna Livia in Kazembe’s kingdom, when Crawford eloquently defended the pluck, good sense and courtesy of black women: “Fancy a mother so anxious to say ‘please’ to her child that she calls him ‘Father’ as an equivalent for ‘please,’ then puts it all in the subjunctive mood to soften off her maternal request for some small service he renders her.” Joyce immediately jotted this down in the travel diary as: ‘ calls child father / = please / speaks in subj / apology’. When Joyce worked out his notes, back in Paris, the last ones ended up, partly at least, on Finnegans Wake 85.17-19 as ‘being praisegood thankfully for the wrathbereaved ringdove and the fearstung boaconstrictor and all the more right jollywell pleased, which he was, at having other people’s weather.’

Shaun has a sighting as ‘country mouse’ and the same goes for Sackerson, the servant, the (future) eternal naysayer and enemy of the house. On FW 186.19 he will be called  ‘Sistersen’, and the name derives from a diatribe of a princess to her polygamic brother the King. Crawford mentioned it as a typical example of black-thinking topsey-turvy logic: the princess proves that a ‘mere King’s son’ is a nobody, because a king can have sons with anybody, even a slave, while a princess can only marry an aristocrat, and therefore, she concludes, the King’s ‘sister’s son’ is the truest ‘blue-blood black’ in the country.

Tracing Joyce’s footsteps in darkest Africa, we see his ideas evolve and gestate. One of the most potent of these is the germinal idea for the continuation of the Shaun episode he was drafting. After a relatively long period of enforced idleness, on account of his deteriorating eyesight, he only started writing the second Shaun episode in December 1924. While on holiday in Brittanny in the summer of 1924, he was racking his brain how to do it. The turning point was a book by Hester Travers Smith with ‘psychic messages’ of Oscar Wilde from beyond the grave. This supplied Joyce with the basic idea for III.3, voices speaking through a sleeping Yawn. But maybe the real seedling for that particular break­through was already sown here. Consider the following.

Joyce notes, in travel notebook Gem Thief (B.1) 152(k-l), as transcribed by the editors of the Brepols edition ‘^++^ letter written to self / = diary / [R]od talking to —’

The first entry derives from Back to the Long Grass, p.115: “‘He is writing a letter to himself’ is the native boy’s discrimination between the daily jottings his master makes in his Diary and the other letters he sends off per post.” But what is ‘Rod’? A disfigured ‘God’? There is a talking God on the next page of Back to the Long Gras, where Crawford cites Stanley about Living­stone: “Here is a man who is manifestly sustained as well as guided by influences from Heaven. The Holy Spirit dwells in him: God speaks through him.” It is slightly out of sequence, because ‘talk sun up’ derives from the previous page. Plus, Joyce rarely wrote God in full, but almost always abbreviates the name to ‘G’; morever, ‘speaking through’ is not the same as ‘speaking to’. Nonetheless, the letter could be a ‘G’, but on the other hand Joyce could also be rephrasing the notion that keeping a diary was ‘writing a letter to self’, expanding it to see what it would be if somebody was not only writing but talking to himself. In that case the first sign is decipherable (and even without too much strain) as an imperfectly drawn Shaun-sign, possibly as a result of the pencil slipping, or the notebook giving way under the pressure of the pencil, as is wont to happen. If we read it then as a , the next two letters, instead of ‘od’, suddenly start looking a lot like ‘ad’: “ad talking to —”. And this reading makes sense, as a very early conceptual note for the next episode to be drafted, III.3, Yawn. Very early? Or too early? Danis Rose, in his Textual Diaries (p.82) states that the abbreviation and a letter from a to d was first thought of in June-July 1925, in notebook SS Zulu (VI.B.9), with the first instance on page 145, c. But look at the facsimile again. The ‘t’ of ‘talking’ has two strikethroughs. The upper one is the usual Joycean t-bar, but the lower looks more like one of the divider signs Joyce often employs between notes. That could mean that not only the Shem-sign is a later addition, but that the entire next note is an extension of Joyce’s original Crawford note. This would show that it is here that Joyce stumbled upon the basic working hypothesis for III.3, although the precise dating of this particular note becomes problematic. Digression closed.

 

Joyce (left) meets Crawford in the long grass (photograph by P.B. Last).

 

Turning back

On the third and last part of the journey Joyce collected 19 more specimens, showing the same alternation of African sayings with particularities of Crawford’s own language. There are sightings of cannibals, Crawford reminding us that cannibalism is not an exclusively African custom: “We read out to the camp from a Pauline Epistle this morning, yet who were the reputed cannibals of Paul’s day if not our own kith and kin? St. Jerome is a good enough witness on this human-beef business: ‘When I was a boy in Gaul,’ says he, ‘I beheld the Scots, a people living in Britain, eating human flesh; and although there were plenty of cattle and sheep at their disposal, yet they would prefer a ham of the herdsman or a slice of female breast.’” Joyce writes this down on p.154 of his travelogue in idiosyncratic Latin/English ‘S. Jerome / Scoti edunt mammellas / femur herdsman’. Crawford provides another link with the homeland when he makes a joke about the Irish: “Gordon knew as much of Arabic as the Irishman did of the page of Hebrew: a bit of a musician, Patrick, in answer to the question whether he could read some Hebrew characters they showed him, said ‘Read it? Shure, and I could play it!’ Joyce could use his travel note ‘Irish cd play Hebr—’ in the Quizztionnaire chapter I.6 as ‘hebrew set to himmeltones’ (FW 138.01). The last specimen from this journey that Joyce used in Finnegans Wake is the native’s fear of being photographed: a photographer is called a ‘shadow-stealer’. Joyce hoards this word and uses it (through the C-notebook) on FW 560.23: ‘The Porters, so to speak, after their shadowstealers in the newsbaggers, are very nice people, are they not?’

On page 220 of Back to the Long Grass, just before the almost impenetrable marshes of Lake Bangweula, Joyce decides to turn back, leaving another 153 pages unread, uncharted, and as blank as the map. By the beginning of April Joyce was back again in Paris, with 103 lexical units in his word-bag, but he wouldn’t stay long. In the middle of May he decided to follow Crawford’s first trail as well. So let us put on our boots and sharpen our walking sticks.

 

James Joyce’s itineraries in the basin of the Upper Congo, March (blue, from Elisabethville to Lake Mweru and then to, but not reaching Ilala) and May (red, from Chisamba to Lake Mweru) 1924.

 

The “boring” of Africa

In 1912, just in time for the 1913 Livingstone anniversary, Thinking Black: 22 Years without a Break in the Long Grass of Central Africa, was published and it became an instant bestseller, selling many thousands of copies. Probably Joyce ordered both books at the same time through his personal abebooks-dot-confidante, Sylvia Beach. The second book arrived first (it had just been published) and the first two months later. As soon as Thinking Black arrived, Joyce set out on his second lexical expedition, in such a hurry that he skipped a great part of the first leg of the journey just to catch up with Crawford. He rushed from the Portuguese port of Benguela straight along the slave track to the town of Chisamba in the land of Bihe, the ‘door to the Interior of Africa,’ in front of which Crawford had to wait for a year before he could go further.

From this expedition, Joyce took home a total of 76 lexical specimens, 15 of which he used directly from his travel notes and another 16 from the 1930s transcription of the unused notes. The Thinking Black specimens are locatable in notebook Honestly (VI.B.16) 139(c)-(f); 142(a)-143(i); 143(k)-144(c); 144(e)-145(b); 145(j)-(q); 145(s); 146(c)-(e), and in the next notebook Owldeed (VI.B.5) 001(a)-(f); 002(c); 002(e)-003(g); 005(g)-(i); 005(k)-(m), and 006(e).

In the scorching hot town of Chisambe Joyce collected six units, a mixed bag of Africanisms and Crawfordisms, as had been the case during the previous expedition. The phrase ‘who was he, if not’ is a clear Crawfordism, while ‘wants his calico back’ refers to the African common currency, being measurements of calico cloth. In Lubaland a goat cost four yards of calico, and a woman-slave was also sold for four yards, ergo, chief Kavovo concluded, a goat = a woman. Crawford: “As usual, he does not want his calico back, he wants payment, not in cash but in kind, and that kind the best kind, yea, the human kind.” Joyce used this item in December of this year, 1924, when he was redrafting III.3, Yawn, and he was obscuring and ‘adding shadows’ in the best Mallarméan sense, to the psychic retelling of Battery at the Gate and the incident with Herr Betreffender of I.3. The first draft ran: “– Faith then, first he wanted a match.’ Using his Bihe material, Joyce changed this into: “– Faith then, first he wanted his calico back.” Which is already fairly fishy, but still crystal-clear compared to the final mudthick: “Ump pyre and, half hang me, sirr, if he wasn’t wanting his calicub body back before he’d to take his life or so save his life.”

‘Boring in farther’ (crossing the continent was called ‘boring’) on the Garenganze trail to Emperor Mushidi’s lands, Crawford noticed for the first time the difficulty of converting the black thinking black man. On asking whether a dying man had made his peace with God, the reply was, ‘Why? I never quarreled with him.’ Crawford writes about the strange custom of treating twins the same in good and bad: when one has committed a crime, they must be beaten in pairs. Joyce is standing by and notes, reverting to his home-spoken Italian (correi = accomplices): ‘twins correi / beat / Shemashaun’. These specimens remain lingering in his subconscious but ‘Shema­shaun’—together with the slightly earlier note on 090(b) ‘2 in 1 man ’— is a major step on the way to the fused twin-figure , who will see the real light of day at the end of November of this year, in notebook Prairies B.14.197(f) ‘ you villain’ and 198(g) ‘ bilingual’.

Some days later on the long, weary trail, Joyce witnessed an incongruous piece of Western civilization, a red army coat on the shoulders of a black man. In Crawford’s amused description: “Rob is dressed in his Sunday best for the occasion, to wit, an utterly abominable soldier’s uniform, probably now entering its teens. Fat and fifty, our friend is obviously bursting for relief, for the rag-shop red coat is giving him a claret-coloured face. With every button straining at its fastenings, observe how the tight-unto-choking collar makes his oxe-neck overflow in waves of fat.” Joyce sees Shaunish potential in the combination and simply jots down ‘ red coat’, words that will pass into Finnegans Wake through the Raphael transcription and will end up as a footnote in the Night Lessons chapter, FW 264F3: ‘Porphyrious Olbion, redcoatliar, we were always wholly rose marines on our side every time.’ The draughtsman appended to the expedition, the Belgian Georges Rémi, has left us a vivid image of the scene (see picture).

 

Mushidi

The tyrant Mushidi (also known as Msidi or Msiri) ruled over a vast territory in what is now called Katanga. He reigned with terror and by the indiscriminate putting to death of potential enemies and suspected delinquents. Crawford seriously recommends the Western reader to think of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, whose eternal order was ‘Off with their heads’, only not funny. Being a King in Africa was having ‘death-power’, and Mushidi wielded it freely. He had between 500 and 700 wives and his pride was a white wife, the daughter of a Portuguese slaver. But Mushidi’s empire was on the wane. His borderlands were raided by Arab slavers, and Belgian and English freebooters were assailing his country, with ‘treaties’ to annex the land in the name of their governments. Crawford and his senior missionaries came to Mushidi in the hope of converting the King and thereby all his subjects. But Mushidi was much too sly to be taken in by the gospel. He was interested, however, in the medicine they brought along and he liked the prestige these white people brought to his court. In private, he called them ‘my white slaves’ and he entertained them well. Crawford and his fellows were forced to stay in the capital (a huge agglomeration of villages) for more than 13 months, in which Crawford at least learned to speak the language fluently. Mushidi’s end was tragic. When he was visited by an English annexing expedition, offering him calico and gunpowder if he would only sign on the dotted line, Mushidi was apparently advised by one of the English missionaries to read the treaty first, before allowing the English to plant their flag. This he did, and when he saw that he was to lose his land as well as his death-power, he flew into a rage and cancelled the ceremony. But it was already too late. The flag was planted at point-blank range, Mushidi fled, followed by the English and he was ‘accidentally’ shot by one of them. This story is not in Crawford, and only partly in his biographies, and was reconstructed only later from the available evidence.

 

With Mushidi dead and the Empire crumbling, Crawford fled, and after an arduous journey he arrived on the shore of Lake Mweru, where he set up the missionary headquarters he was to occupy for the rest of his life.

In Mushidi’s capital, Joyce made relatively few observations. He tried his hand at an Africanism himself, after hearing that the local natives call avarice ‘the big eye’. Joyce noted this and made the extension ‘1 way pocket’ – which can be called a Europeanised Africanism, as there were no pockets in darkest Africa, nor trousers.

Making his way through the jungle in the direction of Lake Mweru, Joyce was struck by the quantity of fruit on the trees. Not all fruit was edible, but how could you find out? Simple. Crawford: “A good old rule I find workable is the eating of any fruit nibbled at by the monkeys.’ After which Joyce noted stenographically: ‘what monkeys eat / Man’. The dense African forest by night was full of sounds, all intimately known to the native. Crawford: “For the hundreds of night-sounds — rustlings, twitterings, raspings, tinglings, and roarings — are all known to even Africa’s tot, the ears being called his ‘eyes of darkness.’” These two poetical observations both made it into the Wake. The night sounds appear in I.4 on FW 095.31, when the ‘fourbottle men’ are discussing how Anna Livia got lost in he woods, and the ear as the eye of the dark is now in I.1 on FW 014.29: ‘lift we our ears, eyes of the darkness from the tome of Liber Lividus’.

But beware. This is cannibal land too. Crawford had trouble convincing the man-eating tribes that one should not eat your fellow-man. On the contrary, was the retort, not to eat what you kill, that would be a sinful waste. There were also cannibals that dug up and ate buried corpses, as Crawford horrifyingly recounts: “These tomb-haunters are curious in one respect. They, too, sing a dirge of exhumation, a curiously perverse song like the perversity of their ‘owl-deed’ (sic). The idea in this dirge is a conciliating of the supposed dead man’s resentment at being so disturbed in his sleep of death. This dirge is uttered in the moonlight with a sepulchral whine, and runs—

       Va Jika mu Kanwa

       Panshi va tina Mwashi.

We rescue thee, O corpse, from the cold wet ground, and honour thee with mouth-interment.”

The ‘(sic)’ above is Crawford’s own, evidence of his ‘sic-ness’, however lighthearted he tries to be. The ‘owl-deed’ is the nightly perversity itself, but when Joyce uses his travel note, it has changed into a much blander ‘owld’ for ‘old’ (FW 331.19), a word that isn’t even unique in Finnegans Wake (see 230.03, 486.06 and 593.32). But the incorporated mouth-burial turns out to be just as haunting as it was in Africa, in the opening pages of the pub chapter, II.3, when the customers lift their glasses and quaff off the flowerwhite body: “But first, strongbowth, they would deal death to a drinking. Link of a leadder, dubble in it, slake your thirdst thoughts awake with it. Our svalves are svalves aroon! We rescue thee, O Baass, from the damp earth and honour thee. O Connibell, with mouth burial! So was done, neat and trig. Up draught and whet them!” Joyce obviously hadn’t forgotten the cannibal context, judging by the ‘O Connibell’, and ‘neat and trig’ is also a travel note, a Scottish Crawfordism, and in fact the pen-penultimate note of this trip.

 

Nearing the end

In Luanza the journey ended. Here it was time to say goodbye to the dark continent. And time to draw some conclusions, however hesitatingly and grudgingly. ‘La bêtise,’ Flaubert wrote, ‘consiste à vouloir conclure’ – and right he was, the conclusion must be.

Considering and pondering all Joyce’s African travel notes, I couldn’t help feeling that I was missing something. True, he used a lot of the specimens he collected, mostly in the Shaun chapters he was busy with, but still its seemed a bit meagre, a bit thin; ‘the thing’ (Honestly B.16.145a) was not in it. It was a mirage. It eluded me.

Because, let’s face it: why should Joyce want to go all the way to Africa to make a character study for Shaun? It seemed such a waste of time and trouble. Shaun isn’t black, is he? He is a wiseguy, a knowitall, a professor, and as the used notes show, the sometimes very professorial style of Crawford added more to fleshing out Shaun than the African customs and sayings Joyce obligingly took down in his travel notebooks. Joyce’s last travel notes are almost exclusively Crawfordisms: ‘neat & trig’, ‘stationary’, ‘business looking’, ‘ “eloquent”? PJT’, ‘skerm’, ‘offers battle’ — with hardly any African roots. But there are enough Shaunish professors outside of Africa. And what’s the use of traveling all the way to Africa when you can read such things easily and comfortably in your armchair?

Then it occurred to me that these travel notes may not have been intended for Shaun at all, they were meant to be, originally, for ... Shem, none other than the pitchblack inkbrother himself. But to make a case for this scenario, we’ll have to make a last little detour back in time.

 

Tunnels and Tattoos

In 1923 Joyce was working furiously. He could hardly keep up with himself. The episodes of Book I stumbled over one another. On October 17 he wrote to Harriet Weaver: “I want to get as many sketches done or get as many boring parties at work as possible before removal somewhere or anywhere after which I suppose I shall do the same again till I am hauled off to the eye clinic.” But in November the tunneling had taken another turn, when Joyce embarked on an extension of the original Earwicker sketch that would then mushroom into the Wake as we know it. In rapid succession, in no more than two months, November and December 1923, he drafted the first versions of I.3, I.4 and I.5 and in (early) January 1924 he embarked on I.7, Shem. The very first notes are an outline of the chapter, and they already contain the idea of Shem writing on his own body: “synthetic ink, foolscap, makes his own from dried dung sweetened with spittle (indelible ink) writes universal history on his own body.” (A First-Draft Version of Finnegans Wake, p.108)


These two thoughts, the ‘boring parties’ and the writing by way of tattooing, also figure in Crawford’s 1912 Thinking Black. The ‘boring of the continent’, as the travel from coast to coast was called, will recur in the 1922 sequel Back to the Long Grass, but in Thinking Black, when Crawford is nearing the East Coast, he writes: “But I cannot go back, so I must go forward—and what a goal, the linking up with our own English race from East! Any day something thrilling may happen, for coincidentally with our moving in from the Western Atlantic are they not also boring up here into the Interior from the Indian Ocean? The exact picture of this exciting thing is to be found in thinking of us as engaged in the excavation of a tunnel, and here we have at last reached the delirious point where we almost begin to hear the pickaxes of the excavators at work in the other side of the tunnel!”


More important is the basic Shemish self-mutilation of tattooing his own body with scribblings, so prominent in the self-portrait of the author of the Wake. Crawford recounts how keen Mushidi and his subjects were on writing. Scraps of paper are more valued than cloth. Because the white race is ‘ruled by paper’ (i.e. money): paper can buy even calico. In Mushidi’s capital every scrap of paper is seized and with Crawford’s borrowed pencil they scrawl on it in a curious imitation of writing, ‘the lines crossing and recrossing each other in a hopeless tangle’. Crawford compares it to the trail of a spider that has just crawled out of an inkstand and strolls across a sheet of paper. Writing is truly black magic for them:“This “black-art” notion of letter-writing has got such a cunning grip of the negro brain that even your own black boy will recall you on urgent business by scrawling a few lines of zigzag nonsense on a bare sheet of paper. The real message, of course, is verbal, but these magic lines of criss-cross could not be omitted. Is there any significance in the fact that the negro word “to write” is only the word “to tattoo,” and does he think that we tattoo on paper precisely as he does on his body? Even Mushidi, who does not believe in discretion being the better part of valour, has been known to scrawl one of these vainglorious cryptograms to his enemy in arms.”

Joyce may well have picked up this founding idea for Shem from a review of Crawford’s exploits. Crawford was in the news, as his long-awaited sequel to Thinking Black had just appeared in 1923. Joyce was so gripped by the African connection and the possibilities for his self-portrait as inkblack sheep, that he ordered Crawford’s books, or probably ordered Sylvia Beach to order them. But he was working at such breakneck speed that when the first one arrived, Back to the Long Grass, the moment had passed and Joyce had already moved on to the Shaun chapters. But not to worry. Joyce didn’t cancel his trips to Africa, but decided to make the best of it and to undertake the expeditions anyway, though now with professor Shaun in mind rather than his black twinbrother.

The question is: can we find any evidence that Joyce read such a review around the time that he was starting Shem? Did it leave any traces in the notebooks? When Joyce drafted and redrafted his Shem-chapter in the first month of 1924, he used material from the earlier notebooks Miracles (B.2), China (B.11) and Big Things (B.6). Miracles is dated by notebook scholars from the end of August to the end of September 1923, China from end of September to end of November 1923, and Big Things from January to February 1924. Danis Rose in his Textual Diaries infers the existence of a lost notebook, baptised VI.X.2, which Joyce must have filled in December 1923.

In the early drafts of the Shem chapter there are quite a few words and phrases with potential African-related sources. Some of them can be traced to the notebooks. For instance, in his third draft, Joyce changes ‘No force could tug him out’ into ‘Darkie never done tug that fellow out’. These changes derive from two items on China B.11.132, ‘he done forget’ and ‘darkies’. The phrase ‘whole continents rang’ was taken from Big Things B.6.042 ‘continents rang’ and the ‘Europasianised Afferyank’ comes from Big Things B.6.129(g). ‘Mr. Ham’ (the Africans are sometimes called by the missionaries the ‘children of Ham’) derives from Miracles B.2.123. But none of these notebook pages contain items that would point to a Crawford connection. (In Big Things B.6 there is an intriguing mention of a tattoo, on 059(k): ‘’s skin = tatoo or syph’, but as the item is not crossed out, the Wakean Sigerson is left unscarred by either tattoos or the marks of syphilis. And this item doesn’t seem to be derived from the review we are looking for either.)

So far for the items that can be traced to the notebooks. But the early Shem drafts also contain possible Crawford-related material that can’t be found in the notebooks. Joyce for instance changed ‘his brothers and sisters’ into ‘his brethren and sisters’ in what might be a reference to the ‘Plymouth Brethren’ that Crawford was a member of. He added the term of abuse for a black child ‘pickaninny’ as a children’s game in the same draft, as well as a phrase about Shem ‘moaning feebly that his punishment was more than a nigger man could bear’. The word ‘Messrs’ in the addition ‘Messrs the charitable government’ Joyce would for the second time hunt down during his African word-safari, as ‘Messrs Earwicker’ on Gem Thief B.01.149(g), but in this case he could have taken it from the ghost review under investigation. The same might be true for the compulsive alliterative phrase Joyce expanded in this draft about an unknown quarreler ‘who supposedly had been told off to shade & shoot shy Shem should the shit show his shiny nose out awhile to look facts into the face’. This is reminiscent of Crawford’s practice and his apology about it in the preface of Back to the Long Grass, and it could have been mentioned in a review as a characteristic of Crawford’s style.

None of these items can be located in the extant notebooks. I think we have to concur with Danis Rose that one notebook is missing here. This notebook could/should/would contain references to Crawford, but probably it won’t have the ‘boring parties’ reference, as Joyce mentioned this already in October of that year in his famous letter to Harriet Weaver.

 

Thinking Black would be the last book that Joyce read before his own eyesight went black and he had to stop reading and writing altogether for some time, awaiting his operation in June 1924. In the aftermath of the operation, Joyce went on holiday in Brittanny. Dr. Borsch forbade him to work, in order not to strain his eyes, so Joyce read, and Africa remained on his mind. One of the books he avoided straining his eyes with was a book by Maurice Delafosse about the negro soul, L’âme nègre, full of first-hand African tales, proverbs and fables. Again, the notes he took on this trip he used for what he was thinking about at that moment, and that was the continuation of the first Shaun chapters. This is a how Joyce worked. He looked for something, stumbled, and there it was. But what he had found, he did not necessarily put back in its place. He didn’t return to where he started looking. He just put it on the spot where he was then and there. In September 1926, when Joyce was on a holiday in Belgium, he wrote to Harriet Weaver that he was learning the language (Flemish, or a dialect of the Flemish, Dutch), and that he would use bits of it ‘for friend Sockerson’, he thought. But he didn’t do anything of the kind. He later in the year used the bits and pieces at the spot where he found them, in the chapter he was writing at the time, the first drafts of the opening chapter. Hence the Minnikin Passe, the brookcells, and the whole Waterloose Museyroom episode. The versatility and flexibility of Joyce in using what he came across never fail to amaze me and fill me with wonder.

 

 

Appendix

Joyce’s African travel notes as crossed out in the notebooks and therefore used in Finnegans Wake, listed thus: Finnegans Wake page and line; FW Chapter & Verse; B-notebook location; Location in Crawford (LG = Back to the Long Grass; TB = Thinking Black); Used through the 1930s C-notebook yes (x) or no (–)?

 

FW

Ch&V

Travel Note

Crawford

C?

014.29

I.1

B.16.145(q) ear = eye of the dark

TB 251

085.17-19

I.4

B.1.152(i) = please

LG 114

085.17-19

I.4

B.1.152(j) speaks in subj / apology

LG 114

085.18

I.4

B.16.144(n) snake bites out of fear

TB 252

095.31

I.4

B.16.146(d) night noises rustlings twittering raspin tingling scuttling

TB 251

138.01

I.6

B.1.156(j) Irish cd play Hebr—

LG 185

150.35

I.6

B.16.142(a) tin a pig’s squeal

TB 54

x

186.19

I.7

B.1.153(m) sisterson

LG 130

190.28-29

I.7

B.5.001(d) Walk backward & restore blades of grass to position

TB 350

260F2

II.2

B.1.152(e) drippy nipples

LG 107

x

264F2

II.2

B.16.144(f) red coat

TB 119

x

311.17

II.3

B.5.001(b) We rescue thee, O corpse, from the cold wet ground & honour thee with mouth burial

TB 337

x

311.19

II.3

B.5.005(l) neat & trig

TB 417

x

331.19

II.3

B.5.001(a) owldeed

TB 337

x

405.04

III.1

B.1.149(g) Messrs Earwicker

LG 99

410.16

III.1

B.1.153f) pig’s stomach affair = free will

LG 120

x

411.13#

III.1

B.16.143(c) I don’t drink or anything

TB 75

414.05

III.1

B.16.139(c) nephews

TB 44

426.32

III.2

B.16.139(f) who was he, if not,

TB 50

x

430.01-02

III.2

B.1.153(j) hedge school

LG 125

430.28

III.2

B.16.144(j) peel off

TB 135

431.12

III.2

B.16.143(e) a load on you

TB 75

433.27

III.2

B.16.144(m) coil of rope = snake

TB 314

x

434.22

III.2

B.5.003(a) holes tied together = lace

TB 363

435.13

III.2

B.16.144(k) equator (waist)

TB 158

x

435.13

III.2

B.16.145(b) a ramrod

TB 163

x

438.02

III.2

B.16.145(a) the thing

TB 161

439.19

III.2

B.16.144(h) postmortem invoice (C: ‘postmaster’)

TB 135

x

443.19-20

III.2

B.16.145(s) before his time

TB 217

457.22

III.2

B.1.147(d) tick of clock

LG 9

460.05

III.2

B.16.143(k) fragrant saint

TB 102

x

473.22

III.3

B.1.156(f) silent cock

LG 181

480.27-28

III.3

B.5.003(d) live with wolves & learn to howl

TB 384

507.07

III.3

B.16.142(i) socks outside boots

TB 72

x

516.15-16

III.3

B.16.139(d) wants his calico back

TB 46

520.36

III.3

B.16.142(g) labrose

TB 71

533.13-14

III.3

B.1.152(n) character what a man is in dark (Africa)

LG 117

551.25

III.4

B.16.145(l) wattle & daub

TB 215

553.02

III.3

B.1.154(j) country mouse

LG 150

560.23

III.4

B.1.157(c) shadow stealer = photographer

LG 198

x

564.30

III.4

B.1.149(b) talking tree Afr

LG 74

x

569.13

III.4

B.1.151(d) So many churches can’t hear own prayers

LG 101

x

?

?

B.1.152(h) calls child father

LG 114

?

?

B.16.139(e) gave lent colour to this statement

TB 48

x

?

?

B.16.142(b) night blots out world to reveal universe

TB 56

x

?

?

B.16.144(c) dog = lion

TB 115

x

 


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