Nightlanguage/Daylanguage

Reading through Ulysses and going very, very slowly through the Circe episode--sometimes presented as a play and called "Ulysses in Nighttown."  But, as I've noted before, Ulysses is ultimate a day book.  That is, nearly all of the action of the novel (with the possible exception of the last episode with Leopold and Stephen and Molly Bloom, takes place in daylight.  Admittedly by Nighttown we're approaching sunset, but given the time and the date 10:00 at night in high summer (near the longest day of the year) is still pretty bright.

Why do I go to such pains to make the point?  Well it is not original to me to refer to Finnegans Wake as Joyce's "book of night."  Nor, probably (not being a Joyce scholar I cannot say) to call Ulysses the "book of day."  What is interesting is that in this episode of Ulysses, Joyce begins to develop the nightlanguage that will show up in the Wake.  Just a sample:

from Ulysses
James Joyce

VIRAG (Head askew, arches his back and hunched wing- shoulders, peers at the moth out of blear bulged eyes, points a homing claw and cries.) Who's Ger Ger? Who's dear Gerald? O, I much fear he shall be most badly burned. Will some pleashe pershon not now impediment so catastrophics mit agitation of firstclass tablenumpkin? (He mews.) Luss puss puss puss! (He sighs, draws back and stares sideways down with dropping underjaw.) Well, well. He doth rest anon.

I'm a tiny tiny thing
Ever flying in the spring
Round and round a ringaring.
Long ago I was a king,
Now I do this kind of thing
On the wing, on the wing!
Bing!


[Virag is Leopold Bloom's grandfather.] 

In this case the nightlanguage is not the language of dreams, but the language of gradual (and progressively more phantasmagoric) intoxication.  There are examples splashed throughout the narrative, But words like "pleashe pershon" are not merely an imitation of drunken slurring, but also meaningful pormanteau words that can be unpacked in the context of the passage.  What might it mean--to start pleashe looks like it can be broken into "plea" and "she" but it also contains elements of pleasure.  And when one is in nighttown, one is both making a plea to she, and looking for pleasure.  There are probably embedded in that simple phrase multi-linguistic puns as well.  And, following the "rules" for interpreting the nightlanguage, it is possible contextually to support both of these reading of the single word.  (And I wonder about pershon--are we beginning to see the kernel of Shem and Shaun who both show up in the Wake?  So then, could this be read as "according to (per) Shaun/Shem" (shon)?)

This passage, among others, is one of the reasons I warn people that they need not at first glance understand everything they see in Ulysses.  You have to give yourself permission for an imperfect understanding.  Can I parse for you everything in this passage?  Not easily, and perhaps not at all.  But then, that is what the nightlanguage is all about--music and meaning that sits just below the glimmering surface of the words.   What for example is a firstclass tablenumpkin?  I'll work on it awhile, but I have to say that it doesn't really matter to the essence of what is going on in the episode.  For Leopold to be talking to his Grandfather is an interesting situation to say the least.

Nightlanguage is ultimately the language of music and of sound.  It makes a certain sense spoken aloud but eludes a complete analysis or pinning down of meaning, precisely because it has the meaning of dreams. Nevertheless, it isn't nonsense, even when it is difficult to understand.  But it also isn't necessary to rest in the word play.  The one thing necessary here is to read and move on capturing the phantasmagoria that is the visit to nighttown.

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