“None of your cumpohlstery English here”: Nightlessons, 270.29-271.29
Meeting: 8 December 2013
After Issy kicks up her skirt for the viewing pleasure (and algebraic assistance) of her brothers, the nightlessons moves into a discussion of history; the discussion is focused, as the right margin indicates at 270.29, on “Concomitance of courage, counsel and constancy. Ordination of Omen, onus, and obit. Distribution of danger, duty and destiny. Polar principles.” The margin indicates that history has a series of structural components, one of the most recognizable of which is represented in the challenge made to “Sire Jeallyous Seizer” by “the tryonforit of Oxtheivious, Lapidous, and Malthouse Anthemy” (271.3-6). The conflict between an older, male authority figure who is challenged by two and/or three younger usurpers is a building block which repeats both through FW itself and in the Wake’s depiction of historical events: the museyroom and the story of Wellingdone, HCE and his two/three sons, and “Gough” (God) who was challenged by the “glider that gladdened the girl” and her partner, Adam (271.26, 29).
In addition to invoking historical events (including the exile of Adam and Eve from Eden), the section also comments on the idea of writing/authorship/construction/conception, ideas that may help us unpack the following lines: “You may fail to see the lie of that layout, Suetonia, but the reflections that recur to me are that so long as beauty life is body love and so bright as Mutua of your mirror holds her candle to your caudle, lone lefthand likeless, sombring Autum of your Spring reck you not one spirit of anyseed whether trigemelimen cuddle his coddle or nope. She’ll confess it by her figure and she’ll deny it to your face.” Here the reflection is depicted as a kind of representation which has an inheren
t element of falseness (i.e. the “lefthand” and the right are mirror images, but one is sinister—or even sin-sister, we might say). Therefore, what is said (or reflected) is confessed and denied by the same means: the reflection both is and is not that which it reflects. The image of a woman confessing by her figure (as figure/face or physical body in general) recalls other women who have done so: the prank queen, Mary, etc. We can also read “figure” as figurative language, language that conceals meaning or truth so that the speaker has the option to say “that’s not what I meant”—to confess and deny simultaneously. Figurative language becomes fig(urative) leaves as the section transitions from an historical account to a prelapsarian account of the same historical building block in which an authority figure is challenged by two to three younger figures. The rhythm of “This is the House that Jack Built” underscores the lines “This is the glider that gladdened the girl that list to the wind that lifted the leaves that folded the fruit that hung on the tree that grew in the garden that Gough gave” further indicating that there is a structural element to the challenge presented by younger figures who have the power to deceive (and be deceived) by fig(urative) leaves (271.25-29).