A ReaWakening "Paterson" as a Recasting of "Finnegans Wake"

Michelle McSwiggan Kelly, Fordham University


A ReaWakening is the first detailed study of William Carlos Williams's reinvention of Joyce's Finnegans Wake in his own masterpiece, Paterson. Until now Williams's proclamations of the importance of the local have persuaded critics to focus primarily on American intertexts, but my study suggests that Paterson is farther-reaching. In the introduction, What Common Language to Unravel, I establish Williams's admiration for Joyce's work and outline Paterson's many clear allusions to the Wake. I argue, however, that the intertextual relationship between Paterson and Finnegans Wake penetrates much further than these allusions: Paterson continually gestures toward and reframes the Wake's structure and linguistic innovations. Williams's adaptations of the Wake constitute aesthetic responses to the Second World War, the dawning of the nuclear age, and the Holocaust. In this way, Williams's recasting of the Wake is a microcosm of the shift from modernism to postmodernism. A ReaWakening's organization follows the five-book structure of Paterson, and I introduce sections of Finnegans Wake that correspond to Williams's poem.^ The first chapter, Delineaments of Giants, is a comparative study of The Wake's and Paterson's characters. Critics have noticed that both Paterson and Finnegans Wake employ a man/city protagonist. However, even critics accomplished as Fredric Jameson abandon their comparisons of the two texts here and overlook the meaningful intertextual relationship that likenesses between Joyce's and Williams's anthropomorphized giants reveal. I begin my excavation of the overlapping layers of the texts by embarking on a detailed comparison of Paterson's and the Wake's characters—not only the men/cites, but also the women and children. Their convergences and divergences are part of a larger aesthetic pattern of enmeshed but unraveling elements rooted in the writers' responses to their disparate historical and political climates.^ Building on the first chapter's delineation of the texts' narrative structures, Sunday in the Park explores narratives of sex in the public parks of Finnegans Wake and Paterson. Each story of public, but supervised, sex responds to government control of even the most intimate interactions. HCE's "fall" is described as an ambiguous sexual encounter in Phoenix Park with two young women, or men. The accusations that precipitate his fall in the face of a repressive legal system mirror those deployed against Charles Stewart Parnell and Oscar Wilde, both of whom surface frequently throughout the narrator's recountings of HCE's fall. The parodically tragic tale of public sex and voyeurism sets up the necessary fall of the patriarch so that the new generation may rise, replace him, and restart the cycle of falling and rising. In contrast, the park-goers of Paterson are fallen citizens of a postlapsarian city. The public sex that takes place in Great Falls Park is not an element within a narrative cycle, but rather the representation of another blockage. Williams depicts a deprecated language of sex, in which the verbal signification of sex and the act itself are both mediated through economic metaphors. The couple in Great Falls Park does not experience a "fall" through unsanctioned sex, but their inability to perform a complete sexual act signifies that they are already fallen.^ Of Fell Design, the third chapter, explains how Joyce's and Williams's narratives effect urban structures in each of their textual cities. The structure of each text corresponds to both the city that it represents and its author's vision of history. I argue that the repeating generational risings and fallings constitute a series of "vertical cycles" that are cofunctional with Wake's "horizontal" cycles of recirculation. These vertical cycles resemble the rising and falling of towers, both modern skyscrapers and their medieval predecessors, over the evolution of a city.^ I more fully explore the silencing of women in Finnegans Wake and Paterson—a topic about which critics themselves have remained silent—in the fourth chapter, Buried the Page. While ALP's famous "feminine" language has been widely discussed and hotly debated over the past half-century, critics have overlooked evidence of her silencing in her soliloquy. Unlike previous feminist critics who have claimed ALP's soliloquy as écriture feminine, I use William Labov's work on gendered speech patterns in Principles of Linguistic Change as a theoretical scaffolding for my argument that Joyce mimics women's speech patterns in the final soliloquy. I then demonstrate how ALP's silences in the Wake correspond to the historical silencing of women in early-twentieth-century Europe.^ Despite the unlikelihood of spring after a nuclear winter, or a poet's vision of renewal resurfacing after the horrors of the War, spring does return, as does a Wakean vision of renewal in the fifth Book of Paterson. In the fifth chapter, The ReaWakening, I discuss the incongruity of Williams's renewed optimism against a mid-century backdrop. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)^

Subject Area

Literature, Modern|Literature, American|Literature, English

Recommended Citation

McSwiggan Kelly, Michelle, "A ReaWakening "Paterson" as a Recasting of "Finnegans Wake"" (2013). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3600026.