Episode I.7

A short paraphrase and guide to the episode

Prepared by Danis Rose

2010 edition FW pages 134-153
1939 edition FW pages 169-195


In the two sections comprising this episode, uncomplicated both in language and theme, Shaun/Abel discusses with acute prejudice his ape of a Negro twin brother, Shem/Cain. In the first section he speaks, or perhaps writes of him; in the second he abandons his quasi-biographical approach and speaks to him directly to accuse him of past crimes in seven specific categories. The episode ends with the fusion of the brothers—C and D into G—and the invocation of ALP.

I.7§1: Who is Shem?, 134 – 148.08 (169 – 187.23)

Within this first section there is a clear subdivision into two parts. The first, 134 - 139.25 (l69 – 176.18), deals with Shem's life up to the time of his forced retirement; the second, 139.26 - 148.08 (176.19 - 187.23), of his continued existence inside the cell into which he retires. Thus Shem's fortunes parallel Earwicker's as earlier described.

Shem is as short for Shemus as Jem is Joky for Jacob. Having explained how he came to be called Shem, Shaun starts off his biography of the artist-brother he openly detests with a few sketchy words about his origins. There are some, he admits, who pretend that Shem came from fairly respectable, clean-living ancestors but honesty compels him to say that everyone alive today knows perfectly well that the beggar's ‘back life will not stand been written about.’

As to what he looked like, it was more a get-up than an appearance.[142] And the grasshopper of a man was not long in realising it. Among the many bizarre features are the deformities that he had to learn to live: a head shaped like an adze; a numb arm; a few pathetic hairs sticking out of his upper lip and chin in an excuse for a beard; disproportionate shoulders; oversized ears; a fistful of thumbs; a ‘blind stomach, a deaf heart, a loose liver, two fifths of two buttocks’, cold fish's blood; a distended bladder; and, as if that was not enough, a half complement of testicles.

While still an infant playing with his siblings in the nursery, seeing himself even then for what he was, Shem posed them his famous riddle: When is a man not a man? He offered the first one to come up with the correct solution the prize of an apple. All the children tried to answer but all guessed wrongly. So greedy-guts Shem ate the prize himself, the correct answer being: When he is a sham![143]

Shem was a sham. So much so, he preferred the stale salmon that he shook out of a can to the plumpest roe-heavy lax or the ‘friskiest parr or smolt troutlet’ ever to have been gaffed out of Liffey water. He swore that no natural-grown jungle pineapple ever tasted as good as the bits he forked up out of a tin. And of course he ran a mile from red meat. He would not touch beefsteaks, mutton legs, gristle-sticky pigs' trotters or bosom of goose. Roast beef he particularly refused. He was in the meanness of his warped soul a long-term fish and vegetable eater. He even ran off and became a foreigner, saying that he would far sooner ‘muddle through the hash of lentils in Europe than meddle with Irrland's split little pea.’[144]

When he was over among the strangers, he once tried to lift the peel of a citron to his nose and hiccuped hopelessly as best he could (having trouble with his tongue) in his intoxication to the equally undistinguished, tanked-up entourage hanging around him that he could live for ever on the smell.

If his preferences in food were low, his predilection in drink was positively unwholesome. He would have none of the honest-to-goodness working man's brewed beers or whiskey or gin. Good grief, no! Instead, the ‘tragic jester’ drank himself sick of life on a repulsive yellow liquid squeezed from sour grape-juice, a potion he relished and swallowed till he could not swallow another drop.[145]

Talk about lowness! Shem was low right from the very first. Any amount of lowness ‘visibly oozed out thickly’ from the ‘little dirty blacking beetle.’ He was so low it was clear to all. When a young lady with a Kodak spotted the apostate, who was known to be as shy of cameras as of guns, taking what he mistook for a short cut to a fruiterer's in the city, she knew on the spot that the gypsy was a vile man merely merely from the way he walked.

Shem was never popular. On the contrary, it was hoped by everybody who met, knew or heard of him that he would quickly come to a premature end, be carried off by tuberculosis or do himself in. One night, persons trying to sleep in the immediate vicinity of Eden Quay in the metropolis heard over the teeming rain a coarse song being sung and then a loud splash and sighed as they turned over in their beds, sure that they had at last heard the last of him. But he got out of the muddy river somehow and into a public-house where he cabled to his brother for more cash: I'm broke, do something.[146] And had answer: Inconvenient, David.

Given his notoriety, it came as no surprise when one night he was the recipient of a vicious beating, being kicked through the rain-drenched lanes and boreens of Dublin by rival gangs of protagonists who had been detained out somewhat later than usual and who subsequently headed off and abandoned what was left of the godforsaken wretch where he lay without going to the bother of jack-booting him back home again. And to think — Shaun has to scoff here — that there once resided in some the foolish hope that others might take pity on the contemptible (hopefully after having roughed him up first) if he could just clear himself of lice. But the plebeian started out low and he kept sinking lower till he sank right out of sight.

Nobody was ever able to persuade the coon to come out and have fun with the other children and play innocent ‘non-excretory, anti-sexuous, misoxenetic, gaasy pure, flesh and blood games’ like Hat in a ring, Nixy's in the hole, Adam and ell, Humble-bumble, Moggie's on the wall, Two's and three's, American jump, Fox come out of your den, Broken bottles, Writing a letter to Punch, Postman's knock,Solomon silent reading, Appletree peartree, I know a washerwoman, Hospitals, As I was walking, Battle of Waterloo, Colours, Eggs in the bush, or any other game you care to mention.[147]

Shem was queer like that from the start and never changed. But he was to get the shock of his life. It happened one Sunday while a bloody rebellion was all the rage.[148] The scut was foolish enough to be caught out in it in his pyjamas and, terror uppermost, the spineless coward fled like a hare for his bare life back to his lair, the hissing and hooting and booing and jeering of the village belles ringing in his ears, without having given a first thought to striking a blow for either side. Once safely back in his inkbottle cell, he corked himself up tightly, crepitating with fright and bloated with booze.[149] After the strenuous exertion of barring his front door with an upended grand piano, he collapsed onto a mattress, pulled an old mackintosh belonging to a dead rebel over him, and shoved a hot-water bottle under his toes. There, moaning all the time under a sunbonnet and simultaneously swallowing from a large jorum of alcohol, he whimpered to himself that it was more than a bloke could bear, semi-paralysed as he was by the din going on outside, as his cheeks and trousers changed colour every time he heard a Gatling-gun crack or a gnat croak.

He kept out of the public gaze after that. Would anyone believe it! How was that for low! Why, whole continents rang with his lowness. At the bare mention of the cold fish, ladies everywhere exclaimed, Poisse! Yet no-one, no-one at all, ever held anything like the grand opinion of himself as did this monstrous mental and moral defective. He would even boast aloud to a private secretary he hung around with while drinking heavily in the Gypsy Bar, offering this congregation of one fourpence a month to just hear him out, that he knew of no other person either exactly unlike or precisely the same as what he took himself to be.

He was hated all right. Once when the profligate prodigal plucked up sufficient sheep's courage to go and fetch a telescope and peek through his key-hole to see for himself the state of affairs in the street outside he found himself staring down the smooth interior of a cylindrical revolver barrel in the cool hand of an assassin sent out to shoot him, should the shit stick his snout out.

After that shock to his system, he became a total recluse and hid out in his cell, where he quickly deteriorated into a drink and drug addict, a megalomaniac at a loose end. ‘It would have diverted’, Shaun writes, to have seen the psychopath in the murk and gloom of his den pretending to read in his eminently unreadable chapbook, drooling over every syllable he could make out, turning over three sheets at a time, telling himself that every splurge on the vellum he blundered over was a vision more gorgeous than the one before. He could see his future rise before him: a rose cottage by the sea for nothing for ever, as much ladies’ lingerie to hand as he desired, a sewer full of gold wine and ten-ounce oysters, standing room only in the theatre when under the wild admiration of the all-woman audience he would sing Dear Little Shamrock of Ireland infinitely better than that fellow McGucken for fully five minutes, with a cocked hat with a feather in it, a Spanish dagger at his ribs, a blue handkerchief in his blouse, and a dean's crosier he had won from a cardinal at the Derby. But the truth of the matter was that with the bad print and the state of the pages and his debilitation and the murk and the grime and the fog in his mind and his tics and his aches and his shakes the poor bugger was hard set to manage more than a word in a week.[150]

When Shem was younger, Shaun says, the skunk used to boast aloud that he was turfed out of all the best houses on account of the low way he smelled, objected to by scullery-maids who claimed it resembled the cloying stench that wells up out of a clogged drain. And instead of teaching those model householders formal handwriting, as he was paid to, he spent the whole time copying out all of their signatures so as one day to utter for his own personal profit a huge forged cheque (Finnegans Wake) but a delegation from a domestic servants' convention arrived and turfed him out of the place impromptu, passing remarks as they did so about the smell. But who can tell how many forged scripts slipped out before that in this morbid process from the nib of the plagiarist's pen?

Of course the slippery snot would never have been able to put pen to paper in the first place in the darkness of his den except for the glow from his drunkard's nose as it swayed within an inch of the page. By the light of that lamp he wrote. He wrote shamelessly about all the skeletons in everybody's cupboard, every contemptible crumb, trash about everybody he ever half-met. And around the margin of each filled sheet the ego-maniac scratched out endless inartistic fanciful portraits of himself as a handsome gallant with love-light in his eyes in a new suit and sporting a long ink-black moustache glistening with Vaseline and frangipane. Ha!

His cell, known locally as The Haunted Inkbottle, no number Brimstone Walk, was infested with rats.[151] A pen-name SHUT was etched in sepia on a doorplate and its one window was carefully and permanently covered with a drawn blind. Inside, the soul-contracted wretch daily groped through life at the public's expense, injected-into every half-hour by forty quacks, amid the pure filth of shored letters and postage stamps, mouse droppings, broken eggshells and unpaid bills, smut, spent matches and broken ornaments, cast-off shoes, ties and counterfeit currency, tacks and stones and quills, wine-glasses, tissue-paper and spilt ink, and ladies' garters — garters and more garters — self-exiled as he was, feeding on his own most grotesquely bloated ego, by night torn by horrors and by day terrorised to skin and bone by the motion of his own shadow on the wall as he wrote the mystery of himself in furniture.[152]

Of necessity he cooked for himself. He cooked eggs, more eggs, and still more eggs, in an athanor, an alchemist's self-feeding digesting furnace located in what was meant for a water-closet, for the constipated criminal's costive and Satanic chemical nature never had occasion to have normal recourse to such an alcove.

When he was finally forbidden access to candle or ruled stationary of any sort for any purpose at all, he was clever enough to manufacture his own ink and his own parchment for his own ends, without stirring from his cell, out of his own body's excrements.

The chemistry of the first part of Shem's operation, being too base for Shaun to say in English, is cited in Latin, the language of cardinals. Loosely translated, it goes like this:

In the beginning the master magician and arch-artificer pulled up his raincoat and dropped down his pants, stooped weeping and sighing to the fecund and pollent earth of his lair. With neither shame nor gentleness he evacuated into his cupped hands a turd which he christened Katharsis and in the same spot, invoking the twin brothers Medard and Godard, cheerfully and mellifluously pissed into a once-sacred chalice while chanting meanwhile in a loud voice the psalm which goeth, My tongue is the quill of a scribe that writeth swiftly[153]. From a compost of this dung and urine, intermingled, cooked and exposed to chill, he distilled an indelible ink.

Lacking paper on which to write, he resorted to the only foolscap at hand: his own skin, each fraction of every square inch of it. Hence slowly unfolded, on this organic integument, all universal history as he saw it, ‘transaccidentated through the slow fires of consciousness into a dividual chaos, perilous, potent, common to all flesh, human only, mortal.’ With each word the squid scrawled the true and naked self that the alchemist had long sought to screen from the light off day grew duller and duller, inkier and inkier, more sinister and graver, till at last the guard outside his door, a blond cop, thought he was pure ink. He was right.[154]

This policeman, Constable Sigurdsson, was the last person to see him, Shem, in the flesh.[155] It came about in this way. He was pounding his beat in the street outside Shem's cell, flat-footing it back and forth before the front door where he had been posted to prevent people mauling and lynching the low swine inside, when he spotted the human ink-blot gaining entry through a window. Sigurdsson noticed a wine-skin tucked under the apostate's arm as he was just bidding him the time of day, asking him how he did that day, the good man. Search me! the incapable replied as in he skittled. The poor guard was literally astonished at the capacity of the skin; but he was even more astounded when the human outcome of dung and dirt claimed that he was merely bringing home two gallons of porter for his mother!!

How much? What mother? Whose porter? Why merely? But Shaun is fed up to the back teeth and his intelligence has been insulted quite enough for one day, talking about Mister Shem the Penman's unspeakable, unslakable thirst.

I.7§2: Shem is accused, 148.09 – 153 (187.24 – 195)

Shaun, no longer satisfied with writing of Shem, now speaks directly to him. His address is structured around a number of improperia or charges:[156]

1. Hell 148.22–148.40 (188.08–188.27)
2. Progeny 149.01–149.31 (188.28–189.27)
3. Prophecy 149.32–150.06 (189.28–190.09)
4. Shirking 150.07–151.23 (190.10–192.04)
5. Sin 151.24–151.06 (192.05–192.32)
6. Doles 151.06–152.17 (192.34–193.08)
7. Mother 152.18–153 (l93.09–195)

In more detail, Shem is accused:
1. Of absence of belief, anarchism, vanity, and heresy: He was born into a Christian home, yet he grew up to be an agnostic. You have reared your disunited kingdom on the vacuum of your own most intensely doubtful soul. He will neither serve nor let serve, pray nor let pray.
2. Of leaving no natural-born issue by him on Irish soil:[157] He was well equipped sexually with a ‘selfraising syringe and twin feeders’ and the idea was that he should repopulate the land of his birth. Yet he thwarted the wish of his parents ‘among countless occasions of failing’ and added the morosity of his delectations to his other pleasures in life, increasing thereby the general unhappiness of the world. All this at a time when there were countless colleens vying for him to give them a plain gold band, a trifle he could have paid for with a song.
3. Of the performance of certain pagan acts of prophecy/divination: ‘Sniffer of carrion, premature gravedigger, resurrecter of lazers, seeker of the nest of evil in the bosom of a good word, you have cutely foretold, a jophet in your own absence, by blind poring upon your many scalds and burns and blisters, impetiginous sores and pustules death with every disaster, the dynamitisation of colleagues, the reducing of records to ashes ’ Though it never occurred to him in his obtuseness that the more unpredictable life becomes, the better it is.
4. Of shirking work: He was designed to perform a certain office in a certain place at and for a certain time from such and such an hour to such and such a date for so much per year and do his little bit for the nation and earn its grateful thanks right here at home where he first drew the breath of life but, slinking backwards, he beat it abroad ‘to sing us a song of alibi’, an emigrant in the wrong direction,[158]. You semisemitic serendipitist! You Europasianised Afferyank!
5. Of fratricide: He grew up alongside another, a pure one, one who was well known in heaven before ever he went there, a handsome young priest-to-be and self-willed celibate, the most winning leaf on the tree, a youth the angels wanted as a game-fellow, a good-looking lad without a flaw whose spirituality was the talk of the town each of the five times they daily kneeled to pray; but him you laid low because he cut a good figure in your spectacles to find out how his insides worked![159]
6. Of wastefulness, malingering, and scrounging: What has he done with all the baskets of stewed fruit, the dishfuls of cooked vegetables, the bags of coddle and eggs he wormed out of charitable kitchens by crying and howling how he suffered from chicken-pox and general malaise? Where are all his little apples locked up? Where is the proverbial nest-egg for a rainy day? Is it not a fact that he squandered among underlings the overload of his extravagance? Let him look up and take his medicine. And remember that silence means consent.
7. Of forswearing his mother: This seventh charge is the most irregular. At 152.22 (l93.l5) Shaun, whispering into his ear, exhorts Shem to behold his own face in a mirror and to acknowledge, as Shaun does, that he is mad. He ‘points the deathbone and the quick are still.’ Shem (‘Mercius’) now emerges, exclaiming: My fault! Speaking at last, he utters the self-same accusations as Shaun, thereby confessing to the charges of betrayal and cowardice. Pariah, cannibal Cain, I.

For all his faults, Shem has one defence. It is to him that ALP is to come, to him, the first-born, the black sheep, an unseen, unsought blusher in an obscene coal-hole, and it is through him that she will speak. For she is coming, the river of life, by bridges and by weirs, playing hide and seek with Dublin, by bog and bend, by hills and pools, ‘slipping sly by Sallynoggin, as happy as the day is wet, babbling, bubbling, chattering to herself, deloothering the fields on their elbows leaning with the sloothering slide of her, giddygaddy grannyma, gossipaceous Anna Livia.’

Shem lifts the lifewand and the dumb speak. The chapter closes with the sound of raindrops falling:

— Quoiquoiquoiquoiquoiquoiquoiq!