A Gesture towards James Joyce

Clive James

My gesture towards Finnegans Wake is deliberate.

Ronald Bush, T. S. Eliot: A Study in Character and Style

The gesture towards Finnegans Wake was deliberate.
It was not accidental.
Years of training went into the gesture,
As W.C. Fields would practise a juggling routine
Until his eczema-prone hands bled in their kid gloves;
As Douglas Fairbanks Sr trimmed the legs of a table
Until, without apparent effort and from a standing start,
He could jump up onto it backwards;
Or as Gene Kelly danced an entire tracking shot over and over
Until the final knee-slide ended exactly in focus,
Loafers tucked pigeon-toed behind him,
Perfect smile exultant,
Hands thrown open saying ‘How about that?’

The gesture towards Finnegans Wake was deliberate.
Something so elaborate could not have been otherwise.
Though an academic gesture, it partook in its final form
Of the balletic arabesque,
With one leg held out extended to the rear
And the equiponderant forefinger pointing demonstratively
Like the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus,
Although fully, needless to say, clad.

The gesture towards Finnegans Wake was deliberate,
Its aim assisted by the position of the volume,
A 1957 printing in the yellow and orange wrapper
Propped on a sideboard and opened at page 164
So that the gesture might indicate a food-based conceit
About pudding the carp before doeuvre hors
The Joycean amalgam in its ludic essence,
Accessible to students and yet also evincing
The virtue of requiring a good deal of commentary
Before what looked simple even if capricious
Emerged as precise even if complex
And ultimately unfathomable.

The gesture towards Finnegans Wake was deliberate,
Being preceded by an ‘It is no accident, then’,
An exuberant ‘It is neither accidental nor surprising’
And at least two cases of ‘It is not for nothing that’,
These to adumbrate the eventual paroxysm
In the same way that a bouncer from Dennis Lillee
Has its overture of giant strides galumphing towards you
With the face both above and below the ridiculous moustache
Announcing by means of unmistakable grimaces
That what comes next is no mere spasm
But a premeditated attempt to knock your block off.

The gesture towards Finnegans Wake was deliberate
And so was my gesture with two fingers.
In America it would have been one finger only
But in Italy I might have employed both arms,
The left hand crossing to the tense right bicep
As my clenched fist jerked swiftly upwards –
The most deliberate of all gestures because most futile,
Defiantly conceding the lost battle.

The gesture towards Finnegans Wake was deliberate:
So much so that Joyce should have seen it coming
Even through the eye-patch of his last years.
He wrote a book full of nothing except writing
For people who can’t do anything but read,
And now their gestures clog the air around us.
He asked for it, and we got it.