“And he war” from a letter to Jaques Derrida

Jaques Derrida has a discussion of “And he war” on 258.11
“And shall not Babel be with Lebab? And he war.”
[ “Two Words for Joyce” (“Deux Mots pour Joyce” 1982, paper at the Centre Pompidou, in Les Cahiers de l’Herne), trans. Geoff Bennington, in Derek Attridge and Daniel Ferrer, eds., Post-Structuralist Joyce pp.145-158.]

Derrida argues that since the two languages involved are not capable of being fully unified (or pronounceable at the same time) the book is inherently pluralistic and indeed cannot be ‘unified’.

But Joyce did not spend sixteen years writing Finnegans Wake just to
illustrate a theory of writing. Even as he wars on language and reading,
he constantly opposes the abstract process with the unities and subtleties of (linguistic) history.
Thus the “he war” which Derrida discusses (258.12), read as ‘he was/he were’ and ‘he wars/war’, is not merely a compression of two (and more) languages in one word.
“War” read as ‘was/were’ is not just German as Derrida credits it. It has a
route into English through Danish:
The OED source for _war_ as ‘were’ is the Cursor Mundi (1599) a Northumbrian (Danelaw) poem:

“Though(‘Dthorn ou’) he war wrath it was na wrang”.

Modern loss of the subjunctive leads to the reading ‘was’.

Joyce uses it in a strong assertion –
“And he war”.
But undermined by the lurking subjunctive (for Joyce knew his OED) Read as ‘And he WAS.’ it suggests a Danish overlay.

“He war” also appears – in the negative indicative – in Huckleberry Finn. (white dial. Arkansas-subjct Pron. ‘he’ p.198 Harper’s Modern Classics, 1931- but also throughout the book – sometimes in if clauses and ‘fanciful’ contexts.
“She said she warn’t ashamed of me.”
“I doan k’yer what de widder say, he WARN’T no wise man nuther.” (Capitals in the original)
” I looked all around; he warn’t anywhere.”
and so on.

. So “he war” not only compresses languages but the meanings can be opposed inside English itself.
And can be read aloud with both meanings in English.

But that this is a “unification” into English is not so clear, for Danish
imposed itself on English by INVASION or ‘war’ (giving English much of its character, a fact which English linguistic history has tried to minimize).

Joyce’s technique of relating LAYERS of language in the readings of single or related bits has not been sufficiently noted (it is fundamental to the way he uses Creole languages). His sensitivity to the conflict inherent in the foundation of apparently “unified” cultural objects and nationalities is historical as well as philosophical.

Later discussion of ‘war’ and ‘were’ has shown some passages to clearly
play between the two meanings of ‘was’ and ‘war’.

348.24 up the palposes of
348.25 womth and wamth, we war, and the charme of their lyse brocade.
348.26 For lispias harth a burm in eye but whem it bames fire norone
348.27 screeneth. Hulp, hulp, huzzars! Raise ras tryracy! Freetime’s
348.28 free! Up Lancesters! Anathem!

The themes here of sexual presence – we WERE up the palpooses –
and of sexual, slavery and other WARS are all part of the reading.
“Raise ras tryracy!” uses West Indian ras ‘ass’ (used three times on this page alone) and suggests that we should try a “racy” reading.
But also, by bringing in West Indian language and talking about “Freetime” suggests that “we” are also struggling about race and slavery.

As Joyce told Max Eastman – when morning comes I’ll ‘give them back their English language’ (with the many meanings in that phrase also relevant).

The passage Derrida started with contains references (not irrelevant) to Babel – and to Lebab which is not just Babel backwards but is Hebrew – as we are informed by “The Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon”
for # inner man, mind, will, heart, soul, understanding
1. inner part, midst
1. midst (of things)
2. heart (of man)
3. soul, heart (of man)
4. mind, knowledge, thinking, reflection, memory
5. inclination, resolution, determination (of will)
6. conscience
7. heart (of moral character)
8. as seat of appetites
9. as seat of emotions and passions 1a
# as seat of courage

Which suggests that Babel – multiplicity of language – is not just an irreconcilable conflict of reading but has something to do with the heart of the inner man.

(The whole question of unification and differences is discussed in philosophical and religious contexts – more general than I am dealing with here – by Terrence Ritchie in a number of contributions dealing with “materia prima”.

Karl Reisman

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