Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

Error and Testimony

Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

Error and Testimony

Article excerpt

"Will someone ... tell ...?"

To judge error in a Joyce text is to bring two conflicting proofs into account. One is documentary: the evidence of manuscripts or typescripts pre-existing the final text; the other is attestation: the oral evidence of spoken comments by characters or narrators within the text. The complications continue: the first is written, the second verbal, but appearing in written form (and presumed to be "transcribed" accurately). Documentary evidence and oral evidence are the two sides around which decision is rendered in all adjudication, and Joyce throughout his career has eagerly disrupted this precarious scale of balance, most often to challenge testimony and its questionable authority and reliability.

This conflict of Joycean document and testimony appears in an unlikely place, Wayne Booth's Rhetoric of Fiction. Booth discusses authorial silence in impersonal narration by the example of Joyce's polygamist crying "Brimgem young, bringem young, bringem young!" He then adds a footnote in which he seems to ask without pleasure, "will someone, by the way, [...] tell me whether that first 'm' in the first 'brimgem' is a typographical error? You don't know? Or care? We are in trouble, you and I."1 Booth makes an accusation of Joyce, a charge in absentia. Moreover, Booth calls for a witness, someone who will "tell" him what is authentic; apparently, without a trace of irony, he demands a different sort of rhetor, one that will testify to what is error by reference to a document.

The passage from which this line comes is itself already an answer to Booth's rhetorical question: the inquisition of Shaun in III. 3 about the document of the letter, gradually evolving into a testimony by HCE. Thus it presupposes all the values that Booth says it evades: a speaker (of a sort) in search of meaning, provided in a series of rhetorical assertions to a panel of judges. The line's questionable accuracy typographically seems to be figured by the context of Shaun' s apparent ventriloquizing of HCE' s dreaming, and then HCE speaking for himself, all in response to a series of interrogations by a number of unclear inquisitors and overhearers. Moreover, the claim, in sum, is one of generative potency and authority.

When Booth asks whether the line is a "typographical error," he raises the possibility of mistake - if only of a physical kind - but he asks a question that requires an appeal to origin or source, something anterior, the case of a manuscript from which the text was generated mechanically. So in order to consider error, beyond the accusation Booth intemperately raises, we must likewise work backwards through much of Joyce's career to consider notions of testimony and of authority: from the Wake 's account of HCE' s testimony of his questioned authority and power, to an interrogation of oral testimony in Ulysses of Bloom's questionable identity and generative power, and finally back to questions of fallibility and authority in Dubliners.

"Ouhr Former who erred in having"

The question Booth poses requires documentary evidence as to whether the letter "m" is a typographical error in a draft version, a sort of clerical error in the preparation of the documentary evidence that constitutes a text. On this the record is silent. As a manuscript III. 3 is "seriously textually corrupt"; it consists of unknown drafts, and appears in several volumes of transition; these subsequently underwent revision and expansion. The archive, however, lacks the actual pages in which the sentence in question appears. The galley proofs have the particular line unedited with the preceding sentence's "Mr" deleting a period (JJA 62:432). Pages 531 to 554 in the printed Wake are missing from the archival sections of transition (JJA 61:490-511); they appeared originally in transition 15.

The corrupted manuscript renders Booth's question moot, and so do the varied conflicting perspectives and approaches within the text. …

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