Columban Texts and Joyce’s ‘book of kills’ (FW 482.33): Insular Manuscripts and the Limits of Paleographic Expertise in Finnegans Wake.

Posted by jcm22 at Jan 14, 2019 01:10 PM |
6 March 2019 - Part of the Interdisciplinary Connections: Explorations in Research Methods seminar series, with speaker Dr Anne Marie D'Arcy.


Date: Wednesday 6 March 2019
Time: 1.00pm-2.00pm
Location: ATT Seminar Block room 202

Contact: Dr Anne Marie D'Arcy


Speaker: Dr Anne Marie D'Arcy

Joyce regarded the Insular period – from the advent of Patrician Christianity to Ireland to the Norman invasion – as a golden age during which the Irish exerted their influence on literature and learning not only on Britain, but also on the Continent. This was due principally to the pattern of peregrinatio, or spiritual exile, established by Colum Cille, who would become Columba of Iona. Even more so than such other Insular saints and sages as Columbanus or Eriugena, Colum Cille remained a creative avatar for Joyce. In choosing exile, Joyce’s highly developed sense of non serviam led him to embrace the persona of the intellectual pilgrim perfected by the Irish since the time of Colum Cille and the peregrini who followed him overseas. Yet, in spite of his sanctity, Colum Cille’s exile was driven by a phosphorescent thirst for knowledge, an assured sense of his own superiority in terms of intellect and ancestry, and the first copyright case in recorded history.

These are just some of the parallels Joyce consciously fashions between his various personas in Finnegans Wake and the archetypal peregrinus in exile, culminating in Shem the Penman’s scatological inversion of the Altus prosator. This paper examines the Columban legacy in Finnegans Wake, most notably the ‘Paleographic Expertise’ chapter, providing a codicological analysis of the letter unearthed by Biddy the Hen. This analysis is not only illuminated by Joyce’s engagement with the Book of Kells, but also his fascination with the first book ascribed to Colum Cille; the ‘Cathach battler’ (VI.B.6.184; VI.C.3.47), now in the Royal Irish Academy.

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