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THE OPPOSITE OF DESPAIR: ST. ANTHONY MEETS ST. PATRICK

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Chapter Summary

In Finnegans Wake Notebook VI.B.8 Joyce famously observed that Flaubert treats language “as a kind of despair.” This quotation has frequently been used to assert the connection between Joyce's final work and Bouvard and Pécuchet. It is in stressing the ubiquity of intertextuality, the futility of the quest for originality, the hypocrisy of the artist, that Joyce is most Flaubertian. But for this reading to function as an all-encompassing description of Flaubert's artistic beliefs, La Tentation de Saint Antoine must be eliminated from his oeuvre. Ezra Pound, in an attempt to limit the Tentation's influence within Ulysses, claimed that Joyce had swallowed it whole within one episode, “Circe.” Given how Finnegans Wake pushes the limits of intertextuality even harder than Joyce's previous work, one might expect it to be more Bouvardian, more Pécuchetian, more despairing. In this essay I intend to show how, in order to properly understand how Flaubert influenced the Wake, one must consider the Tentation. I will look at how Flaubert's saint relates to the St. Patrick of the Wake's final chapter. St. Patrick's debate with Archdruid Berkeley touches on many issues which are key to the Tentation: the relationship between form and matter, the limits of perception, the power of faith. Just as the debate is decided by a burst of heavenly light, so the Tentation closes with St. Anthony gazing up at the sun and seeing the face of Christ.

10.1163/9789042032903_008
/content/books/b9789042032903s008
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