Shamwork, be in our scheining!
James Joyce’s friend and one-time roommate, the poet, senator and surgeon Oliver St. John Gogarty, (the model for Buck Mulligan in Ulysses) was a harsh critic Finnegans Wake. In a review of Finnegans Wake published in the Observer May 7, 1939, just days after its publication, Gogarty proclaimed the book “the most colossal leg pull in literature since Macpherson’s Ossian.’
Joyce might have considered his book as Irish as a Shamrock (seen here on the left, the rare “white shamrock” image the Government of Ireland took the trouble to trademark in 1985) but to Gogarty, the Wake was a Shamwork, a joke on the fawning European and American elite who could not tell that his one-time friend had spent seventeen years crafting a fraud of epic proportions.
I don’t really see eye-to-eye with Mr. Gogarty on this issue, but I do note that sometimes when I mention “James Joyce labored seventeen years writing Finnegans Wake,” people sometimes give me a funny look.
“Really?” someone once asked me, “You don’t think with a little overtime and a good secretary he couldn’t have whittled that down to fifteen years?”
OK maybe there was a tiny bit of Shamwork in the creation of Finnegans Wake.
But if Joyce’s Wake is a sham shamrock (or a mock shamrock), for me, Jim’s penned Shemwork — er, Shamwork, for is the “real deal.” Our Wake Word’s phrase “Shamwork, be in our scheining!” seems to be an invocation to be shining, or combined with the German word Erscheining (“appearance” or ” phenomenon”) a shining phenomenal appearance. Sounds pretty brilliant to me.