Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Rise and Shine: The Dawn Prayers of Book IV (Part 2)

The final paragraph of page 593, in a style mimicking The Egyptian Book of the Dead, declares:
The eversower of the seeds of light ... Pu Nuseht [the sun up]... lord of risings in the yonderworld ... speaketh. (FW p. 593)
The sun, in the form of an Egyptian priest named "Pu Nuseht" ("The sun up" reversed), now speaks.

What does it say? 
93 million miles away from, came one to represent the nation
This is a gathering of the masses that come to pay respect to the Wu-Tang Clan---
Oh wait, that's Wu-Tang Clan wordsmith Masta Killa on "Triumph". The declarations of "toph triumphant" (FW p. 593) ["toph" is backward phot- Greek photo meaning "light"] on the other hand, are actually quite similar. "Light is provided through sparks of energy from the mind that travel in rhyme form," Masta Killa waxes. The blind can now see, the darkness has given way to light, and the people are called to unite as one. "Sonne feine" on 593 is Sinn Fein, the Irish slogan "We, Ourselves" fighting for independence, as well as the fine shining sun.

The opening pages of the final chapter in Finnegans Wake are declarations of revolution, simultaneously the uprising of sunlight beginning to clear away darkness and a political uprising of the populace against oppression. The sun is up and it's awakening all Finns, "Calling all downs to dayne" (FW 593), the dawn of a resurrection, the rising of the sun and the people embodied by HCE, "Here Comes Everybody." Page 593, as we found, contains many references to the Easter Rising of 1916, the entire page essentially playing upon the heavily symbolic name of the event and the actual historical occurrence of an Irish revolt. Page 594 continues this theme with "Svadesia salve!" where Svadesia is "self-governing" in Hindustani and "salve" is the salvation of the people, also a healing salve, a renewal of sins and sense with the sun's rise.

We dug into page 594 in a recent Austin Wake reading group and extracted enough material out of just one page to take us beyond our typical two hour meeting time. We could probably study this one page for weeks. It's one long paragraph of exclamations and descriptions of light rays mingling with solar situated monoliths during ancient equinox/solstice ritual celebrations.

There's a lot going on here.

So much that, while these pages are fascinating enough to compel me to compose these posts in the first place, I'm hesitant to try breaking down this page to the same degree I did page 593. This could go on forever. A man has written an entire book about this page.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Rise and Shine: The Dawn Prayers of Book IV (Part 1)

"Pu Nuseht, lord of risings"

In our local Finnegans Wake Reading Group here in Austin, the month of April introduced us to a new chapter in the text. Right after the spring equinox sprung forth Austin's lush verdant landscape into abundant green blooming, we kicked off the 17th and final chapter of Finnegans Wake, the sole chapter making up Book IV starting on page 593. (Note: this is actually our seventh chapter since the start of the reading group in 2012 since we are approaching the text in the non-linear chapter sequence described here.)

The chapter brings dawn, sunrise, and renewal to the long dark night of the Wake. The earliest rays of dawn sunlight creeping over the horizon spring this corner of the world to life; the sleeping Irish pub owner Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker is summoned for resurrection.

It's the awakening of all the Finnegans.

I've always considered this my favorite chapter for its ample use of Eastern mythological themes (Sanskrit features heavily in the opening, as we'll see) and because this chapter of sacred invocations and prayers to the rising sun is among the richest, most dense and rewarding sections of the entire book. It's one of the last parts Joyce wrote in the Wake's 17-year compositional odyssey and all the themes of the book seem to be distilled here.

Normally in our reading group we study two pages per meeting. Because of this chapter's densely packed collection of riches and the awe-inspiring poetic nature of its main theme (dawn and renewal), we are tackling this section at a pace of one page per meeting. So far, after two meetings we've unearthed a great deal of treasures---mostly related to the renewing fires of the sun---but in my follow-up research into the pages I've uncovered lots more.

That being the case, I'd like to examine some of the themes present in these first two pages of Book IV here. There is a ton to unpack, so bear with me.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Mathematicians Confirm: Finnegans Wake is Fractal

While constructing Finnegans Wake, James Joyce boasted, "I am really one of the greatest engineers, if not the greatest, in the world."

In studying the intricate designs of the Wake, one realizes this statement applies to many different aspects of it. The book is a living machine, cranking out fresh meanings, references, and connections every time you engage with it. It was published nearly 80 years ago yet somehow its material can always apply to the present day.

It was also, as I've written about recently, engineered as a rotating reconstruction of the Earth.

And its entire framework, from the most minor details to the overriding structure, is fractal. Devoted Wake-heads have always been aware of this, but now some physicists and mathematicians examining literature have confirmed the Wake's fractal fabric.

From The Guardian:

The absolute record in terms of multifractality turned out to be Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. The results of our analysis of this text are virtually indistinguishable from ideal, purely mathematical multifractals,” said Professor Stanisław Drożdż, another author of the paper, which has just been published in the computer science journal Information Sciences."

fractal (n) - a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Fractals are useful in modeling structures (such as eroded coastlines or snowflakes) in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales, and in describing partly random or chaotic phenomena such as crystal growth, fluid turbulence, and galaxy formation.

"find, if you are not literally cooefficient, how minney combinaisies and permutandies can be played on the international surd!" - FW p. 284  

Friday, January 22, 2016

What is Finnegans Wake? A Simulacrum of the Globe (Part 2)

Further reinforcing the astounding idea that James Joyce constructed the physical text of Finnegans Wake as a simulacrum of the earthly globe is Roy Benjamin's theory expounded in his excellent article "What Era’s O’ering?: The Precession of the Equinoxes in Finnegans Wake" (from James Joyce Quarterly Vol. 48.1*) where he argues that the Precession of the Equinoxes and the ancient myths revolving around this phenomenon play a central role in the Wake.

It appears that Joyce not only shaped the whole of his book in the form of the spherical earth, he made sure to set it in motion, "whirled without end to end" (FW 582.20) amid the glistening theater of constellations. So accurately did he render its spin that even the earth's slight wobble, like "the spin of a coin" (FW 127.14) or "the spin of the top" (FW 163.18), and the resultant celestial re-positioning that ensues over millennia are featured in his simulacrum.

Remember, Joyce literally put painstaking effort into constructing his works down to the most minute details, especially Finnegans Wake. John Bishop calls it "the single most intentionally crafted literary artefact that our culture has produced." (I cannot refer to that statement enough.) This was not by accident. It's been 75 years since its publication and scholars are still uncovering new forms in its fractal latticework.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Finn Awakens: The Influence of Finnegans Wake on Star Wars

Be sure to go check out eminent illustrator and Joycean Bobby Campbell's newest blog post connecting the dots between Finnegans Wake and Star Wars.

Here's a snippet:
The latest installment in the Star Wars saga, Episode VII, includes 2 potential high-profile references to the monomythic source material. The episode title The Force Awakens is a pretty simple jump from Finnegans Wake, and it’s an even smaller leap of logic to Finn, the stormtrooper turned rebel hero. Of course, these may be merely coincidental creative decisions, but it’d be cooler if they weren’t!
In the world of Wakean synchronicities and bizarre anachronisms, these are completely valid observations. Somehow Finnegans Wake is always current, "as modern as tomorrow afternoon" (FW p. 309).

An alternate title for the new Star Wars film could have been Finn Awakens.

The main criticism being lodged against the new film is that it essentially repeats the story of the very first Star Wars installment. This is reminiscent of what's going on in Finnegans Wake where the same story with the same essential players or archetypes is told and retold in different versions of the same thing, "one thousand and one stories, all told, of the same." (FW p. 5)

The theme of the younger generation taking over from their elders is also a prominent feature of The Force Awakens and is a core theme in Finnegans Wake where the sons unite to topple their father.

(SPOILER ALERT: The final scene of The Force Awakens also takes place on an island off the coast of Ireland.)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

What is Finnegans Wake? A Simulacrum of the Globe (Part 1)

Out of all the alternative theories about Finnegans Wake you can find out there, few are more unique and compelling than this one.

In an essay for the Hypermedia Joyce Studies journal from 2007 entitled "Joyce, Liberature and Writing of the Book," a Joyce scholar from Poland named Katarzyna Bazarnik unveils an entirely new perspective of Joyce's cryptic magnum opus, arguing that the physical text itself was intentionally constructed to be a sort of simulacrum for our earthly globe.

Bazarnik lays out her theory persuasively, beginning by discussing Joyce's history of carefully crafting all of his works to achieve certain meaningful results in the final physical presentation. This tendency goes as far back as his 1914 collection of poems, Giacomo Joyce, which Richard Ellmann felt "could not be properly appreciated without resorting to its actual, physical form." Ellmann was convinced that "the appearance of the work on the page may have become an element of its substance."

Similar intentions are evident in the composition of Ulysses whose text Joyce constantly added onto and tinkered with until the very last minute, resulting in a range of Joycean correspondences such as:
on page 77 “Seventh heaven” was inserted as the seventh sentence in a paragraph where Bloom muses on what people feel taking the holy communion. On page 88 Joyce added: “Aged 88 after a long and tedious illness” to an obituary Bloom is scanning. When Bloom is thinking about weight, gravity, and the rate of falling bodies, he recalls its value: “thirty two feet per second”, in the thirty-second sentence of the paragraph. And in “Calypso” the punctuation of Milly’s letter was so modified as to contain fifteen sentences. Bloom was struck by a coincidence between Milly turning fifteen on the fifteenth of June, the day she wrote the letter...
If one pursued such numerology further, one could notice that the first edition of the novel counts 732 pages. This is the number of nights and days in the leap year; coincidentally, 1904, when Ulysses is set, was a leap year, too. Besides, the diurnal and nocturnal halves of the book are equal: the dawn falls exactly on pages 364-5. “Done half by design” thinks Bloom at that moment, reflecting on the shape of the Dublin Bay.
Many of these little synchronicities are preserved only in the original 1922 text as all subsequent editions included enough additions and modifications to collapse these hidden little houses of cards.

Thankfully, in the case of Finnegans Wake the same pagination has been preserved from the original 1939 publication giving us a chance to pick apart Joyce's astounding structural engineering.

Bazarnik argues that since the Wake describes itself as “the book of Doublends Jined” (FW 20.16) or double ends joined, "we can visualise it as a book opened in such a way that its covers are joined, while its radially extending pages form a circle." This linking of front and back was confirmed, in Bazarnik's view, by the design of the first edition which bore the same lettering on the front and back covers, not to mention the final uncompleted sentence linking to the opening line of the book.

A new way to view the mandala of Finnegans Wake.
Not only does this view of the text give new implications to its length of 628 pages as representing the circumference of a circle (in a simple formula Bazarnik shows as 2r x 3.14 = 628 where r=100), but the shape of the text can now be viewed geographically as a "Shapesphere" (FW 295.04) or
"gllll (... (...) ... (...) ...) lobe" (FW 54.29 - 55.1):

This diagram is the most fascinating visual representation of Finnegans Wake I've encountered aside from John Bishop's relief maps in Joyce's Book of the Dark. I find her theory absolutely stunning. Bazarnik points to a number of references to various polar regions appearing around pages 627, 628, 3, and 4 while in the middle of the text (the South Pole on the map) appear references to a bunch of polar explorers and vessels.

She even offers an entirely new viewpoint for the mysterious clustering of particular languages appearing throughout the text, noting specific languages and references appearing in alignment with the Tropic of Cancer or the Tropic of Capricorn on the globe diagram. Many of these appearances, she emphasizes, were added in the later stages of composition including this apparent reference to the cartographic character of ALP's letter: "But once done, dealt and delivered, tattat, you’re on the map. Rased on traumscrapt from Maston, Boss. After rounding his world of ancient days." (FW 623.29-624.01)

Another late modification was to replace the word "geographical" with "geodetic" emphasizing the book's embodiment of the branch of mathematics dealing with the shape and area of the earth. This change was made on page 114 in the middle of a chapter describing the curious nature of Finnegans Wake itself:
One cannot help noticing that rather more than half of the lines run north-south in the Nemzes and Bukarahast directions while the others go west-east in search from Maliziies with Bulgarad for, tiny tot though it looks when schtschupnistling alongside other incunabula, it has its cardinal points for all that... It is seriously believed by some that the intention may have been geodetic. (FW 114.02-114.15)
She closes by quoting Clive Hart from his book Structure and Motif in Finnegans Wake where he clearly picked up on the same thing writing on pg 111: "The 'intention may have been geodetic' indeed. Finnegans Wake is laid out like a map of the globe---'a chart expanded' (593.19)---for geography is as important to Joyce as history."


No wonder Joyce considered himself the greatest engineer who ever lived.

This theory goes along quite nicely with the similarly mind-blowing idea put forth by Joyce scholar Roy Benjamin in a recent James Joyce Quarterly article about the precession of the equinoxes in Finnegans Wake.

We will dig into that in Part 2.

(Credit is owed to the Finnegans Awake Tumblr page which first alerted me to this article.)

Saturday, August 15, 2015

FinWake ATX visits the Ransom Center

The Finnegans Wake Reading Group of Austin had the privilege of visiting the Harry Ransom Center last week for an exclusive guided tour of some of the archive's most interesting James Joyce related material. It was a special afternoon with 14 of us getting to peruse and handle about a dozen significant objects all laid out in a chronological order that told the story of Joyce's career from 1922 to 1939, plus some of the many artworks spawned by his influence.

Upon arrival at the Ransom Center (located on the University of Texas campus), we were all greeted by a familiar face in the lobby, providing a perfect intro to the proceedings:

It was the head of Joyce himself, looking back at us from a 1938 sculpture made by Sava Botzaris shortly before Finnegans Wake was completed. It is fittingly in all black just like Joyce's autobiographical caricature in the Wake, Shem the Penman, an outcast and despised figure, "this dirty little blacking beetle" (FW p. 171) described as a "nogger among the blankards" (FW p. 188).

Shem the Penman resides in a "Haunted Inkbottle" (FW p. 182) whose messy, hoarded contents are catalogued for more than a page in a hilarious satire that forms one of the most entertaining parts of the book. You can hear Robert Anton Wilson perform this section to perfection:

When we studied this passage in our reading group last year, we got into an in-depth discussion about all the objects we spend our lives collecting (and creating) until we die, when our bodies disappear and our only real remains are the material we surrounded ourselves with. That's what Joyce seemed to be getting at in that passage, we thought, Shem was "writing the mystery of himsel in furniture" (FW p. 184) the same way we all do. The furniture and other belongings we leave behind carry our mysteries like anchors holding our departed spirits to the earthly realm. 

I kept reflecting on that passage in the days after the Ransom Center visit. My memory of the event includes not merely a long row of intriguing objects, but a room swarming with silent ghosts. I kept having dreams featuring invisible spirits and ghosts for a few nights afterward.

Many of the items we saw had so much life to them, so much history. Archaeologists use the so-called "material culture" of old societies to develop conclusions about them and the divining of history from objects has been a popular topic for books lately. On that note, here is a quick rundown of 12 of the objects we got to look at.

1. Ledger of orders for first edition of Ulysses
As an accountant, this simple booklet ended up being one of the most fascinating objects for me. It was a small leather-bound graph-paper book owned by Sylvia Beach which had on each page a carefully inscribed list of names for those people who were pledging money up front to receive copies of Ulysses when it was first published by Shakespeare & Co in 1922 (Miss Beach, who ran a small bookshop and never published anything before, had to take in pre-orders to cover the cost of the printing). I loved the perfect handwriting and precision of the lists, plus it was loaded with names of literary luminaries like William Carlos Williams, WB Yeats, and Wallace Stevens, not to mention Winston Churchill. Flipping through it briefly I noticed Joyce's patron Harriet Shaw Weaver had one of the largest pre-orders.

2. T.E Lawrence's personal annotated copy of Ulysses
Lawrence of Arabia carried around a special signed 1st edition copy of Ulysses that he had fitted with sturdy custom leather binding and made frequent notations in it. As HRC guide Rick pointed out to us, the big bulky book had a smell of engine oil, most likely from hanging around in aircraft hangars and being perused by mechanics looking for the notoriously naughty parts. This was a book with some old ghosts in it. I found it thrilling.

3. Ulysses Court Documents
It's incredible to imagine how, throughout the 20s and early 30s, while Joyce was hard at work on his zany history of the world, he was all over the newspapers in the US and Britain because Ulysses was causing such an uproar for its supposed obscenity. This segment of history was covered magnificently by Kevin Birmingham in his book from last year, The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses. A dossier of files and papers from the court case was displayed, including testimony from critics, scholars, and bookstores on whether the Ulysses was smutty or not. Of course, a landmark decision declared it was indeed not pornography but an epochal work of art and the United States finally got to read Ulysses legally after 11 years of prohibition. 

4. Ulysses page proofs and typed schema
These were kept behind glass because they were just too damn treasured and delicate to be handled. Here were some of the final page proofs for Ulysses featuring Joyce's own edits and corrections made in red crayon. In addition to that was a very long sheet of paper featuring the typed out schema for Ulysses (with a little handwritten note from Joyce. This had been provided to Stuart Gilbert when he was writing the first detailed exegesis of Joyce's labyrinth. While I'd been well aware of the schema, seeing it stretched out in its original form looking like a massive Excel spreadsheet containing all the intricately conceived architecture of possibly the greatest novel ever gave me a tingling in my stomach. 

5. Many editions of Transition featuring earliest published snippets of Work in Progress (Finnegans Wake)
Before the public could finish digesting Ulysses, a small experimental literary journal called transition (founded by Joyce supporters Eugene and Maria Jolas) had begun to publish excerpts from Joyce's newest work. This bizarre and confusing text didn't have a title yet, so it was called Work in Progress. We got to see many editions of transition, each featuring yet another fresh snippet from Joyce with the title "Continuation of A Work in Progress." (You can view the full pre-publication details of Finnegans Wake at the Genetic Joyce Studies webpage.) Joyce kept the title of his new novel a secret during the entire seventeen year writing process, challenging friends to guess what it was and offering a reward of a thousand francs. In 1938, Eugene Jolas managed to correctly guess the title "Finnegans Wake" and Joyce eventually presented him with a bag full of coins. Joyce made them promise not to reveal the title until he'd finished the "final full stop, though there is none."

6. Page proofs of Finnegans Wake
Not sure whether these were proofs for the final published book or for the sections published in transition (guessing the latter), these were typed pages of the first chapter of the book on very thin paper, featuring minor inscriptions and additions presumably from Joyce but possibly from Stuart Gilbert or one of his other helpers since Joyce was nearly blind at this time. It's difficult to imagine how someone could've taken Joyce's barely legible hand-written sheets and typed the text of Finnegans Wake on a typewriter. Almost inconceivable. But somehow it happened.

7. "Tales Told of Shem and Shaun", "Haveth Childers Everywhere" and other early published fragments of Work in Progress 
In the late 1920s-early 30s, some fragments of Work in Progress were published by small presses in standalone pamphlets. Thumbing through these pamphlets, you start to get a sense of the sheer immensity of the final book since it contains many dozens of these segments which alone make nice little books. It'd be nice if someone re-released some of these pamphlets, most of which feature interesting artwork and very large print which allows the complex, idiosyncratic words the breathing room they need. 

8. Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress first edition
What a time it must've been in the late 20s literary world. Readers and supporters baffled by the excerpts of Joyce's newest work were treated to this extraordinary publication in 1929. It's a collection of 12 essays from different writers, each covering a different topic in defense of the genius of Joyce's latest work. The essays first started appearing in literary journals, then were collected here in book form published by Shakespeare & Co (Joyce had plans for another book of essays supporting his book, but the poor sales of Our Exagmination scrapped that). The collection features the first thing Samuel Beckett ever published, an essay entitled "Dante... Bruno. Vico.. Joyce." What I find so amazing about this book is that it was attempting to defend and explain a book that still had another 10 years until it was completed.

9. Finnegans Wake 1st edition
Bound in a red cover to symbolize the auburn streams of the Liffey, this first edition text had belonged to a writer/historian/scholar(?) whose name escapes me but the gentleman lived on an island and the pages in his copy of Finnegans Wake showed the effects. As my pal Brendan quipped, "a river runs through it."

10. ALP bookbinding art (unknown artist)
We now began progressing past the origins and into the derivative artwork. This was an edition of Finnegans Wake with a leather bookbinding featuring a beautiful design of ALP's face and winding hair. 

11. Philip Smith bookbinding art for Finnegans Wake
Minds were blown. This is without a doubt the coolest book I've ever seen in my life. Created by the same artist who made the bookbinding art featured on the background and sidebar of this blog, this was an alternate version featuring a grim corpse laying across the front and back cover. The book came in an elaborate, large case with special instructions on how it should be handled. This thing was dripping with art, every piece of it was special. When you took a close look at the dreadful corpse sculpted on the cover, his eyes were wide open. Finnegan was awakening. Thankfully someone managed to sneak a picture of this one:

12. "Valentines for James Joyce" by Elsa de Brun (aka Nuala)
This was the biggest crowd pleaser and will surely end up being the thing that stays with us the longest. Elsa de Brun was an abstract artist who painted under the Gaelic name Nuala. She lived in New York City and was known for creating stained glass windows in some prominent NYC spots. You can find some interesting pieces about her in the NY Times. Clearly touched deeply by Finnegans Wake, she created a series of 43 pastel artworks each inspired by a passage from the book. The majesty of these works of art had us all in awe. They were so intricately weaved, crisply drawn, and thickly layered that the sheer devotion that it must've taken to create them blew me away.

Our group was so taken by this collection that we've decided to pursue publication of it all in book form. It will surely be a challenge as none of has any experience doing this type of thing, but we're inspired and already making progress.

A website and Facebook page have been created to document this endeavor and we greatly appreciate your support and interest:

(Special thanks to Brian McNerney for orchestrating this event.)