Saturday, September 1, 2018

Links: Finnegan Wakes at Burning Man and the Birth of the Wake in South France


One of the highlights of the International James Joyce Symposium that took place in Antwerp a few months ago was the "Finnegan Wakes" recording project organized by Gavan Kennedy. This ambitious documentary production involves intrepid readers sitting in front of a camera with a musical selection of their choice playing in their ears while they recite a page of Finnegans Wake aloud. Gavan's project sprung up at Burning Man last year and now for this year's (currently ongoing) Burning Man event they will gather burners from all backgrounds to bring the Wake to life.

Gavan wrote a piece for the Burning Man Journal blog describing the project:
Finnegans Wake is a resurrection story: a man presumed dead, laid out at his own funeral (or ‘wake’), is brought to wakefulness by the noise of his mourners as they fight over his reputation. Each time the work is read and wrangled over, the same thing happens: it arises off the page. The performance of every Burner gives birth to new participatory art that wakes Finnegan-again.

This year's event notably features a lecture and a series of workshops given by Finn Fordham, one of the world's foremost scholars on Finnegans Wake. Finn authored the excellent book Lots of Fun at Finnegans Wake: Unraveling Universals and also edited and provided the introduction for the Oxford edition of the Wake. An expert on the genesis and development of Joyce's masterwork, Finn delivered a fascinating presentation in Antwerp on the late stages of the book's production and Joyce's response to the harrowing world events of the late 1930s, while essentially debunking the notion the Joyce had planned to write a subsequent novel, something simple about the sea (instead, as Fordham compellingly suggested, Joyce wanted to write something on the Greek revolution).

The lecture Finn is set to share at Burning Man sounds extremely fascinating from his preview provided in Gavan's article:

What can participating in the great text-machine of Finnegans Wake tell us about the theme of artificial intelligence and the human-machine interface? A great deal, it turns out, because Joyce imagined his work as a machine. 
In my talk I will explore this idea of a text as a machine — a machine of memory and of meaning, which seems to have a life and an intelligence of its own. Intelligence can be understood as a consequence of an evolved complex arrangement of matter. We tend to locate intelligence within the bounds of the human body, especially the brain, or mind. But this very intelligence also imagines itself elsewhere: in a thunderclap, a burning bush, a crowd, a termite colony, a computer, a corpse, and also a text — all can seem to have their own intelligence. Joyce was fully aware of such magical thinking.

Hopefully this lecture will be recorded and available online soon.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Baseball in Finnegans Wake?

George Herman Ruth pitching for the Red Sox, circa 1915.


"Holy cow!" 

- Phil Rizzuto

Being that Baseball and Finnegans Wake are two of my favorite things in the universe, naturally I've tried to seek out connections between the two from time to time. Years ago at my other blog I speculated on connections between Joyce and Baseball focusing specifically on Ulysses (which led to a mention on ESPN.com!), but lately I've been contemplating whether there are any significant connections between Finnegans Wake and Baseball. The Wake contains everything and Baseball was certainly very popular during the years (1923-1939) while Joyce was composing his all-encompassing book, therefore Baseball must be in the Wake someplace.

Finnegans Wake features dozens of very specific references to cricket, including many names of star players (see pgs. 583-584), there are also clusters of soccer and rugby references---but what about Baseball? Well, there is at least one verifiable (and very interesting) allusion to Baseball in the Wake and a few other more vague ones.

The most obvious Baseball allusions occur in chapter 5 amid the long, rambling, dream-distorted archeological inquiries into what exactly the text of Finnegans Wake actually is...or is not: "it is not a miseffectual whyacinthinous riot of blots and blurs and bars and balls and hoops and wriggles and juxtaposed jottings linked by spurts of speed: it only looks as like it as damn it." (p. 118) Similar to a Baseball diamond, the Wake is a square around whose four sections one advances until completing a full circle around the square (Joyce: "It's a wheel I tell the world. And it's all square"), ending and beginning again at "riverrun." I've mentioned before how the run in riverrun, the word the Wake starts and ends with, coincides with a run in baseball indicating a cyclical journey around the square completed by returning across home plate.

Here's the most obvious Baseball reference in the Wake, from page 119:

"...after a good ground kiss to Terracussa and for wars luck our leftoff's flung over our home homoplate, cling to it as with drowning hands, hoping against hope all the while that... things will begin to clear up a bit one way or another within the next quarrel of an hour..."
There's a lot of interesting stuff in this little cluster and it also opens the rest of the text up to other Baseball-related readings. It sounds like a left-handed pitcher kissing the ground for luck before flinging a baseball over home plate at someone trying to reach at the ball with their hands clinging to a bat, hoping to come out ahead in this quarrel. The word "homoplate" is a pun on home plate and omoplate, a Greek word from physiology that literally means "shoulder blade." That carries a little extra relevance for Baseball junkies since a pitcher's shoulder is such a regular part of Baseball talk these days with hurler's arms so often injured and surgically repaired. The phrase "a good ground kiss to Terracussa" could be a ground ball that kissed the earth (hit toward the shortstop perhaps? hence the SS in "Terracussa"?). A stat head like me can't help but notice the fascinating synchronicity in the way the Wake describes the efforts of Baseball players "for wars luck." The most authoritative advanced statistic measuring Baseball players is called WAR (or WARP, for Wins Above Replacement Player). A simple and cynical observation of Baseball would be that it's a battle between WAR and luck, i.e. established reliable statistics versus the dice-roll of luck inherent in each pitch. In Baseball, anything can happen.

"juxtaposed jottings linked by spurts of speed"...or a Baseball scorecard.


If we follow the Wake's advice to "Wipe your glosses with what you know" (p. 304) we can begin to read other appearances of Baseball in its pages. A couple lines after "our leftoff's flung over our home homoplate" the phrase "ten to one" could be giving the score of a ballgame. And the aforementioned "riot of blots and blurs and balls and hoops and wriggles and juxtaposed jottings" now sound like inscribings in a Baseball scorecard recording the outcomes of a ballgame. I envision the pitcher versus hitter duel being invoked in this line on the previous page: "the continually more and less intermisunderstanding minds of the anticollaborators." Prior to our lefty delivering the pitch across home plate, the pitcher and catcher are communicating in sign language, deceiving the opponent and deciding on the next pitch using "changeably meaning vocable scriptsigns." (p. 118)

The lefty flinging a pitch over home plate takes on new meaning in the context of a potential Baseball reference two pages prior. Page 117 mentions the Broadway hit No, No, Nanette with "Highho Harry" in the same sentence. Fweet and John Gordon's annotations both suggest this is referring to Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee who, according to legend, sold off his star player Babe Ruth to the Yankees in order to finance his 1919 musical No, No, Nanette. I've long felt there must be a reference to Babe Ruth somewhere in the Wake because he was such a huge global celebrity throughout the 1920s and '30s. The No, No, Nanette stuff is certainly compelling. John Gordon's notes suggest "our leftoff's flung over our home homoplate" might indeed be a reference to Babe Ruth, who was a left-handed pitcher for the Red Sox before "Highho Harry" sold him to the Yanks. Another reference to No, No, Nanette appears on page 567 surrounded by some Baseball-sounding terms like "buntingcap" and "glover's greetings" and "streamer fields." (It's worth noting as well that the song "Tea for Two," which recurs frequently throughout the Wake, is from No, No, Nanette.)

On the topic of left-handed pitchers in Finnegans Wake, I must mention the piece I wrote after Kansas City Royals pitcher Brandon Finnegan made his debut in the major leagues. The lefty donned the number 27 for the Royals and if you open to page 27 of the Wake you'll find mention of "a blue streak over his bourseday shirt" which fit well for the kid whose #27 jersey had "FINNEGAN" written in blue letters. Even better, if you go to page 327 of the Wake it seems to proudly mention the pitcher, "our goodsend Brandonius." As of this writing, Brandon Finnegan has flamed out and is now pitching out of the bullpen in the minor leagues. In Baseball circles he is an afterthought, or what the Wake might call a "bullpen backthought." (FW p. 359) Yes, the annotations suggest that is indeed a "bullpen" reference that Joyce took from Baseball lingo.

And here's one more, a line I don't think has been noted by the scholars as a reference to Baseball but certainly sounds like one to me, from page 213: "number nine in yangsee's hats." The New York Yankees ("new yonks" FW p. 308) launched into the public consciousness during the 20s and 30s, mainly thanks to the exploits of Babe Ruth, so perhaps this is referring to ballplayers in Yankees hats, with "number nine" appropriate for nine players on the field.

Lastly, I must mention another convergence of my two favorite things, Baseball and Finnegans Wake, that comes from Peter Chrisp's fantastic blog post about the poet Delmore Schwartz. Delmore was a devoted Wake head, known to carry along a tattered copy of the book everywhere he went, scribbling annotations on every page. He was also a huge baseball fan. One anecdote mentions Schwartz sitting in the stands at the Polo Grounds, watching a New York Giants ballgame while jotting annotations into his copy of Finnegans Wake (my love for this story is immeasurable). I wonder if he thought to look for Baseball references in the book.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Pantheon of FINNEGANS WOKE (or Why Read Finnegans Wake? Testimonials from Famous Wakeans)

[A modified version of this piece was presented at the XXVI International James Joyce Symposium at the University of Antwerp, Belgium on June 15, 2018.]

In the wake of her husband’s death, Nora Joyce once remarked, “What’s all this talk about Ulysses? Finnegans Wake is the important book.” Eight decades later, even within the sphere of Joyceans it seems Finnegans Wake doesn’t often receive its due recognition. A recent example, on the back of the beautiful brand new fully annotated edition of Ulysses from Alma Books we find the following description of Joyce’s writing:




“...most famously Ulysses, Dubliners, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” They completely omitted Finnegans Wake!

When Joyce was finishing up with Finnegans Wake, he worried to a friend, “Perhaps it will end in failure, be a wreck or ‘catastrophe’ ...and perhaps in the years to come this work of mine will remain solitary and abandoned, like a temple without believers." (Portraits of the Artist in Exile, p. 160-161) In the spirit of the Wake, a book full of lists and catalogs, I have gathered this somewhat scattershot survey of notable Wake lovers. This is intended to be a celebratory assemblage, a panegyric of the tribe of Wakeans or FINNEGANS WOKE. The emergent pattern suggests an undercurrent of Anna Livia’s branching streams has been undulating in the unconscious of our art and culture for decades, perhaps a fitting fate for Finnegans Wake after all. 

[Please note: This is certainly not intended as an exhaustive list of Wake heads, just a representative segment of notable Wakeans and their expressed fondness for Joyce’s final book. Please feel free to add onto the list in the comments section!]

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Finnegans Wake and Child's Play

"Hide-and-Seek" (1942) by Pavel Tchelitchew.

I've been in Belgium for the past few days, enjoying a nice vacation and preparing for the XXVI International James Joyce Symposium taking place this week in Antwerp. My experience thus far in this wonderful country has led to some thoughts about Finnegans Wake and child's play. There are at least three ways Joyce brings out the child in all of us when we read Finnegans Wake:

1. The first way is the childlike wonder and confusion we experience when encountering this bizarre dream-distorted polyglot language. I touched on this in Part 3 of my review of John Bishop's fantastic book---as Bishop says "Joyce puts his reader into a position roughly analogous to that of a child encountering an unknown language for a first time." Here in Europe I've been experiencing that same feeling listening to passersby chattering away in French or Flemish or German or what have you. As a typical ignorant American who speaks only one language, I've been sort of awestruck and fascinated hearing everyone around me communicating in foreign tongues I can barely understand a word of. During down time on this trip I've been reading Finnegans Wake and noticing that same feeling. The text itself well captures this sense of befuddlement on p. 112: "It is a puling sample jungle of woods." A pure and simple jungle of words. While reading the text, as I'm trying to comprehend what it all means, I'm also constantly tantalized by the bizarre medium itself, the digressive and opaque clusters of etyms that seem meaningless yet which are in fact densely packed with meaning.

2. One of the pleasures of visiting Europe has been sitting outside at a café or restaurant while people-watching all the pedestrians. It's always funny to notice, in the constant stream of people strolling by, a little boy or girl skipping or jumping around as they follow their parents. The world is all about play for them. Finnegans Wake seems to take a similar approach to things. The sound of its language always seems to mimic fairy tales or folklore, stories told in a playful kiddie language. Of course, there are a number of fables told throughout the Wake (the Ondt and the Gracehoper, the Mookse and the Gripes, the Prankquean, etc). In our Austin Wake Reading Group we recently read the Museyroom section and I was struck by how silly and playful Joyce renders what essentially consists of a museum tour guide detailing the events of the Battle of Waterloo. The text is overloaded with references to countless wars from the careers of Napoleon and Wellington and their legendary clash at Waterloo, yet our tour guide describes this grave material in a manner that reduces the belligerents to children playing games. Here's a sample from page 9:
This is the jinnies' hastings dispatch for to irrigate the Willingdone. Dispatch in thin red lines cross the shortfront of me Belchum. Yaw, yaw, yaw! Leaper Orthor. Fear siecken! Fieldgaze thy tiny frow. Hugacting. Nap. That was the tictacs of the jinnies for to fontannoy the Willingdone. Shee, shee, shee! The jinnies is jillous agincourting all the lipoleums. And the lipoleums is gonn boycottoncrezy onto the one Willingdone. And the Willingdone git the band up. This is bode Belchum, bonnet to busby, breaking his secred word with a ball up his ear to the Willingdone. This is the Willingdone's hurold dispitchback. Dispitch desployed on the regions rare of me Belchum. Salamangra! Ayi, ayi, ayi! Cherry jinnies. Figtreeyou!

3. Speaking of children's games, the Wake is loaded with references to old street games. Page 176 contains a cluster of a couple dozen London street games listed out, games like "Eggs in the Bush, Habberdasherisher, Telling Your Dreams, What's the Time, Nap, Ducking Mammy" etc and of course "Battle of Waterloo" is listed among them. More broadly speaking, reading the Wake itself is a sort of game. In the recently published essay collection Joyce's Allmaziful Plurabilities: Polyvocal Explorations of Finnegans Wake, Sean Latham examines Book I, chapter 6, the Quiz chapter, describing it as an "interactive gamespace." That chapter features questions and answers regarding the book's "sigla"---the symbols embodying the core elements of Finnegans Wake. Latham describes how the sigla become elements in a game of interpretation:

Readers or players of the text succeed by exploring the ways in which they can interact with this data by shaping it into more or less successful interpretive configurations. [...]
In this sense, reading Finnegans Wake requires a very specific kind of cognitive activity often associated with gameplay (and other kinds of complex information processing) called 'chunking.' Put simply, this is a process in which an experienced player combines small elements of a closed system into patterns or objects---chunks---that can be processed more quickly.[...]
Like chess masters, readers who become familiar with the text learn to assemble chunks of their own that enable them to play more and more skillfully with the text, recognizing, for example, the importance of the letters HCE (even when in different order or scattered across or between different words). For an adept player of the Wake, in other words, the text resolves into something other than a chaotic jumble of words and letters, becoming instead an intricate array of informational chunks that recombine in shifting patterns as the 'collideorscape' turns. (pgs 96-98)

I woke up today with all of this on my mind because as I've been reading the Wake during this trip and contemplating my passion for Joyce and this book in particular---having traveled all the way from Texas to Belgium for a James Joyce conference---I keep thinking about why the Wake is so appealing for me and the answer is simply: it's so damn fun! You can't read the book for very long without breaking out in laughter merely at the silly sound of it. And I can't overemphasize how much fun we have in our reading group when the interpretations and references are flying around and there's blends of the most profound wisdom with the dirtiest sexual or scatological jokes. The joys of this book are inexhaustible. That oft-repeated chorus line from the song "Finnegan's Wake" couldn't be more apt: There's lots of fun at Finnegans Wake!



(End note: I began this post by referencing my favorite Joyce scholar, John Bishop. Well, I just noticed that Boston University finally posted his wonderful lecture on the Prankquean episode to YouTube. This is highly recommended viewing, and of course it's called Child's Play.)

(Other end note: The picture included here is Pavel Tchelitchew's mesmerizing masterpiece "Hide-and-Seek" depicting a girl counting down as her friends are hiding. In his book The Geography of the Imagination, Guy Davenport analyzes this painting and compares it to Finnegans Wake.)

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Secret Life of Mushrooms in Finnegans Wake

Amanita muscaria aka Fly agaric.

Fellow Austin Wake group member Gus Strozier sent me an extremely fascinating article that sparked many ideas for me so I must share the article and some thoughts on it here. David Rose, in his essay "Cryptogrammic Cryptogams: Fungi in Finnegans Wake" explores some of the fungal references in the Wake "to ask if Joyce was really up to something, mycologically speaking" and uncovers some startling insights and tantalizing speculations.

You can read the full essay here.

Rose explicitly channels the amusing NY Times article "You Spigotty Anglease?" where Robert H. Boyle insists that the Wake is in fact all about fly fishing, providing evidence of references to fish and fly fishing on nearly every other page. It's one of the most fascinating characteristics of Finnegans Wake that you can view it through a certain biased lens and find confirmations of your theory all throughout. (I'm still assembling a pile of references to the book as a simulacrum of the globe.)

The evidence for a mycological network underlying the text is evident from its first page: Rose cites the lines "rot a peck of pa's malt" and "oranges laid to rust upon the green" (FW pg. 3) as referring to rotting, fermentation, and parasitic fungi. Those lines are familiar to Wake heads, but who among us has contemplated the mycological aspect lying therein? Or the word "holocryptogam" from page 546----I had always thought it was suggestive of the Wake as a hologram and a cryptogram or encoded text, completely overlooking the word "cryptogam" which literally means "hidden reproduction" and denotes plants that reproduce through spores, like fungi.

And now the text of Joyce's nightbook seems to respond to our inquiry and begins to bloom with fermenting flora. Rose describes this revelation through the eyes of a mycologist:
From the umwelt of the Wake’s quashed quotatoes (183.22) the ricorso of pan-etymological meanderings through the preconscious formation of meaning is oceanic and fluid, recycling through mind and history, recycling through the words themselves. Finnegans Wake is not a disquisition on mycology, but a mycelial mat in which fruiting bodies are knotted deep in the sclerotia of words. 

For the latest edition of the "Waywords & Meansigns" project, my friends and I recorded a selection from pages 613-615 (listen to "Vicocyclometer" at the bottom of this page) which included an extraordinary passage that took residence inside my brain. The passage continues to live in my head and I even recited it from memory at an event during the last Joyce conference in Toronto (it also featured prominently in my essay on war in the Wake). Rose highlights this glorious passage in his essay:
A spathe of calyptrous glume involucrumines the perinanthean Amenta: fungoalgaceous muscafilicial graminopalmular planteon; of increasing, livivorous, feelful thinkamalinks; luxuriotiating everywhencewhithersoever among skullhullows and charnelcysts of a weedwastewoldwevild…  (FW p. 613)
Rose cites John Bishop who describes this passage as a "compressed history of the evolution of botanical life." The passage indeed encapsulates the entire plant world, the planteon, with special focus on fungi and the growth of life feeding on decay and death. A constantly reiterated message in the Wake is that life springs forth even out of the deadest heaps of hollow-skull charnel piles.

The most astounding revelation in the essay comes from Rose's interpretation of this passage from pg. 51 of the Wake invoking the guilt-ridden Earwicker in Phoenix Park or "fungopark":
Those many warts, those slummy patches, halfsinster wrinkles, (what has come over the face on the wholebroader E?), and (shrine of Mount Mu save us!) the large fungopark he has grown! Drink!
Rose sees this as Joyce referring to the hallucinogenic toadstool Amanita muscaria---warts, slummy (slimy), patches, and wrinkles being some of the notable characteristics of the iconic mushroom. And there is also an element of ritual present, as Rose explains:
supplication at the shrine of Mount Mu[shroom] and the imperative Drink!, adumbrating the shamanic use of Amanita muscaria in Siberian cultures where the urine of a person under mushroom intoxication is recycled by the acolyte to perpetuate its intoxicating effects. This is later recapitulated in Mount of Mish (131.01) and sacred sponge (516.25).
Rose speculates on whether Joyce knew about the Amanita muscaria, arguing that he must have because in the "Museyroom" passage (note the hint of mushroom in "Museyroom") he brings in a Tom, Dick, and Harry trio where one of them is called "Touchole Fitz Tuomush" (p. 8) which contains the French word for fly agaric, Tue-mouche (pronounced "too moosh"). I can add further that Joyce seems to reference this again on p. 485 in "Tootoo moohootch!" In his 1968 book Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality, R. Gordon Wasson theorized that the Amanita muscaria was in fact the Soma drink of the Rigveda. Rose also informs us that Peter Lamborn Wilson followed that up in 2001 with a study comparing Vedic and Irish literature, suggesting "that an Amanita muscaria cult may have existed in prehistoric Ireland." As is often the case, Joyce in Finnegans Wake seems to have discovered this before anyone even began to search for it. Further fueling this hypothesis, Rose cites the phrase on pg. 229, "megafundum of his tomashunders" which combines important aspects of Wasson's theory, mushrooms and thunder. The word "tomashunders" is an anagram for "soma thunders" and of course thunder plays a powerful role in the Wake. Rose's suggestion of Joyce's foreknowledge of prehistoric Irish cults using a Soma drink made from mushrooms also gives a whole new meaning to the line at the bottom of page 265 about someone testing out a bowl of soup "to find out if there is enough mushroom catsup in the mutton broth." Marinate on that.

Another creative reading by Rose feeds into this mushroom fascination. In the closing pages of the text, as ALP and HCE walk in the woods they spot mushrooms. "Mch? Why them's the muchrooms, come up during the night." (FW p. 625) Proving a very astute Wakean, Rose suggests rotating the "M" in "Mch" 90 degrees counterclockwise (the rotating E appears throughout the Wake representing the main character in different states of being) which would give us ECH, the familiar initials of HCE, whose "Mch" is then reiterated in "muchrooms." I noticed a few pages earlier HCE is described as being "gentle as a mushroom" (p. 618).

Since HCE the mushroom man and monomythic hero also embodies the sacrificial symbol of Christ, whose body is turned into food and ritually eaten multiple times in the Wake (see p. 7, for example), it seems Joyce was tuned into another anthropological mystery that wasn't revealed until after the Wake's publication. It was not until 1970 that the Dead Sea Scrolls scholar John M. Allegro published his notorious book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross where he argues that Christianity originated with European cults devoted to the celebration and ritual consumption of the hallucinogenic Amanita muscaria mushroom.

Giving some further intrigue to all of this is Terence McKenna's preoccupation with Finnegans Wake and mushrooms. The Irish bard and ethnobotanist McKenna frequently lectured on the history and pharmacology of mushrooms. He also considered Finnegans Wake an essential guidebook. As described in his book True Hallucinations, when Terence and his brother Dennis ventured deep into the Amazon Basin to indulge in shamanic rituals and ingest ungodly amounts of hallucinogenic plants, they brought only two books---the I Ching and Finnegans Wake. The McKenna brothers felt "that Finnegans Wake represented the most complete understanding yet achieved of the relation of the human mind to time and space." (True Hallucinations, p. 147) If only they'd known about the book's revelations about secret mushroom cults.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Some Fun with "riverrun"

Norse Vegvisir rune.

Our local Wake reading group recently cycled from the somber lines of Anna Livia Plurabelle's bittersweet closing monologue back over to the first page of Finnegans Wake: "A way a lone a last a loved a long the [...] riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs." (FW 628-3)

The experience of deciphering the opening paragraphs of the Wake has been a slow, steady and joyful slog through a swamp thick with references, meanings, and suggestions. The information we've been pulling out from the words in these pages has been seemingly endless. It's gotten me thinking deeply about the text's very first word, the axis on which the Wake rotates---"riverrun." For a fun experiment in excavating meaning out of Wake words and appreciating Joyce's intricate chemistry of word construction, let's closely examine "riverrun."

First thing you'll notice is that this opening word of the book begins with a lowercase letter, indicating we are entering in media res (Latin "in the middle of events"). There's an immediate sense of befuddlement---one is struck with the feeling that they've been dropped into something that's been going on for a while, stepped into a stream whose source is unknown, one which is flowing toward an unknown destination. It's all a vast mystery. Much like our entry into the river of life upon birth---the world has its own history, it has been going on for a while, it has its own trajectory and momentum, and we're compelled to try to figure out what is going on, what is all this?

In my review of John Bishop's landmark study Joyce's Book of the Dark I discussed Bishop's theory that the river of Anna Livia Plurabelle refers to the flowing river of blood inside our bodies. This constantly pulsing river within us, which confronts us every night when we fall asleep with the sound of a heartbeat in our ears, contains the whole meandering, migrating history of our ancestors. Thus when we descend into sleep, into the hereditary millennia of our bodies, we encounter a running river whose origin far precedes us, highlighting how our experience of living in the flesh is also in media res, or as the Wake describes it, we are "all repeating ourselves, in medios loquos." (FW 398)

William York Tindall, in his Reader's Guide to Finnegans Wake, suggests that the chain of "the   riverrun" not only binds the end of the text with the beginning, it also "includes all betwixt and between." (Tindall 328) Much like the form of the circle which seems to be ubiquitous in all levels of existence from spiral galaxies to solar systems and spinning atoms, "the riverrun" is a universal structure. The last time I wrote extensively about one single Wake word, I focused on "anastomosis"---a term used in a wide range of sciences and disciplines (medicine, biology, mycology, geology, geography, architecture, etc) to describe an interconnection of streams or veins or branches.

FWEET gives us more to think about with the resonances of "riverrun" in different languages:

riverranno (Italian) - (they) will come again
rêverons (French) - (we) will dream
reverrons (French) - (we) will see again, (we) will meet again

"We will dream" is certainly a fitting way to open Finnegans Wake. The presence of "again" in the other words is also appropriate.

Reading the closing monologue of ALP evokes a somber feeling. She's dying, descending toward oblivion, hoping for just a few more moments of life. In our group, we couldn't help noting that the final lines in the Wake were essentially the last lines Joyce wrote before his own death in 1941 followed by the mass destruction of WW II. To continue that final sad sentence with, in the above sense, "they will come again" or "we will meet again" at the start of the book strikes a note of hope for renewal (a vital sentiment in our current dark times).

John Gordon's own Wake annotations add the following:

“rive” - English for “to split.”
“river” - French for “to join.”
FW is a book of “Doublends Jined” (20.16)
[double-ends joined]


The splitting apart and re-joining certainly fits with the "anastomosis" aspect I mentioned. It also recalls the lines from the end of the ALP chapter: "We'll meet again, we'll part once more." (FW p. 215) Gordon also mentions the German erinnerung for "memory" echoing "mememormee" from the closing lines of the text.

Bill Cole Cliett's excellent book Riverrun to Livvy adds some further threads of meaning. He describes ALP as "the river of life, the universal solvent in which all dissolves to mix and mingle and recombine, ever changing, ever the same." (Cliett p. 110) He mentions that Joyce likely got his "riverrun" from Coleridge's poem "Kubla Khan":

"Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
  Down to a sunless sea."

"Alph" certainly suggests ALP. Cliett notes that Alph is supposedly "based on Alpheus from Greek mythology, a river that was believed to run under the sea. In a similar sense, ALP may run under a literary sea from page 628 to page 3." (Cliett p. 111)

Cliett also cites Petr Skrabanek who suggests "riverrun" is evocative of the Italian rivivranno for "they will revive" or "they will live again" and also reads it as the French rêvê-rond meaning "dream-round."

To break the word "riverrun" into its constituent elements also yields a range of interesting resonances:

ri
Like "re-" it suggests a return or recurrence ("Finn, again!" FW p. 628). We find "re-" throughout the first page with "recirculation" and "rearrived" and "retaled."

ver
"Ver" from Latin refers to spring time (vernal or primavera), the coming forth of life (French vivre which is also hinted at in "riverrun") out of the dead of winter. "Ver" is an active verb (even the word "verb" itself probably comes from the root "ver")---in Spanish it could mean to see, to watch, to hear, to try. It also hints at verity or truth. The etymological dictionary also notes that ver- as a Germanic prefix denotes "destruction, reversal, or completion."

run
Movement, flow, speed. The word run as noun (as in, a spell of running) derives from Old English ryne meaning "a flow, a course, a watercourse." The noun run also means a continuing series or continuous stretch of something. Fittingly for our purposes, the term run is also important in baseball, used when a runner has completed a full cycle around the bases.

Run carries a myriad of other meanings, but I want to specifically mention the suggestion of Old Norse rún or rune which refers to magic, mystery, or secrets contained within letters. Rune: a verse or song, especially one with mystical or mysterious overtones; an incantation, or a spell. This is a perfect description of Finnegans Wake.

Lastly, let's examine the numerology underlying "riverrun." I've discussed once before how the number 8 in Joyce's numerology is associated with the female, the feminine life-renewing energy, probably because the number 8 is a rotated infinity symbol (among the many numbers associated with ALP is 1001, where the 1's are seen as the banks of the river and the 00 is the infinity symbol representing the river). Molly Bloom's birthday is September the 8th and her famous Penelope episode is the 18th chapter of Ulysses. In Finnegans Wake, the chapter devoted to the mother goddess is the 8th chapter.

Now with this in mind, consider "riverrun." It contains 8 letters. It begins with "r" which is the 18th letter of the alphabet.

Furthermore, if we calculate a numerological value from the word "riverrun" it would look like this:

R = 18
I = 9
V = 22
E = 5
R = 18
R = 18
U = 21
N = 14

Total =  125

1 + 2 + 5 = 8


I'm sure there's lots more to be found here. Feel free to add on in the comments.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Waging Peace from the Inkbattle House: Finnegans Wake in the Shadow of War

(Note: A truncated version of this essay was presented at the North American James Joyce Conference at Victoria College in Toronto in June 2017.)

I. 
“Enough...have I read of it...to augur in the hurry of the times” (FW 356)

This essay stems from my deep fascination with the years surrounding the publication of Finnegans Wake---James Joyce’s struggle to complete his 17-year magnum opus in the late 1930s as World War II erupted. In 1936 he told a friend that “the disturbed conditions now abroad in the world” made it hard for him to work, “It has been almost impossible for me to continue writing with such terrible anxiety night and day.” (Bowker, 484) Once he finally handed in the finished manuscript of Finnegans Wake in 1939, Joyce lamented, “They had better hurry. War is going to break out, and nobody will be reading my book anymore” (Ellmann, 721). The convergence of humanity’s grandest literary construction appearing in conjunction with man’s most destructive conflict feels highly significant to me. Finnegans Wake was finally published on May 4th 1939 and within four months World War II began.