Monday, May 25, 2015

"dotter of his eyes": The Mystery of Lucia Joyce and Finnegans Wake

Lucia Joyce and her father in 1924
He gave me details about the mental disorder from which his daughter suffered, recounted a painful episode without pathos, in that sober and reserved manner he maintained even in moments of the most intimate sorrow. After a long silence, in a deep, low voice, beyond hope, his hand on a page of his manuscript: "Sometimes I tell myself that when I leave this dark night, she too will be cured." 
- Jacques Mercanton (from Portraits of the Artist in Exile, ed. Willard Potts)
Over at his fantastic blog "Swerve of Shore to Bend of Bay", notable Finnegans Wake enthusiast Peter Chrisp recently wrote about his experience witnessing the new play entitled "Lucia's Chapters of Coming Forth by Day" which attempts to give voice to the dead daughter of James Joyce who spent the last 47 years of her life incarcerated in a mental institution.

The play has not received great reviews due mainly to its production values, but the story is definitely an intriguing one. Written and directed by Sharon Fogarty, the play draws heavily upon Finnegans Wake which, among its many guises, is a modern version of The Egyptian Book of the Dead, the ancient guidebook to the afterlife that was literally entitled "Chapters of Coming Forth by Day." From Peter Chrisp's review:
The play places Lucia in the afterlife, with her own personal Book of the Dead. But she's also metaphorically dead because she's spent almost fifty years in mental institutions. There's a strong sense of entrapment. She's unable to escape from the institution and from the shadow of her famous father, James Joyce (Paul Kandel), who appears for most of the play in silhouette behind a screen. The men she falls in love with, such as Samuel Beckett, are more interested in her father than in her. She is frustrated in love and in her attempts to express herself as an artist.
The story of Lucia Joyce has become an increasingly popular one of late with this new play following up a well-received graphic novel Dotter of Her Father's Eyes written by Mary Talbot who draws parallels between her upbringing as the daughter of Joyce scholar James S. Atherton (author of The Books at the Wake) and that of Lucia suffering from the neglect of her busy father. The renewed interest in the life of James Joyce's artistically gifted but ostensibly mentally ill daughter would seem to have been sparked by the 2003 biography written by Carol Loeb Shloss, Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake.

The Lucia biography elicited some in-depth responses at the time, most notably a lengthy New Yorker piece entitled "A Fire in the Brain" which echoed the response most critics and scholars had to the book: the author made lots of stuff up.

A cursory perusal of the Lucia bio does indeed confirm this opinion. Shloss frequently drums up far more material about Lucia's inner life and her relationship with her father than one could expect a biographer to be aware of considering Joyce's cantankerous grandson Stephen destroyed most of her letters years ago. Despite this significant gap in source material, Shloss manages to assemble a nearly 500-page book on Joyce's daughter using lots of imaginative embellishment.

The two main points of her book, both controversial, are that the artistic modern dancer Lucia was a major inspiration for the Wake's style and that, once she became ill, Lucia was essentially sacrificed so that Joyce could finish the book. Here's the New Yorker piece elaborating on the latter:
Carol Shloss believes that Lucia’s case was cruelly mishandled. When Lucia fell ill, she at last captured her father’s sustained attention. He grieved over her incessantly. At the same time, he was in the middle of writing Finnegans Wake, and there were people around him—friends, patrons, assistants, on whom, since he was going blind, he was very dependent—who believed that the future of Western literature depended on his ability to finish this book. But he was not finishing it, because he was too busy worrying about Lucia. He was desperate to keep her at home. His friends—and also Nora, who bore the burden of caring for Lucia when she was at home, and who was the primary target of her fury—insisted that she be institutionalized. The entourage finally prevailed, and Joyce completed Finnegans Wake. In Shloss’s view, Lucia was the price paid for a book.
It's a tragic story that makes for good theater, but whether Lucia could have been "saved" by her father had he not been so caught up in finishing his giant puzzle book is unlikely. For years, Joyce was ignoring the advice of family, friends, and doctors by investing excessive amounts of time and money trying to find a cure for her illness. He tried everything from sending her to see Carl Jung (who told Joyce he and his daughter in the same river but he is swimming while she's drowning) to a whole array of alternative cures (like saltwater injections) with no real progress, yet he refused to give up on her. He was convinced she possessed the same spark of genius that he had, that she wasn't insane but gifted, even clairvoyant.

I'm partial to the diagnosis Jacques Lacan retroactively applied to the situation which was that Joyce and his daughter were both suffering from a psychosis, but while the father had his writing to channel all of his unconscious energy into---thus balancing out his psychotic symptoms through an affect Lacan calls "le sinthome"---the similarly gifted, artistically inclined daughter failed to find a sustained artform to devote herself to.

Lucia got into modern dance during the 1920s and clearly had a talent for it. She toured with a dancing group called Les Six de Rythme et Couleur (Joyce's dancing rainbow girls in Finnegans Wake bear traces of this outfit), studied at various schools in Paris, and in what would be perhaps the shining moment of her life, was a finalist in an international dance competition in 1929. While she didn't win the competition, she was the crowd favorite, the rowdy audience booed and heckled when she didn't win and chanted to the judges (in French) "The Irish girl! Gentlemen, be fair!" For her performance she wore an evocative shimmery fish costume which she'd made herself, pictured below.



During this period she was profiled in the Paris Times:
"Lucia Joyce is her father's daughter. She has James Joyce's enthusiasm, energy, and a not-yet-determined amount of his genius... When she reaches her full capacity for rhythmic dancing, James Joyce may yet be known as his daughter's father."
Her dancing career sputtered though, when she made the poor decision to fortify her dancing foundation by going back to school to study ballet. Already in her late 20s, she was too old to begin such a rigorous practice from scratch and quickly flamed out. Shloss speculates that her mother Nora, a lifelong adversary, pushed her to quit dancing.

The failure of her dance career combined with a string of failed romantic relationships likely hastened Lucia's descent into mental illness. At one point, she had fallen in love with her father's young amanuensis and protégé Samuel Beckett only to be told bluntly that he was only interested in her father. According to Richard Ellmann, Beckett later told a friend "that he was dead and had no feelings that were human; hence had not been able to fall in love with Lucia." Revealingly, after Beckett died a photo of Lucia in her dancing fish outfit was found at his desk. He'd kept it for more than 60 years.

*   *   *

Artist Roy Wallace depicts James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and Lucia.

As for the influence Lucia had on Finnegans Wake, while it may not have happened the way Shloss portrays it in her book, Lucia surely plays a major role in Joyce's magnum opus. Building off the scene a cousin of the Joyce's witnessed at their house once, Shloss paints this picture:
There are two artists in this room, and both of them are working. Joyce is watching and learning. The two communicate with a secret, unarticulated voice. The writing of the pen, the writing of the body become a dialogue of artists, performing and counterperforming, the pen, the limbs writing away. The father notices the dance’s autonomous eloquence. He understands the body to be the hieroglyphic of a mysterious writing, the dancer’s steps to be an alphabet of the inexpressible. . . . The place where she meets her father is not in consciousness but in some more primitive place before consciousness. They understand each other, for they speak the same language, a language not yet arrived into words and concepts but a language nevertheless, founded on the communicative body. In the room are flows, intensities.
You'll notice Shloss injecting a great deal of her own creative interpretation into things. This is what she does throughout the book and it's why she hasn't been taken too seriously.

She employs this brand of creative interpretation to the material from the Wake, as well, frequently reading into it references to Lucia. For this I don't think she can be faulted, though, as this type of projection of one's own theories when deciphering the text is exactly how it should be read. And in her reading of Joyce's twisted "nat language" (FW p. 83) she often presents a fairly good case for there being present allusions to Lucia.

The Nuvoletta scene of the Wake, which is prominently featured in the "Lucia's Chapters of Coming Forth by Day" performance, carries strong echoes of Lucia, the character's name even morphing into "Nuvoluccia" (FW p. 157) at one point. The book's "daughter of pearl" (FW p. 399) Issy and her accompanying rainbow girls have always been the most difficult of the main characters to pin down, there's certainly some of Lucia embedded in there.

Lucia Anna Joyce was the apple of her father's half-blind eye. The two had a special relationship, one might say they were on the same wavelength. As one of Lucia's fellow dancers, Helene Vanel, put it: "Yes, she was really the spiritual daughter of James Joyce; she was his extension. She was the single element on earth that prolonged his existence, both inside and outside of his work."

After she was entered into a mental institution, Joyce continued to rally in defense of his daughter, writing to Harriet Shaw Weaver, "I am again in a minority of one in my opinion as everybody else apparently thinks she is crazy. She behaves like a fool very often but her mind is as clear and unsparing as the lightning" and wrote to a friend about "the lightning-lit revery of her clairvoyance." (There's lightning flashing outside my window as I write this.) In an essay for the James Joyce Quarterly entitled "Lightning Becomes Electra: Violence, Inspiration, and Lucia Joyce in Finnegans Wake," Joyce scholar Finn Fordham points out that in the late 1930s there were several additions made to the text linking together Lucia and lightning (Lucia in Italian means light). It's also revealing that, as Shloss notes, when Finnegans Wake was about to be published Joyce wanted to show Lucia the first copy.

Like most everything in Finnegans Wake, we likely won't ever get a straight answer about the role Lucia played in its creation. Her mystery grows darker and invites further speculation since her letters were destroyed. What was Stephen Joyce trying to hide? Another denunciation aimed at Shloss' book stems from her speculation that there was some sort of sexual indiscretion involved in Lucia's early life, likely involving her brother---Stephen's father---that contributed to her condition (though she admits there's actually no evidence for this). At the heart of Finnegans Wake is a vague nightmarish guilt for some sexual act committed by the main character. Whatever may have actually occurred is purposely obscured, the story twisted, tangled, and distorted through degrees of gossip.

The reader is never able to get to the heart of the matter, always picking up clues and hints while the truth recedes further, teasing and laughing off into the darkness. The curious persist, sensing something major just beyond their grasp. Confined to a mental institution until her death in 1982 (the centenary of her father's birth) and forever silenced by a paranoid family member afterward, we'll likely never know the full story of Lucia Joyce. I don't think it's crazy to suggest there are encoded secrets about Joyce's beloved daughter buried within the pages of his puzzle book, never to be solved.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

New Finnegans Wake Musical Audiobook Adaptation Featuring Yours Truly

Waywords and Meansigns art by Robert Berry

This past May 4th marked both the 76th anniversary of Finnegans Wake being published and the world premiere of the "Waywords and Meansigns" audio project bringing Finnegans Wake to life in an unabridged musical audiobook. The full audio project is over 30 hours long, encompassing all of the book's 17 chapters with a different musician/artist handling each one. Each artist was given full freedom to creatively interpret the text in their respective renditions so there's a pretty wide array of styles and interpretations.

I had the honor of contributing to the project, recording a 3-hour rendition of the 15th chapter (Book III, Chapter 3) known as "Yawn Under Inquest". Immense thanks are owed to Evan James, Jake Reading, and Melba Martinez for their contributions to the recording which took many hundreds of hours over a span of three months to complete. The experience was unlike anything I've ever partaken in and I'm very proud of the result. You can read more about my experience with creating this recording here.

The entire project is completely free and available to listen to or download in full on the Waywords and Meansigns website. Since the Wake is a circular book you can jump in at any point but, of course, I recommend you start with my chapter which is Track 15.

The new project has already received the attention of The Guardian and the excellent RAWillumination blog (focusing primarily on the work of noted Finnegans Wake devotee Robert Anton Wilson) has just published an interview with myself and Steve "Fly" Pratt on our experiences with contributing to the project.

Please be sure to go check it all out and send some feedback!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Yawn Wails

Illustration for "Waywords and Meansigns" by Robert Berry

For the past two months I've been working on an experimental recording of the 3rd chapter in Book III of Finnegans Wake, known as "The Inquest of Yawn", for the Waywords and Meansigns project. The first snippet of that recording was recently released, you can listen to it here.

I chose this chapter because it's always been one of my favorites. The opening finds a giant sleeping figure, Yawn, whose yawns and sleepy groans create huge gusts of wind. His Brobdingnagian sleeping body is also an enormous, otherworldly mountain. Four chroniclers (and their donkey) approach the mountain-body, braving treacherous winds and an impossible ascent, "traversing climes of old times gone by of the days not worth remembering" (FW p. 474), and screaming in fear (in seven different languages) at the imposing, astronomical size of Yawn. "His bellyvoid of nebulose with his neverstop navel... his veins shooting melanite phosphor, his creamtocustard cometshair and his asteroid knuckles, ribs, and members... His electrolatiginous twisted entrails belt." (p. 475)

The purpose of their journey is to "hold their sworn starchamber quiry on him" (p. 475), conducting an odd examination on this windy, thunderous mountaintop. Out of this sleeping mountain-body the four questioners summon the voices of history like a séance, using some mysterious combination of electromagnetic radio waves and wireless telephony. The sleepy Yawn is resistant to their efforts, but they persist with hypnotic, psychological techniques and eventually summon out the voices of all of the Wake's characters, speaking through the medium of Yawn.

It's a fun chapter to read but, as I discovered, a very difficult one to recite and record. It consists mostly of a dialogue between the 4 questioners and Yawn, with all of the quotations unattributed. FWEET was a huge help, of course, and I brought in a couple friends to help out with doing the other voices, one of whom is a professional actress with experience doing NPR recordings. I also was lucky enough to be linked up with a fantastic audio engineer, Jake Reading, who was open-minded and willing enough to take on this daunting, experimental project. Jake's contribution to this project has been immeasurable. (Devoted Wake head Evan James also deserves immense thanks for his help.)

When it began, I naïvely thought I could recite the whole chapter over a couple marathon sessions and then we'd make edits and add musical effects accordingly. All could be done in a week, I figured. Instead, the 77-page chapter took many weeks to record, followed by a few sessions of editing, and now we are still in the midst of adding on music and sound effects to the 2+ hour recording.

The process has been both extremely fun and immensely challenging. It took so long just to record a reading of the text because to zip through a recitation of Wake pages without any mistakes is the equivalent of maintaining balance on a surfboard while riding a huge wave. Like I said: very fun but very challenging. Over and over again, I'd get through a couple paragraphs only to go flying violently off the surfboard when it became too challenging to read yet another unconventional Wake word.

As someone who's never participated in any kind of recording before, another challenge involved with all of this was getting used to the sound of my own voice. Like most people, I've always hated the sound of my voice and at first it was excruciating to hear myself navigating Joyce's odd language. Eventually I did get used to it, though, and came to really enjoy hearing the music of the Wake, it really does come to life when read aloud. Or, as the Wake emphatically puts it: "Lung lift the keying!" (FW p. 499)

With the reading now including lots of different music and effects in the background, it's really starting to sound like something special (I think). Can't wait to get it all finished up. The effect promises to be some odd combination of magic and music, what the Wake refers to as "the mujic of the footure" (p. 518).

Look for the fully finished product to appear on May 4th.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Anastomosis


After spending so much time studying and writing about John Bishop's Book of the Dark, a number of things have stuck with me. One of those is the word anastomosis.

Here's the definition from Wikipedia:
An anastomosis (plural anastomoses, from Greek ἀναστόμωσις, communicating opening) is the reconnection of two streams that previously branched out, such as blood vessels or leaf veins. The term is used in medicine, biology, mycology, geology, geography and architecture.
and from Merriam-Webster:
the union of parts or branches (as of streams, blood vessels, or leaf veins) so as to intercommunicate or interconnect

This one word holds vital meaning for Bishop's thoroughly argued theory that all of the Wake takes place within the body of one man. The culmination of his theory and wonderful book holds that the sleeper regresses back to the womb state (which we all do when we sleep), when the connection of anastomosis made him one with the mother's body, which in Bishop's view is ALP.

We find HCE and ALP connected by anastomosis on page 585 of the Wake:
Humperfeldt and Anunska, wedded now evermore in annastomoses by a ground plan of the placehunter...
In this case, "placehunter" is the placenta, giving strong credence to Bishop's interpretation.

But, as you can see from the definitions, this is a word that is used across many fields. The range of uses for the word implies a similarity between the nature of blood vessels, rivers, tree branches, rock veins, etc.

All of this also sounds like the nature of Finnegans Wake itself, a book which seems to feature biology, geology, neurology, history, geography, psychology, etc on just about every page, implying a similarity, a link, an anastomosis between all of these things.


The very way Joyce creates networks of meaning is a form of anastomosis. Words, motifs, themes, references branch out and connect with each other all over the book. The deeper you study it, the more you realize it's designed organically, the pages are a living fabric. The meanings grow and evolve each time you read it. That's why you'll always manage to find contemporary references in there (as in "Nike with your kickshoes on" pg 270 or pg 135: "handwriting on his facewall" which conjures Facebook).

I think this is a key element of the book, hence the central role of the river, "riverrun" (FW p. 3). The text itself and the underlying meaning of the words is very much like a river. A running river not only flows in winding loops, but branches off and forms new connections and links, "so looply, looply, as they link" (FW p.226) creating "interloopings" (FW p.551).

As Dan Weiss wrote in his fantastic essay "Understanding the (Net) Wake":
As his daughter Lucia's schizophrenia worsened, Joyce alone had the ability to follow her giant-steps of thought that baffled others completely. His ability to traverse the flux of her wild metaphoric "correspondance"(452) is evident in his masterwork. If we imagine hero/male archetype/key nodal point H.C. Earwicker's "seven dams....and every dam had her seven crutches. And every crutch had its seven hues. And every hue had a differing cry"(215), we will have a good picture of the branching tree pathways that Joyce knew how to walk with Lucia. If we then imagine connecting every dam, crutch, hue and cry with every other dam, crutch, hue and cry, we will "translace"(233) that branching tree into the kind of network into which the reader of Finnegans Wake is dropped.
Another appearance of "anastomosis" in Finnegans Wake comes in one of my favorite passages of the entire book, starting on page 614:
Our wholemole millwheeling vicociclometer, a tetradomational gazebocroticon ... autokinatonetically preprovided with a clappercoupling smeltingworks exprogressive process, (for the farmer, his son and their homely codes, known as eggburst, eggblend, eggburial and hatch-as-hatch can) receives through a portal vein the dialytically separated elements of precedent decomposition for the verypetpurpose of subsequent recombination so that the heroticisms, catastrophes and eccentricities transmitted by the ancient legacy of the past; type by tope, letter from litter, word at ward, with sendence of sundance... all, anastomosically assimilated and preteridentified paraidiotically, in fact, the sameold gamebold adomic structure of our Finnius the old One, as highly charged with electrons as hophaz- ards can effective it, may be there for you, Cockalooralooraloomenos, when cup, platter and pot come piping hot, as sure as herself pits hen to paper and there's scribings scrawled on eggs.
One of the reasons I've always loved this passage is because it feels like a breakdown or explanation of the living machine Joyce sought to engineer with Finnegans Wake (he called himself "the greatest engineer who ever lived" after all). In the hopes of keeping this post short, I won't go deep into the passage but I just want to point out the use of "anastomosically" here. What this passage seems to be saying is that the Wake takes all of the elements of history, breaks them down to their "dialytically separated elements" and reconnects them via branches.

Or something like that.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

JoyceGeek, Jorn Barger's Return, and other new Wake links



"They had heard or had heard said or had heard said written."   
- FW p. 369 

"For a surview over all the factionables see Iris in the Evenine's World." 
- FW p. 285

The links section in the sidebar of this blog needs updating now with some fresh new Finnegans Wake-focused blogs popping up around the web. Here is a look at some of the great websites I've found recently, some new, some have been around for a little while but slipped through the cracks.


JOYCEGEEK
The notable performer of Wake pages, actor Adam Harvey of New Mexico, has begun his own website called JoyceGeek. This is exciting news as Adam is one of the more knowledgable Wake heads out there. One of the few people in the world who can recite pages-upon-pages of the text from memory, Adam is exactly the kind of evangelist the Wake needs in our world today. Watch him perform the end of the Shem chapter (from memory) here. He hosts a Joyce reading group in Santa Fe, New Mexico and has frequently performed sections of the Wake at Joyce conferences. Most recently he did a show called "Don't Panic it's only Finnegans Wake" that looked really interesting. In that show Adam delivered some audiovisual tutorials on how to recite words or portions from the Wake, on his website you can find videos he's put together breaking down each of the 10 hundred-lettered thunderwords in the Wake. (Though I'm somewhat disappointed he didn't mention any of the material from Eric McLuhan's The Role of Thunder in Finnegans Wake.)

He also writes a blog which already has many interesting posts, the most recent of which examines the available Finnegans Wake audiobooks. Adam is not a particularly huge fan of the Patrick Healy recording, mainly because he feels Healy rushes through the text too much. (I used Healy's recording often during my full-length Wake dive and found it to be pretty fun, but I understand Adam's point.) He also links to a recording of most of the text done by Simon Loekle which I hadn't previously been aware of.


Patrick Horgan's Reading
During our last Austin Wake Reading Group meeting before Christmas, we had some visitors from the NYC Wake group who took part in our reading. One of the visitors, Suzanne from Brooklyn, alerted me to Patrick Horgan's full rendition of Finnegans Wake, a recording he made for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Adam mentions this recording in his JoyceGeek post too, it's a really phenomenal performance, definitely far superior to Patrick Healy (whose recording I long thought was the only one available online). Horgan savors the multilingual and rhythmic prose, often adopting an ambiguously European accent that hearkens back to the expressive way Joyce himself performed a few pages in his 1929 recording. I've used Horgan's recording often during my preparation for recording the Yawn chapter for the upcoming "Waywords and Meansigns" project.


The return of Jorn Barger?
One of the things Adam Harvey wrote about on his blog is the loss of so many great websites devoted to James Joyce that now seem to be defunct, lost in the electronic ether (though they remain alive in the internet archives!). One of these happens to be Robot Wisdom, one of the web's original weblogs that was assembled by the mysterious and hirsute character known as Jorn Barger. Jorn is one of the earliest internet users (he coined the term "weblog"), an artificial intelligence aficionado, literary scholar and most importantly, a renowned expert on the work of James Joyce. His now-defunct (but archived) "IQ Infinity" page had tons and tons of notes on all of Joyce's work, most notably lots of material on the early drafts of Finnegans Wake. While the Robot Wisdom website went down a while back, I've noticed a few new Wake blogs have popped up with extremely thoroughgoing genetic analysis of the text and I strongly suspect that these blogs could be the work of Mr. Barger.

See for yourself:
Finnegans Wake Origins
Finnegans Wake Annotated
Etcetera Etcetera


FINNEGANS AWAKE
This Tumblr page has quickly become one of my favorite things about the internet. FINNEGANS AWAKE is absolutely filled with Joyce-related material with an emphasis on FW. It is an overflowing wealth of photos and quotes and artwork that one can easily get lost in. Really, go there now and scroll through the archive for a few minutes and see if you don't get completely absorbed into it. There is soooooo much great material there. THANK YOU to whoever created this thing and please keep up the great work.

Wake manuscript page, seen at FINNEGANS AWAKE.

Alternate cover for the latest edition of FW by Eoin Ryan,
seen at FINNEGANS AWAKE.

Vagabond Bohemia
On a similar note, while not strictly focused on Joyce, this Tumblr page is also a new favorite of mine. Plenty of Joyce material as well as a whole universe of artwork, plus Thomas Pynchon, Marshall McLuhan, Salvador Dali, Robert Anton Wilson, and other great explorers of the frontiers of the mind.

Cryptic Tricksters by Circumambient Peripherization [McLuhan & Joyce]
spotted at Vagabond Bohemia


Wake in Progress
This is not new of course, I've posted about Stephen Crowe's wonderful illustrations of the Wake before, but I just want to call attention to it once more because Stephen continues to update his page regularly and even has some good short essays to read. Check out his recent thoughts on reading the Wake.


The Grammar of Matter
Stumbled upon this extraordinary and quirky blog recently, it contains writings on a number of topics but mostly (as far as I can tell) revolves around archaeology and Finnegans Wake. This all springs from a thesis the author wrote about prehistoric rock art and the Wake. Following that thesis, the author examines archeology and mythology through the Wake as a lens. Robert Anton Wilson called Joyce "the greatest anthropologist who ever lived." This author seems to explore this possibility. It's exactly these kinds of eclectic and fascinating webpages that make the internet so damn special to me. Use this link to see all the Wake-related posts.


The Joyce Project
Lastly, it isn't specifically related to Finnegans Wake, but there is a new project devoted to creating a hypertext version of Ulysses with annotations and links embedded into the text. Worth a look.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Frank Delaney Describes Finnegans Wake Perfectly

Irish novelist and public intellectual Frank Delaney, who NPR once declared to be "the most eloquent man in the world," hosts a weekly podcast called "Re-Joyce" devoted to deciphering the pages of Ulysses basically one paragraph at a time. After every twelfth episode of the podcast he delivers a so-called "baker's dozen" episode devoted to miscellaneous Joyce topics.

The latest episode answered a listener's question about how best to approach Joyce's work, and Delaney responded with a rundown of each of the books in Joyce's canon. This gave him an opportunity to riff on Finnegans Wake which he does only rarely on his show. His description is quite beautiful:
Finnegans Wake is not a novel....No! No! Finnegans Wake is a poem, it's a symphony by a modern atonal composer. It's an assembly of language tying together floating evanescent ideas. It's a long rapid eye movement dream, it's a marathon technicolored musing that might have been induced by mescaline or LSD...It's a seemingly reckless careening through English and other languages. Yet you know that every word has been considered in this hodgepodge potpourri of miscellaneous and not always aligned thoughts and ideas, in this flamboyant and brilliant linguistic exercise that mimics the intensely illustrated pages of a medieval Irish manuscript. It's a massive rap, as in rapper, as in street talk, as in lingo, as in the heat of the day and the cool of the night captured dreamily and melodiously in words of all shapes and sizes. It's a mirage.
Do not read FW. Feel it. Dip into a page, any page, and if you find something that lights up your synapses, enjoy it... Read Finnegans Wake on any page at any time, and listen to it. Feel the words in your mouth and smile. But above all else: feel it in your spirit.
He also mentions he hopes someday some brave soul will embark on a full explication (to whatever extent that's possible) of the Wake in a podcast or some other medium. After practicing recently for the upcoming Waywords and Meansigns recording project for which I'm doing a chapter, and being surprised at how I wasn't too terribly disgusted by the sound of my own recorded voice, I'm beginning to give consideration to creating a Finnegans Wake podcast sometime down the road. There's a tiny but devout and growing group of Wake devotees around the world, too, so don't be surprised to see it happen in the not too distant future.


(Thank you to Peter Chrisp of the fantastic blog Swerve of Shore to Bend of Bay for calling my attention to this.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

New Finnegans Wake Audio Recording Project "Waywords and Meansigns"

Some extremely ambitious Finnegans Wake fans have organized a project to create a new audio recording of the text in its entirety.

From the group's website:
Waywords and Meansigns is an upcoming audio version of James Joyce's famous text, Finnegans Wake, to be read in its entirety. The book will be divided into 17 sections, and there will be a different music/reader/performance group assigned to each section. Featuring established as well as up-and-coming artists, Waywords and Meansigns will offer a version of Joyce's work that is stimulating, accessible, and enjoyable to even the most casual of readers and listeners.
The project will feature various artists, musicians, and other daring creative folks who will each record one of the book's 17 chapters in full. I have signed on to create a recording of one of my favorite chapters, the "Inquest of Yawn" (Book III, chapter 3). Participants are free to add whatever music or effects they want and interpret the text through their reading however they see fit.

I love this idea. This is something Finnegans Wake has needed for a long time, a true Here Comes Everybody recording. It is a book that's meant to be heard, after all. Listening to James Joyce read a few pages from it aloud seems to open up the entire text to new possibilities. When I embarked on a cover-to-cover reading of the book, I found it essential to listen to Patrick Healy's recording in order to appreciate the text's river-like, meandering, extending flow and cacophonous play of consonants and vowels.

Not only to hear it, but to actually read it aloud or perform it really enhances and amplifies the Wake experience. It's a challenge for your mouth; occasionally the extraordinary patterns of employing the lips, tongue, and teeth will cause one to break out into laughter. Take the following passage, for instance.
"For, with that farmfrow's foul flair for that flayfell foxfetor, (the calamite's columitas calling for calamitous calamitance) who that scrutinising marvels at those indignant whiplooplashes; those so prudently bolted or blocked rounds; the touching reminiscence of an incompletet trail or dropped final; a round thousand whirligig glorioles, prefaced by (alas!) now illegible airy plumeflights, all tiberiously ambiembellishing the initials majuscule of Earwicker" - FW, p. 119
To navigate a reading of that passage is to maintain the inflection of one expanding sentence with many interruptions, while encountering strange Joycean mutant words like "whiplooplashes" and "plumeflights" and immediately judging their pronunciation. There's also plenty of fun alliteration. In fact, that snippet encapsulates the reading experience pretty well. It's actually a passage describing the very nature of the Finnegans Wake text itself, taken from a chapter (Book I, ch. 5) that serves as a primer for how to read this bizarre book. It's all about the sound. As readers, we've become so used to eyeing the page and determining meaning from the letters we see. The Wake seeks to reawaken the sound of language, opening up the larger possibilities of the spoken word from which language originally sprung, "here keen again and begin again to make soundsense and sensesound kin again." (FW p. 121)

I look forward to recording my contribution and hearing the rest of the recordings in the "Waywords and Meansigns" project. It'll be a challenging endeavor for all involved, but it also promises to be lots of fun. I'm thankful for the brave souls who are putting it all together and wish them the best of luck.