Monday, April 24, 2017

Waywords & Meansigns Returns with a Third Volume, Featuring Contributions from FinWakeATX

(Art by Jacob Drachler from his glorious book Id-Grids and Ego-Graphs: A Confabulation With Finnegans Wake, reviewed at

The Waywords & Meansigns collective effort of setting Finnegans Wake to music via contributions from artists all over the world is set to release another new edition, its third rendering of the Wake, this one featuring over a hundred contributors from around the world each recording short selections from the text. I took part in this latest endeavor, creating a 17-minute recording of pages 613-615, produced and mixed by my friends Scott Rhodes and Luke Sanders-Self from the Finnegans Wake Reading Group of Austin (we dubbed our selection "Vicocyclometer"). The latest edition will be released on May 4th.

To celebrate the newest release, Waywords & Meansigns mastermind Derek Pyle has been spreading the good word in various Joycean outlets. Recently he wrote a few guest blog posts at the official James Joyce Centre blog featuring quotes from returning contributors to the Waywords project discussing their experience with the latest edition. I was among those quoted there and the other folks had some very interesting stuff to say about the Finnegans Wake immersion experience, so be sure to check that post out.

Here's a snippet from what I had to say about it:
Letting those kind of lines seep into your mind, you start to feel the incantatory magic of the Wake’s language. It affects the way you see the world, the way you hear language, it proliferates the Joycean perspective of epiphany. It’s extraordinary, to say the least.
(Derek also just appeared on the Resonance FM show "Sonic Imperfections" where he played a selection from our new piece and talked a bit about its background. This blog got a great shout out! I'm quite proud and honored for that. Check out that show HERE, skip to 14:22 mark for Derek's appearance.
---Edit: added, 4/26/17.)

Check out the first edition of Waywords & Meansigns released in 2015, featuring the full text of Finnegans Wake set to music HERE where friends and I created a three-hour rendition of the "Yawn Under Inquest" chapter (Track 15 at that link). You can read more about my experience creating a chapter for the first edition in this blog post and this interview.

Overall, I'm thrilled with the whole Waywords & Meansigns endeavor and grateful to Derek for his work in managing it all. It gives me great satisfaction and hope for humanity to know that so many people all around the world (contributors come from 15 different countries) have been immersing themselves in Joyce's great cosmic love letter, puzzling through the psychedelic dream opera and working to capture its inspired essence through music. The more people spending time reading and enjoying Finnegans Wake on this planet, the better. Its power of upliftment and enlightening humor is nuclear.

Check this space again soon, as I will have a guest blog from my pal Scott Rhodes who produced our "Vicocyclometer" passage and wrote an exceedingly insightful essay on his experience.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Great Letter and the Infinite Process of Self-Embedding

"When a part so ptee does duty for the holos 
we soon grow to use of an allforabit." 
- FW p. 18-19

"Will you walk into my wavetrap? 
said the spiter to the shy." 
- FW p. 287

"Joyce wants his text to contain the whole universe with all its recursive times (recorso) and histories. He also wants the whole of the Wake to be contained in each of its self-similar parts. His ideal reader is supposed to grasp the text both in recursive loops of readings and in a holistic perception of the whole text in each part. If one wants to imagine a fractal text that entails the 'infinite self-embedding of complexity,' Finnegans Wake comes as close to it as possible. The Wake enfolds words into words that enfold other words, and all these imaginary word-worlds enfold narratives within narratives of other narratives, or characters that are the effects of other characters, and so on ad infinitum. Joyce even seems to tease us about this infinite process of self-embedding when he deposits the Great Letter in the muddy surface of his text. The Great Letter is figured as a miniature Finnegans Wake which in turn, contains the Great Letter which contains Finnegans Wake which contains the Great Letter which contains Finnegans Wake... Chaos theory has termed this well-known mise-en-abîme 'self-similarity.' Defined as symmetry across scale, self-similarity 'implies recursion, pattern inside of pattern' (Gleick, Chaos: Making a New Science, 103). 'Fractal meant self-similar,' writes Gleick (...). The Wake drives this dream of infinite self-similarity to its extreme: as an enfolded replica of Finnegans Wake which, in turn, is figured as a text able to store all texts, sounds, and signs of all times, past and future, the Great Letter also embodies, somewhat self-ironically, the Wake's dream of being a written hologram of a self-similar universe."
- Gabriele Schwab, The Mirror and the Killer-Queen: Otherness in Literary Language, p. 76
(Encountered on p. 145 of Joyce & Liberature by Katarzyna Bazarnik, which I discussed further here.)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Happy Birthday to James Joyce! (& The Feast of St. Brigit)

Happy Birthday to James Joyce! Born on 2/2/1882. And Happy Birthday to Ulysses! Published on 2/2/1922.

February 2nd is a very special day in Joyceana.

For James Joyce, February 2 was, in Richard Ellmann's words, a 'talismanic' day: a point on the great wheel of time where an event of the present could resonate in 'sacred coincidence' with correlative events of an earlier cycle, thus imbuing the present with a potency that is at once symbolic, mythic, or even numinous. On February 2, 1939, Joyce, with his family and friends, celebrated his own birth fifty-seven years earlier as well as the 'birth' of his magnum opus---the arrival of the first printed copy of Finnegans Wake.

This 'talismanic' day, February 2, also coincides with the ancient Irish feast of Imbolc, one of the four great holy days in the Celtic wheel of the year. (Imbolc's bowdlerized vestiges can still be found in both Candelmas and Groundhog Day.) Imbolc is sacred to the goddess Brigit, the one-eyed patroness of Ireland's visionary poets (the Filidh), her mythologists, and her storytellers. In pagan Ireland, Imbolc, birthday of the ancient goddess, observed the arrival of light after long darkness; Imbolc celebrated the birth of a new cycle of life and also honored the goddess whose gifts---poetic insight, mnemonic ability, linguistic skill, knowledge of the ancient lore, and 'fire in the head'---allowed her votaries to preserve and continue the ancient Irish tradition. Thus, the feast day of this archaic Irish goddess of poets is also the birthday of the modern Irishman who, perhaps more than any of his contemporaries, embodies the very gifts she was understood to bestow. 

That's from the wonderful first page of Wake Rites: The Ancient Irish Rituals of Finnegans Wake by George Cinclair Gibson, perhaps the most important and illuminating book that has been written about Joyce's opus so far. Ever since we came upon page 611 in our Austin Finnegans Wake Reading Group, beginning the climactic St. Patrick vs the Archdruid Berkeley debate, I've been absorbed in and astounded by the insights presented in Wake Rites.

In it, Gibson describes seventeen as "the sacred number of regeneration for the pagan Irish." Tonight, on Joyce's birthday and St. Brigit's Feast Day in the 17th year of the 21st century, on the 17th floor at the graciously accommodating Irish Consulate, reading from the 17th chapter of the book Joyce wrote over a 17-year period, we dug into what is generally considered the book's climactic scene. Page 612, depicting the legendary confrontation between the invading Catholic Patrick with his mumbling groaning missionaries ("mister guest Patholic with alb belongahim the whose throat hum with of sametime...cassock groaner fellas of greysfriarfamily" 611.7-8) crashing the ultimate pagan Irish ritual ceremony at the Hill of Tara and defeating the Archdruid in a debate in front of the High King of Tara, usurping the archaic order of the poets, knocking the sage on his ass, and banning the ancient Irish seer-poet's mysterious and magical Dark Tongue language forever.

It is in the final chapter of Wake Rites, in discussing the extra bizarre language of the Patrick/Druid debate, where Mr. Gibson gives the most convincing and comprehensive argument I've yet seen for the reason behind the absurdly obscure language throughout Joyce's most treasured work. Gibson posits that it is Joyce's revival of the ancient Irish Dark Tongue:

In Old Irish, this artificially constructed tongue was known as bélra na filed, 'language of the filidh,' and was striking in its outrageous presentation, colorful characteristics, and nearly impenetrable obscurity. Bélra na filed (also called the 'Dark Tongue') is a language nearly incomprehensible in its polyglot logorrhea; language sometimes blathering, at other times ranting, ribald, profound, or scatological, and everywhere laden with absurd catalogues of everything; language rife with riddles, and riddled with puns, neologisms, and a plethora of polysemes and portmanteaus..."

This is the language spoken by the Archdruid Berkeley or "Balkelly" on pgs 611-612 in his extremely dense, silly and scientific debate with Patrick on the nature of the visible world and the light spectrum. Joyce describes it wonderfully through a language that actually is the thing itself ("the Ding hvad in idself id est" (p. 611)): "in other words verbigratiagrading from murmurulentous till stridulocelerious in a hunghoranghoangoly tsinglontseng." (p. 611) A verbal rambling flowing like the Huang He river in a sing-a-along sing-song style. The Druid's language is representative of the riverine "riverrun" language of Finnegans Wake itself. The flamboyant, rainbow-flavored "heptachromatic sevenhued septicoloured" style of the Druid battles against the invading black-and-white perspective grey-frocked Catholic Patrick "shiroskuro blackinwhitepaddynger" (p. 612) in a confrontation carrying out a core argument for the style and essential purpose of the book itself. As Joyce wrote to his patron, "Much more is intended in the colloquy between Berkeley the archdruid and his pidgin speech and Patrick the [saint] and his Nippon English. It is also the defense and indictment of the book itself."

How unbelievably special it was for us to experience the exegetical exploration of this page, the recovery of the ancient past, the Druidic Irish language of the seer-sage-poet "Bilkilly-Belkelly-Balkally" whose patroness is St. Brigit, on February 2nd at the Irish Consulate. I'm thankful to Adrian Farrell at the Consulate for so kindly hosting us and sharing in the fascination of Joyce's revival of the ancient Irish poetic wisdom.


Read more about this important passage over at Peter Chrisp's essential blog where he outlines the evolution of what was one of the earliest sketches Joyce composed for Finnegans Wake.