Sunday, June 30, 2019

BBC Program "Free Thinking" Devoted to Finnegans Wake

To commemorate Bloomsday this year, the BBC radio program "Free Thinking" devoted a whole episode to discussing Finnegans Wake. I was pleasantly surprised at how great this discussion came out. The show features host Matthew Sweet discussing the historical facts and notorious idiosyncrasies of Joyce's final novel with Joyce scholar Finn Fordham, novelist Eimear McBride, and lecturer Eleanor Lybeck. They toss out favorite individual words from the Wake, speculate on why it was written in such an obscure language, collectively savor the book's unique delights, and read a few passages aloud. Most fascinating to me about the discussion is Finn Fordham's insights, as he's one of the premier Wake scholars in the world today and an engaging speaker. I was thrilled that he chose to recite the atomic explosion passage from the Butt & Taff episode at the heart of the text. That's about as rich and silly yet scientific and prescient a passage as you will find in Finnegans Wake.

On that note, I must admit that I was thunderstruck upon hearing the host bring up the I-Ching in relation to Finnegans Wake because I just presented my paper entitled "Binaries & Bibliomancy: Finnegans Wake as the Western I-Ching" at the annual Joyce Symposium in Mexico City a few days prior to the program being released. Not that there's any causal connection there, of course, it just struck me as a synchronicity that took on even more significance when Finn Fordham responded to the host's inquiry by dismissing the notion that Joyce designed the book to have oracular powers.

I can tell you that I am very, very excited about the material in my "Binaries & Bibliomancy" piece and I can't wait to share it with you all. I've been researching this subject for a few years now and spent six months writing the paper. The Wake & I-Ching have been strange bedfellows for a while but I found some fascinating concrete links between the two as well as myriad resonant echoes that enrich Joyce's text. The presentation I gave in Mexico City received some stunning responses from those in the audience, many of whom were veteran Joyce scholars. I am currently in the process of finalizing the paper (which contains more than double the material I shared in the presentation) to try getting it published somewhere. In the meantime, if you'd like to check out my presentation I will share a link of a video of the talk after the jump below.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Interview: Derek Pyle and Gavan Kennedy discuss upcoming "Finnegans Wake-End" celebration & "Finnegan Wakes" film project

Artwork by Boris Dimitrov.

[The 80th birthday of Finnegans Wake is next week, May the 4th. (Yes, Finnegans Wake day is also Star Wars day.) With the 80th anniversary of Finnegans Wake approaching, Dublin has been buzzing with events celebrating James Joyce's greatest and weirdest masterpiece. Two pals of mine, Derek Pyle and Gavan Kennedy, will be involved in an upcoming event called Finnegans Wake-End orchestrated by the James Joyce Centre in Dublin. Central to the festivities will be Gavan's ongoing documentary project "Finnegan Wakes" wherein a Here Comes Everybody array of random readers around the world are filmed reciting a page from the text alongside music. I did a Q&A with Derek and Gavan via e-mail discussing the upcoming Finnegans Wake-End event, Gavan's experience with the film project, and their love for Joyce's nightmaze. I'm excited to share this discussion here. Derek's words are in orange, Gavan the Irishman's words are in green. Enjoy! - PQ]

Saturday, March 30, 2019

New catalogue of illustrated Finnegans Wake pages "The echo is where" by Peter O'Brien

Artist and author Peter O'Brien has been engaged in an effort of illustrating every page of Finnegans Wake, LOTS OF FUN WITH FINNEGANS WAKE, that expansively brings the surface of the text to life with resplendent collages of annotations and illustrative doodlings. I first got to see an exhibit of his work in Toronto in 2017 where he had the Anna Livia Plurabelle chapter on display. Here's a glimpse of those pages:

Peter O'Brien's "Lots of Fun with Finnegans Wake" exhibit at Victoria University, Toronto (2017).  

To mark the 80th birthday of Finnegans Wake, O'Brien has brought forth a catalog called The echo is where, collecting 43 pages of his illuminated manuscripts alongside 43 commentaries from artists, scholars, authors, including a number of notable Joyce scholars (Margot Norris, Finn Fordham, Tim Conley, Michael Groden, among others) and also, I'm honored to say, a contribution from yours truly on pg. 76.

Here's some info on the new project from O'Brien's "LOTS OF FUN WITH FINNEGANS WAKE" webpage where you can find the links to The echo is where:

I am currently glossing / illustrating / disrupting the 628 pages of Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. I consider the book to be the most unstable, protean, multi-voiced, and fertile artwork that we have. This project allows me to yoke together my twinning interests of the illustrative and the intellectual, the palate and the palette, the visual and the verbal.  
In honour and celebration of the 80th anniversary of the publication of Finnegans Wake on 5 May 1939, I have produced a catalogue, “The echo is where,” which includes 43 pages from the project, together with 43 contributions by Joyceans and non-Joyceans from 14 different countries, and ranging in age from 22 to 105.  
There is a high-res PDF of the catalogue here (which will take about 30 seconds to download):  
The echo is where Peter O’Brien 2019  
And a low-res flip-book of the catalogue is here:  
Flip-Book: The echo is where

And here are some details from The echo is where:

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Carvings in the Claybook: A Reading of Finnegans Wake pgs. 18-19

From Id-Grids and Ego-Graphs: A Confabulation with Finnegans Wake by Jacob Drachler.

After cycling from the last chapter back to the beginning, our Austin Finnegans Wake Reading Group recently finished reading chapter 1. As often happens with this astonishingly rich book, there's been one section of the text that I've been stuck on, pondering for months. It's the part beginning on page 18 immediately after the discordant dialogue between two cartoonish Neanderthals named Mutt and Jute. The passage seems like a direct address to the reader instructing us how to approach the very text we are reading. The more I look at this section, the more I get out of it. In some ways it feels like a mission statement of Finnegans Wake, a convoluted self-commentary outlining the book's archeological treasures.

The entirety of pages 18 and 19 is what interests me but for the purposes of trying to keep this post as neat and focused as I can, let's focus especially on one notable paragraph spanning these pages.

Here's the paragraph, from pages 18-19:

Sunday, February 3, 2019

McLuhan's Jolting Thunders plus Links: the Real Prankquean, RadioMOLI, Joyceans in Mexico & more

Happy (belated) Birthday, James Joyce!

Recently I finished reading Eric McLuhan's extraordinary work of scholarship, The Role of Thunder in Finnegans Wake, after having thumbed through it for about five years. An extremely rich, thoroughly detailed, original and astute analysis, it's not always easy reading but its insights are manifold. It ranks up there with Joyce's Book of the Dark by John Bishop and Wake Rites by George Cinclair Gibson among the best analytical Wake studies I've ever read. Eric McLuhan, son of the famous Canadian media philosopher and Wakean Herbert Marshall McLuhan, takes his father's theory on the meaning of the Wake's ten thunderwords (1,001 letters in all) and explores it in thorough detail for the reader, breaking down the elements of each thunderword to their most discreet etymological units, examining the hundreds of polylingual resonances therein, proving how each successive thunderword piles on the themes of its predecessors and encapsulates the themes of the section of the text where it appears while also signaling a shift into a new technological age.

McLuhan's The Role of Thunder in FW opened up many portals for me. I'm sure you'll be seeing references to it pop up in my upcoming posts here and hopefully I can write a full review of my experience with the text sometime soon. For now, I just want to touch on one of the core aspects of McLuhan's study that left an impact on me and which resonates with the name I chose for this blog, "Finnegans, Wake!" McLuhan's book focuses on the Wake as being part of the tradition of Menippean satire, a form of Cynic parody which aims to jolt the reader into a renewed, heightened awareness of how their senses have been numbed, leading to a clarified perception. Finnegans Wake performs this action by putting daytime rational language to sleep, "otherwise the 'conscious levels' would obtrude upon or obliterate all the others." (McLuhan, p. 30) We are all somnambulantly wandering thru the conscious surface of our hyper-rational language, stuck in the world that cut-and-dry system of words and meanings creates for us. Joyce instead turns language into a wild circus, throwing every verbal trick imaginable into the mix and demanding that we not merely look at the words on the page but speak them aloud, awakening the auditory sense and adding new dimensions to our experience of words. Every part of the Wake is a pun, including the title. The name of the main character, Earwicker, carries many meanings, I often think of it as "ear-waker" awakening the ear. McLuhan points out that the German ihre Wecker means "alarm clock." The Wake's thunderwords contain its densest concentration of these forces.

The Wake enacts the aim of the ancient Cynic philosophers who sought to shake humans into an awareness of their dull adherence to systems of learning, leaving them stuck in a state of numbness. McLuhan points out:

The Cynics' constantly reiterated message stressed three things:
  • To the great and powerful, remember you're human.
  • To the proud, remember you're mortal.
  • To the rest, discard all your pretences and illusions.  (McLuhan, p. 7)

McLuhan also quotes Eugene Kirk who describes the core characteristics of Menippean satires, essentially describing the nature of Finnegans Wake:
"The chief mark of Menippean style was unconventional diction. Neologisms, portmanteau words, macaronics, preciosity, coarse vulgarity, catalogues, bombast, mixed languages, and protracted sentences were typical of the genre, sometimes appearing all together in the same work. In outward structure, Menippean satire was a medley---usually a medley of alternating prose and verse, sometimes a jumble of flagrantly digressive narrative, or again a potpourri of tales, songs, dialogues, orations, letters, lists, and other brief forms, mixed together." (McLuhan, p. 8) 
Key in all of this is the combination of low satire and highbrow learning, as McLuhan writes, "never so serious as when at riot of play, combining low sham with profound learning and the trite and trivial with the quadrivial. ... It can quickly be seen that every technique in the descriptive catalogue aims at the same jolt or sudden flash of awareness by irrationally flinging the reader from one situation or mental posture to another." (p. 8)

A main source of ridicule in all of this is the intellectual fraud, the theorizing intellectuals who think they've got it all figured out. This resonated with me as I've noticed more and more how irritated I am by the pedantry and pompousness of overly rational or scientific thinkers. As the Wake says, "Latin me that, my trinity scholard"! (FW p. 211) Finnegans Wake is kryptonite to people with that mindstate. Of course the western scientific tradition is immensely valuable, but to be so locked into that framework as to think the nature of reality consists of only what has been verified in peer-reviewed scientific research is, to me, a form of madness. McLuhan talks about the Menippean/Cynic approach as intending to wake the reader up using the Book of the Word in order to allow them to actually study the Book of the World. It can't all be explained away in theories and conclusions. McLuhan writes:

Menippean satirists simply deploy the one text, the written book, to cleanse the Augean stables of their readers' sensibilities, and then set the reader to work on the other text, the Book of the World: in all, an intensely grammatical enterprise, and no less so because they do it with language. Of these two books, one, the satire, is an entirely human production, while the other, the world, has been remade and re-uttered by man in and by his own speech and technologies and culture. Civilized man is so enveloped by his own artefacts and technological whims that he has forgotten himself, has lost the ability to perceive and read them as 'signatures' or signs, has become subject to them and spends his days ignorant that he lives in a wild fairyland of his own making. Restoring awareness is a Herculean labour. (p. 10-11, emphasis mine)
One last thing I want to mention here is McLuhan's discussion about the Letter at the center of the Wake as being a red herring. Joyce confounds and frustrates the reader looking for a literal meaning for the Letter and its importance, making us focus instead on the linguistic games used to obscure our pursuit of meaning.

Menippists often take a perverse delight in frustrating readers who try to educe 'right' meanings or coherent narratives from their work: techniques range from putting the preface late in the work, to jumbling the order of chapters or inserting blank pages as chapters... to instructing the reader to write the next few lines or paragraphs, etc. Joyce manages it in a more literary manner, by letting the very style of the Wake float a dozen levels of meaning simultaneously in every passage; so there is not one point of view at a time but many. Again, this ploy will keep the reader from becoming rigid, that is, from adopting a single fixed perspective on the text or the experience, and demands that the reader sustain maximal flexibility of response...
'Our subject is not so much the letter's content, as how that content becomes obscured, and how we are urged to embark on what is tantamount to an archaeological investigation so as to piece its meaning together. This task is carefully made impossible by the Wake itself,' remarks Philip Herring (Joyce's Uncertainty Principle, 200). In true Menippean fashion, the fun and the play is the point, not the interpretation of the content; or rather the real meaning is the effect that the book has on the reader. (McLuhan, p. 301-302)
I'll spare you any more of my scattered responses to McLuhan's book for now. I was sad to learn that Eric McLuhan passed away last year on May 18, 2018 at the age of 76. Now I wish I'd have taken the opportunity to get in touch with the man to discuss his richly fascinating perspective on Finnegans Wake, Menippean satire, and technology when he was alive.

Check out the post "Remembering Eric McLuhan" over at the excellent "McLuhan Galaxy" blog to learn more about his life and career. Also go read this piece by Eric McLuhan's son Andrew in remembrance of his father.

You might also dig this this interesting piece by Robert Guffey in "Paranoia Magazine" that touches on McLuhan's theories on the thunders, Joyce's technological insights, and other adventures in thought.

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RadioMOLI is now live! 
The Museum of Literature Ireland (MOLI) has launched a 24/7 digital radio broadcast featuring discussions, interviews, radio plays, documentaries and more. Listen to it HERE. I have it on in the background right now, they are currently playing an audiobook version of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The radio program launched last night for Joyce's birthday, kicking off with the famous recording of Joyce reciting the end of the Anna Livia Plurabelle episode and they even played a rendition of the "Ballad of Persee O'Reilly" from Finnegans Wake.

RTE "The History Show" discusses the legendary piratess Grace O'Malley
This RTE program featured a terrific segment on the history of the legendary pirate queen Grace O'Malley, the real life figure satirized in Joyce's fiery Prankquean character (discussed in my last post). Listen to the 27 January episode to hear the segment.

How Joyce gave Guinness a new slogan
Over at his always interesting "Swerve of Shore" blog Peter Chrisp details how Joyce provided Guinness beer with a new slogan in a passage from Finnegans Wake while touching on Joyce's penchant for devising new ideas for advertising.

Joyceans in Mexico City
The next James Joyce Symposium will take place this June in Mexico City. "Joyce Without Borders" is now accepting proposals for papers. I'm currently working on mine. The theme and location of this event promises something special. I've been to a few of these conferences now and they're like Disneyland for bibliophiles. Very much looking forward to it!

New online FW reading group "Blotty Words"
Carol Wade has been creating truly stunning paintings of pages from Finnegans Wake for a while now with her "Art of the Wake" project. Now she has launched an online FW reading group called "Blotty Words" which is being run thru this Facebook page.

Save Sweny's!
Sweny's Pharmacy, one of the locations featured in Ulysses (where Bloom buys Molly some lemon soap) is in trouble as the surrounding neighborhood has experienced extreme gentrification and rising rents. The rent for Sweny's, which has been in the same spot since the 1850s, doubled in the past year. A cultural landmark that features daily readings of Joyce and hosts Bloomsday celebrations every year, they are asking for support to help them stay open. You can go HERE to pledge as little as $1 per month thru Patreon to help this landmark of Joyceana stay alive.

Finnegans Wake-End, May 3rd-5th in Dublin
"Waywords & Meansigns" mastermind Derek Pyle and documentary filmmaker Gavan Kennedy will be participating in a weekend celebration hosted by the James Joyce Centre in Dublin in honor of the 80th anniversary of the publication of Finnegans Wake which was officially released to the world on May 4th, 1939. Read more about this event HERE.

Finnegans Wake at 80
Another big event scheduled to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Joyce's masterwork will be this three-day symposium at Trinity College in Dublin, scheduled for April 11-13. Lectures and panels will focus on encouraging "a synthesis of thematic and formal approaches to the Wake through genetic approaches, that is, to look at its stylistic and linguistic complexity through the prism of the notes and manuscripts on which it was written during the period 1922–1939." Read more about this symposium HERE.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Thunderword No. 2

- Finnegans Wake, p. 23

This, the second of ten 100-letter thunderwords scattered throughout Finnegans Wake (the tenth containing 101 letters, making 1001 in all), punctuates the climax of the explosive Prankquean fable (p. 21-23) and strikes resonant chords with many of its themes. As with everything in Finnegans Wake, thunderword no. 2 is so many things at once.

Our Wake reading group here in Austin recently made our way through the Prankquean episode and coincidentally, our friends in the Santa Cruz Finnegans Wake group also just finished reading about the Prankquean. Seana Graham wrote a nice blog post discussing their collective interpretations as well as the background of Grace O'Malley, the 16th century Irish pirate queen, a historic figure who became part of Irish folklore and who Joyce renders cartoonishly as the Prankquean. A provocative force who befuddles and terrifies the patriarchal Earl of Howth (called Jarl van Hoother in the Wake), the Prankquean represents feminine energy that forces change. Seana writes: "when I look at what is happening in our country, I see a similar principle at work."

A quick bit of background: the Prankquean episode is based on a story wherein the pirate queen Grace O'Malley showed up at the door of Howth Castle one night hoping for a place to spend the night. Established traditions were that the castle doors remain open during dinner time, yet the Earl of Howth defiantly shut the doors on O'Malley. At this blatant show of disrespect, O'Malley responded by kidnapping the heir of Howth. Instead of a ransom, she demanded the castle doors remain open for visitors. In the two-and-half page Finnegans Wake fairy tale version, the story is repeated three times with slight variations. In each instance, Jarl van Hoother is busying himself doing something creepy ("laying cold hands on himself" or "shaking warm hands with himself") when the Prankquean arrives at the doorstep and drops an unsolvable Zen koan of a riddle on van Hoother who promptly slams the door in her face, so she kidnaps and runs off with each one of twin children Tristopher and Hilary while Jarl van Hoother angrily hollers after her.

Joyce's fable of the Prankquean marks its three stages this way:

"And that was how the skirtmisshes began." (p. 21) 
"But that was how the skirtmishes endupped." (p. 22) 
"For one man in his armour was a fat match always for any girls under shurts." (p. 23)

In the third instance of the Prankquean's assault on the castle, Jarl van Hoother becomes so enraged that he dons an array of armor and his face turns every color of the rainbow in fury "like a rudd yellan gruebleen orangeman in his violet indigonation," but he was no match for the Prankquean. At first I thought the thunder clap was Jarl shutting the door loudly but "the duppy shot the shutter clup" contains the word "dup" which means "to open." That adds new meaning to the phrase "that was how the skirtmishes endupped"---the skirmish ended up with the door being kept open, as the Prankquean demanded. Similarly, after the thunder it says the Prankquean "made a sweet unclose."

Here is a video made by Wake performer extraordinaire Adam Harvey breaking down the sounds of this thunder:

The consonant-heavy thunderword comes as a fitting denouement to an episode marked by fiery storms, combustible anger, and ... bodily excretions. The ferocious Prankquean "lit up and fireland was ablaze" upon her initial arrival. When she departs, the skies rain down "falling angles" or "starshootings." Of course, her beguiling presence makes Jarl van Hoother erupt in volcanic anger and, as was hilariously discovered and discussed in our Wake group, loud explosive diarrhea.

Eric McLuhan's rich study The Role of Thunder in Finnegans Wake breaks down every syllable of each thunderword. In this one he finds a whole host of relevant themes and metaphors including: reference to the word "thunder" in over a dozen languages; lots of nautical terms in multiple languages (kicking off with "Perkod-" recalling Pequod, the ship in Moby-Dick) linking to the sea-faring piratess Prankquean; pairs of peas in a pod (recalling the Prankquean's repeated riddle, "Why am I alook alike two poss of porterpease?" [p. 22] a question for which there is "Noanswa!" [p. 23]); references to battles, enemies, cannon fire; clothing (recall van Hoother covers himself in layers of armor); charm and seduction (Prankquean is a kind of temptress, there are also words for "whore" contained in the thunder).

So, yes, this 100-letter word on one level represents the sound of thunder erupting, on intricate microcosmic levels it has a whole host of words in various tongues striking concordant notes with the episode's major themes, but it also quite simply enacts the onomatopoeic sounds of a loud, long fart. Or more likely a shart. I'm not kidding.

Finnegans Wake, p. 23
The thunderword is surrounded by indications that Jarl van Hoother is angrily sharting. It is perhaps an appropriate response to the Prankquean who, each time she arrives at the castle door, either defecates ("the prankquean pulled a rosy one" on p. 21, according to Fweet the slang "to pluck a rose" is when a woman defecates or urinates) or she urinates ("and she made her witter before the wicked" on p. 22---she made water). When she arrives a third time, van Hoother has "his hurricane hips up to his pantrybox, ruminating in his holdfour stomachs" (p. 22), clearly he's got an upset stomach. When he orders the castle door to be shut (each time he yells for the door to "Shut!" there's an echo of "Shit!"), it is said that "he ordurd"---there's the word "ordure" meaning excrement. 

Immediately following the reverberation of the thunderword, we are told, "And that was the first peace of illiterative porthery in all the flamend floody flatuous world." Can't help noticing the flaming, floody flatulence there, certainly offering hints that Jarl van Hoother let out a wet fart or a shart. The text also notes that "van Hoother was to git the wind up" which sounds like he farted. With all this in mind, we can't help now seeing words like "shutter" and "shurts" (p. 23) as indicative of van Hoother sharting on himself, angrily in his "violet indigonation."   

The more I read the Wake, the more I marvel at how Joyce blends together so much of the world's history and folklore, science and wisdom, seemingly every language known to man, and yet never does he cease to be silly and absolutely filthy. Yes, the Wake is in many ways a high-brow book, but it also has, on every page, the type of humor that would make schoolchildren laugh.

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.