Saturday, May 16, 2020

Renowned Educator and Finnegans Wake Scholar John Bishop Has Died

The retired Berkeley professor and legendary James Joyce scholar who wrote Joyce's Book of the Dark, John Bishop, passed away on Friday May 15th, 2020 after suffering complications due to Covid-19. He had been fighting through health maladies the last several years. Read his obituary here.

It is safe to say John Bishop's book Joyce's Book of the Dark made a huge impact on me. I owned the book for many years before I committed to reading all of it, but it always inspired me. My initial discovery of the book was right around the time I fell in love with Finnegans Wake around 2009 when I was living in San Diego, unemployed for months at a time, living in tiny apartments, spending days reading at the beach, nights reading at the library. I used to make the long drive up to LA to attend a Finnegans Wake reading group in Venice and drive home the same night. It was right around that time when I first started writing a blog. In fact, part of my inspiration to write a blog stemmed from my feeling that there was such a book as Joyce's Book of the Dark by John Bishop out there in the world and hardly anybody on the internet was talking about it. I write for people like me who are searching for discussions about this exact thing. The name of this blog "Finnegans, Wake!" and that little quote "you have nothing to lose but your chains" that sits atop this blog, that all came from John Bishop's book.

By the time I finally got around to dedicating myself to reading Joyce's Book of the Dark back in 2012 (the same year I started this blog), the book struck me so much that I then spent a full year slowly re-reading the whole thing, taking copious notes and trying to comprehend it all. It's a huge book, peppered with various diagrams and word-trees, and stuffed with footnotes that are as rich and informative as the text itself. Bishop builds up his Wake theories so thoroughly that his book is easy to get lost in. I think it's tough to make an argument against Joyce's Book of the Dark being the greatest book ever written about Finnegans Wake. That book alone, I would hazard to surmise, has launched many academic and literary careers. The sharpest and most ardent Finnegans Wake readers across the globe hold Bishop's book in the highest regard. It helped open up the text of the Wake for all of us to read our own theories into it, while expounding thoroughly on Bishop's own profound and fascinating interpretation of the book.

After studying Bishop's great book I wrote a 4-part review attempting to summarize some of its most eye-opening aspects in my view. That review consumed an immense amount of time and energy, it was not an easy thing to write but I felt a need to do so and the final result became one of the things I feel most proud to have written.

Here are the links to my review of John Bishop's masterpiece Joyce's Book of the Dark:

                       Part 1
                                                 Part 2
                                                                            Part 3
                                                                                                      Part 4

At the bottom of Part 4 there I shared some links to more material from John Bishop including an old lecture he gave on the Prankquean section of the Wake, a rich and enlightening interview with Bishop conducted by my friend Gerry Fialka (wherein Bishop reflects on FW p. 287: "If we could each always do all we ever did"), and the full recording of a literature course taught by Bishop at UC-Berkeley in 2008.

At some point after I began writing about the works of James Joyce, partly inspired by John Bishop, I started writing papers to deliver at academic conferences focused on Joyce studies. Though I have now been to a handful of conferences around the world and met many accomplished and inspiring Joyceans, I never did get to meet John Bishop. But I did get to see him. The first time I attended a Joyce conference was back in 2011 at Caltech in Pasadena, CA. Sadly, Bishop had recently suffered a stroke so he was unable to attend. His friends among the professors there channeled him in via Skype though, to have a Finnegans Wake reading group one afternoon during the conference. He was confined to a wheelchair, his physical faculties had taken a hit but his mind remained sharp. Years later when I was at a Joyce conference in Toronto in 2017, once again the professors channeled in their friend John Bishop via video conferencing. This time he delivered a paper on a panel about magic in Finnegans Wake (where there was also a great paper about the Wake as grimoire).

By that time I had already written the big review of Bishop's book, I was a huge fan of his (I had also been contacted by some of Bishop's caretakers who mentioned he had read and loved the review I wrote) so I sat there listening to him on a live-feed expound off the top his head all about one little line in the Wake ("Poor little brittle magic nation" spoken on FW p. 565 by a mother who comforts her child after he awoke from a nightmare, telling him it's only his imagination) and I tried to take as thorough notes as I possibly could, practically jotting down every word the man said. This is because, while there are many great exegetes of Joyce out there, no other has ever struck me to the degree Bishop has. And this would likely be my last chance to hear him share fresh insights about Joyce and Finnegans Wake. That short talk he gave totally blew me away. I think about it often. I wrote a summary of what he said at the end of this recap of the Toronto Joyce conference.

Afterwards I sought out Bishop's friends, the professors who had arranged his talk. I told them I was someone with an immense appreciation for Bishop's work and let them know that, last I'd heard (in the interview Bishop did in 2009 that you can listen to here) Bishop said he was finishing up a sequel to his Book of the Dark and also writing a book about what he had learned in his four decades studying Ulysses. I asked if they knew anything about those projects and implored them to ensure Bishop's notes for those projects are located and safeguarded. I maybe seemed a little crazy.

That was June of 2017. A year later at another conference, this time in Antwerp, Belgium, I got to have lunch with another great Joyce scholar whose work I admire, professor Vincent Cheng who wrote the powerful book Joyce, Race, and Empire. He also was a roommate with John Bishop when they were in grad school together. We talked for a long time, professor Cheng is a really nice guy, friendly and accommodating, he told me many stories. He mentioned how Bishop would stay up all night writing his thesis. That thesis is what became the book Joyce's Book of the Dark, but professor Cheng emphasized that the material in the book was only the first half of his thesis. There was a whole other part to it.

Here's hoping we haven't seen the last of John Bishop's unique angles of explicating the depths of Finnegans Wake. Regardless, the man leaves behind a legacy of having inspired and sparked the passionate interests of many readers around the world. I hear stories all the time about the Wake reading group he hosted in Berkeley. I can only hope to carry on the tradition of enjoying and celebrating Joyce's book of the dark and spreading the spark of inspiration and excitement for Joyce's work that Bishop provided.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

A Tribute to Austin Finnegans Wake Reading Group Member Richard Lee Price (1949-2020)

Memory is not an eye that returns to the past; it is rather the power that allows us to see what is, in its essence, outside of time .... 
- Ermilio Abreu Gomez 
(quoted by Richard Lee Price in his novel Troubadours: Love, Death, Rumba)

Do not go gentle into that good night,  
Old age should burn and rave at close of day; 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 
- Dylan Thomas

Yesterday I heard the news that a good friend who was part of our Austin Finnegans Wake reading group for years named Richard Lee Price (June 14, 1949 - April 7, 2020) had passed away. Richard was a truly beautiful soul, a poet, a musician, a songwriter, a scholar professor, a funny and witty chatterbox with a Bronx accent. I loved him and I feel crushed by the news of his loss. Since hearing about it, I have been overwhelmed by feelings of grief and anger that I will never get to see him again. I knew that he was battling an illness, he had been sick for a while but I was holding out hope, I felt sure he would get better and return to our group. I'm really going to miss him and I want to send my heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones. (You can read an obituary for Richard Lee Price here.)

He was a really unique guy, a true character, lots of fun to be around. Because I grew up in New York City the son of an old school Brooklyn guy with a heavy accent and most of my father's friends and associates were old New York guys with heavy accents, Richard felt like a long lost relative or family friend. Richard grew up in the Bronx, lived in Brooklyn for years, went to school in Queens, he was a true New Yorker. Like my dad and his pals, he was talkative, a super witty and funny and occasionally over-the-top chatterbox. Unlike most of the people I grew up around though, he was an intellectual, a poet, an artist. His NYC street-tinged accent spitting out rants was not raging about petty bullshit, no, he was frequently carrying on about Greek philosophy and mythology, about Shakespeare, about Yeats, about jazz music, about the Bible or eastern religion. He was a passionate and proud Jewish man with a great sense of humor. He had been an English professor for forty years and then became an avid practitioner of Tai Chi and Chi Kung in his retirement, battling back ill health. He had a sage-like presence, a wisecracking old professor who walked around with a cane, but who was a master of the art of kung fu (no kidding). I really enjoyed being around him and I feel sad and angry that I didn't get to spend more time with him and that I can never see him again. What I do have are lots of memories of him that I will cherish.

I want to tell you a few stories about Richard Lee Price that may capture what kind of guy he was.

- First time I met Richard was at a Bloomsday event at Malvern Books in central Austin about five or six years ago. I read an essay about Ulysses from the podium and then this guy with a white beard, wearing a sideways beret, carrying a cane gets up to ask a question and goes on into a longwinded and passionate discussion about Homer's Odyssey and the Molly Bloom chapter in Ulysses and then asks me some super heavy question that I had to think about for a while before I could muster an answer. I don't remember what the question was now, but I remember later on all of us from the group were wondering who the hell was that guy? He and I connected and he soon started attending our meetings.

- Richard was a brilliant guy, he sparked so many ideas and perspectives for me in our discussions. I remember the first time we had a Finnegans Wake reading group hosted at the Irish Consulate, Richard went into detail on an interpretation of the I-Ching appearing on a page we read and what he said became part of my inspiration to write a paper on FW and I-Ching that I delivered in Mexico City last year. I recall many times when he'd point out something in the course of our reading groups, a unique interpretation of a line in Finnegans Wake that was just so perfect and enriching that I'd be pondering it for months and would always thank him. I still have ideas and notes for future pieces to write that sprang from talking with him. As a professor of literature and seasoned scholar he was a mentor figure for me but also a great buddy. I remember one time it must have been a rainy night or something and only he and I showed up to a reading group meeting we had at the Wheatsville food co-op in South Austin. So instead of doing the normal routine of studying a page from the book we just talked in great detail about Finnegans Wake in general, he wanted to hear my theories about it and then he went into long fascinating monologues about Dante and The Divine Comedy and Herman Melville and Moby-Dick. His mind was a treasure trove. Another great memory of him I have is one time at a reading group where Richard and I were discussing a subject related to Finnegans Wake and the next morning he left me a voicemail talking at length about an article he had read online about that same subject, an article he just loved and went on and on in great detail about and said he wanted to read it 10 more times. Then he left me another voicemail immediately afterward where he realized it was actually something I wrote on this blog and he said "in the parlance of my youth, you are one heavy dude, man." I still have these voicemails from him and I will cherish them. (Part of what I loved about Richard is he was genuinely interested in my writing and my ideas about Joyce, he would often read my work and give me really meaningful feedback. That piece he was talking about on the voicemail was one of my favorite pieces ever, called What is Finnegans Wake? A Simulacrum of the Globe (Part 2).)

- Richard was a scholar and a professor of literature for forty years. In our groups he would regularly go off into Greek philosophy and mythology, come back to Judaism and the Bible, veer into old New York City and the Bronx and jazz music, throw in some classic poetry and dirty jokes. He was known to break into song and he had a good voice. He had so many classic poems and amazing lines and lyrics memorized and he was eager to share them. For a while he had his own book group focused on Chaucer's book Troilus and Criseyde which he adored and often mentioned in our Wake discussions. This is the kind of thing that I wish I could hear him talk more about now. At one point some of our reading group members recorded a pilot episode for a podcast, the full recording is something like 4 or 5 hours and Richard is on there giving his typically wide-ranging and long-winded talks. I hope I can share some of that here soon.

- He was a very funny dude, kind of a goofball, always cracking jokes, being ridiculous and witty. One thing I remember that cracked me up was one night the reading group had a party and when Richard and his wife were getting ready to leave I was like "leaving already?" and he responded, "Peter I'm an old man! I gotta go home and have my milk and cookie and go to bed!"

- One of the last times I saw Richard was a Wake reading group night I will not soon forget. In the meeting prior to it, a young college student had attended the group for the first time and later while we all ate pizza afterward she had expressed some unkind opinions about Native Americans which Richard politely but firmly argued against and sorta shut down. The exchange was a little odd I guess but I didn't make much of it at the time. Then in the following reading group meeting a month later, the same young lady returned and brought her boyfriend along. He seemed sorta like a young conservative frat boy kinda dude but, as she boasted, "he knows everything" and he did indeed talk like he thought so. After our group meeting while we all ate pizza across the street again this guy and his girlfriend spouted some egregiously hateful and Islamophobic opinions and racist garbage interpretations of history and I got to witness the old professor, old school Bronx dude, and obligingly confrontational yet calm Tai Chi master Richard, sitting with both hands atop his cane, absolutely school those little fuckers in the most articulate and info-dense manner possible. This was all an intellectual debate, mind you, but it got pretty heated. The more heated it got, the more calm, articulate and piercingly funny Richard got. I think my feelings on the matter were apparent by my hysterically laughing at how badly Richard was schooling them in this heated argument. God, it was great. He had been slicing through that kinda bullshit from loud, know-it-all assholes for decades. What an inspiring guy he was.

May he rest in peace.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Steve Fly Examines "The Entourage Effect at Finnegans Wake"

The multi-talented artist, author, thinker, and eminent Wakean named Steve "Fly Agaric 23" Pratt has been a prolific creator for many years. In my earliest days of reading blogs, I fell into a wormhole of more than a dozen different blogs authored by Steve Fly and was soon inspired to start writing my own blogs. His work draws on a variety of avenues including science, semantics, music, and of course James Joyce and Finnegans Wake. After years of reading his work and corresponding via email, I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Steve Fly during the 2018 James Joyce Symposium in Antwerp, Belgium. Also got to see an excellent performance from the man known as DJ Fly Agaric 23 at one of the symposium events, where DJ Fly alternated between spinning out tunes from his Bloomjamm machine and running over to a drum set to crush it with drum solos. He is a talented dude.

For the Joyce Symposium in Mexico City last year (which I wrote a little bit about here), Steve Fly prepared an extraordinary presentation entitled "The Entourage Effect at Finnegans Wake" a study of the interplay of terpenes (the organic compounds involved in cannabis) in Finnegans Wake. Unfortunately he was not able to make it across the Atlantic to present his work in Mexico City but he has shared the full presentation online at his blog. I've been reading and re-reading his essay for a while now and I recommend you give it a read as well. Steve Fly writes in a unique style full of wit and wordplay while also packing in lots of fascinating information. I learned a lot from reading this and I think it provides an enlightening perspective on Finnegans Wake and how Joyce constructed a living, self-sustaining, and even potentially medicinal eco-system inside his greatest book.

Here's some choice bits from the paper:

Finnegans Wake (FW) by James Joyce, among other things acts like a cookbook, a literary cauldron, a crucible for the swirling vortex-sutra of botanical species, perfumes, fruits, mushrooms, flowers, all spread out in a tapestry according to a spherically informed bricolage ecosystem perhaps? A biome of Joyce.

I’m not suggesting that Joyce, straight-up, smoked the devils lettuce. Although, who the hell knows what may of got into his pipe in Paris and beyond? I’m suggesting that cannabis and its hundreds of chemical components can be sniffed out within the botanically bulging text, and furthermore, that a wide array of phyto-terpenes, and endogenous-terpenes are detectable, in traces, within the wake. The evidence maybe consumable in some circumstances, which leads me to propose a textual gastric and multi sensory healing ceremony. “O.K. Oh Kosmos! Ah Ireland! A.I. And for kailkannonkabbis gimme Cincinnatis with Italian (but ci vuol poco!)--FW, 456.08-09.

Joyce’s hologrammic-prose orders the complex relationships that
encourage new neuro-semantic structures to form. This form of neurogenesis involves the seduction of the reader into paying closer attention to their own semantic reactions, and to the power of simple words and grammar used in a new order to modulate consciousness.

Language therapy, informed by FW, and further enhanced by experience with the endocannabinoid system and neuropeptide system, and following operationalist scientific methods, may, with some luck produce statistically higher cases of positive healing. True wellness and being in touch with yourself and with others. Analogous to the argument within cannabis medicine that the therapeutic impact of the whole plant is greater than the sum of its molecular parts, likewise, the therapeutic impact of FW is greater than the sum of its etymological parts.

There's also some informative slides showing certain terpenes, their characteristics, and how they show up in Finnegans Wake, here are a few of those:

Friday, March 27, 2020

Joyce & FW References in Ferlinghetti's Little Boy: A Novel

So far this year I've found myself pretty much only reading books by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Been on a Ferlinghetti binge. First I read his famous poetry collection A Coney Island of the Mind, then I got completely hooked and read a bunch more of his poetry books leading up to his latest work, a miraculous little book called Little Boy: A Novel. What I noticed right away when reading A Coney Island of the Mind was that Ferlinghetti embeds echoes of Joyce all throughout his writing. He seems especially fond of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, making so many references to them that it seems he expects his readers to be familiar with these texts.

Last year, to mark the occasion of his 100th birthday Lawrence Ferlinghetti published his newest book, an unclassifiable mix of memoir/poetry/social commentary entitled Little Boy: A Novel. I am not exaggerating when I say this is one my favorite books I've ever read in my life. Soon as I finished it I turned back to page 1 and read the whole thing again. After a second reading I still can't put it down. I've read half a dozen of Ferlinghetti's books this year, including his most highly regarded works, and I have little doubt that Little Boy is his best book. Though it's only 179 pages, it contains vast treasures of literary allusion, brilliant lyricism, fascinating historical anecdotes, profound ruminations on life and death, and hilarious, piercing political commentary. The wit and wordplay is very Joycean, but he always strives for clarity in his writing, the overriding essence of the book is a dream but the language is not opaque. On the other hand, reading sentences that go on for 10 pages requires a lot of focus. Also, someone needs to publish an annotated edition of this book soon, there are hundreds of allusions and quotes in this word stream.

I have a lot to say about this book. I've just submitted a review of Little Boy that I wrote, hoping to have it published somewhere soon (stay tuned). But since I am still unable to put this incredible book down, I want to share here all of the references to Joyce and Finnegans Wake that I discovered in the book. I shouldn't say all because he constantly weaves in subtle little motifs into the text that would be familiar to Wake readers like "tell me tell me" and toying with the word "riverrun" but the quotes here should give you a good idea of how important Finnegans Wake is in Ferlinghetti's cosmology.

Most of the book is written in a stream-of-consciousness style without any punctuation, the sentences go on for pages at a time.

my Anna Livia twinkle toes - p. 29

And all the time the Ouroboros serpent eating its tail like life itself and by a process of concatenous circumnavigation do we wind around to our beginnings and recognize ourselves for the first time like Ulysses returning home or Stephen Dedalus turned into Finnagain where the iffey River Liffey flows back to its beginnings p. 61-62

great father great artificer stand by me now in good stead as I set out now to meet my fate in the forge of the world - p. 72

the leaden wheel of time measures out our lives in ticks as it whirs inside its intricate watchworks with digital springs tick-tick-tick around we go with Vico or Grandma or little John or Baby Blue, and the glue sticking us all together might be love or lust or hate or blood or you name it whatever sticks you to your brother or lover or Significant Other And so here we are again ok save us from the Other, yet still I and my father are One son-of-a-gun on the run along a riverbank along a riverrun in sun or in deep shade under a bridge on the River Liffey where I once slept a broke student imagining myself Stephen Dedalus or mad Rimbaud - p. 90

the portrait of the artist as an old man - p. 122

Oh the sublimity of it and if I weren't laughing I’d be dying I’d be crying with Samuel Beckett and Jimmy Joyce the master laugher behind the sublime babble of Finnegan yeah yeah I have read it all heard it all heard the falcon in its dying fall - p. 137

no more regurgitation of everything seen or heard or said over the past century no more of that thank ye and this no Portrait of the Autist as an Old Man although this might be my hundredth year to heaven - p. 137

Let’s get back to the present where the world is coming to an end for the millionth time but this time it’s for real yes sir I’m not giving you some Old Wives’ Tales by Irish washerwomen gossiping in the dusk while washing their clothes in the River Liffey while night birds twitter and far-off field mice twit - p. 161

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Finnegans Wake on the Trump-Ukraine Affair & Impeachment

The region of Crimea which was invaded and illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.
(Image from The Economist.)

Here in the United States we've been consumed lately by presidential scandals and the impeachment of our grifter-in-chief for shady crimes involving the countries of Russia and Ukraine. With our twice-monthly Finnegans Wake Reading Group of Austin meetings often coinciding with major news stories unfolding, there have been nights where we've been struck to find echoes of the news of the day inside the pages of the Wake. Recently there was a reverberant convergence of the two when we read James Joyce's version of the "lock him up" chant, "The Ballad of Persse O'Reilly," which begins on page 45. Here I'd like to discuss some ways Joyce's book comments on the present and take a look at how the Wake advises a populace to deal with a tyrannical, aspiring authoritarian like Donald J. Trump.

Anyone following the news recently has become familiar with the central role played by the region of Crimea in the current state of global affairs. In short: in 2014, Russia invaded and illegally annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea, the first time a country had violated another country's sovereignty in such a way since World War II. The western world watched on in horror and decided on a careful response in order to penalize Russia while avoiding starting World War III. The United States and the EU issued economic sanctions against Russia as a punishment---a very effective response it turns out because, as thoroughly outlined in Rachel Maddow's informative new book Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth, Russia is a petrostate entirely dependent on selling its oil to other countries. Those punitive sanctions incurred by Russia as a result of its hostile takeover of Crimea hit Putin and Russia where it hurts, putting the kibosh on billions of dollars flowing in from oil deals including a giant collaboration with ExxonMobil who had a deal to help Russia extract oil from the Arctic Circle. As part of their counter-response, the Russians attacked the 2016 US election to install the Putin puppet Trump much like they'd previously done in Ukraine with Victor Yanukovych, the Putin-installed candidate who was eventually overthrown by a revolt of the populace and fled to Russia. And now, not long after chants of "lock him up!" greeted the president of the United States at the World Series in the nation's capital, Trump finds himself being impeached because he extorted the Ukrainian president by dangling military aid as a bargaining chip in the midst of Russia's continued aggressive invasion of Ukrainian territory. That was the latest in a string of moves by the American president to benefit Vladimir Putin.

It's all a huge mess and the American people are sick and tired of it, but as it continues to unfold we'll no doubt continue to hear more about Russia, Ukraine, and the annexation of Crimea.

It turns out that when you read Finnegans Wake you are also repeatedly drawn to the regions of Russia and Ukraine with specific focus on Crimea. The Crimean War (1853-56) is an important recurring motif throughout the book. Why would a book that essentially centers around Dublin have so much to say about Crimea? There seems to be a number of reasons for it, not least because the word "crime" is embedded in the Crimean War and for Joyce all war is a crime against humanity. (See my piece "Waging Peace from the Inkbattle House: Finnegans Wake in the Shadow of War" for more discussion of war in the Wake.)

A bigger part of why the Crimean War is all over Finnegans Wake involves an apocryphal story Joyce's father loved to tell to his drinking buddies, the story of when Buckley shot the Russian general. So yes, not only is Finnegans Wake littered with references to Crimea, it also has a Russian general looming over everything in the book like a nightmarish cartoon version of Vladimir Putin. As with all the recurring elements in the Wake, the appearance of the Russian general mutates and morphs into various puns---on page 390 the Russian general appears as "the wretch in churneroil" a brilliant pun that evokes the modern Russian petrostate, a churner of oil, and the wretched leader of that country. (Can't help but hear a subtle echo of Chernobyl in there, too.)

At this point you might be thinking this is a silly creative projection onto a text that was published in 1939, but you should know that when you read Finnegans Wake you enter a textual representation of the dreaming mind, a phantasmagorical world unrestricted by the bounds of time and space. In "the no placelike no timelike absolent" (FW p. 608) of the book, all historical events and figures exist on the same plane and are continually "intermutuomergent" (FW p. 55) with each other. When you get into the world of Finnegans Wake, you begin to comprehend just how true are the adages about history repeating itself. When all historical facts and stories blend together into recurrent themes and archetypes dancing on the same plane, it does not take a huge leap to find elements that resonate or intersect with the news of the day in 2019. This was part of Joyce's intention and the Wake frequently celebrates its propensity to stay "as modern as tomorrow afternoon and in appearance up to the minute." (FW p. 309) If lines like that make it seem like you can look to Finnegans Wake to read the news, it's because you can.

Now, I have touched on the echoes of Trump in the Wake briefly once before. It's pretty striking that Finnegans Wake features a main character who is, among other things: a builder of skyscrapers, preoccupied with building a wall (and he falls off that wall, like Humpty Dumpty), owns a hotel, has two sons and a daughter who he exhibits incestuous feelings for (in the Wake these feelings are sublimated through dream, in the case of the American prez Trump these feelings are explicitly, repulsively expressed often), he gets embroiled in a vague scandal about watching two girls urinating, has nightmares about a Russian general, and gets overthrown and humiliated by a popular uprising. The last part is still slowly unfolding in Trump's case.

The same day that the comeuppance began for Trump, when House leader Nancy Pelosi announced that Congress was officially launching an impeachment inquiry into Trump's behavior with Ukraine and Russia, that night our Finnegans Wake reading group gathered to read page 45 of the text. How perfectly fitting that when the 45th president of the United States was finally going to be held accountable, we were reading "The Ballad of Persse O'Reilly" which begins on page 45. The ballad is a raucous, bawdy diatribe against corrupt political leaders, the Wake's own "lock him up" chant complete with musical score and thunderous applause.

The ballad exposes Persse O'Reilly (a stand-in for all tyrants and corrupt politicians as well as the Wake's main character HCE) as a fraud and a cheat who should be jailed in Mountjoy, the prison in Dublin. Joyce scholar William York Tindall called this ballad "one of Joyce's better poems---better than any in Chamber Music and better by far than any in Pomes Penyeach." You can hear a performance of the ballad here. It's got a hilarious Irish pub vibe and to me this rendition sounds sorta like Adam Sandler's comedy songs from the 90s:

There are a bunch of things in "The Ballad of Persse O'Reilly" that seem to speak to our situation today. To begin with it offers hope for Americans with Humpty Dumpty falling of his wall "hump, helmet and all." In this context I can't help seeing the "helmet" as Trump's doofy and bizarre helmet of hair and thus Trumpty Dumpty. The first stanza uses "-ump" sounds a lot--Humpty Dumpty, rumble, Crumple, Hump.

The Oliver Cromwell tyrant figure is accused of behaving like a "soffsoaping salesman" selling shitty cheap items. "Soft-soaping" means to flatter, like a salesman. I picture Trump selling his vodkas and steaks, a phony salesman always hawking worthless garbage (trumpery: worthless junk).

Next we learn that the locals nicknamed him "He'll Cheat E'erawan" which also perfectly fits Trump, who had set up a fake university and defrauded students to the tune of $25 million and was penalized for running a fraudulent charitable foundation, not to mention the Trump name being associated with cheating vendors and contractors during his days as a real estate tycoon.

Then we get the Wake's most piercing rebuke of Trump on page 46. I touched on this line once before but it's worth revisiting and expanding on.

So snug he was in his hotel premises sumptuous
But soon we'll bonfire all his trash, tricks and trumpery
And'tis short till sheriff Clancy'll be winding up his unlimited company
With the bailiff's bom at the door,  
(Chorus) Bimbam at the door.  Then he'll bum no more. 

The sumptuous hotel premises line is just too perfect, with our dear leader spending most of his weekends golfing at his Mar-a-Lago resort or some other sumptuous hotel premises of his. "But soon we'll bonfire all his trash, tricks, and trumpery"---this line provides me an absurd amount of hope and optimism, coming from a book with such a sweeping view of world history. At some point this WILL end and this egregious fraudster WILL go down. That word "trumpery" meaning "showy, but worthless" couldn't possibly describe Trump and his entire family any better. The line evokes an image of the Trumps thrown out of the White House and all their "trash, tricks and trumpery" tossed into a bonfire.

The rest of this line gets pretty interesting when you dig into it. I can't help but hear "sheriff Clancy" as sheriff Nancy rounding up the "unlimited company" of Trump's corrupt cronies, that clown car of endless goons like Rudy Giuliani, Bill Barr, Mike Pompeo, Mick Mulvaney, ad nauseam. This line is saying it won't be long til this crew gets strung up and hung by the sheriff (Clancy was a sheriff in Dublin during the time of Ulysses). Adding to the fascinating Nancy echo here is this note from Fweet's annotations of this line, indicating that Joyce plucked that simple phrase "tis short till" from a 1922 newspaper article: "11 Nov 1922, 327/2: 'Our Ladies' Letter': 'Like that, I suppose 'tis short now till we'll have women labourers in the Government." How fitting that a powerful woman in the American government is about to lay the hammer down on this company of malign morons. Or specifically its chief executive Trumpty Dumpty.

I should also mention the ballad's references to a "bucketshop store" and "unlimited company" (p. 45) which each refer to criminal business schemes, another perfect fit for the lifelong schemer Trump. Also, as regards the clown car angle of "unlimited company"---this section of the Wake is preceded by a string of shady side characters being introduced to us before we meet the composer of the ballad. There's a pair we meet that, to me, feels like the Wake's version of the henchmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, slimy Russian goons who helped Trump with his Ukraine scheme. The pair is named Treacle Tom and Frisky Shorty---one just got out of jail for theft, the other just got off a prison hulk (a prison ship), and the two meet up at a racetrack to plan some robbery or extortion schemes (see FW pg. 39).

At the bottom of p. 46 there's an accusation that involves the ballad's subject having accosted a woman "while admiring the monkeys"---a reference to a notorious 1906 incident that took place in the Central Park Zoo where a famous opera singer named Enrico Caruso was accused of pinching a woman's butt and then went thru a highly publicized trial for it. Remind you of anyone? No? How about this part from the next stanza:

He ought to blush for himself, the old hayheaded philosopher,  
For to go and shove himself that way on top of her.

Next month, Trump will be deposed in a court case brought against him by a woman who accused him of rape. She's one of over a dozen women who've brought up similar charges, a pattern that's all too apparent for a man who was caught on tape bragging about grabbing women "by the pussy."

When we were discussing this part in our reading group and laughing over the absurdity of the parallels I sorta threw up my hands at one point in flabbergasted disgust over how these same patterns just keep repeating throughout history. We're about to be in the year 2020 and we still have political scandals involving lecherous creeps assaulting women, a pattern so well-established that it's referred to mockingly in Joyce's book from 80 years ago.

The rest of the ballad mocks the Trump-like character for his looming fate which will find him in jail, his trousers torn apart ("rent in his rears") and his ass buggered by fellow inmates. You can see why I refer to this as Joyce's version of the "lock him up" chant.

When I took a break from writing this post to take out the trash, a neighbor walked by and said to me, completely out of the blue: "throw the politicians in the trash, not the recycling." We can only hope Trump meets such a fate. The closing lines of "The Ballad of Persse O'Reilly" invoke Humpty Dumpty once again:

And not all the king's men nor his horses  
Will resurrect his corpus 
For there's no true spell in Connacht or hell
(bis) That's able to raise a Cain.

My neighbor's comment about throwing politicians (ie, Trump) in the trash rather than in the recycling seems an echo of this stanza. (Involvement with the Wake oddly tends to proliferate these coincidences.) Once we finally dump Trump, they won't be able to bring him back again, his children (see Cain and Able in the last line) won't be able to rise up to take his place, and we'll finally be freed of the "fafafather of all schemes for to bother us." (FW p. 45)

Lastly, I should mention that in Finnegans Wake the main character undergoes numerous legal trials, he's frequently embedded in webs of litigation. The book is filled with legalese. The complicated knots of law language remind me of the mental gymnastics American citizens have undergone the last year or so as we've tried to understand why the special counsel Robert Mueller did not prosecute the president even though he was shown to have committed numerous crimes in Mueller's report. (In the lines right after the ballad, pg. 48 a dense cloud moves in and obscures things like Barr did and we get "Corpo di barragio!... a poisoning volume of cloud barrage indeed.") As I write this now, Trump has officially been impeached, the equivalent of a president being indicted. Soon, he'll get his day in court with a trial in the Senate. I don't pretend to be optimistic about the reality of what may unfold there but viewing things through the lens of the Wake I can't help but hope for a result where the jury deliberation unfolds as it does for the Persse O'Reilly figure, HCE : "reserving judgment in a matter of courts and reversing the findings of the lower correctional, found, beyond doubt of treuson, fending the dissassents of the pickpackpanel, twelve as upright judaces as ever let down their thoms." (FW p. 575)

That's as knotty and vague as the legal news we've been hearing about Trump, and it goes on and on similarly but just like the harsh rebuke in "The Ballad of Persse O'Reilly," I think the thumbs down from the judges indicates a conviction. God-willing, Americans will see a similar verdict. Then before all is said and done, we who've suffered through years of this lawless lowlife will get to watch him "arraigned and attainted, listed and lited, pleaded and proved." (FW p. 127)

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]