Wednesday, December 22, 2021

"So This Is Dyoublong?" Living inside the World of the Wake, Part 1

"He ought to go away for a change of ideas and he'd have a world of things to look back on." 
- Finnegans Wake p. 160

This past summer, in the midst of a breakup from a long-term relationship and needing to go far away, I embarked on my first ever trip to Ireland. I ended up spending much of the past few months in and around Dublin. For somebody like me who has been interested in the writings of James Joyce for almost 15 years now, with the last 10 years spent hosting a Finnegans Wake reading group that deciphers each page down to its tiniest details, and maintaining this blog devoted to the Wake, the experience of spending so much time exploring Dublin and environs for the first time was transformative. Suffice to say I have an entirely new perspective on Joyce's work now. My head is filled with thoughts and reflections, so much that I don't know where to start. But since I have so much to say about it, I'm going to start posting a series of reflections about the experience on this blog. 

My first few days in Dublin I recall being in awe at everything around me since I'd been reading about the details of the place for so many years. Landmarks felt oddly familiar and deeply significant even though I was seeing them for the first time. Howth Head, so prominent on the horizon when looking north or northeast, it wasn't just a piece of rocky terrain, it was the head of the sleeping giant Finn MacCool. The Wicklow Mountains weren't just some green rolling hills, they were the place where the sea-formed clouds rain down and become the source of the River Liffey, an ongoing natural cycle. Even the ubiquitous flocks of seagulls sprung to mind the squawking sea-birds in Book II.4 of Finnegans Wake, "Three quarks for muster Mark!" (FW p. 383.01) 

I grew up in New York City where famous sights like the Manhattan skyline, Verrazano Bridge, and Statue of Liberty were familiar aspects of home. An out-of-towner visiting a place like New York City for the first time would instantly recognize many of the landmarks and sights from the background or setting of the worlds of NYC-based films and tv shows. With Joyce's Dublin though, the city is not merely the setting for Finnegans Wake---so much of the book is about the landscape itself, the ecology, the littoral life of the coastal zone, the street grid and its voices, the layers of historical events that shaped the place. Dublin in the Wake becomes the universal city, a city rendered into text with so much mythical depth and detailed density it makes you contemplate all cities.

So far I haven't yet mentioned Ulysses in connection with my experience of Dublin. I certainly was interested in the Ulysses stuff during my time there. I swam in the Forty Foot in Sandycove, saw the magnificent Martello Tower (in fact, I stayed for a week in a different Martello Tower a stone's throw away, a story for another day), on an almost daily basis I walked along Westland Row just like Bloom and went to Sweny's Pharmacy to participate in readings a few times, I even made my way over to Eccles Street. There is no lack of Ulysses stuff in Dublin, the city seems to fully embrace the importance of Ulysses which was really cool to witness. A constant habit of mine while staying in Dublin and exploring Ireland was to always search inside the texts of both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake each time I experienced anything new. And the impression I got was that Finnegans Wake, even more than Ulysses, contains seemingly every single tiny detail of Dublin. Every street I spent time on, I looked for it in Finnegans Wake, and nine times out of ten I found it in there. Every district, every sight I saw, it all seemed to be there in the Wake. It became clear that Joyce redoubled his efforts to place every possible detail of the city of his birth into ink while writing the Wake over the last 17 years of his life. 

There were a few instances I noticed where Joyce had included some Dublin detail within Ulysses as part of a listicle, only to expand on it and scatter more references to it in Finnegans Wake. A couple quick examples---I spent a few days staying in a nice little district called Ranelagh in south Dublin, so I started looking for the place in Joyce's books. It pops up one time in Ulysses in a list delineating the route taken by one of the Invincibles prior to the Phoenix Park Murders, whereas in Finnegans Wake the neighborhood Ranelagh appears at least four times. Later on, when I went to Howth Head the little islet known as Ireland's Eye really stood out to me. It's a small island just off of Howth, a mysterious and striking sight visible from along the northern coast of Howth, the island has its own Martello Tower and the ruins of an early-medieval church. Ireland's Eye pops up once in Ulysses as part of a list of sites in the Cyclops episode, where in the Wake I have found at least a dozen appearances of Ireland's Eye. That could very well be because Howth and environs are so prominent in the Wake---a fact which really made a lot of sense to me once I saw Dublin and noticed Howth Head is an unmistakable feature on the horizon from almost anywhere.

A thought I kept returning to over and over was: how did Joyce, while in exile away from Ireland for the last few decades of his life, manage to render all of this in such precise detail? And why? Why would this genius author spend day after day writing only about this place (where he no longer lived) in such painstaking detail? As for the why, Joyce told Arthur Power, "For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal." On days when I wandered around in what seemed like a James Joyce theme park (a phrase I'm borrowing from former Dublin resident Robert Anton Wilson), casually walking down Westland Row, past Finn's Hotel, down to St. Stephen's Green, past the Shelbourne Hotel, over to King Street past the Gaiety Theater, back towards Grafton Street, up past Trinity College (all places that appear throughout Finnegans Wake) and then along the River Liffey, the river of life, the universal river Joyce anthropomorphized as Anna Livia Plurabelle in the Wake, I'd stop to stare at the varying ripples along the surface of the waters, and I was struck by a feeling I could only really convey in the following meme. I was this dude looking around at everyone else in the bustling city wondering how they didn't share my wonder for the Wake-ness of it all. 

For more than a dozen years I had been a passionate reader of the Wake, so much that I was even writing this blog solely devoted to talking about this one book, and throughout that whole time I had never experienced Dublin and had only a minuscule appreciation for the actual Irish elements of the text. It was always just that I loved the literary pyrotechnics and have always been fascinated by the Wake as the darker and more under-appreciated twin of Ulysses, this mysterious text which Joyce labored on for so many years, through so many hardships and then died right after it was finally published. Once I finally made it to Dublin, the incomprehensible Wake I'd been puzzling through for so long began to make sense on a level I'd never experienced before. I can say without a doubt, you cannot truly comprehend the phrase "from swerve of shore to bend of bay" until you've seen Dublin. The swerving shore and bending bay is such a distinctive quality of that coastline and that coastline is such a fundamental part of that city.

Speaking of the coastline and the opening sentence of the Wake... my favorite spot in Dublin, the place that struck me the most and which remains tattooed on my heart, is Vico Road. The view from Vico Road is one of the most breathtaking sights I've ever witnessed. 

View from Vico Road.

...more Vico Road views.

"The Vico road goes round and round to meet where terms begin."
- FW 452.21

Prior to experiencing the place, Vico Road in Dalkey had always seemed like it was simply a curiosity, a funny coincidence that there just so happened to be a road in the Dublin area named for the Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico whose writings so heavily influenced Finnegans Wake. For a week I stayed in the beautiful old town of Dalkey and realized Joyce must have spent significant time there, I believe he had a teaching job in a school there. In Robert Nicholson's book The Ulysses Guide: Tours Through Joyce's Dublin I read that the Nestor chapter where Stephen teaches a class (and which chapter contains the only mention of Vico Road in Ulysses) most likely takes place at a school in Dalkey and I noticed Dalkey seemed to be home to many schools, the town was always filled with students in the afternoons. The Ulysses tour book mentions that Stephen likely walked down to the Dalkey train station after teaching class. Vico Road is a short walk from the Dalkey train station. 

For me, as a Wake nerd knowing the significance of Vico to Joyce, walking to Vico Road felt like a sort of pilgrimage. My first glimpse of the views from Vico Road blew my mind, I'd no idea it was such a beautiful place. It turns out this gorgeous area was thought to resemble the Bay of Naples in Italy and that's why the roads nearby are named after the Neapolitan Vico and the town of Sorrento on the Amalfi coast (Vico Road connects to Sorrento Road and Sorrento Park---Sorrento appears a few times in FW). During my trip, I was fortunate to meet a girl who lived right near Vico Road in Killiney Beach and so I got to spend a lot of time in that area staring out at those gorgeous views. That part of town truly felt enchanted to me. There's just a vibe over there. Having spent so much time there, trying to see that area through the eyes of young Joyce, it is now my theory that the area around Vico Road---where one looks southward at the promontory of Bray, and northward at Dalkey Island with its own Martello Tower and medieval church ruins, with the bend of bay and Irish Sea stretching out in between---made such an impact on the young Joyce that it significantly contributed to his fascination with Vico (which, if I'm not mistaken, had begun around the time of his earliest writings and grew into a full-fledged obsession with Vico in the Wake).

I also think it was not only Joyce's appreciation for Vico's theories but also his memories of Vico Road itself which led to its placement in the first sentence of the Wake: 

riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. 

After witnessing all of these places firsthand, I feel there is an uncanny ecological poetry to this sentence. Tough to put into words but where I felt I understood this most clearly was while standing atop Killiney Hill (Molly Bloom recalls walking up Killiney Hill for a picnic, by the way). Close near Vico Road, there's a path that will take you up to the top of Killiney Hill, from which you can see a panoramic view of the whole city of Dublin. I think it's the best possible view of the city, and from there looking out at the jutting peninsula of Howth, and looking down at the river ostensibly in the lowlands in the heart of the city, casting your glance out to the swerving shore going southward, you begin to sense how that natural cycle so central to the Wake actually functions---the waters of the river rushing eastward and dispersing out to sea, spreading along the coast northward to Howth, and southward to the area along Vico Road, only to eventually evaporate into clouds which rain down on the westward hills (and the elevated areas of Howth and Vico Road) and drain into the river to recirculate and start the cycle over again. 

Looking out at that panoramic view I had a vision that Joyce had rendered this city into ink on page with Finnegans Wake, as thoroughly and successfully as one possibly could transform a piece of populated land into a book. I was thinking of how the Wake describes itself as a mysterious written object that was discovered "in the course of deeper demolition" (FW 110.28), buried underground where it "acquired accretions of terricious matter" (FW 114.29). I pictured the book as an organic object, "underground and acqueduced" (FW 128.09) soaking in all the dirt and sewage of the city which fed the text's fusing together with the layers of earth and its history, branching out rhizomatic roots "of increasing, livivorous, feelful thinkamalinks; luxuriotiating everywhencewithersoever among skullhollows and charnelcysts of a weedwastewoldwevild" (FW 613.19-20). Even in the modernized city there are still so many old structures in Dublin such that it seems you're often staring back centuries into history, living alongside ghosts. Exploring Dublin, and thinking over the Wake's obsession with burials, archeological excavations, and resurrections sprung to mind how every city, seen through a Wakean timelapse, involves so much dispersion and dissolution down into the ground. We are all always walking on soil mixed with the blood of the dead, or as the Wake has it, "while a successive generation has been in the deep deep deeps of Deepereras. Buried hearts. Rest here." (FW 595.27-29)

To be continued...

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Beyond the Portal: Further notes from reading FW Book I.3-4

The text of Book I.3-4 of Finnegans Wake is so inexhaustibly rich (the word for it on pg 91 is "inexousthausthible") that my notes on this part of the book keep growing the more I think on it and each note could expand into its own area of study. Without going too deep into any of these subjects though, I'm going to share below some cursory and mostly disconnected observations from reading this part of the Wake. Consider these expanded footnotes to my previous post on The Portal


Ishtar Gate reconstruction in Berlin Museum


In my last post, focusing on the scene of a confrontation at a pub gate, I talked about the image of the gate as a portal to the afterlife or to the underworld. I later learned that the name for the city of Babel, as in the Tower of Babel, comes from the Akkadian bab-ilu which literally means "Gate of God" stemming from the same root as the name of Babylon. This section of the Wake touches on this etymological link in a few ways where the attacker at the gate is described: "This battering babel allower the door and sideposts, he always said, was not in the very remotest like the belzey babble of a bottle of boose" (FW 64.10-11, emphasis added). The passage on pg 69 of FW all about the Gate prominently mentions the Babylonian goddess Ishtar (to whom the Ishtar Gate of Babylon was dedicated) and, later on, in the last two pages of chapter 4, we find references to Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, and ALP sings the lyrics to a song called "by the waters of babalong" (FW 103) or Babylon. I think this chapter ending on pg. 103 is an echo of the chapter ending on pg. 74 where HCE drifts off into deep sleep at the sound of rain drops, whereas here it's the sound of a rushing stream, the waters of Babylon. My last post touched on the appearance of a ziggurat on pg 100 in the phrase "beaconsfarafield innherhalf the zuggurat" where HCE himself seems to have been buried inside a tomb within an illuminated ziggurat. The Tower of Babel legend is thought to be based on the Ziggurat of Ur, the ziggurat being a meeting point or portal between this realm and the ethereal realm, in other words a "Gate of God." Generally I think the clusters of references to Bablyon and Ur (and elsewhere in the text, clusters of references to the Garden of Eden) are intended as a way of signaling the main character fallen asleep is descending back to origins---in deep slumber he's going back to the world of the womb, "backtowards motherwaters." (FW 84.30-31) 


The Bat

The attacker at the gate wields a "fender" or some type of a cudgel weapon that morphs and changes appearance throughout chapters 3-4. Details of the story keep changing---there was an attacker banging a bottle at the locked gate, or it was an encounter in the streets with the legless strangler Billy-in-the-Bowl, or there was a no-holds-barred wrestling match with an armed burglar. Joyce intertwines random details from various real-world contemporary newspaper accounts of crimes and trials. Witness accounts vary, "our mutual friends the fender and the bottle at the gate seem to be implicitly in the same bateau" (FW65.35-36) it says at one point, while earlier a witness declares "No such parson. No such fender. No such lumber." (FW 63.11) On page 81, the object is made to appear like a crowbar that a burglar and his victim wrestle over: "catching holst of an oblong bar he had and with which he usually broke furnitures he rose the stick at him." (FW 81. 31-32) On the next page the object could be a Webley revolver pistol, when, in the middle of their "collidabanter" it says "a woden affair in the shape of a webley" (FW 82.16) falls out of the burglar's pocket. On pg 84 it's a "humoral hurlbat" a bat used in the Irish sport of hurling. Later on pg 98 the weapon evolves again through rumors and kaleidoscopic views, "Batty believes a baton while Hogan hears a hod yet Heer prefers a punsil shapner and Cope and Bull go cup and ball." The presence of bat and ball suggest cricket and/or baseball references here, but more on that in a moment. As discussed in my last post, in the book Wake Rites, George Cinclair Gibson describes the "Batter at the Gate" confrontation as paralleling certain rituals of the ancient Irish druids. One of these rituals, which were designed to divest the old king of his powers, apparently included a hostile druid confronting the king at a doorway while aggressively wielding the wooden "shamanistic device" known as a bull-roarer. Gibson gives a good argument for the mysterious wooden object in this part of the Wake being a bull-roarer (see Wake Rites, p. 88-90) and notes that J.S. Atherton in his Books at the Wake observed that Joyce definitely knew about this druid device. 


Wicket Gate

Joyce in his notes titled this section "Batter at Gate" and I'm intrigued by the use of the word batter here because, as the story morphs and mutates, there are noticeable elements of cricket and baseball. The mysterious wooden weapon wielded by the attacker becomes a bat (p. 84.04) and in the pages describing the gate at one point it says the attacker "went on at a wicked rate" (FW 70.32) which Fweet notes as an echo of "wicket gate" which could be the wicket in cricket. Peter Chrisp wrote a really fascinating blog post describing how Joyce was a lifelong fan of cricket with an extensive knowledge of the game's golden age players. There are tons of references to the gameplay of cricket and famous cricketers within the Wake. Notice also how the "trilithon" version of HCE's siglum resembles a wicket:

A wicket used in cricket. The name comes from wicket gate, a small gate.

trilithon E siglum for HCE

The confrontation at the gate gets re-examined and re-litigated in this part of FW and each time the details change. The identities of the two combatants can seem to blur, the presence of a "fender" as weapon helps confuse offender and defender. The nature of the clash changes. By the time we get deep into chapter 4, evidently the clash at the gate involved somebody throwing a stone. The attacker under questioning "would swear... he did not fire a stone either." (FW 91.08-11) Knowing Joyce had a love for cricket, and knowing also (after reading Brian J. Fox's insightful and well-researched book James Joyce's America) that Joyce closely tracked American popular culture of the time and filled FW with American pop cultural references, I think it's highly plausible Joyce was aware of American baseball and included it within the Wake. Seasoned Joyce scholar John Gordon apparently agrees---in his annotations for this section, he expands on the phrase "Pegger's Windup" (FW 92.06) with this: "given this chapter’s plethora of American idioms, 'pitcher’s windup' seem highly probable here.  (For non-American readers: in baseball, a pitcher will gyrate his body before fixing it in position before releasing the ball.  See 91.11-2 and note.)" His additional note from pg 91 refers to "Pegger Festy" where he explains the name has to do with someone throwing stones. Looking a little more closely at this page reveals more potential allusions things that sound like baseball, cricket, bat and ball games:

91.26: "as true as he was there in that jackabox that minute"  [baseball batter's box]

91.27: "or wield or wind" [wield a bat, wind up to pitch]

91.30-32: "if ever in all his exchequered career he up or lave a chancery hand to take or throw the sign of a mortal stick or stone at man"  [take or throw, pitcher's signs, stick or stone]

Following "Pegger's Windup" and "Pegger Festy" we also get "Wet Pinter" (FW 92.07) which, although likely anachronistic, could be an allusion to baseball terminology where a pitcher with good precision is said to "paint" the edges of the strike zone. With a batter at the gate and someone winding up to fire or peg a rock, and words like "sockdologer" on pg 91 (American slang for a decisive blow) there's definitely the impression of a clash resembling the pitcher/batter confrontation in baseball. Since this part of the Wake deals so much with origins, bringing in Babylon and numerous references to Adam & Eve, I think it's possible Joyce is touching on the metaphorical underpinnings of bat and ball games like cricket and baseball. In her insightful study of baseball and mythology Ground Rules: Baseball & Myth (1995), Deanne Westbrook quotes from the novel The Celebrant where Christy Mathewson theorizes on the origins of bat and ball as ancient weapons, stone and stick, perhaps even the first murder weapons:

"Throwing and clubbing. What could be more ancient?... We have to grant that our prehistoric forebears employed those same arts against the creatures of nature--indeed, against one another. Even in holy writ, mustn't we imagine that Cain slew Abel with a stone guided by the bare hand, or a club wielded as a bludgeon? Think of it. I stand on the pitcher's mound, the batter at home plate. We are surrounded by every manifestation of civilization... Yet my action in throwing and his in swinging are echoes of the most primitive brutality." (Ground Rules: Baseball & Myth, p. 110) 




When I shared that last post, a commenter replied asking "no turnpike?" So let's discuss the turnpike. The turnpike, as in a turnpike road where a toll is taken, and more specifically referring to the old turnpike road system in Dublin from the 1700s-1800s, appears frequently in Finnegans Wake usually in connection with HCE who is "our family furbear, our tribal tarnpike" (FW 132.32). The turnpike first appears on the opening page with "their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock out in the park" (FW 03.22) where "the knock out in the park" refers to Castleknock, the district on the western side of Phoenix Park in Dublin. So there must have been a turnpike road there, but Fweet also alludes to a turnpike in Chapelizod, the area south of Phoenix Park where the action of the Wake is supposed to take place. HCE and his family are ostensibly asleep in their home above the pub owned by HCE, which is generally considered to be the Mullingar House pub in Chapelizod. When we meet HCE at the beginning of chapter 2, he's "jingling his turnpike keys" (FW 31.01) and is said to be "a turnpiker who is by turns a pikebailer no seldomer than an earwigger!" (FW 31.27-28). 

I think the turnpike takes on an additional meaning in the Gate passage I previously examined from page 69 where we read: "Now by memory inspired, turn wheel again to the whole of the wall." This is apparently referring to another very real pub in the vicinity of Phoenix Park, a pub known as The Hole in the Wall (formerly known as Black Horse Tavern). The Hole in the Wall pub is located in the district of Ashtown just north of Phoenix Park, and the phrase "turn wheel again" refers to the turnstile (or turnpike) set in a hole in the adjacent Phoenix Park wall. You can see the turnstile in the wall here in this old photograph:

Looking at Google street view, you can see the turnstile is still there to this day in the same spot:

I am left wondering why, though, if the action of the Wake is supposed to take place at Mullingar House in Chapelizod on the southern edge of Phoenix Park, why the scene would shift across the park to the Hole in the Wall pub in Ashtown. Maybe it's got something to do with the recurrent theme of HCE walking through Phoenix Park at night and either being accosted or encountering girls peeing or some other vague incident. Or maybe it makes more sense that the belligerent drunk who's banging at the locked gate would be stuck behind a locked turnstile. For what it's worth, the trek across the park from the pub in Chapelizod to the pub in Ashtown is about a 45 minute walk:

I am actually in Dublin right now as I type this and I'm planning to get over there this week to explore both of those pubs and the space in between.


Via Heraklea

Ancient intersection of the Via Appia and Via Ardeatina by Piranesi

We touched on roads in relation to the turnpike above, but later in chapter 4 the references to roads proliferate so much that it's worth taking a closer to see what's going on. On page 80, while the street-cleaner and scavenger Kate Strong is delivering her witness account of what transpired, she mentions "there being no macadamised sidetracks on those old nekropolitan nights" (FW 080.01-02)---where the allusion to macadamization refers to a method of making or repairing roads, and "nekropolitan nights" could be an allusion to how Roman roads were lined with tombs and gravestones since the dead were forbidden to be buried within the city walls---and then over the next few pages we get several references to roads and paths. 

The allusions to roads cluster especially on page 81 where we get this interesting line: "If this was Hannibal's walk it was Hercules' work." (FW 81.03) The many references to roads and particularly this conjunction of Hannibal and Hercules and a pathway ("Hannibal's walk") took on a new meaning for me when I read Graham Robb's groundbreaking book The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts (2013) which is essentially a prehistory of the Roman road system. Robb mainly focuses on what's known as the Via Heraklea, an ancient road originally constructed by the Gaulish Druids extending from the tip of present-day Portugal along the southern edge of the Iberian peninsula up through the Alps. The road was said to be in the footsteps of Herakles who was originally a sun god, and Robb thoroughly lays out a convincing argument that the Druids, who were masters of astronomy, laid out the road to be in perfect alignment with the rising of the sun at the summer solstice and the setting of the sun at the winter solstice (the reference to "middle earth" in the book's title has to do with the Druids attempting to align the earthly world or middle earth with the upper world of the sky). As for the connection between Hannibal and Hercules in that line from FW pg 81, Robb offers this (mind you, he makes no direct reference to anything from Finnegans Wake):

Ancient writers who described the Carthaginian invasion knew that Hannibal saw himself and wanted to be seen as the successor to Herakles. He would march across the mountains in the footsteps of the sun god, shining with the aura of divine approval. (The Discovery of Middle Earth, pp 18-19)
When Hannibal stood at the Matrona in the early winter of 218 BC, watching his elephants stumble down to the plains of northern Italy, he knew that he was standing in the rocky footprints of Herakles. His strategists and astrologers, and their Celtic allies and informers, were certain that the sun god had shown them the way. (ibid, p 21)

"If it was Hannibal's walk it was Hercules' work."
(FW 81.03)

Via Heraklea, from The Discovery of Middle Earth by Graham Robb

I have no idea how Joyce would've known about the Druid Geodesy underlying the Roman road system or whether he knew about the Via Heraklea, but the connecting clues in this part of the Wake certainly give credence to Joyce being aware of what Robb discusses in his book. For example, Robb emphasizes that the ancient Celtic road system in Gaul was designed during the Iron Age, and on pg 79 line 14 of the Wake we read of "those pagan ironed times." That quote immediately precedes the appearance of clusters of references to roads and paths in the text. Then we have on pg 81, "If it was Hannibal's walk it was Hercules' work" which is followed by a paragraph making multiple references to roads including a treacherous mountain pass---"in the saddle of Brennan's (now Malpasplace?) pass" (FW 81.14-15) where Brenner Pass is a mountain pass that goes through the Alps.

And as regards the Via Heraklea as a solstice road, the very next page after the Hannibal/Hercules/roads passage mentions "the solstitial pause for refleshmeant" (FW 82.10) followed by the appearance of "Yuni or Yuly" (FW 82.28) and "Yuletide or Yuddanfest" (FW 82.36) which would be June/July and Yuletide/Judenfest (Christmas/Jewish holidays), in other words the summer solstice and winter solstice. I should also mention that one of the figures who frequently comes up in Graham Robb's book is the Celtic tribal leader Vercingetorix who led a failed rebellion against the Romans, and Vercingetorix also appears numerous times in FW, including three times in the section of the book we're focusing on here. What any of this has to do with the confrontation at the pub gate, I'm not entirely sure. Notably, the Roman roads are often punctuated by archway gates. In my last post, I touched on the idea that the gate threshold has to do with HCE crossing over into the night-world akin to Osiris going into the underworld in his night boat. Osiris travels under the earth amid the stars and this part of the Wake, besides containing references to the astronomically-aligned Druid road system, is also loaded with references to astronomy and astrology, but that's a topic for another day. 


H.E.R.E. C.O.M.E.S. E.V.E.R.Y.B.O.D.Y.

Among the many fun easter eggs to discover in Finnegans Wake are the instances of meta-reference where the book tells you about something specific located elsewhere in the book. One interesting example of this appears on page 6 where it says "see peegee ought he ought" (FW 006.32) and if you read that as "see pg 88" and look to page 88 of the book, what stands out is the long acronym that spells out the name Here Comes Everybody: "Helmingham Erchenwyne Rutter Egbert Crumwall Odin Maximus Esme Saxon Esa Vercingetorix Ethelwulf Rupprecht Ydwalla Bentley Osmund Dysart Yggdrasselmann" (FW 88.21-23). I mentioned in the last post that in this part of the Wake, HCE either encounters or is seen to embody dozens of mythic gods and historic kings from various cultures and I think that's evident in this long name here. But also, that line from page 6 "see peegee ought he ought" is, according to the notes in Fweet, also a specific reference Joyce was making to an image plate shown between pgs 88-89 of a 1911 book by a French Egyptologist, Gods and Kings of Egypt by Alexandre Moret, and that specific plate displays an image of "The Wake of Osiris" not just the wake but the awakening, according to the mythology a revival via sexual arousal brought about by his sister Isis to resurrect him. You can read more about all of that here. I bring it up to further emphasize the identification of HCE with Osiris who was also known as Osiris-Unnefer and I read somewhere that Unnefer could be why Joyce gave his hero the first name of Humphrey.


The Canon

That memorable line from the closing pages of chapter 4 "the canonicity of his existence as a tesseract" (FW 100.34-35) provokes many ideas. I previously discussed how, at this stage in the text, HCE as a person with an identity has been obliterated (either in deep sleep or in the transition thru the underworld after death) and here on pg 100 he has become "the prisoner of that sacred edifice" (FW 100.25), buried like an entombed pharaoh king inside of some kind of tesseract ziggurat, "innerhalf the zuggurat" (FW 100.19). 

Focusing on that word "canonicity" though---it's apparently a real word that Joyce took from apocrypha about the New Testament but I think there is more to it. HCE entombed inside a ziggurat tesseract is also HCE or Here Comes Everybody or all of human knowledge, myth, history, inventions, tools, and treasures buried inside The Canon of the book, the tesseract cube that is the book Finnegans Wake itself. Similar to how HCE in the Wake is made to literally embody the collective corporal body of the city of Dublin itself, his existence here has become the canon, and "the canonicity of his existence as a tesseract" means Joyce's Everyman buried forever inside the literary canon along with all of his "inhumationary bric au brac"(FW 77.33), the gems and artifacts to be discovered by the reader who exhumes the tomb of the text. 


The Trial

While the text grows increasingly opaque, the noticeable narrative throughout Book I.2-4 revolves around a scandalous legal trial, the details of which are always vague and obscured yet we return to the courtroom scene over and over. Witnesses give their differing accounts of what happened, lawyers cross-examine, judges convene in chambers, one of the defendants even rips a loud, stinky fart that shocks everyone. Besides bringing in details from several legal trials of his era, Joyce also weaves into the text details from the tragic wrongful conviction of Myles Joyce, an Irish peasant who spoke no English but was tried in an English court, convicted of massacring a family, and executed in 1882, the year Joyce was born (Myles Joyce was posthumously pardoned in 2018). That trial was impactful for James Joyce, he published an essay about it in 1907,  "Ireland at the Bar".

Also, though, for virtually the entire time Joyce was composing Finnegans Wake in the 1920s and 30s, he himself was essentially on trial in courtrooms in the United States for the scandals around his banned book Ulysses. The more the reader can understand that, the clearer it becomes why so much of the Wake, beyond even these chapters about the trial, uses a style of interrogation and intensive questioning trying to get to the bottom of something. A recent book by Brian Fox James Joyce's America sheds some clarifying light about all of this:

The first part of the Wake to be drafted, Book I.2-4 in the finished work, deals with introducing HCE and his alleged crime and subsequent trial. The earliest drafts make clear that Joyce's own writing is under indictment here as well... The narrative voice immediately follows accusation with defence and counter-accusation---a move that will be repeated numerous times throughout the finished work... (James Joyce's America, p. 184)

Fox goes so far as to argue, convincingly I think, that the central theme of a crime and a legal trial in Finnegans Wake has to do with the scandals of Joyce's American reception (specifically, the trials over the chapters of Ulysses published n the Little Review, Joyce's American copyright struggles and the piracy of his work by Samuel Roth, and the federal ban of Ulysses). Fox writes:

The core theme of HCE's alleged crime in the park and its subjection to trial and defence from the start involves those adversarial elements of Joyce's American reception linked to legal confrontation...
Indeed, so much of the book is concerned with defending or indicting the alleged crime or crimes in the park that Joyce's response to his own exploitation [via Roth selling pirated editions of Ulysses & Finnegans Wake in USA] and condemnation---the incorporation into the work of its hostile reception---is arguably one of the primary themes of the Wake itself." (James Joyce's America, p.  184-185)

(Thank you Peter Coogan and the whole Austin Finnegans Wake Reading Group.) 

Sunday, June 6, 2021

The Portal

Illustration from William Blake's Jerusalem

Some observations on the Gate or Portal in Finnegans Wake I.3

Towards the end chapter 3 (book one) of Finnegans Wake, a drunken German angrily bangs at the locked gate of an Irish pub shouting threats and insults at the pub owner for locking him out after closing time. The gate Joyce places at the entrance of his main character HCE's pub is a megalithic stone structure, described as a "stonehinged gate" (FW 069.15). 

I've been dwelling on the meaning of this gate in chapter 3. The door or portal is a recurrent image in the Wake. One of the many names used for the main character is Mr. Porter. The belligerent at the gate unfurls a litany of insults and nicknames at him including "Sublime Porter" (FW 072.02-3). That word porter has similar etymological roots to the word metaphor meaning "to carry across" like to carry across a threshold. I think that's relevant here because so much of the Wake and especially the part of the book I'm focusing on right now seems to speak in alternating metaphors. 

The banging at the gate calls back to an earlier clash at a doorway in chapter 1 when the Prankquean rains hell on Jarl van Hoother (Earl of Howth) for locking the door of Howth Castle. The "stonehinged gate" on page 69 is "triplepatlockt" and on the adjacent page appears the Prankquean, "a shebeen quean, a queen of pranks." (FW 068.22)

George Cinclair Gibson's insightful study Wake Rites: The Ancient Irish Rituals of Finnegans Wake (University Press of Florida, 2005) discusses the "Banging at the Gate" scene as a parallel enactment of one of the ancient Irish rituals practiced at Tara. The actions of the verbal assailant at the gate, Gibson explains, "are the precise components of the Druidic curse known as the glam dichenn. The most compelling of all ritual curses, the glam dichenn would have been directed at a disgraced leader or failed king and delivered only by a powerful Druid." (p. 123)

As for the location of this scene, Gibson notes: 
...the glam dichenn directed against the fated king of Tara is purposely delivered on a threshold. In Druidic tradition, threshold and liminal locations are the optimal loci for harnessing and generating magical power. Liminal locations---for example, 'the threshold separating the inside of the room or house from the outside world'---can be utilized by a Druid as 'the source of extraordinary powers because the liminal transcends normal distinctions between separate categories" (Nagy, "Liminality," 135-36).  A Druid would use these liminal places (for example, near a door, on the boundary between civilization and wilderness) to create a magically charged "atmosphere" in order to "help generate the power necessary for ritual" (Nagy, "Liminality," 138). 
(Gibson, Wake Rites, p. 124)
The "threshold and liminal locations" which Gibson says "are the optimal loci for harnessing and generating magical power" represent a junction point where worlds intersect. The door in Finnegans Wake is a threshold wedged between the world of wakefulness and deep sleep. The book itself is also represented like a door or gate, the sigla Joyce uses for the book is a square ▢ a type of portal. I think the gate also represents a portal to the afterlife or the underworld, chapters 3 & 4 feature numerous references to the underworld journey of the dead in the Egyptian Book of the Dead

The description of the gate on page 69 includes an odd textual quirk where a capital letter appears unexpectedly with "There" in the middle of a sentence: "Where Gyant Blyant fronts Peannlueamoore There was once upon a wall and a hooghoog wall a was and such a wallhole did exist." The gate, or hole in the wall, is fronted by two giant pencils---"Gyant Blyant" includes the Danish word blyant for "pencil" and "Peannluemoore" is phonetically Irish for "big pencil"---even within the sentence itself, before we get to the gate we first encounter two giants fronting or guarding it. These "faithful poorters" (FW 069.26) are akin to the doorkeepers at Tara, named Camellus and Gemellus, who are directly named later on in the next chapter when the gate incident is re-litigated (see p. 90). Since they are described here as two giant pencils, it would appear these twin guardians of the gate are like two big obelisks. The obelisk is another recurrent image in Finnegans Wake usually representative of the obelisk at Wellington Monument in Phoenix Park, but here since there are two pencils or obelisks it could be invoking the original Egyptian style of placing a pair of obelisks at an entrance way.

This insight about the Egyptians using obelisks in pairs to create a portal between them came from a FW reading group discussion over this chapter last year. Architecture professor and Joyce scholar Marcin Kedzior shared this information with me:
Obelisks were always raised in pairs in keeping with the Egyptian value of balance and harmony; it was believed that the two on earth were reflected by two in the heavens. Egyptologist Richard H. Wilkinson writes:
"The phenomenon of duality pervades Egyptian culture and is at the heart of the Egyptian concept of the universe itself. But rather than focusing on the essential differences between the two parts of a given pair, Egyptian thought may stress their complementary nature as a way of expressing the essential unity of existence through the alignment and harmonization of opposites - just as we today might use "men and women", "old and young", or "great and small" to mean "all" or "everyone" (129)."
(from here:

That point about duality pervading Egyptian culture links back to the Wake because duality and the unity of opposites are also central to Finnegans Wake. And I think the dualities and their powerful conflicts tend to cluster around gates, doors, thresholds in the book. The angry drunk guy berating HCE at the door is an opposing force, a polar opposite of HCE the sleeper himself. The violent confrontations depicted around this section, where the belligerent at the door goes on for pages describing how he wants to break HCE's skull and pummel him, I see these as being clashes within the sleeper HCE himself. The brutality of these clashes I think are similar to the destructive confrontations a soul goes through in its journey through the underworld or the Bardo---the type of thing that goes on in the Egyptian Book of the Dead or the Tibetan Book of the Dead where there are monsters and demons who will tear your flesh to pieces, putting your soul through the trial of your attachments and preparedness for nirvana or for reincarnation. 

I'm getting far afield here, so let me briefly summarize how I see all of this. The gate or portal, the megalithic "stonehinged gate" (FW 069.15) and everything that goes on around this part of the text are suggestive of a number of things: 
  • the sleeper HCE is crossing over a threshold and entering into the void of deep sleep, his persona obliterated. In John Bishop's introduction to the Penguin edition of FW, he notes "Chapters 3 and 4 of Book I are both murkier and harder to read than the first two chapters of FW---in part because HCE recedes even more deeply out of conscious life, now becoming literally absent... and therefore only indirectly represented, in rumor, gossip, and report." (p. xx)
  • Traveling across the threshold of the portal into deep sleep, within HCE are enacted ancient rituals of the divestiture of the High King of Ireland at Tara by the Druids at megalithic sites (see Wake Rites).
  • Descending into the underworld of sleep, HCE experiences the death and resurrection myths of Osiris in the Egyptian Book of the Dead
  • The megalithic portal or doorway which is the entryway to HCE's pub is also the gateway to deep sleep, to death, to rebirth, and an inviting open door for the reader to dive into all of the above, "Opendoor Ospices" (FW 071.13).
  • The megalithic gate becomes representative of HCE himself, or rather HCE transforms into a megalith or monolith or "monomyth" (FW 581.24).
I'll try to expand on all of these points here. While a reader can try to identify a "narrative" or "plot" in chapters 3-4 of the Wake, what I'm usually more interested to follow are the consistent patterns noticeable in the subtext. So much of chapter 3 seems to involve HCE's personal identity fading away as he falls into deeper sleep. The sleeper's sense of individual identity becomes obliterated, as described on page 51, "(since in this scherzarade of one's thousand one nightinesses this sword of certainty that would identifide the body never falls) to idendifine the individuone." Mythological and historical personages abound in this chapter. Siddartha, Buddha, Osiris, Blakean gods, the Prophet Muhammad, ancient Vikings and Celtic Kings and Druid Poets all appear and proliferate in these pages as it seems like the dead from across history and the entire globe gather to arrange for the passage of HCE into the afterlife, he is being "timesported acorss the yawning (abyss)" (FW 056.03). 

The sleeper HCE in ever deeper slumber loses his entire persona, buried in a coffin of sleep paralysis, his consciousness dead to the world, he's "nearvanashed himself" (FW 061.18), his ego extinguished in nirvana and near-vanished in sleep. H.C. Earwicker, or Mr. Porter the pubkeeper, disappears and is replaced by any number of mythological heroes and gods and kings undergoing trials against entities trying to devour him. All these entities seem to be parts of his own being. 

There's an interesting and sort of subtle indication of the interlink between entities when the angry drunk at the gate is berating HCE. Notice the dualities in this description of the language used: "swishing beesnest with blessure, and swobbing broguen eeriesh myth brockendootcsh" (FW 070.03-4). Mixing business with pleasure, or a bee's nest with blessings, and swapping broken Irish with broken Deutsch. I think the presence of the words "eerie" "myth" and "brocken" also indicate a reference here to the Brocken spectre, a phenomenon where an enormous shadow of an observer appears on a cloud, made legendary by the propensity for this spectre to occur when an observer stands atop the Brocken peak in Germany. This phenomenon has been referenced frequently in literature, most memorably for me in Thomas Pynchon's novel Gravity's Rainbow. I think the presence of the Brocken spectre in this passage of Finnegans Wake is confirmed a few lines later with "roebucks raugh at pinnacle's peak" (FW 070.13) plus other references to hikers on a mountain top. 

So the confrontations with hostile entities can be seen as conflicts within HCE himself or with his shadow. One of these encounters takes place at a megalithic stone structure, first introduced as "one of the granite cromlech setts" (FW 061.14). The chapter seems to alternate between describing HCE inside an elaborate coffin and describing HCE being harassed at a doorway, with lots of Egyptian references embedded in these passages. The impression I get when reading this part of the book is that HCE is being prepared for reincarnation, "striving todie, hopening tomellow" (FW 060.29), he's placed inside a pyramid like a dead pharaoh, "reberthing in remarriment out of dead seekness to devine previdence... first pharoah, Humpheres Cheops Exarchas." (FW 62.07-21) Since we're jumping from Druids to Egyptian pharaohs here, it's worth mentioning that Joyce, from his early writings, made connections between the ancient Irish Druids and the Egyptian priests, memorably declaring in "Ireland, Island of Saints and Sages" that, "Ancient Ireland is dead just as ancient Egypt is dead."

Example of a granite cromlech.

HCE in this section seems to be traveling like the sun on a journey under the earth at night and through the stars, this is the mythical image of Osiris in his night-boat. Whether it's Stonehenge or Egyptian pyramids, these ancient temples were usually designed as star-gates and at this point of the book, cosmic elements abound as HCE seems to be floating among the stars in a boat:

"combing the comet's tail up right and shooting popguns at the stars" (FW 065.11)
"gazing and crazing and blazing at the stars" (FW 065.13)
"they all were afloat in a dreamlifeboat" (FW 065.29-30)

We get another reminder that we are actually talking about a coffin but the way it is described, "The coffin, a triumph of the illusionist's art" (FW 066.28), suggests death is an illusion and that our main character will eventually re-appear just "round the coroner." (FW 067.13) I should also point out this section contains a paragraph all about sex for procreation followed by a paragraph about the delivery of a letter through the post. John Bishop in Joyce's Book of the Dark wrote about the letter passage on p. 66 as having to do with a dream experienced by the sleeper and his attempt to transfer this dream information across the threshold of sleep into consciousness in the morning: "Will it ever be next morning the postal unionist's ... strange fate ... to hand in a huge chain envelope... ?" (FW 066.10-14) The passage about posting a letter is bracketed by paragraphs about procreative sex and a special coffin used in a magician's act. In discussing the recurring images of ancient portals throughout FW, George C. Gibson in Wake Rites confirms that "HCE's passage through these perilous thresholds is an act associated with themes of rebirth, Easter, initiation, and the transition from the old world to the new." (Wake Rites, p. 197)

As we get to the passage with the "stonehinged gate" on page 69, we encounter more dualities. The long paragraph preceding the gate scene starts with "Oh! Oh!" (FW 067.32) and ends with "(ah! ah!)" (FW069.02), Joyce's way of summoning alpha and omega. In the "stonehinged gate" paragraph are more celestial references, with the dual "Isther Estarr" and "Yesther Asterr" suggestive of the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar with the word star evident in both names. The text places us "In the drema of Sorestost Areas, Diseased." There are a number of meanings here (including, phonetically, the Irish for "Irish Free State"), but one of the ways I read it is "Solstice Areas, Deceased" in reference to Stonehenge or some other ancient abandoned solstice temple site. Stonehenge was important for Joyce. There are at least half a dozen direct references to Stonehenge in Finnegans Wake, and as Peter Chrisp mentioned in his blog post about Joyce's development of the HCE character, when James Joyce visited the site of Stonehenge in 1931 he remarked, "I have been fourteen years trying to get here." The quote comes from David Hayman's book A First Draft Version of Finnegans Wake (p. 3), where Hayman says Joyce was referring to the work he was engaged in with Finnegans Wake

The "stonehinged gate" paragraph on page 69 further amplifies the significance of the gate metaphor with several references to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, "to garble a garthen of Odin and the lost paladays when all the eddams ended with aves." (FW 69.09-11) The gate becomes "an applegate" (FW 69.21) suggesting an apple tree in this garden, also inside the gate are sheep and goat and other livestock harvested by the primordial farmers. The etymology of the word paradise literally means "to build an enclosure around." So like we've said, this gate is a portal, an intersection of worlds. It could be a gate to the dreamworld, to the afterlife, to the cosmos, or to the lost paradise. Or all of the above, that's how the Wake works.

Outside the gate, the belligerent drunk German continues to badger HCE with 111 different names mocking him. HCE refuses to "respond a solitary wedgeword" (FW 072.18) and attempts to not acknowledge "his langwedge" (FW 073.01). Those words "wedgeword" and "langwedge" are important and revealing here. We're talking about a "stonehinged gate" which serves as a portal between worlds. The gate would be wedged in between two separate dimensions. HCE doesn't respond and doesn't want to further drive a wedge between he and his assailant. Joyce placing the word "wedge" in association with language here could be alluding to ancient cuneiform writing which was wedge-shaped. But also, as we discussed in our FW reading group when we covered this passage, there's more to it because in architecture a wedge serves as the keystone holding together a doorway. 

Keystone wedge in architecture.

The wedge actually holds dualities together, strengthening the gate structure. This is the "langwedge" of the Wake, uniting opposites, often in this book you'll find polarities merged inside one word or phrase. With the appearances of that word "wedge" at the end of chapter 3, the stone architecture of HCE's gate builds into something more elaborate. No longer just a gate, now it has become a megalithic tomb. A nebulous somebody or nobody is seen to "build rocks over him" (FW 073.09) and he is safely ensconced in an "archcitadel" (FW 073.24) with "chambered cairns" (FW 073.29). Chambered cairns are neolithic burial monuments for the dead:

By Islandhopper, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Even though the text says of HCE within his intricate stone tomb that "he med leave to many a door beside" (FW 073.28), the persona of the man asleep is hard to find. He seemed to say goodbye to his angry assailant right before traversing the portal, crossing over into time-bending dimensions on the other side lightyears away, he "proceeded with a Hubbleforth slouch in his slap backwords... in the directions of the duff and demb institutions about ten or eleven hundred years lurch away in the moonshiny gorge of Patself on the Bach. Adyoe!" (FW 073.18-22) All that's left for us to examine is the increasingly ornate megalithic structure, "skatterlings of a stone" (FW 073.34) forming an "eolithostroton" (FW 073.30). Now separated from HCE by time spans in the thousands of years we become archeologists trying to develop "a theory none too rectiline of the evoluation of human society and a testament of the rocks from all the dead unto some the living." (FW 073.31-33) And then Joyce ends the chapter on the following page with pretty clear indications that the main character has now fallen into deepest sleep. 

In describing the sequence of events from this part of the Wake, John Bishop emphasizes that this all "seems to have to do not only with HCE's disappearance from consciousness, but also with his physical 'arrest,' his immobilization in the world of night; while in chapter 4, a significant turning point in the book, a process of 'disselving' and dispersion begins, as HCE fades from central focus into a remote background." (p. xx, Penguin edition of FW) In chapter 4, we once again encounter some references to Egyptian pharaohs buried deep inside pyramids, HCE's coffin becomes like a torpedo or submarine transporting through an "underground heaven, or mole's paradise" (FW 076.33). Further within chapter 4, HCE officially becomes no longer a somebody but an everybody, on page 88 he is named "Here Comes Everybody" with each letter representing the name of some historical or mythical figure.

By the end of chapter 4, where there was once a person now there is only an increasingly ornate stone structure, envisioned with "beaconsfarafield innerhalf the zuggurat" (FW 100.19). Maybe HCE is now the illuminated inner half of a ziggurat. He's no longer an entity but a geometrical structure, confirmed by "the canonicity of his existence as a tesseract." (FW 100.34-35) By the following chapter he has truly become a megalith, where the "trilithon sign M" (FW 119.17) is a fallen letter E meant to look like a trilithon

FW 119.17

This evolution of HCE into a gateway portal built of stone that is also an elaborate "eolithostroton" (FW 073.30) or ziggurat or tesseract entombing him reminds me of a Gopuram, the monumental and ornate entrance tower to a Hindu temple.

Gopuram, gateway entrance to Hindu temple

This transformation of a seemingly human character into a ziggurat or tesseract stone tumulus is weird and confusingly abstract, but bear in mind that structure is also a gate or door and Joyce repeatedly hints at having dropped keys for the reader. One of these keys might be the aforementioned trilithon sign formed by rotating the E sigla for HC Earwicker, and that seems to be hinted at on page 100 with "tristurned initials, the cluekey to a worldroom beyond the roomwhorld" (FW 100.29). Bear in mind too that the wedge in the aforementioned "wedgewords" and "langwedge" is indicative of the keystone in architecture. So much of what all this is saying seems to be commentary on Finnegans Wake itself, Joyce's own history of the world thru the experience of one person asleep at night, the reader being led on an archeological dig thru the history of the human body and human experience.

That amazing line on page 100 depicting lit up ziggurats, "beaconsfarafield innerhalf the zuggurat" conjures in my head a very similar image as that provided by the recently deceased poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti (himself a Joycean) at the end of his epic poem Time of Useful Consciousness (2012): "Macrotiendas in Teotihuacan/ The pyramids lit up like cupcakes." The below picture shows me sitting atop a ziggurat pyramid structure staring down the Avenue of the Dead in Teotihuacan, Mexico, with a James Joyce shirt on my back.

Exploring that ancient site of a complex pyramid city that was abandoned thousands of years prior, I couldn't help but think of Joyce and Finnegans Wake and the way he designed his book. The tour guide described how archeologists discovered buried remains underneath each of the ziggurat temples, they even found an "underground heaven, a mole's paradise" deep underneath the main ziggurat/pyramid, a series of tunnels decorated with gems to create the atmosphere of a mythical underworld amidst the stars. 

Joyce when he was finishing up writing Finnegans Wake worried that his highly complex masterwork might end up being neglected and abandoned. "Perhaps it will end in failure, be a wreck or ‘catastrophe’ ...and perhaps in the years to come this work of mine will remain solitary and abandoned, like a temple without believers." (Portraits of the Artist in Exile, p. 160-161, my emphasis) I think the Wake will always maintain the aura of an abandoned temple ripe for archeological exploration, but with Finnegans Wake group digs taking place all over the world and even assembling virtually via "Bangen-op-Zoom" (FW 073.26-27) amidst a global pandemic just like ours did, the great temple site has not remained solitary and the gems and treasures yielded from these group digs are invaluable to an appreciation of what the human mind is capable of.  

"So you need hardly spell me how every word will be bound over to carry three score and ten toptypsical readings throughout the book of Doublends Jined... til Daleth, mahomahouma, who oped it closeth thereof the. Dor." 
(FW 020.13-18)

(Thank you to Marcin Kedzior, Madeline Melnick, and the Austin Finnegans Wake Reading Group.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Notes on Delmore Schwartz (Part 2)

Continuing from Part 1 here 

Brooklyn poet Delmore Schwartz in 1938.

"as were it sentenced to be nuzzled over a full trillion times for ever and a night till his noddle sink or swim by that ideal reader suffering from an ideal insomnia" (Finnegans Wake, p. 120)

That ideal reader of Finnegans Wake, as described by Joyce in the above quote, could very well have ended up being the great poet from New York City, Delmore Schwartz (1913-1966), who read the Wake voraciously and also suffered from terrible insomnia. He developed an addiction to sleeping pills and alcohol as ways to settle himself down to go to sleep. It didn't help much as his mind was too active, he was known to stay up all night reading through stacks of books. 

In Saul Bellow's novel Humboldt's Gift (1975) where the main character Humboldt is based on Delmore Schwartz, there's a memorable scene in which the narrator spends the night at Humboldt's farmhouse in New Jersey. Deep into the night, Humboldt goes off on one of his brilliant and eclectic monologues about art, culture, baseball, politics, history, etc until finally the narrator retires to bed: "Next day he was still going strong. It made me giddy to hear so much subtle analysis and to have so much world history poured over my head at breakfast. He hadn't slept at all." (Bellow, p. 32)

In his journals, which were published in 1986 as Portrait of Delmore (edited by Elizabeth Pollet), Delmore jotted these lines of verse: 

Of three o'clock in the morning

Of four o'clock in the morning,

            and of the early 

Morning light I would be poet laureate (p. 221)

I am insomnia's poet, Delmore Schwartz  (p. 269)

Elsewhere in his journals, he modified Joyce's famous line: "History is a nightmare: during which I am trying to get a good night's sleep, which gives me insomnia." (p. 458)

So it figures that Delmore could be "that ideal reader suffering from an ideal insomnia" because he even treated the book Finnegans Wake exactly as Joyce suggested, "to be nuzzled over a full trillion times for ever and a night till his noddle sink or swim." His biographer James Atlas relates the intensity with which Delmore would read the Wake starting from its early excerpts: 

Delmore at seventeen was a self-styled member of the avant-garde; he read Hound & Horn, studied Pound's Cantos as they appeared, and collected first editions of everything T.S. Eliot wrote. transition was especially important to him now that excerpts of Finnegans Wake were appearing in its pages, and he pored over each new installment with Talmudic zeal. For the rest of his life, Joyce was to be his literary hero, Finnegans Wake a work he read and annotated with such intensity that his copies would fall apart; he went through several in his lifetime. (Atlas, p. 40)

A copy of Delmore Schwartz's Finnegans Wake now resides at the Beinecke Library at Yale University and by the wonders of technology you can view each page of the book and zoom in on the tiny details of Delmore's scribbled annotations. Over at the blog "Swerve of Shore to Bend of Bay" Peter Chrisp has written a beautiful post about Delmore Schwartz and his devotion to Joyce, including a close look at some pages from his annotated Wake. I am trying to avoid overlap as I don't want to step on Peter C's toes, but it was that post that initially sprung me off on my research of Delmore Schwartz.

The part that really struck me was his biographer James Atlas mentioning that Delmore's passion for the Wake was such that "he even annotated while sitting in the stands at the Polo Grounds." (Atlas, p. 327) That image---the poet Delmore Schwartz attending a NY Giants baseball game at the Polo Grounds and reading and annotating Finnegans Wake while he sat in the stands---that's what compelled me to write this. I am drawn to Delmore Schwartz because he loved Finnegans Wake and major league baseball like I do.

I have been trying to track down more details about that note---which game(s) did he attend? What pages of the Wake was he annotating? Since we have every page of his personal copy of Finnegans Wake available to view online and since his journals are available in published form, you would think this information might be discoverable. As I described in Part 1, Delmore would often jot the details in his journals when he attended a baseball game. I still have not been able to track down where exactly James Atlas got that information described in his excellent biography, though. I've been scouring Delmore's journals trying to find any mention of this. There's several times where he mentions indulging in following a Giants ballgame and reading FW on the same day. The closest thing I can find is this brief note from July of 1954: 

F[innegans] W[ake], 300-314. Giants doubleheader (losing second game)---distressed by nightfall. (Portrait of Delmore, p. 494)

I suspect this might be it. Delmore was a regular at the Polo Grounds when he lived in New York and he's pretty clear about it whenever he was following a game on the radio rather than attending in person. So it's possible this note indicates Delmore was there at the Polo Grounds watching the 1954 NY Giants (who went on to win the World Series that year) play a doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday, July 11, 1954 and that he was also reading and annotating pages 300-314 of Finnegans Wake during the game. 

Recently I had the pleasure of participating in an online Finnegans Wake reading group session with the members of the Finnegans Wake Society of New York in which we read page 308. This is one of the strangest pages in the book, with text in three columns, footnotes, and even doodles in the margins. It's also one of the pages Delmore would have been annotating at the Polo Grounds during that doubleheader on July 11th, 1954. I found Delmore's annotations on this page (which he may or may not have scribbled while watching Willie Mays patrol centerfield for the Giants) to be pretty helpful in pointing out how the various blocks of text and drawings all interrelate. 

You can see at the top of page 308 how he drew lines connecting the countdown ("Aun Do Tri" etc) with the marginal text on the left. 

Detail, top of pg 308 of Delmore Schwartz's copy of FW. (Beinecke Library)

He also identifies connections between the middle text ("tea's set") and the marginal text on the right ("YOUR BEEEFTAY'S FIZZIN OVER") and he drew lines for the connection between the five and ten from the countdown to the footnotes below. He also drew links between the doodles on the bottom left and the marginal text on the right. 

Detail, bottom of pg 308 of Delmore Schwartz's copy of FW. (Beinecke Library)

In the meeting with the NY group, our collective unpacking of the page did find that some of these connections bore out. At a bare minimum, it's just incredible to look at all of these notes on this one page and try to think alongside Delmore as he reads the Wake. The page a palimpsest of different shades of ink and pencil written and overwritten over multiple readings (stains of coffee or beer are evident on many pages), hieroglyphic lines scratched and arrowed like a baseball scorecard

Close-up of a random baseball scorecard.

Finnegans Wake p. 308 with annotations by Delmore Schwartz. From the Beinecke Library of Yale website here.

*   *   *

Peter Chrisp in his post says that "Delmore Schwartz must have spent more time thinking about Finnegans Wake than almost anybody else. Yet it's a shame he wrote very little about the book." It is a shame indeed. Delmore was known for being a sharp and witty literary critic, surely he must have had lots of interesting things to say about Joyce and the book he loved so much. Peter C shared the one paragraph from Delmore's essay on "The Vocation of the Poet in the Modern World" where he talks about Joyce and Finnegans Wake at some length, stressing the global scope of the work and how it involves all of history. There's also a nice little footnote in that essay where Delmore argues that Finnegans Wake belongs in any serious discussion about poetry:

Joyce's two best works, Ulysses and his last book, are not poems in the ordinary sense of the word; and he wrote several volumes of poetry, most of which consist of verses far inferior to anything in his major books. But any view of poetry which excludes Finnegans Wake as a poem and Joyce as a poet merely suggests the likelihood that Joyce transformed and extended the limits of poetry by the writing of his last book. If we freeze our categories and our definitions, (and this is especially true in literature) the result is that we disable and blind our minds. (from Selected Essays of Delmore Schwartz, p. 22)

His stressing of Finnegans Wake as a work of poetry here is important. Beyond that, though, it's true that Delmore never got around to publishing any extensive writings about Joyce. A letter from September 1938 mentions his intention to write "an extended review of Joyce's new work" (see Letters of Delmore Schwartz, p. 59) but it doesn't seem to have ever materialized. 

In the preface to the Selected Essays of Delmore Schwartz (1970) the editors explain: "Another omission is more surprising. This volume contains nothing on James Joyce. Two short pieces could have been included, but the editors thought them too perfunctory, too hastily journalistic to represent adequately Delmore's vast knowledge of the work of his chief literary hero. A likely guess would be that an extended essay or book on Joyce was one of Delmore's long entertained projects and that he never accomplished the project precisely because he thought of it as crucial." (p. xiii) (Reading about Delmore Schwartz reveals many intriguing yet uncompleted projects he labored on for years, some other examples: a book-length study of T.S. Eliot, an edited/translated collection of Heinrich Heine, and a textbook on the history of poetry.) 

There are many abbreviated notes on Finnegans Wake to be found in Delmore's journals (edited by his second wife Elizabeth Pollet) but even there, when you read the introduction, you'll find a similar caveat: "The one major exception is the omission of Delmore's copying of other writers, particularly of James Joyce in both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Much that was cut was either illegible or so fragmentary or chaotic that it would have choked any movement." (Portrait of Delmore, p. xv) Reading through the journals, Delmore mentions frequently that he spent time copying passages from FW. These copied passages have been omitted, but there are some interesting bits to be found like this versification of a FW line:

"To peek aboo

       Durk the


      Of slumbwhere" 

                  (FW, p. 580) 

(from Portrait of Delmore, p. 510)

The Wake as the height of poetry was a theme for him. In 1954, he noted "copying FW & letting it suggest the beauty & the future of language & of poetry to me." (p. 505) In 1943, he wrote this note on the Wake: "Liffey is Life, and it is a poem of nature, the male and the female principle, and all memory, hall memory." (p. 129) At another point he ruminates, "Reading FW must satisfy some deep need---beyond love of language & rhythm---since I go on, month after month, hour by hour." (p. 339) 

He also mentions a few times how important it must have been to Joyce's development as an author that he taught at a Berlitz language school. Finnegans Wake is a book that deploys more than sixty languages, after all. At one point Delmore writes this note: "FW: The Authorized King James version of Anglo-Irish International Basic English." (p. 624)

At another point, he praises an essay by Edmund Wilson on Joyce especially what he found to be "a beautiful and generous and exact statement: 'The demands that Joyce makes upon the reader are considerable, but the rewards are astounding!'" (p. 497)

It's also worth noting that, when he was teaching at Harvard, Delmore had a sort of rivalry with the scholar Harry Levin whom he loathed. Possibly because he was blinded by his intense dislike for Levin, Delmore argued that Levin's book on Joyce (James Joyce: A Critical Introduction, 1941) was terrible and his interpretations off-base. What's ironic and sort of ridiculous about the whole thing is Levin's book on Joyce was praised by Joyce himself for being a very sharp and accurate appraisal of his work. I've read Levin's book and I think it is superior to Campbell and Robinson's Skeleton Key among the early studies of the Wake. I think it holds up well. One wishes Delmore had written his own book on the Wake to counter his rival. 

Then again, there's that famous line from Joyce about mistakes. Delmore riffed on this in a journal entry from 1943:
Joyce says, The artist makes no mistakes. His mistakes are the portals of discovery.
    No, wrongly stated for the rhetoric of the paradox. The artist always makes mistakes; his mistakes are the only way in which he can make certain essential discoveries. (p. 135)

*   *   *

From Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow (a fictionalized account of Delmore Schwartz):

"Poets have to dream, and dreaming in America is no cinch. God 'giveth songs in the night,' the Book of Job says. I've devoted lots of thought to all these questions and I've concentrated hard on Humboldt's famous insomnia. But I think that Humboldt's insomnia testified mostly to the strength of the world, the human world and all its wonderful works. The world was interesting, really interesting. The world had money, science, war, politics, anxiety, sickness, perplexity. It had all the voltage. Once you had picked up the high-voltage wire and were someone, a known name, you couldn't release yourself from the electrical current. You were transfixed.... Where are the poets' power and interest? They originate in dream states. These come because the poet is what he is in himself, because a voice sounds in his soul which has a power equal to the power of societies, states, and regimes. You don't make yourself interesting through madness, eccentricity, or anything of the sort but because you have the power to cancel the world's distraction, activity, noise, and become fit to hear the essence of things." (Bellow, p. 316)

What's fascinating about Delmore's "famous insomnia" is that he so often wrote about sleep and dreams in his work. He was a poet of the liminal state, that threshold between waking and sleeping, a territory he must have been very familiar with. His most famous story is called "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" and many of his stories and poems involve dreams or the earliest inklings of dawn and waking up from a dream. He developed a great interest in Freud and psychoanalysis, he often wrote down his dreams in his journals and tried to analyze himself. He also tended to dwell on the type of ontological question about dreams and reality that opens his poem "The Fulfillment": 

"Is it a dream?" I asked. To which my fellow

Answered with a hoarse voice and dulled insistence:

"Dream, is it a dream? What difference

Does it make or mean? If it is only a dream

It is the dream which we are. Dream or the last resort

Of reality, it is the truth of our minds:

We are condemned because this is our consciousness." 

(from Summer Knowledge, p. 150)

*   *   *

Let's go back to that aforementioned note from 1954 once more---"F[innegans] W[ake], 300-314. Giants doubleheader (losing second game)---distressed by nightfall." (Portrait of Delmore, p. 494) This doubleheader took place at the Polo Grounds on Sunday July 11th, 1954. Exactly one year later, Delmore was again reading Finnegans Wake on July 11th because he jotted the date "7.11.55" in the bottom left corner of page 89 in his copy:

Detail from Delmore's Wake, pg 89.

There's an eerie significance here because it was on this same day a decade later when Delmore Schwartz died of a heart attack on July 11, 1966. 

Frequently in his journal Delmore would quote lines from Anna Livia Plurabelle's closing monologue from Finnegans Wake as the river of life flows out to the sea and her death. In October of 1943 he wrote: 

When yellow leaves or none or few

My leaves have drifted from me--- (p. 129)

He's quoting from the last lines of the Wake: "My leaves have drifted from me. But one clings still." (FW, p. 628) He draws on this same line again in this note from January 1944, a month after his 30th birthday: 

My years have rifted from me. One to thirty. How do I know how many more, and where will I be and when will I die and will I be sorry that I am I? Yes? Guess! (p. 147)

By the mid-1960s poor Delmore Schwartz had descended pretty deep into madness and addiction which he'd been struggling with for years. He suffered from paranoid delusions about the Rockefellers beaming signals into his brain from the top of the Empire State Building, he alienated his friends and loved ones as he lobbed unfounded accusations at them and even brought lawsuits against them, he concocted a delusional story in which his wife was cheating with someone she had never actually met, and he fell into a sad and pathetic state. Despite his psychological maladies he still managed to publish some poetry and hold down a job as a professor at Syracuse University (where he became a mentor to Lou Reed), but in 1966 he got anxious and left the university to head back to New York City. He bounced around a few seedy hotels in crappy neighborhoods and then on July 11th, 1966, while returning from taking out his trash, he suffered a heart attack and ended up dead in the hallway of a floor other than his. He was 52 years old. It's assumed he must have suffered for hours in the middle of the night because he was found on the floor with his shirt ripped open. His body was unclaimed in the morgue for a few days since nobody seemed to know who the once-famous poet was.

Knowing that Delmore had a love for the Anna Livia monologue at the end of FW and knowing the sad circumstances of his death, I can't help but think of these lines in relation to him: "...never heed of your name! O bitter ending! I'll slip away before they're up. They'll never see. Nor know. Nor miss me." (FW p. 627)

In his notes from 1945 he jotted down these lines from the end of the Wake:

And I rush, my only! into your arms---

I done me best when I was let---


I mounted the steps of the high chair and recited, pointing my finger: "I done me best when I was let---"

(p. 262)

*   *   *

James Atlas in Delmore Schwartz: The Life of an American Poet describes how Delmore fell into a depressed state shortly after his 28th birthday. And then, "The death of James Joyce a month later increased his desolation, and he summoned William Barrett [NYU professor of philosophy and his close friend] from Providence to come up and 'keen for our dead brother.' From then on, Delmore always referred to Joyce as 'our poor dead king,' echoing Mr. Casey's lament for Parnell in A Portrait of the Artist." (Atlas, p. 198-199)

Even though Delmore never got around to publishing a full-length study of Joyce, fortunately we do have a poem that he wrote in tribute to his literary hero. This poem appears in the posthumous collection Last and Lost Poems published by New Directions in 1989.

A King of Kings, a King Among the Kings 

              (by Delmore Schwartz) 

Come, let us rejoice in James Joyce, in the greatness of this poet,

     king, and king of poets

For he is our poor dead king, he is the monarch and Caesar of English,

     he is the veritable King of the King’s English


     The English of the life of the city,

     and the English of music;


Let them rejoice because he rejoiced and was joyous;

For his joy was superior, it was supreme, for it was accomplished

After the suffering of much evil, the evil of the torment of pride,

By the overcoming of disgust and despair by means of the confrontation       

of them

By the enduring of nausea, the supporting of exile, the drawing from

     the silence of exile, the pure arias of the

     hidden music of all things, all beings.

For the joy of Joyce was earned by the sweat of the bow of his mind

     by the tears of the agony of his heart;

     hence it was gained, mastered, and conquered,

     (hence it was not a gift and freely given,

     a mercy often granted to masters,

     as if they miraculous were natural --)

For he earned his joy and ours by the domination of evil by

     confrontation and the exorcism of language

     in all its powers of imitation and

     imagination and radiance and delight....