Monday, June 3, 2024

The Influence of Whitman on Joyce & Finnegans Wake

Books are to be call'd for, and supplied, on the assumption that the process of reading is not a half-sleep, but, in highest sense, an exercise, a gymnast's struggle; that the reader is to do something for himself, must be on the alert, must himself or herself construct indeed the poem, argument, history, metaphysical essay--the text furnishing the hints, the clue, the start or frame-work. Not the book needs so much to be the complete thing, but the reader of the book does.
- Walt Whitman, Democratic Vistas (1871)

Yes, this does read like an exhortation for an author like Joyce to bring forth books like Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Whitman not only called for books "on the assumption that the process of reading is not a half-sleep" to wake a reader into a more fuller alertness, but to involve the reader in the construction of meaning in the work itself. In this way Whitman and Joyce seem to be in conversation, and Joyce did own a copy of Whitman's Democratic Vistas in his library. He was also inspired by Leaves of Grass ever since he was a young writer and he made references and allusions to Whitman repeatedly in his work, especially Finnegans Wake. That quote alone though, from a book Joyce owned, by an author he admired, could be an intriguing answer to the persistent question of why each of Joyce's books increasingly challenges the reader so much. It's worth thinking about, at least.

    Lately, I've been interested in Walt Whitman (1819-1892) and what impact he had on James Joyce (1882-1941), and this influence seems more significant than most commentators have tended to note. This interest sprung from time I've spent in the past year around south Jersey and Philadelphia areas where so many places are named for Whitman, who spent the final two decades of his life at a house in New Jersey recovering from a stroke. While I was driving across the Walt Whitman Bridge to enter into Philly from Jersey one day, I recalled the first time I encountered the impressive harp-shaped Samuel Beckett Bridge in Dublin and how impossible it seemed that there might be a prominent bridge named after a poet in the USA. The naming of the New Jersey bridge in honor of Whitman happened in the mid-1950s and sparked the local conservative Catholic community into an uproar, one person offering this critique in a letter: "As a thinker Walt Whitman possesses the depth of a saucer and enjoys a vision which extends about as far as his eyelids. A naturalist, a pantheist, a freethinker, a man whose ideas were destructive of usual ethical codes- is this a name we wish to preserve for posterity?" The Port Authority decided to keep the name, and a statue of Whitman stands near the bridge this day. Whitman once wrote "The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it." Joyce was an exile from Ireland for nearly four decades, yet his books concentrate entirely on Ireland. The initial reception of Joyce's work in his native country, though, was far harsher than any reactionary furor against Whitman. Each country has since affectionately absorbed its poet, Joyce is now celebrated in his native Ireland, just as Whitman is revered in America. The two authors are also among the prime literary heroes celebrated across the entire globe. Finnegans Wake has been translated into Japanese and its translation into Chinese was advertised on billboards in Shanghai. I was struck recently while traveling in Asia when I passed a huge bright colorful billboard in Bangkok that featured this quote: "Peace is always beautiful" - Walt Whitman.

    It's been interesting for me while reading Leaves of Grass alongside my ongoing reading of Finnegans Wake with different groups, and noticing how often there's a noticeable dialogue across eras between Whitman and Joyce. According to Stanislaus Joyce in My Brother's Keeper, James Joyce's interest in Whitman dates back at least to 1901. An early notebook Joyce wrote poems in around 1901-1902 was titled "Shine and Dark" the name derived from Whitman's line "Earth of shine and dark mottling the tide of the river" from "Song of Myself." This would've been when Joyce was just turning 20 years old and yet consider how the images in that one Whitman line resonate with the mytho-cosmic river of life Joyce wrote about decades later in Finnegans Wake. The dual "shine and dark" opposites dominate the fabric of the Wake like opposite riverbanks, "mottling the tide" of the river, darkened by earth/mud, like "our turfbrown mummy" (FW 194.22) Anna Livia (the tidal river Liffey)---it's all there in that one line from "Song of Myself." Another indication of how Joyce felt about Whitman's poetry during these early years of his writing is found in the essay Joyce wrote in 1902 on the Irish poet James Clarence Mangan where his effusive praise for the Irish poet is tempered with "it does not attain the quality of Whitman." 

    In the winter of 1906 after having left Ireland and settled in Rome, Italy, the 24-year-old Irishman Joyce was working as a clerk in a bank trying to support his wife and newborn child. Joyce was miserable with his life at that point, he hated Rome and he had barely any leisure time thanks to the grueling demands of his clerk job which involved working 8:30am to 7:30pm handwriting hundreds of letters per day. He worried about how he could ever find the time and energy to read or write anything. The poems of Whitman fed his soul around this time, we know because on December 7th, 1906, in a letter to Stanislaus, he mentions: "Thanks for Whitman's poems. What long flowing lines he writes." You can just imagine the young writer struggling at that stage of his life and how he may have been impacted reading lines like these from Whitman's poems: 

"I dilate you with tremendous breath, I buoy you up" 

"Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes." 

"Something long preparing and formless is arrived and form'd in you,
    You are henceforth secure, whatever comes or goes."

(Whitman quotes are from the 1892 edition of Leaves of Grass which seems most likely the one Joyce possessed.)


Brian Fox's book James Joyce's America (2019) deals extensively with Joyce's view of Whitman. Fox shows how Whitman had gained great influence in the Irish literary world "since at least the 1870s" (Fox, 127). WB Yeats and John Eglinton (the real world Dublin librarian/author who appears as a character in Ulysses) were especially big enthusiasts of Whitman, but Fox argues the Irish republican nationalists "made him in their own idealized image" (Fox, 129) and in the process turned the radical poet into something conventional and orthodox. Fox tries to argue "that Joyce responds to this by turning Whitman against the orthodox ranks of his supporters"  (Fox, 128), who Fox repeatedly refers to as WhitmaniacsJames Joyce's America is full of hot takes and fresh readings, and in discussing Whitman and Joyce, Fox builds an argument that Joyce initially viewed the American poet as a model decolonized national poet, but Joyce's placement of Whitman in Ulysses is more nuanced, and that "it would appear that the significance Whitman had for the younger Joyce as a potential model for a national poet did not translate into the later work, particularly Finnegans Wake." (Fox, 135) On this last part I disagree with Fox. Even he himself documents the extensive presence of Whitman in Ulysses and he notes some (but not all) of his appearances in the Wake.

    Fox makes it seem like young Joyce was a huge fan of Whitman, he argues that in Ulysses he started to become more agnostic about the American poet, and then by the time of Finnegans Wake he has become practically hostile and mocking of Whitman. Reading this felt as if Fox wanted to fit Joyce's views on Whitman into something like the progressive structure of lyrical-epic-dramatic form (outlined in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), whereby once he gets to Finnegans Wake, Joyce has become an indifferent god paring his fingernails. Doesn't it make more sense, considering all the references to Whitman in the Wake, that the poet he had loved and was inspired by as a youth remained an influence throughout his life? Giordano Bruno is one good example of a figure the young Joyce adopted as his hero and maintained an interest in while working on the Wake. There are other examples (Dante, Shakespeare, Ibsen). Why make Whitman out to be an aberration? It's clearly documented that Joyce had an appreciation for Whitman as early as 1901 all the way thru the 1930s. Give Whitman that props. None of this is to disparage Fox's superb study of the meaningful American connections in Joyce's life and career, but I disagree with his framing of the Whitman influence.

    A good counterpoint to the assertion that Joyce no longer held Whitman in high esteem while working on the Wake comes from the story of when Sylvia Beach transformed Shakespeare & Co bookshop in Paris into a Whitman shrine one year. This was in 1926 when Joyce was fully immersed in crafting his Work in Progress that would become Finnegans Wake. Sylvia Beach was assisting Joyce with his manuscripts while also working on French translations of Whitman with Adrienne Monnier. That year, Sylvia Beach founded the Paris branch of the Walt Whitman Committee, to be headquartered at Shakespeare and Co. There's a whole chapter about this in the excellent book Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties (1983) by Noel Riley Fitch. A party in the bookshop that February is described: "At the party for Ulysses's fourth birthday (the forty-fourth for Joyce), at which both author and publisher wore eye-patches, they talked of Sylvia's plans for the Whitman exhibit, and Joyce quoted some lines from Whitman's poetry." (Fitch, 228) Later that year, the bookshop was decked out for a celebration of Whitman, attended by the likes of Joyce, Hemingway, Ezra Pound, and other Paris literati. Beach recalled of that event: "Only Joyce and the French and I were old-fashioned enough to get along with Whitman." (232) So, clearly Joyce maintained his admiration for the American poet during the period while he was writing the Wake.


The text of Finnegans Wake has a bunch of references to Whitman and Leaves of Grass. A quick rundown:

- FW 81.36 "the cradle rocking equally" etc alludes to Whitman's line "Out of the cradle endlessly rocking" from Leaves of Grass

- FW 263.09 "old Whiteman self" would be Whitman and his "Song of Myself" which Joyce alludes to most often. Reading thru the rest of this chapter you'll find lines that sound like Whitman, see for example 274.03 "The allriddle of it? That that is allruddy with us, ahead of schedule, which already is plan accomplished from and syne."

- FW 329.18 "The soul of everyelsesbody rolled into its olesoleself" captures the essence of the pancosmic perspective in "Song of Myself" where Whitman contains and embodies everything and everyone. This line in the Wake also describes the Here Comes Everybody character at the center of the book. HCE definitely comes across as a version of the self in Whitman who declares, "I am an acme of things accomplish'd, and I an encloser of things to be." 

- FW 469.25 "this panromain apological which Watllwewhistlem sang" again refers to "Song of Myself" and its author "Watllwewhistlem" with the capitalized W making for a whimsical Wakean transformation of Whitman's name.

- Virtually the entire Yawn chapter (III.3) and especially the section known as Haveth Childers Everywhere (on pgs 535-554) bears considerable Whitman influence. Adaline Glasheen was the first to point this out in her Census of Finnegans Wake. J.S. Atherton confirms this in his Books at the Wake: "The similarities do in fact suggest that Joyce had Whitman's work in mind when he wrote these passages." (p. 288) Donald Theall in his Joyce's Techno-Poetics also discusses this at length. When HCE begins his monologue the text says "Old Whitehowth is speaking again" (FW 535.26). This section in Finnegans Wake is the rare moment when the central figure HCE speaks at length and it is here where Joyce most clearly links his everyman character HCE with Whitman. 

- A general point of comparison between texts: Whitman, who worked as a printer and self published the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855, went pretty far off the rails with using exclamation points in Leaves. The final omnibus 1892 edition of 334 pages has by my count at least 2.2 exclamation points per page. Finnegans Wake is as exhortative as any book, the title can be read as an exhortation (finnegans, wake!) and it far exceeds Leaves with more than 5.4 exclamation points per page! 


"There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy," wrote Nietzsche. This idea is prominent in both Leaves of Grass and Finnegans Wake. Each celebrates the biological body as a living artifact of all that came before it, a pinnacle of all that led to the production of this physical being, from the birth of the universe and the formation of cells and the earth to the development of living organisms and the survival of species through millennia. All of that is inside of us. The sleeping body at the heart of Finnegans Wake is known as Here Comes Everybody and his descent into the deepest primordial sleep comes across in a fabric made of more than 70 languages. ("Human bodies are words, myriads of words," Whitman wrote.) The concept of time melts into one single rippling pan-cosmic plane and somehow it seems the Wake contains all that ever was, is, or shall be. Yet on one level the main character of the book is a middle-aged pub owner asleep with his family in their house in Chapelizod, outside Dublin. 

    In Leaves of Grass, Whitman addresses you the reader directly, whoever you are, and celebrates your existence. 

"Whoever you are! you are he or she for whom the earth is solid and liquid,
You are he or she for whom the sun and moon hang in the sky,
For none more than you are the present and the past,
For none more than you is immortality."

Even the tiniest most insignificant life forms are the source of infinite glories. "I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars... And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels," Whitman wrote. There are many passages in Leaves of Grass which resonate with what Joyce was trying to do with the Wake. And whereas the Wake's language is obscure, dense, difficult to comprehend---and we've already touched on the influence Whitman might've had on those linguistic pyrotechnics---when you notice how often Joyce alludes to Leaves of Grass you might begin to read and interpret Leaves of Grass as a guide to Finnegans Wake, in less opaque language. 

"Immense have been the preparations for me,
 Faithful and friendly the arms that have help’d me.

Cycles ferried my cradle, rowing and rowing like cheerful boatmen,
For room to me stars kept aside in their own rings,
They sent influences to look after what was to hold me.

Before I was born out of my mother generations guided me,
My embryo has never been torpid, nothing could overlay it.
For it the nebula cohered to an orb,
The long slow strata piled to rest it on,
Vast vegetables gave it sustenance,
Monstrous sauroids transported it in their mouths and deposited it with care." 
(Leaves of Grass)

When trying to make sense of how, in Finnegans Wake, the inner experience of a dreaming Irish publican could be so expansive and all-encompassing, it is this type of poetic perspective of Whitman's concerning the hidden histories reflected inside of every living soul which might begin to explain things. 

"List close my scholars dear,
Doctrines, politics and civilization exurge from you,
Sculpture and monuments and any thing inscribed anywhere are tallied in you,
The gist of histories and statistics as far back as the records
reach is in you this hour, and myths and tales the same,
If you were not breathing and walking here, where would they all be?
The most renown’d poems would be ashes, orations and plays would be vacuums."
(Leaves of Grass)


There are not many people who've ever lived about whom it could be said they were ascribed the quality of cosmic consciousness, especially not modern figures, but among those few are Walt Whitman and James Joyce. Richard Maurice Bucke, who wrote the book Cosmic Consciousness in 1901, was a personal friend of Whitman, was Whitman's first biographer, and a big part of his inspiration to write a study of people throughout history who seemed to be suffused with a cosmic consciousness was because of his experiences hanging out with Whitman who he perceived as some kind of demigod. A vast, limitless cosmic perspective is evident across Leaves of Grass, where the poet wrote, "The clock indicates the moment--but what does eternity indicate? We have thus far exhausted trillions of winters and summers, There are trillions ahead, and trillions ahead of them." & "A few quadrillions of eras, a few octillions of cubic leagues, do not hazard the span or make it impatient, They are but parts, any thing is but a part."

    As unscientific as all this might be (and come on, we're talking about the minds of poets here), the same level of cosmic consciousness has been ascribed to Joyce---in Philip K. Dick's novel The Divine Invasion (1981) he wrote, "I'm going to prove that Finnegans Wake is an information pool based on computer memory systems that didn't exist until centuries after James Joyce's era; that Joyce was plugged into a cosmic consciousness from which he derived the inspiration for his entire corpus of work." (underline added)

    I want to add to this that reading these two works together, Whitman (in Leaves) and Joyce (in the Wake) could be said to have possessed what I will call an "earth consciousness" as well. One of the great sections of Leaves of Grass is entitled "A Song of the Rolling Earth" wherein Whitman celebrates the miraculous mysterious globe that is our only home, this rolling round orb of earth. 

"I swear there is no greatness or power that does not emulate those of the earth,
There can be no theory of any account unless it corroborate the theory of the earth,
No politics, song, religion, behavior, or what not, is of account, unless it compare with the amplitude of the earth,
Unless it face the exactness, vitality, impartiality, rectitude of the earth."

How could Joyce have read this and not have been inspired to respond to this in his work? Indeed, on one level, Finnegans Wake can be read as an ode to the earth. I've touched on this before in various blog posts, including likening the Wake to a simulacrum of the globe. Go back again to that line from Whitman which inspired the title of Joyce's 1902 notebook of poems, it begins "Earth of shine and dark." Writing in the middle of the 19th century, Whitman really had an incredible perspective of planet Earth as a round rotating orb for someone who never got to witness the images of the blue planet we've become used to in modern times. I think this could also be said about Joyce who rounded the whole "orb terrestrial" (FW 263.28) into his spherical text. The more I have dug into this subject, I'm convinced the phrase from Whitman "this broad earth of ours" (from Leaves of Grass) inspired "This ourth of years" (this earth of ours) from FW18.04. Our earth of years, the deep geological time undergirding everything, the vast cycles and timespans that led to our present existence.
    The last thing Joyce wrote before he began Finnegans Wake was the end of Ulysses, the Penelope episode, and when describing his approach to that chapter, he told a friend, "It turns like the huge earth ball slowly surely and evenly round and round spinning..." and to his patron he explained, "In conception and technique I tried to depict the earth which is prehuman and presumably posthuman." (see Selected Letters p. 285, 289) 


In his very good book The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World (2007), the author Lewis Hyde has a chapter on Walt Whitman where he offers an interesting theory on the origins of Leaves of Grass. Sometime in 1855, Whitman came across a huge exhibit in New York City that featured etchings of Egyptian hieroglyphs and tomb carvings that had been assembled by an Italian archeologist 15 years prior, including an etching of the resurrection of the dead god Osiris showing a figure pouring a libation onto Osiris' coffin and long stalks of wheat growing out. This was right around the time Whitman wrote the first edition of Leaves of Grass and also when he published the poem “A Poem of Wonder at The Resurrection of The Wheat” which was included in the final 1892 edition of Leaves of Grass under the title "This Compost." 

    This directly relates to Finnegans Wake where the Egyptian myths of the resurrection of the dead god Osiris are a recurrent motif in the text, and this image of wheat growing out of the casket of Osiris is alluded to several times, as in "the cropse of our seedfather" (FW 55.08) and "your hair grows wheater beside the Liffey that's in Heaven!" (FW 26.08) There may not be a more important theme in the Wake than that of renewal/resurrection which is evident in the title Finnegans Wake, taken from an Irish American ballad about a corpse who wakes up at his own funeral (notably, after a libation splashes on him). 
    The renewal/resurrection theme is also extremely prominent in Leaves of Grass, a book that constantly confronts death---"And as to you Death, and you bitter hug of mortality, it is idle to try to alarm me"---while highlighting the resilient forces of vegetation growing out of decay, "It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions." In the aforementioned book The Gift, while discussing the inspiration Whitman took from the Osiris etching, Lewis Hyde emphasizes that Whitman's image of the grass was originally conceived as "the grass of graves" a metaphor which is explored variously throughout Leaves of Grass, as for instance in picturing grass as "the beautiful uncut hair of graves."
    We can tie this directly to the Wake when considering some of the ways grass appears in Joyce's text, for instance: on pg 24 we are in the middle of Finnegan's funeral and there's an emphasis on the resurrection, the reawakening, the phoenix bird rising from the ashes, the idea that Finnegan can be rejuvenated in a number of ways including, "And would again could whispring grassies wake him and may again when the fiery bird disembers." (FW 24.11) The "whispring grassies" comes up later in the closing lines of the book (FW 628.12) "We pass through grass behush the bush. Whish!" With that image in mind now notice the whispering effect in this bit from Leaves of Grass

"And as to you Life I reckon you are the leavings of many deaths,
(No doubt I have died myself ten thousand times before.)

I hear you whispering there O stars of heaven,
O suns—O grass of graves—O perpetual transfers and promotions,
If you do not say any thing how can I say any thing?"
(Leaves of Grass)

As I mentioned above, Lewis Hyde argues that the poem which appears under the title "This Compost" in Leaves of Grass is foundational to Whitman's whole project. "Behold this compost! behold it well!" Whitman declares. He marvels at how the earth can receive the most diseased corpses and somehow cleanse and transform all that death and disease into sprouting spears of green grass, that the earth "gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last." In Finnegans Wake, this process is embodied in the midden-heap, a giant garbage mound containing all the scattered detritus of history, the "Compost liffe in Dufblin" (FW 447.23). Once you start to draw these parallels, they spring up everywhere you look in these two texts. Not much can be said to be clear about Finnegans Wake, but when read alongside Whitman's Leaves of Grass, clearly there is an important link there. By reading the Wake through an interpretation of Whitman we might begin to gain a better appreciation for the gifts these artists gave to us.


- Peter Quadrino

Friday, January 19, 2024

Announcement: Venice Wake Reunion Event in Los Angeles, CA on Joyce's Birthday (2/2/24)

28-Year Book Club Conquers Literary Everest
Gains National Attention

Press Event: Reunion Party is Set for Friday, February 2, 2024, Venice, CA, on the birthday of James Joyce

Jan. 18, 2024 - (Venice Beach, CA) For many, reading Finnegans Wake would be a daunting undertaking. But after 28 years of perseverance, the Marshall McLuhan/Finnegans Wake Reading Club (a.k.a Venice Wake) in Venice Beach has finally reached the last page of James Joyce's infamous and widely considered unreadable novel. It took 28 years to read a novel that Joyce took 17 years to write! 

Venice - Abbot Kinney Memorial Branch Library
501 S. Venice Blvd. Venice, CA 90291

We invite you to celebrate community & literature evoked by this line written by James Joyce from Finnegans Wake (p.154): "Let me be Los Angeles." 

The book group will begin again on Friday, February 2, at 1:00 P.M. 

Book club founder Gerry Fialka (Wikipedia) will read aloud the last and first lines of Finnegans Wake restarting the book where he began his book club 28 years ago beginning mid-sentence:

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.

Available for Reporters/Editors: 

Archival Video Footage of the Venice 'Finnegan Wake’ book club in action on YouTube (Courtesy of book-club member Duncan Echleson):

To learn more about the Marshall McLuhan/Finnegans Wake Reading Club (a.k.a Venice Wake), visit 

"Fialka brings his distinctive approach. My phone interview with him lasted one hour and eight minutes, and its zigs, zags, and sheer velocity were unmatched in my nearly 20-year journalism career. Was I writing about Finnegans Wake, or was I suddenly inside it?" - Lois Beckett, The Guardian 11-12-23

Marshall McLuhan/Finnegans Wake Reading Club is an independent, unaffiliated public-service literary group. Not a part of the Free admission.

Book-club founder Gerry Fialka available for interviews on request at 

Recent NEWS articles about the Venice Wake's record-setting 28-year read-a-thon:

The Guardian (Sunday edition, called The Observer)

The Washington Post


[Finnegans, Wake! blog]


Mental Floss


and RADIO:



and TV:

CBS Evening News and more

Worldwide news coverage, too:





Mandarin 第一本就選中「天書」

Munich, Süddeutsche Zeitung


Estadão, São Paulo, Brasil:

Stockholm, Sweden:

London Times

Miami en Español

Saturday, December 23, 2023

The Solstice Maybe Wake Night

Maybe the longest night of the year is the night on which the dreamworld of Finnegans Wake unfolds? A remark by Joseph Campbell & Henry Morton Robinson in their Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (1944) suggests they believe it may be so. From there sprung the premise for celebrating Finnegans Wake on the longest night of the year, HERE, meticulously arranged by Bobby Campbell. This webpage features comics, videos, links to various Wake-related subject matters (including links to recent blog posts by Oz Fritz on crossovers between the likes of Aleister Crowley and Francois Rabelais with Joyce), and other audio-visual Joycean treasures. There's a recording of a panel I participated in with several others, discussing all things Joyce and Finnegans Wake, plus Robert Anton Wilson, and also touching on Terence McKenna's Timewave Zero theory. 

Maybe Night, Solstice 2023

In the panel session, I mentioned Harry Levin's book James Joyce: A Critical Introduction, which was originally published by New Directions in 1941. Despite being one of the earliest critical works discussing Finnegans Wake, it still stands as a great entry point, on par with the Skeleton Key. (Later in the discussion I mentioned a quote that I forgot the attribution for, and it turns out that was from Levin's book: "The peculiarity of Joyce’s later writing is that any page presupposes a reading knowledge of the rest of the book. On the other hand, to master a page is to understand the book. The trick is to pick out a passage where a break-through can be effected.") 

Time Magazine reviewed Levin's book in 1942, noting that Joyce himself felt it was a rare reading which caught onto what he was doing: "The review of Finnegans Wake by Harvard's Harry Levin was one of the few that gave James Joyce the sense that his book had a reader."

It's worth quoting more from that Time article of 1942, which perceptively captured the Wake's relevance within the context of those tumultuous times:

In Finnegans Wake naturalism and the artist himself all but disappear; the book is a shimmering death-dance of chameleon-like symbols; an attempt at nothing less than a complete serio-comic history of human consciousness—in Levin's neat phrase, a "doomsday book," culminating in a Phoenician paradox of dissolution and resurrection. 
Finnegans Wake derives much from the philosopher Giambattista Vico's cyclic theory of history, which is highly apposite to the present. According to Vico, and Joyce, the first of a civilization's four phases begins, and the last collapses, in fear of thunder, and a rush for underground shelter; and in that sheltering cave, religion and family life begin again. Today the ambiguous thunder talks above every great city of the earth, and the shelters are crowded, and a civilization, if it is ending, is no less surely germinal. In one great warning work of literature after another, meanwhile, a similar mental cavern is retreated to and explored (Joyce's was a Dedalean Labyrinth).

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Find the Others: The Lightning-Struck

"Remember the lightning-struck? Those who experienced something profound and rare, so they sought out others who had felt what they felt? Other than the coded messages of their newsletter, there’s nothing conspiratorial to their organization. What it really is is a community. And a community, after all, is just a conspiracy everyone’s aware of, in on, participants in. Sure, the bigger communities become, the more complex their problems and the more corrupt their leaders. But in these niche groups that are only nominally conspiracies, because no one knows who they are, you can find the teeny-tiny instance of grace that can make our meaningless trajectories tolerable, even beautiful: the intimacy of sharing ourselves with another person. Although the lightning-struck have modest aims and probably zero influence, their club has given them a method by which they can communicate to their cabal, their little conspiracy of no importance, and share with others what the lightning gave them, because the only reason Those Who Know, know, is because somebody, somewhere, let them in on the secret…" 
(from a recent Esquire article on the 50th anniversary of Gravity's Rainbow)

New York Times: "Peter Quadrino, another member, said that reading Joyce created an urge to discuss his work with others."  

The Guardian: "Peter Quadrino, 38, joined Fialka’s group around 2008 or 2009. He would drive up three hours from San Diego, where he lived, to attend the meeting. “If you’re really interested in Finnegans Wake, it’s kind of hard to find people who will talk about it with you.”"

Washington Post: "“It’s a giant friend group, and it’s like you’re reading a poem — basically a multilingual, multi-referential poem — with so many different people,” said Quadrino."

Smithsonian Magazine: "For many readers, Finnegans Wake isn’t a text to master or a puzzle to solve. Instead, it’s something of a psychoactive agent. The question of what it means is less interesting than how it affects the reader."

"I have always been grateful for what I call the Joyce community, however you define it. It was initially a scattered bunch of readers who shared a common interest. I wouldn't be where I am without all those contacts. In my isolation I needed kindred spirits. Harmless maniacs like the Joyceans tend to flock together, and flock we did, after extended correspondence gave way to more and more gatherings. What I refer to here is not a common or overlapping interest but the many friendships that grew out of it; they can last even if Joyce is given up, as has happened in some cases. I think I am not the only one who feels that in case of a real emergency, material or emotional, there would be Joyceans friends to turn to, and this is reciprocal. Maybe some of us share an underlying despondency as well as some built-in irony. I am not talking about our views on the works or the author, but the people."
- Fritz Senn, Joycean Murmoirs (2007), pg. 50

Sunday, November 12, 2023

The Guardian/Observer Celebrates the Galaxy of Wake Reading Groups

Print edition of the UK Observer/The Guardian from Sunday Nov 12, 2023. Courtesy of Peter Chrisp.

The Sunday edition of The Guardian newspaper, The Observer, prominently featured an article about the Venice Finnegans Wake Reading Group having recently completed a full cycle of reading the text after 28 years. The media ecologist, Venice Wake group founder, and self-described "antiquarian ne'er-do-well" Gerry Fialka receives some great coverage here. And alongside descriptions of other Finnegans Wake reading groups led by renowned Joycean scholars Sam Slote in Dublin and Fritz Senn in Zurich, The Guardian piece interviewed me to discuss the background of the Austin Finnegans Wake Reading Group I've been hosting going on 12 years now, originally inspired by my visits to the Venice group. 

    I am honored to be a part of this celebration of Wake reading groups around the world. The author, Lois Beckett, did a great job covering the oddity of one-page-a-meeting reading groups dedicated to Joyce's bizarre night-book. To look at a global newspaper and see the front page with all the wars and turmoil and then have this article appear next to all of it feels like a celebration of the eternal forces of creativity and imagination. Poetry, the realm of the mind, the joy of art, language and humanity, remains undefeated.

The Guardian
piece appears on the heels of the same story being reported in newspapers and journals all across the world. Over the past couple weeks, the news of Gerry's Venice Wake group passing a 28-year reading cycle has appeared in Chinese, Afrikaans, French, Polish, Czech, various news other weird news venues, as well as the Orange County Register and the Irish Times

"wordloosed over seven seas crowdblast in cellelleneteutoslavzendlatinsoundscript. 
In four tubbloids"
(FW 219.16-17) 

    Gerry's group continues to meet on the first Tuesday of each month. Our Austin collective gathers two Thursdays a month. The Wake Watchers of NYC meet twice a month. Dozens of other collectives around the world continue to excavate the text of Joyce's puzzle book. Novelist philosopher Umberto Eco once described Finnegans Wake as "the book of an epoch of transition, a time in which science and the evolution of social relations propose a vision of the world that no longer obeys the schemas of other, more secure epochs yet lacks any formula for clarifying its own situation.  The Wake attempts to paradoxically define the new world by assembling a chaotic and dizzy encyclopedia from the old one and filling it with explanations that once seemed mutually exclusive. Through his clash and the ‘Big Bang’ of these oppositions, something new is born." (Read more testimonials here.)

    If you enjoyed this, I can also recommend you check out the trove of recorded interviews Gerry Fialka has conducted with accomplished Joyce scholars like Sam Slote of Trinity College Dublin, Roy Benjamin from Borough of Manhattan Community College in NYC, Decio Slomp from Brazil, Benjamin Boysen from Denmark, John Gordon from USA, or the late John Bishop who wrote perhaps the greatest analysis of Finnegans Wake ever. Another good one I heard recently is Gerry's interview with media theorist and author Douglas Rushkoff. Many more such podcasts from Gerry to check out on Youtube. 

    If you want to check out more of my writings on Finnegans Wake, I'd recommend starting with this piece or this book review series or this close reading of a passage, or this video essay I made. Lots more in the works, watch this space.

(Many thanks to Lois Beckett, Peter Coogan, Gerry Fialka and everyone who has ever been to the Austin Finnegans Wake Reading Group.)

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Reviews of Five (Mostly) Recent Books on Joyce, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake

Consuming Joyce: 100 Years of Ulysses in Ireland (2022) by John McCourt

Last year in June, I was in Dublin for the James Joyce Symposium at Trinity College where I presented a paper. That was my third trip to Dublin in a span of nine months, prior to which I'd never been to Ireland before. The city was bustling for the centennial celebration of Ulysses, which first appeared in 1922. On Bloomsday, June 16th, after attending some panels at Trinity, I wandered around the city and watched locals in the pubs genuinely thrilled for Bloomsday like they were celebrating a local sports team's victory. Dublin was lit and I had a great time hanging with friends throughout the symposium. 
I acquired a few new books during that trip, including this recently published study by John McCourt detailing the reception and impact of Ulysses in Ireland over the last century. Once I started reading Consuming Joyce, I couldn't put it down. I completed it in one long reading session on the flight back to the US. McCourt's approachable yet academically rigorous study goes decade-by-decade showing how Ireland's initially intense hostility against Joyce (and his devoted readers) evolved into hoisting Joyce up on a pedestal as a national hero.
    As an American in Ireland soaking in and savoring the local connections from Joyce's texts, one thing I found especially compelling in Consuming Joyce was the early hostility from the Irish against American readers of Joyce's work and how much that changed over the century. McCourt's book is peppered with quotes from Irish critics and commentators who, in the initial few decades after Ulysses appeared in 1922, relished the opportunity to trash Joyce's American readership. One example (from a review of Stuart Gilbert's guide to Ulysses which appeared in 1930) delivered Joyce some backhanded praise while needling the Americans who love his work: "Joyce is constantly pulling the long Homeric bow in order to astonish the uninitiated; and he has succeeded to some extent, especially with the Americans, where classical learning is not very widely cultivated." (pg. 60) 
    Joyce's old frenemy from Dublin, Oliver Gogarty (immortalized as Buck Mulligan in Ulysses), published an editorial in a Dallas, Texas newspaper in the year 1950 mocking the "Joyce fetish" of Americans, remarking that they all belong in kindergarten, and concluded, "This is a moment in the history of art where cross-word puzzles, detective stories and distortions take the place of literature and beauty. And when we consider that America is the original home of smoke signals, the popularity of Joyce here can be explained." (pg. 110)
    In 1965, an article in the Irish Times mocked "the Joyce posers (or symposers)" and complained that Joyce would be rolling his grave if he'd known what an enthusiastic international readership he'd attained: 
'The bould Jamsie Joyce was writing for Irishmen and for nobody else. I wish the Americans would learn that simple fact. They would be happier if they did.' Joyce would be 'vastly annoyed if he had the gift of clairvoyance to foresee that his books would take on the veneration which is accorded the Talmud. Joyce is now a money-spinner for Dublin hoteliers and if he revolves in his Zurich grave I shall not be very much surprised.' (p. 169)
McCourt's book is filled with quotes like this. The impression I get was that the trajectory of Joyce's reception in Ireland began as disgust and hatred at his portrayal of his fellow countrymen, followed by a sort of nationalist covetousness which disdained foreign admirers hijacking their hero, until the widespread attitude suddenly flipped in the 1980s after the centennial of Joyce's birth. Ireland as a country had changed drastically from its tumultuous revolutionary period in the first couple decades of the 20th century, to its era of repressive Catholicism and strident nationalism, and now strived to become a cultural and economic force on the global stage. McCourt's tracing of these changes alongside the reception of Joyce makes for an insightful recent history of Ireland. The once-reviled Joyce had become central to Ireland's ambitions as a nation: "The post-nationalistic, anti-Catholic, pro-European (but more crucially pro-capital) Ireland of the 1990s—proudly the world's most global economy—found the perfect symbol in Joyce, who had earlier rejected so many of the pieties that the country was now finally beginning to question and demolish." (pg. 210)
While it is an academic study packed with information and footnotes on every page, Consuming Joyce is also an engaging read and I learned much from it. The book mostly shies away from direct engagement with Joyce's texts themselves, mainly focusing on the Irish reception of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake over the years. Also included in here is a fascinating and informative history of the development of the "Joyce industry" including the stories of how places like the Joyce Tower in Sandycove and the Joyce Center on North Great Georges Street became the Joyce museums they are today, as well as background on the origins of the annual international Joyce Symposium. I've attended several of these symposia over the last decade and it was eye-opening to learn how these events began with hostility from the locals until eventually the widespread ostracism of Joyce and his readership evolved into hero-worship, accepting and celebrating Joyce as a leading source of tourism in Ireland, all leading up to the grand celebrations of Ulysses at 100. McCourt skillfully captures the details of how this all came to be. Towards the end, he also surveys the vast landscape of Joyce criticism and scholarship to have appeared over the decades pointing to some of the open frontiers of untapped research. (McCourt is noticeably dismissive of the John Kidd side of the "Joyce wars" and adopts the party line of Joyce academics in accepting the Gabler edition of Ulysses.) Historical nuggets of interest to Joyceans abound in this study, the context provided will be useful to any Joyce reader, and I expect I'll be drawing more anecdotes from Consuming Joyce for blog posts in the near future.

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The Book About Everything: Eighteen Artists, Writers and Thinkers on James Joyce's Ulysses (2022) ed. by Declan Kiberd, Enrico Terrinoni, & Catharine Wilson

Another book I acquired in Dublin on its publication day on Bloomsday 2022 (at The Winding Stair bookshop on Ormond Quay a few steps away from the Ha'penny Bridge), this is a colorful collection of reflections on Joyce's art from eighteen different contributors from diverse backgrounds. There's some intriguing stuff in here like an Irish Times newspaper correspondent discussing the newsroom scenes of the Aeolus chapter of Ulysses, a Michelin-starred chef from Dublin digesting the lunch-time episode of Lestrygonians, and a Palestinian-born Jewish Irish sociologist insightfully examining the political implications springing from the Nestor episode. Despite eighteen different voices with vastly different approaches to discussing a complicated novel, the prose throughout this book is refreshingly easy to consume, the collection feels well-edited and stands among the best recently published Joyce books for the general reader. 
Even though I thought a few of the chapters deviated too far from the topic, where authors hardly touched on the Ulysses episode they were assigned, or abandoned Ulysses to instead surf around the infinite multiverse of Finnegans Wake, there were also some absolute gems to be found in here. Eric A. Lewis, co-host of the tipsyturvy Ulysses podcast, presents a superb examination of the Ithaca episode arguing that it turns the reader into a surveillance agent gathering intelligence on Leopold Bloom. It's gotta be the most insightful and unique piece of Ulysses criticism I've read in a while. Another standout was Dublin-born novelist Joseph O'Connor's essay on Sirens, captivating for its rich prose and local context. Additionally, Jhumpa Lahiri's wide-ranging analysis of the meaning behind the flittering bat in the Nausicaa episode left a lasting impression, prompting me to seek out more of Lahiri's work. While this collection may not always offer groundbreaking new readings for the seasoned Joycean, it offers a wealth of great material celebrating the author and his work from a multitude of angles.

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James Joyce in Context (2014) ed. by John McCourt

This batch of 32 essays from different Joyce scholars on various topics related to reading Joyce is a dense academic tome. Unlike the previous book above, the authors here don't attempt to get too creative in their prose style, so I would not consider this an engaging or especially enjoyable read. But as a reference text for various topics related to Joyce, it proves helpful. Personally, I picked this up because I wanted to fill in some gaps in my understanding of Joyce, especially some missing contexts that became apparent during a few trips I took to Ireland. Thus, for instance, I appreciated the essay in this collection about post-colonial Joyce by Gregory Castle. I was curious to know more about Joyce's complicated and seemingly contrarian views about Irish politics since, for example, he maintained his British citizenship all his life, never opting for an Irish passport after Ireland gained its independence. There are no easy answers to these questions, but I do think the reader is provided some helpful perspective in trying to understand, Castle puts it, "that Joyce's nationalism takes the form of a transnationalism in which an anti-nationalist position enters into a dialectical relation with pro-nationalist sentiments." (p. 108) Similarly, Brian G. Caraher's essay on Irish and European politics looks at Joyce's political writings from his younger days and sees an affinity towards socialism—Joyce even attended a meeting of the Italian Socialist Party in Rome in October 1906—but the author, making reference to the book James Joyce and the Question of History by James Fairhall, concludes:
Joyce's cultural politics may share in the broad outlines of a general disillusionment consequent upon the betrayals of international socialism in the early years of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, in Fairhall's persuasive reading, 'however we try to define his ambivalent, elusive politics,' Joyce 'was in any event not a passive esthete, but a literary revolutionist for whom writing represented the supreme political act. (p. 290)
These essays attempt to summarize in a limited space the existing scholarship on certain topics. Another very complex subject that was well-explained here is the postmodernist study of Joyce, the semiotic viewpoint of thinkers like Umberto Eco and Jacques Derrida. I also found the chapter chronologically going into detail about the composition and publishing history of each of Joyce's major works to be a useful and accessible refresher with some new info added too. This volume is a good resource for undergrad or grad students studying Joyce, though hardly a top pick for a general reader interested in the subject.

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Beating the Bounds: Excess and Restraint in Joyce's Later Works (2023) by Roy Benjamin

Roy Benjamin teaches English at Borough of Manhattan Community College and has published many articles on Joyce, mostly focused on specific themes and patterns in Finnegans Wake. Among his published articles is a fascinating exploration of the role of axial precession myths in the Wake, a paper whose insights I was inspired to write about at length on this blog several years ago. The publication of a new book-length work by Prof. Benjamin, one of the more prolific and seasoned scholars of Finnegans Wake alive today, is a valuable addition to the canon of Joyce criticism. The new book Beating the Bounds: Excess and Restraint in Joyce's Later Works is published as part of the Florida James Joyce Series (edited by Sebastian D.G. Knowles) printed by the University Press of Florida (side note: ain't it ironic that the state of Florida, of all places, has an academic book production system churning out fascinating scholarly studies of James Joyce? For real though, the series has produced some great books but they need to do something about the exorbitant list prices). 
    Benjamin's Beating the Bounds book presents a wide-ranging exploration of the role of boundaries and limits in Joyce's writing, showing how Joyce had a Jesuit penchant for structured systems organized by boundaries but also insisted on shattering any notion of limits. Beating the Bounds shows Joyce's tendency toward transgressing boundaries in several different aspects of his work. I describe this as a wide-ranging study because, while the book is laser-focused on the subject of creating boundaries and breaking them, Benjamin identifies this pattern across several disciplines; there are chapters on Joyce's treatment of these themes in philosophy, Irish politics, mathematics, aesthetics, ecology, gender studies, and scientific cosmology—while enlisting ideas and quotes from an eclectic array of thinkers like Camile Paglia, Ken Wilber, Marshall McLuhan, Jacques Derrida, Slavoj Zizek, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Friedrich Nietzsche. The approach Benjamin takes in his examination is to crack open specific lines and phrases from Finnegans Wake, using Roland McHugh's annotations, Encyclopedia Britannica and the Oxford English Dictionary, while revealing connections and correspondences to illustrate the repeated dialectic of boundary making-and-breaking. To read of this dialectic playing out thru the realms of ecology in "the mountain and river system" of the Wake or the cosmologies of a bounded or an infinitely boundless universe, all through the freighted language of the Wake is an enlightening experience even if requiring close attention to understand. Benjamin's explications allude not only to the roster of thinkers listed above, but frequently touch on classics like Greek myth, the Bible, and Shakespeare. No doubt, the material is dense, not unlike reading John Bishop's study, Joyce's Book of the Dark—the pages of Beating the Bounds are built of paragraphs weaving in quotes from across the Wake, while annotating the portmanteaus. I'm usually hoping for new perspectives or new notes on specific lines from Joyce's text and Benjamin's book delivers plenty of that. It doesn't always make for easy reading, but also Beating the Bounds successfully avoids bogging down the reader in the analytical jargon of academic theories, managing to thread a needle in presenting a wide-scoped view of a specific subject found evident in abundance all across the Wake.

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James Joyce's Mandala (2023) by Colm O'Shea

Stuart Gilbert's 1930 guide to Ulysses has been criticized for reading too much eastern mysticism into his analysis of Ulysses, even though Joyce himself was supposedly feeding Gilbert information and overseeing his writeup. Joseph Campbell helped to bring the work of Joyce to a wider audience of readers (myself included) with his explication of Joyce finding ample elements from Buddhist and Hindu myths. One of Campbell's vital influences was the German scholar of Indian religions, Heinrich Zimmer. One of Zimmer's books on the study of Maya in Hindu mythology was discovered in the personal library of James Joyce with Joyce's annotations and markings indicating he'd been reading it with interest. This was the trimmed-down library Joyce kept after all the relocations, from his final years in Paris, these were the books he considered important. 
Colm O'Shea's brilliant study of the eastern mystical elements glowing at the heart of Joyce's work begins with the foundation of the notable volumes in Joyce's Paris library. Besides the Zimmer book on Maya there was also a collection of Tolstoy's essays in which Joyce had underlined some striking passages in the essay "Religion and Morality" including these lines: "What is the meaning of my momentary, uncertain and unstable existence amid this eternal, firmly defined and unending universe? … The essence of every religion consists solely in the answer to the question, 'Why do I live, and what is the meaning of my relation to the infinite universe around me?" (O'Shea, p. 2)
Creating frequently compelling comparisons between the meanings involved in the "psychic architecture" of mandalas and Finnegans Wake, O'Shea presents his research in a clear and approachable writing style. James Joyce's Mandala is not only an in-depth study of mandala symbolism in Finnegans Wake, it also provides the reader a fascinating overview of the function of the mandala in eastern religions and meditative practices. The mandala is shown by O'Shea to embody an attempted response to the deep question posed by Tolstoy, "what is the meaning of my relation to the infinite universe around me?" The mandala can be considered a map of psychic states and structures, but it's also seen as a blueprint for the architecture of the universe, centered on a cosmic axis. 
    The chapters of James Joyce's Mandala examine some of the "mandalic motifs" featured in the Wake including the quincunx, the squared circle, and the sphere-cube palace/city structure. The latter structural motif evolves as a more complex version of the world-tree or world-mountain mythic image prominent in eastern myths and prominent in the Wake, as well. Making frequent use of the 1892 study Architecture, Mysticism, and Myth by the English architectural historian William Lethaby, O'Shea identifies intriguing connections with Finnegans Wake, a multi-layered universe which centers around a Chapelizod pub. Parallels are drawn between the three-dimensional versions of a mandala like a stupa or a pagoda and the architectural elements featured in the Wake, where the world-axis is represented as a building which is also a shrine, a tomb or a gate. (There's some correspondence in this part with my comparison of the Wake's portal into the bardo realm with the gopuram entrance to a Hindu temple.)
    O'Shea builds a compelling argument, even providing a whole chapter in the beginning of his book going point-by-point comparing each episode of Dubliners with the structure of the samsaric wheel, conveying the depths of Joyce early interest in eastern mysticism from his earliest writing days (the younger Joyce published a review of a book about Buddhism). One of the more notable links suggested in O'Shea's analysis is the comparison of the two main schools of Buddhism, Hinayana and Mahayana, with the different ways readers might approach Finnegans Wake. The main modes of Buddhism are "river vessels" after all (yana in Sanskrit means "ferry-boat" or "raft"), and the Wake is a book with a river flowing throughout the entire text. O'Shea argues that the Hinayana critic of the Wake imagines they could absorb all the existent critical and scholarly material and eventually reach a meaningful understanding of the text, or enlightenment. While the Mahayana critic of the Wake accepts that the journey from confusion to comprehension never really ends, never reaches a final conclusion. The journey is the point.
    The bulk of the book examines the meanings and uses of the mandala in Buddhism, Hinduism, and psychology while showing the presence and resonance of these in the text and structure of the Wake. Some of these links have been touched on by critics before (a springboard for the book is the explicit assertion that the Wake is a mandala made by Clive Hart in Structure and Motif in Finnegans Wake, published in 1962) but O'Shea's study adds immensely to this discussion. The chapters detailing mandalic representations in the Wake yield rich insights. Along the way, O'Shea uncovers noteworthy gems from Joyce's earlier writings like Stephen Hero, Portrait, Ulysses, and Dubliners. I would not hesitate to describe this book as an essential work of Wake criticism (which makes it unfortunate the list price is ridiculously high). Alongside the Wake-as-mandala theories shared, what really draws the reader into this book is O'Shea's engagement with the question of whether Joyce was descending into a psychotic break while writing his final book. At the end of the book O'Shea devotes an entire chapter to this issue.
    In the introduction he states that, "Artistic genius in a work shouldn't obscure possible evidence that it comes from a sense of personal suffering; conversely, signs of psychological 'malfunction' behind the origins of an artifact do not negate the aesthetic, psychological, or spiritual insight rendered within." (p. 22, O'Shea)

    Later on in the last chapter, O'Shea returns to this question:

The Wake bears uncanny similarity to schizophrenic speech. I'm not pointing this out to claim… that Joyce was a latent psychotic and so we should dismiss his work. I think the truth is more interesting: the Wake-as-mandala is a creative defense from psychosis; its construction is a response to the dark night that descends on spiritual refugees. … Joyce's Wake can be read as both a locus of that sickness–a focus lens for obsessional self-reflexivity—and its own unique method of dealing with that sickness: Joyce's act of writing it was his creative therapy. (p. 174-175)

    That conclusion resonates with his earlier description of the different schools of Buddhism: "Intellectual vehicles, such as the various Buddhist schools of thought, that float in the samsaric flood are, non-dually, part of that flood but also aim to save the refugee from it." (p. 140)
    Overall, this a stimulating and thorough analysis of an interesting correspondence which other authors have sometimes alluded to but never before delineated with such depth. O'Shea's book brings new light to some passages of the Wake, it also provides convincing arguments about the structure of the text as a whole, and hardly shies away from some of the thornier questions of Joyce's sanity, all while providing the reader an approachable overview of some of the key tenets of Buddhist and Hindu philosophy.  

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Anatomy Lecture

The Anatomy Lesson of Doctor Tulp (1632), Rembrandt. 

On pg 241 of Finnegans Wake there's a reference to this painting by Rembrandt in "Aasdocktor Talop's onamuttony legture" where Joyce places himself in the role of the doctor providing an anatomy lesson. The Wake is on some level a close examination of the inner life of the human body. 

"Aasdocktor Talop" turns the name of Rembrandt's Doctor Tulp into an anagram of Plato ("Talop") while "Aasdocktor" not only recalls the proctologist license plate in Seinfeld, it alludes to the author of the Wake who never shies away from a scatological joke. The double-a "Aasdocktor" line appears within the same extended paragraph (FW 240-242) that gives the Shem/Glugg/Joyce character the cryptic AA name "Anaks Andrum" (FW 240.27) before referring to him as "He, A.A." and the annotations to these lines connect this to the A.A. middle initials of James Augustine Aloysius Joyce.

As a university student Joyce had tried to become a doctor, attending medical school in Paris. In Dublin, he hung out with medical students like Oliver Gogarty who, in the guise of Buck Mulligan in Ulysses, coldly describes seeing corpses "cut up into tripes in the dissectingroom."

In Stephen Hero, Joyce wrote: "The modern spirit is vivisective. Vivisection itself is the most modern process one can conceive." A line later in this chapter of the Wake (II.1) splices together new surgical words with "mortisection or vivisuture, splitten up or recompounded." (FW 253.34)

My review of John Bishop's study of the Wake, Joyce's Book of the Dark, goes in depth on Bishop's theories about the human body underlying everything at play in the Wake. Among other examples, the anatomy lesson angle of the Wake stands out in the introduction to Shem to begin chapter 7 (FW 169) where we get this comical description of his anatomy:

Shem's bodily getup, it seems, included an adze of a skull, an eight of a larkseye, the whoel of a nose, one numb arm up a sleeve, fortytwo hairs off his uncrown, eighteen to his mock lip, a trio of barbels from his megageg chin (sowman's son), the wrong shoulder higher than the right, all ears, an artificial tongue with a natural curl, not a foot to stand on, a handful of thumbs, a blind stomach, a deaf heart, a loose liver, two fifths of two buttocks, one gleetsteen avoirdupoider for him, a manroot of all evil, a salmonkelt's thinskin, eelsblood in his cold toes ... 

Later on in the Wake, during an active seance scene there springs brings forth "A disincarnated spirit...with messuages from my deadported" who is said to disbelieve in miracle cures like the "soulsurgery of P. P. Quemby." (536.06)

Joyce himself had all kinds of medical ailments during his life resulting in many treatments, including a dozen surgical procedures on his eyes. In early 1941 in Zurich, he was suffering severe abdominal pains and underwent emergency operation for a perforated ulcer. Weakened by loss of blood, Joyce died in the hospital following surgery and a blood transfusion. An autopsy showed two ulcers, one which had led to extensive blood loss, and his intestines were badly damaged. Joyce had been suffering stomach pains for years, even mentioned it several times in the Wake including "he's knots in his entrails!" (FW 231.25) but his Parisian physicians kept misdiagnosing him with nervous stomach cramps. Had his badly damaged innards been correctly diagnosed earlier he may have lived long enough to write a sequel to Finnegans Wake.