Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Pantheon of FINNEGANS WOKE (or Why Read Finnegans Wake? Testimonials from Famous Wakeans)

[A modified version of this piece was presented at the XXVI International James Joyce Symposium at the University of Antwerp, Belgium on June 15, 2018.]

In the wake of her husband’s death, Nora Joyce once remarked, “What’s all this talk about Ulysses? Finnegans Wake is the important book.” Eight decades later, even within the sphere of Joyceans it seems Finnegans Wake doesn’t often receive its due recognition. A recent example, on the back of the beautiful brand new fully annotated edition of Ulysses from Alma Books we find the following description of Joyce’s writing:




“...most famously Ulysses, Dubliners, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” They completely omitted Finnegans Wake!

When Joyce was finishing up with Finnegans Wake, he worried to a friend, “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) In the spirit of the Wake, a book full of lists and catalogs, I have gathered this somewhat scattershot survey of notable Wake lovers. This is intended to be a celebratory assemblage, a panegyric of the tribe of Wakeans or FINNEGANS WOKE. The emergent pattern suggests an undercurrent of Anna Livia’s branching streams has been undulating in the unconscious of our art and culture for decades, perhaps a fitting fate for Finnegans Wake after all. 

[Please note: This is certainly not intended as an exhaustive list of Wake heads, just a representative segment of notable Wakeans and their expressed fondness for Joyce’s final book. Please feel free to add onto the list in the comments section!]

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Finnegans Wake and Child's Play

"Hide-and-Seek" (1942) by Pavel Tchelitchew.

I've been in Belgium for the past few days, enjoying a nice vacation and preparing for the XXVI International James Joyce Symposium taking place this week in Antwerp. My experience thus far in this wonderful country has led to some thoughts about Finnegans Wake and child's play. There are at least three ways Joyce brings out the child in all of us when we read Finnegans Wake:

1. The first way is the childlike wonder and confusion we experience when encountering this bizarre dream-distorted polyglot language. I touched on this in Part 3 of my review of John Bishop's fantastic book---as Bishop says "Joyce puts his reader into a position roughly analogous to that of a child encountering an unknown language for a first time." Here in Europe I've been experiencing that same feeling listening to passersby chattering away in French or Flemish or German or what have you. As a typical ignorant American who speaks only one language, I've been sort of awestruck and fascinated hearing everyone around me communicating in foreign tongues I can barely understand a word of. During down time on this trip I've been reading Finnegans Wake and noticing that same feeling. The text itself well captures this sense of befuddlement on p. 112: "It is a puling sample jungle of woods." A pure and simple jungle of words. While reading the text, as I'm trying to comprehend what it all means, I'm also constantly tantalized by the bizarre medium itself, the digressive and opaque clusters of etyms that seem meaningless yet which are in fact densely packed with meaning.

2. One of the pleasures of visiting Europe has been sitting outside at a café or restaurant while people-watching all the pedestrians. It's always funny to notice, in the constant stream of people strolling by, a little boy or girl skipping or jumping around as they follow their parents. The world is all about play for them. Finnegans Wake seems to take a similar approach to things. The sound of its language always seems to mimic fairy tales or folklore, stories told in a playful kiddie language. Of course, there are a number of fables told throughout the Wake (the Ondt and the Gracehoper, the Mookse and the Gripes, the Prankquean, etc). In our Austin Wake Reading Group we recently read the Museyroom section and I was struck by how silly and playful Joyce renders what essentially consists of a museum tour guide detailing the events of the Battle of Waterloo. The text is overloaded with references to countless wars from the careers of Napoleon and Wellington and their legendary clash at Waterloo, yet our tour guide describes this grave material in a manner that reduces the belligerents to children playing games. Here's a sample from page 9:
This is the jinnies' hastings dispatch for to irrigate the Willingdone. Dispatch in thin red lines cross the shortfront of me Belchum. Yaw, yaw, yaw! Leaper Orthor. Fear siecken! Fieldgaze thy tiny frow. Hugacting. Nap. That was the tictacs of the jinnies for to fontannoy the Willingdone. Shee, shee, shee! The jinnies is jillous agincourting all the lipoleums. And the lipoleums is gonn boycottoncrezy onto the one Willingdone. And the Willingdone git the band up. This is bode Belchum, bonnet to busby, breaking his secred word with a ball up his ear to the Willingdone. This is the Willingdone's hurold dispitchback. Dispitch desployed on the regions rare of me Belchum. Salamangra! Ayi, ayi, ayi! Cherry jinnies. Figtreeyou!

3. Speaking of children's games, the Wake is loaded with references to old street games. Page 176 contains a cluster of a couple dozen London street games listed out, games like "Eggs in the Bush, Habberdasherisher, Telling Your Dreams, What's the Time, Nap, Ducking Mammy" etc and of course "Battle of Waterloo" is listed among them. More broadly speaking, reading the Wake itself is a sort of game. In the recently published essay collection Joyce's Allmaziful Plurabilities: Polyvocal Explorations of Finnegans Wake, Sean Latham examines Book I, chapter 6, the Quiz chapter, describing it as an "interactive gamespace." That chapter features questions and answers regarding the book's "sigla"---the symbols embodying the core elements of Finnegans Wake. Latham describes how the sigla become elements in a game of interpretation:

Readers or players of the text succeed by exploring the ways in which they can interact with this data by shaping it into more or less successful interpretive configurations. [...]
In this sense, reading Finnegans Wake requires a very specific kind of cognitive activity often associated with gameplay (and other kinds of complex information processing) called 'chunking.' Put simply, this is a process in which an experienced player combines small elements of a closed system into patterns or objects---chunks---that can be processed more quickly.[...]
Like chess masters, readers who become familiar with the text learn to assemble chunks of their own that enable them to play more and more skillfully with the text, recognizing, for example, the importance of the letters HCE (even when in different order or scattered across or between different words). For an adept player of the Wake, in other words, the text resolves into something other than a chaotic jumble of words and letters, becoming instead an intricate array of informational chunks that recombine in shifting patterns as the 'collideorscape' turns. (pgs 96-98)

I woke up today with all of this on my mind because as I've been reading the Wake during this trip and contemplating my passion for Joyce and this book in particular---having traveled all the way from Texas to Belgium for a James Joyce conference---I keep thinking about why the Wake is so appealing for me and the answer is simply: it's so damn fun! You can't read the book for very long without breaking out in laughter merely at the silly sound of it. And I can't overemphasize how much fun we have in our reading group when the interpretations and references are flying around and there's blends of the most profound wisdom with the dirtiest sexual or scatological jokes. The joys of this book are inexhaustible. That oft-repeated chorus line from the song "Finnegan's Wake" couldn't be more apt: There's lots of fun at Finnegans Wake!



(End note: I began this post by referencing my favorite Joyce scholar, John Bishop. Well, I just noticed that Boston University finally posted his wonderful lecture on the Prankquean episode to YouTube. This is highly recommended viewing, and of course it's called Child's Play.)

(Other end note: The picture included here is Pavel Tchelitchew's mesmerizing masterpiece "Hide-and-Seek" depicting a girl counting down as her friends are hiding. In his book The Geography of the Imagination, Guy Davenport analyzes this painting and compares it to Finnegans Wake.)

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Secret Life of Mushrooms in Finnegans Wake

Amanita muscaria aka Fly agaric.

Fellow Austin Wake group member Gus Strozier sent me an extremely fascinating article that sparked many ideas for me so I must share the article and some thoughts on it here. David Rose, in his essay "Cryptogrammic Cryptogams: Fungi in Finnegans Wake" explores some of the fungal references in the Wake "to ask if Joyce was really up to something, mycologically speaking" and uncovers some startling insights and tantalizing speculations.

You can read the full essay here.

Rose explicitly channels the amusing NY Times article "You Spigotty Anglease?" where Robert H. Boyle insists that the Wake is in fact all about fly fishing, providing evidence of references to fish and fly fishing on nearly every other page. It's one of the most fascinating characteristics of Finnegans Wake that you can view it through a certain biased lens and find confirmations of your theory all throughout. (I'm still assembling a pile of references to the book as a simulacrum of the globe.)

The evidence for a mycological network underlying the text is evident from its first page: Rose cites the lines "rot a peck of pa's malt" and "oranges laid to rust upon the green" (FW pg. 3) as referring to rotting, fermentation, and parasitic fungi. Those lines are familiar to Wake heads, but who among us has contemplated the mycological aspect lying therein? Or the word "holocryptogam" from page 546----I had always thought it was suggestive of the Wake as a hologram and a cryptogram or encoded text, completely overlooking the word "cryptogam" which literally means "hidden reproduction" and denotes plants that reproduce through spores, like fungi.

And now the text of Joyce's nightbook seems to respond to our inquiry and begins to bloom with fermenting flora. Rose describes this revelation through the eyes of a mycologist:
From the umwelt of the Wake’s quashed quotatoes (183.22) the ricorso of pan-etymological meanderings through the preconscious formation of meaning is oceanic and fluid, recycling through mind and history, recycling through the words themselves. Finnegans Wake is not a disquisition on mycology, but a mycelial mat in which fruiting bodies are knotted deep in the sclerotia of words. 

For the latest edition of the "Waywords & Meansigns" project, my friends and I recorded a selection from pages 613-615 (listen to "Vicocyclometer" at the bottom of this page) which included an extraordinary passage that took residence inside my brain. The passage continues to live in my head and I even recited it from memory at an event during the last Joyce conference in Toronto (it also featured prominently in my essay on war in the Wake). Rose highlights this glorious passage in his essay:
A spathe of calyptrous glume involucrumines the perinanthean Amenta: fungoalgaceous muscafilicial graminopalmular planteon; of increasing, livivorous, feelful thinkamalinks; luxuriotiating everywhencewhithersoever among skullhullows and charnelcysts of a weedwastewoldwevild…  (FW p. 613)
Rose cites John Bishop who describes this passage as a "compressed history of the evolution of botanical life." The passage indeed encapsulates the entire plant world, the planteon, with special focus on fungi and the growth of life feeding on decay and death. A constantly reiterated message in the Wake is that life springs forth even out of the deadest heaps of hollow-skull charnel piles.

The most astounding revelation in the essay comes from Rose's interpretation of this passage from pg. 51 of the Wake invoking the guilt-ridden Earwicker in Phoenix Park or "fungopark":
Those many warts, those slummy patches, halfsinster wrinkles, (what has come over the face on the wholebroader E?), and (shrine of Mount Mu save us!) the large fungopark he has grown! Drink!
Rose sees this as Joyce referring to the hallucinogenic toadstool Amanita muscaria---warts, slummy (slimy), patches, and wrinkles being some of the notable characteristics of the iconic mushroom. And there is also an element of ritual present, as Rose explains:
supplication at the shrine of Mount Mu[shroom] and the imperative Drink!, adumbrating the shamanic use of Amanita muscaria in Siberian cultures where the urine of a person under mushroom intoxication is recycled by the acolyte to perpetuate its intoxicating effects. This is later recapitulated in Mount of Mish (131.01) and sacred sponge (516.25).
Rose speculates on whether Joyce knew about the Amanita muscaria, arguing that he must have because in the "Museyroom" passage (note the hint of mushroom in "Museyroom") he brings in a Tom, Dick, and Harry trio where one of them is called "Touchole Fitz Tuomush" (p. 8) which contains the French word for fly agaric, Tue-mouche (pronounced "too moosh"). I can add further that Joyce seems to reference this again on p. 485 in "Tootoo moohootch!" In his 1968 book Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality, R. Gordon Wasson theorized that the Amanita muscaria was in fact the Soma drink of the Rigveda. Rose also informs us that Peter Lamborn Wilson followed that up in 2001 with a study comparing Vedic and Irish literature, suggesting "that an Amanita muscaria cult may have existed in prehistoric Ireland." As is often the case, Joyce in Finnegans Wake seems to have discovered this before anyone even began to search for it. Further fueling this hypothesis, Rose cites the phrase on pg. 229, "megafundum of his tomashunders" which combines important aspects of Wasson's theory, mushrooms and thunder. The word "tomashunders" is an anagram for "soma thunders" and of course thunder plays a powerful role in the Wake. Rose's suggestion of Joyce's foreknowledge of prehistoric Irish cults using a Soma drink made from mushrooms also gives a whole new meaning to the line at the bottom of page 265 about someone testing out a bowl of soup "to find out if there is enough mushroom catsup in the mutton broth." Marinate on that.

Another creative reading by Rose feeds into this mushroom fascination. In the closing pages of the text, as ALP and HCE walk in the woods they spot mushrooms. "Mch? Why them's the muchrooms, come up during the night." (FW p. 625) Proving a very astute Wakean, Rose suggests rotating the "M" in "Mch" 90 degrees counterclockwise (the rotating E appears throughout the Wake representing the main character in different states of being) which would give us ECH, the familiar initials of HCE, whose "Mch" is then reiterated in "muchrooms." I noticed a few pages earlier HCE is described as being "gentle as a mushroom" (p. 618).

Since HCE the mushroom man and monomythic hero also embodies the sacrificial symbol of Christ, whose body is turned into food and ritually eaten multiple times in the Wake (see p. 7, for example), it seems Joyce was tuned into another anthropological mystery that wasn't revealed until after the Wake's publication. It was not until 1970 that the Dead Sea Scrolls scholar John M. Allegro published his notorious book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross where he argues that Christianity originated with European cults devoted to the celebration and ritual consumption of the hallucinogenic Amanita muscaria mushroom.

Giving some further intrigue to all of this is Terence McKenna's preoccupation with Finnegans Wake and mushrooms. The Irish bard and ethnobotanist McKenna frequently lectured on the history and pharmacology of mushrooms. He also considered Finnegans Wake an essential guidebook. As described in his book True Hallucinations, when Terence and his brother Dennis ventured deep into the Amazon Basin to indulge in shamanic rituals and ingest ungodly amounts of hallucinogenic plants, they brought only two books---the I Ching and Finnegans Wake. The McKenna brothers felt "that Finnegans Wake represented the most complete understanding yet achieved of the relation of the human mind to time and space." (True Hallucinations, p. 147) If only they'd known about the book's revelations about secret mushroom cults.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Some Fun with "riverrun"

Norse Vegvisir rune.

Our local Wake reading group recently cycled from the somber lines of Anna Livia Plurabelle's bittersweet closing monologue back over to the first page of Finnegans Wake: "A way a lone a last a loved a long the [...] 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." (FW 628-3)

The experience of deciphering the opening paragraphs of the Wake has been a slow, steady and joyful slog through a swamp thick with references, meanings, and suggestions. The information we've been pulling out from the words in these pages has been seemingly endless. It's gotten me thinking deeply about the text's very first word, the axis on which the Wake rotates---"riverrun." For a fun experiment in excavating meaning out of Wake words and appreciating Joyce's intricate chemistry of word construction, let's closely examine "riverrun."

First thing you'll notice is that this opening word of the book begins with a lowercase letter, indicating we are entering in media res (Latin "in the middle of events"). There's an immediate sense of befuddlement---one is struck with the feeling that they've been dropped into something that's been going on for a while, stepped into a stream whose source is unknown, one which is flowing toward an unknown destination. It's all a vast mystery. Much like our entry into the river of life upon birth---the world has its own history, it has been going on for a while, it has its own trajectory and momentum, and we're compelled to try to figure out what is going on, what is all this?

In my review of John Bishop's landmark study Joyce's Book of the Dark I discussed Bishop's theory that the river of Anna Livia Plurabelle refers to the flowing river of blood inside our bodies. This constantly pulsing river within us, which confronts us every night when we fall asleep with the sound of a heartbeat in our ears, contains the whole meandering, migrating history of our ancestors. Thus when we descend into sleep, into the hereditary millennia of our bodies, we encounter a running river whose origin far precedes us, highlighting how our experience of living in the flesh is also in media res, or as the Wake describes it, we are "all repeating ourselves, in medios loquos." (FW 398)

William York Tindall, in his Reader's Guide to Finnegans Wake, suggests that the chain of "the   riverrun" not only binds the end of the text with the beginning, it also "includes all betwixt and between." (Tindall 328) Much like the form of the circle which seems to be ubiquitous in all levels of existence from spiral galaxies to solar systems and spinning atoms, "the riverrun" is a universal structure. The last time I wrote extensively about one single Wake word, I focused on "anastomosis"---a term used in a wide range of sciences and disciplines (medicine, biology, mycology, geology, geography, architecture, etc) to describe an interconnection of streams or veins or branches.

FWEET gives us more to think about with the resonances of "riverrun" in different languages:

riverranno (Italian) - (they) will come again
rêverons (French) - (we) will dream
reverrons (French) - (we) will see again, (we) will meet again

"We will dream" is certainly a fitting way to open Finnegans Wake. The presence of "again" in the other words is also appropriate.

Reading the closing monologue of ALP evokes a somber feeling. She's dying, descending toward oblivion, hoping for just a few more moments of life. In our group, we couldn't help noting that the final lines in the Wake were essentially the last lines Joyce wrote before his own death in 1941 followed by the mass destruction of WW II. To continue that final sad sentence with, in the above sense, "they will come again" or "we will meet again" at the start of the book strikes a note of hope for renewal (a vital sentiment in our current dark times).

John Gordon's own Wake annotations add the following:

“rive” - English for “to split.”
“river” - French for “to join.”
FW is a book of “Doublends Jined” (20.16)
[double-ends joined]


The splitting apart and re-joining certainly fits with the "anastomosis" aspect I mentioned. It also recalls the lines from the end of the ALP chapter: "We'll meet again, we'll part once more." (FW p. 215) Gordon also mentions the German erinnerung for "memory" echoing "mememormee" from the closing lines of the text.

Bill Cole Cliett's excellent book Riverrun to Livvy adds some further threads of meaning. He describes ALP as "the river of life, the universal solvent in which all dissolves to mix and mingle and recombine, ever changing, ever the same." (Cliett p. 110) He mentions that Joyce likely got his "riverrun" from Coleridge's poem "Kubla Khan":

"Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
  Down to a sunless sea."

"Alph" certainly suggests ALP. Cliett notes that Alph is supposedly "based on Alpheus from Greek mythology, a river that was believed to run under the sea. In a similar sense, ALP may run under a literary sea from page 628 to page 3." (Cliett p. 111)

Cliett also cites Petr Skrabanek who suggests "riverrun" is evocative of the Italian rivivranno for "they will revive" or "they will live again" and also reads it as the French rêvê-rond meaning "dream-round."

To break the word "riverrun" into its constituent elements also yields a range of interesting resonances:

ri
Like "re-" it suggests a return or recurrence ("Finn, again!" FW p. 628). We find "re-" throughout the first page with "recirculation" and "rearrived" and "retaled."

ver
"Ver" from Latin refers to spring time (vernal or primavera), the coming forth of life (French vivre which is also hinted at in "riverrun") out of the dead of winter. "Ver" is an active verb (even the word "verb" itself probably comes from the root "ver")---in Spanish it could mean to see, to watch, to hear, to try. It also hints at verity or truth. The etymological dictionary also notes that ver- as a Germanic prefix denotes "destruction, reversal, or completion."

run
Movement, flow, speed. The word run as noun (as in, a spell of running) derives from Old English ryne meaning "a flow, a course, a watercourse." The noun run also means a continuing series or continuous stretch of something. Fittingly for our purposes, the term run is also important in baseball, used when a runner has completed a full cycle around the bases.

Run carries a myriad of other meanings, but I want to specifically mention the suggestion of Old Norse rún or rune which refers to magic, mystery, or secrets contained within letters. Rune: a verse or song, especially one with mystical or mysterious overtones; an incantation, or a spell. This is a perfect description of Finnegans Wake.

Lastly, let's examine the numerology underlying "riverrun." I've discussed once before how the number 8 in Joyce's numerology is associated with the female, the feminine life-renewing energy, probably because the number 8 is a rotated infinity symbol (among the many numbers associated with ALP is 1001, where the 1's are seen as the banks of the river and the 00 is the infinity symbol representing the river). Molly Bloom's birthday is September the 8th and her famous Penelope episode is the 18th chapter of Ulysses. In Finnegans Wake, the chapter devoted to the mother goddess is the 8th chapter.

Now with this in mind, consider "riverrun." It contains 8 letters. It begins with "r" which is the 18th letter of the alphabet.

Furthermore, if we calculate a numerological value from the word "riverrun" it would look like this:

R = 18
I = 9
V = 22
E = 5
R = 18
R = 18
U = 21
N = 14

Total =  125

1 + 2 + 5 = 8


I'm sure there's lots more to be found here. Feel free to add on in the comments.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Waging Peace from the Inkbattle House: Finnegans Wake in the Shadow of War

(Note: A truncated version of this essay was presented at the North American James Joyce Conference at Victoria College in Toronto in June 2017.)

I. 
“Enough...have I read of it...to augur in the hurry of the times” (FW 356)

This essay stems from my deep fascination with the years surrounding the publication of Finnegans Wake---James Joyce’s struggle to complete his 17-year magnum opus in the late 1930s as World War II erupted. In 1936 he told a friend that “the disturbed conditions now abroad in the world” made it hard for him to work, “It has been almost impossible for me to continue writing with such terrible anxiety night and day.” (Bowker, 484) Once he finally handed in the finished manuscript of Finnegans Wake in 1939, Joyce lamented, “They had better hurry. War is going to break out, and nobody will be reading my book anymore” (Ellmann, 721). The convergence of humanity’s grandest literary construction appearing in conjunction with man’s most destructive conflict feels highly significant to me. Finnegans Wake was finally published on May 4th 1939 and within four months World War II began.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Returning with Some News

Djuna Barnes illustration.

This blog has been dormant now for nearly three months while I've been tied up with full-time employment, home ownership, unfinished writing projects, and immersive reading experiences, including the pursuits of our local Finnegans Wake Reading Group. To blow the dust off this space, I want to quickly share a few nuggets of Joyce-related news with you.

For one, our Finnegans Wake Reading Group here in Austin is reaching a milestone. We've been meeting regularly now for over five years, engaging in close readings of the text together in our bi-monthly two-hour sessions. We started out doing two pages per meeting, but once we hit the final chapter of the text (Book IV), the material was so dense we started doing one page at a time to fully soak it all in. Lately, we've been reading the final pages of the Wake, Anna Livia Plurabelle's bittersweet monologue as the river of life drifts out into the sea of the unknown. In our next meeting, we'll be reading the famous final page, leading into the ricorso back to the beginning.

(Note that we are not completing a full cycle of the text yet, though, because we've been navigating through the Wake using the "treasure map" outlined here. Basically we've been reading the chapters from easiest to hardest. This is actually the seventh chapter we're completing as a group.)

My inspiration to create a Finnegans Wake group in Austin came from my experiences attending meetings of the Marshall McLuhan-Finnegans Wake Reading Group in Venice, California. Our gradual style of closely reading one or two pages at a time, kicking off the meeting with each participant reading two lines aloud in a circle---that all came from the Venice group led by my friend Gerry Fialka. His group has been deciphering the Wake now for 22 years and they recently received a great writeup in The Argonaut, a Los Angeles newspaper. Here's a snippet:
Fialka, formerly an archivist and production assistant for Frank Zappa, says the club isn’t invested in the author’s intended meanings — that’s impossible to know for sure — but unwrapping various layers of meaning throughout. Dozens of languages mix with English, weaving a tapestry of religious, pop culture, literature and mass media references. Puns, riddles, songs, jokes and allusions surface every which way. The plot, of which arguably there is none, is circular.

“No ‘Finnegans Wake’ reading club is exclusively about ‘Finnegans Wake,’ because ‘Finnegans Wake’ is about everything,” Fialka declares.

Joyce spent 17 years writing the book during a wave of new media technology, and taps into notions of a somnambulistic populous, no longer attentive to their environments. One possible message of the book is “all you Finnegans wake the F up,” Fialka says. “It’s about everything that happened and will happen.”

Another eminent Wakean and friend of mine, Derek Pyle, recently began writing a column in the James Joyce Quarterly covering Joyce-inspired projects in contemporary arts and media. His piece in the latest JJQ (Vol. 52, No. 3-4) included a nice writeup of the Austin Classical Guitar Orchestra performance I participated in last year that was inspired by Finnegans Wake. He even gave this blog a shout out!

The article also discusses the efforts of Polish translator, scholar, and musician Krzysztof Bartnicki to translate Finnegans Wake into a musical composition. "In Da Capo al Finne," Derek explains, "Bartnicki removes all the letters from the Finnegans Wake text except for ABCDEFGH, turning the remaining notes into a musical score (in keeping with German key notation where H indicates B natural and B means B flat). Bartnicki says the resulting text contains snippets of Frederic Chopin's compositions, 'Yankee Doodle,' and lots of themes from Star Wars."

Derek contemplates Bartnicki's observations, leading to an eloquent appraisal of the nature of Finnegans Wake as a living text. He mentions how some academics will scoff at Bartnicki's reading, since Joyce's book does not and could not contain all these things, and provides the following counterpoint:

Imagine, however, that there is a Finnegans Wake that exists not simply as a book but is somewhere in the ether---a wondrous, confused, endless gesture toward the ongoing events during human eons. Perhaps this oceanic tide is ingrained in the book but is ultimately much larger than and independent of the text's specificity. Perhaps this essence is what affects some readers so deeply, evoking imagination, creative inspiration, bemusement, and frustration. Such speculations might prompt the deification of Joyce, but Bartnicki opposes this by further questioning the very nature of authorship, suggesting that the reader's responses to the Wake do not 'belong' to Joyce any more than they 'belong' to the reader.

Lastly, I must mention the news that there is a new film in the works---James and Lucia, set to star Game of Thrones actor Aidan Gillen in the role of Mr. Joyce. The film will center on Joyce's life as he was composing Finnegans Wake in the late 1920s-early 30s, which: a) is a movie idea I've talked about for years, b) will likely take most of its material from Carol Loeb Schloss' book on this subject (which I wrote about here), and c) will hopefully not suck. I'm honestly more nervous about the film than I am excited for it. I worry they'll make it too sad, dark, grim, leaving out the infinitely humorous and energetic force of the Wake. Or they may try to portray Joyce's relationship with Lucia as incestuous for shock value. Or the movie might just suck and be boring, further reinforcing the notion to the general public that Joyce and Finnegans Wake should be ignored. Although, ya never know, maybe the exact opposite could happen...

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Recap of the Diasporic Joyce Conference in Toronto (Part 2 of 2)

Victoria College at the Univ. of Toronto where all of this took place.

(Continued from part 1 here.)

The cool, damp Toronto air was a welcome respite from the oppressive summer heat in Texas. It rained a few times, with heavy thunderstorms one night, but we couldn't have been happier with our time in Toronto. While I'd been there once many years ago, I was amazed during this trip to discover how great a place Toronto is. It's got great food, with restaurants catering to every dietary need or preference in every ethnic style all over the place. Being an academic hub, there are more enticing bookstores in the city than I was able to make it to. Most impressive of all was the architecture and city design. Old Gothic buildings intermingling with enormous, postmodern skyscrapers. And somehow within all that, the residential neighborhoods are quiet, quaint---homes have yards and gardens full of exotic flowers and trees. It felt like an idealized version of Manhattan. Far fewer homeless people and vagrants. Lacking that vibe of pedestrians rushing around all stressed out or angry. Drivers were a little whacky but there was far less angry horn-honking than NYC. Also, I didn't get quite the sense of the haves-and-have-nots polarity being as extreme as it is in Manhattan. Toronto seemed like a fairly prosperous, comfortable, laid-back place (noticed lots of people smoking weed in public). And it's a noticeably clean city.

I point all this out because the experience of walking through the city each morning to the University of Toronto campus was something I tried to savor. No matter which path you took there'd be interesting stuff to see, whether museum edifices or streets full of elegant old houses with jungle cube front yards.