Sunday, August 4, 2013

Adam Harvey performs from Shem chapter

Adam Harvey is an actor from New Mexico who holds the distinction of being capable of reciting long portions of Finnegans Wake at length from memory, with dramatic effect. I had the privilege of seeing him perform the Mookse and Gripes fable at the 2011 North American James Joyce conference and it was unlike anything I'd ever beheld.

In this video clip, Adam reads the closing passages (pg. 193-195) of the Shem chapter (Book 1, chapter 7). This hilarious chapter, considered a favorite among many Wake readers, features brother Shaun describing the disgusting habits and living conditions of his shameful twin brother Shem. Shem, of course, is a version of James Joyce himself.

A few pages before Adam's selection, while the chapter starts to reach its conclusion, Shaun takes the form of a dramatic personage named JUSTIUS and gets his last words in on his pathetic brother. The whole thing is ridiculously comical as Shaun even asks Shem to help him come up with a proper denunciatory title:
you (will you for the laugh of Scheekspair just help me with the epithet?) semisemitic serendipitist, you (thanks, I think that describes you) Europasianised Afferyank! (p. 191)
At the end of his monologue is the very intriguing description of Shaun either putting the living to sleep, to death, or both:
He points the deathbone and the quick are still. Insomnia, somnia somniorum. Awmawm. (p. 193)
The Latin translates to "Sleeplessness, dream of dreams" while also mimicking the end of the Catholic liturgy which goes "forever and ever, amen."

It is here where Adam Harvey's wonderful selection begins.

Here in the final pages of a chapter spent deriding him in the absolute lowest of terms, Shem appears (under the dramatic personage of MERCIUS) to confess his sins and reverts toward a sad self-hatred until, so perfectly demonstrated in Adam's peformance, the ever-forgiving, ever-renewing river mother suddenly flows through him: "O me lonly son, ye are forgetting me!, that our turfbrown mummy is acoming."

She carries news headlines, playful trickling splashy watery language, "as happy as the day is wet" and has "tramtokens in her hair," our "giddygaddy, grannyma, gossipaceous Anna Livia."

And with the affirming, renewing, forgiving mother energy having revived the reviled Shem, we get that magnificent juxtaposition against his brother's "deathbone" curse:
He lifts the lifewand and the dumb speak.
The final spoken "Quoiquoiquoiquoiquoiquoiquoiq!" features seven repetitions of the French "what" as Shem revives the dead/sleeping human race but it also takes the sound of ducks quacking, presumably along the flowing river and perfectly leading into the next chapter, the famous ALP chapter of a thousand rivers (which you can hear Joyce himself recite from here).

Here is an interview with Adam Harvey by my good friend and the curator of the long-running Venice Finnegans Wake/Marshall McLuhan reading group, Gerry Fialka.

You can hear Robert Anton Wilson recite this passage and another from the same chapter in Part 2 of his excellent interview about Finnegans Wake.

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