Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Night Owl Wake Reading Group

I've been to three different Finnegans Wake reading groups before (including my own here in Austin) and each of them would focus in their efforts on just 2 pages or so, but I remembered meeting someone at the Venice Wake group in California who had participated in a group with a much different approach. They would gather in a used bookstore at closing time on Sunday nights and take turns zipping through the text reading aloud.

This, to me, exemplifies the opposite though equally rewarding approach to experiencing the Wake---instead of parsing through each polysemic element on each page like a physicist cracking open matter to its deepest fractal units and appraising the structure of it all, you can also simply let the text sing and dance in its unique way by reading it aloud for pages at a time (or listening to a recording of it).

I reached out to Derek G. who was part of that rapid-recitative-reading group and he responded with some very thoughtful details about it, which I would like to share here:

Yes, though I wouldn't exactly describe them as speed-readings; we would gather around in a circle at Alias Books, lock the doors, and read out loud. We met every Sunday @ 11pm, and would average about 20-40 pages per mtg. It took us about 7 or 8 months to finish the book. This was the first book to kick off our Night Owl bookgroup (running about four years now), and we would experiment with our reading of it. We began reading it conventionally, falling into the normal trap of using conventional language: it must have one setting, one plot, each word must have only one meaning, the book must have one overall message. After discovering how FW aims to destroy this mode of thinking, we decided to experiment with our reading, not take the book so seriously, and let the experience of reading it takeover. 
For instance, during one reading--I wish I could remember where we were in the book--for some reason, almost simultaneously, we all got up and started walking around the bookstore in a single file line, up and down the aisles, until either the page or the paragraph was finished. I do remember we were a fair way through FW, and had learned how to read its rhythms and pauses, and somehow we all agreed to physically mimic them in that one moment. FW is in part an invitation to performance art, as well as being a drama. 
This is probably the best advice I know to give to readers of the Wake: let the text show you how to "read" it, how to perform it, what to do with it, how to use it. Because FW is a book about what has happened as well as what will happen--Joyce was a very unique kind of prophet--FW asks us to pay some attention to the present moment, and to the specific point in time that we are reading it. And as we read it, it read us: collectively, and, in its curious way, individually. 
Another recommendation: private reading. FW has too often been said to be only accessible through out loud group readings. These are awesome ways of using FW and interacting with it, but amazingly enough, if one in isolation simply uses their visual sense on the page, they see that it is not random. Joyce favored audile and tactile senses, but did not neglect the visual. During my first reading of FW alone I thought it to be very visual. It was a giant Gesamtkunstwerk of Irish-surrealist-fantasy. The possibilities of what FW is are endless!

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