Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wake Art: Visual depictions of the "dreambookpage"

Clinton Cahill's depiction of the Yawn scene.

It's often said of Finnegans Wake that it is a book for the ear, that it's meant to be read aloud and experienced through the dimension of sound. Yet there are also plenty of episodes that feature thoroughly described visuals and when reading some of the vignettes---like the Mookse and the Gripes or the Ondt and the Gracehoper---one can't help but try to form a mental image of the characters.

When it comes to visual description, I'm especially fond of the scene at the opening of the "Yawn" chapter (Book III, Chapter 3) where the sleeping giant Yawn is approached by four chroniclers (and their donkey) who become mountain-climbing archeologists. Ascending up his unfathomably huge body, "they hopped it up the mountainy molehill, traversing climes of old times gone by of the days not worth remembering." (FW p. 474)

The supine, snoozing Brobdingnagian body of Yawn is envisioned in beautifully poetic if immense and absurd proportions:
"There he would lay till they would him descry, spancelled down upon a blossomy bed, at one foule stretch, amongst the daffydowndillies, the flowers of narcosis fourfettering his footlights, a halohedge of wild spuds hovering over him, epicures waltzing with gardenfillers, puritan shoots advancing to Aran chiefs... The meteor pulp of him, the seamless rainbowpeel... His bellyvoid of nebulose with his neverstop navel... And his veins shooting melanite phosphor, his creamtocustard cometshair and his asteroid knuckles, ribs and members... His electrolatiginous twisted entrails belt." (FW p. 475)

With its layered meanings and opaque, obscure prose, any visual representation of the content of Finnegans Wake will of course be entirely dependent upon the interpretation of the artist. Here are some of these illustrative interpretations I've come across.

  • I've posted on this blog before about the Wake-inspired graphical constructions of Id-Grids and Ego-Graphs: A Typographical Confabulation with Finnegans Wake. It's a fun book to flip through and stare at its pages; seeing Wake phrases isolated out of their natural habitat tends to highlight their curious rhythm and mysterious density. You can see more samples from it over at BrainPickings.

  • Cartoonist Ralph Zeigermann created fantastic panels depicting the Mookse and the Gripes episode . Their intensity and humor reminds me of the Ren & Stimpy cartoons. These are a must-see.

    • A new edition of Finnegans Wake is now available from The Folio Society (for an absurdly exorbitant $195) featuring illustrations by artist John Vernon Lord. At the Folio Society website you can see samples of Lord's art and even peek inside his intricately inscribed notebooks on the Wake.

    • Over at the blog for the James Joyce Centre in Dublin, Clinton Cahill has been sharing his own efforts at illustrating the Wake in monthly blog posts for a while now. He mostly uses charcoal for his sketches, creating a shadowy hazy texture that feels perfect for the opaque subject. I especially like this piece of HCE's fall: 

    • Of course I have to mention the wonderful work Stephen Crowe has been doing for a while over at his blog Wake in Progress. He's been illustrating the Wake one page at a time for four years now. I highly recommend checking out his blog, it's one of the best ongoing Wake projects out there.
    • Lastly, Joyce's daughter Lucia had an artistic gift and used it to draw some illustrations for early publications of chapters from the Wake. See this link for more.