Thursday, November 26, 2015

What is Finnegans Wake? A Simulacrum of the Globe (Part 1)

Out of all the alternative theories about Finnegans Wake you can find out there, few are more unique and compelling than this one.

In an essay for the Hypermedia Joyce Studies journal from 2007 entitled "Joyce, Liberature and Writing of the Book," a Joyce scholar from Poland named Katarzyna Bazarnik unveils an entirely new perspective of Joyce's cryptic magnum opus, arguing that the physical text itself was intentionally constructed to be a sort of simulacrum for our earthly globe.

Bazarnik lays out her theory persuasively, beginning by discussing Joyce's history of carefully crafting all of his works to achieve certain meaningful results in the final physical presentation. This tendency goes as far back as his 1914 collection of poems, Giacomo Joyce, which Richard Ellmann felt "could not be properly appreciated without resorting to its actual, physical form." Ellmann was convinced that "the appearance of the work on the page may have become an element of its substance."

Similar intentions are evident in the composition of Ulysses whose text Joyce constantly added onto and tinkered with until the very last minute, resulting in a range of Joycean correspondences such as:
on page 77 “Seventh heaven” was inserted as the seventh sentence in a paragraph where Bloom muses on what people feel taking the holy communion. On page 88 Joyce added: “Aged 88 after a long and tedious illness” to an obituary Bloom is scanning. When Bloom is thinking about weight, gravity, and the rate of falling bodies, he recalls its value: “thirty two feet per second”, in the thirty-second sentence of the paragraph. And in “Calypso” the punctuation of Milly’s letter was so modified as to contain fifteen sentences. Bloom was struck by a coincidence between Milly turning fifteen on the fifteenth of June, the day she wrote the letter...
If one pursued such numerology further, one could notice that the first edition of the novel counts 732 pages. This is the number of nights and days in the leap year; coincidentally, 1904, when Ulysses is set, was a leap year, too. Besides, the diurnal and nocturnal halves of the book are equal: the dawn falls exactly on pages 364-5. “Done half by design” thinks Bloom at that moment, reflecting on the shape of the Dublin Bay.
Many of these little synchronicities are preserved only in the original 1922 text as all subsequent editions included enough additions and modifications to collapse these hidden little houses of cards.

Thankfully, in the case of Finnegans Wake the same pagination has been preserved from the original 1939 publication giving us a chance to pick apart Joyce's astounding structural engineering.

Bazarnik argues that since the Wake describes itself as “the book of Doublends Jined” (FW 20.16) or double ends joined, "we can visualise it as a book opened in such a way that its covers are joined, while its radially extending pages form a circle." This linking of front and back was confirmed, in Bazarnik's view, by the design of the first edition which bore the same lettering on the front and back covers, not to mention the final uncompleted sentence linking to the opening line of the book.

A new way to view the mandala of Finnegans Wake.
Not only does this view of the text give new implications to its length of 628 pages as representing the circumference of a circle (in a simple formula Bazarnik shows as 2r x 3.14 = 628 where r=100), but the shape of the text can now be viewed geographically as a "Shapesphere" (FW 295.04) or
"gllll (... (...) ... (...) ...) lobe" (FW 54.29 - 55.1):

This diagram is the most fascinating visual representation of Finnegans Wake I've encountered aside from John Bishop's relief maps in Joyce's Book of the Dark. I find her theory absolutely stunning. Bazarnik points to a number of references to various polar regions appearing around pages 627, 628, 3, and 4 while in the middle of the text (the South Pole on the map) appear references to a bunch of polar explorers and vessels.

She even offers an entirely new viewpoint for the mysterious clustering of particular languages appearing throughout the text, noting specific languages and references appearing in alignment with the Tropic of Cancer or the Tropic of Capricorn on the globe diagram. Many of these appearances, she emphasizes, were added in the later stages of composition including this apparent reference to the cartographic character of ALP's letter: "But once done, dealt and delivered, tattat, you’re on the map. Rased on traumscrapt from Maston, Boss. After rounding his world of ancient days." (FW 623.29-624.01)

Another late modification was to replace the word "geographical" with "geodetic" emphasizing the book's embodiment of the branch of mathematics dealing with the shape and area of the earth. This change was made on page 114 in the middle of a chapter describing the curious nature of Finnegans Wake itself:
One cannot help noticing that rather more than half of the lines run north-south in the Nemzes and Bukarahast directions while the others go west-east in search from Maliziies with Bulgarad for, tiny tot though it looks when schtschupnistling alongside other incunabula, it has its cardinal points for all that... It is seriously believed by some that the intention may have been geodetic. (FW 114.02-114.15)
She closes by quoting Clive Hart from his book Structure and Motif in Finnegans Wake where he clearly picked up on the same thing writing on pg 111: "The 'intention may have been geodetic' indeed. Finnegans Wake is laid out like a map of the globe---'a chart expanded' (593.19)---for geography is as important to Joyce as history."


No wonder Joyce considered himself the greatest engineer who ever lived.

This theory goes along quite nicely with the similarly mind-blowing idea put forth by Joyce scholar Roy Benjamin in a recent James Joyce Quarterly article about the precession of the equinoxes in Finnegans Wake.

We will dig into that in Part 2.

(Credit is owed to the Finnegans Awake Tumblr page which first alerted me to this article.)

Saturday, August 15, 2015

FinWake ATX visits the Ransom Center

The Finnegans Wake Reading Group of Austin had the privilege of visiting the Harry Ransom Center last week for an exclusive guided tour of some of the archive's most interesting James Joyce related material. It was a special afternoon with 14 of us getting to peruse and handle about a dozen significant objects all laid out in a chronological order that told the story of Joyce's career from 1922 to 1939, plus some of the many artworks spawned by his influence.

Upon arrival at the Ransom Center (located on the University of Texas campus), we were all greeted by a familiar face in the lobby, providing a perfect intro to the proceedings:

It was the head of Joyce himself, looking back at us from a 1938 sculpture made by Sava Botzaris shortly before Finnegans Wake was completed. It is fittingly in all black just like Joyce's autobiographical caricature in the Wake, Shem the Penman, an outcast and despised figure, "this dirty little blacking beetle" (FW p. 171) described as a "nogger among the blankards" (FW p. 188).

Shem the Penman resides in a "Haunted Inkbottle" (FW p. 182) whose messy, hoarded contents are catalogued for more than a page in a hilarious satire that forms one of the most entertaining parts of the book. You can hear Robert Anton Wilson perform this section to perfection:

When we studied this passage in our reading group last year, we got into an in-depth discussion about all the objects we spend our lives collecting (and creating) until we die, when our bodies disappear and our only real remains are the material we surrounded ourselves with. That's what Joyce seemed to be getting at in that passage, we thought, Shem was "writing the mystery of himsel in furniture" (FW p. 184) the same way we all do. The furniture and other belongings we leave behind carry our mysteries like anchors holding our departed spirits to the earthly realm. 

I kept reflecting on that passage in the days after the Ransom Center visit. My memory of the event includes not merely a long row of intriguing objects, but a room swarming with silent ghosts. I kept having dreams featuring invisible spirits and ghosts for a few nights afterward.

Many of the items we saw had so much life to them, so much history. Archaeologists use the so-called "material culture" of old societies to develop conclusions about them and the divining of history from objects has been a popular topic for books lately. On that note, here is a quick rundown of 12 of the objects we got to look at.

1. Ledger of orders for first edition of Ulysses
As an accountant, this simple booklet ended up being one of the most fascinating objects for me. It was a small leather-bound graph-paper book owned by Sylvia Beach which had on each page a carefully inscribed list of names for those people who were pledging money up front to receive copies of Ulysses when it was first published by Shakespeare & Co in 1922 (Miss Beach, who ran a small bookshop and never published anything before, had to take in pre-orders to cover the cost of the printing). I loved the perfect handwriting and precision of the lists, plus it was loaded with names of literary luminaries like William Carlos Williams, W.B. Yeats, and Wallace Stevens, not to mention Winston Churchill. Flipping through it briefly I noticed Joyce's patron Harriet Shaw Weaver had one of the largest pre-orders.

2. T.E. Lawrence's personal annotated copy of Ulysses
Lawrence of Arabia carried around a special signed 1st edition copy of Ulysses that he had fitted with sturdy custom leather binding and made frequent notations in it. As HRC guide Rick pointed out to us, the big bulky book had a smell of engine oil, most likely from hanging around in aircraft hangars and being perused by mechanics looking for the notoriously naughty parts. This was a book with some old ghosts in it. I found it thrilling.

3. Ulysses Court Documents
It's incredible to imagine how, throughout the 20s and early 30s, while Joyce was hard at work on his zany history of the world, he was all over the newspapers in the US and Britain because Ulysses was causing such an uproar for its supposed obscenity. This segment of history was covered magnificently by Kevin Birmingham in his book from last year, The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses. A dossier of files and papers from the court case was displayed, including testimony from critics, scholars, and bookstores on whether the Ulysses was smutty or not. Of course, a landmark decision declared it was indeed not pornography but an epochal work of art and the United States finally got to read Ulysses legally after 11 years of prohibition. 

4. Ulysses page proofs and typed schema
These were kept behind glass because they were just too damn treasured and delicate to be handled. Here were some of the final page proofs for Ulysses featuring Joyce's own edits and corrections made in red crayon. In addition to that was a very long sheet of paper featuring the typed out schema for Ulysses (with a little handwritten note from Joyce). This had been provided to Stuart Gilbert when he was writing the first detailed exegesis of Joyce's labyrinth. While I'd been well aware of the schema, seeing it stretched out in its original form looking like a massive Excel spreadsheet containing all the intricately conceived architecture of possibly the greatest novel ever gave me a tingling in my stomach. 

5. Many editions of Transition featuring earliest published snippets of Work in Progress (Finnegans Wake)
Before the public could finish digesting Ulysses, a small experimental literary journal called transition (founded by Joyce supporters Eugene and Maria Jolas) had begun to publish excerpts from Joyce's newest work. This bizarre and confusing text didn't have a title yet, so it was called Work in Progress. We got to see many editions of transition, each featuring yet another fresh snippet from Joyce with the title "Continuation of A Work in Progress." (You can view the full pre-publication details of Finnegans Wake at the Genetic Joyce Studies webpage.) Joyce kept the title of his new novel a secret during the entire seventeen year writing process, challenging friends to guess what it was and offering a reward of a thousand francs. In 1938, Eugene Jolas managed to correctly guess the title "Finnegans Wake" and Joyce eventually presented him with a bag full of coins. Joyce made them promise not to reveal the title until he'd finished the "final full stop, though there is none."

6. Page proofs of Finnegans Wake
Not sure whether these were proofs for the final published book or for the sections published in transition (guessing the latter), these were typed pages of the first chapter of the book on very thin paper, featuring minor inscriptions and additions presumably from Joyce but possibly from Stuart Gilbert or one of his other helpers since Joyce was nearly blind at this time. It's difficult to imagine how someone could've taken Joyce's barely legible hand-written sheets and typed the text of Finnegans Wake on a typewriter. Almost inconceivable. But somehow it happened.

7. "Tales Told of Shem and Shaun", "Haveth Childers Everywhere" and other early published fragments of Work in Progress 
In the late 1920s-early 30s, some fragments of Work in Progress were published by small presses in standalone pamphlets. Thumbing through these pamphlets, you start to get a sense of the sheer immensity of the final book since it contains many dozens of these segments which alone make nice little books. It'd be nice if someone re-released some of these pamphlets, most of which feature interesting artwork and very large print which allows the complex, idiosyncratic words the breathing room they need. 

8. Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress first edition
What a time it must've been in the late 20s literary world. Readers and supporters baffled by the excerpts of Joyce's newest work were treated to this extraordinary publication in 1929. It's a collection of 12 essays from different writers, each covering a different topic in defense of the genius of Joyce's latest work. The essays first started appearing in literary journals, then were collected here in book form published by Shakespeare & Co (Joyce had plans for another book of essays supporting his book, but the poor sales of Our Exagmination scrapped that). The collection features the first thing Samuel Beckett ever published, an essay entitled "Dante... Bruno. Vico.. Joyce." What I find so amazing about this book is that it was attempting to defend and explain a book that still had another 10 years until it was completed.

9. Finnegans Wake 1st edition
Bound in a red cover to symbolize the auburn streams of the Liffey, this first edition text had belonged to a writer/historian/scholar(?) whose name escapes me but the gentleman lived on an island and the pages in his copy of Finnegans Wake showed the effects. As my pal Brendan quipped, "a river runs through it."

10. ALP bookbinding art (unknown artist)
We now began progressing past the origins and into the derivative artwork. This was an edition of Finnegans Wake with a leather bookbinding featuring a beautiful design of ALP's face and winding hair. 

11. Philip Smith bookbinding art for Finnegans Wake
Minds were blown. This is without a doubt the coolest book I've ever seen in my life. Created by the same artist who made the bookbinding art featured on the background and sidebar of this blog, this was an alternate version featuring a grim corpse laying across the front and back cover. The book came in an elaborate, large case with special instructions on how it should be handled. This thing was dripping with art, every piece of it was special. When you took a close look at the dreadful corpse sculpted on the cover, his eyes were wide open. Finnegan was awakening. Thankfully someone managed to sneak a picture of this one:

12. "Valentines for James Joyce" by Elsa de Brun (aka Nuala)
This was the biggest crowd pleaser and will surely end up being the thing that stays with us the longest. Elsa de Brun was an abstract artist who painted under the Gaelic name Nuala. She lived in New York City and was known for creating stained glass windows in some prominent NYC spots. You can find some interesting pieces about her in the NY Times. Clearly touched deeply by Finnegans Wake, she created a series of 43 pastel artworks each inspired by a passage from the book. The majesty of these works of art had us all in awe. They were so intricately weaved, crisply drawn, and thickly layered that the sheer devotion that it must've taken to create them blew me away.

Our group was so taken by this collection that we've decided to pursue publication of it all in book form. It will surely be a challenge as none of has any experience doing this type of thing, but we're inspired and already making progress.

A website and Facebook page have been created to document this endeavor and we greatly appreciate your support and interest:

(Special thanks to Brian McNerney for orchestrating this event.) 

Monday, May 25, 2015

"dotter of his eyes": The Mystery of Lucia Joyce and Finnegans Wake

Lucia Joyce and her father in 1924
He gave me details about the mental disorder from which his daughter suffered, recounted a painful episode without pathos, in that sober and reserved manner he maintained even in moments of the most intimate sorrow. After a long silence, in a deep, low voice, beyond hope, his hand on a page of his manuscript: "Sometimes I tell myself that when I leave this dark night, she too will be cured." 
- Jacques Mercanton (from Portraits of the Artist in Exile, ed. Willard Potts)
Over at his fantastic blog "Swerve of Shore to Bend of Bay", notable Finnegans Wake enthusiast Peter Chrisp recently wrote about his experience witnessing the new play entitled "Lucia's Chapters of Coming Forth by Day" which attempts to give voice to the dead daughter of James Joyce who spent the last 47 years of her life incarcerated in a mental institution.

The play has not received great reviews due mainly to its production values, but the story is definitely an intriguing one. Written and directed by Sharon Fogarty, the play draws heavily upon Finnegans Wake which, among its many guises, is a modern version of The Egyptian Book of the Dead, the ancient guidebook to the afterlife that was literally entitled "Chapters of Coming Forth by Day." From Peter Chrisp's review:
The play places Lucia in the afterlife, with her own personal Book of the Dead. But she's also metaphorically dead because she's spent almost fifty years in mental institutions. There's a strong sense of entrapment. She's unable to escape from the institution and from the shadow of her famous father, James Joyce (Paul Kandel), who appears for most of the play in silhouette behind a screen. The men she falls in love with, such as Samuel Beckett, are more interested in her father than in her. She is frustrated in love and in her attempts to express herself as an artist.
The story of Lucia Joyce has become an increasingly popular one of late with this new play following up a well-received graphic novel Dotter of Her Father's Eyes written by Mary Talbot who draws parallels between her upbringing as the daughter of Joyce scholar James S. Atherton (author of The Books at the Wake) and that of Lucia suffering from the neglect of her busy father. The renewed interest in the life of James Joyce's artistically gifted but ostensibly mentally ill daughter would seem to have been sparked by the 2003 biography written by Carol Loeb Shloss, Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake.

The Lucia biography elicited some in-depth responses at the time, most notably a lengthy New Yorker piece entitled "A Fire in the Brain" which echoed the response most critics and scholars had to the book: the author made lots of stuff up.

A cursory perusal of the Lucia bio does indeed confirm this opinion. Shloss frequently drums up far more material about Lucia's inner life and her relationship with her father than one could expect a biographer to be aware of considering Joyce's cantankerous grandson Stephen destroyed most of her letters years ago. Despite this significant gap in source material, Shloss manages to assemble a nearly 500-page book on Joyce's daughter using lots of imaginative embellishment.

The two main points of her book, both controversial, are that the artistic modern dancer Lucia was a major inspiration for the Wake's style and that, once she became ill, Lucia was essentially sacrificed so that Joyce could finish the book. Here's the New Yorker piece elaborating on the latter:
Carol Shloss believes that Lucia’s case was cruelly mishandled. When Lucia fell ill, she at last captured her father’s sustained attention. He grieved over her incessantly. At the same time, he was in the middle of writing Finnegans Wake, and there were people around him—friends, patrons, assistants, on whom, since he was going blind, he was very dependent—who believed that the future of Western literature depended on his ability to finish this book. But he was not finishing it, because he was too busy worrying about Lucia. He was desperate to keep her at home. His friends—and also Nora, who bore the burden of caring for Lucia when she was at home, and who was the primary target of her fury—insisted that she be institutionalized. The entourage finally prevailed, and Joyce completed Finnegans Wake. In Shloss’s view, Lucia was the price paid for a book.
It's a tragic story that makes for good theater, but whether Lucia could have been "saved" by her father had he not been so caught up in finishing his giant puzzle book is unlikely. For years, Joyce was ignoring the advice of family, friends, and doctors by investing excessive amounts of time and money trying to find a cure for her illness. He tried everything from sending her to see Carl Jung (who told Joyce he and his daughter are in the same river but he is swimming while she's drowning) to a whole array of alternative cures (like saltwater injections) with no real progress, yet he refused to give up on her. He was convinced she possessed the same spark of genius that he had, that she wasn't insane but gifted, even clairvoyant.

I'm partial to the diagnosis Jacques Lacan retroactively applied to the situation which was that Joyce and his daughter were both suffering from a psychosis, but while the father had his writing to channel all of his unconscious energy into---thus balancing out his psychotic symptoms through an affect Lacan calls "le sinthome"---the similarly gifted, artistically inclined daughter failed to find a sustained artform to devote herself to.

Lucia got into modern dance during the 1920s and clearly had a talent for it. She toured with a dancing group called Les Six de Rythme et Couleur (Joyce's dancing rainbow girls in Finnegans Wake bear traces of this outfit), studied at various schools in Paris, and in what would be perhaps the shining moment of her life, was a finalist in an international dance competition in 1929. While she didn't win the competition, she was the crowd favorite, the rowdy audience booed and heckled when she didn't win and chanted to the judges (in French) "The Irish girl! Gentlemen, be fair!" For her performance she wore an evocative shimmery fish costume which she'd made herself, pictured below.

During this period she was profiled in the Paris Times:
"Lucia Joyce is her father's daughter. She has James Joyce's enthusiasm, energy, and a not-yet-determined amount of his genius... When she reaches her full capacity for rhythmic dancing, James Joyce may yet be known as his daughter's father."
Her dancing career sputtered though, when she made the poor decision to fortify her dancing foundation by going back to school to study ballet. Already in her late 20s, she was too old to begin such a rigorous practice from scratch and quickly flamed out. Shloss speculates that her mother Nora, a lifelong adversary, pushed her to quit dancing.

The failure of her dance career combined with a string of failed romantic relationships likely hastened Lucia's descent into mental illness. At one point, she had fallen in love with her father's young amanuensis and protégé Samuel Beckett only to be told bluntly that he was only interested in her father. According to Richard Ellmann, Beckett later told a friend "that he was dead and had no feelings that were human; hence had not been able to fall in love with Lucia." Revealingly, after Beckett died a photo of Lucia in her dancing fish outfit was found at his desk. He'd kept it for more than 60 years.

*   *   *

Artist Roy Wallace depicts James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and Lucia.

As for the influence Lucia had on Finnegans Wake, while it may not have happened the way Shloss portrays it in her book, Lucia surely plays a major role in Joyce's magnum opus. Building off the scene a cousin of the Joyce's witnessed at their house once, Shloss paints this picture:
There are two artists in this room, and both of them are working. Joyce is watching and learning. The two communicate with a secret, unarticulated voice. The writing of the pen, the writing of the body become a dialogue of artists, performing and counterperforming, the pen, the limbs writing away. The father notices the dance’s autonomous eloquence. He understands the body to be the hieroglyphic of a mysterious writing, the dancer’s steps to be an alphabet of the inexpressible. . . . The place where she meets her father is not in consciousness but in some more primitive place before consciousness. They understand each other, for they speak the same language, a language not yet arrived into words and concepts but a language nevertheless, founded on the communicative body. In the room are flows, intensities.
You'll notice Shloss injecting a great deal of her own creative interpretation into things. This is what she does throughout the book and it's why she hasn't been taken too seriously.

She employs this brand of creative interpretation to the material from the Wake, as well, frequently reading into it references to Lucia. For this I don't think she can be faulted, though, as this type of projection of one's own theories when deciphering the text is exactly how it should be read. And in her reading of Joyce's twisted "nat language" (FW p. 83) she often presents a fairly good case for there being present allusions to Lucia.

The Nuvoletta scene of the Wake, which is prominently featured in the "Lucia's Chapters of Coming Forth by Day" performance, carries strong echoes of Lucia, the character's name even morphing into "Nuvoluccia" (FW p. 157) at one point. The book's "daughter of pearl" (FW p. 399) Issy and her accompanying rainbow girls have always been the most difficult of the main characters to pin down, there's certainly some of Lucia embedded in there.

Lucia Anna Joyce was the apple of her father's half-blind eye. The two had a special relationship, one might say they were on the same wavelength. As one of Lucia's fellow dancers, Helene Vanel, put it: "Yes, she was really the spiritual daughter of James Joyce; she was his extension. She was the single element on earth that prolonged his existence, both inside and outside of his work."

After she was entered into a mental institution, Joyce continued to rally in defense of his daughter, writing to Harriet Shaw Weaver, "I am again in a minority of one in my opinion as everybody else apparently thinks she is crazy. She behaves like a fool very often but her mind is as clear and unsparing as the lightning" and wrote to a friend about "the lightning-lit revery of her clairvoyance." (There's lightning flashing outside my window as I write this.) In an essay for the James Joyce Quarterly entitled "Lightning Becomes Electra: Violence, Inspiration, and Lucia Joyce in Finnegans Wake," Joyce scholar Finn Fordham points out that in the late 1930s there were several additions made to the text linking together Lucia and lightning (Lucia in Italian means light). It's also revealing that, as Shloss notes, when Finnegans Wake was about to be published Joyce wanted to show Lucia the first copy.

Like most everything in Finnegans Wake, we likely won't ever get a straight answer about the role Lucia played in its creation. Her mystery grows darker and invites further speculation since her letters were destroyed. What was Stephen Joyce trying to hide? Another denunciation aimed at Shloss' book stems from her speculation that there was some sort of sexual indiscretion involved in Lucia's early life, likely involving her brother---Stephen's father---that contributed to her condition (though she admits there's actually no evidence for this). At the heart of Finnegans Wake is a vague nightmarish guilt for some sexual act committed by the main character. Whatever may have actually occurred is purposely obscured, the story twisted, tangled, and distorted through degrees of gossip.

The reader is never able to get to the heart of the matter, always picking up clues and hints while the truth recedes further, teasing and laughing off into the darkness. The curious persist, sensing something major just beyond their grasp. Confined to a mental institution until her death in 1982 (the centenary of her father's birth) and forever silenced by a paranoid family member afterward, we'll likely never know the full story of Lucia Joyce. I don't think it's crazy to suggest there are encoded secrets about Joyce's beloved daughter buried within the pages of his puzzle book, never to be solved.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

New Finnegans Wake Musical Audiobook Adaptation Featuring Yours Truly

Waywords and Meansigns art by Robert Berry

This past May 4th marked both the 76th anniversary of Finnegans Wake being published and the world premiere of the "Waywords and Meansigns" audio project bringing Finnegans Wake to life in an unabridged musical audiobook. The full audio project is over 30 hours long, encompassing all of the book's 17 chapters and 628 pages with a different musician/artist handling each one. Each artist was given full freedom to creatively interpret the text in their respective renditions so there's a pretty wide array of styles and interpretations.

I had the honor of contributing to the project, recording a 3-hour rendition of the 15th chapter (Book III, Chapter 3, 88 pages) known as "Yawn Under Inquest". Immense thanks are owed to Evan James, Jake Reading, and Melba Martinez for their contributions to the recording which took many hundreds of hours over a span of three months to complete. The experience was unlike anything I've ever partaken in and I'm very proud of the result. You can read more about my experience with creating this recording here.

The entire project is completely free and available to listen to or download in full on the Waywords and Meansigns website. Since the Wake is a circular book you can jump in at any point but, of course, I recommend you start with my chapter which is Track 15! 

The new project has already received the attention of The Guardian and the excellent RAWillumination blog (focusing primarily on the work of noted Finnegans Wake devotee Robert Anton Wilson) has just published an interview with myself and Steve "Fly" Pratt on our experiences with contributing to the project.

Please be sure to go check it all out and send some feedback!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Yawn Wails

Illustration for "Waywords and Meansigns" by Robert Berry

For the past two months I've been working on an experimental recording of the 3rd chapter in Book III of Finnegans Wake, known as "The Inquest of Yawn", for the Waywords and Meansigns project. The first snippet of that recording was recently released, you can listen to it here.

I chose this chapter because it's always been one of my favorites. The opening finds a giant sleeping figure, Yawn, whose yawns and sleepy groans create huge gusts of wind. His Brobdingnagian sleeping body is also an enormous, otherworldly mountain. Four chroniclers (and their donkey) approach the mountain-body, braving treacherous winds and an impossible ascent, "traversing climes of old times gone by of the days not worth remembering" (FW p. 474), and screaming in fear (in seven different languages) at the imposing, astronomical size of Yawn. "His bellyvoid of nebulose with his neverstop navel... his veins shooting melanite phosphor, his creamtocustard cometshair and his asteroid knuckles, ribs, and members... His electrolatiginous twisted entrails belt." (p. 475)

The purpose of their journey is to "hold their sworn starchamber quiry on him" (p. 475), conducting an odd examination on this windy, thunderous mountaintop. Out of this sleeping mountain-body the four questioners summon the voices of history like a séance, using some mysterious combination of electromagnetic radio waves and wireless telephony. The sleepy Yawn is resistant to their efforts, but they persist with hypnotic, psychological techniques and eventually summon out the voices of all of the Wake's characters, speaking through the medium of Yawn.

It's a fun chapter to read but, as I discovered, a very difficult one to recite and record. It consists mostly of a dialogue between the 4 questioners and Yawn, with all of the quotations unattributed. FWEET was a huge help, of course, and I brought in a couple friends to help out with doing the other voices, one of whom is a professional actress with experience doing NPR recordings. I also was lucky enough to be linked up with a fantastic audio engineer, Jake Reading, who was open-minded and willing enough to take on this daunting, experimental project. Jake's contribution to this project has been immeasurable. (Devoted Wake head Evan James also deserves immense thanks for his help.)

When it began, I naïvely thought I could recite the whole chapter over a couple marathon sessions and then we'd make edits and add musical effects accordingly. All could be done in a week, I figured. Instead, the 77-page chapter took many weeks to record, followed by a few sessions of editing, and now we are still in the midst of adding on music and sound effects to the 2+ hour recording.

The process has been both extremely fun and immensely challenging. It took so long just to record a reading of the text because to zip through a recitation of Wake pages without any mistakes is the equivalent of maintaining balance on a surfboard while riding a huge wave. Like I said: very fun but very challenging. Over and over again, I'd get through a couple paragraphs only to go flying violently off the surfboard when it became too challenging to read yet another unconventional Wake word.

As someone who's never participated in any kind of recording before, another challenge involved with all of this was getting used to the sound of my own voice. Like most people, I've always hated the sound of my voice and at first it was excruciating to hear myself navigating Joyce's odd language. Eventually I did get used to it, though, and came to really enjoy hearing the music of the Wake, it really does come to life when read aloud. Or, as the Wake emphatically puts it: "Lung lift the keying!" (FW p. 499)

With the reading now including lots of different music and effects in the background, it's really starting to sound like something special (I think). Can't wait to get it all finished up. The effect promises to be some odd combination of magic and music, what the Wake refers to as "the mujic of the footure" (p. 518).

Look for the fully finished product to appear on May 4th.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


After spending so much time studying and writing about John Bishop's Book of the Dark, a number of things have stuck with me. One of those is the word anastomosis.

Here's the definition from Wikipedia:
An anastomosis (plural anastomoses, from Greek ἀναστόμωσις, communicating opening) is the reconnection of two streams that previously branched out, such as blood vessels or leaf veins. The term is used in medicine, biology, mycology, geology, geography and architecture.
and from Merriam-Webster:
the union of parts or branches (as of streams, blood vessels, or leaf veins) so as to intercommunicate or interconnect

This one word holds vital meaning for Bishop's thoroughly argued theory that all of the Wake takes place within the body of one man. The culmination of his theory and wonderful book holds that the sleeper regresses back to the womb state (which we all do when we sleep), when the connection of anastomosis made him one with the mother's body, which in Bishop's view is ALP.

We find HCE and ALP connected by anastomosis on page 585 of the Wake:
Humperfeldt and Anunska, wedded now evermore in annastomoses by a ground plan of the placehunter...
In this case, "placehunter" is the placenta, giving strong credence to Bishop's interpretation.

But, as you can see from the definitions, this is a word that is used across many fields. The range of uses for the word implies a similarity between the nature of blood vessels, rivers, tree branches, rock veins, etc.

All of this also sounds like the nature of Finnegans Wake itself, a book which seems to feature biology, geology, neurology, history, geography, psychology, etc on just about every page, implying a similarity, a link, an anastomosis between all of these things.

The very way Joyce creates networks of meaning is a form of anastomosis. Words, motifs, themes, references branch out and connect with each other all over the book. The deeper you study it, the more you realize it's designed organically, the pages are a living fabric. The meanings grow and evolve each time you read it. That's why you'll always manage to find contemporary references in there (as in "Nike with your kickshoes on" pg 270 or pg 135: "handwriting on his facewall" which conjures Facebook).

I think this is a key element of the book, hence the central role of the river, "riverrun" (FW p. 3). The text itself and the underlying meaning of the words is very much like a river. A running river not only flows in winding loops, but branches off and forms new connections and links, "so looply, looply, as they link" (FW p.226) creating "interloopings" (FW p.551).

As Dan Weiss wrote in his fantastic essay "Understanding the (Net) Wake":
As his daughter Lucia's schizophrenia worsened, Joyce alone had the ability to follow her giant-steps of thought that baffled others completely. His ability to traverse the flux of her wild metaphoric "correspondance"(452) is evident in his masterwork. If we imagine hero/male archetype/key nodal point H.C. Earwicker's "seven dams....and every dam had her seven crutches. And every crutch had its seven hues. And every hue had a differing cry"(215), we will have a good picture of the branching tree pathways that Joyce knew how to walk with Lucia. If we then imagine connecting every dam, crutch, hue and cry with every other dam, crutch, hue and cry, we will "translace"(233) that branching tree into the kind of network into which the reader of Finnegans Wake is dropped.
Another appearance of "anastomosis" in Finnegans Wake comes in one of my favorite passages of the entire book, starting on page 614:
Our wholemole millwheeling vicociclometer, a tetradomational gazebocroticon ... autokinatonetically preprovided with a clappercoupling smeltingworks exprogressive process, (for the farmer, his son and their homely codes, known as eggburst, eggblend, eggburial and hatch-as-hatch can) receives through a portal vein the dialytically separated elements of precedent decomposition for the verypetpurpose of subsequent recombination so that the heroticisms, catastrophes and eccentricities transmitted by the ancient legacy of the past; type by tope, letter from litter, word at ward, with sendence of sundance... all, anastomosically assimilated and preteridentified paraidiotically, in fact, the sameold gamebold adomic structure of our Finnius the old One, as highly charged with electrons as hophaz- ards can effective it, may be there for you, Cockalooralooraloomenos, when cup, platter and pot come piping hot, as sure as herself pits hen to paper and there's scribings scrawled on eggs.
One of the reasons I've always loved this passage is because it feels like a breakdown or explanation of the living machine Joyce sought to engineer with Finnegans Wake (he called himself "the greatest engineer who ever lived" after all). In the hopes of keeping this post short, I won't go deep into the passage but I just want to point out the use of "anastomosically" here. What this passage seems to be saying is that the Wake takes all of the elements of history, breaks them down to their "dialytically separated elements" and reconnects them via branches.

Or something like that.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

JoyceGeek, Jorn Barger's Return, and other new Wake links

"They had heard or had heard said or had heard said written."   
- FW p. 369 

"For a surview over all the factionables see Iris in the Evenine's World." 
- FW p. 285

The links section in the sidebar of this blog needs updating now with some fresh new Finnegans Wake-focused blogs popping up around the web. Here is a look at some of the great websites I've found recently, some new, some have been around for a little while but slipped through the cracks.

The notable performer of Wake pages, actor Adam Harvey of New Mexico, has begun his own website called JoyceGeek. This is exciting news as Adam is one of the more knowledgable Wake heads out there. One of the few people in the world who can recite pages-upon-pages of the text from memory, Adam is exactly the kind of evangelist the Wake needs in our world today. Watch him perform the end of the Shem chapter (from memory) here. He hosts a Joyce reading group in Santa Fe, New Mexico and has frequently performed sections of the Wake at Joyce conferences. Most recently he did a show called "Don't Panic it's only Finnegans Wake" that looked really interesting. In that show Adam delivered some audiovisual tutorials on how to recite words or portions from the Wake, on his website you can find videos he's put together breaking down each of the 10 hundred-lettered thunderwords in the Wake. (Though I'm somewhat disappointed he didn't mention any of the material from Eric McLuhan's The Role of Thunder in Finnegans Wake.)

He also writes a blog which already has many interesting posts, the most recent of which examines the available Finnegans Wake audiobooks. Adam is not a particularly huge fan of the Patrick Healy recording, mainly because he feels Healy rushes through the text too much. (I used Healy's recording often during my full-length Wake dive and found it to be pretty fun, but I understand Adam's point.) He also links to a recording of most of the text done by Simon Loekle which I hadn't previously been aware of.

Patrick Horgan's Reading
During our last Austin Wake Reading Group meeting before Christmas, we had some visitors from the NYC Wake group who took part in our reading. One of the visitors, Suzanne from Brooklyn, alerted me to Patrick Horgan's full rendition of Finnegans Wake, a recording he made for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Adam mentions this recording in his JoyceGeek post too, it's a really phenomenal performance, definitely far superior to Patrick Healy (whose recording I long thought was the only one available online). Horgan savors the multilingual and rhythmic prose, often adopting an ambiguously European accent that hearkens back to the expressive way Joyce himself performed a few pages in his 1929 recording. I've used Horgan's recording often during my preparation for recording the Yawn chapter for the upcoming "Waywords and Meansigns" project.

The return of Jorn Barger?
One of the things Adam Harvey wrote about on his blog is the loss of so many great websites devoted to James Joyce that now seem to be defunct, lost in the electronic ether (though they remain alive in the internet archives!). One of these happens to be Robot Wisdom, one of the web's original weblogs that was assembled by the mysterious and hirsute character known as Jorn Barger. Jorn is one of the earliest internet users (he coined the term "weblog"), an artificial intelligence aficionado, literary scholar and most importantly, a renowned expert on the work of James Joyce. His now-defunct (but archived) "IQ Infinity" page had tons and tons of notes on all of Joyce's work, most notably lots of material on the early drafts of Finnegans Wake. While the Robot Wisdom website went down a while back, I've noticed a few new Wake blogs have popped up with extremely thoroughgoing genetic analysis of the text and I strongly suspect that these blogs could be the work of Mr. Barger.

See for yourself:
Finnegans Wake Origins
Finnegans Wake Annotated
Etcetera Etcetera

This Tumblr page has quickly become one of my favorite things about the internet. FINNEGANS AWAKE is absolutely filled with Joyce-related material with an emphasis on FW. It is an overflowing wealth of photos and quotes and artwork that one can easily get lost in. Really, go there now and scroll through the archive for a few minutes and see if you don't get completely absorbed into it. There is soooooo much great material there. THANK YOU to whoever created this thing and please keep up the great work.

Work in Progress manuscript page seen at FINNEGANS AWAKE.

Alternate cover for the latest edition of FW by Eoin Ryan,

Vagabond Bohemia
On a similar note, while not strictly focused on Joyce, this Tumblr page is also a new favorite of mine. Plenty of Joyce material as well as a whole universe of artwork, plus Thomas Pynchon, Marshall McLuhan, Salvador Dali, Robert Anton Wilson, and other great explorers of the frontiers of the mind.

Cryptic Tricksters by Circumambient Peripherization [McLuhan & Joyce]
spotted at Vagabond Bohemia

Wake in Progress
This is not new of course, I've posted about Stephen Crowe's wonderful illustrations of the Wake before, but I just want to call attention to it once more because Stephen continues to update his page regularly and even has some good short essays to read. Check out his recent thoughts on reading the Wake.

The Grammar of Matter
Stumbled upon this extraordinary and quirky blog recently, it contains writings on a number of topics but mostly (as far as I can tell) revolves around archaeology and Finnegans Wake. This all springs from a thesis the author wrote about prehistoric rock art and the Wake. Following that thesis, the author examines archeology and mythology through the Wake as a lens. Robert Anton Wilson called Joyce "the greatest anthropologist who ever lived." This author seems to explore this possibility. It's exactly these kinds of eclectic and fascinating webpages that make the internet so damn special to me. Use this link to see all the Wake-related posts.

The Joyce Project
Lastly, it isn't specifically related to Finnegans Wake, but there is a new project devoted to creating a hypertext version of Ulysses with annotations and links embedded into the text. Worth a look.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Frank Delaney Describes Finnegans Wake Perfectly

Irish novelist and public intellectual Frank Delaney, who NPR once declared to be "the most eloquent man in the world," hosts a weekly podcast called "Re-Joyce" devoted to deciphering the pages of Ulysses basically one paragraph at a time. After every twelfth episode of the podcast he delivers a so-called "baker's dozen" episode devoted to miscellaneous Joyce topics.

The latest episode answered a listener's question about how best to approach Joyce's work, and Delaney responded with a rundown of each of the books in Joyce's canon. This gave him an opportunity to riff on Finnegans Wake which he does only rarely on his show. His description is quite beautiful:
Finnegans Wake is not a novel....No! No! Finnegans Wake is a poem, it's a symphony by a modern atonal composer. It's an assembly of language tying together floating evanescent ideas. It's a long rapid eye movement dream, it's a marathon technicolored musing that might have been induced by mescaline or LSD...It's a seemingly reckless careening through English and other languages. Yet you know that every word has been considered in this hodgepodge potpourri of miscellaneous and not always aligned thoughts and ideas, in this flamboyant and brilliant linguistic exercise that mimics the intensely illustrated pages of a medieval Irish manuscript. It's a massive rap, as in rapper, as in street talk, as in lingo, as in the heat of the day and the cool of the night captured dreamily and melodiously in words of all shapes and sizes. It's a mirage.
Do not read FW. Feel it. Dip into a page, any page, and if you find something that lights up your synapses, enjoy it... Read Finnegans Wake on any page at any time, and listen to it. Feel the words in your mouth and smile. But above all else: feel it in your spirit.
He also mentions he hopes someday some brave soul will embark on a full explication (to whatever extent that's possible) of the Wake in a podcast or some other medium. After practicing recently for the upcoming Waywords and Meansigns recording project for which I'm doing a chapter, and being surprised at how I wasn't too terribly disgusted by the sound of my own recorded voice, I'm beginning to give consideration to creating a Finnegans Wake podcast sometime down the road. There's a tiny but devout and growing group of Wake devotees around the world, too, so don't be surprised to see it happen in the not too distant future.

(Thank you to Peter Chrisp of the fantastic blog Swerve of Shore to Bend of Bay for calling my attention to this.)