Friday, March 27, 2020

Joyce & FW References in Ferlinghetti's Little Boy: A Novel

So far this year I've found myself pretty much only reading books by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Been on a Ferlinghetti binge. First I read his famous poetry collection A Coney Island of the Mind, then I got completely hooked and read a bunch more of his poetry books leading up to his latest work, a miraculous little book called Little Boy: A Novel. What I noticed right away when reading A Coney Island of the Mind was that Ferlinghetti embeds echoes of Joyce all throughout his writing. He seems especially fond of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, making so many references to them that it seems he expects his readers to be familiar with these texts.

Last year, to mark the occasion of his 100th birthday Lawrence Ferlinghetti published his newest book, an unclassifiable mix of memoir/poetry/social commentary entitled Little Boy: A Novel. I am not exaggerating when I say this is one my favorite books I've ever read in my life. Soon as I finished it I turned back to page 1 and read the whole thing again. After a second reading I still can't put it down. I've read half a dozen of Ferlinghetti's books this year, including his most highly regarded works, and I have little doubt that Little Boy is his best book. Though it's only 179 pages, it contains vast treasures of literary allusion, brilliant lyricism, fascinating historical anecdotes, profound ruminations on life and death, and hilarious, piercing political commentary. The wit and wordplay is very Joycean, but he always strives for clarity in his writing, the overriding essence of the book is a dream but the language is not opaque. On the other hand, reading sentences that go on for 10 pages requires a lot of focus. Also, someone needs to publish an annotated edition of this book soon, there are hundreds of allusions and quotes in this word stream.

I have a lot to say about this book. I've just submitted a review of Little Boy that I wrote, hoping to have it published somewhere soon (stay tuned). But since I am still unable to put this incredible book down, I want to share here all of the references to Joyce and Finnegans Wake that I discovered in the book. I shouldn't say all because he constantly weaves in subtle little motifs into the text that would be familiar to Wake readers like "tell me tell me" and toying with the word "riverrun" but the quotes here should give you a good idea of how important Finnegans Wake is in Ferlinghetti's cosmology.

Most of the book is written in a stream-of-consciousness style without any punctuation, the sentences go on for pages at a time.

my Anna Livia twinkle toes - p. 29

And all the time the Ouroboros serpent eating its tail like life itself and by a process of concatenous circumnavigation do we wind around to our beginnings and recognize ourselves for the first time like Ulysses returning home or Stephen Dedalus turned into Finnagain where the iffey River Liffey flows back to its beginnings p. 61-62

great father great artificer stand by me now in good stead as I set out now to meet my fate in the forge of the world - p. 72

the leaden wheel of time measures out our lives in ticks as it whirs inside its intricate watchworks with digital springs tick-tick-tick around we go with Vico or Grandma or little John or Baby Blue, and the glue sticking us all together might be love or lust or hate or blood or you name it whatever sticks you to your brother or lover or Significant Other And so here we are again ok save us from the Other, yet still I and my father are One son-of-a-gun on the run along a riverbank along a riverrun in sun or in deep shade under a bridge on the River Liffey where I once slept a broke student imagining myself Stephen Dedalus or mad Rimbaud - p. 90

the portrait of the artist as an old man - p. 122

Oh the sublimity of it and if I weren't laughing I’d be dying I’d be crying with Samuel Beckett and Jimmy Joyce the master laugher behind the sublime babble of Finnegan yeah yeah I have read it all heard it all heard the falcon in its dying fall - p. 137

no more regurgitation of everything seen or heard or said over the past century no more of that thank ye and this no Portrait of the Autist as an Old Man although this might be my hundredth year to heaven - p. 137

Let’s get back to the present where the world is coming to an end for the millionth time but this time it’s for real yes sir I’m not giving you some Old Wives’ Tales by Irish washerwomen gossiping in the dusk while washing their clothes in the River Liffey while night birds twitter and far-off field mice twit - p. 161