Saturday, December 23, 2023

The Solstice Maybe Wake Night

Maybe the longest night of the year is the night on which the dreamworld of Finnegans Wake unfolds? A remark by Joseph Campbell & Henry Morton Robinson in their Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (1944) suggests they believe it may be so. From there sprung the premise for celebrating Finnegans Wake on the longest night of the year, HERE, meticulously arranged by Bobby Campbell. This webpage features comics, videos, links to various Wake-related subject matters (including links to recent blog posts by Oz Fritz on crossovers between the likes of Aleister Crowley and Francois Rabelais with Joyce), and other audio-visual Joycean treasures. There's a recording of a panel I participated in with several others, discussing all things Joyce and Finnegans Wake, plus Robert Anton Wilson, and also touching on Terence McKenna's Timewave Zero theory. 

Maybe Night, Solstice 2023

In the panel session, I mentioned Harry Levin's book James Joyce: A Critical Introduction, which was originally published by New Directions in 1941. Despite being one of the earliest critical works discussing Finnegans Wake, it still stands as a great entry point, on par with the Skeleton Key. (Later in the discussion I mentioned a quote that I forgot the attribution for, and it turns out that was from Levin's book: "The peculiarity of Joyce’s later writing is that any page presupposes a reading knowledge of the rest of the book. On the other hand, to master a page is to understand the book. The trick is to pick out a passage where a break-through can be effected.") 

Time Magazine reviewed Levin's book in 1942, noting that Joyce himself felt it was a rare reading which caught onto what he was doing: "The review of Finnegans Wake by Harvard's Harry Levin was one of the few that gave James Joyce the sense that his book had a reader."

It's worth quoting more from that Time article of 1942, which perceptively captured the Wake's relevance within the context of those tumultuous times:

In Finnegans Wake naturalism and the artist himself all but disappear; the book is a shimmering death-dance of chameleon-like symbols; an attempt at nothing less than a complete serio-comic history of human consciousness—in Levin's neat phrase, a "doomsday book," culminating in a Phoenician paradox of dissolution and resurrection. 
Finnegans Wake derives much from the philosopher Giambattista Vico's cyclic theory of history, which is highly apposite to the present. According to Vico, and Joyce, the first of a civilization's four phases begins, and the last collapses, in fear of thunder, and a rush for underground shelter; and in that sheltering cave, religion and family life begin again. Today the ambiguous thunder talks above every great city of the earth, and the shelters are crowded, and a civilization, if it is ending, is no less surely germinal. In one great warning work of literature after another, meanwhile, a similar mental cavern is retreated to and explored (Joyce's was a Dedalean Labyrinth).

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