Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Michael Wood on Finnegans Wake--or, a lot of initials

The ever adventurous PQ sent me a link to this excellent Michael Wood's essay on FinnegansWake, celebrating a new edition in the LRB.

Thanks, PQ.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Shem and Shaun

Sorry to report that I missed writing up a few pages here. I could get back to them, as I did take notes, but tonight I thought I'd mention a kind of understanding that swept through our little group as we read some of the words of Joseph Campbell on the meaning of Shem and Shaun, the twin sons of HCE and ALP. We have all along had to try to think of tricks to tell the two apart, but suddenly it seems easier.

It came out of our reading of Riddle Number 11 on page148, which begins: "If you met on the binge a poor acheseyeld from Ailing..." After realizing that acheseyeld is a pun on exiled, and then seeing reference later in the question to the blind blighter, we began to understand that the reference is in some ways to Joyce himself. And Jimmy Joyce is also always in some aspect Shem the Penman.

Somehow this led to my finding Campbell's words on the differences between Shem the Penman and Shaun the Postman, which we may even have read before,but seemed more illuminating at this point in the journey. Shem is the introvert, the wounded writer who digs deep into the pysche of mankind and Shaun is the extravert, who delivers that message to the world. It was interesting to us that Campbell portrays Shaun as a writer also, but as a writer of bestsellers. As C. said at our meeting, Shem is the one who reports things as he sees them, and Shaun is the politician who puts the spin on that.

In a more charitable light, Shaun is the one who, not having done the delving himself, is doomed to misunderstand the message. I find myself wondering if even within Joyce himself there isn't an element of both, because I would think that the deepest discoveries are essentially inarticulable--that everything in effect is a kind of translation that is sure to be partly wrong.

We also got another (surely temporary) grasp on  the mythic structure of the book, where HCE is the unity, Shem and Shaun the splitting of that unity into two, and ALP the timeless river that simply flows on and on. It can't hurt to remind ourselves yet again that the story is about an endless cycle and any moment is simply a snapshot of something that ultimately can't be stopped or fixed in space or time.      

( The photo, by the way, is of a bronze sculpture by John Coll, from an exhibit once at the Kenny Gallery called The Light Behind the Written Word which is worth taking a look at.)   

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Wake in Progress

PQ of A Building Roam has just let me know of a website by graphic artist Stephen Crowe called A Wake in Progress, in which Mr. Crowe is illustrating the Wake, one page at a time. It looks great, and you can get there through the A Building Roam link above if you're interested, as really, if you're reading this at all, you should be.

We've had to postpone our next meeting till next week, but this is a great reminder that there is really no reason to wait for the next meeting to contemplate the book.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Finnegans Wake, page 141 or Summon in the Housesweep Dinah

Close readers of this blog (and if you're not a close reader, what the heck are you interested in Finnegans Wake for?) will note that there has been not only a substantial lapse since the last post, but a few pages missed here as well. With 2/5ths of our group out of the country for awhile and some scheduling problems, we haven't met as regularly as we did, and for my part my mother's death at the end September has put blog posts a bit in the background. But we've been meeting and I will be posting. I thought I would just start where we picked up this last Wednesday, which was on Riddle 6, which is a short one, and then go back as things come to me.

For one thing, we decided not to get too far into the text this time, as our reading venue, The Poet and Patriot pub, was televising the National League playoffs, and some in the group were, uh, distracted by this fact. Although we agreed that Joyce probably wouldn't have minded sharing the spotlight, we thought it would be best to just review where we've been in between exciting plays. Since A. had been absent the time before, we, or at least I, took pleasure in making her guess what the answer to Riddle 4, What Irish capitol city ((a dea o dea!)of two syllables and six letters, with a deltic origin and a nuinous end, (ah dust oh dust!) was. What's fun about this part is that it isn't just Dublin, as we might complacently expect, but has been humorously stretched to mean Belfast, Cork and Galway as well. These are the capital cities of the four Irish provinces, Leinster, Ulster, Munster and Connacht. And I really liked the comment in the Campbell Skeleton Key that points out that the answer lies in not only guessing these, but in harmonizing them, which puts these separated entities under the blending influence of the riverlike ALP, who mixes all together into one and then separates things out again.

Another thing that came up in our catching up segment was that C. read a passage from one of our explanatory texts, whose author I can't remember just now, which cautioned that reading Finnegans Wake is not merely an associative process, where anything you think is right is right. It is a matter of context, tone and a few other factors that escape me. Although initially deflating, because with the Wake it helps to think that if you're getting anything, you're getting something. Apparently, though, what you might be getting is getting it wrong. 

However, ultimately, this is encouraging. The Wake is not a ragbag, after all. Something would be taken away from our aha moments if it was all just about projecting our own thoughts on to the text. And intuititvely, this strikes me as right as well. Joyce knows exactly what he's doing and he wants you to figure out just what that something is. 

Here's another point that we couldn't quite clear up for ourselves. We knew that HCE had been entombed, but we didn't actually remember him dying. We came across 'the death and resurrection of HCE' a couple of times in our secondary texts, but as far as we were concerned, there had only been the trial. Maybe that will become clearer to us at a later date. 

Anyway, on to this short riddle. Having been riddled about the the father, the mother, the home, the city and the manservant, we now come upon this one about the housemaid. Once again, I find  John P. Anderson's Finnegans Wake: the Curse of Kaballah very insightful. Of course, the title of the riddle is a pun on the old song, "Someone's in the Kitchen With Dinah". According to Anderson, Dinah is a housekeeper like Kate, and Dinah is also slang for "slave", perhaps because Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, was abducted and taken into captivity in the narrative of the Hebrew Bible. It does make me curious about the story behind our American song as well. 

...Hmm. I think I just did a bit of actual scholarship. I looked up "Someone's In the Kitchen With Dinah", and found this long but interesting thread about the song. Once you get past the theories that Dinah was 1.a locomotive, and 2. "dinnah", you discover that there was another minstrel song called Old Joe, which has a verse that goes, "Dere's someone in de house wid Dinah." That line rings more true to Joyce's riddle title, and this would make sense, as according to the thread, "Dinah" crossed over to England in about 1840, and the version quoted was collected in the Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads. What's interesting to me is that Riddle 5, about the houseman, is answered "Pore ole Joe!" For some reason, I had immediately thought of the American ballad "Old Black Joe" when I read that, and it turns out I was righter than I knew.

Well, I'd like to go over the tiks and toks of the riddle as well, but frankly, Mr. Anderson will do a better job of that than I ever can, and this post is getting a bit long. 

Also, I think the majority of the group would like me to end with:
Go Giants.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


True, the post from the last meeting is lagging a bit, but how about this in the meantime? In case it's not clear, it features two of our members on their Irish and particularly Ulyssean journey.

Not me, unfortunately...

Sunday, August 22, 2010


We have a longer than usual break in between meetings right now, so during the lull, I'll just mention that  my sister happened to tell me of going to see Travesties by Tom Stoppard recently. I like Stoppard, but hadn't seen this play, so was surprised that part of its plot involved James Joyce in Zurich, attempting to mount a production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.

Stoppard, Wilde, Joyce. Now that is a play I definitely have to see. (The illustrator of the poster, by the way, is Sam Webber.)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pages 131-33 continued (well, actually, started)

All right. Enough for the copying things out, now for the hard part. I'll start with "his threefaced stone head  was found on a whitehorse hill and the print of his costellous feet is seen in the goat's grass circle". A. recalled seeing a sculpted one in the National Museum in Dublin, in which two heads faced away from each other, Janus style, but one smaller one was nestled in between. I wasn't able to find an image of it, but this article does mention it.

T. asked whether all these clauses have a kind of balanced "on the one hand, on the other hand" kind  of rhythm to them. The answer is no, but it is definitely one of the patterns:"figure right, he is hoisted by the scurve of his shaggy neck, figure left, he is rationed in isobaric patties among the crew". But another style is exemplified in: "harrier, marrier, terrier, tav".

Some clauses we especially liked: "passed for baabaa blacksheep till he grew white woo woo woolly" and "calls upon Allthing when he fails to appeal to Eachovos". And one I liked, but only after grasping the pun from someone else's commentary: "Has the most conical hodpiece of confucianist heronim and that chuchuffuous chinchin of his is like a footsey kungaloo around Taishanty land". One (though only one) way of reading this is, "he had the most comical headpiece of Confucianist "hair on him" and that Chufu chin of his is like Fu-Tse Kung, ie, Kung Fu-Tse, ie. Confucius around  the sacred mountain of Tai Shan.

A couple of things have come up around my researches on these pages. The first is that according to Grace Eckley in her First Question article, which is well worth reading, there is an actual person that brings some unity to this complex figure represented in these clauses, and that is a journalist that we haven't even heard of yet. His name was W. T. Stead, and in order to expose the white slave trade going on in London of 1885, he purchased a girl named Eliza from her mother for five pounds, and mixing it with the story of another stolen girl named Lily, he wrote an article called "The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon". Although some praised him for his expose, many agreed with his arrest and his being brought before a judge for having "deluged London with a quantity of filth". So when we see Flood (or even flood) imagery in the Wake, we are to think of this flood of excrement as well. Much of the trial of HCE and his fallen role relates to this actual man's story. As Eckley has it, Joyce needed an  Everyman figure to play HCE/Finn McCool in contemporary, historical form and Stead provided that. But read the article, you'll see what she's getting at.

The other thing I've gathered is that we've been scanting the importance of Parnell to Joyce a bit. We know he's important, we just don't know how important. There's a good article here. We do know a bit about the fact of his adulterous affair with "Kitty" O'Shea, and how the revelation of this led to his final downfall. But I don't think it's come up yet that before this there was another scandal. In 1887, he was accused of having written letters in support of the murders of two British officials in Phoenix Park (!)in 1882. These letters were finally revealed to be the forgeries of Richard Piggott, "a disreputable anti-Parnellite rogue journalist", who was finally given away by his characteristic spelling of the word "hesitant" as "hesitent". And you will find evidence of Joyce's interest on page 133 in this clause of the riddle: "is unhesitent in his unionism and yet a piggotted nationalist". Now this delights me, because my eyes had run across that "unhesitent" earlier in the day and I wondered about the mispelling, knowing that with Joyce, it could not be accidental. I am just surprised that I was able to unearth the answer so fast.

Poor Richard Piggott, though. After he confessed, he went off to Madrid and killed himself. W.T. Stead, (who was apparently Parnell's opponent, though I have not been able to get to the bottom of his role at Parnell's trial) started a fund to take care of Piggott's children. Stead himself went down on the Titanic, strangely, after writing an article about the need for liners to have more lifeboats.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


We began our last meeting with a short reading from L. from a scholarly essay she had read in the interim. It comes from an essay by Brook Thomas called "Formal Re-creation: Re-reading and Re-joycing the Re-rightings of Ulysses" and can be found in a book called Critical Essays on James Joyce's Ulysses. I thought I'd put it in for the record, as it seemed to answer some of the questions brought up by our last meeting.

"What my example,which is by no means unusual, should make clear is that Joyce's process of writing, re-reading, and re-writing is potentially an endless one. Having once revised a passage Joyce would re-read his revisions, causing him to discover even more potential verbal connections, causing more re-writing, and so on. Thus, it is easy to see how Ulysses came to be more and more about its own creation. The book becomes reflexive because as Arnold Goldman claims, "By its fifteenth chapter, Ulysses has begun to provide its author enough in the way of material to become self-perpetuating." It also becomes reflexive because Joyce re-read every sentence he wrote in so many ways that each one required expansion and qualification. Or put another way, the material that the book has amassed is not only character, plot or details of a Dublin setting, but its own language. That language, as part of a language system without beginning or end, allows Joyce continually to create new meanings and and formal possibilities for his book. But in one sense, it is not really Joyce who is "creating" these meanings and potential forms. They are meanings and forms already available in a language which already exists prior to any one reader or writer of that language. It is Joyce's awareness of this potentiality of language that allows us to talk about the book writing itself and that makes Ulysses the perfect example of Valéry statement that "a work of art is never finished, only abandoned". My point is, however, that Ulysses has been abandoned only by Joyce, not by its readers, for each time a reader reads and re-reads Ulysses, he repeats with a difference the process by which Joyce created the book."

(In my case, the "difference" is that Joyce knew a hell of a lot more than I do.)

C. pointed out that this implied a lot of faith on Joyce's part, not just in language, but in life, and those of us who know his biography well (i.e., not me) spoke of his lack of anxiety, how he was always struggling for money and yet gave it away open-handedly when it came to him. And that of course, he always had  a lot of people mad at him, but didn't care. We agreed it was a good model for those of us who might be a bit more prone to the anxious side.

And all this before we'd even looked at the text!

To be Continued...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Pages 129-131--The Riddles Continue

So this post will probably be briefer than the last, as we will only have a week in between. We're packing the meetings in since some of our members are traveling these next few months. The good news is that part of their trip will be to Dublin. We will of course expect a full report...

What did Joyce know and when did he know it? This in some sense was the "riddle" we posed ourselves at our last meeting. It's basically the question that comes up in discussions of authors all the time. How much of this was conscious and how much of it was accidental? My own position is that Joyce was at the intentional end of the spectrum. There might be some 'found' pieces in there, there could even be a multitude of them, but my sense of this is that if we think of them and make the connections, Joyce probably thought of them first.

But to get to the text. First just an odd coincidence which anyone who's reading the Wake will surely find life to be full of. At the bottom of page 128, Joyce  writes "piles big pelium on little ossas like the pilluls of hirculeads" At the moment I happen to be reading Henry Miller's The Colossus of Maroussi and have just come across this part:

"Katsimbalis would take me on his monologues to Mt. Athos, to Pelion and Ossa, to Leonidion and Monemvasia".

Pelion and Ossa are both famous Greek mountains, and it turns out that in Greek mythology, the Aloadae are supposed to have tried to pile Ossa on Pelion (or as above, the reverse)  in order to storm Mt. Olympus and kidnap some goddesses.

But on to some of the things we picked out this last time. We liked "seven dovecotes cooclaim to have been pigeonheim to this homer, Smerrnion, Rhoebok, Kolonsreagh, Seapoint, Quayhowth, Ashtown, Ratheny", especially after we realized that "homer" referred not just to this homing pigeon, but that the cities just mentioned (or their proper variants) all claim to be the birthplace of Homer. Think that's over? Here's a little chamber of commerce type thing from Izmir formerly Smyrna, in the present day:

The first and the greatest poet of history and the poet of the legendary works named Iliad and Odyssey, Homer was born in İzmir. There is no other poet like Homer, who lived between 750-700 B.C. and affected all civilizations in the world. Seven cities claimed that Homer is their countryman. These cities are Salamis, Argos, Athens, Rhodes, Chios, Kolophon, and Smyrna. It is impossible for him to be from Salamis, Argos, Athens or Rhodos since he wrote his legends with a mixture of Ionian-Aeolian style that are particularly Anatolian dialects. He is said to be exiled to Chios. For this reason there is a place called Homer Rocks on the particular island. Moreover, the most favourite nickname of Homer was ‘Melesigenes’ which means ‘Child of Meles Brook’. It becomes obvious that Homer was born in İzmir since Meles Brook is located within the territory of the city.

Obvious-- right. Wonder what Rhodes would have to say...

We liked one true riddle here: "his first's a young rose and his second's French-Egyptian and his whole means a slump at Christie's." This sorts it self out as a.) Bud, b.) Nile or Nil  and c.) Null bid, which, as I don't think we quite got to, turns out to be and anagram of "Dublin". Or, as is common with Joyce, sort of.

And I liked, "the gleam of the glow of the shine of the sun through the dearth of the dirth on the blush of the brick of the viled ville of Barnehulme has dust turned to brown"

Twas purely for the sound...

Here's an interesting short article which I just found on the First Question, when I was trying to figure out what Barnehulme was (a Danish island, as it happens.)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A new chapter--pages 126-128

 Okay, just to start off, I found two funny things in the course of finding a little background info. One was on a site where you could download The Wake, and it cautioned, "Do not spell-correct this document". (But wouldn't it be fun to try?) On the same site's sponsoring ads it promises, "Get Joyce's email address." I couldn't resist clicking through, but it was disappointing...

So we've now arrived in the sixth chapter of the first book. Whether reaching these milestones actually means anything, I don't know, but we always do feel a bit elated at having come so far. Also, we've apparently left the close discussion of ALP's letter and have now entered the realm of riddles. This chapter consists of twelve riddles, which are asked and answered. Supposedly, they give us more details of the life of both the major and minor characters of the novel.

We got into a brief discussion about riddles. I don't think any of us said that we particularly liked them, but we did remember how they show up in different classic tales as important--the Sphinx in Oedipus has a famous one, and L. recalled that Wotan has another in Wagner. The appeal of riddles, however, remains mysterious, at least to me. Kids' riddles are funny, at least the first time, but the kinds of riddles that turn up in literature tend to be very solemn and fateful, and often, as a modern reader or listener, we tend to quibble with the answers. Nevertheless, we all felt that that there must be some nugget at the heart of them, and Joseph Campbell in the Skeleton Key reminded us that the ancient gods often fought with riddles, not weapons.

We may have deprived ourselves of some suspense, though. We accidently looked ahead and learned the answer to the first one! And I'm going to tell it here too, but not till the end of this post. Still, with the Wake it may be as well to have the answer before starting out-- after all, there's not much certainty that you are going to  come to it on your own.

Having the Wake right here on another tab of the computer is a different experience of reading it. Not better or worse, just different. It makes me realize that we read it as if we are trying to get through something, rather than as if each fragment will disclose some meaning. It's hard to say that we read too fast by any other standards, but it may be true. And I don't mean because then we could succeed at picking apart every meaning, but because on some level it is actually poetry, such as this phrase that stands out to me now: "towers, an eddistoon amid the lampless, casting swannbeams on the deep".

But I should perhaps get to a few things we did pick out together. A phrase that caught our attention was, "like a heptagon crystal emprisoms trues and fauss for us", which we feel has something to do the way a prism captures true and false, but also 'phosphorus'. Oh, and just before that, a real 'riddly' part: "is too funny for a fish and has too much outside for an insect". We puzzled over the the acronym F.E.R.T., which our mysterious subject wrote on his buckler, and which the above photo demontrates. It turns out to be the motto of the House of Savoy, although it would seem to be a funny kind of motto, as no is absolutely sure of it's significance, although some theories are posted here. Personally, I like the parodic one, supposedly based on the Savoys' tendency to raid anyone showing the slightest vulnerability: Frappez, Entrez, Rompez Tout (French: "Strike, Enter, Break Everything") With it's vague suggestiveness of Here Come Everyone, I'm guessing Joyce might have liked it too.

We also liked this,

business, reading news-

paper, smoking cigar, arranging tumblers on table, eating meals,
pleasure, etcetera, etcetera, pleasure, eating meals, arranging tum-
blers on table, smoking cigar, reading newspaper, business; 
minerals, wash and brush up, local views, juju toffee, comic and
birthdays cards;

because it reminded us of Bloom doing his daily rounds in Ulysses.

And I personally liked "can dance the O'Bruin's polerpasse at Noolahn to his own orchistruss accompaniment" because of our previous introduction to the plays on both Bruno of Nola, or Giordano Bruno, and Brown and and Nolan, the booksellers who first published him in Dublin.

Wel, that's plenty long for this post, and I'm sorry for what I've already forgotten.
It was also fun reading about these particular pages here. He really packs it in, does our Jim Joyce. But by now, that's hardly surprising.

Oh, right. The answer to the first riddle is Finn McCool. Make of that what you will.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A week behind, but meanwhile...

I should have posted about last week's meeting by now, but felt hindered by the fact that I can't at the moment find my book. Now that I see the relevant pages on line, I will dispatch the job shortly. However, here's bit  on Joyce's esthetic from A Building Roam that is surely more worthwhile reading for anyone serious about Joyce than any yammerings from this blogger.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Pages 123-125--end of a chapter

Before we leave the Tunc page behind, which we seem to be doing, I thought I'd mention a link to an excellent blog post on the matter from the blog A Building Roam, which goes into much more depth about the page itself. It also links to a piece on a new way of reading Finnegan that might make it more accessible, which is basically from the inside out, apparently from just about the spot we are now. Nice if it happens to be true. I'm also a bit embarrassed to find that it points out the cover of Campbell's Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake is in fact the T from the Tunc page. And no, I never noticed,  even though this is the main source I'm thumbing through during our meetings.

We only had three members present this time around, so it seemed fitting that we just work through three medium long paragraphs together. It turned out to be more than enough. One thing that C. keeps reminding us of, after reading Ellman's thorough biography of Joyce's life, is that in a broad sense, Ulysses represents the day and Finnegans Wake the night. She is becoming very good at seeing how the things we are reading are parallel to portions of Ulysses, but seen through the lens of the unconscious. Something in the way she said this reminded me of what Jacques Barzun, in his history of modern times From Dawn to Decadence said about the characteristics of our era, but in this case particularly analysis and self-consciousness. It's as if our present way of thinking prefers to sharpen detail, we want everything etched out in the bright light of day, but Finnegan shows us the shadow world, which doesn't necessarily distinguish even between persons.

One thing I thought I'd comment on here is a brief sentence or fragment of a sentence, because it illustrates some of the way in which Joyce's mind works: "the circumflexuous wall of a singleminded men's asylum, accentuated by bi tso fb rok engl a ssan dspl itch ina". So there is a wall, bending around a men's asylum--although, as came up in our discussion, we don't really know if the asylum is to keep the men in, or to keep the women out. In any case, the broken glass and china that accentuate this wall, or I'd guess, make it a little harder to get over than it would be, is represented by words that are themselves broken up, which I like very much.

One thing I discovered in trying to shed a little more light on these pages is a short excerpt from Modern Language Notes, John Hopkins, February 1960, which seemed a very nice description of the experience of trying to read the Wake.

Deliberate obscurity is a central feature of his art; we hear a distorted whisper, the indistinct murmur of sleeping men. We move in a thick fog, and the outline of persons and events is blurred and hardly recognizable. Sometimes the fog rolls away, and we dimly perceive something, but next moment we are in the dark again, and painfully grope our way forward. This creates a painful, but also exhilerating tension. 

This description echoes a bit with my sense, which I tried to articulate last week, of  how we are well-educated enough to get a reference here or there, but it's like picking out a few glimmers in a vast sky. And we all know a slightly different set of facts. What's funny, or perhaps even apt, is that this is so similar to what Joyce is saying about the hen picking out little pieces of this and that from the "dump" of civilization. And perhaps realizing that we have but glimmers is a way of glimpsing how vast are the glories of the whole.

   Next time we're on to Chapter 6, which is apparently all about Four Old Men who pose a series of riddles...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pages 119-123--the Tunc page

Though we were down a person at our last meeting, we nevertheless had a lovely time, due to the guest appearance of one of our member's parents. Their willingness to just drop in at page 119 is  a tribute both to their being good sports and to the paradoxical openness of a book that is famous for its inaccessibility. We had a chance to describe "what we've learned so far", and they were actually inspired to contemplate starting a Finnegans Wake reading chapter of their own.

As I said last time, this next part focuses on the Book of Kells, particularly the Tunc page, which reads Tunc crucifixerant Xpi cum eo duos latrones, and  means "Then were there two thieves crucified with him." One of the things we learned was that Joyce was basically riffing off of and having fun with (or making fun of) a famous commentary on the book done by one Edward Sullivan. You can read his introduction here.

I learned a lot from perusing a few pages of a book called The Books at the Wake: a Study of Literary Allusions in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake by James S. Atherton. One is to be on the watch for puns on the name of the founder of the monastery where the Book of Kells was produced. St. Columba actually first appears on is also known as Colum Cille, so mentions of "Hagios Colleenkiller"  and "Calomnekiller" are plays on that name. That last comes from the first mention of the Book of Kells on page 50. As Atherton has it, this is "all the French leaves unveilable out of Calomnequiller's Pravities." He says that "French leaves" means "missing leaves", and there are 60 pages missing from the manuscript, but it also means "obscene pages" "the depravities of which can not be veiled or concealed." Atherton thinks "Pravities" comes from "pravus" or crooked, depraved and Calomnequiller lends it to "writer of calumnies". The point being that The Book of Kells "like all acts of creation..has something sinful about it". This, from my admittedly limited understanding, seems a very Joycean concept. Atherton also points out an anagram in Tunc, which Joyce was most certainly aware of.

I've strayed from our meeting though, where, for instance, at least a couple of people knew what the meaning of 'ineluctable' was and still others pointed out that it was from a very famous phrase in Ulysses--"...the ineluctable modality of the audible". Yeah, I knew that...

Speaking of Ulysses, we had a very nice Bloomsday celebration. You can read about one of its more appetizing aspects here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Finnegans Wake, pages 117-119

Behind, as usual. Luckily for me, we've got a larger than usual hiatus. Unluckily for me, I will now have to reconstruct a meeting of two whole weeks ago. I think I'll stick to the beginning here, and in a moment explain why.

Yes, as Joyce presciently muses, "we in our wee free state...may have our irremovable doubts as to the whole sense of the lot, the interpretation of any phrase in the whole, the meaning of every word of a phrase so far deciphered out of it". I believe we decided that he was referring to the ever present letter, which in some sense is the book itself and in some sense is  the particular missive of Anna Livia Pluribelle or ALP, the feminine principle of the book. Anyway, we found this passage comforting, as this is our constant state in relation to the Wake. Reading it is a great emotional roller coaster, is what it is.

I really like what follows about our knowing of the past or indeed anything (I've taken out some of Joyce's allusions and word play to make the sense clearer, but you have the page numbers, people--go look up what's missing if you want): "On the face of it...the affair is a thing once for all done and there you are somewhere and finished in a certain time...Anyhow, somehow and somewhere...somebody mentioned by name in his telephone directory...wrote it, wrote it all, wrote it all down, and there you are, full stop. O, undoubtably yes, and potably so, but...one who deeper thinks will always bear in the [back] of his mind that this downright there you are and there it is is only in the eye. Why?"

Because, Soferim Bebel [yes, I'll get to that]...every person, place and thing in the chaosmos of Alle...was moving and changing every part of the time.".."He cites "the continually more and less misunderstanding minds of the anticollaborators, and "the variously inflected, differently pronounced, otherewise spelled, changably meaning vocable scriptsigns". With all this flux, he goes on to say "and, sure, we ought really to rest thankful that at this deleted hour of dungflies dawning we have even a written on with dried ink scrap of paper at all to show for ourselves". And indeed we ought.

I have left out almost all of what makes Joyce most Joycean, ie, the word play, just to get the simpler points across. But I did leave in Soferim Bebel, because I happened to find a small passage on that here. Basically, though, the pun is on suffering Babel, and has to do with the destruction of the tower and chaotic world we find ourselves in its aftermath, where all is diffuse and changing and transient, both in ourselves, but also in our language. And that seems a particularly Joycean  way of looking at things.

I'll also note in passing that "Soferim" refers in at least one meaning to a Talmudic treatise on rules on preparing the holy books, as well as rules governing the reading of them. Not so accidental a pun in a book such as this one, I'm thinking.

While looking around for this, I came across this blog entry, which happens to talk about this very passage. What's a bit odd about it is that the author seems to have had high hopes of making an occasional thing, much like this post, but this was one of the only posts of his that I found.

From here, Joyce goes on to obliquely relate things to the Book of Kells, and as there is quite a bit of interplay going on between these two great literary works of Ireland, I thought I'd better do another post around that. (Also, it will give me a bit of time to actually learn a bit more about the famous ancient manuscript.)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Finnegans Wake--pages 114-117

It's a bad sign that I'm writing my recollections of the last meeting the day before the next meeting, and I find myself a very unreliable minute keeper. However, this is not a dissertation and reading back over the pages we've just traversed has its own rewards and frustrations. Frankly, it would be better if each member of our little group posted their own account, as I am simply going to seize upon the most obvious thing and let the rest go.

We are still talking in this part about the letter. Joyce has already discoursed upon the importance of  the envelope, which is a funny thing to think about in this age of email. Now Joyce is talking about the signature at the end of the letter or "The teatimestained terminal". (As a little aside, being something we didn't discuss at the group, but something that came up while I just researched to make sure that really did mean the signature, I find that this tiny phrase actually links significantly to the end of the novel, which famously ends in "The". But "the" when appropriately accented is actually the French thé, or tea. As you can see, Joyce was made for graduate students. There is more on all this here.)

Whew. Anyway, the author reminds us, more straightforwardly--and obviously, I live for such moments--both before and after the battle of the Boyne it was a habit not to sign letters always...You have your cup of scalding Souchong, your taper's waxen drop, your cat's paw, the clove or coffinnail you chewed or champed as you wrote it, your lark in clear air. So why, pray, sign anything, as long as  every word, letter, penstroke, paperspace is a perfect signature of its own?

Once again I am reminded that, in the age of email, we are deprived of much, although largely all unconsciously.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Finnegans Wake--pages 110-113

Already my memory is a bit hazy on this one. We are apparently back to the hen mentioned early in the story, who at least in part represents the feminine principle, picking away through the ashheap of history, created and I guess destroyed by the masculine principle. I'm not sure I altogether trust Joyce's analysis of the masculine and feminine principles, but never mind, it's quite unlikely that I understand what he's really trying to say.

Here's a good line: "Bethicket me for a son of a beech if I have the poultriest notion what the farest he all means."

As relates to Finnegan, my sentiments exactly.

And here's another: "What bird has done yesterday man may do next year, be it fly, be it moult, be it hatch, be it agreement in the nest."

The agreement in the nest may be stretching it a bit, though...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

p108-110...and Happy St. Patrick's Day

This post is a bit slow getting up, but as we decided to take St. Patrick's Day off from Finnegan it probably doesn't matter much. I do really want to post about these pages, though. Page 109 is a beaut. And lest the casual reader thinks I mean page 109 approximately, well, no, I don't. Between us, we have at least four different editions of Finnegan, but the pages invariably sync up across the board. So you can just go to your nearby copy of the book and you'll see what I mean. I'm tempted to just quote the whole page, but I know that that will only put people off, so I'll attempt to find a few salient bits...

Has any fellow of the dime a dozen type...ever looked sufficiently longly at a quite everydaylooking stamped addressed envelope? Admittedly, it is an outer husk: its face, in all its featureful perfection of imperfection, is its fortune: it exhibits only the civil or military clothing of whatever passionpallid nudity or plaguepurple nakedness may happen to tuck itself under its flap. Yet to concentrate on the literal sense or even the psychological content of any document to the sore neglect of the enveloping facts themselves circumstantiating it is just as hurtful to sound sense...as were some fellow in the act of getting some intro from another fellow...to a lady of the latters's acquaintance...straightway to run off and vision her plump and plain in her altogether, preferring to close his blinkhard's eyes to the ethiquetical fact that she was, after all, wearing...some definite articles of evolutionary clothing, inharmonious creations, a captious critic might describe them as...but for all that suddenly full of local color and personal perfume and suggestive, too, of so very much more...

We've got a new book of annotations, so don't need to strain ourselves so much on references. But here's a word I realized that I didn't know as well as I should for all that:


And here's word who's multiple meanings obviously delighted Joyce as master wordsmith:


Which was included in the perhaps most enjoyed phrase of the evening: "me ken or no me ken Zot is the Quiztune"

According to our guide, Zot has these four meanings:

"god or lord" in Albanian

"obscenity" in German

"crazy or mad, fool" in Dutch

"this" or "that" in Hebrew

I have no idea how accurate any of this is, of course, but it's interesting to think of this ambivalent or multivalent word in this context.

Did I just say "multivalent"?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Finnegans Wake--a brief digression

Due to the fact that I've skived off with a cold and postponed our gathering till March 3rd, I thought I'd keep this blog active by mentioning a rather remarkable denizen of Santa Cruz who puts our occasional musings on Finnegan to shame. Max Hoff was interviewed on Santa Cruz's own KUSP on the Poetry Show by Dennis Morton on May 10th. If you scroll down here to said date, you will be able to hear the whole thing.

No, this is not for everyone. But if you've made it this far, I'm pretty sure that it's for you.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Finnegans Wake--pages 104-108

Although originally I was thinking of this blog being kind of a one post wonder, after last night's meeting it seemed that it might be fun to post a bit as we go along. Keep it fresh in case anyone drops by. It's kind of like waiting for signs of intelligent life in the rest of the universe, but that's okay.

Our Favorite line:

E'en Tho' I Granny a-be He would Fain Me Cuddle

This comes in the midst of a long list of similar "Titles", all of which, supposedly reveal a discrete facet of the whole book or maybe just of the lost letter or maybe they are one and the same.

So far we have eschewed the internet coming to our aid in the midst of the meeting, so I thought I would post a list of words we found ourselves unsure about:


It's not that we don't have a vague idea, but more that we have a little trouble pinning them down.

Don't worry, though. This will all be fuel for another blog.

As far as we can understand, we have left the male principle, condensed down to the initials HCE, and its history behind for awhile and are now in the hands of the female principle, shortened to ALP, the little woman, also a hen, who gathers up the pieces out of the rubble of history and proceeds to move the whole thing forward in a new cycle.

Yeah, I know. That was kind of a spoiler.

I had two favorite moments of the evening. After I had questioned the point of immersing ourselves in the Joycean mythology of the four cycles of time, I read the line we will begin with next time.

Now, patience; and remember patience is the great thing, and above all things else we must avoid anything like being or becoming out of patience.

I fear I shall be sorely tried.

Oh, I almost forgot the second great moment of the evening. When someone up at the bar asked me what we were reading, the bartendress, actually somewhat proud of having a reading group there, did have to ask, "What? You mean you all are still reading the same book?"


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Finnegans Wake in Santa Cruz

This blog is a bit of an experiment. I've been meeting for the better part of a year with a small group of friends who are attempting to read James Joyce's Finnegans Wake together a couple of times a month. We're just over the 100 page mark.

Tonight, a question came up. We wondered how many people in the world were actually reading Finnegans Wake right now. A few hundred? A million? We really don't know. Nor can we. However, if you are reading the Wake right now, we'd like to hear from you. Our numbers are a bit thin--I almost wrote "fin"--on the ground, so even virtual fellow readers will be appreciated.