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.)
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.