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.)