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...