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...


  1. "And perhaps realizing that we have but glimmers is a way of glimpsing how vast are the glories of the whole."

    Poetry, my dear...

    Sorry I missed last time; see you at the next!

  2. Thanks for reading, Leslie, and yes, see you then!

  3. Seana,
    Thank you very much for linking to my blog and you've got a very nice one going here yourself! I very much like the idea and I've often wondered the same thing: how many people at present are actually trying to read this wonderful-yet-difficult book?

    I know that there are many groups around the country just like yours, I even drove 2 hours from San Diego up to LA to take part in a meeting a few months ago. That group had about 20 people attend. And a fellow at the meeting had his own FW book club that meets on Sunday nights and sort of speed-reads the book aloud just to savor the sound of it.

    I'm currently in the in the middle of a re-reading of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, then moving on to a 2nd reading of Ulysses for which I'll be writing a chapter walkthrough on my blog.

    Have you read John Bishop's book about the Wake? It's the best I've come across so far. Here's a quote from his book that seems apt for the way you described the experience of reading the Wake:

    "In what amounts to another extreme paradox shaping the whole design of a work as superliterate as the Wake, any reader wishing genuinely to engage the Wake and achieve a state of 'ideal insomnia' must accomplish a task even far more difficult than that imposed on him by the necessity of having to look up words in dictionaries: hard though it may be, he must try to abandon the mind and privileged reflex of literacy in order to attain to 'dummyship' and become as good an illiterate as HCE."

  4. Also, don't be embarrassed about the "T" on the cover of Campbell's Skeleton Key, it's not from the famous Tunc page, but it is also from The Book of Kells.

  5. Thanks for taking the time to comment, PQ! I've just added your blog to the old blog roll, so that whenever the Ulysses play by play comes into effect we can follow it here. Have you checked out Ulysses "Seen"? It's in my Link list, but you can find it here.

    I haven't read the Bishop, but it sounds good. The extent of my "research" is basically to google around and see what I can find out about the pages we've just read. A couple of people in the group have read or are reading the Richard Ellman biography and are very enthusiastic about it.

    Unfortunately, I am still embarrassed about that illuminated T as I have appparently gotten the wrong end of the stick once again! Oh, well--it's far from the first time.

    And won't be the last.