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...