Sunday, November 20, 2011

a random moment

I'm a bit frustrated, as I don't currently have a lot of time to devote to blogwriting. That should change before too long, and I hope I'll retain enough of our last two great meetings to make a record here. We're taking December off, so I should have time to get caught up.

In the meantime, though, I thought I'd share this random moment. I was glancing at Adbusters, a magazine that was Occupy Wall Street before there was Occupy Wall Street, and is certainly covering it intensively now.

In the middle of the magazine, the image of a hand  holding a pen coming out of a body of water and bending back to the water to write. The page bereft of words, except for this:

Take all keep all.
My soul walks with me
form of forms.

Written in the water and reflecting back, upside down, this:
                                                                                  --James Joyce

You can find it here, just push the page arrow till you get to page 16.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The beginning of Chapter 8

Washers at the Ford, by Heather Ryan Kelley

We meet again tomorrow, and though this will be a slapdash affair, I will try to put something down here, as a little jog to memory, as I have now failed to chronicle three meetings--one through absence and two through sheer sloth. I will just briefly mention that the meeting before this one ended our time on Chapter 7, the Shem chapter, and we were all struck by the beauty of the ending, which heralds in Anna Livia Pluribelum.

slipping sly by Sallynoggin, as happy as the day is wet, bab-
bling, bubbling, chattering to herself, deloothering the fields on
their elbows leaning with the sloothering slide of her, giddy-
gaddy, grannyma, gossipaceous Anna Livia.
    He lifts the lifewand and the dumb speak.
    — Quoiquoiquoiquoiquoiquoiquoiq!

ALP is also the river and so these wet and watery images. It was a felicitous coincidence, as A. pointed out that we were treated to a downpour outside as we read. I credit to the Wake's shamanic poweres.

Chapter 8, which we began this last time begins with two washer women on the banks of the Liffey, which of course is always ALP. The chapter is sometimes referred to as The Washers at the Ford. We learned that the Irish name for Dublin is  Baile Átha Cliath, which means 'town of the hurdled ford', and I just now found out, though someone may have mentioned this already that there is a fairy of Gaelic legend called the bean nighe. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about this creature:

As the "Washer at the Ford" she wanders near deserted streams where she washes the blood from the grave-clothes of those who are about to die. It is said that mnathan nighe (the plural of bean nighe) are the spirits of women who died giving birth and are doomed to do this work until the day their lives would have normally ended.

At any rate, one is young and the other old, these aspects of the eternal feminine being already present elsewhere in the book. They are gossiping about Anna Livia:

                     tell me all about
               Anna Livia! I want to hear all
about Anna Livia. Well, you know Anna Livia? Yes, of course,
we all know Anna Livia. Tell me all. Tell me now. You'll die
when you hear. 

As our newest member, Ch. was quick to point out, that O is circular and so represents the circular cycle of the book as a whole. Our Campbell companion mentions that the shape of the opening is a delta, which is also a female symbol.

The Shorter Finnegans Wake, which you can find in the sidebar and which I am referring to now, says that Joyce by his own count spent 1200 hours on this chapter and that a big chunk of that was working in the puns for the 350 river names which he has hidden in this part. (Come to think of it, a delta is also a river word.)

Let's see--we also got on to Anabaptists and abcedarians. Ch. was again helpful in informing us what abcedarians are, and I am reinforcing my memory here by looking it up and affirming that an abecedarian is a beginner in anything. But the Joyce word is antiabcedarian. My old standby, John  P. Anderson's Joyce's Finnegans Wake: the Curse of Kabbalah, he notes that the Abcedarian relief society was founded to bring relief to teachers and their families, so to be antiabcedarian would be to be against human connection.

We learned, for what purpose I do not recall that Anabaptists believed in making an adult confession of faith and so rejected infant baptism. Now I see, and vaguely remember from our discussion, that Abecedarian Anabaptists were a particular sect, who disdained all human knowledge, even that of learning to read, believing that God would provide all knowledge necessary. Not quite Joyce's method, I'm thinking.

We also have a lot of Old Testament associations here--Solomon and Sheba, camels. I took particular pleasyre from the mixing up the word Egypt as Igypt, which brings it in close proximity to the Irish way of saying idiot as eejit. (It comes up alot in Irish crime fiction.)

We also had some interesting thoughts about Adam and Eve appearing here, which takes us back to the beginning, not only of the human story, but also to the beginning of the Wake itself.

T. thinks that Joyce had the faith in language to trust it to tell the story rather than feeling he had to work out a plot--that it would come out of the language itself. Perhaps we'll talk more about that.

C. has also thought on a bigger scale about all this, which is that the book begins with the father myths of HCE, which are also our historical understanding of our place in life. The Shem/Shaun split is our contemporary here and now. Now we move on to the ALP themes which of course are about the work of the feminine, but also about the great reconcilement. Or so I suppose.

Both L. and A. had a response to this in subsequent email. A. has gotten deeply into the numerical meanings of the figures, and it got me interested enough at the time to look up this and I'll post this link so that anyone who actually has access to JStor can read the whole thing if they want. And here
is a piece by someone who really gets into the numbers theory of the book as well. I didn't read it.

(The picture comes from a blog discussing the Joycean influence on the artist's work.)

I'll close by saying do take a moment to read PQ's very Joycean tribute to an older friend of his who died recently. I think it's quite lovely.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Gertrude Stein and some questions about modernism

I found this article over at Truthout the other day, which poses some troubling questions about Gertrude Stein's relationship to the Vichy regime in Occupied France. Although not strictly relevant to a blog about Finnegans Wake, this seems to be yet another member of the modernist movement who was a little too unbothered with Fascist ideology. The quote that made me think of adding this here was from a Professor Barbara Will, who has a new book out called Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ and the Vichy Dilemma:

The full story of the relationship of modernist writers to fascist and pro-fascist regimes is just beginning to be told and Stein offers a fascinating case study of this relationship.

Highly uninformed though I am, even I have heard about Ezra Pound's links to Fascism, and in a recent article in the New Yorker article, Louis Menand mentions that T.S. Eliot may have had a little too much interest in Fascism for his own good. I find myself wondering a bit about how I'm supposed to view their artistic work in this light, and whether this susceptibility might not be a flaw in the Modernist approach itself.

However, I'm reassured about Joyce by this article . Since I'm not a member of a qualified institution, I can't read the whole article--though perhaps some readers here might have different means. In any case, the abstract  itself pits Joyce against the likes of Wyndham Lewis and others in their misguided support for this thoroughly discredited system of government.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Yeah, I'm behind--not just with posting but with the book  itself. I'll try to correct that soon, but meanwhile, a longtime friend sent this message to me today. He's been reading The Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker, by David Boyer, and says:

One of my favorite passages occurs when the protagonist, a young, disillusioned former teacher is reading a western novel while he dries his sheets @ the laundromat. A young woman comes in to the laundromat and unloads her clothes from a guitar case:
When her clothes were in the washing machine she took Finnegans Wake from the case, crossed her booted legs, and began reading it. I snuck the western into my laundry bag. The girl was about halfway through the book and appeared unpuzzled by what she read. A page took her on the average of 45 sconds, which wasn't much more than what a page of the western took me. This was a remarkable girl. I decided that it would be worthwhile to marry her just so I coud watch her read Finnegans Wake with such style. I walked up to her, pointed at a washing machine, and said, "Riverruns circlesudsingly, don't you think?"
She looked at me blankly. "In the washing machine," I explained. She continued to look at me blankly and didn't say anything. I said, "It's sort of a bewilderfusing book, isn't it?"
She said, "Why don't you go back to your western?" and began to read again, humming.
I said, "If you're going to be so darned pretentious, at least you could be friendly."
"Go back to your western, little man."

Thursday, August 18, 2011


I missed a beat here, but will start anew with last night's meeting. We had a guest, a friend of two of our members, who was visiting from out of town. She was only able to stay for a short while, but she seemed to enjoy getting into the multifaceted description of Shems' home "The house of O'Shea or O'Shame,  Quivapieno, known as the Haunted Inkbottle, no number Brimstone Walk, Asia in Ireland".

Her visit made me reflect that we have had several short term guests over our time together, and I think on  the whole it's been a good experience for everyone.  I wouldn't have thought before starting reading the Wake together, that randomly dropping in at page 181 would be very fun, but in fact, the pleasures of the density of the book, and the lack of what I at least would call a plot, means that everyone stands in the same place in relation to it no matter where they enter in. We are all students, or disciples or anti-disciples when it comes to Joyce.  We do not come in as his superiors.

Okay, someone might. I haven't met them.
Although we picked up on a lot of eggs, a lot of gin, and a lot of yeses, I thought for the time being I would take up a couple of questions that came up in the course of our conversation. First, the portmanteau word 'pelagarist'. It quite obviously relates to plagiarism, but it also relates to the Pelagian heresy. We knew that, but we were scratching our heads about what that heresy consisted of, even though we sort of thought it had come up before.

The Pelegian heresy--or point of view, if you look at it another way--is the belief that we are not under the sway of Original Sin, but that human beings are still capable of choosing between good and evil without divine help. In this view, we are influenced by example, and while Adam set a bad example, Jesus overrode this later by setting a good example.

I would say that we live in a very Pelegian age. I have no idea how this relates to Joyce's own thoughts, though.

The other lighter thing was that Joyce mentions the 'light phantastic'. Without getting into what Joyce meant here, we did wonder a bit about that phrase and wonder where it came from. I always thought of 'tripping the light fantastic' as basically revue actors and dancers on stage before the spotlights. Others thought it had something to do with dance. We had all heard it, and formed our own impressions.

Although there is a reference in Shakespeare's Tempest to 'each one tripping on his toe', the reference from more the same era that seems closer is from Milton's L'Allegro:

Come, and trip it as ye go,
On the light fantastick toe.
I am rather surprised to see that pretty much across the board, the light refers to lightness of foot, not lightness of, well, light.

We did note a reference to "Broken Hill stranded estate" and I thought it would be fun to look that one up as well. Still don't know what it meant to Joyce, but it is a mining community, as we learned in Australia. It's located in the outback of New South Wales, and is isolated in the desert. It's Australia's longest lived mining community. The  is one of the biggest  silver-lead-zinc deposits. The ore is in the shape of a boomerang with the ends below ground and the middle cropping up above the desert floor in the middle. Ironically, due to extensive mining, the Broken Hill itself no longer exists.

Broken Hill, Australia

Don't know what Joyce would make of that.

I may return before our next meeting, and if I do , I hope to try to delve a bit into the mysteries of  writing oneself in furniture...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Greatest Writer Ever?

I'll get around to last week's meeting soon, but meanwhile check out PQ's list of 16 Reasons Why James Joyce is the greatest writer ever.

I feel certain that Joyce could only agree...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Joyce and Svevo, among other things

Italo Svevo

Santa Cruz Waker A. has sent us all this link to this blog post she read after finishing Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose. It has a lot of thoughtful information in a short article.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


The Liffey Swim by Jack Yeats
After a gap, we covered quite a bit of ground this past Wednesday evening. I thought I'd start with the Shem/Shaun difference that came up and then see what else pops up from memory. Out of the text, it came up again that Shaun is related to space, while Shem is related to time. Frankly this is still one I have trouble getting my mind around--I mean, the whole space time thing generally. But C. said that we think of Shem, the artist, being 'in the moment', but actually the artist is the one who steps back and observes. So it's actually Shaun who is more the man grounded in the moment, or space, while Shem is not.

Which reminds that I have a great partial list that T. has been working on of the dualities of Shem and Shaun, but it was sent as an adobe file and I can't seem to unload the picture, so if anyone knows how to convert it to something Google can read, let me know...

We were unclear about what the whole Swithun's Day reference near the top of page 178 was, so originally I thought an easy place to start might be with that. Of course, there's easy and then there's Joyce. Turns out that St. Swithins's day, July 15th, is most famous in the British Isles for its Groundhog Day like quality.

'St. Swithin's day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin's day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain nae mair.'

This comes from a legend about the Saxon bishop of Winchester cathedral. The story goes that when he died, he wanted to be buried outside where he would be trodden and rained on. At first the monks complied, but after awhile they didn't think this was right so they arranged to move him inside to a beautiful shrine. That night, or maybe on the anniversary, there was a heavy rainstorm, which is said to be an expression of the bishop's disapproval.

So, as  a page or so back the Wake does mention 'One hailcannon night (for his departure was attended by a heavy downpour) as very recently as some thousand rains ago...'. Maybe this is a St. Swithun tie in. But there is another perhaps more pertinent reference. The main miracle that is cited in Swithun becoming a saint is that he met an old woman on a bridge who's basket of eggs was smashed by a rude workman. Swithun in some fashion made these eggs whole again. So of course, this ties into both Humpty Dumpty and Finnegans fall, and whatever else we've had about eggs that I'm currently forgetting. Also, the fact that it took place on a bridge connects to another word that had me in particular intrigued, because I'd thought I'd heard it elsewhere: lucalizod.

Chapelizod Village

Turns out I had not, because the word is Joyce's own. It is in fact, a bridge word. Chapelizod Bridge connected the Chapelizod Road and the Lucan Road. Chapelizod is an Irish village, preserved within the city of Dublin. It was the scene of the Dubliners story "A Painful Case" and it the site of the home and pub of HCE and ALP. It is not all that far from Phoenix Park, and Going back to an even deeper layer, Chapelizod means 'chapel of Iseault'. So in the made up word Lucalizod, we have all that history.

In looking into all this, I found an old article from the Virginia Quarterly Review, dated 1939. Nowadays, VQR is a prizewinning journal, and I expect it was well-thought of back then too. But the reason there was a reference to Lucalizod was because of this passage: 

 Joyce writes "lucalizod" for "localized" because his personal experience includes the names of two Irish villages of which the word "localized" reminds him. It makes no difference to him that the majority of his readers have never heard of the two villages. Since to him language is not social, any personal association between words is valid. It is a paradox that a man who thinks that he is creating a language of universal symbols should make constant use of associations of the most narrowly personal kind.

The article, which is worth reading, is here . I don't mean just in order to make fun of it--personally I think the professor, though he does sound a bit like the professor in the riddles section we just read,has some good points about how the Wake doesn't totally succeed as a suggestion of the night/dream state. But it also gives a good sense of how the 'shock of the new' struck an obviously literate and respected scholar of the time.

You might find it interesting to compare this to the latest entry over at A Building Roam , where PQ from his next  millennium perspective finds the 'news' of Joyce's day much more accessible, although in this case, he is talking more about Dali.

The Chapelizod bridge was renamed in  1982, in honor of Joyce's centennial. It is now called the Anna Livia Bridge.

And speaking of Anna Livia Plurabella, I can't resist linking to this recent article about her (eternal?) return.  I'm sure Joyce would have loved her nickname.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Uh, where were we?

It's been a few weeks since our meeting in which we went to see Tree of Life instead of discussing the book and a few more still since we actually engaged the text. Rather than dive in beforehand, I thought I'd just post a few things that pop to the surface of memory, rather than delve too deep.

When we chatted over dinner after our movie outing, A. had a lot to chime in with after tackling Lucia Joyce, the hefty volume by Carol Schloss detailing the relationship between Joyce and his troubled daughter. She concluded that this relationship may have stepped over some boundary, leading to the question of whether this matters in the question of Joyce's genius, and whether his personal history altered that.

T. brought up the idea at some point that Joyce basically swiped everything for the book. We would read it wrongly as original in some other sense than the way he managed to frame and structure everything.

L. mentioned the fact that she has been listening to Frank Delaney's podcasts on Ulysses, which inspired me to do the same, though frankly, I haven't gotten to them.

I have been noting Shem/Shaun relationships everywhere I look. My mind seems to be stuck on a little bit in the part we recently read a time or two ago, where Joyce acknowledges his own hopelessness as an upstanding citizen, noting that Shem did not even have the decency to drown himself in the Liffey when things got beyond the pale.

Very cursory I know. Hope to do better next time.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tree of Life

I am a blog post behind, but thought I would mention our Bloomsday celebration here. Due to various conflicts, we had to have our Bloomsday celebration the following week and we chose to do so by going to see the new Terrence Malick movie The Tree of Life. Although others may disagree, I am not sure that it really has that much connection to Joyce, except the fact that it is similarly ambitious.We were all interested to see it however, and that probably comes out of the same motives that drew us together into a Finnegans Wake group in the first place. It's also true that John P. Anderson has written a multivolume work called Joyce's Finnegans Wake: the Curse of Kabbalah, which reads the Wake through the perspective of Kabbalah, and is full of Tree of Life references. 

The Tree of Life is a visually very beautiful film and I thought the smaller story of the family in 1950s Waco, Texas was excellently done. We argued a bit, though argued is too strong a word here, about whether the cosmological aspect was wholly necessary. I think in a way the cosmic scope of the setting helped make the smaller familial story stand out more. And as C. also said, I liked the dinosaurs.

What seems to have stuck with me as something to gnaw on, though, was the opening quotation which is from the Book of Job. "Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation...while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"

This, if you're a little rusty on your Bible reading is the beginning of God's answer to Job. God and Satan have had a little side bet going in which Satan has said, sure Job honors you, but if you took away all that he is thankful for, it would be another story. So Job is tested. His friends come around to comfort him, but largely do so by saying it must have been Job's own fault somehow. Job protests his innocence. Eventually God speaks, essentially saying, Just who do you think you are, Job? And goes on to show that Job's demand for justice aren't really in keeping with the vast scale of God's creation. In the end, Job is silenced by God's reply.

Now I have to say that the story of Job has been in my life for a long time. When I was in fourth grade, I even wrote a story which had a horse trainer named Job, although I have to admit that I thought it was pronounced 'job' as in 'work' until my teacher read it aloud. Of course, there were no biblical allusions then--I just thought it sounded like a cool name.

When I was in college, one of the first lectures that I found at all interesting was my professor John Lynch's on Job, and since then the story has stood me in good stead as a response to much California new age philosophy, in which you somehow bring all your troubles on yourself.

However, from the moment this movie started, I thought, God really shouldn't have been let off the hook so easily. We have to remember that God does not stay at the level of incomprehensible and remote creator, but starts out the tale engaging in a very anthropomorphic bet with someone he shouldn't be consorting with. If Satan can provoke him into taking such a bet, then why shouldn't humans have a word in? It's kind of hard to have it both ways.

I think that the movie, with it's vast cosmic setting left me feeling very much the opposite of what I was intended to feel, because it made me realize that, day to day, we don't really live in the universe in this way. We live the little life, not the cosmic one, and much as we love the fantastic views of the universe that we now can have, it doesn't really change our mind about anything. The realms of infinite space are more like a dream or a movie. We contemplate it briefly and then go about trying to sort out our little lives, which may be trivial from a universal perspective, but never feel that way to us.

Unfortunately, in the movie, the 'how dare you presume to question me, the Creator?' argument of God is all too closely echoed by the father of the family, who also moves in mysterious ways, though not often noble ones. All parents present a larger context than their young children can hope to understand, but to reduce the kids to silence is not these days seen as a virtue.

"Shock and awe" have become a little suspect as a way of communicating with living things, post-Millennium. As witness Baghdad. Or Afghanistan. It works for awhile, but always the little question of 'why?' comes back, in a whisper, unbidden.

(Oh, and just so that this post will reflect something a little more Joycean than Job, do check out PQ's blog post about his time at the Southern California Joyce Conference last week, where he read his paper, very felicitously on Bloomsday. I was lucky enough to read it in advance and am not surprised to learn that it was a hit.)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Rebecca West, or, How Far May I Digress?

The Vorticists at the Restaurant de la Tour Eiffel: Spring, 1915
 I am going to get back to our meeting soon, I promise. But as Maria Buckley, under one of her various noms de plume, mentioned a post or so ago that Wyndham Lewis and the Vorticists were featured in a show she saw in Venice recently, I read with great interest that there is an exhibit coming to the Tate soon as well. Not that I'm any more likely to get to the Tate to see it than I am to Venice, but it's interesting that just as we are discussing Joyce and Lewis right now. Vorticism is apparently in the air.

Here's the not very complimentary Guardian article on the movement. The  way I came across it, though, was through another article on one of my all time favorite writers, Rebecca West and her own brief dabbling in Vorticism. She apparently didn't stay for long--as the article says, she wasn't much of a joiner. But her first short story, called "Indissoluble Matrimony" and written when she was only 22, appeared in the first issue of the movement's magazine, Blast. The article takes you to a site where you can download a facsimile copy. I have done so, mainly to read her early story (though if you don't know her, you would probably want to start with her more mature work, like The Meaning of Treason or her magnum opus, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon.  But Blast has a very period feel which is enjoyable on its own account.

Rebecca West, 1923

Yeah, Joyce doesn't figure into this at all.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A New Chapter--Page 169

So I missed our group reading of the end of the last riddle, and hope to go back to some thoughts about the riddles later. For now, though, I thought I'd just jot down some notes from this meeting. Apparently the last meeting dealt a lot with the ways in which the professor figure of the second to last riddle was an avatar of Wyndham Lewis, and there was some discussion of the differences between Joyce and Lewis and how they reacted to them. I think in some ways, the most interesting part of this for me was thinking about Lewis as the one who felt entitled to tell Joyce that he was a mess, and that he should do something with himself.

I notice that from getting mixed up about the Shem type and Shaun type initially, after the riddles, it has become a lot more clear to us. Always a bit tricky with Joyce, though, because, as T. said, each of these opposed figures contains their opposite as well. A case in point in this part we just read, where Joyce uses 'space' where others would use 'time'. (Examples on page 163, 164, and 169.)

Anyway, as it apparently turns out at the end of the last brief riddle, we are apparently all Shem, which is an interesting thing, because this next chapter is all about Shem. As Campbell's commentary asks, what is a chapter about Shem doing in the middle of a section which is supposed to be about ALP. Because he's his mother's son, that's why, and Campbell goes so far as to say that it is Shem who actually writes her letter. Which is, of course, strictly speaking, true, if Shem is Joyce, that is, which apparently he is. ALP is in this way the muse, the one who unleashes the poetic gifts in the artist.

Shem, however, is not the glorified romantic vision of the artist we have been given, and Joyce apparently enjoyed parodying what a total wreck of a man he is: "Shem was a sham and a low sham and his lowness first creeped out via food stuffs." He likes canned foods and even prefers them over the delicacies made from any fresh fish. And it goes on like that. He is low. Very, very low.

It's hilarious. And as a wreck, a disaster he doesn't even have the grace to meet an untimely end, such as throwing himself into the Liffey when drunk. He has the audacity to cheat death and go on living.

T. impressed us with a list he'd been making of the opposites of the Shem/Shaun type. If he manages to send me a copy, I'll post it here.

More later.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Shem and Shaun

I'm going to miss tomorrow night's meeting, but I'm sure my companions on the journey will all get by. I had a lot more to say about what we've already read, but for now, I'll just mention that both C. and I have been very struck by the Osama/Obama connection of late as another Shem and Shaun paradigm. Not to equate them, of course. It's just interesting to ponder the whole thesis/antithesis/synthesis aspect of all this.

One part that I find intriguing is that everyone keeps accidentally referring to Obama as Osama in this. I had avoided it, but just did it myself the other day. What, really, are the odds of these rhyming names, I wonder?

And is that a thunderclap  I hear?

More soon...I hope.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


I'll start out this post with a couple of asides. First, our roaming correspondent, PQ, has posted the news that he will be giving his paper on Joyce and Dali at the Huntington Library on Bloomsday of this year, and how cool is that? If you're going to be in Pasadena mid-June, you might check out the four day festival. You can get further news about it and PQ's part in all this here.

Secondly, I have just started S. J. Parris's Heresy, her Elizabethan thriller starring of all people, Giordano Bruno as the medieval sleuth. Bruno, as anyone reading here must know, is crucial to the Wake and it's already obvious that Parris knows her monk. Uh, man. It looks to be a good read in its own right too so I am very excited to have stumbled upon it.

Okay, back to the real, or at least ostensible reason for posting here. For some reason, I've had a hard time settling down to do this after our last meeting. I even have notes, but I guess it's been a little hard to find the focussed time lately. Then on Sunday, when I did carve out some time, I almost found myself getting in too deep into this fairlly brief little portion. But let me take another go at it.

Over the last two meetings, we've been on the part where the professor is taking yet another swing at making his point, this time with the examples of Burrus and Caseous, Brutus and Cassius, or butter and cheese. C. had pointed out the difference between butter and cheese the time before, one being fresh and new, and one being aged. This time we stumbled upon Joseph Campbell's remark:

"This machine for splitting butter and cheese out of a single emulsion, milk, represents allegorically the world process itself, which bring thesis and antithesis out of synthesis."

Now as I'm writing this, I remember comment (of Campbell's?) about the mother always being prehistory. History is, I guess, the result of splitting up this original synthesis. Somewhere in the course of my reading along on Sunday, I learned that the professor, a Shaun type, who is still all along making the case for why he would not stop and help a Shem type, really wants to say that the Shaun and Shem types, as opposites, are eternally different, while actually, as opposites they are 'doomed' to be synthesized into unity again.

As I was  thinking about this also, I wondered how exactly Brutus and Cassius are opposites. They are different types, but both types end up being assassins. So what does this tell us about Shem and Shaun?

We all agreed that reading the Wake might be helpful in dealing with a world with so many competing strands of information flying in so many directions. C. spoke again of her ongoing interest in Emergent Theology,
and the ideas implicit in it. We are all struggling to grasp the idea that we are in a kind of 'hinge' time, where we aren't really able to see the new paradigm, but get glimpses, largely through struggling along with Joyce. Giordano Bruno and his fearless embrace of the idea of an infinite universe, when others were still trying to cling to the old model, is something of our guide in this. I'm pleased to see that Heresy is faithful to this vision of him.

Finally, we have T.'s comment that 'if we think we're getting somewhere, we're not'. Which wasn't the indictment of  our efforts, but rather a reminder that the Wake is circular, and that getting anywhere is not the point. In this it reminds me of a recent radio interview that I heard with the poet Billy Collins, who was talking about poetry on the page versus prose. Poetry, with it's big white margins, reminds us in a way that other forms of writing doesn't that the goal is not to race through to the end, but to stop and contemplate what's before us. The Wake doesn't have very wide margins at all, but the lesson, I think, is somewhat the same...


Friday, April 8, 2011

Ulysses--pro and contra (but mostly pro)

I'll get to a brief summary of our last meeting soon, but meanwhile, I thought any readers here should treat themselves to the great rant PQ has put up over on A Building Roam.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


I thought I'd begin by writing up a few things from the meeting before this one that I'd forgotten. First was a comment which my notes attribute to A., talking about Joyce's resentment of the English language as an imposed one, and that this may have been one motivation for his deconstruction of our patterning around language. Personally, I haven't really gotten a feel for Joyce's relation to the language or the culture. I would imagine it was marked with a great degree of ambivalence.

I see that I have also not mentioned enough the relationship between Joyce and Wyndham Lewis. Broadly speaking, Lewis appears to be a Shaun type to Joyce's Shem type, and apparently advised him to do things that might have worked for a Shem but not so well for a Shaun. He seems to have thought it would be a good idea for Joyce to go and live in South America, an idea that Joyce was not seduced by. A book that has been cropping up here in the subtext is Lewis's Time and Western Man, which Joyce is quite clearly defending himself against. Over at Gingko Press, I've found a brief description of the book, which quite concisely describes Lewis's critique, and gives some sense of what the stakes were for all the modernists. Lewis believed that Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound and others had mistakenly handed over human creative power to 'time'. I remain a bit unclear on what 'time' is in this context, not only to Lewis but to Joyce. But it's worth having this in mind as we go forward, even to the extent that I wonder if I might be more a Lewis adherent than a Joycean. It was also interested to note that the banner over the book was about celebrating Marshall McLuhan's centenary, as if all these figures are bound up in each other. As, of course, a Shem and a Shaun type must necessarily be.

Okay, so in trying to discuss the next part we summarized, which I  was reminded had a lot of tree imagery, and that trees are a symbol for HCE (not to mention the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, though as a matter of fact, I think A. did mention that) I came across something completely different--big surprise--that has to do with the more overarching 'meaning' of the book in an article by Bernard Benstock called  Beyond Explication: The Twice-told Tales in Finnegans Wake, which uses as its examples the various tales within this very part of the riddle section that we've been reading. It's interesting to read if you have time, partly because it makes you realize that you have grasped a lot of this as the examples cited sound familiar. But what's of particular interest to me is that Benstock's idea is that Wake readers have labored under the misapprehension that understanding the meaning of every word is the way to understand the text, while it might be better to focus on the dynamics of the text:

"No narrative line lasts for very long on its own in the WAKE: it is swiftly overtaken, bypassed, short-circuited, bifurcated, trivialized, even quadrivalized. The local train that starts out so well is quickly drowned out by the roar of the express train that leaves it temporarily at a standstill; the terrestrial advance is undercut by underground and elevated lines of narrative flow. The quantum energy of such narrative depends on multiple directions of near-simultaneity, far beyond what ULYSSES had dared prepare us for..." 

It was interesting reading about the part of the book we have just read to hear these different interplaying voices in it, and to remember how highly musical Joyce is.

For fun, I thought I'd add a link to this essay from Salon on a group not unlike our own, and how similar their beginnings were to ours. It might not point to the most optimistic future, but I expect our fate might be somewhat different.

I'm also adding a link to a new post from PQ, which talks about Joyce's early days in Rome.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Uh-oh. Three weeks have passed, we've got another meeting tomorrow night, and I have posted nothing. Let me do a quick wrap up and maybe get a post up about the next meeting relatively quickly.

We started into the actual text reading by reading the Nuvoletta part all together. T. said, "Wait a minute, we're doing rereads?" And then warned me that when we have come to the very end of the book and are almost done but not quite, he will remind me of this moment when I bogged us down. Okay, I'll take the blame. I think it's a good thing to read this as a piece.

This is the longest riddle, I think. We've been on it a good while and should finally finish it up tomorrow, but we've already gotten to the end of the long winded teacher's case. The story has put us firmly back in the classroom. "Allaboy, Major, I'll take your reactions in another place after themes. Nolan Browne, you may now leave the classroom. Joe Peters, Fox."

Here's a little phrase from the Nuvoletta portion which has stuck with me more than anything else: "her muddied name was Missisliffey". A great portmanteau word of two great muddy rivers.

Though I haven't posted here, it's not to say that Joyce and  his vast ring of associations and acquaintances hasn't been in my thoughts in the interim. I've had a few very interesting exchanges with PQ from A Building Roam about Joyce and Dali and any number of related topics.  In fact, he has put up a post about Disney and Dali collaborating here.

In other news, I just discovered that there is a newish mystery series about none other than the phantom figure in all this (or one of them), Giordano Bruno. It's by S. J. Parris, and the first one is called Heresy. They've got good reviews and she's got good academic credits so I hope to get to them soon.  

This is a little light on the Joycean text dissection this time around. I'll try and make up for the shortfall on the next go.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Yes, well, I'm lagging again. Here it is, the night before our next meeting, and I am going to make yet another hasty post just for appearances sake. We are still dealing with the Mookse and the Gripes, and not at the end of the riddle, either.

I think in some ways we get more into what is Finnegans Wake about, and so read less.

One thing that struck me was not from the Wake but from Campbell's Skeleton Key. He describes the Wake as something dreamed by a Dreamer, but with all the dream's component parts also dreaming. I also read out a part that made sense to me about how the crowd of characters in the Wake project onto HCE their collective guilt, and HCE, as part of humanity takes this guilt on. There is a kind of mirroring and projection going on.

So anyway, we have the Mookse and the Gripes arguing back and forth in a kind of pattern and then a new figure appears--Nuvoletta, the little cloud, but more importantly, the feminine little cloud, who views these masculine wranglings from above. I was quite taken by the way the Nuvoletta passage entranced our group,  which Joyce wrote beautifully and lyrically. I was ready enough to take her up again the next time, but the others could hardly tear themselves away.

As I did a little research on this, basically trying to remember what Nuvoletta actually meant, I discovered that the composer Samuel Barber made a song out of this passage, which if you like, you can watch below. He edited the actual text a bit, so beware, purists.

The lyrics can be found here, should you wish to follow along. And they are followed by the complete text from the Wake, so you won't feel you've missed anything.

I think I'll leave it at that, except to mention that there is an exciting intro to McLuhan as he relates to Joyce over on PQ's new post. It seems very timely to me, and can be found here. It is very apropos for where we are now, anyway, so do check it out.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Some interim odds and ends

We still have another week or so before our next group meeting, and I thought I'd post some links to various things that have come up in the meantime.

First, hot on the heels of my last post, T. sent a  link  to this very interesting article on Giordano Bruno, Marshall McLuhan and their great mediator, Jimmy Joyce.

Then, C. sent out felicitations of the day of Mr. Joyce's birth, which frankly, I hadn't known the date of. This was followed by a post from our itinerant, intermittant correspondant, PQ, who also wanted to celebrate the day, but was stuck driving across that vast, barely comprehended territory known as Texas.

Within his post, you will find a link to the novelist Frank Delaney's blog(who I, rightly or wrongly, think of as the James Michener of Ireland) about Ulysses. This latest entry is a birthday rap about Joyce. It's maybe not a very good rap as raps go, but all the same it is a very nice tribute.

Finally, we have an aside, which is fellow blogger Kathleen Kirk's mention that while others were watching the Superbowl, she was in fact reading Shakespeare and Company, the memoir of Sylvia Beach. Says Kathleen:

I learned lots about book biz & publishing biz in this little book, and more about James Joyce, who seems a charming, shy, lovable, quirky guy afraid of dogs and bad about keeping track of money but good about spending it. Yes, I will probably have to go ahead and read his book Ulysses, that no one would publish (except Sylvia) and that kept getting banned, confiscated, and pirated, so that neither she nor he could benefit from the demand for it. Or maybe I won't. I'm glad it's out there, and that I have the choice.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

McLuhan--page 155-56

We had a very stimulating discussion this evening and I thought I would post in a more impromptu way while my thoughts are fresh, with less desire for mastery or completeness or whatever causes me to baulk at chronicling than I usually do.

We didn't get very far tonight. Although we would all like to be done with the riddles in some way, in another way, there is nowhere to get, except perhaps, and provisionally, to go deeper. Our discussion was influenced from the get go by the fact that a new book has come out on Marshall McLuhan and two of us happened to catch the cover story of the New York Times Book Review on it. One of us (not me) went on to do a bit more research on McLuhan, and found that McLuhan was a proselytizer for Joyce in a big way. According to T., McLuhan wanted all of us to be able to see reality as Joyce had seen it. (Never forget that if I was in a novel, I would be the unreliable narrator, so you can't totally trust me to have gotten the idea across.)

Add to this, the recent posting  by PQ about his latest trip up to see the Venice group of Wakers, who are also McLuhan followers in a big way. Although I was happy to hear of a vital group going in California, being me, I kind of sluffed off the McLuhan aspect without thinking much about it. But now I at least get a glimmer that one of the places that Finnegans Wake, which frankly doesn't seem to have a lot of literary children or grandchildren (though of course, I'm happy to be challenged or even corrected on this), may have led to developments in other spheres. Joseph Campbell's treating it as myth is another take on it.

T. brought out the idea that we struggled with for much of the night. He talked about FW as being Joyce's attempt to speak in one language. As I didn't really understand this idea, we continued on this thread, and got talking about one of McLuhan's tenets that "the medium is the message".  We started talking about media, well, mediating reality, and how Joyce's goal was, or at least may have been to take us beyond language in some way, to see through it. That the novel's goal was in some way to break through the constraints of language to the ground of reality. This reminded me of a quote I read on PQ's blog recently,

"One day it will have to be officially admitted that what we have christened reality is an even greater illusion than the world of dreams." - Salvador Dali

 We talked about whether everything Joyce wrote was artfully crafted into a unity, or if, in fact, as A. had it, within his bigger structure, he was fond of taking "excursions" into all kinds of things. Or was it both? We came back to something that C. had brought to our attention, which was that Joyce himself had thought that for a genius, there was no possiblity of mistake, because the mistakes become incorporated into the process. I hadn't understood this at the time, but feel closer to it now. It is the process of thought itself that is the medium. Following Joyce's thought, even when we don't understand it too well, we are still involved in a process that will help us see through the medium itself. I had this strange hope by the end of the evening that by the time I finish Finnegans Wake, I will lose the illusion that I am in a small room and discover I am in a much larger, perhaps even a  boundless one.

Perhaps I will say more about this evening before our next meeting.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Mookse and the Gripes--p152-...

Well, it's been awhile since I've done a regular blog post here, which makes it hard to keep up the rhythm of the thing. We've only had a couple of meetings over December and January, but though we've slowed down the pace a bit, we haven't faltered in our intention to carry on. We were down to three members last time, as one of us is off to Hawaii for six months and so with one other member absent, we're down to a kind of bare bones operation. Fruitful, though, all the same.

We are nearing the end of the riddles, and I think all are happy to be seeing an end in sight to this portion, though I'm not sure exactly why. We're still in the last long riddle of the section, Number 11, the twelfth being quite short. We have just come upon the fable of the Mookse and the Gripes, which is Joyce's retelling of The Fox and the Grapes, or really, his appropriation of same for his own ends. We've puzzled out with a bit of help that the Mookse is a Shaun figure, also Pope Adrian, who, once upon a time, was attempting to bring the Irish Catholic church either back into harmony, or back under the control of Rome. And we have the Gripes, who is the Shem figure, or the Irish themselves. The Mookse encounters the Gripes, who is obsequious and flattering, but ultimately resistant. He does not see the Mookse as the Mookse would wish him to see him.

One thing that's interesting to me as I go back over these things with some other online resources is that sometimes just seeing a sentence or portion of a sentence framed outside of the long, dense text that is the Wake makes it suddenly comprehensible. We have plenty of these little flashes of understanding as we go along as well, but there is something about seeing pieces of text separated out that gives other clues. I don't think I really saw the punnyness of this, for example:

Is this space of our couple of hours too dimensional for you, temporiser? It's one of the many sentences of this portion that plays around with time and space in this section. I hadn't noticed till now that too dimensional is a pun on two-dimensional. 

We learned through our notes of Joyce's quarrel with Wyndham Lewis, who wrote a critique of him in his book of essays, Time and Western Man. As the Shorter Finnegans Wake has it, "The references to space and time are Joyce's parody of a mild recent attack on Ulysses by his friend Wyndham Lewis, who called Joyce middleclass." It's interesting to note then, that in the section right before the story starts, Joyce has the professor, a Shaun figure, refer to "muddlecrass pupils". I would think that in Joyce's schema, Lewis is more or less a Shaun to Joyce's Shem.  I also liked this understanding in the Shorter Finnegans Wake, when the Mooksie comes upon the Gripes, sitting in a tree branch, and sits down across the river from him on a stone:

"Shaun sits on a stone (his lifeless symbol, to Shem's green treebranch)."

And of course, with all the Pope stuff going on here, there can't help but be a reference to St. Peter, the rock on which Christ builds his church.   

Well, I could go on, of course, but I think at this point it's better to post something than strive for some illusory completeness, which with Joyce more than most would seem to be impossible.