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.
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
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.