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...