Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Beginning of Book Two

So we begin Book Two with the arrival of two new participants, both men, though whether one is a Shem figure and one a Shaun figure I would not dare to hazard a guess at this point. And a new outside connection to none other than Shem the Penman himself, or at least a commenter going by that pen name has written in to the last blog post, and though ahead of the Santa Cruz group, not by all that much. Anyway, welcome all!

We were missing a couple of our founding members last time, so it was just as well to fill out the ranks a bit. I won't use last names here, but first names seem random enough so I'll say that Ed has been through the Wake a few times on his own, while John hasn't read it yet, but is a big Ulysses enthusiast. Both seem to have a lot to offer the discussion.

Having been through the Wake a few times now, Ed understandably has more of an overview of the book. He recommends John Bishop's Joyce's Book of the Dark: Finnegans Wake, which has come up before in the group. Bishop's book is a bit more thematically organized than some of the detail or chapter oriented works we've looked at previously. This time it led us to talk about the Wake as  speaking the language of dreams, rather than fitting the dream into the form of a story, as we attempt to do when we talk about it. In some ways, this reminds me of my own attempts here to squeeze the free flowing nature of our discussions into the narrow parameters of a blog.

But as I can do no more than do precisely that, I'll continue. In relation to this, Ed made us aware that as it is a book about a dreamer dreaming, it is good to note the rhythyms of consciousness going down to deeper states and rising again. For me, at least, it is good to be aware that the Wake doesn't just chart one level of consciousness.

The basic set up of this Chapter is that of  a children's game. Joyce himself described it to Harriet Weaver like this:

 "The scheme of the piece... is the game we used to call Angels and Devils or colours. The Angels, girls, are grouped behind the Angel, Shawn, and the Devil has to come over three times and ask for a colour. If the colour he asks for has been chosen by any girl she has to run and he tries to catch her... The piece is full of rhythms taken from English singing games..."

It was interesting to me to know, though, that according to the online shorter Finnegans Wake , this was a period in Joyce's life when he almost abandoned the Wake entirely. A month after beginning the draft of this chapter, he complained to Weaver that " it had been squeezed out "like drops of blood" because of family worries, and for the next two years he did almost nothing. His enthusiasm was (barely) revived in August 1932 by Eugene Jolas's request to resume publication in transition."

Personally, though I am always impressed that Joyce was somehow able to conceive of the Wake and pull it off, I don't always think of him suffering to do so.

At any rate, we do have a basic structure of Shem being this devil and Shawn being the angel, which we've all understood pretty well from our earlier impressions of the two. Izzy (Isolde), the sister and third corner of this triangle, we were pleased to discover was the Leap Year Girl, among other things, as our own leap year had just passed. What leap year means in this set up we didn't get into, but in any case, it is an extra day.  

In that Curse of Kaballah book I am always referring to, there is some idea that this represents an extra day of fertility. Well, we shall see.

We read in a rapid round a list of the cast of characters, which is written up to look like a play itself. Thinking along here, I'm just realizing that here at the very beginning we have a play on play and play. The cast of characters are Glugg, who is a Shem stand-in, the Floras, who are the other girls in the game and who represent different colors of the rainbow, Izzy, who they are irritated by, but whom they also protect, Chuff, the angel or Shawn "the fine frank fairhaired fellow of the fairytales", Ann, who is Anna Livia "their poor little old mother-in-lieu", playing opposite of Hump, and I think we can all guess who he is.

Then we have the customers, who I think were sort of the jury of peers in the trial sequence and Kate the charwoman who we have met before. Saunderson is the barman. So it's basically the same dramatis personae we've run across before.

We then have all the behind the scenes personnel and John, having caught on to the line "Dances arranged by Harley Quinn and Coolimbeina." had thought to bring along the image of a poster of Harlequin and Columbine in some kind of vaudeville or sideshow act, which gave us the atmosphere nicely.

Not the picture he brought, but 'twill do.

We talked a bit about what Joyce may have expected a reader to get from reading the Wake. Ed said that like dreams, he thought that some of the ideas were overdetermined, so that if we don't grasp them in one place, we will catch them in another. I think this is our general experience of the book so far, in that we struggle (happily with the details), but that the larger sense of it hasn't eluded us.  

Another interesting point Ed made was that the four cycles of Vico, which Joyce used as the schema for this work were not historical so much as psychological, and that Vico was trying to come up with an early psychological system. Othe members may disagree with this having nothing to do with historical cycles, as we've had plenty of discussions about what exactly is this new era that Joyce was in many ways foreshadowing, but I see no reason why it can't be both.

After all, it's Joyce we're talking about here...