Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Joyce and Lewis Carroll--similarities and differences

Our recent East Coast commenter, Steve, has asked if I might like a post about James Joyce and Lewis Carroll. And, of course, I do:

"I was interested to read the recent columns about Lewis Carroll’s identity in the Wake, and whether there were parallels between Joyce and Carroll. Certainly both authors created radical comic visions dealing with dream states and absurdity. Verbally, however, there couldn't be more difference between what Carroll did in Jabberwocky and what Joyce did in theWake.

The thing that’s so brilliant about Jabberwocky is the opacity of it. It’s exuberant and musical, as well as hilarious, but its appeal is in the carefully sculpted word sounds. Even Alice says, “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas – only I don’t exactly knowwhat they are!” Carroll was playing with phonemes, making comprehensible verse out of nonexistent words. There's not supposed to be double meanings or suggestions of English words in the weird verbiage. As long as you're told what'mome raths' are, and what 'outgribing' is, the line 'the mome raths outgrabe'makes sense.

Joyce, too, wrought the language of the Wake carefully,but he was using words precisely for the multitude of meanings they could suggest to English speakers. The notion of Finnegan being "wobecanned andpackt away" describes the sad fate of the hero, whose body is canned for consumption, a cheap Eucharist in the society of consumer convenience. And the words aren't just nonsense syllables: wohlbekannt in German means "wellknown," suggesting perhaps that ancient knowledge nourishes the communityin a degraded and unrecognizable form.

The sound of the words is important in both cases, but with Joyce the meanings of the words are many."

Thanks, Steve!

Monday, April 23, 2012

April 23rd

Still not getting to my own post, but as it is 4/23, I can't resist this post on synchronicity from A Building Roam.

Draw your own conclusions. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Joyce and Carroll

I'll get to some thoughts on our last meeting, I promise. But meanwhile, you could do a lot worse than to read Ed's reflections on Lewis Carroll as he appears in the Wake. All you have to do is go here and you'll get a glimpe of the Carrollian underpinnings of the book.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Oh, Sisters, Let's Go Down...

Yes, we're meeting again tomorrow, and once again my true reportage will be minimal, thanks to a few conflicts. But after the tight focus on a detail of my last post, I did want to go to the other extreme and get in a larger view of the group, even though this won't be exactly a strict recording of our session either.

Last time we met, the new longer hours of daylight worked to the disadvantage of some of us. The sun was coming in brightly through the window, making it difficult to do anything but squint, and the music over the loud speakers was particularly loud, making it difficult to hear as well. We were discussing this scene of Glugg and Chuff and the girls, who are all the colors of the rainbow, among other things, and the game is for Glugg to guess the colors of the girls' underpants. It's a child's game, a bit salacious, but still within the realm of innocence.

We were discussing this when the music came over the loudspeaker. As we discussed the 'rainbow girls' what should come over the loudspeaker but this hymn, "Oh, Sisters, let's go down, down to the river to pray." To the background of this music, Tom and Ann spurred each other on to new metaphoric meanings. Tom's understanding of language as the refraction of the whole met with Ann's understanding of the Kabbalah and the way the branches of the tree of life are also refractions. It was a moment of insight prompting insight, but I was kind of lost to it, because the music was speaking to me so much.

Because the river of the song is also Anna Livia Pluribelle, of course. And it was such a strange moment, when, blinded by the light, and deafened by the music, as we always are with Joyce to some degree, I did understand that this child's game about what we sometimes think of as the lower human instincts was exactly the revelation that appeared after blindness and deafness, and that the 'rainbow girls' playing their teasing child's game, were in fact speaking about the divine all along...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Hump himself!

Well, folks, I just ran across this image on Wikipedia, and then I spotted the one thing that perfectly goes with it.  The Dubliners singing the "Ballad of Pierce O'Reilley".

Perfect for Easter!

Here's the passage we just read about HCE, who is a sort of slumbrous background presence during the childer's games.  (Don't forget they are his children and thus his offshoots.)  I added a few notes of a couple of things I found and line numbers...I know I am a meeting behind here, but the egg made me do it.

HUMP (Mr Makeall Gone
[yes, close your eyes, this is the sort of thing Bishop loves]
, read the sayings from Laxdalesaga [Of Ketill Flatnose and his Descendants, 9th Century A.D, Jorunn, "Men's Wit-breaker," ofKetill's daughters. She was the mother of Ketill the Finn] 24

in the programme about King Ericus of Schweden [Swedes believed a miracle occurred at Eric's death: a fountain was said to have sprung from the earth where the king's head fell after being chopped off.] and the spirit's 25

whispers in his magical helmet, cap-a-pipe with watch and top- 26

per, coat, crest and supporters, the cause of all our grievances, 27

the whirl, the flash and the trouble[the world, the flesh and the devil], who, having partially re- 28

covered from a recent impeachment [ or im-poach-ment] due to egg everlasting, but 29

throughandthoroughly proconverted, propounded for cyclo- 30

logical [subconscious, sleep, logic of Vico], is, studding [stuttering(Cad with Pipe), scudding, setting] sail once more [of course, everynightly Vico cycle] , jibsheets [need I point out that every time he is the piratical Danish rover the sheets are also teh bedsheets?] and royals, [later on he'll be three sheets to the wind...]

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Readers of this blog who are expectantly waiting for details of the last meeting will have to forgive me if I get to one question that perplexed me in particular from our reading then. It has to do with the passage that begins on the very bottom of page 223 with the word "Item." I happened to notice that the paragraph repeated this word four more times, changing only the first letter to each of the other four vowels. I was curious what Joyce was driving at, but though we found that  that otem probably related to totem and atem at the end related to both breath and Atem, the Creator god in The Egyptian Book of the Dead, I was eager to figure out the broader purpose here.

Well, today I finally got around to this. A couple of my fall back resources didn't quite give me the results I wanted, but I finally stumbled on a piece in The Books at the Wake, by James S. Atherton, which has been recommended to me before. And what I learned there is that, though this may well be about the creator god of the Egyptians, what it's really about is Lewis Carroll.

I'll start by saying that Atherton mentions that that initial "item" is also slang for "hint". But Atherton reserves the rest of the answer for later. In between, he has quite a bit to say about Carroll, alias, of course for Lewis Dodgson. Atherton says that Joyce and Carroll were both very interested in wordplay, and seem to have invented several of the forms separately. Joyce only came upon Carroll after the fact. But he soon saw that Carroll was a perfect HCE figure, with his doubtful relations with little girls and with his double identities.

The Item...Otem...Etem...Utem...Atem chain is what's called a 'word ladder' and it's a form Carroll invented, and apparently the only one that Atherton thinks Joyce didn't come to on his own. It involves changing one letter per word, and Atherton maintains that wherever you find one of these in The Wake, the passage has something to do with Carroll.

In this instance, there is a lot about Carroll, as a creator, being connected with the creator god of Egypt, Atem (sometimes spelled Atum). Atem's story is that he created the people of the world by spitting on a primordial mudheap at Heliopolis, but there is also another story in which Atem peoples the world by "spilling his seed".So, in another place in the book where Joyce refers to "a spitter that can be depended on", that's Dodgson/Carroll/Atem we're looking at.

One sentence that I found in this chapter is, I think, worth quoting here. Atherton says that in Finnegans Wake, Joyce holds no bitterness against anyone:

"But the obsession with secret guilt remains, underlying all the oddities, and the scholarship, the wit and the poetry, and the lyric beauty of the Wake."

We've touched on this before in the group, but I think it's worth remembering that despite the fact of this being a comic novel, this is the ground note of the book. It's what makes the Wake something more than just brilliant wordplay. It's what makes the book speak to our condition.