Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Thornton Wilder--Joyce scholar?

PQ, leader and chronicler of the Austin Wake group on his blog Finnegans, Wake!, has sent a couple of leads on a (to me) previously unknown fact--playwright Thornton Wilder was a Wake enthusiast. I thought I would put up the links PQ gave us in the comments field so that others can enjoy them as well. I was quite surprised to see an article by Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson in a Saturday Review of December, 1942, showing how Wilder had lifted much material for his play The Skin of OurTeeth straight out of Finnegans Wake. Campbell and Robinson declare themselves perplexed by the lack of acknowledgement. I suspect that Joyce, greatest lifter of them all, would not be. It's kind of fun to see the pair described as working on something called "A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake", which subsequently became a book that we have availed ourselves of no end.

I have seen The Skin of Our Teeth at least once but have never thought of it in relation to the Wake--though it seems obvious enough now.

If homage was owed, then Wilder made amends in this rather brilliant analysis of a segment of the book that we haven't reached yet, which (among other things, it goes without saying) seems to depict the death by burning of Giordano Bruno. I have a great affection and sympathy for Bruno of Nola, which is really down to Joyce, although helped along by a well written mystery series by S. J. Parris featuring the exiled monk as a detective.

Here's a little bit about both Joyce's intent and his effect in the Wake, which I must say rings true for me.

"The first impression one receives is that it is a work of comic intention, for verbal distortions always appear to us as proceeding from wit, even when they arise from the unconscious; but though there are innumerable puns in the novel, Joyce's interest is not primarily in the puns but in the simultaneous multiple-level associations which they permit him to pursue. Finnegans Wake appears to me as an immense poem whose subject is the continuity of what is Living, viewed under the guise of a resurrection myth. This poem is conducted under the utmost formal rigor controlling every word and in a style that enables the author through apparently preposterous incongruities to arrive at an ultimate unification and harmony."

Thanks, Thornton.

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