Wednesday, August 5, 2015


I was stunned to realize that the passage where Krishna in the Baghavad Gita reveals his divine nature and exposes him to the unendurable bare divinity, where he says, "I am become Time, the destroyer of worlds" is 11.32 --chapter 11 verse 32.

(This is the point just before the battle where almost everyone will be wiped out and a new era, with just the five Pandevas remaining, will begin.)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Quark Findings from Leslie

Leslie, who is one of our Santa Cruz Wakers, jotted off an email to us all the other day and has given me permission to post it to the blog.

Now that scientists at the HCL have today announced the discovery of a new particle called the "pentaquark" (see here:, I decided to revisit Murray Gell-Mann's reasons for naming his discovery back in the 1960s(?) the "quark." And I say I gotta love this explanation of his that I found (credited as being from M. Gell-Mann (1995). The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex. Henry Holt and Co. p. 180. ISBN 978-0-8050-7253-2.]:

"In 1963, when I assigned the name "quark" to the fundamental constituents of the nucleon, I had the sound first, without the spelling, which could have been "kwork." Then, in one of my occasional perusals of Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce, I came across the word "quark" in the phrase "Three quarks for Muster Mark." Since "quark" (meaning, for one thing, the cry of a gull) was clearly intended to rhyme with "Mark," as well as "bark" and other such words, I had to find an excuse to pronounce it as "kwork." But the book represents the dreams of a publican named Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. Words in the text are typically drawn from several sources at once, like the "portmanteau words" in Through the Looking Glass. From time to time, phrases occur in the book that are partially determined by calls for drinks at the bar. I argued, therefore, that perhaps one of the multiple sources of the cry "Three quarks for Muster Mark" might be "Three quarts for Mister Mark," in which case the pronunciation "kwork" would not be totally unjustified. In any case, the number three fitted perfectly the way quarks occur in nature."
Interesting that he had come up with the word (though with the different pronunciation) before he found it in the Wake. And I learned from other online reading this evening that the particles now known as quarks occur in threes. Gell-Mann must have been over the moon when he saw that passage in the Wake! (Don't forget, of course, that Joyce--via the squawking of the gulls--was talking about the triad relationship between Tristan, Isolde, and Mark, in that particular ditty. Richard Wagner would so love that he ended up being a proximate cause of the name of the particle, I'm sure.)
Thanks, Leslie. I especially liked "in one of my occasional perusals of Finnegans Wake". Oh so offhandedly...

Friday, July 10, 2015

Finnegans Wake in 15 Minutes and...the last thunderclap!

I've been meaning to mention it for a while now, but a short intro style ebook called Finnegans Wake in Fifteen Minutes, written by Bill Cole Cliett, has been slowly making the rounds with us now. It may seem like stuff you already know if you've been living with this book for awhile, but at least for us, it has reinforced some of our own impressions. Obviously, it doesn't take long to read. I'm also interested in another book of Cliett's called Riverrun to Livvy in which he analyses the first page of the Wake for the many many themes that will come up subsequently.

And yes--we have reached the tenth and final thunderclap (page 424) of the Wake this last session! Which doesn't mean we are anywhere near the end--not by a long shot. Incidentally, Tom and maybe one or two of the others have looked into Eric McLuhan's book The Role of Thunder in Finnegans Wake
which breaks down each of the thunderclap words into some of their many different meanings. Apparently it all has to do with successive waves of technology. And yes, Eric is Marshall's son. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Free Book Discussion from Berkeley on The Dubliners starts tomorrow

This isn't strictly about the Wake, but if you are looking to deepen your context a little, I just learned that a book discussion of The Dubliners is starting tomorrow, July 1st, as a free online course from Berkeley. You can also spend a little money and get a certificate of completion if you're into that kind of thing. I've taken a few of these classes and it can be a little overwhelming, just because of the sheer number of participants, but on the other hand, invaluable. I haven't signed up yet, since it just came up, but from past experience, enrolling is quite simple.

Here's the link to the course. Maybe I'll see you there...

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Major news from Waywords and Meansigns

Just got this email from the folks at Waywords and Meansigns:

The moment has finally arrived.

31 hours, 8 minutes, 11 seconds. Finnegans Wake set to music, unabridged.
All audio is freely distributed via our website.
What an incredible journey. We've been embraced by international music communities as well as Joyce communities. We even were mentioned in the Guardian last week!
Dozens of people worked very hard to make this happen. Thanks to each and every one of you.
If anyone is interested in writing a review, please be in touch.
A second edition -- the Wake set to music again, by 17 new musicians -- will premiere next fall/winter. Featuring Mike Watt, David Kahne, Mary Lorson, Brian Hall, Simon Underwood, Neil Campbell, and more. If you want to be involved, get in touch.
Now here it goes.
Spread the word.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Sir Tristram, violer d'amores

Apart from the camaraderie of the project, one of the main reasons I agreed to read The Life and Adventures of Tristram Shandy, Gent. by Laurence Sterne with some friends recently was in hopes that it might throw some light on Finnegans Wake, as I knew Joyce to be an admirer. I emerged from the book not a lot the wiser, unfortunately. But as I'm now settling down to read some essays on Tristram Shandy in a volume of Modern Critical Editions edited by Harold Bloom, I am learning a bit more, and I thought I'd share this tidbit from an essay by Dorothy Van Ghent called "On Tristram Shandy", as I don't suppose it's something anyone reading here is likely to stumble upon randomly.

Van Ghent tells us that Stern's concern is to create a world.

"The world he creates has the form of a mind. It may perhaps help us to grasp the notion of a structure of this sort if we think of the mind in the figure of Leibniz's monads, those elemental units of energy that have "mirrors but no windows": the mirroring capacity of the unit makes it a microcosm of the universe, in that all things are reflected in it; and yet, because it lacks "windows," it is a discrete world in itself, formally defined only by internal relationships; while the reflections in its "mirrors" have a free energetic interplay unique for this monad--this mind--differentiating it from all others at the same time that it is representative of all others."

After comparing Sterne's project to Proust's, Van Ghent goes on to say:

"We think of Tristram Shandy, as we do of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, as a mind in which the local world has been steeped and dissolved and fantastically re-formed, so that it issues brand new. Still more definitive of the potentialities of Sterne's method, as these have been realized in a great modern work, is James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, where the hero's dream swallows and recomposes all time in its belly of mirrors, and where the possibilities lying in Sterne's creative play with linguistic associations--his use of language as a dynamic system in itself, a magic system for the "raising of new perceptions as a magician's formulas "raise" spirits--are enormously developed. Joyce himself points out the parallel. In the second paragraph of Finnegans Wake, "Sir Tristram, violer d'amores, arrives over the sea "to weilderfight his penisolate war" in "Laurens County," and we know--among these puns--that we are not wholly in unfamiliar territory."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

April 15th, or Mr. Browne the Jesuit

It's not quite April 15th here yet (and many Americans may be adding "Thank God", as it's also tax day) but Ed has sent our group a post about its other significance which is that it's the day the Titanic sank. Of course there is a Joycean significance to all of this. The "Mr. Browne the Jesuit" of Finnegans Wake was an actual man who was on the Titanic but did not go down with it. Read all about it HERE.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

More on Waywords and Meansigns: Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone Contributes Music for Experimental Audiobook of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake

Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone Contributes Music for Experimental Audiobook of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake

hey all...

"Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone has composed an hour of original music for an experimental audiobook of James Joyce’s classic 1939 novel Finnegans Wake....."

stewed letters

“(and may his hundred thousand welcome stewed letters, relayed wand postchased, multiply,
ay faith, and plultiply!) page 404 to 405

The question came up as to what Joyce was driving at in the phrase 'stewed letters' , and though we came up with some thoughts about the general sort of stew that the Wake is, I thought I'd search around in case there were any other ideas about it. So I came eventually to an essay called "Their Synaptic Selves: Memory and Language in Beckett and Joyce" by Dustin Anderson, and you can read the whole thing right here if so inclined. As I don't really know much about Beckett other than seeing a play or two, I just skimmed on through to the part I was looking for. In Chapter 4, which he amusingly titles "A Digestive Tract: or a Journey Down the Gullet with Shaun the Post", Anderson says

Letters are what are stewed here, but as we have seen earlier in Book II, chapter II writing/letters and the body are interchangeable: first in “it’s me chews to swallow all you saidn’t you can eat my words” [FW 279:4], and later in the twins’ essay assignments we find, “And Trieste, ah Trieste ate I my liver! Se non é vero son trovatore.” [FW 301:16-17].

Anderson goes on to note that there's a lot going on about food here, as we noticed too, especially as it was getting on for seven and none of us had had our supper. He points out that the burning of Giordano Bruno is presented as a death/food pun on the words "stake" and "steak" and that there are "at least a dozen examples of steak and staking on pages 405-406."

"But what he really thinks we should notice is a point Anthony Burgess first pointed out, which is that Shaun is the “greedy eater of his father’s substance” (259). The ceremony (be it execution or consecration) is only of peripheral importance."

As we had talked initially about a passage from Campbell that Tom read to us, which among other things tells us that HCE is only dreaming of an idealized son's future, a future that will never be because the son is all mixed up in waking reality and cannot just be the simple projection of his father's wish even if he wants to be, this image of the greedy eater Shaun was arresting to me, and even a little creepy. But Anderson doesn't mean it so:

"The real meat of the issue is what we see appear during “Oxen in the Sun,” which is the process of
transforming or recreating the consumed into a new product."

Still, though.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

News from afar

For anyone following our progress, we have reached the end of Book 2 with some jubilation. Meanwhile, others have been hard at it elsewhere. I had an email from Waywords and Meansigns updating us on their progress:

"On May 4, 2015 Waywords and Meansigns: Recreating Finnegans Wake [in its whole wholume] will debut a new, unabridged audio version of Finnegans Wake, collaboratively read and set to music by contributors from around the globe.

All audio will be freely distributed via the Waywords and Meansigns website,

Excerpted selections from are currently streamable via the website.

We are currently accepting musicians for a second unabridged edition of Finnegans Wake.

If you have friends, colleagues, or press contacts who might be interested in our project, please share!

We welcome any inquires from the press."

One of the participants is our roaming correspondent PQ, who has not only read a section for the project, but enlisted others to make it a musical effort with sound effects. You can read all about it over on his Wake blog, Finnegans Wake!

And Leslie from our group turned up an article about a group in Boston who sounds like an East Coast version of our own, although with a bit more longevity. You can read about the Thirsty Scholars HERE. I will say that many of the commenters on the Boston Globe article seem to be as mystified by the project as most of the people who come across us are...

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Online versions of the Wake

Just ran across this in Google docs:

A full PDF version of the Wake, searchable and properly paginated.

Also, there's an online version with line numbers, that's handy.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Backstrom, etc.

I happened to belatedly catch the first episode of the new cop series featuring the Rainn Wilson as the epyonymous hero of Backstrom last night. I thought Joyce would have liked his riposte to his colleague's complaint that he saw the worst in everyone. He eventually tells her,"I don't see the worst in everyone, I see the everyone in everyone."

I see that everyone is tweeting it...

Monday, February 16, 2015

Tristan and Isuelt

I put up a short review of Joseph Bédier's The Romance of Tristan and Iseult on a website I write book reviews for, but my original catalyst was our discussion of the legend during the last couple of sessions. Leslie filled us in on Wagner's take on the story (among other things, she told us that Wagner was  not too interested in the power of the love potion). Joyce knew this opera well, but he was also familiar with Bédier's retelling. I really enjoyed reading Bédier's version (in English, not his original French), and of course I hope it will help me understand what Joyce was up to just that wee bit more...

In any case, you can find my review at Escape Into Life. I put up a more current cover there, but this is the edition I actually read:


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A progress report from Waywords and Meansigns

I got an email over the weekend from Derek Pyle over at Waywords and Meansigns, where they are spearheading a collective effort to record all of Finnegans Wake. Things are hopping apparently, with 17 individuals or groups at work on each chapter. (Including apparently our roving correspondent PQ over at Finnegans, Wake!) They are currently expecting to debut a first edition mid-spring. Because there was so much interest in the project they are already planning to do a second edition. Derek says that there are still a few slots open on that one, so make haste if you are one of those people. 
I'll post updates here as they appear. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A bunch of new links over at Finnegans, Wake!

While you're waiting for new content here, why don't you head on over to Finnegans, Wake!,where PQ has just posted a bunch of new links to other enterprising Wakers.

Yes, he (and they) do the work so we don't have to.

More anon.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Saturday, January 24, 2015

An Obituary Notice by Joseph Campbell

James Joyce (2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941)
An Obituary Notice by Joseph Campbell
James Joyce is dead. He died in Zurich. That is the city in which, during the last world war he devoted himself to the writing of Ulysses. When the book appeared people in Scandinavia, Germany, Italy and France attempted to read it. Many succeeded. In the United States and the British Isles the book was burned and banned. That was because it was obscene. Eleven years later an American Judge actually studied the book and discovered it to be no more obscene than many another. Whereupon it was legally introduced to the citizens of the United States. It became officially a work of art. It is now available in the Modern Library, 768 pages for $1.25.
James Joyce died of an unsuccessful abdominal operation eight months after the German occupation of Paris. James Joyce between world wars had been a resident of that city. There he had labored on the sequel to Ulysses, Finnegans Wake. He had labored seventeen years on this volume, and when it was completed it was permitted publication in the United States and the British Isles. The morning after publication the newspapers declared that it was impossible to discover what the volume was about. The language was obscure. People who purchased copies, intending to read the book between Gone with the Wind and The Grapes of Wrath, discovered that the language was obscure. Professors in universities indicated that the language was obscure. The book was set aside. Wise Time would decide whether it was enduring art or mere maze and artifice. Then another world war came along and there were published many interesting books about Hitlerism and the meaning of Democracy.
James Joyce died January 13, 1941, at the age of 58, in Zurich, where he had gone to spend the second world war and to compose the book that would culminate his trilogy. It was found difficult to evaluate his death, because Wise Time had not yet brought in a decision about his books. A learned editor of the New York Times tentatively declared that the work was ambiguous, enigmatic, pedantic, unintelligible, tiresome, eccentric, spoofing. “Wise Time”, said he, “will decide whether it is enduring art or mere maze and artifice”. James Joyce had been psychologically queer: naturalist, symbolist, and fantasist, all at once. Furthermore his language was obscure.
So the Western World, the other day, lost one of its few magnificent men. And he was buried under a heap of newspaper rubbish.
James Joyce, who, as a young man, went heroically forth from his native Dublin to forge in the smithy of his soul the uncreated conscience of his race, and toiled then thirty-seven years to effect a divinely comical transmutation of the entire spectacle of modern life; of the God with Two Arms, not alone in the rock of Peter’s church but in every stone in the street, not alone in the Sacrifice of the Altar but in every utterance of man, beast, fowl, or fish – in every sound whatsoever, from the music of the supernal spheres to the splash of a sewer or the crack of a stick; James Joyce, who in one continuous present tense integument slowly unfolded all cycle-wheeling history, is dead.
Lord, heap miseries upon us yet entwine our arts with laughters low.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Three Quarks for Muster Mark!--page 383

Yes, we have reached that famous line as of yesterday evening. Ed obliged by rendering the verse in his best imitation of a gull, as apparently that's who's speaking. He said he was lucky not to have to go too much further with it as it was a bit painful.

We find ourselves pretty deep in the tale of Tristan and Isolde and spent some time getting a grip on what the story is or was, as there seems to be more than one version. In any case, the archetypal nature of the relationship was seized upon, as apparently it descends from or at least echoes an an old Persian tale, and also bears a resemblance to the doomed love triangle of King Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot. We talked a bit about the identities and differences. As Wikipedia tells it, unlike Lancelot and Guinevere, Tristan and Isolde unknowingly are dosed with a love potion, so that their falling for each other is not of  their own volition but due to circumstances beyond their control. One version of the story has it that the potion wears off fairly soon and they must choose again of their own free will.

The parallel with the Arthur/ Guinevere/ Lancelot love triangle is that they really are triangles--there is, at least initially, love and respect on all sides. Everyone feels for the others and understands his or her motives. But goodwill isn't apparently enough to prevent tragedy.

In John P. Anderson's book Joyce's Finnegans Wake: The Curse of the Kaballah he says that King Mark, bridegroom-to-be, is older than Isolde's own father, and that their marriage is a mere business transaction--her father has promised her to anyone who could slay a particularly evil serpent for him. In this light, Tristan and Isolde's love is presented as spontaneous and real, while her marriage to Mark is seen as debased. 

Anyway, it's high time I read the Tristan and Isolde legend. I even  have a copy of the Joseph Bédier retelling on hand. 

I personally was taken by the appearance of Dion Boucicault (the elder) on page 185 as the one time I was in Dublin,  I happened to stay in a large B&B on Lower Gardiner Street, which had been put together out of the two houses where Boucicault and Lafcadio Hearn had lived at different times.Although I had some passing acquaintance with Hearn,  I wasn't familiar with Boucicault at the time I was there , but now learn that he was a hugely famous Victorian playwright. The Townhouse Dublin, which is what the place is called, tells us that Boucicault grew fabulously wealthy from his plays, married three times and died broke. I like the bit where playwright Sean O'Casey is quoted as saying, "Shakespeare's good in bits, but for colour and stir give me Boucicault".

I think it's got to be the women troubles that makes Joyce throw Boucicault in, at least in part. Boucicault married his third wife while not yet divorced from the second, and at least the folks at the Townhouse Dublin speculate that it was the scandal that made him pass into obscurity. The Townhouse bio speculates that he isn't more well-known today because he was ostracized later in life and that had an impact on his future reputation as well. However, it may be that his success was more just a thing of the moment. By chance I found a reviewer talk about his play, The Colleen Bawn, also mentioned in this section of our text, twenty-five years after its London debut:

I fear me this present notice is erring a little on the score of reminiscences of the past, but, after all, is there much save reminiscence to be written upon such a subject as The Colleen Bawn?  I am tempted even to continue in the same tone, and to recall the deep sensation created a quarter of a century ago on the first production of the piece.  How all London flocked to witness the "sensation header" in the water cave scene, and how ladies during the ensuing winter took their walks abroad in scarlet cloaks modelled on those worn by the heroine.  Irish domestic drama could hardly be said to be quite unknown to us, but this development of it came upon us as a revelation.  Experience has shown that Mr. Boucicault has a certain number of stock Irish characters, including the loving peasant girl, the humoursome yet heroic "boy," the old woman, and the pettifogging lawyer, and these he has since served up to us in several other plays.  But then they were all new, and who can forget the charm and grace of Mrs. Dion Boucicault, the life and soul of the piece, as Eily, and the artistic merit with which the author invested the part of Myles. 

At any rate, references to Boucicault's plays liberally sprinkle our current text, The Colleen Bawn being one of his most famous. And surprisingly, Joyce mentions "Arrah-na-poghue" three times in two pages, and doesn't alter the spelling once. The Irish words translate as "Anna of the Kiss", and is referring to the title character Arrah Meelish who turns out to be in love with none other than Shaun the Postman. Yep--you read that right. Kisses especially of the secret variety figure heavily in this section too. Two-tongue Common was a group favorite.

They play, though, is actually called Arrah-na-pogue, so of course some industrious soul may well want to find out why Joyce put in that extra "h".