Audio Cassette (October 1995)
Mystic Fire Audio; ISBN: 1561769118
Surfing on Finnegan's Wake explores the work of James Joyce. Riding the Range with MarshallMcLuhan illuminates the ideas of McLuhan and what has come to pass. 2 cassettes.
This is the tale
Of a clever sod
Was his gift from god
He slaved all night
Coding the master's site
Never paid a cent
What was his by rights
And the website burns
Since Finnegan fell
Let's pray that he returns
From web designer hell
He's the only one can fix it
Fix it good and well
Finnegan, the folk hero of HTML
He could stream Quicktime
He could code in Flash
He could make your icons dance with Java
Then empty out your trash
But Finnegan's dead
Rotted clean away
Because the bastard master
Never gave him any pay
How the bastard yells
And the website's down
When he taps his URLs
All he gets is '404 Not Found'
By the coffee machine
Screaming Finnegan's name
But the folk hero is dead
And there is no-one left to blame
We've lost our shirts
Now Finnegan's gone
If he had got his just desserts
We could've been cracking merrily on
'cause there was just one man could fix it
Fix it good and well
Finnegan, the folk hero of HTML
When the web is quiet
On a moonlit night
There is phantom code
On the master's site
Some say it's spiders
Or a bot from hell (Like hell!)
It's Finnegan, the folk hero of HTML
Ulysses was designed as a kind of, Joyce thought of it as his “Day Book”. It follows the peregrinations of an ordinary Dubliner (this is Ulysses) through the vicissitudes of his day, his struggles to buy some kidneys to fry for breakfast, his chance meeting with his wife’s lover, and so forth and so on. Fairly straight forward exposition of the techniques of literature that have been perfected in the 20th century, stream of consciousness, so forth and so on, slice of life. FW was designed to be the “Night Book” to that “Day Book”, so it was conceived of as a dream, and one of the questions that undergraduates are asked to shed ink over is, whose dream is it? And what is this book about? I mean, when you first pick it up, it’s absolutely daunting. There doesn’t seem to be a way into it. It seems to be barely in English.
The notion that one could, by spending time with this, tease out characters, plot, literary tension, resolution, this sort of thing, seems fairly unlikely. Actually, it’s one of the few things that really repays pouring effort into it. The first 25 pages are incredibly dense, and most people are eliminated somewhere in those first 25 pages, and so never really - it’s a language. And you have to gain a facility with it, and you have to cheat, that’s the other thing, and there’s lots of help cheating, because it has spawned a great exegetical literature, all kinds of pale scholars eager to give you the Celtic word lists of FW, or a discussion of the doctrine of the transubstantiation in FW, or so forth, hundreds of these kinds of doctoral theses in comp Lit have been ground out over the decades.
The reason I’m interested in it, I suppose I should fess up, is because it’s two things, clearly. FW is psychedelic, and it is apocalyptic / eschatological. What I mean by psychedelic, is there is no stable point of view, there is no character per se, you never know who is speaking, you have to read into each speech to discover, is this King Mark, Anna Livia Plurabelle, Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, Shem the pen man, Shawn, who is it? And identities are not fixed. Those of you who’ve followed my rap over the years, I’m always raving about how psychedelics dissolve boundaries. Well, FW is as if you’d taken the entirety of the last thousand years of human history, and dissolved all the boundaries, so Queen Maude becomes Mae West, all the personages of pop culture, politics, art, church history, Irish Legend, Irish internecine politics are all swirling, changing, merging. Time is not linear, you will find yourself at a recent political rally, and then return to the court of this or that Abyssinian Emperor or Pharoah. It’s like a trip. And the great technique of the 20th Century is collage or pastiche, it was originally developed by the Dadaists in Zurich in 1919, right now it’s having a huge resurgence in the form of sampling in pop music, and Joyce was the supreme sampler, I mean he draws his material from technical catalogues, menus, legal briefs, treaty language, mythologies, dreams, doctor-patient conversations, everything is grist for this enormous distillery.
And yet, what comes out of it, once you learn the codes, and once you learn to play the game, is a Joycean story that all graduates of Ulysses will recognize. What Joyce was about was an incredible sympathy with common people, and an awareness of the dilemma of being a Jew in Irish Ireland, being a devotee of scholasticism in the 20th century, of dislocation, and disorientation, of being the cuckolded husband, of being the failed divinity student, all of these characters and themes are familiar. It’s quite an amazing accomplishment, there’s nothing else like it in literature. It had very little anticipation. The only real anticipator of Joyce in English, I think, is Thomas Nash, who most people have never even heard of.
Thomas Nash was a contemporary of Shakespeare and wrote a famous, I don’t know what that means in such a context, but a novel called The Wayfaring Traveler. Anyway, Nash had this megalomaniac richness of language, this attitude that it’s better to put it in than take it out, and that’s certainly what you get with Joyce. I mean, Joyce is so dense, with technical terms, brand names, pop references, localisms. The way to conceive of FW is as a midden, a garbage dump, and there is in fact a garbage dump in the Wake which figures very prominently, and what you have to do as the reader is essentially go in there with nut pick and tooth brush, and essentially remove one level after another level after another level, and sink down and down.
And the theme is always the same, the delivery of the word, the misinterpretation of the word, and the redemption of the word at every level, in all times and places. The reason, I’ve now gone some distance towards explaining the reason I think of it as psychedelic, the reason I think of it as eschatological and apocalyptic, is because, well, it’s hard to tell, we don’t have James Joyce around to ask how much of it he took seriously, and how much was grist for his literary mill. But he was perfectly conversant with Renaissance theories of magic. The entire book is based on La Scienza Nuova by Giambattista Vico who was a Renaissance sociologist and a systems theorist. And Joyce once in a famous interview, said, that if the whole universe were to be destroyed, and only FW survived, that the goal would be that the entire Universe would be reconstructed out of this. Some of you who are students of Torah, this is a very Talmudic idea, that somehow a book is the primary reality. You know, the idea in Hassidism is that all of the future is already contained in the Torah, and then when you ask them, well if it’s contained there then isn’t it predestined, and the answer is no, because the letters are scrambled, and only the movement of the present moment through the text correctly unscrambles and arranges the letters.
This is Joyce thinking for
sure. It’s very close to a central theme in Joyce, and a central theme
in the western religious tradition, which is, the coming into being, the
manifestation of the word, the declension of the word into matter. In a
sense, what Joyce was trying to do, was, he was in that great tradition
of literary alchemy,
whose earlier practitioners were people like Robert Flood, Athanasius Kircher,
Paracelcis, these are not familiar names, but in the late flowering of
alchemy, when the birth of modern science, the rosy glow could already
be seen, the alchemist turned towards literary allegory in the 16th and
17th Century. Joyce is essentially in that tradition, I mean, this is an
effort to condense the entirety of experience, all, as Joyce says in the
Wake, “all space-time in a knotshell”, is what we’re searching for here,
a kind of philosopher’s
stone of literary associations from which the entire universe can be
made to blossom forth. And the way it’s done is through pun, and tricks
of language, and double and triple and quadruple entendre. No word is opaque.
Every word is transparent, and you see through it to older meanings, stranger
associations, and as your mind tries to follow these associative trees
of connection, you get the feeling which is the unique feeling that the
Wake gives you, which is about as close to LSD
on the page as you can get, because you are simultaneously many points
of view, simultaneously many dramatis locci, many places in the plot, and
the whole thing is riddled with resonance.
A man doing a task on one level is on another level a Greek god completing
a task, and on another level some other figure of some more obscure mythology.
So really one thing about FW is it’s like a dip-stick for your own intelligence.
What you bring to it is going to determine what you get out.
If you have read the books which Joyce was familiar with, or if you have armed yourself with such simple things as a Fodor’s guide to Ireland or a good map of Ireland or a good work of Irish mythology, then it immediately begins to betray its secrets to you, and it’s so rich that it’s easy to make original discoveries. It’s easy to see and understand things which probably have not been seen or understood since James Joyce put it there, because he had this kind of all-inclusive intelligence.
Maybe I didn’t make clear enough why that, to my mind, is an eschatological phenomena, this production of the philosopher’s stone, it’s because it’s about the union of spirit and matter, that’s what the Philosopher’s Stone is about. And writing a book which aspires to be the seed for a living world is about the union of spirit and matter as well, and the christian scenario of redemption at the end of profane history is another scenario of transubstantiate union, union of spirit and matter. This seems to be in fact the over arching theme of FW and of the 20th Century. In terms of the temporal context for this book, it was finished a few months before 1939 and Joyce died early in 1939. In a sense he died in one of the most science fiction moments of the 20th Century, because the Third Reich was going strong, it had not yet been pegged down a notch, schemes of eugenics and thousand-year, racially-purified super-civilizations, all of that crazy early 40s stuff was happening, and the book is surprisingly modern. Television appears, psychedelic drugs appear, all of these things appear, presciently, he was some kind of a prophet. And also, he understood the 20th Century sufficiently that the part he hadn’t yet lived through was as transparent to him as the part he had, he could see what was coming.
Well, that’s by way of my introduction. I want to read you what some other people have said about this, because I don’t think I can say enough on my own. This is the indispensable book if you’re serious about this; A Skeleton Key to Finnegan’s Wake. It takes the view that we don’t know what this thing is so we have to go through it literally line by line. And he tells you the entire story in the one-page version, in the 10 page version, and in the 200 page version, and even in the 200 page version, there are sections where Campbell simply reports, “the next 5 pages are extremely obscure. Mark it!” This is just a short section, and one of the things about working with the Wake is you become, at first this language which is so impenetrable and bizarre, it ends up infecting you, and you become unable to write or talk any other way. So, I’ll read you some of Campbell’s introduction, and I think you will see it’s like the Wake itself except in baby steps.
“Introduction to a Strange Subject.
Running riddle and fluid answer, FW is a mighty allegory of the fall and resurrection of mankind. It is a strange book, a compound of fable, symphony, and nightmare - a monstrous enigma beckoning imperiously from the shadowy pits of sleep. Its mechanics resemble those of a dream, a dream which has freed the author from the necessities of common logic and has enabled him to compress all periods of history, all phases of individual and racial development, into a circular design, of which every part is beginning, middle and end.
In a gigantic wheeling rebus, dim effigies rumble past, disappear into foggy horizons, and are replaced by other images, vague but half-consciously familiar. On this revolving stage, mythological heroes and events of remotest antiquity occupy the same spatial and temporal planes as modern personages and contemporary happenings. All time occurs simultaneously; Tristram and the Duke of Wellington, Father Adam and Humpty Dumpty merge in a single precept. Multiple meanings are present in every line; interlocking allusions to key words and phrases are woven like fugal themes into the pattern of the work. FW is a prodigious, multifaceted monomyth, not only the cauchemar of a Dublin citizen but the dreamlike saga of guilt-stained, evolving humanity.
The vast scope and intricate
structure of FW give the book a forbidding aspect of impenetrability. It
appears to be a dense and baffling jungle, trackless and overgrown with
wanton perversities of form and language.
Clearly, such a book is not meant to be idly fingered. It tasks the imagination,
exacts discipline and tenacity from those who would march with it. Yet
some of the difficulties disappear as soon as the well-disposed reader
picks up a few compass clues and gets his bearings. Then the enormous map
of FW begins slowly to unfold, characters and motifs emerge, themes become
recognizable, and Joyce’s vocabulary falls more and more familiarly on
the accustomed ear. Complete understanding is not to be snatched at greedily
at one sitting; [or in 50 I might add] indeed, it may never come.
Nevertheless the ultimate state of the intelligent reader is certainly
not bewilderment. Rather, it is admiration for the unifying insight, economy
of means, and more-than-Rabelaisian humor which have miraculously quickened
the stupendous mass of material. One acknowledges at last that James Joyce’s
overwhelming macro-microcosm could not have been fired to life in any sorcerer
furnace less black, less heavy, less murky than this, his incredible book.
He had to smelt the modern dictionary back to protean plasma
and re-enact the “genesis and mutation of language” in order to deliver
his message. But the final wonder is that such a message could have been
delivered at all!”
Every book has to be about something. I mean, so what is this book about? Well, as far as anybody can tell, it appears to be about someone named, well, they have 100s of names, actually, but for economy’s sake, someone named Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, or abbreviated, HCE. And Humphrey Earwicker runs a pub in Chapelizod which is a suburb of London [sic, Dublin]. And he has as it says an “liddle phifie” who is Anna Livia Plurabel, and these two people, this barkeep and his wife, and their two children, Jerry and Kevin, or Shem and Shaun, and they also have hundreds of names, because they occur on hundreds and hundreds of levels. Every brother struggle of history is enacted by the two boys, Jerry and Kevin. They are Shem the pen man, and Shawn the other one, and they dichotomize certain parts of the process, so here is in one paragraph, this is the “Cliff’s Notes” version of what FW is all about. If you commit this to memory you will never be caught wanting at a New York cocktail party.
“As the tale unfolds, we discover that this H.C. Earwicker is a citizen of Dublin, a stuttering tavernkeeper with a bull-like hump on the back of his neck. He emerges as a well-defined and sympathetic character, the sorely harrowed victim of a relentless fate, which is stronger than, yet identical with, himself. Joyce refers to him under various names, such as Here Comes Everybody and Haveth Childers Everywhere - indications of his universality and his role as the great progenitor. The hero has wandered vastly, leaving families, (that is, deposits of civilization) at every pause along the way: from Troy to Asia Minor (he is frequently called “the Turk”) up through the turbulent lands of the Goths, the Franks, the Norsemen, and overseas to the green isles of Britain and Eire. His chief Germanic manifestations are Woden and Thor; his chief Celtic, Manannaan MacLir. Again, he is St. Patrick carrying the new faith; again, Strongbow, leading the Anglo-Norman conquest; again, Cromwell, conquering with a bloody hand. Most specifically, he is our Anglican tavernkeeper, HCE, in the Dublin suburb, Chapelizod.”
Like Ulysses, the ground zero here is the utterly mundane, you know, middle class, tormented Irish people, embedded in the detritus of the 20th Century. But there is an effort to never lose the cosmic perspective, never lose the sense that we are not individuals lost in time, but the front ends of gene streams that reach back to Africa, that we somehow have all these ancestors and conflicts swarming and storming within us. It’s a glorious psychedelic, heartful, Irish view of what it is to be embedded in the mystery of existence.
Well, OK, enough arm waving, now let’s cut the cake here.
“riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.
Sir Tristram, violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea, had passencore rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war: nor had topsawyers rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse to Laurens County’s gorgios while they went doublin their mumper all the time: nor avoice from afire bellowsed mishe mishe to tauftauf thuartpeatrick: not yet, though venissoon after, had a kidscad buttended a bland old isaac: not yet, though all’s fair in vanessy, were sosie sesthers wroth with twone nathandjoe. Rot a peck of pa’s malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by arclight and rory end to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsome on the aquaface.
The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy. The great fall of the offwall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finnegan, erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes: and their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock out in the park where oranges have been laid to rust upon the green since devlinsfirst loved livvy.”
So now granted that the first
pages are dense, and it isn’t all this dense, because, even though the
concept of fractals
lay years in the future, the effort here is to tell the whole damn thing
in the first word, to tell it again in the next two words, to tell it again
in the next three words, and so on. So here, in these first roughly three
paragraphs, a huge amount of information
is being passed along. First of all, we’re given a location, if we’re smart
enough to know it.
“riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.”
Well, now, if you know the geography of Dublin, you know that’s where you are. And notice that Howeth Castle and Environs is HCE. These initials recur thousands of times in this book, always bringing you back to remind you that this has something to do with Humphrey Earwicker. What this first sentence says, “riverrun” and it’s the river Liffey, which we will meet in a thousand reincarnations, because Anna Livia Plurabell is the personification of the goddess river. The river runs “past Eve and Adams” and there is a church there on shore named Adam and Eve in Dublin. “From swerve of shore to bend of bay”, and then this strange phrase, “brings us by commodius vicus of recirculation”. This announces the great architectonic plan of the Wake, that it is in fact going to be based on the sociological ruminations of Giambattista Vico’s La Scienza Nuova. The “vicus” mode of “recirculation”, because, as I’m sure you all know, Vico’s theory of the fall and redemption of mankind, was that there were four ages, I can’t remember, gold, silver, iron, clay, I think [actually bronze, not clay], and so this idea of the recirculation, of the connectedness, of the cyclicity, of the, as he says, same again, again and again. Finnegan, sin-again, the same again. And this is one of his great, great themes, is the recourso, everything comes again, nothing is unannounced, every dynastic intrigue, every minor political disgrace, and a minor political disgrace figures very prominently in this book, because, as the carrier of Adam’s sin, the great dilemma for Humphrey Earwicker, is that he’s running for a minor political post (alderman) but apparently one night, rather juiced, he relieved himself, well, there are many versions and you hear them all, and they are all given in dreams, and mock trials in an accusatory fantasy. Either, he innocently took a leak in the park, or, he fondled himself in some way in the presence of Maggie and her sister, in such a way that his reputation is now at great risk, and it all depends on the testimony of a cad, a soldier, or perhaps three soldiers, it’s never clear, it’s constantly shifting, and this question of what happened when “Maggie’s seen all with sister in shawl at the magazine wall” haunts the book, because on it turns the question of whether HCE is a stalwart pillar of the community, or in fact a backsliding masturbator and a monster and so forth and so on, as one always is if one is trapped inside a James Joyce novel.
Then this puzzling list in the second paragraph is simply a list of things which haven’t happened yet.
“Sir Tristram, [lover of music] violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea, had passencore [not yet] rearrived from North Armorica [from the coast of Brittany] on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war: [Now this word “penisulate” is typical Joyce punning, peninsulate war obviously is the thing launched from Brittany, “penisulate” war, because Sir Tristram is the great archetype of the lover, so his war is “penisulate”. OK, so that’s the first thing that has not yet happened, it’s telling you, Sir Tristram has not yet come to Ireland.]
“nor had topsawyers rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse to Laurens County’s gorgios while they went doublin their mumper all the time: [Now, this is further obscurity, there is a stream in Georgia, and “topsawyer” is a reference to Tom Sawyer, because Tom Sawyer was Huck Finn’s friend, and Huck Finn is Finn in America. there is a huge amount of Mark Twain that has been poured into these books because of the Huckleberry Finn connection, Finn in the New World. And topsawyers rocks is a reference possibly to testicles, and so forth and so on, every single word, I mean, you can just take a word and go into this until you exhaust yourself. And then the next thing that has not yet happened:]
“nor avoice from afire bellowsed mishe mishe to tauftauf thuartpeatrick: [“tauftauf” is Celtic for “thou art baptized”, so St. Patrick has not yet baptized in Ireland]
“not yet, though venissoon after, [and “venissoon” is a pun on venison and very soon]
“had a kidscad buttended a bland old isaac: [it’s a reference to the Issac Issau tale in the Bible, it’s also a reference to Issac Butt, who was a figure in the politics of the Irish rebellion]
“not yet, though all’s fair in vanessy, were sosie sesthers wroth with twone nathandjoe. [That’s at this point a very obscure reference, but there’s a great incest and sister theme in FW, and the mistresses of Jonathan Swift, become carriers of a huge amount of energy here, as do the mistresses of Thomas Stern, because it’s better to be Swift than Stern, or something like that. And then the last of these things which hasn’t happened yet]
“Rot a peck of pa’s malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by arclight and rory end to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsome on the aquaface.”
That seems pretty obscure to me, according to Joseph Campbell it’s simply a reference to the presence of God moving over the waters in the first lines of Genesis, “ringsome on the aquaface” Then this phrase The Fall, and the multi-syllabic word, these are the Viconian thunders, and they announce the beginning of each Viconian age, and when the thunder speaks, you know then you’re into a transition.
Then it actually launches in, in the last paragraph, into a fairly straightforward evocation of at least the mythological Finnegan. As you all probably know there is a great Irish drinking ballad of great antiquity called “The Ballad of Tim Finnegan” or “The Ballad of Finnegan’s Wake”, and it tells the story of Tim Finnegan, who was a hod carrier, a bricklayer’s assistant, and he was given to hitting the poteen rather hard, and he fell from his ladder. It’s the Humpty Dumpty story, he fell from his ladder, and he broke his back, and his friends waked him in the grand Irish fashion, and at the height of the wake, they became so carried away and intoxicated that they upended a bucket of Guinness over his head, and he revived, and joined the dance.
(Irish musical interlude about Tim Finnegan and “lots of fun at Finnegan’s Wake”)
This is the resurrection, I mean Tim Finnegan is very clearly for Joyce a christ figure, and here is then the first evocation of Tim Finnegan.
“The fall, [and then the Viconian thunder] of a once wallstrait oldparr [which is just an old person] is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy. The great fall of the offwall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finnegan [now this word pftjschute is Norwegian, I’m informed, and it refers to the act of falling and the act of falling from a hill] of Finnegan, erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes: and their upturnpikepointand place is at the knock out in the park where oranges have been laid to rust upon the green since devlinsfirst loved livvy.”
This is fairly transparent if you’re Irish or a citizen of Dublin because what it’s talking about is, Dublin is imagined to be situated, basically in the belly of an enormous giant person, who is Finnegan. Finnegan lies, like a giant reclining figure, along the Liffey, there, husband and wife, river and mountain. And this is actually then, the focus has changed, and now we’re talking about the geography. He was a solid man “erse solid man”, but then, somehow he turned into something where “the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes”. And if you have a map of Dublin laid out you can actually see this enormous man in the landscape, and there are many enormous men and women in the landscape of this planet. And Joyce maps the Dublin geography over all of them. Some of you may know Izztaccihuatl, the magical mountain in Mexico. Izztaccihuatl means the sleeping woman in Toltec [NB actually Aztec]. And many mountains are meant to be sleeping people.
So here he introduces this theme, and this is one paragraph, this is the invocation of Finnegan as hod carrier:
“Bygmester Finnegan, of the Stuttering Hand, freemen’s maurer, lived in the broadest way imarginable in his rushlit toofarback for messuages before joshuan judges had given us numbers or Helviticus committed deuteronomy (one yeastyday he sternely struxk his tete in a tub for to watsch the future of his fates but ere he swiftly took it out again, by the might of moses, the very water was eviparated and all the guenneses had met their exodus so that ought to show you what a pentschanjeuchy chap he was!) and during mighty odd years this man of hod, cement and edifices [HCE, hod, cement and edifices] in Toper’s Thorp piled buildung supra buildung pon the banks for the livers by the Soangso. He addle liddle phifie Annie ugged the little craythur. Wither hayre in honds tuck up your part inher. Oftwhile balbulous, mithre ahead, with a goodly trowel in grasp and ivoroiled overalls which he habitacularly fondseed, like Haroun Childeric Eggeberth he would caligulate by multiplicables the alltitude and malltitude until he seesaw by neatlight of the liquor wheretwin ‘twas born, his roundhead staple of other days to rise in undress maisonry upstanded (joygrantit!), a waalworth of a skyerscape of most eyeful hoyth entowerly, erigenating from next to nothing and celescalating the himals and all, hierachitectitiptitoploftical, with a burning bush abob off its baubletop and with larrons o’toolers clittering up and tombles a’buckets clottering down.”
Now , what this paragraph says is he was a great builder, and I think if you think back through your impression of hearing it read, you knew that. These words that are associated, words like “a waalworth of a skyerscape of most eyeful hoyth entowerly”, these are skyscraper words, wallworth, skyscrape, entowerly, Howth, and so forth and so on. And he can do this, he can build up a pastiche of surfaces, of impressions. Now, you might say, why is there is no economy? Well, there is no economy because economy is an aesthetic criterion for shoemakers, not for artists. Economy is the curse of the Bauhaus babblers from hell, which Joyce was very concerned to refute all of that.
If you have to place this in a context, it’s in the context of the most hallucinatory of the Baroque, this is Archimboldo land. This is a work that would have been welcome at the Rudolpho court in Prague. It’s a work of magical complexity, and enfolded self-reference.
Now we’ve just been through these first four paragraphs, now I’ll read you what Joseph Campbell has to say on it, by no means all he has to say on it.
“The first four paragraphs are the suspended tick of time between a cycle just past and one about to begin. The are in effect an overture, resonant with all the themes of Finnegan’s Wake. The dominant motif is the polylingual thunderclap of paragraph 3(bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthun-ntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) which is the voice of God made audible through the noise of Finnegan’s fall.
Narrative movement begins with the life, fall, and wake of hod carrier Finnegan (pp. 4-7). The wake scene fades into the landscape of Dublin and environs. [We’ve just heard how he fell from the ladder, now we move into a description of the wake, and there’s a certain voice that appears at certain times. It’s where there are a lot of words ending in -ation. Continuation of the celebration until the examination of the extermination, OK, these are the 12 judges. Each character when they appear, has a certain tempo to their character, so when that tempo enters the text, you know that character is present, even though there may be no trace. For example, Anna Livia Plurabell’s tempo, is the tempo of the hen; here-a-little, there-a-little, see-a-little, go-a-little, do-a-little, the hen is scratching, this is this nervous, bird-like that’s Anna Livia’s signature.
Here’s just a paragraph from the wake scene which builds and has a certain amount of humor associated with it:
“Shize? I should shee! Macool, Macool, orra whyi deed ye diie? Of a trying thirstay mournin? Sobs they sighdid at Fillagain’s chrissormiss wake, all the hoolivans of the nation, prostrated in their consternation, and their duodisimally profusive plethora of ululation. There was plumbs and grumes and cheriffs and citherers and raiders and cinemen too. And the all gianed in with the shoutmost shoviality. Agog and magog and the round of them agrog. To the continuation of that celebration until Hanandhunigan’s extermination! Some in kinkin corass, more, kankan keening, Belling him up and filling him down. He’s stiff but he’s steady is Priam Olim! ‘Twas he was the dacent gaylabouring youth. Sharpen his pillowscone, tap up his bier! E’erawhere in this whorl would ye hear sich a din again? With their deepbrow fundigs and the dusty fidelios. They laid him brawdawn alanglast bed. With a bockalips of finisky fore his feet. And a barrowload of guenesis hoer his head. Tee the tootal of the fluid hang the twoddle of the fuddled, O!”
Well, it’s a drunken Irish Wake, that seems clear, but there are a lot of things going on. “E’erawhere in this whorl would ye hear sich a din again?” And, “He’s stiff but he’s steady is Priam Olim!” All this Dionysian and sexual imagery is fully explicit. In some ways, more realized as a character, or more lovable if that’s the word, is Anna Livia Plurabell. I mean, Anna Livia Plurabell is Molly Bloom on acid, basically. Molly Bloom, we don’t lose her outlines, we understand Molly. And because Molly doesn’t offer us that much of her own mind, she stands for the eternal feminine. But only in the final soliloquy of Ulysses, do we really contact her. Anna Livia, it’s her book, it may in fact be her dream, and the whole thing is permeated with her tensions and her cares. As it says, “Grampupus is fallen down,” meaning the great father god is at wake, “but grinny sprids the boord.” Meaning Anna Livia is always there, she’s always there.
And in the wake, you could almost say that Molly Bloom’s soliloquy has been expanded to 300 or 400 pages. And the whole thing is a meditation on the river. The river is the feminine, and the first image and the last image of the book is the river. The river dissolves everything and carries it out to sea.
Let me read this description of Anna Livia Plurabell, and then we’ll go back to the synopsis.
“How bootifull, and how truetowife of her, when strengly forebidden, to steal our historic presents from the past postpropheticals so as to will make us all lordy heirs and ladymaidesses of a pretty nice kettle of fruit. She is livving in our midst of debt and laffing through all plores for us (her birth is uncontrollable) with a naperon for her mask and her sabboes kickin arias (so sair! so solly!) if you ask me and I saack you. Hou! Hou! Gricks may rise and Troysirs fall …[…] she is mercenary. Though the length of the land lies under liquidation (floote!) and there’s nare a hairbrow nor an eyebush on this glaubrous phace of Herrschuft Whatarwelter she’ll loan a vesta and hire some peat and sarch the shores her cockles to heat and she’ll do all a turfwoman can to piff the business on. Paff. To puff the blaziness on. Poffpoff. And even if Humpty shell fall frumpty times as awkward again in the beardsboosoloom of all our grand remonstrancers there’ll be iggs for the brekkers come to mournhim, sunny side up with care. So true is it that therewhere’s a turnover the tay is wet too and when you think you ketch sight of a hind make sure but you’re cocked by a hin.”
Well Nora felt that Jimmy would have been much better as a singer. She so stated that she had great hopes for his voice. She was a very practical woman, Nora Barnacle, there wasn’t a literary bone in her body, and I think that’s what Joyce loved about her, was that she was the real thing. And all these women, Anna Livia, Molly, they are all Nora Joyce for sure.
He died just after it was published, although it had been known in manuscript for over 10 years to the literati of his circle. It was called “Work in Progress”, and people didn’t even know if he was serious or not. And it was very hard to find a publisher. It was a typographical nightmare. Joyce was going blind. And so, trying to keep track of spelling…there’s hardly a standard spelling in there, there’s hardly a word that is not somehow fiddled with, and somehow changed around.
If you pay attention to what you’re calling life as it is, you will discover that it’s not a simple thing at all, that it’s like this. I used to say, when you’re vacuuming your apartment, Rome falls nine times and hour, and your job is to notice. And you always do notice, but you never tell yourself that you’re noticing. In the course of the day, I live, and you live, to some degree, the entirety of global civilization. I mean, Rome falls, algebra is discovered, the Turks are beaten at the gates of Vienna, and it isn’t even 11am yet!
So there is this sense of the co-presence of history. We’re imprisoned inside the linear assumption that I’m a person in a place in a time, I’m alive, most people aren’t, but in fact when you deconstruct all that, that is fiction, and the truth is more this on-rushing magma of literary association, and you know in _Ulysses_, you get an enormous amount of half-baked science. Leopold Bloom is always looking at things and explaining to himself how they work using very crack-potted notions of hydraulics and electricity and this sort of thing.
I think, people say the psychedelic experience is hard to remember, dreams are hard to remember, but harder to remember than any of those, is simply ordinary experience. I mean, you lie in the bath, and you close your eyes for thirty seconds, and empires fall, dynastic families unfold themselves, power changes hands, princes are beheaded, a pope disgraced, and then somebody drops something and you wake up and 15 seconds have passed. That’s the reality of life, but we suppress this chaotic, irrational side.
The genius of Joyce, and to some degree, although
in a more controlled form, Proust, and then there were other practitioners,
Faulkner, certainly, was, what they called stream of consciousness. But
what it was was an ability to actually listen to the associating mind,
without trimming, pruning, judging, denying. One of the puzzles
to me is the great antagonism between Jung
and Joyce, because you would have thought they would have been comrades
in arms, but Joyce loathed psychoanalysis. He thought that to use all this
material to elucidate imagined
pathologies, was a very uncreative use of it, and that it should all be
fabricated into literature.
It’s very hard to surpass, you know. Thomas Pynchon, William Gadys, these people, everybody genuflects to Joyce, but very few people plough in the way he did.
Thomas Pynchon is considered a difficult hallucinatory writer, and there isn’t 20 pages inGravity’s Rainbow as obscure as a randomly chosen page here. I can understand the impulse to want to get the universe into a book, because it hints at some of the things we’ve talked about in these circles, which is that the character of life is like a work of literature. We are told that you’re supposed to fit your experience into the model which science gives you, which is probabilistic, statistical, predictable, and yet, the felt datum of experience is much more literary than that, I mean, we fall in love, we make and lose fortunes, we inherit houses in Scotland, we lose everything, we get terrible diseases, we’re cured of them, or we die of them, but it all has this stromundrang aspect to it which physics is not supposed to have, but which literature always has.
And I don’t know if it’s true, but I think what Joyce believed, and what I’m willing to entertain in some depth, is the idea that salvation is somehow an act of encompassing comprehension. That salvation is an actual act of apprehension, of understanding, and that this act of apprehension involves everything. This is why before James Joyce and this kind of literature, the only place where you got these kinds of constructs was alchemy, and magic, the idea that through an act of magic the universe could be condensed to yield a fractal microcosm of itself. What Joyce was saying was that the novel, which was unknown in the alchemical era, the novel comes later, I mean, arguably, the real zest for the novel comes in the 19th century, the novel is the alchemical re-tort into which these theories of how things work can be cast.
I think the great modern exponent of this, although now dead, and certainly one who owed an enormous debt to Joyce, was Vladimir Nabakov, especially in Ada. Ada is his paean of praise to FW, basically, and the idea tackled in there is the idea of causality, and ordinary casuistry.
What all these people are saying, I think, and what the psychedelic experience argues for as well, is that we are somehow prisoners of language, and that somehow, if we’re prisoners of language, then the key which will set us loose, is somehow also made of language, what else could fit the lock?
So somehow, an act of poetic leisure domain is necessary, and Joyce in FW, I mean, he didn’t live to argue the case or to work it out, he died shortly after, but this comes about as close as anybody ever came to actually pushing the entire content of the universe down into about 14 cubic inches.
Joyce and Proust had one meeting and supposedly Joyce said to Proust, “I’m too young for you to teach me anything”. Are you all familiar with The Remembrance of things Past? Well, it could hardly be a more different work of literature, I mean, it is stately, and cinematic, and you always know where you are…and the characters are defined, it’s an old style novel. But there are places in it where he just takes flight and prefigures the kind of writing that Faulkner and Joyce were able to do.
As far as psychedelic influences, I don’t know that there are arguable any. Joyce lived in Trieste for a while and taught English. He may have been, as a habitué of Paris, he may have been familiar with hashish, he probably had some familiarity with absinthe, but I doubt that it was a life-style for him.
I think the whole of the 20th Century is informed by this hyper-dimensional understanding. And that, Jung tapping into it in the 20s, the Dadaists in 1919 in Zurich, the Surrealists, even earlier, the ecole de pataphysiques, Lautreamont, Jarry, all of these people, it’s what it’s about, the 20th Century, is this, well, McLuhan’s phrase comes to mind, the Gutenberg Galaxy, the spectrum of effects created by print. The classes, the conceits, the industries, the products, the attitudes, the garments, all of the things created by print, and we are living in a terminal civilization. I don’t want to say dying, because civilizations aren’t animals, but we are living in an age of great self-summation, when what we look back at, is basically since the fall of Rome, there has been an unbroken working-out of certain themes, scholasticism, the Aristotelian corpuses, christianity, always presented as somehow a rival to Science, in fact paved the way for Science. There would have been no science if there had been no William of Okam, who was a 14th century nominalist theologian.
Really, Western civilization has had a thousand years to work its magic, and now there is a summation under way, and I certainly don’t presume to judge it, how do you place a value on an entire civilization? But in the same way that when a person dies, their entire life passes before them in review, when a civilization dies, it hypnogogically cycles the detritus of centuries and centuries of struggle to understand. And someone like Joyce, I think, just brings that to an excruciating climax. It’s all there, from the smile that tugs at the lips of the woman in the Arnold Feeney wedding, to quantum physics, to what Molliere said to his niece in the 15th letter and so on and so on, and the task is to hold it in your mind. I think it was William James who said, “if we don’t read the books with which we carefully line our apartments, then we’re no better than our dogs and cats.” And too often this is lost sight of. And the point is not simply that we are aesthetes, literatures, and that here in the twilight of the gods we should sit around reading Joyce, that’s not the point. The point is, that this is the distillation of our experience of what it is to be human. And it’s out of these kinds of distilling processes that we can launch some kind of new dispensation for the human enterprise because we have played it out, it’s now a set piece, all of it. I mean when I listen to rock n’ roll now, it’s interesting to me that it has the completedness of polyphony. It’s a done deal somehow, we’re looking backward, and we’re anticipating.
The purpose of literature is to illuminate the past and to give a certain guidance as we move into the future. This book, by being at first so opaque, so challenging to aesthetic canons and social values, eventually emerges as a very prescient insight into our circumstance.
The ballad of Finnegan’s Wake has hundreds of verses, and in an Irish pub, it can keep people going all night long. It’s a celebration of complexity and the human journey, and Joyce doesn’t judge, it says somewhere in FW, “Here in Moycayn” which is the red light district of Dublin, “we flop on the seamy side, but up near Yent prospector, you sprout all your worth and woof your wings. So if you want to be Phoenixed, come and be parked.” That’s that passage about death. It was a very optimistic transformative, sort of vision. Somehow complexity is the ocean we have to learn to surf. That’s the river, and that’s the psychedelic side of it. I mean, imagine that you can get 63,000 different words in here, tell a story, and have all the common articles and modifiers operating normally anyway.
And then it’s very optimistic, I mean, Molly Bloom’s speech is probably the single most optimistic outpouring in all of 20th century literature. Not that there was much competition. The final affirmation.
Sam Beckett, Nobel Prize Winner, genius in his own right, but, secretary to James Joyce for many many years, and passionately in love with Joyce’s tragically schizophrenic daughter. You want an unhappy story, you’ll find out why Sam Beckett is not exactly laughing all the time. A very complex relationship to Joyce’s schizophrenic child.
Joyce’s family life was not very happy. I think he had a very sensuous life with Nora, but I don’t know what it would be like to be the guy who wrote this book to live with a woman who thought you would be better off as a saloon singer. Not exactly a saloon singer, but still.
Shall I try and find a passage?
“Let us now, weather, health, dangers, public orders and other circumstances permitting, of perfectly convenient, if you police, after you, policepolice, pardoning mein, ich beam so fresch, bey? drop this jiggerypokery and talk straight turkey meet to mate, for while the ears, be we mikealls or nicholists, may sometimes be inclined to believe others the eyes, whether browned or nolensed, find it devilish hard now and again even to believe itself. Habes aures et num videbis? Habes oculos ac mannepalpabuat? Tip! Drawing nearer to take our slant at it (since after all it has met with misfortune while all underground), let us see all there may remain to be seen.
But I am a worker, a tombstone mason, anxious to pleace averyburies and jully glad when Christmas comes his once a year. You are a poorjoist, unctuous to polise nopebobbies and tunnibelly soully when ‘tis thime took o’er home, gin. We cannot say aye to aye. We cannot smile noes from noes. One cannot help noticing that rather more than half of the lines run north-south in the Nemzes and Bukarahast directions while the others go west-east in search from Maliziies with Bulgarad for tiny tot though it looks when schtschupnistling alongside other incunabula it has its cardinal points for all that.”
Tip. Now, this word tip which keeps occurring throughout the text, no one is clear what it means, but Joe Campbell’s guess is, it’s a tree branch which is tapping against the window, and whoever is dreaming this hallucinatory gizmo of a dream, every once in a while a tap of the branch breaks through…
(continue to Riding Range With Marshall McLuhan)