Monday, April 24, 2017

Waywords & Meansigns Returns with a Third Volume, Featuring Contributions from FinWakeATX

(Art by Jacob Drachler from his glorious book Id-Grids and Ego-Graphs: A Confabulation With Finnegans Wake, reviewed at

The Waywords & Meansigns collective effort of setting Finnegans Wake to music via contributions from artists all over the world is set to release another new edition, its third rendering of the Wake, this one featuring over a hundred contributors from around the world each recording short selections from the text. I took part in this latest endeavor, creating a 17-minute recording of pages 613-615, produced and mixed by my friends Scott Rhodes and Luke Sanders-Self from the Finnegans Wake Reading Group of Austin (we dubbed our selection "Vicocyclometer"). The latest edition will be released on May 4th.

To celebrate the newest release, Waywords & Meansigns mastermind Derek Pyle has been spreading the good word in various Joycean outlets. Recently he wrote a few guest blog posts at the official James Joyce Centre blog featuring quotes from returning contributors to the Waywords project discussing their experience with the latest edition. I was among those quoted there and the other folks had some very interesting stuff to say about the Finnegans Wake immersion experience, so be sure to check that post out.

Here's a snippet from what I had to say about it:
Letting those kind of lines seep into your mind, you start to feel the incantatory magic of the Wake’s language. It affects the way you see the world, the way you hear language, it proliferates the Joycean perspective of epiphany. It’s extraordinary, to say the least.
(Derek also just appeared on the Resonance FM show "Sonic Imperfections" where he played a selection from our new piece and talked a bit about its background. This blog got a great shout out! I'm quite proud and honored for that. Check out that show HERE, skip to 14:22 mark for Derek's appearance.
---Edit: added, 4/26/17.)

Check out the first edition of Waywords & Meansigns released in 2015, featuring the full text of Finnegans Wake set to music HERE where friends and I created a three-hour rendition of the "Yawn Under Inquest" chapter (Track 15 at that link). You can read more about my experience creating a chapter for the first edition in this blog post and this interview.

Overall, I'm thrilled with the whole Waywords & Meansigns endeavor and grateful to Derek for his work in managing it all. It gives me great satisfaction and hope for humanity to know that so many people all around the world (contributors come from 15 different countries) have been immersing themselves in Joyce's great cosmic love letter, puzzling through the psychedelic dream opera and working to capture its inspired essence through music. The more people spending time reading and enjoying Finnegans Wake on this planet, the better. Its power of upliftment and enlightening humor is nuclear.

Check this space again soon, as I will have a guest blog from my pal Scott Rhodes who produced our "Vicocyclometer" passage and wrote an exceedingly insightful essay on his experience.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Great Letter and the Infinite Process of Self-Embedding

"When a part so ptee does duty for the holos 
we soon grow to use of an allforabit." 
- FW p. 18-19

"Will you walk into my wavetrap? 
said the spiter to the shy." 
- FW p. 287

"Joyce wants his text to contain the whole universe with all its recursive times (recorso) and histories. He also wants the whole of the Wake to be contained in each of its self-similar parts. His ideal reader is supposed to grasp the text both in recursive loops of readings and in a holistic perception of the whole text in each part. If one wants to imagine a fractal text that entails the 'infinite self-embedding of complexity,' Finnegans Wake comes as close to it as possible. The Wake enfolds words into words that enfold other words, and all these imaginary word-worlds enfold narratives within narratives of other narratives, or characters that are the effects of other characters, and so on ad infinitum. Joyce even seems to tease us about this infinite process of self-embedding when he deposits the Great Letter in the muddy surface of his text. The Great Letter is figured as a miniature Finnegans Wake which in turn, contains the Great Letter which contains Finnegans Wake which contains the Great Letter which contains Finnegans Wake... Chaos theory has termed this well-known mise-en-abîme 'self-similarity.' Defined as symmetry across scale, self-similarity 'implies recursion, pattern inside of pattern' (Gleick, Chaos: Making a New Science, 103). 'Fractal meant self-similar,' writes Gleick (...). The Wake drives this dream of infinite self-similarity to its extreme: as an enfolded replica of Finnegans Wake which, in turn, is figured as a text able to store all texts, sounds, and signs of all times, past and future, the Great Letter also embodies, somewhat self-ironically, the Wake's dream of being a written hologram of a self-similar universe."
- Gabriele Schwab, The Mirror and the Killer-Queen: Otherness in Literary Language, p. 76
(Encountered on p. 145 of Joyce & Liberature by Katarzyna Bazarnik, which I discussed further here.)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Happy Birthday to James Joyce! (& The Feast of St. Brigit)

Happy Birthday to James Joyce! Born on 2/2/1882. And Happy Birthday to Ulysses! Published on 2/2/1922.

February 2nd is a very special day in Joyceana.

For James Joyce, February 2 was, in Richard Ellmann's words, a 'talismanic' day: a point on the great wheel of time where an event of the present could resonate in 'sacred coincidence' with correlative events of an earlier cycle, thus imbuing the present with a potency that is at once symbolic, mythic, or even numinous. On February 2, 1939, Joyce, with his family and friends, celebrated his own birth fifty-seven years earlier as well as the 'birth' of his magnum opus---the arrival of the first printed copy of Finnegans Wake.

This 'talismanic' day, February 2, also coincides with the ancient Irish feast of Imbolc, one of the four great holy days in the Celtic wheel of the year. (Imbolc's bowdlerized vestiges can still be found in both Candelmas and Groundhog Day.) Imbolc is sacred to the goddess Brigit, the one-eyed patroness of Ireland's visionary poets (the Filidh), her mythologists, and her storytellers. In pagan Ireland, Imbolc, birthday of the ancient goddess, observed the arrival of light after long darkness; Imbolc celebrated the birth of a new cycle of life and also honored the goddess whose gifts---poetic insight, mnemonic ability, linguistic skill, knowledge of the ancient lore, and 'fire in the head'---allowed her votaries to preserve and continue the ancient Irish tradition. Thus, the feast day of this archaic Irish goddess of poets is also the birthday of the modern Irishman who, perhaps more than any of his contemporaries, embodies the very gifts she was understood to bestow. 

That's from the wonderful first page of Wake Rites: The Ancient Irish Rituals of Finnegans Wake by George Cinclair Gibson, perhaps the most important and illuminating book that has been written about Joyce's opus so far. Ever since we came upon page 611 in our Austin Finnegans Wake Reading Group, beginning the climactic St. Patrick vs the Archdruid Berkeley debate, I've been absorbed in and astounded by the insights presented in Wake Rites.

In it, Gibson describes seventeen as "the sacred number of regeneration for the pagan Irish." Tonight, on Joyce's birthday and St. Brigit's Feast Day in the 17th year of the 21st century, on the 17th floor at the graciously accommodating Irish Consulate, reading from the 17th chapter of the book Joyce wrote over a 17-year period, we dug into what is generally considered the book's climactic scene. Page 612, depicting the legendary confrontation between the invading Catholic Patrick with his mumbling groaning missionaries ("mister guest Patholic with alb belongahim the whose throat hum with of sametime...cassock groaner fellas of greysfriarfamily" 611.7-8) crashing the ultimate pagan Irish ritual ceremony at the Hill of Tara and defeating the Archdruid in a debate in front of the High King of Tara, usurping the archaic order of the poets, knocking the sage on his ass, and banning the ancient Irish seer-poet's mysterious and magical Dark Tongue language forever.

It is in the final chapter of Wake Rites, in discussing the extra bizarre language of the Patrick/Druid debate, where Mr. Gibson gives the most convincing and comprehensive argument I've yet seen for the reason behind the absurdly obscure language throughout Joyce's most treasured work. Gibson posits that it is Joyce's revival of the ancient Irish Dark Tongue:

In Old Irish, this artificially constructed tongue was known as bélra na filed, 'language of the filidh,' and was striking in its outrageous presentation, colorful characteristics, and nearly impenetrable obscurity. Bélra na filed (also called the 'Dark Tongue') is a language nearly incomprehensible in its polyglot logorrhea; language sometimes blathering, at other times ranting, ribald, profound, or scatological, and everywhere laden with absurd catalogues of everything; language rife with riddles, and riddled with puns, neologisms, and a plethora of polysemes and portmanteaus..."

This is the language spoken by the Archdruid Berkeley or "Balkelly" on pgs 611-612 in his extremely dense, silly and scientific debate with Patrick on the nature of the visible world and the light spectrum. Joyce describes it wonderfully through a language that actually is the thing itself ("the Ding hvad in idself id est" (p. 611)): "in other words verbigratiagrading from murmurulentous till stridulocelerious in a hunghoranghoangoly tsinglontseng." (p. 611) A verbal rambling flowing like the Huang He river in a sing-a-along sing-song style. The Druid's language is representative of the riverine "riverrun" language of Finnegans Wake itself. The flamboyant, rainbow-flavored "heptachromatic sevenhued septicoloured" style of the Druid battles against the invading black-and-white perspective grey-frocked Catholic Patrick "shiroskuro blackinwhitepaddynger" (p. 612) in a confrontation carrying out a core argument for the style and essential purpose of the book itself. As Joyce wrote to his patron, "Much more is intended in the colloquy between Berkeley the archdruid and his pidgin speech and Patrick the [saint] and his Nippon English. It is also the defense and indictment of the book itself."

How unbelievably special it was for us to experience the exegetical exploration of this page, the recovery of the ancient past, the Druidic Irish language of the seer-sage-poet "Bilkilly-Belkelly-Balkally" whose patroness is St. Brigit, on February 2nd at the Irish Consulate. I'm thankful to Adrian Farrell at the Consulate for so kindly hosting us and sharing in the fascination of Joyce's revival of the ancient Irish poetic wisdom.


Read more about this important passage over at Peter Chrisp's essential blog where he outlines the evolution of what was one of the earliest sketches Joyce composed for Finnegans Wake.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

FinWakeATX visits the Irish Consulate in Austin

Our group's new t-shirt design, courtesy of Evan James from Sunken Ship Studios.

It's been quite a year for our Finnegans Wake Reading Group here in Austin.

We've experienced significant growth, with new members showing up to almost every meeting. We've spent most of the year studying my favorite chapter, Book IV, taking it very slowly to absorb as much of the meanings and references as we can. In July, myself and another member of our group were on stage with the Austin Classical Guitar Orchestra at the Blanton Auditorium reciting passages from the Wake in front of a couple hundred people (after which I was handed the mic and answered questions from the crowd). And most recently, partly as a result of the attention the orchestra show received, we've built a relationship with the Irish Consulate here in Austin, TX.

Last night we had our first ever meeting at the Irish Consulate with the Consulate General himself, Mr. Adrian Farrell, taking part in our regular hermeneutic routine. Was great to have an Irishman and Dublin native sharing his reflections on the text with us.

Fittingly for studying a synchronicity-laden text consisting of 17 chapters, the Consulate is located on the 17th floor and we were reading from the 17th chapter. Another amusing resonance among many that occurred on the evening: our circular recitative reading leading to the question "This Mister Ireland?" (FW 608.14) being asked aloud by readers sitting directly adjacent to the Irish Consulate General.

The page was ripe with gems. In the group's 4-year history, the standard has always been for us to read and decipher 2 pages in each meeting but once we entered Book IV we had to narrow our focus down to 1 page at a time. Last night's page was a prime example. You could unpack that one page for weeks. We spent a solid 2 hours on it, the essence of the text revealing itself bit by bit until a eureka moment toward the end. (This is the typical pattern of a Wake group meeting.) (A little bit of Jameson, courtesy of the Consulate, served to enhance our enjoyment.)

In the opening paragraph, amid the fog of dawn, Joyce toys with ironic puns combining references to the skepticism of science with the sorcery of summoning spirits of the dead in a séance: "It is a mere mienerism of this vague of visibilities, mark you, as accorded to by moisturologist of the Brehons Assorceration for the advauncement of scayence..." Love that word "scayence" (science + séance).

The fog of sleep is gradually lifting and what we're left with is the family of core symbols or sigla, the foundational archetypes whose endless permutations fill the pages of Joyce's book. We get descriptions of those symbols, the same ones that appear on pg 299 as "The Doodles Family." (You can read all about the sigla here.)  Consideration of the sigla, the core building blocks of the Wake's universe constituting a family of elements, led to discussion of the I-Ching. Once that cat was out of the bag, we discovered clear reference to the I-Ching on the page and then my head officially exploded. The ensuing discoveries warrant their own blog post in the future.

My favorite part of the text, the sentence that I'll be chewing on for days, came towards the end:

In the wake of the blackshape, Nattenden Sorte; whenat, hindled firth and hundled furth, the week of wakes is out and over; as a wick weak woking from ennemberable Ashias unto fierce force fuming, temtem tamtam, the Phoenican wakes.

In the wake of the black ship, (named) "Dark Coming On" (see Fweet); when, kindled fire and hurdled forward, the week of wakes is out and over; (and here's the best part:) as a weak wick waking from in-emberable ashes unto fierce force fuming... the Phoenix-Finnegan wakes!

A weak candle wick wakes from innumerable embers of ashes into a fierce fuming force, the phoenix arising from the ashes. Also the sun arising from innumerable Asias, unfathomable depths from the east.

The "temtem tamtam" as a sound is a recurring motif in the Wake, also kinda sounds like the flickerings of a flame coming to life. "Tem" could be Tim as in Tim Finnegan, the hod carrier at the heart of the "Finnegan's Wake" ballad. Tem is also apparently the creator god in the Egyptian Book of the Dead where he's said to "comest forth from the Great Deep."

"the Phoenican wakes."

Say that slowly a few times.

(Immense debt of gratitude is owed to the Irish Consulate and Adrian Farrell for being so welcoming and hospitable to us. Also I raise my glass to the MVP of the Consulate gathering, Evan James, who not only designed and screenprinted awesome t-shirts for the Finnegans Wake Reading Group of Austin, but made the long drive down from Dallas to deliver the goods and partake in the gathering.)

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Finnegans Wake on Donald Trump

Finnegans Wake always seems to have something to say regarding the current moment. It is, after all, "as modern as tomorrow afternoon." (FW p. 309) It's been called the western I-Ching, an oracle capable of answering questions about the present.

We unfortunate souls in America paying any attention to the news cycle during the past year or so have had to endure an endless string of abhorrent new scandals and bloated boasts of bigotry and xenophobia (not to mention misogyny, homophobia, insults against the handicapped and seemingly every other form of expressed hatred a human being is capable of) all pouring out of that orange-faced, brillo-headed, sphincter-mouth creep, Donald J. Trump, who is somehow a major candidate for President of the United States.

It will come as no surprise that Finnegans Wake has some things to say about all this. First off, the main character of the text, who goes by hundreds of different names all constructed out of the initials HCE, is a public figure who becomes embroiled in some sort of sexually-charged scandal, just as Donald Trump finds himself in right now. Much like with our modern corporate media machine in conjunction with social media, the transgressions of HCE in Finnegans Wake spread around like wildfire through rumors and gossip among the public, the story bending and twisting with each retelling such that in the end nobody knows what actually happened, but speculation is rampant. 

Eventually the townspeople become so enraged at their leader's moral corruption that they gather into an angry mob to hunt down the offender. The story culminates in "The Ballad of Persse O'Reilly" on page 44, a burlesque song about the indiscretions of a corrupt leader and his downfall. It is here where we find some direct commentary on the despicable Mr. Trump:

Small wonder He'll Cheat E'erawan our local lads nicknamed him
 So snug he was in his hotel premises sumptuous
 But soon we'll bonfire all his trash, tricks, and trumpery
 (FW p. 44)

"He'll Cheat Everyone/Anyone" certainly sounds like a nickname the New York/New Jersey local lads would have bestowed upon Trump who is notorious for cheating vendors and contractors (not to mention customers of his fake "university").

And how perfect is "So snug he was in his hotel premises sumptuous"? Trump, the real estate baron, is known for his high-end "sumptuous" hotel chain, the buildings featuring giant golden letters showing TRUMP in all caps. "Snug" also sounds like smug. Can you be more smug than that?

Eventually the people have had enough of his "trash, tricks, and trumpery" and will bring it all down to ashes in a bonfire. We can only hope to accomplish the same thing with America's smug trickster. And if you look at the definition of "trumpery" it could not be more appropriate: showy but worthless, derived from a French word meaning "to deceive."  

Another link between Trump and the embattled HCE is that they both lust after their beautiful daughters. Except, in HCE's defense, his complicated feelings for his daughter Isabel are veiled and appear only in the bizarre dream circus that is Finnegans Wake. These are repressed feelings springing up in the unconscious state, teasing and tormenting the dreamer. In Trump's case, he's made his own horrifying incestuous inclinations loud and clear on national daytime media outlets on multiple occasions.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Video: Writing for the Second Time Through Finnegans Wake by John Cage

Writing for the Second Time Through Finnegans Wake by John Cage from Franklin Furnace on Vimeo.

This is entirely unique. John Cage's detailing of the methods behind the mesostic poems he generated from the pages of Finnegans Wake and his subsequent presentation of these mesostics amplifies and brings focus to the book's special brand of verbal music. Every word is a play of sound and Cage has a keen appreciation for this. The fun he seems to have with the Wake enhances my enjoyment of it.

It seems every reader of Finnegans Wake has their own way of piecing it all apart and putting it back together, the brilliant and enigmatic composer Cage is no different. A lover of Joyce's melodic "nat language" (FW p. 83) from as far back as the book's Work in Progress stage, Cage considered Finnegans Wake "without a doubt the most important book of the twentieth century." (Begin Again: A Biography of John Cage, p. 294) He obsessed over it for years at a time, wrote music inspired by it, and corresponded with some of the era's heavyweight Wake-heads like Marshall McLuhan and Norman O. Brown.

His musical composition Roaratorio, an Irish Circus on Finnegans Wake is probably his most well-known Joyce-inspired creation. But for me, nothing surpasses this wonderful talk where Cage articulates his passion for the Wake and provides his very own abridged version of the text through his quirky, beguiling mesostics.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Rise and Shine: The Dawn Prayers of Book IV (Part 2)

The final paragraph of page 593, in a style mimicking The Egyptian Book of the Dead, declares:
The eversower of the seeds of light ... Pu Nuseht ... lord of risings in the yonderworld ... speaketh. (FW p. 593)
The sun, in the form of an Egyptian priest named "Pu Nuseht" ("The sun up" reversed), now speaks.

What does it say? 
93 million miles away from, came one to represent the nation
This is a gathering of the masses that come to pay respect to the Wu-Tang Clan---
Oh wait, that's Wu-Tang Clan wordsmith Masta Killa on "Triumph". The declarations of "toph triumphant" (FW p. 593) ["toph" is backward phot- Greek photo meaning "light"] on the other hand, are actually quite similar. "Light is provided through sparks of energy from the mind that travels in rhyme form," Masta Killa waxes. The blind can now see, the darkness has given way to light, and the people are called to unite as one. "Sonne feine" on 593 is Sinn Fein, the Irish slogan "We, Ourselves" fighting for independence, as well as the fine shining sun.

The opening pages of the final chapter in Finnegans Wake are declarations of revolution, simultaneously the uprising of sunlight beginning to clear away darkness and a political uprising of the populace against oppression. The sun is up and it's awakening all Finns, "Calling all downs to dayne" (FW 593), the dawn of a resurrection, the rising of the sun and the people embodied by HCE, "Here Comes Everybody." Page 593, as we found, contains many references to the Easter Rising of 1916, the entire page essentially playing upon the heavily symbolic name of the event and the actual historical occurrence of an Irish revolt. Page 594 continues this theme with "Svadesia salve!" where Svadesia is "self-governing" in Hindustani and "salve" is the salvation of the people, also a healing salve, a renewal of sins and sense with the sun's rise.

We dug into page 594 in a recent Austin Wake reading group and extracted enough material out of just one page to take us beyond our typical two hour meeting time. We could probably study this one page for weeks. It's one long paragraph of exclamations and descriptions of light rays mingling with solar situated monoliths during ancient equinox/solstice ritual celebrations.

There's a lot going on here.

So much that, while these pages are fascinating enough to compel me to compose these posts in the first place, I'm hesitant to try breaking down this page to the same degree I did page 593. This could go on forever. A man has written an entire book about this page.