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 smug 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 smug 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. 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."  



Postscript: 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 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.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Rise and Shine: The Dawn Prayers of Book IV (Part 1)

"Pu Nuseht, lord of risings"

In our local Finnegans Wake Reading Group here in Austin, the month of April introduced us to a new chapter in the text. Right after the spring equinox sprung forth Austin's lush verdant landscape into abundant green blooming, we kicked off the 17th and final chapter of Finnegans Wake, the sole chapter making up Book IV starting on page 593. (Note: this is actually our seventh chapter since the start of the reading group in 2012 since we are approaching the text in the non-linear chapter sequence described here.)

The chapter brings dawn, sunrise, and renewal to the long dark night of the Wake. The earliest rays of dawn sunlight creeping over the horizon spring this corner of the world to life; the sleeping Irish pub owner Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker is summoned for resurrection.

It's the awakening of all the Finnegans.

I've always considered this my favorite chapter for its ample use of Eastern mythological themes (Sanskrit features heavily in the opening, as we'll see) and because this chapter of sacred invocations and prayers to the rising sun is among the richest, most dense and rewarding sections of the entire book. It's one of the last parts Joyce wrote in the Wake's 17-year compositional odyssey and all the themes of the book seem to be distilled here.

Normally in our reading group we study two pages per meeting. Because of this chapter's densely packed collection of riches and the awe-inspiring poetic nature of its main theme (dawn and renewal), we are tackling this section at a pace of one page per meeting. So far, after two meetings we've unearthed a great deal of treasures---mostly related to the renewing fires of the sun---but in my follow-up research into the pages I've uncovered lots more.

That being the case, I'd like to examine some of the themes present in these first two pages of Book IV here. There is a ton to unpack, so bear with me.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Mathematicians Confirm: Finnegans Wake is Fractal


While constructing Finnegans Wake, James Joyce boasted, "I am really one of the greatest engineers, if not the greatest, in the world."

In studying the intricate designs of the Wake, one realizes this statement applies to many different aspects of it. The book is a living machine, cranking out fresh meanings, references, and connections every time you engage with it. It was published nearly 80 years ago yet somehow its material can always apply to the present day.

It was also, as I've written about recently, engineered as a rotating reconstruction of the Earth.

And its entire framework, from the most minor details to the overriding structure, is fractal. Devoted Wake-heads have always been aware of this, but now some physicists and mathematicians examining literature have confirmed the Wake's fractal fabric.

From The Guardian:

The absolute record in terms of multifractality turned out to be Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. The results of our analysis of this text are virtually indistinguishable from ideal, purely mathematical multifractals,” said Professor Stanisław Drożdż, another author of the paper, which has just been published in the computer science journal Information Sciences."



fractal (n) - a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Fractals are useful in modeling structures (such as eroded coastlines or snowflakes) in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales, and in describing partly random or chaotic phenomena such as crystal growth, fluid turbulence, and galaxy formation.

"find, if you are not literally cooefficient, how minney combinaisies and permutandies can be played on the international surd!" - FW p. 284  

Friday, January 22, 2016

What is Finnegans Wake? A Simulacrum of the Globe (Part 2)

Further reinforcing the astounding idea that James Joyce constructed the physical text of Finnegans Wake as a simulacrum of the earthly globe is Roy Benjamin's theory expounded in his excellent article "What Era’s O’ering?: The Precession of the Equinoxes in Finnegans Wake" (from James Joyce Quarterly Vol. 48.1*) where he argues that the Precession of the Equinoxes and the ancient myths revolving around this phenomenon play a central role in the Wake.

It appears that Joyce not only shaped the whole of his book in the form of the spherical earth, he made sure to set it in motion, "whirled without end to end" (FW 582.20) amid the glistening theater of constellations. So accurately did he render its spin that even the earth's slight wobble, like "the spin of a coin" (FW 127.14) or "the spin of the top" (FW 163.18), and the resultant celestial re-positioning that ensues over millennia are featured in his simulacrum.

Remember, Joyce literally put painstaking effort into constructing his works down to the most minute details, especially Finnegans Wake. John Bishop calls it "the single most intentionally crafted literary artefact that our culture has produced." (I cannot refer to that statement enough.) This was not by accident. It's been 75 years since its publication and scholars are still uncovering new forms in its fractal latticework.