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.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Finn Awakens: The Influence of Finnegans Wake on Star Wars

Be sure to go check out eminent illustrator and Joycean Bobby Campbell's newest blog post connecting the dots between Finnegans Wake and Star Wars.

Here's a snippet:
The latest installment in the Star Wars saga, Episode VII, includes 2 potential high-profile references to the monomythic source material. The episode title The Force Awakens is a pretty simple jump from Finnegans Wake, and it’s an even smaller leap of logic to Finn, the stormtrooper turned rebel hero. Of course, these may be merely coincidental creative decisions, but it’d be cooler if they weren’t!
In the world of Wakean synchronicities and bizarre anachronisms, these are completely valid observations. Somehow Finnegans Wake is always current, "as modern as tomorrow afternoon" (FW p. 309).

An alternate title for the new Star Wars film could have been Finn Awakens.

The main criticism being lodged against the new film is that it essentially repeats the story of the very first Star Wars installment. This is reminiscent of what's going on in Finnegans Wake where the same story with the same essential players or archetypes is told and retold in different versions of the same thing, "one thousand and one stories, all told, of the same." (FW p. 5)

The theme of the younger generation taking over from their elders is also a prominent feature of The Force Awakens and is a core theme in Finnegans Wake where the sons unite to topple their father.

(SPOILER ALERT: The final scene of The Force Awakens also takes place on an island off the coast of Ireland.)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

What is Finnegans Wake? A Simulacrum of the Globe (Part 1)

Out of all the alternative theories about Finnegans Wake you can find out there, few are more unique and compelling than this one.

In an essay for the Hypermedia Joyce Studies journal from 2007 entitled "Joyce, Liberature and Writing of the Book," a Joyce scholar from Poland named Katarzyna Bazarnik unveils an entirely new perspective of Joyce's cryptic magnum opus, arguing that the physical text itself was intentionally constructed to be a sort of simulacrum for our earthly globe.

Bazarnik lays out her theory persuasively, beginning by discussing Joyce's history of carefully crafting all of his works to achieve certain meaningful results in the final physical presentation. This tendency goes as far back as his 1914 collection of poems, Giacomo Joyce, which Richard Ellmann felt "could not be properly appreciated without resorting to its actual, physical form." Ellmann was convinced that "the appearance of the work on the page may have become an element of its substance."

Similar intentions are evident in the composition of Ulysses whose text Joyce constantly added onto and tinkered with until the very last minute, resulting in a range of Joycean correspondences such as:
on page 77 “Seventh heaven” was inserted as the seventh sentence in a paragraph where Bloom muses on what people feel taking the holy communion. On page 88 Joyce added: “Aged 88 after a long and tedious illness” to an obituary Bloom is scanning. When Bloom is thinking about weight, gravity, and the rate of falling bodies, he recalls its value: “thirty two feet per second”, in the thirty-second sentence of the paragraph. And in “Calypso” the punctuation of Milly’s letter was so modified as to contain fifteen sentences. Bloom was struck by a coincidence between Milly turning fifteen on the fifteenth of June, the day she wrote the letter...
If one pursued such numerology further, one could notice that the first edition of the novel counts 732 pages. This is the number of nights and days in the leap year; coincidentally, 1904, when Ulysses is set, was a leap year, too. Besides, the diurnal and nocturnal halves of the book are equal: the dawn falls exactly on pages 364-5. “Done half by design” thinks Bloom at that moment, reflecting on the shape of the Dublin Bay.
Many of these little synchronicities are preserved only in the original 1922 text as all subsequent editions included enough additions and modifications to collapse these hidden little houses of cards.

Thankfully, in the case of Finnegans Wake the same pagination has been preserved from the original 1939 publication giving us a chance to pick apart Joyce's astounding structural engineering.

Bazarnik argues that since the Wake describes itself as “the book of Doublends Jined” (FW 20.16) or double ends joined, "we can visualise it as a book opened in such a way that its covers are joined, while its radially extending pages form a circle." This linking of front and back was confirmed, in Bazarnik's view, by the design of the first edition which bore the same lettering on the front and back covers, not to mention the final uncompleted sentence linking to the opening line of the book.

A new way to view the mandala of Finnegans Wake.
Not only does this view of the text give new implications to its length of 628 pages as representing the circumference of a circle (in a simple formula Bazarnik shows as 2r x 3.14 = 628 where r=100), but the shape of the text can now be viewed geographically as a "Shapesphere" (FW 295.04) or
"gllll (... (...) ... (...) ...) lobe" (FW 54.29 - 55.1):

This diagram is the most fascinating visual representation of Finnegans Wake I've encountered aside from John Bishop's relief maps in Joyce's Book of the Dark. I find her theory absolutely stunning. Bazarnik points to a number of references to various polar regions appearing around pages 627, 628, 3, and 4 while in the middle of the text (the South Pole on the map) appear references to a bunch of polar explorers and vessels.

She even offers an entirely new viewpoint for the mysterious clustering of particular languages appearing throughout the text, noting specific languages and references appearing in alignment with the Tropic of Cancer or the Tropic of Capricorn on the globe diagram. Many of these appearances, she emphasizes, were added in the later stages of composition including this apparent reference to the cartographic character of ALP's letter: "But once done, dealt and delivered, tattat, you’re on the map. Rased on traumscrapt from Maston, Boss. After rounding his world of ancient days." (FW 623.29-624.01)

Another late modification was to replace the word "geographical" with "geodetic" emphasizing the book's embodiment of the branch of mathematics dealing with the shape and area of the earth. This change was made on page 114 in the middle of a chapter describing the curious nature of Finnegans Wake itself:
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... It is seriously believed by some that the intention may have been geodetic. (FW 114.02-114.15)
She closes by quoting Clive Hart from his book Structure and Motif in Finnegans Wake where he clearly picked up on the same thing writing on pg 111: "The 'intention may have been geodetic' indeed. Finnegans Wake is laid out like a map of the globe---'a chart expanded' (593.19)---for geography is as important to Joyce as history."


No wonder Joyce considered himself the greatest engineer who ever lived.

This theory goes along quite nicely with the similarly mind-blowing idea put forth by Joyce scholar Roy Benjamin in a recent James Joyce Quarterly article about the precession of the equinoxes in Finnegans Wake.

We will dig into that in Part 2.

(Credit is owed to the Finnegans Awake Tumblr page which first alerted me to this article.)