Archive for November 2010

Technical Problems   Leave a comment

I went to the Finnegans Wake Reading Group in Zurich again last Thursday. It was good to spend an hour close reading with this group, numbering musicians, artists, neurologists and dancers – for many of whom Joyce is a muse. The imposing new Houyhnhnm Press edition of FW was passed around too and we admired the tome.

Back at the James Joyce Foundation on the Friday, I read Northrop Frye’s chapter, “Cycle and Apocalypse” in Vico and Joyce. On page five, Frye proposes that the Wake’s 4 sections correspond to Vico’s four cyclical phases of history. Hence:

Section 1 chapters 1-8 = mythical poetic period. (Legend and myths of the gods)

Section 2 chapters 1-4 = aristocratic phase.

Section 3 chapters 1-4 = demotic phase.

Final chapter = ricorso.

Frye asserts that “there is little evidence that the mature Joyce read technical philosophy with any patience or persistence – not even Heraclitus, who could have given him most of what he needed of the philosophy of polarity in a couple of aphorisms.” (5)  This is interesting given how the “riverrun” gushes right through the Wake.

Frye goes on to state that time for Vico is cyclical, but within a spatial metaphor; but that Bruno devised a new conception of space where “subject-object confrontation dissolves back into a temporal flux.Which makes for quite a folded and refolded image…(N.B. Joyce was interested in polarity due to Giorgano Bruno’s writings (5)).

My other reading last Friday included Joyce’s children’s story, The Cat and the Devil; and Alison Armstrong’s recipe book, The Joyce of Cooking. Consequently, this Christmas we will be delighting in “Combustible Duck”, as inspired by Ulysses (175).

I do hope I manage some more reading between now and then, but my mini disk player has conked out at the moment…

Please, check back here soon for more installments.

Following up on notes   Leave a comment


In this passage all directions are whispered; all section “headings” are read loudly; and the footnotes are read all together at the end!

My favourite endnote of the year is in Timothy Morton’s The Ecological Thought. It refers to the “happy-happy joy-joy” song in Ren and Stimpy. I’ve since returned this book to its owner, but I guess the context of the endnote was consumerism… or perhaps environmentalism as an ideological consumer strategy?

See for example Morton’s post of May 2000:

“the knowing, happy-happy joy-joy imagery of workers in suburbia/countryside, a homage to Stalinist cinema), “New Killer Star” observes correctly that there’s nowhere to which to escape, nowhere from which to mount a criticism of current social conditions that is outside of those conditions. Nature is as much a part of the perverse enjoyment-factory as the twin towers of the power station exuding polluting smoke within the emerald landscape of the video.”

Well, today I received a Ren & Stimpy box set from Amazon, and have just finished appreciating the “perverse enjoyment factory” satirized in the “happy-happy joy-joy” song.

Right! Now its time to grapple with the massive footnotes in the current excerpt of Finnegans Wake (located at the top of this post, as per usual).

The Big Bear bit the Sailor’s Only.   Leave a comment

(267.22- 274.27)

In this passage all directions are whispered; all section “headings” are read loudly; and the footnotes are read all together at the end!

I’m fazed by this chapter. It is hard. The format reminds me of Ponge’s text La Seine, with the text flowing between wide white margins. And the italicised and the capitalised texts that crop up on the right and left hand sides of the page respectively, seem to bend the flow and direction of the central prose in unexpected ways. And then there are the foot notes: do they bob in front of the main current? Or are they underneath it – in another world?

After stories about trees on Friday, I’m now researching stories about snow, for a Pro Natura storytelling session in December. Today, I tried looking in Peter Berresford Ellis’s Celtic Myths and Legends for snow: nothing there so far. However Ellis’s introduction taught me more about about the Celts, their rivers, wakes, and metempsychosis:

“Death is never the conqueror…the ancient Celts were one of the first cultures to evolve a sophisticated doctrine of the immortality of the soul, in a form of reincarnation… The Celts taught that death is only a change of place and that life goes on, with all its forms and goods, in the Otherworld and when a soul dies in the Otherworld, it is reborn in this one. Thus birth was greeted with mourning and death with exaltation and celebration.” (19-20)

Ellis goes on to say:

“It is important to remember that, for the ancient Celts the soul reposed in the head… Sometimes the heads were placed in sanctuaries, or more often, were placed in the sacred Celtic rivers as votive offerings.” (20)

Finnegans Wake, isn’t it both head and river?

Night Lessons/ Sloe Reading   Leave a comment

(260.1 – 267.21)

In this passage all directions are whispered; all section “headings” are read loudly; and the footnotes are read all together at the end!

…I walked in the woods today, to practice a few forest stories for a storytelling session I’m doing tomorrow night.  Gaelic stories and the training of the seanachie (storyteller) provide a contextual background for the Wake. The stories I’m working with are from the Western Highland Tales collected and retold by Sir Fitzroy Maclean; and they show the influence of both Celtic and Norse cosmologies (Joyce similarly notes this interplay of Celtic and Norse in Irish vernacular in the section of Wake I read today, 265 – footnote 2).

With regard to the interplay between Irish and Scots Celts, the introduction to the story about Diarmid and the Great Boar in WHT, tells how “Diarmid O Duibhne’s mother was sister to the Irish hero Finn MacCoul” (33). Note, Finn MacCool is the answer to the very long squirming question number  1 in the radio quiz in Finnegans Wake (126.10-139.14).

Another link: in his general introduction Sir Fitzroy Maclean talks of the importance of the clann (children) in Scots and Norse stories; and the genealogical sense of relatedness to a patriarchal chief in both these cultures (13;15). This reminds me of how the Wake’s “narrative is articulated around HCE.

And finally to the sloes. I was delighted to find them, as I thought I’d missed out of my sloe gin making for this Christmas. But, I have a big plastic bag full of them now. Hurray! I’ve stuck them in the freezer, to burst their cell walls, before I macerate the fruit in gin. I’ve been wanting to make more sloe gin since I read that this thick “syrupy liquor” is what Blazes Boylan orders for himself in the bar of the Ormond Hotel, in the “Sirens” episode of Ulysses (254, in the Oxford edition).

I’ve never seen sloe gin in a pub myself. But, in the Lake District you can find damson gin in the public houses of the Lythe valley. I wonder how many pubs served sloe gin in Dublin, in the early 20th century? Presumably it was produced on a cottage industry scale? Doing my best crone impression, I picked mine from stunted bushes on a wind blown heath overlooking Geneva.

He wept indeiterum   Leave a comment


Children’s games end. Prayers before bed.

The children’s storytelling and art class that I co-run restarted today, after the half-term holidays.

So I was already warmed up for reading the Wake. Since this morning I was the trickster God Loki, attached to a flying eagle by Giant magic, and dragged across a glacier, (ah! ah! ah! ow! ow! owwww! w! W! AYE, ARGHHHHHH) All sore and bottom-grazed, Loki agrees to give Idrun (guardian of the life-giving apple tree) up to the Giants…. This is a BIG mistake.

I loved seeing how the children morphed this story in their drawings.

One little girl drew Loki’s rainbow house (she drew the rainbow Bifrost that goes from the land of the Gods to the land of Men last time we met…); and she drew Loki flying as a rainbow bird; and she drew a rainbow coloured sky.

Another little girl drew the opening scene, where the Gods try and roast meat on a spit and it won’t cook. She drew the spit and the meat tiny tiny. But she put in a big grey castle behind the spit scene. (Some girls have been drawing castles since week one of the class when I told Puss in Boots…) The eagle figured in the middle of this girl’s page, big and brown.

Another (older) girl drew the mise-en abime in the story: when Loki tricks Idrun to leave Asgard, the land of the Gods, by telling a tale of a tree of golden apples that grows in Mitgard. Of course, Idrun buys the story because she can picture the tree so clearly… and so off Loki and she go over the rainbow to the land of the Giants… But an apple tree so fantastic could only exist in Loki’s imagination, and indeed on the other side of the rainbow there is only a dark room waiting for Idrun in the home of the Eagle-Giant.

There are dangers associated with Joyce’s “Eye trompit” (247.32-33), as Gorgias has already stated.

Reading just now, I feel like I experienced the mirror-image of the children’s drawing this morning: a medley of sounds, voices, chants, stories and chinese whispers that hint at the picture and pattern making going on in many siblings heads.

Hightime is ups be it down   Leave a comment

Children’s games. An interesting world to revisit. A favourite of mine was “handy-pandy feety-peaty”:  when my sister and I tried to whoosh each other (and the play people) out the bath, using either hands or feet.


Posted November 9, 2010 by R.H.H. Nisbet in Finnegans Wake Audio Recording

Tholedoth, treetrene!   Leave a comment


Posted November 8, 2010 by R.H.H. Nisbet in Finnegans Wake Audio Recording