FINNEGANS WAKE AS UNIVERSAL BOOK
Here Comes Everybody
Since I have been writing – or should I say rewriting – most writing is a form of rewriting – and trying to shape – for a lecture on Joyce’s Wake on the 22 MAY in the Crypt of Christ Church Cathedral at 1 Pm, I begin to understand just how isolating this work must have been for James Joyce. Why? Well, many of his closest allies and champions had abandoned him thinking that his latest work, called Work In Progress before being called Finnegans Wake, unreadable. The notion of something being unreadable is interesting. It presupposes that one should never encounter an obstacle or multiple meanings or difficulty in discerning a text. Like in the Bible. Or the Rosetta stone. Or Hieroglyphics. Or Heidegger. Or a doctors handwriting.
Joyce ploughed a lonely furrow writing what would become Finnegans Wake:
His brother Stanislaus, who had supported him in so many ways for decades, thought it an exercise in obscurantism or basically the work of a psychopath or a literary fraud.
Ezra Pound, poetic champion and genius in his own right, the man who got A Portrait of The Artist published before his own work, wrote regarding the Wake that “Nothing so far as I can make out, nothing short of divine vision or a new cure for the clapp can possibly be worth all that circumambient peripherization.” Charming.
Harriet Shaw Weaver who basically financially supported JJ and his family for years, despite commissioning the work from him, again in a strange ‘circumambient’ way, had very mixed reactions to it.
Even the Dial, a magazine that actually commissioned work from JJ, rejected the text when JJ finally sent it to them. It was a difficult time for Joyce. a lonely difficult time.
That being the case, I think the words of Arthur Schopenhauer are apt here when he says in The World as Will and Representation “Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see”. Again one has to ask: why did Joyce go on? What did he see? It was and still remains difficult to “see” what JJ was doing when he was writing the Wake. This is a challenging book, a book of the future. This is a book about a future where languages will one day blend into other languages, an event that has happened to language for millennia, and will continue to do so for all time. English, for instance, is created from a dozen or so languages.
Joyce’s method of blending and interacting and concatenating meanings is not an exercise of intellectual obscurantism, but the recreation of new meanings, sometimes a dozen or more at once, by the sheer restructuring of language that Joyce so brilliantly effects in FW . Finnegans Wake, by gathering together so many languages, so much knowledge, so much humour and pathos in this beautiful work, encapsulates all that is great, our capacity for fallenness, but moreover, our capacity like Tim Finnegan, to rise up again.
It would be an extraordinary act of intellectual snobbery on the part of Joyce to write a work that he imagined destined for a few specialists. He joked about it, certainly. But this was a book he wanted to give to James Stephens to finish, because he felt he couldn’t go on. Hardly the mind-set of a man on a 17 year ego trip. This is a book he collaborated on and with a team of researchers. Joyce made his dream book from the world and intended it for the world.
FW is a book about the world, a novel of living breathing characters, a builder, his spouse, their children, and Here Comes Everybody. We see HERE COMES EVERYBODY _ everywhere – Helmingham Erchenwyne Rutter Egbert Crumwall Odin Maximus Esme Saxon Esa Vercingetorix Ethelwulf Rupprecht Ydwalla Bentley Osmund Dysart Yggdrasselmann (FW 88.20) – (This actually spells out HERE COMES EVERYBODY ) , homosexual catheis of empathy 522.30, He Can Explain (FW105.14 ) He calmly extensolies (FW 6.35), Head-in-Clouds, Health, chalce, endnessnessessity (FW 613.27), Hear! Calls! Everywhair!(FW 108.23), Heathen church emergency (FW 574.7), Here endeth chinchinatibus( 367.4), Heaviest corpsus exemption (FW 362.17), Heavystost’s envil catacalamitumbling, Hecech (377.3), heavengendered, chaosfoedted, earthborn (FW 137.14) , Heinz cans everywhere (FW 598.1), Hell’s Confucium and the Elements, Helpless Corpse Enactment (FW 423.32)
The notion that this isn’t about everybody – considering the hundreds of references to ‘everybody’ plus the fact that the main chapter is an everyperson, an everyman, well, I don’t want to overstate things.
This is a geography and a history and an epic of the everyperson. This heavengendered, chaosfoedted, earthborn (FW 137.14) book.
Finnegans Wake took 17 years to finish. It takes more than time and more than a good idea and more than the kind of extraordinary learning and dexterity and feel for the music of language that James Joyce had to produce something like the Wake.
Harold Bloom in his book The Western Canon (P.422) voices his fear that the removal of works like FW from the curriculum that pose real cognitive and imaginative difficulties is a real tragedy. I wonder was it ever on the curriculum? FW, Bloom fears will end up being studied by the same group of enthusiastic specialists that read and reread Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. You could do worse, I guess. (I read the Faerie a lot myself)
Finnegans Wake elicits a kind of fanatical following. A casual search of electronic media will show just how avidly this book is devoured and loved. FW is a book for everyone, a multicultural multilinguistic multihistorical work of comic power. It sees so much joy and hope in life despite the carnage and troubles of history. It’s full of history. All of history in microcosm. Its a funferal (FW120.10). A fun funeral. “In the name of the former and of the latter and of their holocaust. Allmen.” (FW 419.9-10)
The notion of the world as book, or a world dreamed up as a book, a piece of language mirroring the world and the interconnectedness of the person in the world. If one would like to employ a metaphor for Joyce’s intentionality around Finnegans Wake, it would be like an internet like structure, a network of interconnecting and contrapuntal referencing images and metaphors and myths from the story of Isis, the circularity of being and non being as Finnegan rises up only to fall down, the cycles of light and dark, the cyclogical queries about the meaning of life and death, birth and demise, the seemingly endless queries about the deeper cycles that occur within the body, the cycling of blood through the veins and through the heart, mirrored by the tides, the moon, the sky, the night. One can employ conventional language to describe these things, but Joyce’s words, portmanteau words, the conflating of meanings from several sources and several different languages, allusions to mythology and scientific and technological terminologies, does so much more and so much more efficiently, and with an incredible energy and wit and efficiency. The difficulty is to see that each, some, or many of these words do so much more than point to a singular meaning.
Rev. Ralph William Lyonel Tollemache-Tollemache (1826–1895) –This is a parody on Joyce’s part on the absurd lengths the good reverened went to name each of his fifteen children.
Joyce took the initials from H. C. E. Childers, a Liberal member of the British parliament in the 1 88os, known, in satirical magazines, as ‘Here
Comes Everybody Childers’, mainly because of his considerable girth.