On Not Having a Clue What to Write

 Getting Stuck – Writers Block

As life is pretty complex, as there is an infinity of time and space out there, as there are billions of events happening out there in time and space, as it is close to impossible to actually comprehend the sheer vastness of what is beyond the stratosphere of our small planet, as we are still learning and therefore continue to make determinations about the Earth, other planets, the stars and galaxies and about the universe, there is always, always, something to write about. The truth is every writer, no matter how great the talent that writer has, has to realize that, in the words of Fight Club’s Tyler Durden “you have to give up, you have to realize that one day you will die”. In other words it is impossible to express reality, it’s impossible to describe how it is. Why? Because information is infinite. And we are very finite. If I accept this, the question has to be asked. Why do writers get blocked? What happens when I sit down and find I have nothing to say? There are many reasons why this happens to a writer. Here are two:

1. A personal upheaval. Writing requires a certain rhythm and predictability of lifestyle in order for one to complete big projects. Huge emotional crises, though they might give grist to the mill of creativity down the line, take up vast amounts of emotional and psychic energy and can cause one to shut down for a while, mainly as a form of self-protection more than anything else. Probably one of the the greatest rookie mistakes is the young writer seeking what is loosely called ‘experience’ in order to write. In other words – going out to expose themselves to life’s vicissitudes for the purposes of being able to write something of substance before perhaps many of them are ready. This has the unfortunate effect of triggering the above mentioned upheaval and sometimes depressive episodes.
That being said in the great scheme of things, personal upheavals are impossible to avoid and sometimes not always for the worst in life. One thing is important. A writer has to carry on writing, even in the midst of a chaos he or she did not cause or did not expect. A journal or notebook might be the answer to these times. Keep talking to oneself. The big project might have to wait a while.

2. A death in one’s style. This is a serious crisis in the life of a writer. They become disenchanted with their own writing, and consequently cannot continue. It may lead to upheaval as in (1) or cause them to stop writing. Style is broadly speaking how a writer uses words. Specifically it is the manifestation of the writer’s worldview in words. In a writers style one hears his or her voice. A writers voice is that note of individuality that no one will find anywhere else. This is why for instance the same story is told over and over for millennia and it never gets old. There are a couple of reasons for this, all allied to style. Firstly that there is an infinity of perspectives and secondly every writer tells a story differently. For instance – Joyce’s Ulysses is basically a day in the life of an ordinary guy in Dublin. Yet as it comes from such a unique voice as Joyce, it is extraterrestrially brilliant. Joyce, because he never stopped experimenting and developing his style, he never became disenchanted with writing. In order to prevent the death of one’s style a writer must not (a) sell out – become that kind of literary butler who writes for a pay check (b) become lazy – churn out the same kind of book year after year simply because it is easy to do so or (c) become proud – think she is too gifted and accomplished for criticism. Ego is the destruction of more talents than one can shake a stick at.

3. It’s no longer fun. If the joy goes out of writing it’s time to stop and think about doing something else. Writing is too difficult an art and a craft to pursue without loving what one does. If a writer has a real powerful gift, that gift is its own reward. If one does it for the money, one will be disappointed. If one does it for the fame and adulation, one will be very disappointed. If one does it for the love of it, it never gets old and the fun never goes.

And Just for fun lets hear it for Tyler Durden

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A LIST OF EVENTS CELEBRATING THE 75th ANNIVERSARY OF James Joyce’s FINNEGANS WAKE

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     FINNEGANS WAKE FW75 PROGRAMME:

Sunday May 4th, 11.32am:        Official launch of ‘FW75′ by Robert Ballagh  at the Phoenix Park Visitors Centre until May 24th

Wednesday May 7th, 12.30pm: Vincent Deane on FW and the Phoenix Park at the Phoenix Park Visitors Centre

Thursday May 8th, 6.30pm:         Here Comes Everybody, the songs of FW  Café Chantant at Phibsborough Library

Wednesday May 14th, 12.30pm  Mapping Joyceborough with Gerard Meaney  at the Phoenix Park Visitors Centre

Thursday May 15th, 6.30pm:        Here Comes Everybody, the songs of FW  Café Chantant at Rathmines Library

Wednesday May 14th, 3.00pm   Seven films celebrating 75 years of FW From the 7 UNESCO Cities of Literature: Reykjavik, Iowa, Norwich, Krakow, Melbourne, Edinburgh and Dublin at the Phoenix Park Visitors Centre

Wednesday May 21st, 7.00pm: Dermot Bolger in conversation 

  with Barry McGovern at Farmleigh.

Admission free but booking essential

Thursday 22 May 12.30pm      Finnegans Wake as ‘a Proudseye View of Dublin’  With Oran Ryan  The crypt of Christchurch cathedral

Thursday May 22nd, 6.30pm:     Here Comes Everybody, the songs of FW    Café Chantant at Drumcondra Library

Wednesday 28 May, 12.30pm    Finnegans Wake and Dublin’s new cultural  quarter,Parnell Square With Des Gunning – James Joyce Centre, 35 Nth Great George’s St.

FW75 – a hubbub caused in Joyceborough – For the Website go here

DROP BY AND CHECK OUT THIS CELEBRATION OF ONE OF THE MOST BRILIANT COMPLEX AND BEAUTIFUL BOOKS EVER WRITTEN- AND ITS ALL ABOUT DUBLIN!

Haveth Childers Everywhere

       FINNEGANS WAKE AS UNIVERSAL BOOK

Here Comes Everybody[2]

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 ) [1], 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.


[1]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.

[2]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.

FINNEGANS WAKE TALK 22 MAY 2014 1 PM

A Proudseye View of Dublin

– a talk on FINNEGANS WAKE, Thursday 22 MAY 2014 1 PM

THE CRYPT,

CHRISTCHURCH DUBLIN

 

On Wednesday the 22nd of May 2014 at 1pm, downstairs in the beautiful magical enthralling ghostly history ridden Crypt of Christ Church Cathedral, founded in CE 1030, I will deliver a lecture on Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. The talk is part of a festival of events celebrating 75 since the publication of Finnegans Wake in May 1939. It is always enormously intimidating to speak on a work like The Wake. I Have lectured on Finnegans Wake before , and I have found it a pleasure and a huge challenge. I am actually getting jittery writing about it now.

Finnegans Wake is a funny book, written at a very difficult time in Joyce’s life. His sight was gone, by and large, his daughter Lucia Joyce was becoming floridly schizophrenic and was eventually institutionalised,to Joyce’s great distress. Joyce’s own health was failing, and he was drinking heavily during the 17 years the book was under construction. Oh and JJ was writing it under a cloud of disapproval from those who hitherto were his great advocates. I remember the first time I picked up Finnegans Wake. It was about thirty years ago. I was just finished school, a very confused silly shy young man. When I started reading this book, I was instantly perplexed, confused, and hooked by the complex use of puns, jokes, and allusions to tell a story which I spent the next decades in my spare time unravelling – well trying to unravel it.

I remember taking it with me with other books I was reading (as you can imagine from this I didn’t get out much back then), trying to tease out what it meant. Progress was slow and I didn’t have many guides. More than anything, I was suffering from a kind of culture shock, a shock of the utterly new.  Reading this brilliantly funny, beautiful masterpiece (if READING is the right word- try getting past a few lines of the text without stopping and going back and asking yourself – ‘what does that mean?’) is rather like trying a new type of food or drink. Or it’s like trying out a new art form –  its treasures tend to open up once you get past the shock of the new, that is, once you get past the initial strangeness of it.

It is an archetypically Irish book, (if you hear Joyce read from it you hear the wonderfully idiosyncratic Irishness of the book: – the accents, inflections and musicality of it) and yet Finnegans Wake is a book built from at least 60 languages and a dozen cultures, a book about history and philosophy, mythology and love, and yet a book about a family, a book that incorporates the world. 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 FW it would be like an internet-like structure, a network of interconnecting images and metaphors and myths from the story of Isis, the circularity of being and nonbeing as Finnegan, otherwise Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, rises up only to fall down, the cycles of light and dark, the psychological 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, conflate meanings from several sources and several different languages, allusions to mythology and scientific and technological terminologies, with an incredible energy, 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. The words point multi-directionally outwards to other words in the context of the sentences or lines they are placed in, and they point to themselves too, as they request from the reader and the thinker some work to mine their sense, sound and meaning and to see their context within the wider world of Finnegans Wake as a book about the world.

Finnegans Wake is a book about the world, all of it, the world as dream. The world as metaphor. This is a dream book. In other words this is a book viewed through the prism, the metaphor and mythological structure of dreams, which means we can take in all the contradictory facets of the world in one once we move from the logical to the analogical.

In correspondence, Joyce offered some clues to the Wake: “It is night. It is dark. You can hardly see. You sense rather” and “One great part of every human existence is passed in a state which cannot be rendered sensible by the use of wideawake language, cutanddry grammar and goahead plot”. These observations may be his closest approaches to explaining what he was about.

In dreams we have no borders to the imagination. In dreams we think the unthinkable; we have access to the source of the conscious imaginings, the unconscious.  So what is happening while we are asleep? FW is all about the sleeping mind. The dark universe that opens up when our conscious minds shut down . Joyce was not entirely unique. The cut-up method as pioneered by William Burroughs in such books as the Soft Machine and Naked Lunch sought through the uses of unconventional language to expand our minds beyond conventional thought through new word forms and the unconventional uses of language We switch off conscious thought and we dream. Tim Finnegan, bigmester Finnegan as he is called in the book, takes a tumble, is humptydumptillioed, his eyes close, he drifts into the netherworld, and the borders of his body and his mind meld with the city of Dublin, and by implication with all that has happed in the city. His consciousness expands to encompass all of history.

The key to Finnegans Wake is the story of the life of the family who live in Chapelizod in Dublin, a story that expands through the world of the Champs Elysées, Elysian Fields, the underworld, to being the history of the world. This becomes possible because of two things. Firstly because it is not a chronological, but an allegorical history the allegorical mechanism works most effectively through the use of the metaphor of the dream. Thus Finnegan falls and dies and he rises and through his death and resurrection the cycle of history is enacted and re-enacted from one historical and mythological personage to another.

Similarly his twin sons, wife and daughter transubstantiate from one epic historical and mythological character to another and the connection between these characters, their historical and mythological context is shown in the pyrotechnics of the language that Joyce uses – the allusory words, words built and twisted out of their old shape and into new forms – words whose meaning and context and association are only seen as having any kind of real meaning when they are seen in terms of the truly astonishingly vast multilingual, multicultural erudition that has gone into their forging. I In looking at these strange words, these bizarre fiery ciphers reveal that they have within them a multiplicity of meanings. They are grenades of words, words that could explode into a thousand fragments of knowledge.

No, I have not really given much away about the talk itself.  I am grateful to Des Gunning of ‘FW75’ for asking me to do it. I am also grateful to him for the original research he contributed to the talk. It’s a rare privilege to deliver the talk. I think it’s pretty inexpensive to get in (I am not sure as to the price) and it will last 50 minutes. Oh and there is tea and coffee and biscuits afterwards – in the oldest built space in Dublin!

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For the full programme of events that makes up FW75 –

a hubbub caused in Joyceborough see www.joyceborough.org

See also www.Facebook.com/Joyceborough