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.

Is The Matrix the World that Blinds us To The Truth?

The 1999 movie the Matrix was filled with puzzles. In some ways it was really mind blowing. For instance the biggest question, stolen from Alice in Wonderland was this:

What is the Matrix?

Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is?

Neo: Yes.

Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

Neo: What truth?

Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.

Matrix-World-Map

 A good film, and, despite the fact it was a big budget blockbuster and had Keanu Reeves’ rather wooden performance, it asked interesting questions. The Matrix was indeed the world that people thought was real. Life, all of it, was a dream. Nothing one ever though was happening, was actually happening. So the question might be asked is this : What if we are in the matrix? What if none of this is real? Or more to the point, what if reality is being controlled? The notion behind the movie is one of the oldest puzzles known to sceptics like myself. What if we are not living, but dreaming we are alive in a world with a life and a partner and a career and a history? What if we are simply brains in a jar being fed impulses by mad scientists performing a devious experiment? The mad scientists in the movie were machines using people for an energy source, people who were living out their lives inside a vast machine that was feeding them impulses. By extension the jar that I am envisaging is rather like a skull, your skull, and my skull, and we are experiencing a delusion. I am not really here. I exist merely in your mind. So if we think about it, the ‘world’ or what the think is the world, is electrical signals feeding our brains impulses all the time and we are reacting to these impulses, living and thinking and reading and sleeping, and we have no way of ever getting past our senses to check to see if anything we know or think we know, including all the scientifically verifiable knowledge that we have collected, or indeed think we have collected, for the past number of millennia, is true or real. Scary stuff.

Now I want to make clear I don’t for a moment think we are all brains in Jars. Besides it being paranoid thinking, the problem is this: If a mad scientist  put my brain in a vat and hooked me up to a vast computer and fed me a fake reality, how would I know? Its impossible to know or ever realize or even conceive of being a brain in a vat if one actually is. It would be a delusion within a delusion, and it could never lead to anything other than an infinite regress of thinking. It would involve my own consciousness being able to examine itself, realize somehow that everything I was perceiving and experiencing was all fake, Maya, and then unplug myself. One has to be shown something like that. Reality has to be disconnected, then another, ‘real’ reality has to be re plugged in. The question then arises, how do we know the difference between the  former real and the second supposedly ‘real’ reality? A devilish problem. The simple fact is that the real is what we have been given before our eyes as real. Reality is as we have been given it. It is what our senses and our knowledge gives us, with all the misconceptions and faulty thinking attendant to that. Now we all live with various degrees of misconceptions about reality, and I agree, there is a lot of delusion going around and mistaken and faulty thinking, all of which we try to correct but to draw from that we are all sitting in some lab somewhere being fed illusion, is besides being unhelpful (except as a thought experiment perhaps), its something of a road to nowhere.

The Right Hand Clapping

I recently picked up a book, well to be clear, today I randomly picked up a book on the way out the door because the thought of standing in shopping aisles with nothing to do but stare at cucumbers, peas and coleslaw makes my head explode. While waiting outside a shop I started reading bits of it and I was hooked. I started chuckling to myself and got a few funny looks from people, and I think I might have frightened a few small children. But it is an utterly fascinating book, and I haven’t been able to put it down. Its a puzzle book, and I love puzzles. Its called

There Are

Two Errors  In The

The Title of

This Book

(By Robert M. Martin)

The first error is easy to spot – there are two definite articles in the title. the second is more devious and naughty. The second error is that there is no second error in the title of the book, which is in itself an error. Whoever this person Robert Martin was – I liked him immediately. Like all sharp thinkers, Martin displayed a finely developed sense of humour and of the absurd. The book has chapter titles like – Two ways to kill Granny, or Why its not certain you will be in a plane crash and Why believing in God is a good bet. A few of the puzzles I had run into before, which in no way implied I was able to solve them now any more than the first time I ran into them. The best puzzles are those that leave you thinking, the kinds of ideas that don’t have easy solutions, puzzles  that are metaphors for the big questions. My personal favourite was the chapters that dealt with relational differences. Imagine if the universe got bigger, right down to the size of a sub atomic particle. This means that all the clocks, all the weights and measures, all distances, everything was bigger, by, say a factor of three. Could we tell the difference? How can we know everything is suddenly bigger if everything is bigger within five minutes, down to every scinitilla of historical and scientific data?  I mean this is a thought experiment, but in real terms, how would one know the difference between the larger and the smaller universe? Who can measure it?  what criterion would or could be used?It’s easy to dismiss this kind of question pragmatically by saying it has no relevance whatever to everyday life, but to dismiss it on pragmatic grounds is the very opposite of true pragmatism, because realistically to not look on how we view reality, how we interpret the world, and how limited our view of the world is, is a deeply unpragmatic and limited approach to the world. R. Martin takes it a step further, borrowing from Kant’s Critique. Imagine, he says, if the entire universe was taken up with one right hand. Just one right hand stretched across the fabric of space-time, floating eternally (hilarious and kind of a scary thought really). Imagine, he says, another parallel universe where there is only one left hand. How can we tell the difference? One would have to hypothetically know the difference between right and left, then visit each universe and explain to the hand (obviously somehow sentient) the concept of handedness, alternative universes and the idea of chirality. But that aside, there are thinkers who would argue, that as there is no criterion for handedness within the confines of each universe, then the notion makes no sense and is moot in that universe. Decide for yourself which part you choose makes most sense. Such notions have implications for all kinds of ways of looking at the world. Take for instance the notion of culture and belief systems. If certain philosophical or religious notions do not for instance exist in particular worldviews and cultures, can we hold people to account for breaking rules they do not believe to be valid?  It certainly begs the question. Food for thought. One can hear the right hand clapping in that universe right now.