Syntax and Sigla: Shem part three

Another four minutes of animation:

The above clip covers a single paragraph from Finnegans Wake – the one starting near the bottom of p. 172 and ending near the top of p. 174 in most editions. Parts one and two are embedded in the previous blogpost, which also discusses this project’s genesis and the collaboration with Mike Watt.

While I hope that viewers will find the animation here fun and entertaining, I especially hope they find it illuminating. This paragraph contains only two sentences, the second of which is nearly a page-and a-half long, and while its actual word-distortion is fairly tame by comparison with other parts of the book, readers can still get get dizzy just trying to parse out the syntax. Joyce does this quite a lot in Finnegans Wake – often burying the subject and verb deep in a sentence’s middle amid a polyglot of modifiers, prepositions, subordinate clauses, parentheticals etc. – so my priority with this sentence was to demonstrate its basic structure without compromising any of its spectacular phantasmagoria.

Another feature I hope will prove instructive is my inclusion of the various hieroglyphs Joyce created as thematic building blocks for the Wake:

K38965MICHELAN-3One can think of these glyphs quite literally as “characters” – not only in their typographical sense: e.g. “280 characters per tweet max,” but in their dramatic sense as well: i.e. “players in a story.” For the record, Wake scholars generally refer to them as sigla, a plural Latin word basically meaning “characters.” Its singular form is siglum.

The “star” of part three, obviously, is the fifth siglum from the left, the one that looks like a square missing a side. This is the symbol Joyce used in his notebooks, letters, manuscripts etc to denote his autobiographical counterpart in the Wake and protagonist of chapter seven: Shem the Penman.  This little character afforded me the opportunity to literally dramatize Shem’s exertions as he wards off vilification and scandal, and in doing so, I found myself deliberately borrowing images from the video games of my childhood – Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Asteroids, Missile Command, etc. Much like Finnegans Wake itself, these games were by their very nature studies in overwhelm, and their stories never ended happily. Part of me wanted to lift letters from the pile at the end to spell “game over” rather than “end of part three.”

But the chapter is far from over, and there is much left to depict as well as blog about. WordPress unfortunately doesn’t allow for special font uploading, so I can’t write about the sigla here as I’d like to. A real shame: They’re an extremely helpful tool for mapping one’s way through Finnegans Wake, so my plan is to eventually put up a series of youtube tutorials – similar to my thunderword pronunciation guides – discussing each of these glyphs/characters/sigla in detail.

In the meantime, enjoy the third Shem installment.

—JoyceGeek

Simon Loekle’s Finnegans Wake Audio Archive

Loekle Dazibao Charicature

Simon Loekle – self-caricatured at left with his cat, Clancy – leaves in his wake a truly impressive body of original work. You can read about some of his other achievements here, but the topic of this JoyceGeek blogpost is his Finnegans Wake audio project – a painstakingly methodical reading of the book which, at the pace he was working at, would have taken an additional 50 years to complete. While nobody expected him to actually finish this thing, we were all expecting he’d at least get through book three. But Simon suddenly passed away a couple of days ago (11/28/2015) at the age of (almost) 63.

Starting in 1996, Simon would spend as much as two months preparing for his “As I Please: The Year-Out Wake Show” – which took place on the final Saturday of every year – the final hour-or-so of which would be dedicated to a few pages from Finnegans Wake. Had fate’s fickle finger not forced such an early departure, we might have actually seen an earlier completion than 2065, for Simon was in fact starting to pick up the pace. He included a special “Shem the Penman” reading a few months before his usual Year-Out Wake Show, and the last time we talked, he indicated that he would be making it a habit to dedicate more than one hour a year to the Wake.

But this is it: everything he is known to have recorded of Finnegans Wake covers just under six of seventeen chapters. For the sake of accessibility, I’ve broken his recordings down into smaller audio files based on paragraph breaks. The original files were downloaded from either FWEET, WBAI, or in one case Simon himself, who very graciously sent me his earliest recording – book one chapter eight: “Anna Livia Plurabelle” when I complained about the audio quality of the file he sent to Raphael Slepon for FWEET.

A couple of notes about the recording itself: Incomplete though it may be, I still count it as unabridged – each chapter is done in its entirety with the exception of “Jaun” (pp. 429-473, truncated by that aforementioned fickle finger) and “Shem” (pp. 169-195, which he was pressed for time to squeeze into a single show, and so skipped the ‘song’ on page 175 and the Latin passage on page 185). I’m not here to review Simon’s work, but I do have to say that his reading of book two chapter three (FW309-382) – an absolute behemoth of a chapter which took him seven years to record – is a particularly impressive achievement. Most audiobook recordings of the Wake avoid this chapter altogether, but Simon attacks it with gusto, even including incidental music during parts of the Butt/Taff exchange (FW338-355). The ending of that particular section is an absolute treat – my personal favorite in fact. If you only have time to listen to one file, go straight to “FW354.07-36 (2004)”.

A final note: I suspect Simon was aware that December 27, 2014 would be his last Year-Out Wake Show, for he does something at the end of that broadcast he had never done before. For the better part of twenty years, Simon would always find a convenient and comfortable stopping place at the end of a paragraph and pick up the next year’s reading with the following paragraph. For his 2014 recording, however, not only does he stop reading before reaching the end of the paragraph, he stops mid-sentence. Typical Joycean.

So enjoy the audio files, and remember to thank Mr. Loekle as you do so. His was the very portrait of generosity, and we’re all very lucky to have had him.


Part I Episode 7 (pp. 169-195, recorded 2013)


Part I Episode 8 (pp. 196-216, recorded 1996-1997)


Part II Episode 3 (pp. 309-382, recorded 2001-2007)


Part II Episode 4 (pp. 383-399, recorded 2008)


Part III Episode 1 (pp. 403-428, recorded 2009-2011)


Part III Episode 2 (pp. 429-461, recorded 2012-2014)

Bloomsday Lives! – a Postmortem

David Norris & friends, Dublin, Ireland

What is Bloomsday, and why the big ruckus?

Last week, JoyceGeeks from around the world either traveled to Dublin or gathered in their various hometowns to read from and generally celebrate a true nerd’s holiday: Bloomsday – the anniversary of a bunch of fictional events depicted in a single 24 hour period: June 16, 1904. Readings from Ulysses, music from Ulysses, pints from Ulysses, and food from Ulysses. As to this last, Bloomsday cuisine often includes gorgonzola cheese sandwiches with mustard, half-masticated seedcake from the mouth of a better-half, and for the really bold: pork kidneys fried in butter, a little burnt on one side. Eccentric maybe, but we do it all with relish and absolutely no apology. Explaining why does take a bit of doing, though:

Colbert at Bloomsday

Stephens Colbert and Lang, Symphony Space, NYC

For one thing, literary events don’t generally get marked down on calendars for annual observance, let alone full-blown celebration. Really famous writers’ birthdays and publication dates are sometimes taken note of on NPR, but only if the anniversary happens to be a multiple of 50, or maybe 25 if the author is super-famous. The only birthday to be consistently rolled out every year for festivals and the like is Shakespeare’s. Ultimately, academic conferences are about as far as most celebrations go. This makes 16 June 1904 a real anomaly: it’s the only date in literature to be annually celebrated, and it’s not only celebrated, it’s HUGELY celebrated, not just in Dublin but world-wide – just about everywhere: New York, Sydney, Beijing, Zurich, Tokyo, Trieste, Boston, Buenos Aires, Chicago, Santa Fe. And it doesn’t matter what year it is – newspapers run articles on Bloomsday every mid-June, every year. Why is this?

Bloomsday Paris

Paris, France

It can’t simply be because of the date’s biographical significance, which is of course no small matter; it is after all the day Joyce fell in love with his future wife Nora Barnacle – erotic details of which can be found in the famous 1909 letters. But countless other great works of literature are dedicated to better-halves: Zelda Fitzgerald, Carlotta Monterey, etc. Plus, autobiographical though it may be, Ulysses does not contain any account whatsoever of Stephen Dedalus (Joyce’s self-portrait) meeting or even acknowledging the presence of a potential life partner. His interactions are nearly exclusively with men: Mulligan, Haines, Deasy, Crawford, McHugh, Russell, Eglinton, Lyster, Best, Artifoni, Lynch, Carr, finally Bloom. Stephen’s encounters with the feminine amount to barely a handful: the milkwoman, Dilly, the whores, the ghost of his dead mother. Molly Bloom, the character most strongly associated with Nora, barely even appears on his radar.

Bloomsday Melbourne

Melbourne, Australia

So if anything, the 6/16/04 of Ulysses is an anti-biographical date, a “what if” scenario in which Joyce has to navigate the day without the grace of budding love to see him through. In fact, Joyce swapped out his 16 June love-encounter with a much less pleasant one, the biographical counterpart of which actually took place six days later. It’s worth noting that on June 22, 1904, Joyce was punched in the face by an unknown Irish ruffian and was dusted off and tended to by one Alfred Hunter, a local Dubliner with a natural inclination towards kindness, and upon whom Joyce patterned some of the makeup for Leopold Bloom. It is this encounter, not the romantic tryst, that’s given extensive and expanded treatment in Ulysses.

Bloomsday Berkeley

Berkeley, CA

Acts of kindness are certainly worth writing about, but again, why haul the date out to be annually celebrated with readings, music, Guinness, Edwardian dress et cetera over an event that actually happened six days afterward? If I were a world historian, I’d be tempted to say that nothing happened on June 16, 1904, and I think Joyce would have seconded my motion. Even the most dramatic details of Joyce’s own 1904 experience – his falling in love with Nora, his departure for Trieste, his estrangement from longtime friend Oliver St. John Gogarty because Gogarty fired gunshots over him while he was trying to sleep – all these would have made for spectacular fiction and could have easily been worked into the fabric of his book.

Bloomsday Bryant Park

Bryant Park, New York City

But no – they were all without exception deliberately left out of the June 16th of Ulysses. Gogarty and Nora appear in the novel as Buck Mulligan and Molly, of course, but Joyce’s explosive encounters with them are softened, even excised. What we’re left with are a series of utterly pedestrian events; nobody dies, nobody falls in love, no plots are hatched, no-one even so much as wins at the racetrack. It’s a day that shows no sign of changing to a better tomorrow nor even warning us to wake up to the changes that need to be made. It’s neither rewarding nor cathartic for anyone, really…

Bloomsday Northampton

Northampton, England

…unless of course you include that awkward, nearly failed attempt at kindness that Bloom offers Stephen near the end of the novel. There’s no indication that the event itself will be remembered by Stephen, who is out-of-his-mind-drunk by then, nor even by Bloom, who will eventually have to forget the day’s events in favor of more pressing matters: his shaky finances, his troubled marriage, his daughter’s potential teen-pregnancy. That Bloom should set these matters aside for a few hours in favor of bucking up Stephen Dedalus – a man he hardly knows – is not in itself particularly wise, but it is kind.

Bloomsday Philly

Philadelphia, PA

And without that kindness, I don’t think Joyce would have been able to endow his prose with the heroic qualities he did. Bloom’s taking a moment to masturbate on the beach in the ‘Nausicaa’ chapter would not have been treated by Joyce as a magnificent flourish of Don Giovannism were Bloom not kind-hearted, and his escape from a group of antisemitic rakes in the ‘Cyplops’ chapter could certainly not have been described as a rapturous ascent to heaven. In fact, I would say that none of Joyce’s grand prose experiments would have worked at all had he not placed a genuine, decent character at his novel’s epicenter.

Bloomsday Boston

Boston, MA

At it’s core, Ulysses is one man’s at-times-feeble-but-never-wavering daylong attempt to positively contribute to the community upon which he depends. To allow us to witness and celebrate such effort as it would happen on an average – as opposed to extraordinary – day is perhaps Joyce’s greatest contribution to world literature. And lest we forget, the term “Bloomsday” is itself an inversion of cruelty, being a play on “Doomsday”, humankind’s great nightmare-slash-fantasy in which such concepts as kindness and community are rendered utterly moot. Well to that I say: Bloomsday is coming. Let it thrive.

Bloomsday at Sandycove

Dalkey (Sandycove), Ireland

Here’s to June 16, the great day on which a small but nevertheless global community gathers to read from the greatest novel of the 20th century and share in its truly magical prose. Actors and scholars are often called upon to do the heavy-lifting, but properly the day belongs to clergy and laity alike. Here in my beautiful hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico, readers included actors, educators, writers, performance artists, filmmakers, painters, dancers, musicians, poets, journalists, iconoclasts of all ilk. I have them listed below by name with hyperlinks to each – some have their own websites, a couple even have their own Wikipedia pages, while still others have yet to build a web-profile – in which case a review or press release for some project they were part of is inserted. Without exception though, they are all of them ferocious participants in making their community a better place to live:

Acushla Bastible, Garrick Beck, Daniel Bohnhorst, Letitia Chambers, Melissa Chambers, Mary-Charlotte Domandi, Lisa FosterDeco Bernadette Freeman,  Charles Gamble, Michael Graves, Maureen Joyce(!) McKenna, Pen La Farge, Bruce C. Mckenna,  Vanessa Rios Y VallesBird ThompsonAlice Van Buren, Max Walukas, Alaina Warren Zachary, Elizabeth West, and Mary Woods.

Big thanks to all who helped to make it real.

Bloomsday Santa Fe

Santa Fe, NM, 2015 – left: Dan Bohnhorst (Stephen Dedalus) and Acushla Bastible (narrator) reading from the ‘Telemachus’ chapter with a powerpoint libretto running behind / center: your host / right – Vanessa Rios Y Valles, one of eight Molly readers, approves of the final word.

Addendum 06/18/2018:

Each year since I first published this post, Bloomsday in Santa Fe (as we’ve come to call it) has continued to grow and flourish. Many additional readers and artists have contributed their energies to this event, including Gerry Carthy, Leslie Dillen, Sabina Dunn, John Flax, Grant Franks, Martha Franks, Larry Glaister, Lynn Goodwin, Rod Harrison, Scott Harrison, Glenna Hill, Tara Khozein, Kent Kirkpatrick, Dylan Marshall, Westin McDowell, Jono Manson, Scott Plunket, Kirste Plunket, Alexandra Renzo, and Karina Wilson.

The Prankquean Matrix: a JoyceTrope


Once upon an amalgam…

…a wise old wolf gave each of his three pigs a bag of talents. Two of the wicked stepsisters – their names were Goneril and Regan – were lazy and stupid and built their houses out of straw and sticks. So no matter how much the Big Bad Lear huffed and puffed, he couldn’t get the glass slipper to fit on a single foot, for the first bag of talents was way too hot and the second was far too soft.

But Cordelia’s bag of talents was just right, for she had built hers out of bricks.

So when Papa Lear found Cinderella sleeping in his bed, he cried, “Nothing will come from nothing,” and added, “Thou wicked and slothful servant, cast ye into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And he married her and they all lived happily ever after. The End.


This is what happens after you’ve read enough Finnegans Wake; stories become confounded and start blending together, especially if they exhibit even slight similarities. Matthew 25:14-30 melds into act I scene 1 from King Lear, who then becomes the Big Bad Wolf, who then somehow fits a glass slipper onto Cinderella, who in her turn becomes Goldilocks and so on. Distinctions such as ‘happy ending vs unhappy ending’, ‘wolf-and-pigs vs father-and-daughters’, ‘bags-of-talents vs bowls-of-porridge’, et cetera start to matter much less than the structural scaffolding these stories are all built on, for the pattern is unmistakably predictable:

  • Once upon a time, a thing happened.
  • As a result, three things happened, one after the other.
  • The first thing was a thing, and it went POW.
  • The second thing was a different thing from the first thing, but not really, for it also went POW, or maybe KA-POW.
  • But the third thing was a totally different thing, and it went BOOM, or maybe WHOOSH or THUD.
  • And we all learned a new thing. The end.

Apply this outline to any of the stories referenced in my little amalgam and they all fit, without exception. A whole bunch of others do as well – here’s just one example:

  • Once upon a time, a thing happened.
    A giant beanstalk  grows in Jack’s back yard.
  • As a result, three things happened, one after the other.
    Jack climbs/descends the beanstalk three times.
  • The first thing was a thing.
    Jack steals a bag of gold, “Fee-fi-fo-fum” etc.
  • The second thing was different but not really.
    Jack steals the golden goose, “Fee-fi-fo-fum” etc.
  • But the third thing went BOOM / WHOOSH / THUD.
    Jack steals the magic harp, which cries out (BOOM), the giant chases Jack (WHOOSH), who chops down beanstalk (THUD).
  • And now it’s a new thing.
    Jack and his mother are rich and never have to work again.

Sometimes called the Rule of Three, this storytelling trope is pretty much the oldest one in the book, and it’s used and re-used by writers to this very day. It arguably plays roles in Freytag’s pyramid, Campbell’s hero-journey, and perhaps even Aristotle’s formula for successful drama, vide his great exemplar, Sophoceles’ Oedipus Rex:

  • Once upon a time, a thing happened
    Oedipus vows to find Laius’ killer.
  • As a result, three things happened, one after the other
    Three old men are summoned to testify.
  • The first thing went POW
    The first old man (Tiresias) implicates Oedipus as the killer. Oedipus responds with threats.
  • The second thing also went POW
    The second old man (first shepherd) gives evidence further implicating Oedipus, who responds with more threats.
  • But the third thing went BOOM
    The third old man (second shepherd) confirms the guilt of Oedipus, who responds by blinding himself.
  • And we all learned a new thing
    Destiny is a bitch.

(MacBeth comes to mind here as well, with the three witches and their whole Glamis/Cawdor/King business.)

So with such literary heavies as Sophocles and Shakespeare (as well as Dante, come to think of it) weighing in, James Joyce certainly wouldn’t allow himself to be left out. He enters into this fray with an eye to creating a very specific effect, however, and so adds his own set of rules to the trope’s makeup. I call it the “Prankquean Matrix” to distinguish it from the general “rule of three”, and I take my moniker from one of the more celebrated passages in Finnegans Wake

…and it goes a little like this:

Prankquean Video ScreenJoyceGeek Presents: The Prankquean Video

Sure, the language here is difficult – it’s Finnegans Wake after all. But knowledge of the source material Joyce used for this passage (Grace O’Malley & the Earl of Howth, St. Patrick & the druid, Grania & Dermot, etc.) is hardly a prerequisite for understanding pp. 21-23 (though it’s certainly always a good thing to have). Every bit as simple as ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, the story’s structural breakdown is almost sophomoric:

  • Once upon a time, a thing happened
    Jarl von Hoother is holed up with his three charges: the jiminy Tristopher, the jiminy Hilary, and the dummy.
  • As a result, three things happened, one after the other
    The Prankquean riddles Jarl and kidnaps his charges.
  • The first thing went POW
    “Mark the wans” etc.
    Jarl shuts the gates, the prankquean nabs jiminy Tristopher.
  • The second thing also went POW
    “Mark the twy” etc. Jarl shuts the gates again
    , the prankquean nabs jiminy Hilary.
  • But the third thing went BOOM/WHOOSH/THUD
    “Mark the tris”etc. (the prankquean is presumably about to nab the dummy), Jarl is provoked / Thunder.
  • And we all learned a new thing
    The fable concludes with a number of “morals”.

So leaving aside the typically impenetrable linguistic details, what we have here is almost pure archetype, and if we want to suggest an avatar for the trope as Joyce used it, the distorted language actually serves to create some critically helpful ambiguities:

  • Is it a happy ending?
    No telling.
  • Which character is the villain, which the hero?
    Again, no telling.
  • Is the Moral’s tone cautionary or simply observational?
    Perhaps both, perhaps neither.

The only unambiguous issue here is gender – a female (prankquean) provokes a male (Hoother) three times etc – and with one single exception (that I could find), Joyce assigned these specific gender roles each and every time he incorporated the ‘rule of three’ into his writing. The exception can be found in the following extremely subtle example which, as always, Joyce created to a purpose:


from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

(The prankquean matrix pattern will become much more blatant as we progress through more examples, but uncovering its subtle occurrences in Joyce can be as fun a parlor-game as finding the H.C.E. acrostic in Finnegans Wake.)

Immediately before Stephen Dedalus vomits “profusely in agony” in chapter three, he imagines the demons of his Roman Catholic Guilt following a “hither and thither” pattern. This phrase: “hither and thither” – which I’ve highlighted in red below – is repeated exactly three times, and will be later developed into something of a leitmotif in Joyce’s other works:

Creatures were in the field: one, three, six: creatures were moving in the field, hither and thither. Goatish creatures with human faces, horny­browed, lightly bearded and grey as india-rubber. The malice of evil glittered in their hard eyes, as they moved hither and thither, trailing their long tails behind them. A rictus of cruel malignity lit up greyly their old bony faces. One was clasping about his ribs a torn flannel waistcoat, another complained monotonously as his beard stuck in the tufted weeds. Soft language issued from their spittleless lips as they swished in slow circles round and round the field, winding hither and thither through the weeds, dragging their long tails amid the rattling canisters. They moved in slow circles, circling closer and closer to enclose, to enclose, soft language issuing from their lips, their long swishing tails besmeared with stale shite, thrusting upwards their terrific faces . . .
Help!

This rather ‘goth’ passage takes place near the novel’s center, at a point where Stephen’s aesthetic is still very much in incubation. As Stephen matures, the narrative associations in the novel mature as well, so that by the end of the fourth chapter, we have a near perfect inversion of the above passage, again with a threefold repetition of “hither and thither”, and again followed immediately by a foundation-shaking catharsis:

She was alone and still, gazing out to sea; and when she felt his presence and the worship of his eyes her eyes turned to him in quiet sufferance of his gaze, without shame or wantonness. Long, long she suffered his gaze and then quietly withdrew her eyes from his and bent them towards the stream, gently stirring the water with her foot hither and thither. The first faint noise of gently moving water broke the silence, low and faint and whispering, faint as the bells of sleep; hither and thither, hither and thither; and a faint flame trembled on her cheek.
—Heavenly God! cried Stephen’s soul, in an outburst of profane joy.

The larger sections of which these two passages are a part also invite careful cross-comparison. Both are stunning outpourings of lyrical prose with near identical syntax and rhythm, and as the above examples demonstrate, the vocabulary even matches from time to time. One could argue that the second passage simply sublimates the first.

But this is more than mere sublimation. The girl in the stream – much like Dante’s Beatrice – is a kind of herald, trumpeting a permanent associative shift in Joyce’s prose. From this point on, Stephen (and Joyce by proxy, of course) will hold fast to two basic associations:

  1. The phrase “hither and thither” will be used exclusively to invoke the feminine and/or water.
  2. The ‘rule of three’ trope will be used exclusively to describe a female-to-male interaction as defined by the Prankquean Matrix.
(This blogpost is all about association #2, of course, but very quickly: the “hither and thither” examples to which I refer are mostly from Finnegans Wake: p. 158 lines 25 & 32, p. 216 line 4, p. 452, lines 27-28, etc. There is at least one from Ulysses as well, though: Gabler ed. p. 288, line 626.)

So turning to Dubliners…

(… and yes, I know, Dubliners is an earlier work than Portrait. I place it later in my mind because I assume it to have been composed by a post-Portrait Stephen Dedalus, i.e. a matured Joyce who has already worked out his aesthetic guidelines.)

Three-fold female-to-male interactions are everywhere in Dubliners, and often constitute the structure of entire stories. Here are just a few examples:

Counterparts

  • Three things happen, one after the other:
    Farrington (male) is denied access to three females: Miss Delacour, the nameless London woman, and Mrs Farrington
  • The first thing went POW:
    Miss Delacour smiles broadly  / Farrington is emboldened.
  • The second thing went KA-POW:
    London woman brushes past Farrington  / Farrington is aroused.
  • But the third thing went BOOM:
    Mrs Farrington goes to the chapel instead of cooking dinner  / Farrington is enraged.
  • And now it’s a new thing:
    Farrington beats his son.

Clay

  • Once upon a time, a thing happened:
    The Donnellys throw a Hallow’s Eve party..
  • As a result, three things happened, one after the other:
    Maria (female) embarrasses herself three times in front of Joe Donnelly (male).
  • The first thing went POW:
    Maria loses the plumcake and nearly cries outright  / Joe comforts her.
  • The second thing went KA-POW:
    Maria suggests a reconciliation with Alphy  / Joe rebuffs her.
  • But the third thing went THUD:
    Maria sings poorly / Joe is moved, becomes maudlin, weeps.
  • And now it’s a new thing:
    Joe’s corkscrew is missing.

The Dead

  • Once upon a time, a thing happened:
    The Misses Morkan host their annual dinner.
  • As a result, three things happened, one after the other:
    Three females (Lily, Miss Ivors, Gretta) provoke Gabriel Conroy.
  • The first thing went POW:
    Lily: “The men that is now is only all palaver” etc. / Gabriel is irritated.
  • The second thing went KA-POW:
    Miss Ivors: “West Briton!”  / Gabriel is aggravated.
  • But the third thing went BOOM:
    Gretta:
    “I think he died for me.” / Gabriel is devastated.
  • And now it’s a new thing:
    Generous tears, etc.

All of these stories adhere to Joyce’s prankqueanish gender assignments – females provoking males. They are all neatly divided into three sections: ‘Counterparts’: work / pub crawl / home, ‘Clay’: work / shopping-spree / party, ‘The Dead’: before / during / after dinner. And seemingly random references to the number three are almost comically ubiquitous throughout all of these stories: Farrington’s son offers to “say a Hail Mary” exactly three times, during the course of ‘Clay’ exactly three items are lost and Maria’s nose is described as nearly touching her chin exactly three times, and Gabriel famously toasts “the Three Graces (Joyce’s capitalization) of the Dublin musical world”. These occurrences are prankquean obliques – not examples of the prankquean trope by themselves but merely signals of her matrix’s presence.

There are many more prankqueanish instances in Dubliners than just these three, but these are the most obvious, and three, after all, is the magic number here. I’ll save the other Dubliners examples for a later post.


Moving onto Ulysses…

The opening of the ‘Calypso’ chapter has a rather cute exchange:

  • Once upon a time, a thing happens:
    It’s breakfast time.
  • As a result, three things happen, one after the other:
    The cat (female) approaches Bloom (Male) “with tail on high”.
  • The first thing goes:
    “Mkgnao!” / Bloom offers milk.
  • The second thing goes:
    “Mrkgnao!”  / Bloom withholds milk, taunting the cat.
  • But the third thing goes:
    “Mrkrgnao!” / Bloom pours the milk.
  • And now it’s a new thing:
    “Gurrhr!”

This exchange appears to be a trivialization of the pattern, but notice: the cat’s vocalizations are not mere repetition. Each one builds off of its predecessor, inserting a vocal “r” with each new utterance. Had Bloom continued to withhold milk, we can assume the fourth would be “Mrkrgrnao!” As is typical with Joyce, however, the pattern breaks after three.

It’s worth noting that the cat’s mewing sound ends each time with “nao”, a sound to be echoed later – and again thrice – by young Tommy Caffrey at the beginning of the ‘Nausicaa’ chapter:

—Tell us who is your sweetheart, spoke Edy Boardman. Is Cissy your sweetheart?
—Nao, tearful Tommy said.
—Is Edy Boardman your sweetheart? Cissy queried.
—Nao, Tommy said.
—I know, Edy Boardman said none too amiably with an arch glance from her shortsighted eyes. I know who is Tommy’s sweetheart. Gerty is Tommy’s sweetheart.
—Nao, Tommy said on the verge of tears.

Now this is true trivialization: no signs of change nor accrual from one instance to the next, and apart from the narrative shift to Gerty, nothing significant happens as a result, certainly not ‘BOOM’. So this doesn’t really qualify as a true prankquean exchange. Rather, this passage is another prankquean oblique – a signal to be on the lookout for the true pattern in the pages to come, and sure enough, careful scrutiny reveals the following:

  • Once upon a time, a thing happens:
    Gerty (female) and Bloom (male) are on the beach in Sandymount.
  • As a result, three things happen, one after the other:
    Gerty reveals herself to Bloom in three different ways.
  • The first thing goes POW:
    She kicks the ball and makes eye contact with Bloom.
  • The second thing goes KA-POW:
    She removes her hat and reveals her hair, “raising the devil” in Bloom.
  • But the third thing goes BOOM/WHOOSH/THUD:
    She arches back to reveal her knickers. Bloom bastes his loins.
  • And now it’s a new thing:
    “Cuckoo Cuckoo Cuckoo” (3x)

All of this is of course merely prep-work for the ‘Circe’ chapter, which works countless prankqueanish echoes and variants into its narrative, from the three wealthy socialites of Bloom’s hallucination (Mrs Bellingham, Mrs Yelverton Barry and the Honourable Mrs Mervyn Talboys) to the three whores whom he and Stephen encounter in the flesh (Zoe, Kitty and Florry). Nothing in ‘Circe’ is clean, however, so the pattern doesn’t seem to take a solid hold here as it does elsewhere, although certainly the apparition of Stephen’s mother feels very much like ‘the third thing that goes BOOM’. Plus, it can hardly be mere coincidence that the mother’s appearance comes as a near-direct consequence of the pianola’s playing “My Girl’s A Yorkshire Girl, a song in three-quarter time with three verses about three men who share a single woman. If this isn’t enough to establish Joyce’s commitment to the pattern, nothing is.


So then, back to the Wake.

A major problem arises with what properly should be the Pankquean Matrix’s ultimate expression: Finnegans Wake pp. 219-259, “The Mime of Mick, Nick and the Maggies” (Joyce’s own title). It’s a chapter rife with Prankquean signposts: It culminates with a thunderword (#7) and concludes with overtones of a “moral” – the final sentence of the chapter being one of the most lauded in the entire book. And it contains numerous threefold interactions between male and female, most notably on page 225:

—Have you monbreamstone?
—No.
—Or Hellfeuersteyn?
—No.
—Or Van Diemen’s coral pearl?
—No.

…repeated with a difference on page 233:

—Haps thee jaoneofergs?
—Nao.
—Haps thee mayjaunties?
—Naohao.
—Haps thee per causes nunsibellies?
—Naohaohao.

This last interaction is of course famously evocative of tearful Tommy Caffrey’s exclamations in ‘Nausicaa’, and much like Bloom’s cat, develops a phonetic accrual from one utterance to the next.

So you may be well asking the same question Wake scholars have been asking for three-quarters of a century now: With the first exchange from p. 225 looking an awful lot like the thing that goes POW, especially when paired with the KA-POWish one on p. 233, where’s the third exchange preceding the BOOM on p. 257?

Answer: there is none.

…at least none that the scholars can agree on. One of my favorite Wake scholars, John Gordon, sees it happening on p. 247:

Boo, you’re through!
Hoo, I’m true!
Men, teacan a tea simmering, hamo mavrone kerry O?
Teapotty. Teapotty.
Kod knows. Anything ruind. Meetingless.

I’ve also heard it argued that it takes place on p. 249:

—I rose up one maypole morning and saw in my glass how nobody loves me but you. Ugh. Ugh.
All point in the shem direction as if to shun.
—My name is Misha Misha but call me Toffey Tough. I mean Mettenchough. It was her, boy the boy that was loft in the larch. Ogh! Ogh!

A great many scholars, including Bernard Benstock, Margaret Solomon, Grace Eckley, and Danis Rose all argue that it takes place on page 250:

—Willest thou rossy banders havind?
He simules to be tight in ribbings round his rumpffkorpff.
—Are you Swarthants that’s hit on a shorn stile?
He makes semblant to be swiping their chimbleys.
—Can you ajew ajew fro’ Sheidam?
He finges to be cutting up with a pair of sissers and to be buy­tings of their maidens and spitting their heads into their facepails.

Still others place it on p. 252:

—Now may Saint Mowy of the Pleasant Grin be your ever­glass and even prospect!
—Feeling dank.
Exchange, reverse.
—And may Saint Jerome of the Harlots’ Curse make family three of you which is much abedder!
—Grassy ass ago.

And Roland MacHugh, perhaps more persuasively than anyone else, claims in his Annotations (with Slepon chiming in as well) that the final exchange is on p.253:

But Noodynaady’s actual ingrate tootle is of come into the garner mauve and thy nice are stores of morning and buy me a bunch of iodines.
Evidentament he has failed as tiercely as the deuce before for she is wearing none of the three.

While there are good arguments for all of these speculations (and probably more), I think they’re all likely fueled by little more than a desire for the pattern to be completed. Joyce has, of course, quite deliberately built up these expectations over the course of four novels, but his writing really only ever consistently follows one rule, and here it is:

Rules are for breaking.

The ‘Mime’ chapter is, after all, a study of childhood, and children never respond to rules very well.

This, in my view, is the ultimate function of the Prankquean Matrix. The vast majority of examples from Joyce’s works I’ve cited here involve the male figure experiencing a disruption of one kind or another – of routine, of agenda, of rigid thought-pattern. In this sense, the Prankquean Matrix actually functions as more of a formula for change than it does a trope for storytellers, and this is the reason I believe Joyce so consistently assigned a feminine/puerile value to the disruption. Women and children may be first onto the lifeboats, but in a world ruled by men, they are the marginalized, inconvenient voice of the other that need only be pushed aside in order to go boom.

Prankquean Collage 1

Interview With a VoiceGeek: Patrick Horgan

From whence comes artistic immortality for the actor?

I suppose we should be glad to take it where we can get it, but the great fantasy of being the next Marlon Brando or Meryl Streep with triumphs registered in the historical archive under The Godfather, Sophie’s Choice, etc. is rather hard to shake. God forbid we should go down as, say, Nazi-guy-in-helmet standing behind Leonard Nimoy in this scene from Star Trek season 2 episode 21: Patterns of Force:

Patterns of Force still Helmet-Guy-Number-Two is probably leaning to the left in order to make certain he’s in the shot, completely unaware that he is in fact over-compensating and that the frame is cropping him off at the left eyeball. I should know – I’ve been there:

LongmireLongmire, season 2, episode 1, approx. 7½ minutes in.

That’s me peeking out fuzzily from behind actress Nicki Aycox, damn near cracking a rib over that counter-top trying to get my mug into the shot.

Comparatively speaking, I have nothing to complain about at all – the Longmire episode wound up being pretty good, and even “Cropped-Eyeball-Nazi-Guy-standing-behind-Nimoy” has joyful anonymity protecting him. I shudder to think what Nimoy himself – who was raised orthodox Jewish – could possibly have been thinking while wearing that SS uniform, probably something like “Please God don’t let me be remembered for this.” Well, as the present deluge of warm eulogies for Nimoy clearly testify, the man’s legacy won’t be terribly tarnished by Patterns of Force, or Spock’s Brain, or Transformers: Dark of the Moon for that matter.

No: Nimoy has much less to worry about on that account than the actor in the foreground of the above Trek still. Patrick Horgan’s number-one Google hit happens to be Patterns of Force – a laughably bad Trek episode – and his most memorable line comes near the end of the episode, with:

Patterns of Force 3“Wait, soldier. There’s been enough killing.
Now we’ll start to live the way the Fuhrer meant us to live.”

Ugh. For this to be what Mr. Horgan is primarily remembered for would be one of popular culture’s single greatest travesties. So it’s high-time for a corrective: Patrick Horgan had a helluvalot more to say than this, and at the age of 86, retired and living with his wife, Susan Bedsow-Horgan in rural Connecticut, he still does. I can personally verify this – for very much to my shock and honor, he allowed me to interview him last week.


HorganIn many ways, Mr. Horgan’s acting career simply dwarfs that of Nimoy’s: in addition to his steady television work and extremely prolific stage career, he recorded somewhere in the neighborhood of 1800 audiobooks (his account) – mostly for the National Foundation for the Blind. Sitting atop these achievements is perhaps the greatest single audiobook accomplishment of all time: his 1985 NFB recording of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. I argued in a previous blog that this is and will probably remain for eons to come the only accurate and completely unabridged recording of the book.

Inexplicably, however, obscurity threatens even this accomplishment. Here it is sitting atop its original packaging:

Horgan PackagingUgh. Worse, Mr. Horgan’s name is nowhere to be found on it. Flip the cartridge over, and the only thing printed there is “Property of U.S. Government – further reproduction or distribution is prohibited.” That’s right: as if the injury hadn’t been insulted enough, this recording is not legally available to the general public – I had to sign up for volunteer work at the New Mexico State Library just to have access to it.

I’ve gushed about this recording quite a lot, so the best thing to do here (and to Uncle Sam’s big stick I have but two words: FAIR USE) is to simply let it speak for itself. Below is Mr. Horgan’s reading of one of the Wake‘s most notoriously challenging passages: question #9 from chapter 6, found on page 143:

9. Now, to be on anew and basking again in the panaroma of all flores of speech, if a human being duly fatigued by his dayety in the sooty, having plenxty off time on his gouty hands and va­cants of space at his sleepish feet and as hapless behind the dreams of accuracy as any camelot prince of dinmurk, were at this auc­tual futule preteriting unstant, in the states of suspensive exani­mation, accorded, throughout the eye of a noodle, with an ear­sighted view of old hopeinhaven with all the ingredient and egregiunt whights and ways to which in the curse of his persis­tence the course of his tory will had been having recourses, the reverberration of knotcracking awes, the reconjungation of nodebinding ayes, the redissolusingness of mindmouldered ease and the thereby hang of the Hoel of it, could such a none, whiles even led comesilencers to comeliewithhers and till intempes­tuous Nox should catch the gallicry and spot lucan’s dawn, by­hold at ones what is main and why tis twain, how one once meet melts in tother wants poignings, the sap rising, the foles falling, the nimb now nihilant round the girlyhead so becoming, the wrestless in the womb, all the rivals to allsea, shakeagain, O disaster! shakealose, Ah how starring! but Heng’s got a bit of Horsa’s nose and Jeff’s got the signs of Ham round his mouth and the beau that spun beautiful pales as it palls, what roserude and oragious grows gelb and greem, blue out the ind of it! Violet’s dyed! then what would that fargazer seem to seemself to seem seeming of, dimm it all?
Answer: A collideorscape!

…and the whole thing is this good. Talk about content outweighing form. According to Mr. Horgan, the project took less than a month:

I would record two to four hours a day, about five days a week. I don’t think it took more than three or four weeks.

Harrison Sherwood

Harrison Sherwood


Incidentally: Harrison Sherwood, the main recording engineer and producer for Mr. Horgan’s Finnegans Wake project, verified in an email to me that it all went by quite smoothly with nary a flub: “It was a pretty money-oriented environment for a nonprofit organization. The Library of Congress (our benefactors) were willing to put up X dollars for a recording of the Wake. We had to come in at or under that dollar amount. So there was an upper limit on the number of hours we could spend.” Sherwood, by the way, offers some great anecdotes about his experience with Mr. Horgan in a blog of his own. This blogpost is actually best if read in tandem with his. Why duplicate, after all? Here’s the link:
http://byneddiejingo.blogspot.com/2006/05/he-proves-by-algebra.html


So this is clearly a man with super-human talent, yet somehow “talented” doesn’t really do Patrick Horgan justice as a descriptor – enthusiastic comes more to mind than anything else. When I started by asking him where (and if) he received any formal actor training, it took him all of fifteen seconds to start talking about the Wake:


Not really. I learned by doing it. It seems to me that acting is a very hard thing to teach. I was actually a medical student for 4½ years. Everybody in my family were all doctors, so I kind of had to do it. But I packed that up – I got sensible and realized there was a better way to go. And I think that was the first time I picked up a copy of Finnegans Wake – when I was a medical student – so I must’ve been, oh, 19, 20. I couldn’t understand a word of it – I got to about page 16 and I thought, I don’t even know what accent it’s in! Of course it didn’t need an accent, but I put it away for years and years and years.

Rita Gam

Rita Gam

Then I was looking at somebody’s books – they happened to be Rita Gam’s books. She was married to the head guy at Viking, so she had all the books that had anything connected with the Wake that were published at that time. I reckon I’ve been working on it for 42 years now – 1972 was when I first started work on it. And I had thought that after 42 not doing it, and then 42 years doing it that I would drop dead, but I didn’t. I’m still sort of clawing my way at it, finding new things every day.


Bear in mind that, in 1972, publication of the first edition of Roland McHugh’s Annotations to Finnegans Wake was still nine years away – and woefully sparse by today’s standards once it did come out. So Horgan was researching the Wake in a manner that we of the fweet.org generation can hardly fathom: He relied mostly on his own storehouse of personal knowledge to gloss the text and make judgements concerning pronunciation. If you open McHugh to his acknowledgements page, you’ll find Horgan listed there among the others, Fritz Senn, Adaline Glasheen, Louis Mink, Brendan O’Hehir, et al.

To call Mr. Horgan’s reading of the Wake “flawless” would be wrong of course, for the Wake itself is in many ways a study in the art of flaw-making, and Mr. Horgan’s own attitude towards his 1985 recording reflects the kind of eternal dissatisfaction any artist has towards a completed work. He cited a number of examples:


I had various things that I wanted to change. Sometimes you find that the passage doesn’t mean what you thought it meant. A case in point of particular interest to me lately has been the end of the fifth chapter, the one where it’s telling you what the alphabet is about. Joyce says “very potably so” (p. 118 line 15), and I thought it meant “very possibly so” from the phrase before it, and I’ve discovered since then – and this is in McHugh’s book – that there is a whole bunch of [Rabelais’s] Pantagruel and Gargantua in that. Pantagruel was looking for a book which had the oracle called “Bacbuc” (and Bacbuc is there with “bacbuccus”). So it’s not “very possibly so”, it’s “very drinkably so”. The oracle is giving the thing in the form of drink. And that’s made very clear in the actual text of Gargantua. And I hadn’t realized that, I was saying “o very potably so” [short “O”] but it’s saying “o very potably so” [long “O”] saying how tremendously good it was, rather than just “ho-hum”. That sort of thing crops up all the time. You’ll find a sentence that you’ve been saying one way and thinking of one way that isn’t necessarily that way. But then anything can be at least two ways, any word in my view.

I remember having problems with one of the first words in the book: “Violer d’amores” (page 3 line 4). Now should that be a violer (short “I”, pronounced like viola, the musical instrument), or should it be a violer (long “I”), someone who is raping someone? I didn’t know which one to do. And I found that sort of thing throughout the book – where you can’t be sure which one Joyce intended, so how are you to do it?

I found one the other day :“Tuwarceathay” (490.28) It looks like tu-WARK-a-thigh, but it isn’t – it could be “cathay” at the end, etc. But actually it’s “tuar ceatha”, which is “rainbow” in irish. Now I think McHugh has that one, but to look it up you find that it really means an “omen of mist” in Irish. And how would you pronounce it? Should it be pronounced Irish? Nobody speaks Irish that listens to the recording, so they wouldn’t understand it.

Another Irish one: the pronunciation of the word “devious” – in this case “devious” is just a word or two before “the original document” (p. 123.31). And “the document” refers to the one produced during the trouble between the Irish and the English at the end of the war; the English had a peace treaty, and that was the original document, and De Valera made a new document and called it “document number two.” So clearly “devious” has to indicate De Valera a little bit. You could say “devious” (short “E”) and it would sound peculiar, but on the other hand it’s up to the reader to make it anything they want. Anybody who’s reading it can put any interpretation they like on it. I think everybody should have that right.


The Irish stuff in Finnegans Wake is indeed quite troublesome for an actor, as anyone who’s worked on Thunderword #8 can attest. I should point out, though, that Mr. Horgan takes great delight in recounting his pronunciation conundrums; he didn’t indicate even slight regret at a single decision he made during his recording. And his fascination with unlocking the puzzles of Finnegans Wake goes far beyond anything that an audiobook reader ever need concern himself with:


I find everyday more stuff to add to my pile, and at the moment I’m working on something I started on five or six years ago when I discovered that there was DNA mentioned in the Wake. Joyce hides it very subtly, but it comes up several times. I found that always where there’s DNA, there was an alda as well. So you’ve got the three trees. – the Irish alphabet is all trees, and “D” “N” “A” means “oak” “ash” and “elm” in the Irish alphabet! It’s there on page 503 [line 32] with “Oakley Ashe’s elm”, but the Wake actually begins with: “The oaks of ald now they lie in peat yet elms leap where askes lay.” Now there you’ve got your oak and your ash and your elm, and now somehow an alda has crept into it as well. And I looked up the books on all this sort of thing and I found that the received wisdom was that “ald” just meant old, but I found that in the Norwegian mythology, Odin went along a beach with his pals, and he discovered a couple of tree branches and he decided to make people out of them. Now everyone says that they were an ash and an elm because embla sounds like elm, but it isn’t an elm; it means an alda! So there’s a great fight between the trees as to whether the elma is the one thing or the another. So each time you’ve got DNA, you’ve got it being an ash and an elm (regular), but every time it occurs there is also an elda somewhere lying around in the vicinity. And over the passage of time I discovered that they were there forming a diagram like the floor-plan of a cathedral, with seven of them on each side and a dome at one end and a portal at the other end! I discovered that just this morning and I feel pretty excited about it.


I can’t say that I was completely able to follow Mr. Horgan’s line of thinking all the way to the very end here, but this was something he had only just started formulating that very morning, after all, and I’m sure that he would have fleshed it out better given more time. Besides, enthusiasm is often a language all its own, and if there is one thing I would impart about our chat above all else, it would be his extraordinary enthusiasm – he has every right to let it get the better of him.

So I suppose all that stuff I said at the beginning of this blog-post about legacy, i.e.:Trek Trading Card…doesn’t amount to much. If you can claim at the age of 86 the kind of vitality and exuberance Mr. Horgan has, the rest can’t possibly matter one rattling damn.

The HorgansThe Horgans as photographed by Fenella Pearson

The Permission to Free-Associate

Let’s start by taking a close look at the following photograph:

Rennicks&co

Taken in January 1992 by Bruce Ryder at Dublin’s Bow Lane Studios during the mastering of Patrick Healy’s Finnegans Wake audiobook recording, this photo’s primary subject is producer Stephen Rennicks (front center), flanked by engineers Paul Waldron (left) and Hugh Drumm (right). One might gather from the context that the book Rennicks is holding is the Wake itself, that he is following along with Healy’s recitation, that he is checking for accuracy etc.

But no. Rennicks fully admits in his liner notes to having had no interest whatsoever in checking for errors:

The mastering process involved reformatting the 120 minute sections recorded on DAT tape onto 70 minute compact discs.  It was sometime necessary to end a CD in the middle of a paragraph but this was avoided where possible, and in general each CD starts and ends in a convenient place in the text. This was the only editing involved, and what you hear in the recordings is exactly how the text was performed by Patrick Healy in the studio.

(I wrote about the final product in my last blog-post. To briefly recap: In my view, Healy and Rennicks are responsible for what is arguably the worst book-on-tape of all time, notable only for its badness, viz. Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, Florence Foster JenkinsQueen of the Night aria, etc.)

Anyway, as Rennicks’ own admission reveals, the only reason to have the book open at all was to mark page numbers for track listings – not a very dynamic or interesting thing to take a photograph of, let alone devote an entire page of your liner notes to.

Unless…

Let’s now lay a detail of this snapshot alongside another, much more iconic image, and then free-associate:

Reading Joyce on CameraNo points for guessing who the photo on the right is of, but notice how spookily similar the Ryder pic detail is to Eve Arnold’s legendary 1955 shot of Marylin Monroe reading Joyce’s Ulysses, how the mixing board behind Rennicks forms an angle nearly identical to the iron bars of the playground carousel behind Monroe, how a book by Joyce is opened to its final pages, how the back-lighting on unkempt hair forms a halo over a shadowed face, etc.

These similarities can only be partially accidental, for the subliminal message conveyed is essentially the same for both photos:

‘Look at this artist. See how he/she disregards the camera in favor of exploring Joyce’s wild and challenging prose. The disheveled hair and loose fitting clothes are further indications of a commitment to inner self-improvement and artistic excellence. How admirable – enviable even – to allow one’s self to be photographed so.’

This is advertisement, pure and simple, and in the case of Rennicks, truly masterful advertisement. The playground setting and the multicolored swimsuit betray something of the “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” side of Ms. Monroe that a grainy, black-and-white, coffee-cup-in-foreground photo would never have betrayed. Rennicks is smart – his liner notes are well-written and the packaging for the 17 CD box-set is tastefully designed. And it’s not entirely unreasonable to think that the recording itself has merit, especially if you don’t bother listening to it, which – let’s face it – most people haven’t; they just take Rennick’s packaging (and false claim that his is the first unabridged Wake recording) at face value.

Bear in mind too that this was very early in Rennicks’ career when he was still building his resume. It takes a seriously strategic and creative mind to come up with a scheme like this, so I don’t suppose I should have been surprised to discover last week that 22 years later, Rennicks would be photographed like so…Rennicks Regnant…accepting the 2014 British Independent Film Award (BIFA) for his contribution to Lenny Abrahamson‘s film Frank, starring Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender and Maggie Gyllenhaal. It’s the one with the big papier-mache head:Frank posterI loved this movie; it’s one of the most touching studies of erratic genius and the perils of artistic collaboration I’ve ever seen, and the music Rennicks composed for it is masterfully appropriate to the subject matter. Here’s a snippet:

So surprise: Rennicks is in fact a real artist, probably always was one. His BIFA is well earned, and I very much look forward to his future work.

If you find this last revelation somewhat shocking, imagine how I felt. I watched Frank for the first time only eight days ago – less than a week after posting my review of the Healy recording – and the synchronicity alone had me basically rethinking my world outlook.

For one thing, the lyrics to the song in the above clip indicate that Rennicks did take a serious look at the Wake:

The Ginger Crouton
by Stephen Rennicks
by Lenny Abrahamson
(see addendum)

In the soup
Ginger crouton
Cover him in grease
Raw limby sausage
Bobbing poulet
Salted joints
Tuna in brine
Deep dark swell anoints
Undertow the broken ford
Back to garage help him, Lord
Eels are jellied, bloated belly
Scallops seared, wrinkled skin
Comb the cockles from his beard
Notify the next of kin
Push the baby, cut the cord
Spread the feast upon the board
Coming out, emerging
Beat the swelling, camel watch

Experienced readers of Finnegans Wake should recognize some thematic signposts here – a cannibalistic feast/fune­ral/nati­vity in an aquatic/amni­otic/culi­nary setting, etc – so maybe the 1992 Ryder photograph really is of Rennicks actually reading the text in front of him. We should at least give him the benefit of the doubt.

Whatever the case, and regardless of Rennicks’ initial motive in producing the Healy recording, it is clear that his 1992 experience had influence. Even without the thematic elements (which after all could just as easily have been lifted from Yeats, Eliot, Blake, Beckett, even the New Testament) there’s also the free-ranging associative structure of the piece itself – the deeply subjective and only covertly justified movement from image to image and thought to thought – that Joyce championed not just in Finnegans Wake but in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses as well.

It’s the kind of stuff our brains do all the time actually, and its use is one of Joyce’s most important contributions to 20th century letters. Free-association – the great modernist tradmark – scarcely existed in art before Joyce came along, and now, thanks mostly to him, narratives are no longer bound by mere plot points or straightforward syllogisms. For all that’s said about ‘stream of consciousness’ and ‘internal monologue’, these techniques wouldn’t be nearly so revolutionary had Joyce not allowed himself, his characters, and by extension his inheritors to free-associate.

Stephen Rennicks owes Joyce BIG-TIME for this, and he knows it.

At least I think he does.Frank head


Addendum – February 14, 2015:

Stephen Rennicks has posted some very helpful stuff in the comment section below – among other things correcting the authorship of “The Ginger Crouton”.


Addendum – February 29, 2016

I think the next person to ask about the Wake’s influence on Frank is Lenny Abrahamsson himself, especially with regards his latest leading lady, Brie Larson, Oscar winning star of his (and Rennicks’) latest film, Room, who’s first statement after winning the statue should make all Wakeans’ hearts quop a bit:
http://www.people.com/people/package/article/0,,20985752_20990434,00.html.

Crossing the Deadly Line: an Overdue Rant

Something I’ve come to understand about creating and understanding art: Deadlines can really suck. If you’re not careful, they can suck the precision right out of your work, making it sloppy, inattentive to detail, and prone to snap judgements & outlandishly foolish interpretations.

Granted, no artwork invites snap judgement and outlandish interpretation quite like Finnegans Wake, but even the Wake has its limitations. Take for example Patrick Healy’s interpretation of the following rather lengthy Wake sentence (FW 51.21-52.7):

It was the Lord’s own day for damp (to wait for a postponed regatta’s event­ualising is not of Battle­cock Shettle­dore-Juxta-Mare only) and the request for a fully armed explan­ation was put (in Loo of Pat) to the porty (a native of the sisterisle ⎯ Meathman or Meccan? ⎯ by his brogue, ex­race eyes, lokil calour and lucal odour which are said to have been average clownturkish (though the capelist’s voiced nasal liquids and the way he sneezed at zees haul us back to the craogs and bryns of the Silurian Ordovices) who, the lesser pilgrimage accomplished, had made, pats’ and pigs’ older inselt, the south­east bluffs of the stranger stepshore, a regifugium persecutorum, hence hindquarters) as he paused at evenchime for some or so minutes (hit the pipe dannyboy! Time to won, barmon. I’ll take ten to win.) amid the devil’s one duldrum (Apple by her blossom window and Charlotte at her toss panomancy his sole admirers, his only tearts in store) for a fragrend culubosh during his week­ensd pastime of executing with Anny Oakley deadliness (the con­summatory pairs of provocatives, of which remained provokingly but two, the ones he fell for, Lili and Tutu, cork em!) empties which had not very long before contained Reid’s family (you ruad that before, soaky, but all the bottles in sodemd histry will not soften your bloodathirst!) stout.

There’s so much to say about this reading – the stammering, the monotonous drone, the break-neck speed at which he mumbles out the text, etc. – but notice at around the 00:55 mark: Healy reads the perfectly comprehensible and surprisingly undistorted phrase: “executing with Annie Oakley deadliness” as “executing with Annie Oakley deadlines“, rendering it completely nonsensical and ludicrous.

Well, nonsensical and ludicrous if you’re trying to understand where Joyce is coming from; understanding Healy’s perspective is easy enough if you read producer Stephen Rennicks’ liner notes to the 17 CD  “unabridged recording” box-set:

It was important to [Patrick Healy] that [his Wake recording] should be done in as little time as possible in order to maintain the momentum and rhythm of his performance. […] There were no rehearsals. There were no retakes. The performance took four days to record.

Whatever is meant here by “momentum and rhythm”, it’s clear the four-day timetable is a point of great pride for Healy and Rennicks – even a selling point – so with this ambition at the forefront of Healy’s mind as he reads, his omission of the second “s” from “deadliness” can be easily understood, even treated with sympathy…

Actually, No.

This kind of nonsense is totally inexcusable. According to Rennicks, “Over the course of the past ten years [Healy] has given one-day readings of the entire text of Finnegans Wake in front of small audiences in in several European cities”. Ten years, huh? Such an obvious straightforward phrase can be misread for that long a time only by someone who has no interest whatsoever in the content of what he is reading.

Published by Rennicks Auriton in 1992, this abominable recording remains largely misunderstood to this day – nearly 23 years later – either by people who, never having opened the book themselves, admire Healy’s reading by default, or worse: by Wake nay-sayers who argue that lovers of Finnegans Wake are nothing more than intellectual narcissists, that the reason for our irrational attachment to the book is that it serves as a kind of linguistic Rorschach ink-blot whereby we can gaze at ourselves. Healy’s uber-Freudian “deadlines” slip gives this last group precisely the fuel they seek.

Incredibly, Joyce scholars have wound up making the situation even worse. Excitement over the advent of what was falsely advertised as the first-and-only unabridged audio recording of the entire book (Patrick Horgan [see below] had it beat by seven years) was apparently intoxicating enough to garner nearly universal acclaim from a number of Joyce scholars who clearly should have known better: Peter Costello, David Hayman(?!?!), Allen Ruch, etc. Perhaps they were under deadline pressures of their own, and so didn’t have time to listen to any of the 17+ hour recording. I wish they had – it would have saved me $350.

I suppose I should admit at this point that I have a dog in this fight, for I too have made a specialty of performing Finnegans Wake and hope one day to lay down a few tracks of my own. But I would never be possessed of such hubris as to claim that the whole book could be done in four days.

For one thing, the whole book wasn’t done – not really. Healy completely omitted one of the Wake‘s most celebrated sentences: “And low stole o’er the stillness heartbeats of sleep.” (FW403.5):

…and his garbled and prattling attempt at even the simplest thunderword (#5 on p.113) bears almost no resemblance to what Joyce wrote:

…not to mention the other nine. Just one example should suffice, but they’re all just as bad. Here’s Healy’s attempt at thunderword number one:

…and there are places, such as FW369.2-21, where his reading is so rushed as to be downright comical:

Enough. The crimes against Joyce in this recording are absolutely ubiquitous. If you want to listen to more you can go to ubuweb, where the entire recording has been archived and is available for download. If, like me, your ears actually hurt after listening to this, I’d like to make amends by offering all of the above snippets rendered by people who actually know what they’re doing:

Joseph Campbell – reciting (from memory) paragraph 3 from the first page:

     The fall (bababa­dalgharagh­takam­minar­ronnkonn­bronn­tonner­ronntuonn­thunntrovarrhoun­awnskawn­toohoohoor­denenthur­nuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy. The great fall of the offwall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finnegan, erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes: and their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock out in the park where oranges have been laid to rust upon the green since dev­linsfirst loved livvy.

Jim Norton – giving a truly unabridged reading of the opening section of part 3 on page 403:

     Hark!
     Tolv two elf kater ten (it can’t be) sax.
     Hork!
     Pedwar pemp foify tray (it must be) twelve.
     And low stole o’er the stillness the heartbeats of sleep.
     White fogbow spans. The arch embattled. Mark as capsules. The nose of the man who was nought like the nasoes. It is self tinted, wrink­ling, ruddled. His kep is a gorse­cone. He am Gascon Titubante of Tegmine – sub – Fagi whose fixtures are mobil­ing so wobiling befear my remembrandts. She, exhibit next, his Anastashie. She has prayings in lowdelph. Zeehere green egg­brooms. What named blautoothdmand is yon who stares? Gu­gurtha! Gugurtha! He has becco of wild hindigan. Ho, he hath hornhide! And hvis now is for you. Pensée! The most beautiful of woman of the veilch veilchen veilde. She would kidds to my voult of my palace, with obscidian luppas, her aal in her dhove’s suckling. Apagemonite! Come not nere! Black! Switch out!

Simon Loekle – taking twice as much time as Healy did to recite the passage on p. 369:

     With however what sublation of compensation in the radifi­ca­tion of interp­retation by the bye­boys? Being they. Mr G. B. W. Ash­burner, S. Bruno’s Toboggan Drive, Mr Faixgood, Bell­chimbers, Carolan Crescent, Mr I. I. Chattaway, Hilly Gape, Poplar Park, Mr Q. P. Dieudonney, The View, Gazey Peer, Mr T. T. Erchdeakin, Multiple Lodge, Jiff Exby Rode, Mr W. K. Ferris-Fender, Fert Fort, Woovil Doon Botham ontowhom adding the tout that pumped the stout that linked the lank that cold the sandy that nextdoored the rotter that rooked the rhymer that lapped at the hoose that Joax pilled.
     They had heard or had heard said or had heard said written.
     Fidelisat.
     That there first a rudrik kingcomed to an inn court; and the seight of that yard was a perch­y­pole with a loovah­gloovah on it; last mannarks maketh man when wandshift winneth womans: so how would it hum, whoson of a which, if someof aswas to start to stunt the story on?

Patrick Horgan – executing the paragraph given at the top of this post with real Annie Oakley deadliness:

And finally:

You at Home can recite the fifth thunderword yourself – it’s easy. If you really think you need help with it, you can always take a tutorial.

Actually, you’re free to work on reciting any passage you like, but there’s no point in trying to do the whole book; Patrick Horgan’s unabridged recording for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has already done that (more about this extraordinary recording in a future post). And for God’s sake, take your time with it.

It’s not like anyone’s holding a gun to your head.Annie Oakley


Addendum: 3/15/2015

This blogpost has something of a surprise sequel.