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Re-Membring FW

Re-Membring FW

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Published by: RioGonzalez on Mar 21, 2012
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RE-MEMBERING FINNEGAN
Michael Sexson, Professor of English, Montana State University, Bozeman, Mt. Spring, 2005
 Joyce’s Masterpiece in the Age of Cyberspace
“Joyce is, in the
Wake
 , making his own Altamira cave drawings of the entire history of the human mind, in termsof its basic gestures and postures during all phases of human culture and technology”-- Marshall McLuhan,
The GutenbergGalaxy
 James Joyce’s
Finne- gans Wake
(no apos-trophe please) is themost famous unread book in the world. Itsauthor devoted mostof his waking hoursand all of his dream-ing nights for a pe-riod of sixteen years creating 628 pages of whateven highly literate people consider inspiredgibberish, a colossal literary white elephant.Since 1939, when
Finnegans Wake
was publishedin completed form, the book has attracted a fairamount of attention from a handful of die-hard“Wakies,” but not nearly the notice that Joyce’searlier works received. The book is not simplydemanding as was
Portrait of the Artist as aYoung Man
 , or extremely difficult like
Ulysses
; itis mindbogglingly obscure. The claim that the book seems to have been written in anotherlanguage doesn’t do justice to its obscurity; infact, it is written in dozens of other languages,from Albanian and Bog Latin to Old ChurchSlavonic and Serbo-Croatian. Open the book anywhere, and begin reading. Here is a ran-domly chosen line from p. 351: “My droomo-dose days Y loved you abover all the strest.Blowhole brasshat and boy with his boots offand the butch of our bunch and all. It was buckoo bonzer, beleeme.” Or from page 523:“Pro general continuation and in particular ex-plication to your singular interrogation our as-severalation. Ladiegent, pals will smile but meand Frisky Shorty, my inmate friend, as is un-common struck on popular poetry....”
DON’T DO IT!
Ezra Pound admonished Joyce not topursue his disastrous project; literary agentHarriet Weaver, long an admirer of Joyce’s earlyworks, wondered whether the genius had goneinsane; his friends and confidants stood byhelplessly as more and more of this linguisticmonster appeared in small magazines. In 1928,H.G. Wells penned the line which may be themost often quoted condemnation of the work:
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HG Wells on FW
“Who the hell is this Joycewho demands so many wak-ing hours of the few thou-sands I have still to live for aproper appreciation of hisquirks and fancies and flashesof rendering?” (Ellman 621). Three decades later,Vladimir Nabokov would call the
Wake
a “coldpudding of a book” (71). In 1966, Clive Hart, adevoted Wakie, claimed that he doubts if thereare a dozen people apart from professional Joyceans anywhere who have actually in goodfaith read
FinnegansWake
from beginning to end(135).
MEMEMOREME
Until recently the matterseemed closed
. Finnegans Wake
 would continue its shadowyexistence in an academic Hadesfueled by the energies of a rela-tively small band of scholarssquabbling with one anotherover who had “really” read the book as opposed to who justpretended. And then some-thing remarkable happened.The Web woke the
Wake
fromits deep slumber.
FinnegansWake
is everythinganyone has ever said about it,and more. The tens of thou-sands of transparent overlaysin the book (Joyce actuallycalled his method of composi-tion “working in layers” )added up to nothing lessthan.... well, than everything.Like Plato before him, Joycefelt that human beings, whileawake, exist in a state of pro-found forgetfulness of whothey are and where they camefrom. Our birth, in Word-sworth’s famous lines, is “but asleep and a forgetting.” Thehuman creature is the one whohas fallen into what the Greekscalled “amathia,” the ignorancethat stems from forgetfulnessof everything important. In the
Wake
Joyce exults in the ironythat we are most asleep whenwe are awake and only in sleepdo we begin to awaken to allwe have forgotten.The
Wake
comes out of thefoggy dew like the ghost ofHamlet’s father, intoning “Re-member Me,” or as Anna Liviarephrases it on the last page ofthe book, combining “remem- ber” with “memory,” “Meme-moreme.” If
Finnegans Wake
 could possibly be summed upin a singleword, that wordwould be “re-member.” It is agrand Joyceanword which doesa lot of work, so much in factthat as Humpty Dumpty (apervasive influence in the
Wake
) says to Alice, you haveto pay it extra. To remember isnot only to bring to mind whathas been hiding, but also to re-assemble carnally, to re-member, to rebuild fleshy bitsinto an animate whole. It is si-multaneously a mental andphysical act, linking word toimage and gesture, mediatedexperience to pantomime.Authentic remembering givesthe Book back its body, which,so to speak, had been mutilated by print culture and scatteredto the winds, littering the land-scape. Of utmost importance in
Finnegans Wake
is the figure of
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Isis, the Egyptian goddessfaced with the task of reassem- bling her dead husband/ brother Osiris, dismembered by his brother Set and his bodyparts cast away, like geminat-ing seeds, to the far corners ofthe land. Isis finds all thepieces of her late husband ex-cept his phallus. She constructsa new one out of wood, im-pregnates herself, and restoreslife to her dead consort. This, to Joyce, is what remembering isreally about: not vague recol-lection but the fashioning of a body, wholly body, replete withregenerative functions. It is thefinding of all the missing letters(litter) and the reshaping ofthem into a text with texture,taste and tactility, a text shotthrough with the infinite varie-ties of thought and action inthis world.The act of unforgettingthat is
Finnegans Wake
recalls usto the notion that before booksthere was speech and beforespeech mute gesture, powerfulicon, and primal sound. Actsof remembering had to do withmovement and with picture:the daily peregrinations of thesun and moon; the rotation ofclusters of stars; rituals of thehunt or gathering of food ac-companied by rhythmic gruntsor howls; the sudden terrifying bolt of lightning followed bythe menacing rumble of thun-der. Unlike the databases wenow consult in order to “learn”something, these mute markersand markings had a pro-foundly visceral effect. Thiswas learning by inscription.That which was seen, heard,and done was indeliby im-printed on the very nervoussystem of the observer, listener,actor. Today we go to the mu-seum to have an “educationalexperience.” The phrase itselfis suggestive of profound for-getfulness, the banal words ofthe unawakened. In the Paleo-lithic era, by contrast, we canimagine that a visit to the ro-tunda of the great caves at Las-caux resulted not in an educa-tional experience but a dra-matic and theatrical encounter,a shattering engagement whichsimultaneously dis-memberedand re-membered the initiate,mutely cowering before thepower of the
mysterium tremen-dum.
 To achieve the effect ofthe pre-literate experience ofreality, Joyce borrowed fromancient mnemonic arts whichstressed the inscription withinmental space of powerful im-ages. The typical pre-book memory system involvedimagining an enclosed spacesuch as a cave, a house, castleor palace, which had familiarpartitions or niches. Enteringthe mindscape, the mnemonistwould “deposit” an image, of-ten unusual or grotesque,alongside the information thatwas to be recalled. When onewished to remember what oth-erwise might have droppedinto oblivion, one entered thememory grotto and embarkedon what Joyce calls in the firstpage of the
Wake
“a commo-dius vicus of recirculation,” atrip around the inside of theskull in order to revisit impor-tant images representing a“body” of forgotten informa-tion.When that body of in-formation was nothing lessthan everything, memory sys-tems took on occult and magi-cal properties. Such was thecase with Giordano Bruno (aprimary influence in the
Wake
 
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