Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Again wake.  And as all good dreams must come to a fin, and glad as I've been in your company then, please join me in reading the closing lines, slowly and thoughtfully:

"If I seen him bearing down on me now under whitespread wings like he’d come from Arkangels, I sink I’d die down over his feet, humbly dumbly, only to washup. Yes, tid. There’s where. First. We pass through grass behush the bush to. Whish! A gull. Gulls. Far calls. Coming, far! End here. Us then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, mememormee! Till thousendsthee. Lps. The keys to. Given! A way a lone a last a loved a long the           riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and..." OMIGOD NO!  IT'S STARTING OVER AGAIN!  SOMEBODY THROW THE SWITCH!

(Ha ha)

It is one of the best-known features of Finnegans Wake that it is a tale of "doublends jined," that the end loops back to the beginning, so that there is no real start or finish, only an eternal recurrence.

Now I think that's undoubtedly right, but it's also wrong.  Dreams don't run over and over again.  Night gives way to day, not night after night after night.  And to bring it back to this particular book, the Wake, in its concluding pages, ycleped Part IV, takes the plain form of a conclusion, the dawn breaking, the dream making its way to forgottenness, the River Liffey, as Anna Livia, flowing joyfully, relentlessly into the sea.  So the book ends; also, it doesn't.  Imagine that.

Part IV is the shortest of the four parts, only about thirty pages in my edition.  But it is still divided into four of what I have called divisions.  After a beginning ("Sandhyas! Sandhyas! Sandhyas!") that again evokes an upanishadic closing (as Eliot did in "The Waste Land"), the harbingers of day from the beginning of the sections seem reasonably clear to me:

"Calling all downs. Calling all downs to dayne. Array! Surrection! Eireweeker to the wohld bludyn world. O rally, O rally, O rally! Phlenxty, O rally!"

"Dayagreening gains in schlimninging. A summerwint spring-falls, abated. Hail, regn of durknass, snowly receassing, thund lightening thund, into the dimbelowstard departamenty whither-out, soon hist, soon mist, to the hothehill from the hollow, Solsking the Frist...."

"What has gone? How it ends?
"Begin to forget it."

The forgetting, I think, is the forgetting of the dream that typically happens when we awaken.

The last division is the invocation of Anna Livia as the Liffy flowing to the ocean, as well as the fall of leaves:  "Soft morning, city! Lsp! I am leafy speafing. Lpf! Folty and folty all the nights have falled on to long my hair. Not a sound, falling. Lispn! No wind no word. Only a leaf, just a leaf and then leaves."  It introduces perhaps the most lyrical section of the Wake.

And what can I say here in closing?  First, I guess, that I don't see that the Wake has any particular claim on anyone.  I wouldn't call it one of those books anyone has to read to understand this or that (except, possibly, the works of James Joyce).  If I had to choose a single best book by Joyce I'd still have to go with Ulysses. 

Still, no one should succumb to finneganphobia.  It's a book everyone's going to miss most of.  Having taken Joyce seventeen years to write (spending much of his time, apparently, deliberately obscuring it) there's no way that anyone with a life is going to be able to read it as Joyce wrote it, to understand what he was referring to, to glean where he was going, to get what he was getting at.  Puzzled?  Join the club.  It can still be exhilarating, and, even as I was bogging down a bit toward the end, still I find that I miss pulling it off the shelf, and a great advantage of having not gotten so much of it is that I find that I can open it anywhere and still be amused and challenged and entertained, and even  laugh at something that flew five miles over my head the first time through.

Joyce is Literature, but he can be very, very "lowbrow," vulgar, tasteless.  His excuse is the dream.  The proverbial foul rag and bone shop of the heart is quite indiscriminately ransacked.  That closeness to his own common environment is part of what makes him difficult, and which makes me fear that the obscurity of this book will grow exponentially over time.  For all the small library of commentaries and keys explaining Joyce, I am thankful he can still be read straight on, without the volumes of explanation he will undoubtedly require a century hence.

A side effect of reading Finnegans Wake is the advantage of developing and exercising a facility to read with ambiguity.  Anyone who's tried to read a foreign language (or contemporary poetry) knows the need to suppress that frustration with knowing most, but not all, of the meaning attached to the words on the page.  Assuming you don't explode with rage after the first twenty pages, the Wake gets you into a frame of mind to accept what's there and move on with the hope of filling in the gaps tomorrow; maybe some meaning will later emerge.  It's an important skill for any reader to have.

In the end, though, it's about the book, and its art, and its impossible pretentions to wholeness.  I had thought at one point that the Wake might be likened to a koan.  A very long koan.  But I certainly wasn't struck with enlightenment at its conclusion.  Perhaps it is more like the eleventh teaching of the Bhagavad-Gita, in which Krishna instructs Arjuna:

...see my forms
in hundreds of thousands;
diverse, divine,
of many colors and shapes.

See the sun gods, gods of light,
howling storm gods, twin gods of dawn,
and gods of wind, Arjuna,
wondrous forms not seen before.

Arjuna, see all the universe,
animate and inanimate,
and whatever else you wish to see;
all stands here as one in my body.

Or, to bring it back west, we might rest content with what Dryden said of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales:  "Here is God's plenty."

I have arguably devoted a disproportionate amount of time to blogging the Wake.  Maybe so.  I think I blogged, not so much for the blog itself, but rather as a means to help myself with the reading of the book.  That is to say, Finnegans Wake is so odd, so formless, so baffling, that I found it helpful, in going through it, to continually ask myself, "What can I say about this part?"  The implied promise to blog forced me to be more active than usual in reflecting on the readings as I went along, and I think that in itself promoted understanding and made the experience all the more fruitful.

In reading any blog series the beginning is the end, the end the beginning.  So, to bring the enterprise to an end, if any stray reader wishes to peruse all the Wake entries, from the other end, they can be found as follows:

1.  Sin against Fate (March 19)
2.  Sense or Sensibility (April 18)
3.  A quarter dunned (May 22)
4.  Too clever by half (June 27)
5.  Finnegans Wake, Part II, third division (July 9)
6.  Finnegans Wake, Part II, fourth division (July 15)
7.  Finnegans Wake, Part III, first division (July 20)
8.  Finnegans Wake, Part III, second division (July 31)
9.  Finnegans Wake, Part III, third division (August 11)
10.  Finnegans Wake, Part III, fourth division (August 12)
11.  Fin (which is where we came in)

शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः

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