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A Word In Your Ear: How & Why To Read James Joyce's Finnegans Wake Paperback – June 27, 2005
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A smart and readable guide to the masters neglected nightmaze. -- Brendan de Caires
A stunning performance and of exemplary clarity. -- The Compulsive Reader
He writes quite carefully and lovingly and joyfully about the Finnegans Wake experience. Its a great read. -- Messes of Mottage
From the Publisher
"A sine qua non for Joyceans" (Clarence Sterling). "Certainly the best intro to the Wake Ive seen" (Andrew H. Blom). Whether youre new to Finnegans Wake or a long familiar friend, this lively and readable essay will guide, refresh, and delight. The author provides essential background information and helpful reading techniques while conveying the pleasures of delving into Joyces dense text.
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Yes, the Wake is certainly no typical novel. But I think some of the terms applied such as "the most impenetrable book ever written" are a bit melodramatic. The Bible has passages that are difficult to understand, right? So is it impenetrable? Quantum mechanics is nearly impossible to grasp. Impenetrable? No.
Impenetrable implies that the reader will get nothing from the book. I actually enjoy and gain regeneration from reading the wake. No, I can't decipher every line. But I can follow the general idea and love the word play. Play. See that's the real key here. Play. If the book is approached as play, as fun, the reader will enjoy the book.
And that brings me to A Word in Your Ear. The author states upfront that his book is not a deep scholarly dissertation on the Wake. It's a starter, an encouragement to dive in. As that, the book serves the purpose. If you want to just get started with the Wake, this book is adequate to "get you in". Go deeper if you'd like with other dissections. But for a toe in the water, this book will serve the purpose.
Eric Rosenbloom's reading of FW, A Word In Your Ear..., provides insight into Joyce's granularity of FW. Aspirationally Joyce has thrown all Mankind's manifest gods/deities/idols into FW, reading FW is like circumambulating the Kaaba's 360 idols, each reader/critic will find their own manifest god and if enlightened (a Bodhisattva's perspective) move on to the Unmanifest.
*4) FW ends "book IV" (Vico's chaos) with a half sentence 'A way a lone a lost a last a loved a long the' FW's first words 'riverrun,...', Ganga's river of Unmanifest spiritual life/consciousness.
1) FW's "book I:1" Finnegan passes his baton his place in the fabric/river of manifest consciousness (loves/attachments and wars/engagements) to his successor HCE/Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (fallen Russian General's void is filled by his battlefield promoted daytime successor) now present in manifest time with his particular past; while ALP/Anna Livia Plurabelle emerges from Dublin's local museum/history as the Muse to gather from the past for her future/family. The parents (HCE & ALP) are the new "present anchored by their particular pasts" in FW.
After 4 billion years of biological evolution, Here we are!, well, Where are we?, and, How did we come about? Our individual particular consciousness has been inherited from the past (a temporal space in an expanding consciousness), and, Biological evolution has divided us by sex (which induces Social evolution) to procreate offspring to fill our temporal consciousness when we expire/"exhausted consciousness":
I:1 A Dublin wake for Finnegan, Irish archaeological history: museum of manifest-violence/self-interest (all's fair in [the dualities of] love/attachments and war/engagements) from the smoldering battlefield: hailing music enters our eternal cast, and aeonic battle of Mutt (native) and Jute (invader, Augustine's MaMaLuJo/verjuice), an evolutionary tale of Radha's/ALP's & Krishna's/HCE's joyful love dance: enter the spurned wanting Prankquean/ALP and presaged children and disembarking male/HCE; I:2 HCE walks home through Phoenix Park accosted for the time of day by a recidivist Cad/curse, which is understood by HCE as an attack on his existentiality; I:3 The memorialized attack 'The Ballad of Persse O'Reilly' is sung through time mocking HCE/man's mortality/curse and man's failings with the "opposite sex" (women's scorns/curse can drive men to ruin); HCE (the previous evening) played hooky at a Fair, got into a scuffle/curse with *Rajas/Tamas over *Maya/Thaya, consequentially drunken HCE/*Sattvas was unable to open his front gate and was arrested for disturbances, in jail an American from behind bars hurls insults at him; I:4 HCE ponders returning to ALP (or alternatives), ALP visits HCE in the guardroom which lifts his spirits before he testifies in front of a judge and jury that he is innocent, he is released to ALP to tell his story to his children, as their community has a story to tell about him.
*sexuality of Two Girls (M/T, o/o): Maya (Thaya's reflection, observed/observer) and Three Soldiers (T/R/S - C/d/eE): Tamas/Creations (Caseous/Brahma), Rajas/destructions (Burrus/Shiva), Sattvas/evolving Equilibrium (Antonius/Visnu)
I:5 ALP's letter (Brown/masculine Nolan/feminine, the thoughts we live by, define us, ultimately our undoing), ALP is HCE's harbor/elixir, she is the world from which his life evolves, her dharma is the FW letter: ALP's/HCE's philosophical/spiritual shared understandings of West/East Christianity/Tibetian Dzogchen; I:6 ALP's letter/dharma informs their family, a parable: a hubric Mookse confined to a manifest-perspective of life would extinguish mankind's spirituality, while the spiritual Gripes' Unmanifest-devotions cannot exist but in the duality of manifestation, consequentially stasis: the Mookse's existential angst of manifestation, the Gripes' material poverty of spiritual karma, and Nuvoletta's inability to attract either man (though preferring/searching for one with both qualities); I:7 Shem his mother's son will aspire to ALP's artistic nature as a revealer (Mercy not Justice) of the prophesies that inform dharma/letters; I:8 Two gossiping washerwomen tell of how ALP captured her soulmate HCE and prepared her family nest.
2) FW's "book II" (Vico's aristocratic) devotes itself to HCE & ALP's children: Shaun (extrovert, man of the world, stasis/space - Sartre's Being, loved) carrier of the FW letter (cleric of "church"), Shem (introvert, artist, change/time - Sartre's Nothingness, loves) revealer of the FW letter (prophet), and Issy/Iseult (nature's direction) gatherer and composer of letters. The children are the evolving "present future" of FW.
Biological and Social evolution engenders parental responsibilities, to successful offspring (brother's battle: Shaun in accord and Shem in conflict with local Dharma) who will inherit and evolve their Own individual particular temporal consciousness within their local deity's dharma/community (atmosphere, fog mist and dew of MaMaLuJo/Augustine's dharmapala); MaMaLuJo's donkey (relic/men's vestige) like Bloom's 'shrivelled potato' (Ulysses ch Circes); the children aspiring to their own godhood will experience their falls (as HCE/ALP have); after their dismemberment (but before the end/restart) they will dream of what might have been (not their current life) but when they were young, when love was young:
II:1 Shem, Shaun and Issy play along the vico in front of the family tavern over 3 time periods (trials: young children, pre-college and young adults): each trial to chose/attach/accept a mate, Shaun (Being) is always successful while Shem (Nothingness) fails/curse each time, Shem will live is his community as a celibate buddha; II:2 Shem, Shaun and Issy's school lessons: which they intuitively understand (their parent's West/East Christianity/Tibetian Dzogchen/dharma) while rejecting the Western constructs of an imposed Mosaic damnation/curse: there is no purgatory ("personal differentiated" coercive/social Metempsychosis) only the dualities of the manifest evolutionary battles of War (Shaun's battle pictures) & Love (Issy's mirror) and the Unmanifest (Shem's prophecies), with this foundational understanding: the children's remaining lessons comprise explanations/elucidations of the dualities learned from the history of knowledge, Kev/Patrick/Shaun blackens/curse Dolph's/Buckley's/Shem's eye, Issy writes letters, Nightletter: the children's Unmanifest-informed karmic individual/interdependent intellectual lives will move forward into the future.
II:3 Shaun, Shem and Issy grow up in HCE's Patagoreyan tavern/ship, a dithyrambic Establishment of eating, drinking, and storytelling, a "free and open discussion of ideas": from morality to death, back to life marriage and fruition, a life summarized in a wake, constrained by dharma, HCE's & ALP's courtship: Ana/tailor's daughter and her beau Kersse/curse are introduced, NC/Norweeger's capstan/HCE arrives by sea/ship to meet his mate/tailor's daughter/ALP, throw off the curse of Persse O'Reilly (bachelorhood), and seek public judgment for his life lived: the story/retelling of the NC's/Norweeger's capstan's/HCE captured by Ana/ALP takes place over 3 rounds: 1) for a “suit of clothes”/match (the vacancy of Finnegan, who's deadly scaffolding fall has opened "consciousness space" for HCE to take Ana), NC/HCE meets Kersse/curse (whom he will displace) and absconds with the suit of clothes (Ana's favors), 2) HCE/Burniface to have his "tastes satisfied" with food and refreshments, NC/HCE converses with 3 tailors: Swift's 3 interpretations of Augustine's dharma, 3) "to marry" while Ashe Junior (Kerrse/curse) sinks into delinquent recidivism, NC's/HCE's cursed/bachelorhood broken by Ana/ALP, HCE married into ALP's Dzogchen/dharma and honeymooned, ALP/Kate asks HCE to bed and to see their children tucked in, ALP's nightly toilet, HCE downstairs is asked by his customers to recite his 'tale of a tublin': Christ's/HCE's message lived (curse of Persse thrown off, "innocents reborn") NC/HCE's disentangled Western manifestations of Dharma (Swift's documentation of the misinterpretations by the churches of Rome, England & Puritanism of Christ's spiritual message), the second/spiritual-rebirth: Radha's/ALP's & Krishna's/HCE's joyful "love dance/Rasa lila"; a vaudeville radio pair of commentating observers Butt & Taff are telling the story of 'how Buckley shot the Russian General' during the Crimean War, fought over for the key/"Christian interpretations" of West (England) vs East (Russia), the Russian General defiling the "sacred battle field", consequently shot by Buckley while defecating, summarily: the spiritual Unmanifest pure (imbued Buckley) shot the corrupted feckless manifest defecator (ossified/concretized irredeemable/authoritarian) Russian General/curse (Tunc, He is redeemed of demiurgic dogma Who is sick of manifest dogma), customers life-affirming popular disruptive/justice joy, to restart an new aeon tock-tick; Christ-like now HCE sympathetically asks his patrons for compassion in understanding the imperfect Russian General who "knows not what he does", his customers now turning on him (curse) for defending/identifying with the Russian General looking for faults in HCE's life, HCE responds with a defensive self-deprecating apologia, HCE attempts to empty his tavern/ship, his patrons: an angry Shellian mob of townsfolks singing HCE's demise and reviewing all sorts of potential actions to erase him (and his memory) from existence, HCE's renascence/manifestations escape their jeremiad: He maintains "holds onto" His key to Her front door: each day he opens and "pours forth" his soul in serving/enlightening his guests/patrons (while being commercially compensated), he is intoxicated by their daily intercourse, now that they have left he moves about his tavern consuming that which they have left behind, drinking up until collapsing into dream sleep; II:4 HCE asleep on the floor dreams/meditates of his (children's collegiate future/their self-enlightenment) transferred familial/romantic love, the tale of the interrelationships between King Mark/HCE, Tristram/Shaun (and Shem/Morholt) and the two Iseults (Queen ALP wife/mother and Princess daughter).
3) FW's "book III" (Vico's democratic) devotes itself to "what will be of" HCE & ALP's children, the baton will be passed on (again) from HCE & ALP to: Shaun, Shem and Issy. The children's "influences upon the world" is the "future generation" (presently unknowable) of FW.
Instructing parents can guide their children beyond their local deity's dharma (MaMaLuJo/Augustine's dharmapala, manifest mandala) to the spiritual Unmanifest - evolving from Gautama to Buddha to Bodhisattva:
III:1 HCE rises from the tavern floor to go upstairs to bed with ALP, he dreams of (his desired children's future adulthood): Shaun's unfolding career carrying the family dharma/letter forward and a familiar children's fable: The Ant, the Grasshopper, and the girls, HCE's first gifted epiphany: could Shaun create a better world (Voltaire: the best of all possible worlds), FW letter carried by Shaun from his child's ship (a barrel, Hinayana), Shaun's initial apostasy (curse): his notions/thoughts of a better world collapse/vanish; III:2 HCE (Vajrayana-life lived) dreams of gifting Shaun of a more hopeful future: "one cannot change the reality of manifest duality", compassionate mature Shaun restarts (second coming) his road/path as Juan with (little boat, Hinayana) knowledge, before his sister Issy and her 28 playmates, Shaun's path/fate lies within Issy's childhood song/dharma/letter, Shaun travels his postman's rounds (proselytizing); Issy/Iseult's enlightened response (womanhood) to Shaun's manifest teachings: her sexual/men relationships are her transferences (Maya/Thaya, of her relationship with her reflection in a mirror) onto men, she will be open/accept her husband's manifest karma (departing Shaun's Shem-imbued manifestations) yet remain true to the Unmanifest (accepting Shem's/Dave's Eastern enlightened paraclete/Bhikkhu guidance beyond manifestation) through marriage and family life; III:3 HCE dreams of his life's enduring "sins of the father" on his children's future of his FW gifted, Shaun/HCE evolves from 'Tir na nOg' through his life to a mortal ego terrified of participations/judgment (fear of Tamas/destructions), transcendent Yawn (his karmic duality choices, Unmanifest imbued), HCE's/Shaun's guilty secret is that he is a mortal/animal (our lot a karmic journey), Shaun's reflective triptych historic evolutionary hindsight: Christian Ireland (temple/mind), Celtic history (lips/love), primitive man; ALP's relationship with HCE is as an elixir/medicine, she raises his spirit, she blows up his existential angst, ALP defends his karmic choices and defends HCE from judgment and public scandal, ALP is mirrored by her daughter Issy whose evolving dharma: romantic storytelling of HCE/NC traversing the seas, releasing birds to find a safe harbor to marry and start their family, HCE's/NC's traveled to non-Mosaic countries/peoples interacting with spiritual peoples who were as interested in his manifestations as HCE was interested in their spirituality; a sage/observer at the 'masked ball' at 'Tailors' Hall' (preceding the consummation of marriage) witnesses HCE's introduction into ALP's community: a grooms' qualms and their union/nuisances assuaged, HCE's defensive/apologia, HCE is innocent/defended, his life virtuous; III:4 HCE's dreamtime breaks with a nightmare cry of Shem/Jerry, who interrupts his parent's sexuality (wetting his bed) ALP comforts Shem's manifest fears while HCE assuages his spiritual angst, ALP and HCE converse (transactional foreplay, trials and tribulations of familial loves and wars), ALP & HCE return to bed for late-night intercourse (unsuccessful spiritually, condom male orgasm), witnesses: maids/laundresses observers of bed sheets (sex gossip, Tree of Life) washed in the river (of Ganga consciousness) and 'Patrolman Seekersenn' observes local happenings (Stone of Law), d) ALP's female orgasm (4) and a nap.
*4) FW ends "book IV" (Vico's chaos) with ALP's & HCE's lovemaking dissolution dream/meditation. Joycean Nirvana is attained by ALP (via Dzogchen Togal: cosmic-awareness, dissolving manifest bodies, a "meditation on union", dissolving observer/selves) becoming "all that is" and HCE (via Dzogchen Trekcho: transcending all defilements and fixations, beyond karma, existence and thoughts) beyond selves (all dualistic polarities) realizing Non-duality/enlightenment, unification (Yab-Yum) so that their rainbow bodies are realized with the Unmanifest (Creation, Incarnate conception and Reincarnation) the baton has been passed on again.
Eternal Tree of sentient life (time/consciousness-compassion) and Immutable stone (matter-space/law), 'Yet is no body present here which was not there before. Only is order othered. Nought is nulled. Fuitfiat!', Should we Aspire? Aspire to what? To that which manifested consciousness, Unmanifest mandala:
IV:a Expectant manifestation: ALP's & HCE's converging Togal & Trekcho divine union/acceptance: the night has passed (all dissolves), calling all spirits (of the Unmanifest) to manifestation, rain mist and dew of our Dublin's manifest world, morning light (from the darkness of night), observer of Dublin's morning (light rays), our couple HCE and ALP, between unconsciousness and consciousness (past and present), the Lotus blooms (sunrise), transcendent joy (bliss) expectant conception, Garden with stone and water pool a Christ/Krishna (Saint Kevin, Brahma) the first fruit expectant (womb of night/day) expectant conception/birth, transmigration of "funeral space"/rites expectant conception illuminated by light (Lotus blooms, a new aeon begins), baptism of Grace (expectant spiritual/birth), expectant conception/growth in ALP's expectant womb. IV:b Duality: Battle of Bulkily/Archdruid (druidical sage/night, Unmanifest spiritual) vs St. Patrick (saint/day, manifest deities/idols) tick-tock, commenting Muta (native didicism) and Juva (invading docetism) observe Mankind's existential struggle, Finn (Exuber High Ober King Leary) overseeing the tick-tock of time, Balkelly argues that the “manifestation of Life is informed by the Unmanifest” while Patrick replies that “reality is manifestation severed from spirituality”: 'Thud [manifestation]', waking daily (consciousness) to an evolving reordered world (actors slightly changed/ing), a precarious manifest tower of babel. IV:c Non-Dual guide: "Revered Letter" (FW, Joyce's West/East Tibetan Buddhist bardos), a road/path/vico to our eternal compassionate wisdom consciousness/spiritual (manifest/Unmanifest) 'fuitfiat', FW Letter: manifestation in Dublin, HCE's baptism of Grace (spiritual/second-birth), HCE's unavoidable oppositions (kleshas), and HCE's battles (karma/history, evolution), ALP/Muse of the FW letter (Joycean Dzogchen), ALP's ability to free (heal/medicine) HCE of existential angst, her history, family and children (Shem, Shaun & Issy), Funeral rites (transmigration of consciousness space), scandal of Mosaic damned mortality; the FW letter exists for each individual to realize the dualities of the manifest and the spiritual. IV:d Moksha revelation: ALP's & HCE's conceiving "Anandamaya kosha/Yab-Yum" (Creation, Incarnate conception and Reincarnation), to end/restart again, Shiva's trident ending an aeonic world: 'Save me from those therrble prongs! [curse]' in Ganga's river of Unmanifest undifferentiated spiritual/sentient life/consciousness (excluded "Book of dead/Purgatory": absent Dharma's "personal differentiated" coercive/social Metempsychosis) transcending all Demiurges of good [Gods] and evil [Devils]).
Joyce schooled in Christian Jesuit metaphysics (pushed down into the "mindfulness" of human consciousness) breathes in the "spirit" of expansive Celtic (Irish) democratic community tavern life where man's stories of life are told. HCE's evolving karma momentum/inertia (whirling dervish/ecstasy, enlightening like an evolving manifest Bodhisattva) cycling daily *(T/R/S - C/d/eE) through manifest travails (unlike Bloom's terminus, Ulysses ch Penelope) to guide his family to revelations of Joys (Nirvana) and mitigations of Sufferings (Samsara) while ALP's enlightenments/karma evolves similarly through daily circulations *(M/T - o/o) from drudge travails to Divine inspirations (unlike Molly's terminus from whore to Goddess). The innocent infant (Krishna/HCE, "all infants are blessings") who evolves/becomes the Norwegian Captain (Krishna, HCE) who is occasionally defensively lethal (defender's-perspective, Buckley/Shiva, HCE), who is concretized (Brahma/portly HCE, wholesome middle-class/bourgeois civic-minded Porters, HCE & ALP) by community family life (dharma/MaMaLuJo, ainsoph/verjuice, sour grapes) - through spirits/drink HCE accesses his spirituality/dreams and through spiritual (cutting through) love-making with ALP (direct approach) they access their Krishnas (Radha & Krishna), unification with the Unmanifest.
Joyce's FW message: Christian/Buddhist "Omniscient Compassion" (Christ/Krishna) is eternally joyful and recirculating. Unmanifest "spiritual" God (Visnu) is "Omniscient Compassionate Eternal". Manifest universes consist of an evolving Equilibrium (Visnu), Creations (more Brahma) and Destructions (less Shiva) - Shiva is a temporal manifestation of "Visnu / Brahma oppositions'' whose destructions are manifest and cannot interact with the Unmanifest/Visnu. Affirmative family existentiality: life's biological evolution (sex), modern survival (money), constraining community (dharma, social evolution) are constantly assaulted by inescapable (recidivists and local dharmapalas, "know not what they do" / kleshas/Avidya) "aggressive insidious vile" corrupt soul(less/sucking) heinous/duplicitous ossified demonic antipathetic attacks. Joycean Nirvana is attained via the Christian/Buddhist affirmative middle way, karmic wisdom journey (not: temporal ends justifies reactive means, repeating defeatist lose-lose vortex) our individual/personally informed life of a Christ/Buddha. All Manifest gods are deities/idols (man's creations/symbols): only the Unmanifest (untouched by man) is affirmative by definition (our universe's reality: its matter, its laws & consciousness manifest). Manifest local ephemeral "a posteriori" astronomic (dispassionate violent) physics vs Unmanifest universal eternal inflating quantum (Maya/Thaya & Tamas/Rajas/Sattvas - observed/observer & Creations/destructions/evolving Equilibrium) physics. Evolving Brahma manifestations (creations) not imbued by the eternal Unmanifest are met with opposing force (destructions). Joyce returns Mankind to the evolving karmic path to the Unmanifest.
Joyce adheres to the belief that God is spiritual unmanifest Omniscient Compassionate and Eternal. Temporal sentient life is not damned but mortal as a consequence of Life's evolutions (of unconscious biological survival, conscious "racing competitive" social, contemplative aspirational personal) through time. Our enlightened existential angst as mortal sentient beings living in a manifest reality of dualities (of loves/attachments and wars/engagements, *C/d/eE) with the capacity of self-reflection (observed/observer) gives us the freedom to choose or create our personal dharma (HCE's tavern, community and partner) and our individual interdependent karmic path within (our universe's) Tree of Life while subject to the Stone of (our universe's) Law. Joyce affirmatively honor's sexual relationships and procreation as an expression of love (Transcendence & Immanence) via Sophology and Altruism and existential duty. Our existential balance (for ourselves and our chosen partners) of: material/manifest pursuits (possible riches) and spiritual/unmanifest pursuits (possible Nirvanas) can follow either extreme; though Joyce prefers the sexually balanced/oscillating HCE/Antonius (evolves through Tamas/Rajas interactions) and ALP/observed/observer (evolving self-knowledge).
Joyce like all seers/artists/creators/prophets built FW "letter by letter", as a painter lays down "layer upon layer of paint" building a work/mandala. As a reader, one must recognize what one is looking at and what the work/mandala reveals, because even the creator relinquishes control of their creation as a mother relinquishes a child. FW is an archaeological site, Joyce came back to each page hundreds or thousands of times over two decades: looking down upon a page is looking through dozens or hundreds of layers of strata, or like looking to see the center of an onion through its dozens of layers. How can one read such a complex work with its metaphors covering the expanse of historical time, human languages and marks/sounds? Two methods are common: 1) forensically dissecting each word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, passage, etc., or 2) one can reread a passage, chapter, or the book many times each time uncovering new personal insights/revelations; I am sure Joyce intended both. Like a fabric (or a mirror) FW has thousands of threads/reflections, some treads/thoughts last just one word or one phrase; however, there is a thread/thought that runs through each chapter, and there is one thread that runs through the entire book.
Kitcher's invitation has especially reawakened my interest in the dark book. I find myself in that late stage of life when I wonder, with HCE, ALP and Joyce if it's all been worth it.