In Sydney, Australia, on 16th June 2011, I agreed to perform a reading from James Joyce’s Ulysses for the Irish Consulate, ‘in honour of the day that was in it’, on condition that I could include a reading from Finnegans Wake.
Having never read the book in any linear fashion - instead I had dived into snippets by opening it at random - I was a great fan of the Wake’s mercurial form and had carried, at the back of my mind, the possibility of giving voice to all that wild language in performance.
I had no interest in a ’story’ beyond the language, with its play of cultural and cosmic forces, and was not a great reader of Joyce, but I saw the Wake as a seam of dark matter somewhere between energy and form, music and language: the trace of a boat on an endlessly changing surface.
Click title to read more
“We may plesently heal Geoglyphy’s twentynine ways to say goodbett an wassing seoosoon liv” (Finnegans Wake, page 595, lines 6-9).
presently and/or pleasantly
hear and/or heal
Geography’s [as earth-writing] and/or Geoglyphy’s [as earth-carvings]
twenty-nine ways to say
goodbye and/or good-bed [even good-bad]
wishing to see you soon and/or washing [or watering] season
love and/or live.
‘See you soon, love’ is, on the face of it, a paradoxical way to take one’s leave; the soonest-seeing could be ensured by staying. ‘Goodbye’ may be a contraction of god-be-with-you, but since ‘bye’ is also now used as the diminutive, a good-bye might be too emphatic to be polite. Joyce enjoyed paradox almost as much as did his parent in crime, Oscar Wilde. Alongside paradox, however, Joyce had further fun with ambivalence. Take geoglyphy and Geography. It is not too difficult to imagine how the carving of pictographs (glyphs) into the earth (geo) might produce wounds that need healing but Geography as earth-writing suggests other, more geopolitical, associations and pains. Now, ‘bett’ is German for bed but ‘goodbett’ also sounds like good-bad, particularly in a sort of German-English stage accent. Our earth-writing might indeed render places as good beds, or homes, or as good-bad across borders, those clamorous territorial markers. Surely this is an earth that needs to be healed as well as heard. And it will be, it will heal itself. In Finnegans Wake the agency of language is matched by the agency of the Earth–our ‘geomater’ (page 297, line 1), an earth-mother practising hydrotherapy. For, while ‘wasser’ is German for water, ‘wassing’ sounds also like ‘washing’ in that same stage accent, and thus we get a season of washing and of watering. The watering season brings life again to an earth desiccate and scarred by its good-bad contentions, its geography. Water unites what geopolitics has put asunder.
Click title to read more.