Sunday, May 30, 2010

Billy Sunday in Ulysses

While tuned in to the Fox telecast of the Cardinals-Cubs game at Wrigley Field yesterday, they briefly displayed a beautiful camera shot from the Chicago River looking upon the surrounding architecture. Commentator Tim McCarver mentioned how he'd gone on the Chicago River Architecture Tour the day before and he brought up Billy Sunday, an ex-major league baseball player for the Chicago White Stockings from the 1880s who went on to become a famous evangelical Christian preacher, and how Sunday had been such a strong proponent of Prohibition and played a major role in the passing of the 18th Amendment.

This caught my attention because I remembered that James Joyce used one of Billy Sunday's fiery, wildly fervent sermons in Ulysses. It appears at the end of the 14th episode, the "Oxen of the Sun" chapter where Bloom joins Stephen and a bunch of medical students who are drinking and carousing boisterously in a hospital waiting room. It's one of Joyce's most ingenious chapters stylistically: a survey of the English language with a style that varies and grows chronologically throughout the chapter, starting with what seems like literal translations of Latin ("Some man that wayfaring was stood by housedoor at night's oncoming") moving on all the way through the centuries of prose styles from the Elizabethans to Dickens and finishing up with a sloppy amalgam of drunken slurs and street slang. The closing paragraph contains this crazy exclamation (which, I think, is mockingly made between the drunken medical students who are out at a pub at this point):
Come on, you winefizzling ginsizzling booseguzzling existences! Come on, you dog-gone, bullnecked, beetlebrowed, hogjowled, peanutbrained, weaseleyed four flushers, false alarms and excess baggage! Come on, you triple extract of infamy! Alexander J. Christ Dowie, that's yanked to glory most half this planet from 'Frisco Beach to Vladivostok. The Deity ain't no nickel dime bumshow. I put it to you that he's on the square and a corking fine business proposition. He's the grandest thing yet and don't you forget it. Shout salvation in King Jesus. You'll need to rise precious early, you sinner there, if you want to diddle the Almighty God. Pflaaaap! Not half. He's got a coughmixture with a punch in it for you, my friend, in his backpocket. Just you try it on.  (Ulysses pg 428)
The "Pflaaaap!" is the sound of vomiting. These are the last words before the absinthe-fueled nightmare hallucination that is the "Circe" episode where they all go to a whorehouse in Dublin's red light district.

It was only fairly recently that scholars realized Joyce had taken that crazy "altar call parody" verbatim from a couple of Billy Sunday sermons which must have been transcribed in a newspaper Joyce came across. The article I found (linked above) appeared in the Joyce Quarterly in 2006 and was written by one of the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary, Peter Gilliver, who realized the connection between Joyce and Sunday while researching whether there was a precedent to Joyce's use of the adjective "peanut-brained." At the time of Ulysses' composition, Billy Sunday was at his height of fame with his animated sermons that were just as much a form of entertainment as they were evangelical calls to repent. The sermons were delivered first inside large canvas tents that Sunday actually put up himself most of the time until a heavy snowstorm in Colorado destroyed one of his tents and he subsequently insisted that towns build him temporary wooden "tabernacles" at their own expense. I highly recommend checking out Mr. Sunday's wiki page to read more about him because it's fascinating stuff but here's a little snippet:
Sunday gyrated, stood on the pulpit, ran from one end of the platform to the other, and dove across the stage, pretending to slide into home plate. Sometimes he even smashed chairs to emphasize his points.
During the 1910s, Sunday was front page news in the cities where he held campaigns. Newspapers often printed his sermons in full, and during World War I, local coverage of his campaigns often surpassed that of the war.
As for his baseball career, in his Historical Baseball Abstract Bill James lists him as the fastest player in the entire decade of the 1880s. He was an exciting and charismatic speedy outfielder for 8 seasons with the Chicago White Stockings, Pittsburgh Alleghenys, and the Philadelphia Phillies. He batted .248 for his career with just 12 homeruns but 246 stolen bases. Once he was converted to Christianity, he gave up the relatively high baseball salary of $3,000 a year to work at $83 a month in a YMCA preparing him for his career as a rabid evangelist.

Here's a nice video I found of an older Billy Sunday and his famous antics:

A Memorialable Baseball Day

What a friggin' day of Baseball. As summer's solstice approaches, the advancing 2010 baseball season reached its apex again today. All sorts of colorful varieties of the summer game were displayed radiantly today, the first day of a three-day weekend. When the sun went down, an orange-tinted waning full moon oversaw our game's second perfect pitching outing of the year already.

A brief overview:
-Roy Halladay threw a perfect game tonight against the Marlins in Miami. It's already the 2nd perfect game pitched in the major leagues this season and third in the last two years although it's only the 20th ever, including two that happened in the 1800s. Joe Posnanski perfectly captured the uniqueness of what we've been witnessed.

-The Mets and Brewers played an action-filled ballgame wearing Negro League throwback uniforms. The Mets were the New York Cubans from the 1930s and the Brewers were the Milwaukee Bears circa 1923. In stark contrast to Halladay's gem, both starting pitchers in this game were knocked out before the 4th inning as there was plenty of offense, 14 runs in all including two homers from Corey Hart with the Brewers beating the Mets 8-6. John Axford, sporting a classic handle-bar mustache, closed out the game for the Brewers.

-After seeing their starting pitcher take an A-Rod missile of a line drive off the side of his head (it hit his skull so hard that it bounced almost 300 feet away), the Cleveland Indians stormed back at Yankee Stadium to beat the Bronx Bombers 13-11 sending their fans home disappointed and unhappy.

-Gabe Gross made this ridiculous catch in the Tigers-A's game. Notice how he couldn't stop smiling afterward. This is a kid's game after all.

-After hitting a walk-off grandslam in the bottom of the 10th inning in Anaheim, Kendry Morales jumped on home plate so hard he broke his leg.

-In the only game that my TV let me watch, the Cubs' Carlos Silva, who was literally dumped on the Cubs after embarrassing himself for two years as a horrible waste of money in Seattle, baffled the Cardinals offense with 11 strikeouts in 7 scoreless innings. He's now 7-0 on the year. Salvation thy name is Carlos Silva.

And plenty of other fun stuff happened.

The Stanley Cup Finals also began today with a hard-hitting and exciting 6-5 game won by the Chicago Blackhawks. And the Lakers are going to the NBA Finals again to play the Celtics (again). It is a damn good time to be a sports fan.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Brooklyn Bridge

Having spent four years attending college at Pace University in downtown Manhattan, I spent a lot of time looking at and pondering the Brooklyn Bridge. Today I came across a surprising tidbit on the front page of Wikipedia. When the Brooklyn Bridge was completed (after 14 years of construction) in 1883 it was not only the longest suspension bridge in the world but its towers were the tallest structures in the western hemisphere.

Here's a picture from when it was first built


Comparing that to a more recent photo from a similar angle creates a perfect snapshot of modern industrial and economic growth.

There are plenty of other fun Brooklyn Bridge photos like this one from when it used to have trains running across or, always my favorite, the ones with construction workers nonchalantly sitting on the suspension wires like this:
I highly recommend taking a look at the BB's Wikipedia page, lots of interesting facts.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Collage of Thoughts on the Milwaukee Brewers

On the morning of June 3rd, 2008, my brother Billy and I drove away from our house in Staten Island headed towards Chicago. My car, a 2003 blue Buick Rendezvous, contained as many of my belongings as I could squeeze into it plus suitcases, sleeping bags, a tent, and a huge box of snacks for our planned 10-day roadtrip across America that would end at her southwestern edge in San Diego.

Almost exactly 12 hours later, we were in Chicago driving on the highway past US Cellular field where we could see the stadium's lights on as a game between the White Sox and Royals was about to begin. "Real quick: should we go?" I asked. He hesitated for a minute. "Yes." I missed the exit and we kept on going. We skipped the game because, upon further consideration, we needed to eat dinner and get settled with a place to stay for the night and a three hour baseball game would leave us tired, hungry, and scrambling for a hotel at 10 PM in an unfamiliar city. We already had plans to fulfill our foreign city baseball fix the next day in Milwaukee. After dinner at a restaurant only a block or two away from Wrigley Field (which was quiet while the Cubs were getting ready to play over in, you guessed it, San Diego) we settled into a cheap, dirty hotel just north of Chicago and flipped between the Cubs-Padres game and the movie "Money Train" on television while we went to sleep.

The next morning we were back on the road heading up Interstate-94 through rain and thick fog to Milwaukee. We arrived at the stadium very early and cruised around the premises a bit, admiring the beautiful building from the outside. After a quick breakfast at Perkins a mile away, we were settled into our seats just 10 or 12 rows behind home plate. They'd cost us only $40 a piece and we sat between two elderly couples for a Wednesday afternoon tilt between the hometown Brew Crew and the Arizona Diamondbacks. When we had sat down the old woman to my right had her chubby arm completely in my seat space and she made no effort to remove it once I was there. As the Brewers took their warm-up tosses I considered the prospect of having to spend the entire game leaning to my left so as not to be touching this woman's arm that was invading my $40 seat. I battled within myself. She's an old lady and she's a bit too wide for her seat, give her a break. No! I paid 40 bucks for this seat, I should be entitled to enjoy it and not concede part of it to this inconsiderate bleep! Am I gonna say something... What do I say? Dammit, this is the first day of my true adulthood and being out on my own, am I gonna remain timid and quiet when people are taking advantage of me? No! "Excuse me, can you keep your arm in your space please? Thanks." She looked at me wide-eyed, shocked that I was daring enough to call her out for her injustice, then quickly reeled her arm in. And chuckled. I'd passed my first test.

*   *   *
Looking back, the Brewers had seeped their way into my life over the last couple years before I journeyed to their foggy city and spaceship-like stadium. In May of 2006 I joined my brother James and his family for a Saturday afternoon game in Philadelphia against the Brewers. It was a highly entertaining game with lots of offense including a Bill Hall missile of a homerun caught by the guy sitting right next to us in the left field grand stand. Almost exactly two years later I was in Boston for the weekend visiting my cousin Mary and her husband Chris and they brought me to my first ever Red Sox game at Fenway Park, a Sunday afternoon interleague contest against the Brewers. That was also a highly entertaining offensive show featuring 8 homeruns (two apiece by Ryan Braun and David Ortiz), won by the Sox 11-7.

*   *   *
Current Milwaukee manager Ken Macha (right) looks exactly like my dad. In his first season at the helm last year the Brewers finished with a disappointing 80-82 record, third place in the National League Central. They were favored by many to be a contender for the division title and they were in first place as late as July but they sunk because of an atrocious pitching staff (5.05 runs allowed per game, second worst in the NL) and ended up 11 games out of first. Former Oakland A's and Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson was hired by the Brewers before the current season to work his magic on an unsuccessful group of moundsmen.

When Peterson was with the Mets, I remember reading an article about the peculiar mullet-haired pitching coach and how he came to be one of the most sought after pitching gurus in baseball. His dad, Pete Peterson (quite a name) worked in the Pirates front office when Rick was a kid and he got to spend alot of time around the "We Are Family" Pirates growing up. He went to college in Jacksonville and got degrees in psychology and art before spending some time floundering as a pitcher in the low minor leagues. I can't locate the article now or anything that mentions this but I remember it described how he went away to southern California (San Diego, if I remember right) and lived in a tiny studio apartment, studied Zen, practiced yoga and Tai Chi, and didn't work much. That sounded like what I wanted to do with my life and that article played a major role in my decision to leave New York and move to San Diego with no job, no apartment, no plans. Of course, Mr. Peterson went on to become a major league pitching coach and he's noted for using a mix of psychological techniques and Eastern philosophy to lead his hurlers through the long baseball season.
"A full season is like crossing an ocean," Peterson says. "It's every day the same guys, same uniforms, same colors, and it's easy to get lost and lose your perspective before you reach the other shore seven months later. Helping people understand where they are along the way and what their recipe for success is, and being there to get them back on track when it slips away is my job."
*   *   *
With the full use of both armrests on my $40 seat, I relaxed and soaked in the encapsulated environment we were in, huge glass windows behind centerfield showed it was raining heavily outside. My second indoor baseball game experience (previously saw 2 games at Olympic Stadium in Montreal back in 2002) felt like a festive event, the crowd was very happy and very loud as their team put up 10 runs on the way to a 10-1 easy victory over the D'backs. In the 4th inning, Corey Hart hit an inside-the-park three-run homerun and I high-fived my brother and people in front of me amidst the euphoric excitement.

After the game was over, the elderly couple that was sitting next to Billy explained that today was "Senior's Day" at the ballpark and all seniors were granted a postgame stroll around the field. My love for Milwaukee was solidified when that couple, unprovoked, suggested to Billy that we follow them onto the field pretending that we were their sons. Thus we were granted access to the beautiful green pasture. We slowly strolled around the perimeter, walking along the warning track in the outfield and trying to soak it all in. "I can't believe we're in Milwaukee!" one of us said. My brother took of his sweatshirt to reveal a blue Shea Stadium tee shirt and we snapped a picture at the centerfield wall's 400-foot marker capturing how far we were from home:
*   *   *
I've already written the story of the first Padres game I ever attended, a 15-12 loss to the Braves in July 2006. That night, with a 9-8 lead in the 9th inning, Petco Park seemed to briefly transform into a WWF wrestling arena and I wasn't sure if The Undertaker or Trevor Hoffman was entering the game. Loud, somber bells tolled and heavy rock-and-roll accompanied the arrival into the game of Hoffman, the San Diego Padres legend and holder of the all-time saves record. One out away from winning, he blew the game and the Braves took the lead. It was his second blown save of the year. He would finish the season with 5 blown saves but he also led the league with 46 successful saves and pitched so well that he finished second in the Cy Young award voting.

*   *   *
After the Brewers game we spent the whole day seeing Milwaukee and then had a brief scare as a we got lost in the heavy evening fog off Lake Michigan and drove around the city for hours (our guiding light, a Garmin navigation system, was left at the hotel) trying to find our hotel before a couple of bearded college fellows we encountered tossing around a football in the street gave us directions. The next day we were to pack up again and head west through Wisconsin and Minnesota into South Dakota for the next leg of our trip.

We woke up in the middle of the night to extremely loud thunder, frequent lightning and heavy rain at our window. The Weather Channel was in full emergency mode, explaining that there were heavy winds, lightning storms and tornadoes all over Wisconsin. The map they displayed had little computer-generated twisters all across our proposed path westward. We briefly argued whether or not to go ahead and drive west as planned but the pleas of the weather man---"STAY OFF THE ROADS"---won out. The storms cleared by the afternoon and we spent the day strolling the sidewalks, going to museums, sports bars, city parks. At one point we walked over a bridge underneath which a flowing river purled and pulled along big logs and forest debris.

*   *   *
The cost-cutting Padres chose to let their 39-year-old franchise statue (on the team since 1993) Hoffman walk away after the 2008 season and he signed a one year contract to serve as the closer for the Milwaukee Brewers. With a high salary, declining effectiveness, and a maturing protege (Heath Bell) ready to inherit his job, the Padres' decision-makers determined that Hoffman was expendable. It was as though they were suggesting that he retire because few thought he would go on and continue his career somewhere else after being with the same team for 16 seasons. It felt like the Brewers had adopted another family's grandpa. He was a relic and he was leaving one of the coziest pitcher's parks in baseball. After putting together a surprisingly strong season finishing games for them though (by ERA+ it was his second best season ever), he was signed for another season.

So far in 2010 he has been absolutely terrible, blowing 5 saves already in just 10 save attempts. This past Tuesday afternoon in Cincinnati he appeared to hit rock bottom. Entering the game in the bottom of the 9th with a two run lead, this is how the Reds handled his offerings:
  • single
  • homerun (tying the game)
  • double
  • walk
  • (hard-struck) single to win the game
He recorded no outs and didn't appear to fool anyone with his pitches.

As a whole, the Brewer pitching staff is off to a dreadful start. They've allowed the third most runs per game, 5.86 to be exact, ahead of only the Pirates and Diamondbacks. The starters aren't pitching deep into games and the bullpen hasn't performed when called upon, not just Trevor Hoffman, LaTroy Hawkins has also faltered in high-pressure situations. They don't look anything like contenders at this point despite an explosive offense.

Can Rick Peterson right the ship? It's been reported that he has worked extensively with Hoffman recently to sharpen his pitching mechanics, explaining that Hoffman's "arm slot has gotten too high in his delivery, and that has contributed to a loss of movement on both his famed changeup and fastball." Even though he's 42 years old, I can't imagine the future Hall of Famer would lose his touch so suddenly after a what was really an excellent season at age 41. Fangraphs calculates how much each pitch has been worth in terms of runs and last year Hoffman's fastball and changeup were better than they've ever been in the years Fangraphs has kept tabs on it (since 2002). His velocity is the same and while he doesn't throw hard at all he was baffling hitters with the same stuff last year. I foresee Peterson's tune-up working for the beleaguered closer, although I hope the Brewers are patient enough to give him another chance. As desperate as they are right now for pitching help, they'd be insane not to. Their makeshift replacement so far has been Carlos Villanueva, a curveball-twirling righty swingman. This afternoon, in his second save attempt, he relinquished what was a hard-earned one-run lead (his team rallied for 5 runs in the 9th) against the Twins. The bullpen managed to stave off defeat for a little while longer but eventually lost when Joe Mauer scored on a sacrifice fly in the 12th inning. The Brewers have now lost 9 of their last 10 games.

The starting rotation is a complete mess. Its two prize additions, Randy Wolf and Doug Davis both have ERAs over 5. So does Dave Bush and so does Chris Narveson. The only bright spot is Yovani Gallardo but he hasn't even averaged 6 innings per game in his starts before putting it into the hands of a shaky bullpen. It's on Rick Peterson's shoulders to uplift the minds and spirits of his charges using his psychological, Eastern philosophical approach. For some silly reason, I have faith in him. I'm rooting for these guys to climb back to life.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Some early season thoughts on Padres, Athletics, Mets

I haven't written any baseball posts since my Season Preview and now that we're more than 30 games in I'd like to take a look at my three favorite teams.

San Diego Padres
Record: 22-12
Run differential: +45

They've been the baseball season's biggest surprise so far, starting the season as a projected last place team but with 34 games played they're comfortably in first place in their division and have the best record in the National League. Today they finished off a sweep of the Giants (again) on the road with a nearly perfect game pitched by Mat Latos.

I spoke very highly of the Padres' chances in my preseason predictions but I couldn't have imagined they would burst out of the gates with the second best start to a season in franchise history. Their bullpen has been the best in baseball so far and they've gotten great work out of a rotation that wasn't supposed to be very good but Jon Garland has pitched great (although a bit over his head), Mat Latos is getting better with each start (complete game one-hitter today), and lefties Wade LeBlanc and Clayton Richard have done surprisingly well. The offense doesn't look quite so good, though. Adrian Gonzalez (.265/.383/.453) hasn't heated up yet and for as great as Chase Headley's looked thus far, he's got a sub-.400 slugging percentage. I'm waiting for Kyle Blanks to gain some composure (41 strikeouts already in 89 at-bats) and start mashing like he did last year and the rest of the outfield has been weak enough at the plate that the local paper was making a case for the team to sign Jermaine Dye this week.

They've won with great pitching, defense (second-best UZR in baseball), and baserunning (league-leading 44 steals) which must make the baseball classicists feel warm inside. But can they keep us this up for very long? I'm a fan, I go see their games all the time, but I don't think so. The Dodgers and Rockies, the division's projected powerhouses, stumbled to start the year but the Padres have lost both series they've played against the Rockies so far and they haven't even played the Dodgers yet. The boys in blue are in San Diego for a weekend series and they've won their last 4, should be a fun weekend (too bad I'll be in New York for the next four days). I stand by my prediction of the Dodgers winning the division, but they have to get over their weird affection for washed up pitchers (Jeff Weaver, Ramon/Russ Ortiz). The offense is there and, despite the worries of their fans, I think the pitching staff will be fine with the top 3 of Kershaw-Billingsley-Kuroda. Crafty young righthander (you don't hear that description too often) John Ely looked good in his first three starts and I'm hoping he sticks around for the year.

Oakland A's
Record: 18-17
Run differential: -2

Similar to the Padres, they got off to great start and beat up on division rivals but they ran into a tough stretch where the AL East beasts smacked them around a little bit until Dallas Braden's world-shocking perfect game against the Rays this past Sunday. They've suffered their usual injuries already (Brett Anderson, Mark Ellis, Kurt Suzuki, Coco Crisp, and more) but have stayed competitive mainly due to strong pitching, defense, and baserunning (just like the Pads).

Daric Barton is finally playing as good as he'd been expected to for a few years and he's become my favorite player. His at-bats are fun to watch; a very composed hitter, he's got an excellent batting eye never seeming to swing at anything out of the strike zone, draws a ton of walks (his .400 OBP is 10th in the American League), and smacks line drives all over the place. He's not hitting for the type of power you'd hope for in a first baseman but his on-base percentage is so good that it makes up for the lack of power. A perfect Billy Beane player.

Although they eventually lost 2-1, the Athletics played an excellent game against the Rangers on the road today in which they executed two shortstop-to-catcher plays at the plate, the second one a game saver. I watch a hell of a lot of baseball and it seems like teams mess up that simple play often but the A's executed to perfection. They're a crisp defensive team (although Coco Crisp hasn't manned the outfield pastures yet) that rarely makes mistakes behind a strong pitching staff.

Designated hitter/third baseman Eric Chavez was once my favorite player in baseball. He remains the only player whose baseball jersey I've ever bought (I have a few nameless team jerseys, though) but he's been an immense disappointment after signing a huge contract, sitting out with a multitude of injuries for the last 4 years now. He's back and he's healthy but he absolutely sucks (.660 OPS with 1 homerun). Presumably because of his huge contract, he's been the team's regular DH. This has to change. It bothers me that Jack Cust, one of the best hitters on the team, is playing in Triple-A right now. They've also got Chris Carter, a slugging prospect, waiting to come up and knock in some runs. The division doesn't look as tight as it was expected to be (the Mariners don't score enough to compete) but if the A's are serious about winning it they've got to insert a real hitter into that DH spot.

New York Mets
Record: 18-17
Run differential: +15

This team looks alot different with Ike Davis at first base. They just don't seem nearly as bad as I thought they would be with an on-base machine like Ike manning first. He's only played 22 games but I think the 23-year-old Davis is the real deal, maybe a bit short in the power department but that will come as he gets more major league at bats. David Wright looks like himself again (7 homers, .525 slugging) even though the sports audience in New York never stops whining about him. And even the pitching staff has been good, especially the bullpen (2nd best reliever ERA in the league). My main complaint is manager Jerry Manuel and his inability to grasp simple baseball concepts, most glaringly with his lineup selection. It's simple: the higher a player bats in the order, the more chances he will get in a game and over the season as a whole. Therefore, the best hitters should bat highest in the order, putting them in a position to get the most chances. David Wright, by far the best hitter on the team, continually bats 5th in the order. Ike Davis and his .400 OBP bats 6th. Jose Reyes, whose been the leadoff sparkplug for this team his entire career, has been inserted into the #3 spot for some ridiculous reason while Manuel regularly leads off with Angel Pagan, a solid player who I like very much but who definitely should not bat ahead of the likes of Reyes, Wright, Davis or even Jason Bay. Manuel even puts Alex Cora (.316 OBP this year, .313 career) in the #2 spot often! It's insane!

Whining about the batting order is minor, though. Most studies show that batting order makes a relatively minimal difference over the year but in a division with the Phillies, Braves, Marlins, and even surprisingly strong Nationals, they need to have their best hitters come to the plate more often.

I'm off to the eastern seaboard for the weekend and most likely won't post for a little while.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Finnegans Wake Treasure Map

I'd like to follow up on something I mentioned back in March: the "Finnegans Wake for Dummies" article in my first edition of the James Joyce Quarterly. In it, Professor Sebastien D.G. Knowles of Ohio State University describes a Finnegans Wake graduate seminar he put on after acknowledging the crisis that he (the author of a book on Joyce, attendee of two decades worth of Joyce seminars, and teacher of over a dozen courses on Joyce) had never read Finnegans Wake.

Inspired by Constantin Brancusi's "Symbol of Joyce" (shown above) he realized that the best way to read the Wake is to start in the middle and work your way out. After all, the book doesn't really follow a linear, chronological order---the "action" is timeless (and spaceless) and the book begins with a lowercase "riverrun" completing the final sentence of the book which ends with "the." So Knowles developed a reading plan that would enable one to read the chapters of the Wake in order of difficulty, "starting with what was generally agreed to be the easiest material, moving to the intermediate level, and finally attacking the hardest chapter of all."

Starting off with the dramatic, Qur'an-esque opening of the "Mamafesta" chapter ("In the name of Annah the Allmaziful, the Everliving, the Bringer of Plurabilities, haloed be her eve, her singtime sung, her rill be run, unhemmed as it is uneven!" FW pg 104), here is the reading plan he recommends for new readers of Finnegans Wake:

Round One:

I.5 "Mamafesta" (104-25)

I.6 "Riddles" (126-68)

I.7 "Shem the Penman" (169-95)

I.8 "Anna Livia Plurabelle" (196-216)

II.4 "Mamalujo" (383-99)

III.4 "Dawn" (555-590)

IV: "Ricorso" (593-628)

Round Two:

I.1-4 "HCE" (3-103)

II.1 "Children's Games" (219-59)

II.2 "Nightlessons" (260-308)

III.1-3 "Shaun" (403-554)

Round Three

II.3 "The Pub" (309-82)

Professor Knowles' graduate seminar using this reading plan also used four "gospels" to lead the way through the dark book and it was recommended to read the enigmatic text both during the daytime while sober and at night while under the influence of something "to bring the sounds of the text to life."

On the first day of the seminar, a diverse group of twenty students (graduate and undergrad students majoring in physics, Russian, Spanish, English, mathematics, education) showed up and in the reading they noted references in Persian, Afrikaans, and Serbo-Croatian, sometimes all at once. The readers were shocked at some of the other references in the book and argued
 whether Joyce would have known about Popeye, or King Kong, or the discovery of Pluto, or the teddy as an article of ladies' lingerie (yes to all four), or the Kit Kat Club, or Seabiscuit or the selling of Babe Ruth to finance the musical "No No Nanette" (maybe to all three), or Hell's Angels, or Tweety Bird, or the Kennedy assassination (no to all three).
They also found references to:

Tiger Woods - "tigerwood" (pg 35)
Nike shoes - "Nike with your kickshoes on" (pg 270)
e-mail - "Emailia" (pg (410)
Google - "googling" (pg 620)

And I've found such things as the word "iSpace" in a sentence that looks like html text. In a book that was published in 1939. Joyce was really working on a whole different level. Coming up soon I'll have some posts taking a look at the many mind-blowing perspectives people have been applying to the Wake and what they have found (how it predicts the atomic bomb or "abnihilisation of the etym" in Nagasaki or "nogeysokey"; modern physics and the whole quantum movement; Twitter, Facebook, and other modern media) but for now, I've actually been putting my own Wake studies aside as I prepare for my second reading of Ulysses which will be fully documented here along with FAQs and a walkthrough for reading each chapter. I'm resisting Finnegans Wake at the moment because I know that once I fully dive into it (or back into it because I've already read a few books on it) I probably won't read anything else for years. Its infinite depths are just too fun to look at.

"I'm going to prove that Finnegans Wake is an information pool based on computer memory systems that didn't exist until centuries after James Joyce's era; that Joyce was plugged into a cosmic consciousness from which he derived the inspiration for his entire corpus of work. I'll be famous forever."  ---Philip K. Dick, The Divine Invasion

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Defeated Kidd, Contested Will, and Conscious Maurice

My day job and my side jobs have left me short on free time for a couple of weeks now and I've had just about zero time to do any writing, which is exactly how I want my life to not be. Over that time I've assembled a list of topics I want to write about on here but the list has only grown longer as the days have passed. I'm finally back now and the time is ripe to revitalize this dormant blog. I'll start with discussion of a few links to get the gears in motion and then I'll have many more posts coming up in the next couple days (I hope).

First up is an article I found in the New York Observer from 1997 about the James Joyce scholar and "big academic troublemaker" who I discussed in my last post, Dr. John Kidd. Aptly titled "James Joyce and the Nutty Professor," it's a good read and it covers the entire story of Mr. Kidd in detail from his discrediting of Hans Walter Gabler's new edition of Ulysses in the 80s, to the elaborate version of the epic novel (complete with a CD-ROM which Kidd described at the time--keep in mind this is the mid-90s--as "the world's single most comprehensive digital document ever made") that Kidd worked on for years and received a $100,000 advance for, and full background to the "Joyce Wars" and the troubles scholars encounter when dealing with the Joyce Estate and the famous author's grumpy grandson, the only living James Joyce descendant (who paraphrases Shakespeare, wishing for "a plague on all [the Joycean scholars'] houses!"). The article is almost 15 years old and emphasizes the impatient wait for Kidd's supposedly superior edition of Ulysses which we still have not seen or heard about for a while.

There's also a Boston Globe article posted on the Globe writer's blog about the quirky, reclusive Kidd entitled "A Plummet from Grace" which describes how Kidd was put in charge of a brand new James Joyce Research Center at Boston University right around the time of his exposing the Joycean scholarly giants but that now (or, at the time of the article which is 2002) he was completely out of academia "amid allegations that he sexually harassed and unfairly failed some of his students and concerns about his propensity for befriending a range of creatures, from worms to rats to pigeons."

The piece describes Kidd as jobless, in poor health, and a frequent feeder and friend of pigeons on the sidewalk. The quotes from his friends ("I'm very concerned about him") don't sound very good and, not too long after the article, Kidd died in his early 50s with his highly sought-after edition of Ulysses unpublished. The president of the publishing company W.W. Norton explains that Kidd's Ulysses, if ever published at all, won't be for at least two decades.

For a taste of the "Joyce Wars" that Kidd sparked in the 80s, you can read the exchange of letters from The New York Review of Books that includes a response from Hans Walter Gabler to his young challenger and even John Updike chiming in to add a few punches to the defeated Gabler. Kidd's response at the end of the exchange displays what made him such an engaging scholar (he writes satirically looking back from the year 2088) but also one who his contemporaries hated.

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Roger Ebert is certainly one of the more worthwhile Tweeters to follow and a week or so ago he brought my attention to an article reviewing a new book, Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? by James Shapiro. The review he linked to was a bit long and boring (and I can't find it now) but I've been reading some other reviews of Shapiro's book and it's apparently very good. In it, Shapiro examines the old debate over whether or not William Shakespeare from Stratford, an actor and businessman of no high education, actually wrote the works that are attributed to him. From the California Literary Review:
How could the ill educated, penny-pinching son of a glove maker from rural Warwickshire be credited as the author of the greatest plays and poems in the English language?
Beginning around 1800, the hunt started to find the “real” Shakespeare, the noble visionary who had exalted the spiritual struggles of humankind and celebrated the comedy of errors of our daily lives. 
In this engaging and well-researched book, James Shapiro charts the course of this pursuit of truth and beauty, arriving at conclusions that reflect both his insightful scholarship and common sense. Amassing an unassailable body of evidence, Shapiro proves that William Shakespeare of Stratford did indeed write the plays and poems credited to him, but not always as a solitary creative genius.
Shapiro gives thorough and sensitive attention to the opponents of William Shakespeare's authorship, giving them "a fair hearing" but he dismisses them in the process. The book doesn't merely present an argument though, it also tells the story of the raging Shakespeare debate that's gone on for centuries with so-called anti-Stratfordians (those who hold that William Shakespeare of Stratford did not author the plays) counting among their ranks such prominent figures as Mark Twain, Helen Keller, Henry James and Sigmund Freud. These crusaders against the phony playwright from Stratford are split into groups of those who believe the true author was either Francis Bacon (these are the "Baconists"), Edward de Vere the 17th Earl of Oxford (the "Oxfordians"), Christopher Marlowe, William Stanley, or other less popular figures. Shapiro's book describes how Freud was a staunch proponent of the Oxfordian theory to the point where he was nearly obsessed with it.

I know little about the debate or the facts behind each side but I am partial to the Baconists because of what I read in Richard Maurice Bucke's book Cosmic Consciousness which actually introduced me to this whole authorship question. Bucke's book is an enlightening study of the evolution of consciousness in which he proposes that mankind is evolving to the point where our entire species will be capable of achieving the condition of "cosmic consciousness" which is basically the sense of one-ness with the entire universe. He proposes that more and more figures throughout history have achieved this state and he examines each known figure up until the time of the study (1901 or thereabouts) including Francis Bacon (pictured here) who, Bucke contests, must have been the author of the Sonnets which are no doubt an ode to the cosmic sense.

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I will have much more to say about Dr. Bucke's great book in the future but for now, since I brought him up, I must pass along the amazing story of his life. The bearded fellow on the left was a graduate of McGill Medical School and had a distinguished professional career, eventually being elected President of the Psychological Section of the British Medical Association in 1888 and President of the American Medico-Psychological Association in 1890 but he was also a good pal of Walt Whitman's and knew much of Whitman's work, including the enormous Leaves of Grass, by heart. It's his background that I find most fascinating, though:

Richard Maurice Bucke was born in England a year before his parents emigrated to Canada and settled down on a remote rural farm outside of London, Ontario. His father was a highly educated Cambridge man who knew seven languages and had a library of thousands of books. He taught his son Latin and turned him loose among the books to educate himself, the boy received no formal schooling and just doing the hard work of a farmer, years before the automobile or electricity. When Richard was seven his mother died and his father remarried but then when he was 17 his step-mother also died and Richard Maurice Bucke decided to set out from the farm and go see the world.

He went due south across the border into the United States and traveled around for three years doing whatever work he could find including working as a gardener in Columbus, Ohio, a railroad worker in Cincinnati and a deck-hand on a Mississippi steamboat. He eventually got a job as a driver in a wagon-train of 26 wagons that were to cross the Plains and head over to the "western edge of Mormon territory" in what is now the state of Nevada, a dangerous journey because at that time there were no permanent white settlements for the last 1,200 miles of the journey and "the peacefulness of the Indians was definitely not to be depended on." They journeyed for five months, eventually making it to Salt Lake City where Bucke received his pay and decided to keep going westward with a few others. These adventurers crossed the Rockies and started encountering roving bands of Native Americans who resented the presence of white men (considering what was going on at that time in history, the 1850s, it's understandable) and attacked them on sight. They had to fight their way from camp to camp and eventually ran out of ammunition and supplies and Bucke and a companion traveled the last 150 miles surviving on nothing but flour stirred into hot water until they staggered into a mountain trading camp and collapsed.

They rested there for a little while and then started off again, crossing the deserts of the southwestern United States until they reached a gold mining community of 100 white men scattered over 1,600 miles of territory "without laws, without courts, without a church or a school." Bucke stayed there for a little while working as a gold miner and he befriended a pair of brothers, the Grosh brothers, who had discovered vast deposits of silver in what would become known as the Comstock Lode, an area in western Nevada. The brothers kept their discovery quiet and traveled along with Bucke looking for more silver deposits but the harsh mountain environment brought disaster as one of the brothers died and the other brother, along with Richard Maurice Bucke, decided to try to cross over the mountains to head to the Pacific Coast, even though it was the winter time! The other brother died along the way and Bucke, with both feet frozen was rescued on the brink of freezing to death by a mining party. Bucke had to have the whole of one foot and part of the other amputated and spent an entire winter in a hospital bed. When he got out he was 21 years old (!!) and thus had come of the age when he could receive his deceased mother's inheritance and he used this money to put himself through college and medical school.

Years later, he would eventually have a mind-blowing spiritual experience one night while traveling home after an evening spent reading Whitman with friends and he was inspired to thoroughly study this "cosmic consciousness" and those figures throughout history who had experienced similar bursts of cosmic illumination. I'll eventually have much more to say about his book but that's all for now, folks.