Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Envisioning the Wake

"No other human being in the history of the world, including Beethoven, has ever given every single piece of emotion and thought and feeling the way Joyce did. He dredged up every ounce of his soul, every cell, every gene."
                    - John Gardner on Finnegans Wake 

"We may come, touch and go, from atoms and ifs but we're presurely destined to be odd's without ends."
                    - Finnegans Wake, pg 455
Artist Stephen Crowe has been carrying out the ambitious and impressive task of illustrating James Joyce's Finnegans Wake one page at a time for almost two years now over at his blog Wake in Progress. I've drawn attention to his excellent work before and it's nice to see that he's getting more and more recognition for it. On Bloomsday earlier this year, his art was displayed at the Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris and recently some of his work was prominently featured in an art magazine called Her Royal Majesty. (The magazine's got a cool cover, too, shown on the right.)

Their website published a brief but interesting interview with Crowe, delving into the reasons behind the project and what his goals are with it. I highly recommend checking it out and there's a nice sampling of his art pieces there, too. Considering the quote at the very top of this post, it's amazing to contemplate the fact that, as Crowe declared in the interview, "Finnegans Wake might be the single most neglected book in history by a major writer." It's admirable that Crowe is undertaking this project to try and bring light to this classic book of the dark and the work he's been creating in the process has been extremely impressive. I look forward to whenever he might complete this enterprise so that perhaps a new edition of the Wake can be put together with Stephen's illustrations on each page. It's a book of nearly 700 pages, though, so it's gonna be a while.

If you've got any interest in Joyce, you must explore Stephen Crowe's blog devoted to arguably the greatest and most neglected artistic achievement in human history. He makes it about as understandable as that crazy book can be and provides not just illustrations but occasional essays, including this one on why Finnegans Wake is better than Ulysses (though I offered my own response to this assertion in the comments). He's also selling framed prints now, hopefully I'll grab one of those this holiday season.


  1. I keep running across people who have been game, or game enough, to at least try Ulysses. They make thing it's a chore or whatever, but they tend to attribute the problem to themselves rather than to Joyce. But Finnegans Wake seems to be one that people feel totally fine about dismissing.

    Since I'm in this Wake group, I've been trying a bit to think how to represent it to them. Usually I say that it's a great thing to read as a group, and that we enjoy it because we don't take ourselves too seriously.

    More and more, though, I feel like saying, Finnegans Wake is it's own thing. Don't bother to compare it to Ulysses. Don't bother to compare it to anything. It isn't a novel. It is in it's own category. You can't judge it. It judges you.

    Except that it doesn't really. It's not judgemental. It's too gleeful for that.

    And, though I'm glad to be doing it with a group, I think my deepest pleasure in it is really when I try to write up the part we've just discussed and delve into a couple of commentaries that have taken it on. Because this is when it really opens itself to me.

    I love the picture project, by the way. I have it in my blog roll, but I don't look at it often enough.

  2. I'm currently reading an EXTREMELY interesting book called Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson, I'm actually in the process of finishing up a post reviewing it (as well as 3 other books). The book is a study of the evolution of consciousness and the relatively new and advanced levels (or "circuits" as he calls them) reached by advanced yogis, mystics, LSD-takers, and once-a-century artists like Joyce.

    He argues that Finnegans Wake is the language of one of the higher circuits in which all of history and all of the human DNA is mined and splattered throughout the book. It encompasses all of history, as well as the present and the future (there are passages about uranium, atomic boms, and Nagasaki in a book published in 1939).

    You're right in that it's hard to even compare it to Ulysses and I'm a huge fan of the latter. Whereas Ulysses burst open the bounds of the novel, Finnegans Wake "explodotonates" the bounds of language, time, space, and thought.

    It's more than a book, it's like some kind of strange cosmic toy or oracle---I've spoken before how Robert Anton Wilson closely compares it to the I-Ching in another book.

    You're lucky to have that opportunity to read it with people because that's definitely the best way to appreciate it. I'm hoping to get a Wake group started here in Austin soon.

  3. I hope Austin Wakes soon.

    I think people are intimidated by the Wake because they think they have to grasp it rather than being content to dabble in it. Even we in my group are probably a little too earnest about it, and we really don't mean to be.