Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Three Joycean Synchronicities

As Robert Anton Wilson liked to point out, reading about or discussing synchronicity usually tends to vastly increase the amount of strange coincidences in one's life. In my experience, whenever I've been engaged in reading Carl Jung, or the I Ching, or Wilson himself, synchronicities do tend to swirl around me.

This same thing especially applies to reading James Joyce. His major works are filled with synchroncities and coincidences. In his book Joyce the Creator, Sheldon Brivic attempts to document all the synchronicities embedded within the single day of Ulysses and he lists over a hundred of them. Robert Anton Wilson's book Coincidance has a few excellent essays about synchronicity in Finnegans Wake. It's safe to say that it's a big part of Joyce's major works (though the word "synchronicity" was coined by Jung more than ten years after Joyce's death).

These past few weeks I've been undertaking the task of thoroughly reading Finnegans Wake, this deep involvement tending to leave me in an unusual mindstate. I find myself thinking about certain words or phrases all throughout the day and often I can't wait to get home and dive back into the strange book. I've read four chapters thus far and I'm really enjoying it. With lots of notes already written about it, I'll have plenty to say about the book in an upcoming post.

For now, I'd like to share three funny coincidences that occurred over three consecutive days right around the time I'd begun reading the Wake.

1- The first one occurred last Friday night when I attended a vegan potluck before going to see the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.* I ended up sitting directly across from a woman who, much to my surprise and delight, had the final words of Ulysses ("I said yes I will Yes") prominently tattooed on the inside of her wrist. Our dinner conversation had been boring up until the point I saw that tattoo, then lively conversation ensued for the remainder of the evening.

*There's another little coincidence here. The first chapter I read in the Wake was Chapter 5 which starts off by listing over 300 possible alternate titles for Finnegans Wake itself. My favorite of these is "How to Pull a Good Horus-coup even when Oldsire is Dead to the World" which combines Horus and Osiris from the Egyptian Book of the Dead with reincarnation in the form of a new horoscope. The title for The Dark Knight Rises would've fit perfectly into that list as the Wake is a book of the night featuring a dying and rising knight or hero, Finn MacCool, the savior of humanity.

2- The next night I hung out with my friend Joe whom I actually met through this very blog. He contacted me last year because he shares an interest in Finnegans Wake among other things. Well we found ourselves watching Ken Burns' superb documentary about Jazz and it was the chapter about Ella Fitzgerald. As a teenager, she had joined the band of Chick Webb, a famous drummer who initially complained that she was too ugly to be their lead singer. Joe and I had a big laugh over this since Webb, having suffered from tuberculosis of the spine, was of an unusually short and strange-looking stature.

Before we'd stopped laughing, the narrator's voice suddenly turned solemn as he told us that Chick Webb succumbed to his spinal disease and died at the age of 34. He died on June 16th, 1939. June 16th is Bloomsday, the most famous day in the Joycean calendar, and 1939 was the year Finnegans Wake was published. Considering that the Wake is a rollicking comedy that frequently puns on the word funeral to make it more "fun" ("funferall" or "Funniral"), I think Joyce would've got a kick out of the whole thing.

3- Sunday night's synchronicity really tied things together. I sat down to eat dinner and decided to watch a movie. I don't watch too many movies at home. It's in fact very rare, but for whatever reason I decided to pick out a movie on Netflix and watch while I ate. I chose an early 90s indie film called Slackers because it had good ratings and was filmed here in Austin. That's all I knew about it.

Within the first 10 minutes or so I was struck by how closely it seemed to parallel another Austin-based movie, the very Finnegans Wake-esque dream film Waking Life. Then one scene really struck me. Three young men stood at the edge of a bridge ready to throw away the leftover items of ex-girlfriends (relevant to me since I just broke up with my ex-lady and am faced with throwing some of her old stuff out). One of them vehemently encouraged the others to dump their items and then pulled out a thick book to read from. Seeing the book in his hand I initially thought "that's either the Bible or Ulysses" and when he started flipping through pages, the camera was close enough for me to recognize that it was in fact Ulysses. The character then read aloud one of the great paragraphs from the "Ithaca" episode, in which Leopold Bloom reflects on the many lovers that his wife Molly has had since they've been married (or so he thinks):
If he had smiled why would he have smiled? 
To reflect that each one who enters imagines himself to be the first to enter whereas he is always the last term of a preceding series even if the first term of a succeeding one, each imagining himself to be first, last, only and alone, whereas he is neither first nor last nor only nor alone in a series originating in and repeated to infinity.
Subsequent googling led to the realization that the film's director Richard Linklater is heavily influenced by Joyce. His film Before Sunrise takes place during one single day, June 16th, Bloomsday.

A memorable quote from The Dark Knight Rises had Commissioner Gordon telling a newly promoted policeman: "Detectives aren't allowed to believe in coincidences."


  1. So great.

    I have never actually seen Slackers, but I will now. I have seen--and loved--Waking Life.

    And I had no idea that Before Sunrise was a Bloomsday film. Another one I've got to bump up the list.

    Glad you have a Finn friend in Austin, PQ.

  2. I had a similar experience in Dublin last month. I went to the Leonora Carrington exhibition where I was startled to find a painting called The Burning of Giordano Bruno
    (Bruno is all over Finnegans Wake).
    Right beneath it, without explanation, they had a copy of James Stephens' A Crock of Gold (Joyce asked Stephens to finish Finnegans Wake for him)
    Loving your blogs, PQ!