Sunday, September 2, 2012

Awakened Only to See the Wake Everywhere

It's been nearly a month since I've posted anything here, an unprecedented length of absence that is due to a number of factors. For one, I wanted to let the announcement about the Finnegans Wake group sit atop the page for a while. A weeklong trip back home to New York also pulled me away from writing for a bit. And the key reason for my absence is that I've been immersed in thoroughly reading/studying Finnegans Wake for almost two full months now.

The Wake reading experience (my first full go-round with the circular, neverending text) has been occasionally sublime, rarely tedious, and mostly fun. It gets to be kind of addictive, which is why I haven't really written anything besides daily jottings in notebooks, mostly quotes and reflections on what I'm reading.

I had hoped to maintain a regular weekly blogpost here to update where I'm at in the book and what's struck me about it but I'm finding the balance of reading/writing to be a tough one to maintain, especially when the "reading" side of the ledger is so heavily weighted with not one book but half a dozen (a devoted reading of the Wake inevitably requires a few guidebooks, plus I'm occasionally reading the Football Outsiders Almanac 2012 in an attempt to keep myself based in reality through this process).

Now that I've completed 8 chapters of the Wake and gotten into a good routine with it, it's time to slowly bring my writing back to life as I've got a number of pieces to complete that have been collecting dust the past 8 weeks or so. This little post is my attempt at loosening up the writing muscles.

"Hear! Calls! Everywhair!" - Finnegans Wake, pg. 108

 At the end of July, I wrote a post on "Three Joycean Synchronicities" that had occurred in quick succession right around the time I'd really begun to dive deeply into Finnegans Wake. As magical-mysterious as it seems, this is pretty normal. Joyce's key books (Ulysses being the other one) are built by bricks of coincidences and synchronicities and I've always found that reading his work brings about a noticeable increase of these little glitches in the reader's time-space fabric. (The fact of the matter would seem to be that they're always there, but reading Joyce---or anything else that frequently invokes synchronicity, such as Robert Anton Wilson or the I-Ching---sharpens your perception of them.) I have a couple more instances of this I'd like to share.

Two minor ones concern the two recently released albums I'm in the process of reviewing, Kevlaar 7's Die Ageless which came out at the end of May, and MF DOOM's newest collaborative album JJ DOOM which was released at the end of August.

It's worth briefly pointing out a couple of the key themes in Finnegans Wake here: the book's title comes from an old comical ballad about an Irish bricklayer named Tim Finnegan who drank too much whiskey, fell off his ladder one day and cracked his skull. Everybody thought he was dead until things got a bit rowdy amongst the mourners at his funeral, they spilled whiskey on the corpse and suddenly Finnegan rose up in his casket, drenched in liquor yelling "Did ye think me dead?!" Joyce's book ties this together with the Egyptian Osiris and the Book of the Dead as well as pretty much every other story of death and rebirth in the history of world mythology (Robert Anton Wilson called Joyce "the greatest anthropologist who ever lived").

Another key theme in the book, which is closely related to the rebirth/reincarnation motif, is that of repeating cycles of history. The book ends in the middle of a sentence and then begins with the completion of that sentence, representing one continuous loop as Joyce followed Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico's theory that history is just a repeating series of three stages followed by a fourth ricorso that sends things back to the beginning again, or as the Wake puts it, the world "moves in vicous cicles yet remews the same" (FW pg. 134).

So you can imagine what it must feel like for me to be reading the Wake constantly and then, when I decide to take a break and listen to some music, I hear the lyrical essence of Die Ageless which is Kevlaar 7's musical inscribing intended to outlast his lifetime. The album opens with a rebirth, a coming back to life:

"The brother's back from past tense/
fought my way back and outlasted death/
ashes from earth, everlasting mental birth/
y'all thought Kevlaar would come inaccurate?
Bar none, eternally I'll progress"

and later on in the same song:

"Truth crushed to soil will rise again and again/
this be the beginning of the end and where the end begins/
the past is my memory of walking wind/ lungs was pumped, I breathe in"

And now we've got a new album from the ever reclusive veteran verse master MF DOOM, the rap artist who I've always thought most closely resembles Joyce in his use of witty puns, idioms, outworn phrases and humor to deliver his most important messages. My favorite track on the new album is a quintessentially DOOM song entitled "Retarded Fren".

Pay attention to those last lines which are a perfect description of the constantly repeated theme within the Wake:

"It's just begun to began to begin to end to start back again for smarter men and women"

*   *   *

Now, for the funniest and most unbelievable Wake connection I've experienced lately.

Whenever I talk to people about my interests they're often shocked to hear how far my deepest interests seem to vary. As this blog clearly attests to, my obsessions include James Joyce, hip hop music, and baseball. I'm often asked if I find connections among these disparate elements. Well, I've just made some connections between Joyce and hip hop above (and here's another one: "hip hop" appears on pg. 22 of the Wake) and I can certainly make many more if you'd like me to. 

As for links between Joyce and baseball, the last time I attempted to make that connection turned into one of the greatest moments in this blog's history. One lazy summer afternoon in San Diego, I wrote a piece that was an attempt to link baseball and James Joyce together and just a few days later suddenly the name "Jim Joyce" was the most talked-about thing in baseball. This put me in a position of having to share my perspective on the whole thing and my subsequent post on the Jim Joyce incident got my blog mentioned on

The whole Jim Joyce incident was kind of ugly, really, and seemed to bring out the worst in people (aside from the real "victim" of the thing, who showed such grace that he deserves an honorary award) but this new coincidence/synchronicity is much funnier.

As anyone who reads this blog knows by now, I root for three different baseball teams: the Mets, Padres, and Athletics. This grew out of a combination of circumstances but what's important is that when one or two teams fails, often I still have one competitive team left to root for. That's exactly what's happened this year as the Mets have taken a dive after a good start, the Padres got off to a horrible start from which they'd never recover, and the Oakland A's are suddenly the best team in baseball. 

That's right, the Oakland A's are the best team in baseball... since the beginning of July. Which is also exactly when I started reading Finnegans Wake. Where's the connection? The A's have been an extremely fun, quirky team and their stretch of success has coincided with them and their fans taking on a new unofficial mascot: the dancing corpse from the Weekend at Bernie's films. I can think of few more perfect or more hilarious images from contemporary culture to represent the awakened Finnegan of Joyce's book than the dancing Bernie. In the Wake, there's a list of over 300 alternate titles for the book itself and among the funnier ones is "Suppotes a Ventriliquorst Merries a Corpse" (pg. 105).

"The Bernie" is a recent pop phenomenon, a style of dance stemming from a popular song that includes the lyrics "movin' like Bernie." The Oakland A's players took to using this dance in their celebrations and it quickly caught on to where everybody in the crowd does it all throughout the game. The actor who played Bernie even got to throw out the first pitch before last night's ballgame against the Red Sox, then visited the A's television announcers in the booth (and Oakland simultaneously scored 4 runs during the half-inning of Bernie's presence up there).

Sometimes our minds organize the outside world to fit the structures of our mind, and sometimes you watch baseball only to see everyone invoking a dancing dead guy. Needless to say, I'm seeing the Wake everywhere.

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