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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Eric Wagner on RAW and misunderstanding Finnegans Wake

[I liked  Eric Wagner's posting about RAW and misunderstanding Finnegans Wake, which he put up on on Feb. 28, so I thought I would reprint it here. Love the vegetarian restaurant anecdote, too. Mr. Wagner's book, An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson, remains available. -- The Mgt.]

I started reading Bob Wilson in 1982, which led me to check Finnegans Wake out of the library in 1983. I had little success with the book, but after reading more of Bob’s writing I decided to buy a copy of Finnegans Wake on February 2, 1984, Joyce’s birthday. I still couldn’t make much sense out of the book. In 1985 I read Prometheus Rising in which Bob mentioned a Finnegans Wake study group. Aha, I thought, I could do that, patterning it on Bible study groups I’d attended – a group of people studying a book few if any of whom had read all the way through and likely none of them really understood. I invited everyone I knew to come over one Thursday, and only one other person showed up, but we kept Finning on Thursdays for the next twelve years at least semi-regularly, joined by various other pilgrims, until I moved from Arizona back to California.

In 1988 a group of us brought Bob Wilson to Arizona to give a talk and a workshop. I wanted to make Thursday a Finn day, so we took him to see the new film of The Dead, which he loved because it reminded him so much of Dublin. We went to a vegetarian restaurant that night which one of our group recommended, but afterwards Bob asked me to take him back to the hamburger joint we had enjoyed the day before. That night Bob came over to my house and we had a raucous Finn session enhanced by Guinness Stout.

My Finn group meets on Wednesdays now, so it fell on the anniversary of Bob’s death last week and it fell on his birthday this week. We’ve almost reached the song at the end of chapter two, which makes me think of the performance of that song at Bob’s Memorial BB-Q five years ago. I still have trouble understanding Finnegans Wake, but it always makes me think of Bob, and I feel grateful for the ongoing confusion.


michael said...

Eric constantly impresses me by the phenomenological bend in his writing. He largely resists theorizing, jargon, and Large Abstractions. He's recording his impressions as he remembers them, or as they are occurring to him as he's writing. His mind, he notices, finds analogies with the present data and something else in his own life.

This approach, to me, feels like a writer who has taken a strain from the deeps of RAW, and has practiced attending to what impinges the individual's nervous system, with theories and High-Flown Ideas taking a back seat. This basic orientation seems rare enough that reading him feels avant garde.

I can't remember ever reading anything by him that had me saying, "maybe," or "bullshit..." because he's about recording things as he sees them, and resists abstraction. He uses E-Prime extensively (ha!), which encourages this phenomenological/Korzybskian/zen-like writing style.

Meanwhile, I can't resist my own bullshit and speculations. Let us chalk it up to..."style"?

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...


I think that's a good description of Eric's style.

I am looking forward to his new RAW book (see Sunday's post) but I also wish he'd write more about poetry, as he is very good at discussing poems and poets. In fact, my Big Idea today is for Eric to launch a blog called "Ask Eric," in which he fields poetry questions. I would certainly submit a few.

Eric Wagner said...

Thanks for the kind words, gentlemen. I will start that blog. How do I do that?

I find myself in spring break mode right, reading Pynchon and Proust before family brunch, listening to Mahler and Aretha Franklin. I almost used the verb "to be". I will get started on the Ask Eric project on April 16.

Dr. Johnson, I think thirty years of wrestling with Ezra Pound have fucked me up, er, entrained my nervous system in the ways you describe.
Happy Easter, y'all.