By Eric Wagner
Special guest blogger
Well, my Joyce experiment for the chapter one exercise in Prometheus Rising went OK. Reading the list of alternative names of Finnegans Wake on pages 104 through 107, I recalled the first time I met Robert Anton Wilson. I had written to him in 1986, and we began corresponding. In 1987 he planned to fly from his home in Ireland to do a speaking tour of the United States, and he sent me his itinerary, which included Dallas. My friend Jai Jeffryes had moved to Dallas the previous year, so I decided I would kill two birds with one stone. I would visit Jai and meet Dr. Wilson. Bob gave a talk on Friday night and then he had a seminar on Saturday. At one point during the seminar he passed a copy of Finnegans Wake around, and he had each of us read one of the alternative names for the Wake on pages 104 through 107. In the book a hen picks a letter out of a dump. The letter corresponds with the Wake. Joyce calls the hen Belinda after the Belinda in Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock”.
This week I noticed that few pages later on page 112 Joyce give a nice introduction to Finnegans Wake in this short paragraph:
You is feeling like you was lost in the bush, boy? You says: It is a puling sample jungle of woods. You most shouts out: Bethicket me for a stump of a beech if I have the poultriest notions what the farest he all means. Gee up, girly! The quad gospellers may own the targum but any of the Zingari shoolerim may pick a peck of kindlings yet from the sack of auld hensyne.
Typing this out I notice that Word only underlines nine words in this paragraph with red indicating a misspelling or a “word” unknown to the program. Joyce mostly uses short, ordinary English words in this paragraph. I have certainly felt “lost in the bush” trying to understand Finnegans Wake. It does seem like a simple jungle of words at times. I almost shout out: Bethinket me for a son of a bitch if I have the paltriest notion of what the heck he means. The quad gospellers refers to the authors of the four Gospels in the Bible, who in the Wake correspond to the four old men, the four animals in the Book of Ezekiel, the four bedposts of the sleeper’s bed, four divisions of Ireland, etc. In this paragraph I see the quad gospellers as referring to the professional Joyceans who write learned books and articles on the Wake. I think Joyce means here that anyone (the Zingari schoolerim) can find meaning (pick a peck of kindlings) in the book (the sack of auld hensyne, which combines “Auld Lang Syne” with the letter the hen pulls from the dump). Of course Joyce wanted his readers to devote their whole lives to his works, but as critic Harold Bloom noted, the more one puts into one’s study of Joyce, the more one tends to get out of it.
Note: Shortly after writing the above I unexpectedly got my first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. I don’t say that studying Joyce got me the vaccine magickally; I just note the coincidence.