Thursday, 25 June 2015

Osip Mandelstam Tristia No. 92

Osip Mandelstam Tristia No. 92

 Sometimes titled ‘Taurida’

What is the stream of golden liquid that pours from the bottle? It is the given, the proportion of riches that time has brought us, now being poured forth just when the world is in upheaval. Madame Vera Sudeikina, for whom the poem was composed, said the liquid was honey, but translators have theories, one calling it ‘cordial’, another ‘mead’. Honey and mead are the same word in Russian. Everything is slowed down and summery, so that her words, when they come, may be timed by the flow of the honey. She who has invited us into this special world uses words of misfortune – sad, bored or dull – to warn us that she and her friends have known better times. Their expectations are high, but their lives have been reduced by circumstances she cares not to describe. We will not be bored, and feel not the least bit dull, as though that were a rule of life. Who is she talking to but we, her guests in the future, reading the words that fate has provoked, that time has provided? She warns and yet apologises: she stands on her dignity. The words are also spoken to herself, reminding her of the unwritten rule of keeping interest. Having done this little ritual the hostess then looks over her shoulder, whether at us in the future or at the past that she cannot retrieve, we do not know. Maybe both.

 The poem was written between the two revolutions of 1917, so what do we make of the fact that everywhere there are the rites of Bacchus, as if the world is “only watchmen, dogs”? For while we may judge this world scene benignly, the poetry gives rumour to wild savagery, uncontrolled lust, mad frenzy. Is it only a rumour? The hostess at home observes that we will not meet anyone around here and the days roll by peacefully “like heavy barrels”, the same barrels containing the wine that could drive people to one kind of excess or another. The only voices we do hear are far off in another dwelling, a hut in fact. That we would not understand these voices implies they are foreign words and that we are living in a foreign place, somewhere removed from wild upheaval. Watchmen are needed, for we seem to be somewhere where nothing happens but could happen violently any time soon. When we know Madame Sudeikina is living in the south, and the poet composed the poem in Crimea, we become aware of a code: for all of the classical imagery of the poem, it is also an evocation of the mood in the Russian provinces during the first revolutionary year, waiting for something to happen, whether it will or not. People will wait and see what happens. It could be all very exciting, it could be nothing to speak of, out here in the provinces.

Taurida, or Tauris, is an ancient name for Crimea. Now the classical allusions of place inform us of its almost elysian qualities, as well as its status as a land of exile. In ten years time to use the same classical allusions will be proof enough of bourgeois tendencies to qualify the poet to exile in quite a different direction: political exile to Siberia. It’s late summer, when the grapes have ripened. Translators agree we are visiting a great brown garden, as though trees and flowers were worn by the strong sunlight. Such is the peaceful siesta-drowsiness of the place the windows are like closed eyelids. The hills are sleeping, and only we seem to walk together through this landscape of white columns and air translucent as glass as though through a heatwave. All time and thought have gone. Reality and unreality are alike immaterial in this place of heightened intensity.

Then we are suddenly spoken to by the poet, as in a classical Chinese poem where half the poem describes the scene, before he speaks. He compares the shapes of the vine to long–ago battles, its leaves like horsemen flourishing at one another, as though the vine were one long living tableau of ancient war. This testimony to peace though is reminder of Greece and its relationship to Crimea, for while there is peace in Crimea it is always at the cost to some greater strife fought out elsewhere. That Crimea will be at the centre of other nations’ battles for power is not far from the poet’s mind, even as we enjoy the scenery of golden acres and extended vintage. His analogy of the vine with an ancient battlefield betrays the awareness of battles being engaged even now to the north (Russia) and the west (Germany) and south (Turkey), though not spoken of, and with outcomes impossible still to predict in the summer of 1917. Only here is there some sense of peaceful tranquility.

This vast silence and peace, not torpor or tedium, continues inside the house as well, even as late as the penultimate verse. The white room stands like a spinning wheel, we are told. The room smells of paint, vinegar and wine cooled in the cellar. Work is happening somewhere, even if we do not witness it first hand. When all at once the poet asks a direct question. Do you remember in the Greek house the wife everyone loved? In Mandelstam’s life this is Madame Vera Sudeikina, an actress who would later marry the composer Igor Stravinsky, in a place very far from Crimea. For in literal terms, the poem describes her house, its gardens and views. But in the legends invoked by Mandelstam the wife loved by everyone is Penelope, who sits spinning and unweaving a garment, giving her suitors the flick while she waits for the return of her husband Odysseus from the Trojan War. The poet makes it clear we are not talking about Helen – the woman everyone loved, in the sense of desired – but the woman at the other end of that vast military epic, the one who welcomes home, who makes home. One translator says it was “time she embroidered”, and how say in a few words what Homer makes implicit throughout the Odyssey, that Penelope’s handiwork is a more accurate teller of time passing than any clock? Because it is she, or rather the virtue of waiting and patience introduced at the opening of the poem, whom we have been observing the whole time, unidentified. That this is going on in Crimea and not Ithaca is not an issue, as the abiding woman is fulfilling the same role wherever and whenever.

Rapidly Mandelstam ramps the crescendo. He beseeches the whereabouts of the Golden Fleece, where are you? He declaims on the thundering of the sea voyage and the weight of the great waves carrying men home. He gives the image of the head of the ship leaving that vessel at last, its canvas worn-out on the seas, and there he is: Odysseus came back, filled with time and space. In a reversal of convention, the two main characters of the poem are introduced at the very end, Odysseus in the last line. Because “time and space” are what he has been living through for the entire length of the poem, through all of its denial of boredom and efforts at philosophy. As have all of us, there in the provinces of uncertainty and lost opportunity and easy living. He arrives at the end filled with all the life that we through the rest of the poem have been wondering could even exist. Where is the life? What lives have they been living, have we been living? asks the poet, by implication. Both parties are crucial to the meaning of the poem: those who wait and those who may, without warning, finally arrive unannounced, their one desire to see again those they have been travelling for years to see. The revolution, when it arrived in all its true brutality, was not the promised relief from inertia we see embodied in Odysseus. Barbarism and more war came to Taurida, as elsewhere. Mandelstam’s poem reminds us of the hope of change alive in revolutionary years, even as the very language he uses goes out of fashion, or is condemned as anti-revolutionary. The woman who inspires the poem herself must escape the country into further exile, with little hope of ever returning. And the poet himself will be sent into exile just for the trouble of being known as a person who writes poetry.

Versions of No. 92

Lines online were noted that can not now be sourced.
Three print versions were before me:
Clarence Brown. Mandelstam. Cambridge University Press, 1973
Clarence Brown & W.S. Merwin. Osip Mandelstam : Selected Poems. Atheneum, 1974, in Stravinsky in pictures and documents, by vera Stravinsky & Robert Craft. Hutchinson, 1979
James Greene. Osip Mandelstam : Poems. New rev. and enlarged ed. Paul Elek, 1980

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

“Titles, stills, magic, fantasy” : Afterthoughts on Bloomsday in Melbourne 2015, The Reel Joyce

 The Blooms at Eccles Street and Howth Head. 
Two stills from Joseph Strick’s film Ulysses, made in 1967

The general conclusion of both theatre and seminar this year was that a film of Ulysses is unrealisable. But that doesn’t mean we cannot realise theatre pieces about the novel and film. The ruse was that James Joyce and Charlie Chaplin planned to make a movie together, but ambitions, or egos, or artistic integrity, or time, or other projects, or love interests even, got in the way. Out of this unexpected, but not entirely unlikely, meeting of creative minds came a Bloomsday theatre piece of considerable insight.

The new timber of the Docklands’ Library sent the aromatic fragrance of a recent work site.

This is the most fully realised portrait of the artist as a middle-aged man that the script committee has yet created. The reason is obvious: the Joyce character has a natural opposite, a larger-than-life contrasting counterpart up against whom he has to test his ideas, his personality, and his achievement. They don’t get much bigger than Charlie Chaplin. We are allowed to see Joyce at home with Nora, or on outings, in his natural environment. This humanises him, makes the remote artist more accessible to an audience, and believable. Chaplin too is an irrepressible fountain of ideas, but his art is vaudeville impressions, slapstick routines. This will never sit easily with the subtlety and expansiveness of Joyce’s art and conflicts inevitably ensue. For every great Ulysses film scene concept they come up, there is another where Joyce’s eye for aesthetic excellence or Chaplin’s nose for popular entertainment get in the way and lead to clashes. Chaplin’s consecutively attractive French secretaries do not help either. They interfere with their own opinions, the most ludicrous being she who would have Stephen Dedalus expunged from the film on the grounds of her personal distaste for his unwashed character. Joyce and Chaplin’s mutual admiration society continues undiminished, even as they discover their faults and foibles, all of which they laugh off, as people who understand human nature will do. Ultimately it is never going to work. The Tramp may morph into other personalities, but not the new womanly man, Leopold Bloom. Chaplin and Joyce part amicably, to pursue their Muse elsewhere: Charlie goes back to California to make The Gold Rush, Jim stays in Paris with Work in Progress. This is Bloomsday’s Much Ado About Nothing and Chaplin rounds off the comic good-humour by singing “Easy come, easy go.”

Through the library windows the lights of the Bolte Bridge gleamed in the cold tranquil night.

Other characters in this twenties fantasy enhance our understanding of the Irish novelist. For me, the part of the Parisian avant-garde composer Erik Satie is especially helpful. Satie was an eccentric recluse. He punctuates the play with solo appearances, wearing a green satin dressing gown and nightcap, broadcasting gnomic sentences through a stupendously large red megaphone. Satie prefigures the theatre of the absurd that would inspire Paris after the next War. Joyce is fascinated by the artistic courage of Satie, but we observe their essential contrast too. Satie is a loner, someone who works without collaborators or ‘sounding boards’. Joyce craves conversation, the endless flow of words, the better to hear everything that is going on, to test his own ideas. Joyce will never just walk around his work alone before setting it before his public.

The agile troupe commanded the tight interior of polished moveable furniture. 

Another lightbulb moment is provided by that lightbulb Mae West. While only angling for a part so far as Chaplin is concerned, Joyce is impressed, in a letter received, by her worldly way and humour. Joyce and West have something in common: they’re both scriptwriters. They know what it means to put together words that land them in trouble. They could end up in jail for telling the truth as they see it. The chances of Ulysses not being transferred into another medium (or even through the customs at New York) could have less to do with challenges of form, than moral content that offends the wrong people. They share an ambition to go to the edge. Mae argues persuasively with Jim that, especially on the subject of sexuality, though she doesn’t “want to take the credit for inventing it” she did “in a manner of speaking rediscover it”, and in a different way so has Jim in Ulysses.  

Giant cement mixers and construction lorrys line the street near the next pyramidal highrises.

The verdict of public opinion, the critics, and Joyceans is that none of the known films of Ulysses do anything to represent the richness and depth of Ulysses, the life found on every page. The films, whether in back-and-white or colour, are pale. Their conventional narrative techniques turn a novel in which nothing happens into a film in which nothing happens. A book that creates the appearance of parallel activities at one time, that describes in intense detail the experience and ideas inside people, that deliberately utilises varieties of style and device, that is in itself, in a word, cinematic, seems to have defied every film interpreter’s efforts.

Sleeping yachts clinked at steadying moorings inside the ‘moreblue’ marina.

Chaplin, in the play, knows what he’s up against. When Joyce chides him for a scene that seems “a little theatrical … rather than just happening naturally,” he reacts: “Don’t give me that old Naturalism cant, Jim. Actors with their backs to the audience just for some kind of naturalistic effect. I want to be free to use whatever I believe will do the job … titles, stills, magic, fantasy … The Naturalists hate all that.” Chaplin knew the true potential of film, but even in the Bloomsday script he plays his own kind of cinematic artist, with his own limitations, the loudest being silence itself, as Joyce points out. How make a movie about language with no sounds?  “Titles, stills, magic, fantasy” are some of the permanent things with which great movies of Ulysses could be made and in this Chaplin offers a fresh challenge to our thinking. Film-making today is readily available to everyone with an interest. Films can be made by anyone anywhere, without the demands of studios and box-office audiences. Films of Ulysses could be put together by individuals or collectives with the same artistic freedom depicted in the Paris twenties of the The Reel Joyce. Some of the best Joyce moviework is found online, rather than in the catalogues of World Cinema. Furthermore, if Chaplin’s  “Titles, stills, magic, fantasy” is Joyce’s variation of “Parallels, correspondences, epiphanies, monologues” then both artists are showing how any artist has the materials to make something multi-layered and rich out of the material. But do they have the means and will? When a composer (from memory the American George Antheil) wished to make some music based on his work, Joyce was most enthusiastic about the ideas that pushed the extremes of musical form itself, not with those where the rendition succeeded, but with no lasting effect. This tells us a lot about the constant creative questioning and expectation of Joyce’s own artistic mind. It tells us why worthwhile movies of Ulysses are possible.

Computer galleries and ping-pong rooms fell silent when the Library closed at nightfall.

My concluding afterthought is about Ulysses readers. There is no great Ulysses movie because not one director gets to where Joyce’s readers find themselves already, at the outset. The story can be repeated on a wiki-stub, its main details reduced to a few sentences. It’s reducible, whereas readers know Joyce because of the consciousness that he creates in them. Seeing Dedalus on the Strand in a film is a world away from being inside his head walking into eternity, the way they do in the book. Bloom’s hot experiences at the hands of Bella Cohen may raise an eyebrow at the movies, but in the book the reader has been through the full monty by reading every in-and-out of Nighttown. Molly is comely enough in her jingling bed in a movie, while in the book the reader has already gone everywhere imaginable with her, and is carrying the memory around in their head, until next time. The really impossible thing for a filmmaker is to meet the level of consciousness of character, time and place that James Joyce has instilled in his readers through the techniques at work in his separate episodes.

Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan at Sandy Cove Tower. 
Still from Joseph Strick’s film Ulysses, made in 1967

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The Optic Nerve : Seeing James Joyce Seeing

A paper written by Philip Harvey for the Bloomsday in Melbourne seminar held on the feast day, 16th June 2015. Read at Library at the Dock, Docklands, Melbourne with Philip reading the Harvey bits and Liam Gillespie reading the Joyce bits (marked thus >>).

The Optic Nerve 1: 1914-1922 (Ulysses)

James Joyce was near-sighted. He suffered eye problems from early childhood. Most photographs and portraits of Joyce have him wearing glasses. Richard Ellmann says that nearsightedness became part of his personality, for rather than staring or putting on glasses, he assumed a look of indifference. James Joyce had strong prescription glasses all his life.

>> Had he performed any special corporal work of mercy for her?
He had sometimes propelled her on warm summer evenings, an infirm widow of independent, if limited means, in her convalescent bathchair with slow revolutions of its wheels as far as the corner of the North Circular road opposite Mr Gavin Low’s place of business where she had remained for a certain time scanning through his onelensed binocular fieldglasses unrecognisable citizens on tramcars, roadster bicycles, equipped with inflated pneumatic tyres, hackney carriages, tandems, private and hired landaus, dogcarts, ponytraps and brakes passing from the city to Phoenix Park and vice versa.

Joyce spent much of his life “scanning though his onelensed binocular fieldglasses”. When we read Ulysses an observable majority of visual descriptions are close-ups. Long distance is often a blur and with landscapes Joyce turns to parody and other literary forms, more often than not, rather than trust his own powers of observation.

>> Why could he then support that his vigil with the greater equanimity?
Because in middle youth he had often sat observing through a rondel of bossed glass of a multi-coloured pane the spectacle offered with continual changes of the thoroughfare without, pedestrians, quadrupeds, velocipedes, vehicles, passing slowly, quickly, evenly, round and round and round the rim of a round precipitous globe.
In Trieste James Joyce suffered intense attacks of inflammation of the iris. Sometimes he had to rest his eyes for a month, the attacks were so bad.

>> Houses of decay, mine, his and all. You told the Clongowes gentry you had an uncle a judge and an uncle a general in the army. Come out of them, Stephen. Beauty is not there. Nor in the stagnant bay of Marsh’s library where you read the fading prophecies of Joachim Abbas. For whom? The hundredheaded rabble of the cathedral close. A hater of his kind ran from them to the wood of madness, his mane foaming in the moon, his eyeballs stars. Houyhnhnm, horsenostrilled.

Attacks of glaucoma and synechia threatened blindness if not attended to. Blindness, the fear of going blind or imagining oneself blind, hover at the edges of many jokes and passages in Joyce’s writing. “Shut your eyes and see.”

Ulysses is a supreme act of memory of anything in Dublin Joyce saw and remembered. It is a sustained work of visual memory, written at some distance from the locations it so lovingly describes, perfected in time by right placement of the right words.

>> Under the upswelling tide he saw the writhing weeds lift languidly and sway reluctant arms, hissing up their petticoats, in whispering water swaying and upturning coy silver fronds. Day by day: night by night: lifted, flooded and let fall.

Ulysses is from the opening line a creative testimony to how the eye sees the world. Stately plump Buck Mulligan is not just a signal of the rampant comedy to follow, it is a description that causes us to see the character instantly, due to the incongruous juxtaposition of the word ‘stately’ with the not very stately epithet ‘plump’. The whole book brims with visuals, almost invariably in surprising forms.

Ulysses is especially notable for close-ups, the sort of appearances a near-sighted man would see, whether in the immediate here and now of Trieste where the book is being written, or in endless memories of Dublin, recalled at will and with extraordinary verbal accuracy.

>> The cat mewed in answer and stalked again stiffly round a leg of the table, mewing. Just how she stalks over my writingtable … Mr Bloom watched curiously, kindly, the lithe black form. Clean to see: the gloss of her sleek hide, the white button under the butt of her tail, the green flashing eyes.

Ulysses is run through with visual descriptions of the world and of the people in the world. We know that Joyce uses Ulysses as a celebration of all the senses and this includes the most immediate and powerful of the five senses: sight.

>> What a time you were, she said.
She set the brasses jingling as she raised herself briskly, an elbow on the pillow. He looked calmly down on her bulk and between her large soft bubs, sloping within her nightdress like a shegoat’s udder. The warmth of her couched body rose on the air, mingling with the fragrance of the tea she poured.
A strip of torn envelope peeped from under the dimpled pillow.

Stephen Dedalus’s morning walk down Sandymount Strand is Joyce’s main deliberate and overt description of the experience of perception.

>> Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs. Limits of the diaphane. But he adds: in bodies. Then he was aware of them bodies before of them coloured. How? By knocking his sconce against them, sure. Go easy. Bald he was and a millionaire, maestro di color che sanno. Limit of the diaphane in. Why in? Diaphane, adiaphane. If you can put your five fingers through it, it is a gate, if not a door. Shut your eyes and see.

This is a rehearsal of St Thomas Aquinas’ theory of vision, which Joyce would have learnt from the Jesuits at school.

>> Stephen closed his eyes to hear his boots crush crackling wrack and shells. You are walking through it howsomever. I am, a stride at a time … Open your eyes now. I will. One moment. Has all vanished since? If I open and am for ever in the black adiaphane. Basta! I will see if I can see. See now. There all the time without you: and ever shall be, world without end.

Ulysses is a huge casebook of the psychology of perception, “thought through my eyes”. Joyce’s pet theory of epiphanies goes exponential as he cunningly arranges words to make us see the everyday objective reality of the city, so that it becomes a main character.

But epiphany is only one method of revelation of the visual.

The stylistic variations that constitute Ulysses cause the creation of many more kinds of visual effect in words than are found elsewhere in a work of fiction. The opening of the Sirens episode at the Ormond Hotel on the River Liffey is an extensive soundscape of aural and visual effects, a beautiful cacophony that draws us siren-like into the interior drama to follow. It is a picture poem, one of the great poems of modernism.

>> Bronze by gold heard the hoofirons, steelyringing.
Imperthnthn thnththn.
Chips, picking chips off rocky thumbnail, chips.
Horrid! And gold flushed more.
A husky fifenote blew.
Blew. Blue Bloom is on the
Gold pinnacled hair.
A jumping rose on satiny breasts of satin, rose of Castile …
A sail! A veil awave upon the waves.
Lost. Throstle fluted. All is lost now.
Horn. Hawhorn.
When first he saw. Alas!
Full tup. Full throb …
The spiked and winding cold seahorn. Have you the?
Each and for other plash and silent roar.
Pearls: when she. Liszt’s rhapodies. Hissss.
You don’t?
Did not: no, no : believe Lidlyd. With a cock with a carra.

While all of this visual description helps toward the verbal recreation of one day in Dublin, it serves other purposes as well. It serves to confirm the shared sense of the universe. It creates the sense of a complete physical world in which the action, what there is of it, takes place. It operates mimetically to affirm the reality of the world as being looked upon.

>>  What did Stephen see on raising his gaze to the height of a yard from the fire towards the opposite wall?
Under a row of five coiled spring housebells a curvilinear rope, stretched between two holdfasts athwart across the recess beside the chimney pier, from which hung four smallsized square handkerchiefs folded unattached consecutively in adjacent rectangles and one pair of ladies’ grey hose with lisle suspender tops and feet in their habitual position clamped by three erect wooden pegs two at their outer extremities and the third at their point of junction.

Joyce presents his visuals without comment, hanging there as it were, or erect as it were, leaving the reader to see anew.

>> What did Bloom see on the range?
On the right (smaller) hob a blue enamelled saucepan : on the left (larger) hob a black iron kettle.

And revelation through the visual, “thought through my eyes”, raises our sense of the states of the characters. By the time we reach Molly Bloom’s monologue we have experienced many different kinds of visuals, and Molly herself is not backward in coming forward.

>> I love to see a regiment pass in review the first time I saw the Spanish cavalry at La Roque it was lovely after looking across the bay from Algeciras all the lights of the rock like fireflies or those sham battles on the 15 acres the Black Watch with their kilts in time at the march past the 10th hussars the prince of Wales own or the lancers O the lancers theyre grand

Molly’s monologue is a sustained exercise in memory, reliant for its impact on countless visual cues.

James Joyce endured pain from his eyes his whole life, but half way through the composition of Ulysses, in Switzerland in 1917, he suffered an attack of glaucoma so serious that his ophthalmologist decided to operate. The doctor performed an iridectomy on Joyce’s right eye. Richard Ellmann says: “As so often happens, the exudation from the eye flowed over into the incision and reduced the vision permanently.”

Years later Joyce would joke that a person can see as well with one eye as two, but the reality of being half-blind affects him for the rest of his life. Eye operations of different kinds become common. He would argue with friends about how many operation he had had, no doubt making a point.

The Optic Nerve 2: 1922-1941 (Finnegans Wake)

In 1922 Joyce was confronted with a challenge: what to do next?

What does he write to follow something as vast, new, and different as Ulysses?

>> It would have diverted, if ever seen, the shuddersome spectacle of this semidemented zany amid the inspissated grime of his glaucous den making believe to read his usylessly unreadable Blue Book of Eccles, editions de ténèbres …

Ulysses and FW are alike in their uniqueness, unalike in their literary intentions.

The two novels are similar in their scale of ambition, dissimilar in palpable verbal appearance.

Ulysses is an extended conversation. FW is expression at cross-purposes.

Ulysses would wish to escape the book. FW has its face pressed close to the page.

Ulysses is a narrative storybook about the physical place Dublin and the intimate lives of a handful of its citizens. FW is a non-narrative book, where Dublin is locus for an allegory about all human experience and history.

Ulysses is an extended exercise in cross-reference. FW tests our bearings on every page.

Ulysses goes outward. FW dwells inward.

Ulysses is written by someone opening his eyes to everything in existence. FW is written by someone who is going blind.

Ulysses is a new Odyssey written by another blind Homer. FW is a new Paradise Lost, written by another blind John Milton.

The novel he writes for the next seventeen years is again set in Dublin.

>> What Irish capitol city (a dea o dea!) of two syllables and six letters, with a deltic origin and a nuinous end, (ah dust oh dust!) can boost of having a) the most extensive public park in the world, b) the most expensive brewing industry in the world, c) the most expansive peopling thoroughfare in the world, d) the most phillohippuc theobibbous paupualtion in the world: and harmonise your abecededd responses?

Answer Dublin, though the landmarks of the city are not easily recognisable nor named as directly as in Ulysses. One landmark described in some detail is the Book of Kells.

>> Starting with old Matthew himself, as he with great distinction said then just as since then people speaking have fallen into the custom, when speaking to a person, of saying two is company when the third person is the person darkly spoken of, and then that last labiolingual basium might be read as a suavium if whoever the embracer then was wrote with a tongue in his (or perhaps her) cheek as the case may have been then; and the fatal droopadwindle slope of the blamed scrawl, a sure sign of imperfectible moral blindness; the toomuchness, the fartoomanyness of all those fourlegged ems: and why spell dear god with a big thick dhee (why, O why, O why?) 

These passages tell us a lot about the visual world of the author. He is fixed on words, his eyes are close up to the words, he lives inside them, they in him. He lives in the world of the page. This is not surprising when we consider that FW was written using only one eye, usually inside with sunlight and lamplights, in small apartments, bookshops and libraries. He wore a white jacket while writing, better to reflect light onto the written page. And what he does in FW is transform words. They transmute, compound, elongate. There are puns and inventions and linkages. And we are made to look at these visual things in order to decipher them and see their meanings. All words become objects to re-organise into new shapes and appearances. Joyce plays around with letters, makes endless pun with many languages, turns words and letters into actual characters in the story. Joyce makes us look at words.

>> Wipe your glosses with what you know.

They are themselves characters with a life of their own, certain to grow and change, put on appearances, act out roles. And their visual shapes, not just their singular musical sounds, are a matter for constant creative play. Joyce’s daily business of writing, that ancient human art, is tested and questioned, is visualised into life and even put back to bed.

>> The use of the homeborn shillelagh as an aid to calligraphy shows a distinct advance from savagery to barbarism. It is seriously believed by some that the intention may have been geodetic, or, in the view of the cannier, domestic economical. But by writing thithaways end to end and turning, turning and end to end hithaways writing and with lines of litters slittering up and louds of latters slettering down, the old semetomy place and jupetbackagain from tham Let Rise till Hum Lit. Sleep, where in the waste is the wisdom?

Joyce extends this, takes the visual inventions of the modern and turns them into modes of expression, be they newspapers, telephones, recordings. He takes the essentials of that most popular form of twenties entertainment, the silent cinema, and utilises them for his own ends.

>> The movibles are scrawling in motions, marching, all of them ago, in pitpat and zingzang for every busy eerie whig’s a bit of a torytale to tell.

FW is packed with slapstick Keystone Kops smash-up language. The hundred letter thunder words that punctuate FW remind us of Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin falling down a staircase.

>> Bothallchoractorschumminaroundgansumuminarundrumstrumtruminahumptadumpswaultopoofoolooderamaunsturnup!

Chaplin himself is mentioned several times, if you are watching closely.

>> Now there can be no question about it either that I having done as much, have quite got the size of that demilitery young female (we will continue to call her Marge) whose types may be met with in any public garden, wearing a very “dressy” affair, known as an “ethel” of instep length … when she is not sitting on all the free benches avidously reading about “it” but ovidently on the look out for “him” … or at the movies swallowing sobs and blowing bixed mixcuits over “childe” chaplain’s “latest”.

“It’ in that passage a reminder of The It Girl, Clara Bow. The book’s characters are archetypes, typical of those in silent movies. And Joyce borrows the essential key to silent movie acting – mime – in several sequences of FW, including The Mime of Mick, Nick, and the Naggies.

>> Time: the pressant. With futurist one-horse balletbattle pictures and the Pageant of Past History worked up with animal variations amid everglaning mangrovemazes and beorbtracktors by Messrs. Thud and Blunder. Shadows by the film folk, masses by the good people. Promptings by Elanio Vitale. Longshots, upcloses, outblacks and stagetolets by Hexenschuss, Coachmaher, Incubone and Rocknarrag … Jests, jokes, jigs and jorums for the Wake lent from the properties of the late cemented Mr. T. M. Finnegan, R.I.C. … Accidental music providentially arranged by L’Archet and Lacorde. Meliodiotiosities in purefusion by the score.

FW is Joyce’s book of the night, just as Ulysses was his book of the day. It is a dreambook, and dreams are when our eyes are closed and then see. James Joyce needed sleep a lot, in his state of half-blindness and mental stress.

>> But, vrayedevraye Blankdeblank, god of all machineries and tomestone of Barnstaple, by mortifisection or vivisuture, splitten up or recompounded, an isaac jacquemin mauromormo milesian, how accountibus for him, moreblue?

Because the night is dark, where we do not see things clearly, where things change appearance, where we see everything in a new way.

>>Oasis, cedarous esaltarshoming Leafboughnoon!
Oisis, coolpressus onmountof Sighing! …
Oasis, phantastical roseway anjerichol! …
Oisis, plantainous dewstuckacqmirage playtennis!

Although the pain caused by his eyes must have been unbearable inside his head, incessantly and repeatedly, Joyce wrote all his life. As he and his family travelled from one city to another, famous now but still largely reclusive, he would put his own problems aside by referring to himself as “an international eyesore.” The particular French white wine he drank most evenings is now believed to be only secondarily for the purposes of getting tipsy but because it was the one wine he knew that effectively anaesthetised the eye.

There is no end to FW, it starts and ends anywhere in the book, but the printed version handed down to us through the generations ends with the river Anna Livia Plurabelle returning to the sea.

>> O bitter ending! I’ll slip away before they’re up. They’ll never see. Nor know. Nor miss me. And it’s old and old it’s sad and old it’s sad and weary I go back to you, my cold father, my cold mad father, my cold mad feary father, till the near sight of the mere size of him, the moyles and moyles of it moananoaning, makes me seasilt saltsick and I rush, my only, into your arms.

“The near sight of the mere size of him.” In conclusion Liam will read a fascinating family portrait of someone called ‘A Dayfather’. This man works in the newspaper office’s of the Freeman’s Journal, where Leopold Bloom sees him sitting setting galleys. This brief picture could be of James Joyce himself, in Paris writing FW every week, his eyes fixed on making new words out of old letters.

>> (Liam, read this very slowly) A DAYFATHER   He [Leopold Bloom] walked on through the caseroom, passing an old man, bowed, spectacled, aproned. Old Monks, the dayfather. Queer lot of stuff he must have put through his hands in his time: obituary notices, pubs’ ads, speeches, divorce suits, found drowned. Nearing the end of his tether now. Sober serious man with a bit in the savings-bank I’d say. Wife a good cook and washer. Daughter working the machine in the parlour. Plain Jane, no damn nonsense.