Saturday, October 30, 2010

Page 628

I’ve really got ahead of myself here, but I was just too anal to leave that space blank.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

First Line, version 2

Based on some comments over at Weaver of the Wind, I’ve been thinking about a new way of doing the first line. The tear effect was a bit of a rush job, but I’ll clean it up later. [Fixed it now, more or less.] The main problem apart from that is that it will, of course, look (and be) incomplete until page 628 is also done.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


A few bloggers have been kind enough to link to this site recently, so I thought I should acknowledge and thank them all. It feels great to find out that people somewhere are seeing this stuff and getting something out of it. So thanks to:

Weaver of the Wind
A Piece of Monologue
An und für sich
Daniel Silliman

In addition, I’d like to offer a warm “Dank u wel” to De Contrabas, “Merci bien” to, and “Ευχαριστώ” to In Someone Else’s Dream. It’s weird enough for a native English speaker to be interested in Finnegans Wake. For a foreigner it’s close to miraculous. (That was my assumption, anyway. But I should say that I was reading FW on the bus here in Paris a few months ago, and a middle-aged woman sitting across from me asked how I was finding it, and admitted to giving up on the French translation many years ago. Would that ever happen in London?)

Because I’m a shameless ingrate, I completely neglected to acknowledge the kind words of Matt Kish, of the fantastic Moby Dick project, several months ago, as well as those of Jeffrey Meyer, who produces the most incredible collages I’ve ever seen.


Additional thanks to, Issa’s Untidy Hut and Ron Silliman!

Page 30

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Page 29

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chapter One

Tim Finnegan began life as the hero of “Finnegan's Wake”, a 19th-century song in the “stage Irish” tradition of American vaudeville, which was a lot like black minstrels, minus blackface, plus a whole lot of jokes about alcoholism. It’s not a particularly good song, and it probably would have flowed happily down the gutter of time were it not for James Joyce’s interest in it.

In the song, Finnegan is a hod carrier well-known for drinking on the job -- a habit which apparently leads to his premature demise by falling off a ladder. His family and friends gather for a wake which quickly descends into a drunken brawl (or as the song says, “shillelagh law was all the rage”, suggesting either that the Finnegan household kept numerous spare shillelaghs on hand, or even better, that the guests brought their shillelaghs for just such an eventuality). Bottles are thrown, one of which breaks over the casket, pouring whisky over the body of Finnegan and miraculously reviving him.

For all this song lacks in political correctness or musical quality, it was eerily perfect for Joyce's purposes. It's almost as if he wrote it himself. In chapter one of Finnegans Wake, this tale of a builder who falls to his death and is revived in the middle of his wake is retold on an epic scale. Or rather, an intermittently epic scale. Finnegan shifts ambiguously from being the middle-class drunk of the song to a culture-hero of mythological proportions. From hod carrier to Master Builder, he becomes the progenitor of civilisation itself. A god, whose death provokes nothing less than the coming of an age of darkness and the dawn of a new historical era. A man, his body is laid out for his wake. A colossus, his body becomes the topology of the land itself.

At the wake, his family, in one of many disturbing perversions of the story of Jesus, literally feeds on his body. When he wakes (not thanks to an anointment in whisky, as far as I can make out), they hold him down and convince him to stay dead. As this is a dream, the question of how much of him has already been eaten doesn’t arise. In any case, his relatives successfully subdue and bury him, in preparation for the arrival of his replacement, “a big rody ram lad” who will be “ultimendly respunchable for the hubbub caused in Edenborough.”

But his story, children, will have to wait for another time...


Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Book In The Book – or, Why My Pictures Look Like Garbage

I’ve had no time for illustration this past month or so, but I have had plenty of time to think, so I thought I’d write a few posts about the book and the project and that kind of nonsense. The synopsis isn’t working for me anymore – every time I do a page it gets harder and harder to write it in a way that makes any coherent sense – so I think I’ll replace it with a page of my illiterate, ill-informed musings instead. Enjoy!

First off, I thought it might be good to explain my decision to make all my illustrations look like they were soaked in tea for a primary school history project. There is an actual reason, which is all to do with the role that the book itself plays within the narrative of Finnegans Wake. That’s right, you don't really know a book is arty until you’ve found out how self-referential it is, and now I'm going to tell you.

Just as the “characters” of Finnegans Wake shift among a huge cast of figures and settings, so the book itself appears in a variety of different guises. It is first discovered in a rubbish pile in chapter one, as the mysterious “Book of Doublends Jined”, an illuminated manuscript, part almanac, part religious text,
which tells the history of civilisation. Later it appears as the “Mamafesta” of the wife character, ALP, and as the scandalous novel of ALP's son, Shem the Penman. In what you might call the underlying narrative of the book, it is the letter, dictated by ALP to Shem, and delivered by Shem's brother, Shaun the Post, to their father, HCE, as a simultaneous love letter and testament to his innocence of the various unknown crimes for which he is brought to trial. Finally it is lost, and rediscovered in a rubbish pile, in chapter one.

When I began this project, I wanted the look of the illustrations to take into account the book’s various incarnations -- to appear variously as an illuminated manuscript, as the work of an obsessive artist, and as scavenged discoveries of the city dump. So that’s why my pictures look like garbage.

Well, that’s one reason, anyway.