Saturday, June 30, 2012

Page 82: the least chance of a tinpanned crackler

Yes, I do realise that I’m already a week behind on my resolution! Another late night for me...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Page 81: a cropatkin engaged the adversary

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Chapter Four

Chapter four marks the climax of the three-chapter cycle that I call the Humphriad, in which the story of Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, humiliated local personnage, steadily transforms into that of primeval folk-hero HCE. We find HCE almost exactly where we left him, deep in his bed-grave, having a well-deserved rest. But once again, all the details have changed.

Joyce loved the paradox of progressing forwards and backwards at the same time. The narrative of HCE travels forwards (burial follows death follows life) through the repetition and development of the same set of events in different forms, but we witness those repetitions in reverse order, cycling further and further backwards in time. In the imagery of the book, we follow the river of time backwards from sea to source, towards an origin that grows more indistinct as we approach it.

After speculating on the nature of HCE’s dreams (is that meta? It might be, I suppose, but don’t say “meta”), the narrator describes the building and of his grave and the preparation of his interment (in effect, an enormous Viking ship burial), before passing to Kate Strong, a local widow, for her account of “old dumplan as she nosed it.” A scavenger, Mrs. Strong deposited her “filthdump” on the river bank in the Phoenix Park, the site of chapter two’s unnamed sin and the encounter with the Cad with a Pipe, now transformed into a mythic dreamtime, “where race began.”

It was on this same site that two combatants met for a peculiar battle. This is the most primordial version of the Cad Encounter, recast as a kind of primitive ritual in which the attacker, a “cropatkin”, beats a figure called the “Adversary” with a stick before requesting a loan. The Adversary regrets that he hasn’t a ten pound note to hand, but offers instead enough to buy a whiskey with. The mention of whiskey has a magical effect, and the pair make peace (“the treatyng to cognac”) and part as friends.

The themes of this ritual are developed when we return suddenly to the courtroom of chapter three, this time for the trial of a local reprobate named Festy King, who stands accused of numerous crimes, including possession of an unlicensed pig. A witness for the prosecution (W.P.) is called to the stand, but his incoherent examination quickly takes the form of a parodic catechism: equal parts accusation, philosophical argument and comedy double-act (“And both as like as a duel of lentils? Peacisely.”).

But by the time he has finished, Festy King has become Pegger Festy, “the senior king of all,” who defends his behaviour in a mixture of Irish and English which is taken by the assembly for a joke, “the good one about why he left Dublin.” In fact, the courtroom itself has become a performance or festival, in which W.P. is praised and hung with garlands by a troupe of dancing girls to the chant of “Show’m the Posed!", while the defendant escapes prosecution, but is driven into exile with jeers of “Shun the Punman!” The allusions to the names of the two brothers, Shaun and Shem, who will be properly introduced in subsequent chapters, seem to suggest that HCE, who up to this point was confronting a fairly interchangeable version of himself, has split into his two distinct aspects of messiah and scapegoat.

With that the party, and the inquiry, appear to be over. The four judges reminisce on the events, reworking yet more variations of HCE’s flight into exile. But questions still remain: what of the mysterious letter that was obliquely and directly referred to throughout the cycle? It still hasn’t been investigated. Who wrote it? And what of HCE’s wife, “she who shuttered him after his fall and waked him widowt sparing?”

God, I love these cliffhangers.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Progress Report

The pace of my updates has become so slow and erratic lately, that some of you might wonder if I’m running out of steam on this project.

But I can assure that,


My enthusiasm is undiminished! In fact, the more I read and research the book, the more excited I get for the fresh challenge of the later chapters (Pure Typography! Watercolours!! Children’s Drawings!!! Yes! Yes!!).

In terms of my general life, on the other hand, I must admit I’ve been feeling pretty burnt out. Between a baby who still can’t sleep through the night, a mentally tiring day job, and frankly more design commissions than I can really handle at the moment, there have been whole weeks when I haven’t had the time or energy to draw for more than half an hour.

Last week I saw the video of the commencement speech given by Neil Gaiman, which was doing the rounds everywhere. I’m sure everyone who uses the Internet must have seen it by now, but if you haven’t, I recommend you take a look. It gave me a lot to think about. In it, he describes his own path to becoming a writer, imagining his goal as a distant mountain and each decision as turn either towards or away from the mountain. He recalls turning down editorial job offers because they would have got in the way of that path, and learning from doing jobs just for the money, never to take a job just for the money.

Mr. Gaiman claims that he never had a career plan, but I’ve certainly never had his level of focus. When I graduated, I thought to myself, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m sure if I wait around the answer will present itself.” As a career plan, I can’t recommend it, but I did eventually start doing this. I’m still not even sure what my ultimate goal is, but I know that this project must be an important part of it, simply because it’s the most personally rewarding work I’ve ever done. So I’m resolving now to avoid the distractions and to redouble my efforts on my personal work in general and to this project in particular. I still don’t know what that distant mountain is, but I think I’ll know it when I see it.

I’m going to try my best to get back to posting a page a week. My record pace of two pages a week might still be a bit optimistic at the moment, but I’ll work my way back up to it. In about 20 pages or so, I’ll have finished the fourth chapter and the second big milestone of the book.

I’d like to thank everyone who’s bought prints from my Society6 store (getting money for it really helps me to take this seriously!), and everyone who’s emailed me with praise and encouragement. Even though I probably haven’t responded to you yet (for reasons that I hope are now clear!) I truly appreciate it, and it makes me feel incredibly happy to know that people are getting some kind of value out of what I’m doing.

I’m in it for the long haul if you are.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Page 67: Long Lally Tobkids, the special