Saturday, January 24, 2015

Some more thoughts on reading Finnegans Wake

How do you read Finnegans Wake? This has to be the single most troubling question of the whole book. In my last post I talked about the idea of “experiencing”it without necessarily understanding it, which is certainly an important aspect of Joyce’s composition, but it’s hardly a satisfying response to the question. After all, you’d have to be crazy to uncomprehendingly slog through a book of over 600 pages on the vague promise of some intangible psychic reward. So how do we read it? Or to aim a little lower, how do we define the appropriate attitude of a reader to this book in a way that I can summarise in a short blog post?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why understand when you can reenact?

In Joyce’s day, the Catholic mass that he attended as a child – and occasionally as an adult, for aesthetic appreciation – was given in Latin. You can read part of the rite of the Eucharist at the beginning of Ulysses: “Introibo ad altare Dei,” says Buck Mulligan, as he pretends to bless his shaving soap. In theory, everyone who had done their catechism should have learnt the parts of the mass and their meanings. But, in practice, I wonder how many congregants really understood what was going on, and how many simply memorised when to stand and when to kneel?

When we read a book – or a newspaper, or a post-it note, for that matter – there’s one question that always occurs first in our minds. “What does it mean?” Depending on the complexity of what we’re reading, we might not even have time to form the question in our minds before it’s answered. When we read Finnegans Wake, we might grow tired of the sound of our own voices saying it. But in the history of human thought and writing and speaking and singing, there is a vast and rarely thought-about tradition of ritual storytelling, in which understanding is the last thing on anyone’s mind.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Page 34: a pair of dainty maidservants

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Page 33: annoying welsh fusiliers

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Page 38: our cad's bit of strife

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Page 37: ere the hour of the twattering of bards

Friday, January 9, 2015

A cry for help

I’ve been working on this project for a while, at home by myself, when I should be doing work that pays or playing with my son... and I’ve been thinking for some time now about the possibility of turning this project into some kind of graduate project, but I’ve held back from applying anywhere due to a debilitating combination of inertia and fear.

But that ends now! So I’m asking for help.

I know I get a lot of visitors from many college campuses; I don’t know why, possibly my work has been mentioned in an influential psychiatric textbook. Are you, yes YOU, an academic? Do you have any advice you’d like to give me? Have you ever used my work in an academic context that you’d like to tell me about? I want to hear it! Please email me at stephen (at)! And thanks.

Page 35: a cad with a pipe

Ah, it’s like revisiting old friends, discovering they’re hideous, and completely redrawing them.

Is that a good analogy?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Page 36: a nice how-do-you-do

I’m revisiting some old ones right now, in preparation for a talk I’m giving in February. More to come!