Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Some comments re: Finnegans Wake

Time flies when you don't have recordings to review! However, over the course of this past May and June I did do something Cage-related...I read Finnegans Wake. I can see why he enjoyed it so much, and I feel the same way as Cage states in the introduction to "Alphabet," that I don't understand any of it. Even when I recognized phrases or puns or whatnot,, it was only as that--a reference, but devoid of useful context. Had I not bothered to read the introduction in the book, I wouldn't have likely even realized it was supposed to be about someone dreaming until the end when a motif of "Wake!" is seen over and over again.

I particularly enjoyed making notes of the points at which Cage-related words occur in the text, such as "Roaratorio." I also surprisingly recognized other musical names, including "Fadograph of a Yestern Scene" which I think was used for a piece by...Samuel Barber? I can't remember, but the net says I am right.

In terms of my Cage experience I think the experience of reading Joyce's book most reminded me of Cage's radio works--where incomprehensible static is punctuated by occasional fragmentary recognizable music and sounds and human voices.

I couldn't help, though, but note that almost all of the references I've seen elsewhere came from the very beginning or the end of the book! Not that I blame anyone...those are the most pleasing to read. There's a large section towards the middle of the book full of tight encyclopedia style text with meaningless footnotes that is far beyond anything else in the book in its impenetrable obscurity.

I was reminded when I read it of John Barton Wolgamot's In Sara Mencken, Christ and Beethoveen there were men and women, used in a composition by Robert Ashley. It features a large number of repetitions of the same sentence, changing only the names of historical persons in the sentence. The difference is that when I read through Wolgamot's text, there's the implication that I should be able to make the connections he makes, even though some are totally obtuse ("Hemingway" precedes "Keats" because "Earnest" sounds like "Urn") and impossible to decipher without a key. I also read David Jones' In Parenthesis shortly after finishing the Wake. It's an epic poem of World War I, and also features mountains of references, though from much more narrow sources, and I was upset because the author actually demanded that I read all his annoying footnotes!

By contrast, when I read Finnegans Wake, just reading it seemed sufficient; I did not feel like I needed to delve in to understand what, if any, connections there are between its words, and just hearing the words (I read a lot of it out loud) was sufficient.

So I'm glad I read it. Now I will understand Cage better when he discusses Joyce elsewhere in his interviews and writings and so on! One thing is very curious to me: Joyce mentions television all the time in the Wake. But it was written in the 30's. Wasn't it a pretty experimental device at the time? Surprising.

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