Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

reading the Wake

James Joyce, text portrait by Rod McLaren


Let me just post without comment — except for taking this moment to express my admiration — this account of people who gathered in a bookstore to read Finnegans Wake aloud:

We would gather around in a circle at Alias Books, lock the doors, and read out loud. We met every Sunday @ 11pm, and would average about 20-40 pages per mtg. It took us about 7 or 8 months to finish the book. This was the first book to kick off our Night Owl bookgroup (running about four years now), and we would experiment with our reading of it. We began reading it conventionally, falling into the normal trap of using conventional language: it must have one setting, one plot, each word must have only one meaning, the book must have one overall message. After discovering how FW aims to destroy this mode of thinking, we decided to experiment with our reading, not take the book so seriously, and let the experience of reading it takeover.

For instance, during one reading--I wish I could remember where we were in the book--for some reason, almost simultaneously, we all got up and started walking around the bookstore in a single file line, up and down the aisles, until either the page or the paragraph was finished. I do remember we were a fair way through FW, and had learned how to read its rhythms and pauses, and somehow we all agreed to physically mimic them in that one moment. FW is in part an invitation to performance art, as well as being a drama.

This is probably the best advice I know to give to readers of the Wake: let the text show you how to "read" it, how to perform it, what to do with it, how to use it. Because FW is a book about what has happened as well as what will happen--Joyce was a very unique kind of prophet--FW asks us to pay some attention to the present moment, and to the specific point in time that we are reading it. And as we read it, it read us: collectively, and, in its curious way, individually.

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