Subject: FW: PANEL AND
Date: Sat, 8 Nov 1997
From: Riverend Sterling
Discussion List" <FWAKE-L@LISTSERV.HEA.IE>
Today at the University of California at Santa
Barbara, as part of a three day annual conference called VISUALIZING
CULTURE, a 2+ hr. presentation was given in the afternoon under the
title LITERATURE IN PICTURES/FINNEGANS WAKE: A CASE STUDY.
I shall take it upon myself to review it for the list, while
fresh in mind, as I don't know how it is in YOUR town, but when anything
at all Wakean is presented to the public around here, its newsworthy ….
and as far as that goes, this was a worldworthy presentation.
And namebadges indicating origins were quite global, Denmark,
Australia, Canada, to name some.
Let me get one thing out of the way.
The formatting was very amateurish to the point of flawing what
could have been even better than it was.
Held in a stark ballet studio by what seemed inexperienced, rude,
and unprepared student aides, the MC'ing was very unmasterful and
totally unceremonial. Shame
on UCSB for that, because the panelists, performers, and audience
deserved much better.
This is only mentioned because it so noticeably
impacted the quality of the experience. The lack of panache by whoever
these officious inepts were was the exact equivalent of the teenage
helpers at fastfood restaurants who find it acceptable to slosh moploads
of dirty water and toxic solvents around your feet during a meal, with
no sense of any social grace and no priority beyond their own meager
tasks. They visibly rushed
panelists, cut the keynote speaker off, discouraged any audience
participation against the panelists' wishes, blabbed crass notices out
of nowhere, and thereby created a needless unplanned 45 minute deficit
by the end with no apology or sense of irony.
The Riverend realizes that in other areas of their
lives they no doubt emit an admirable light, but MC'ing is a specific
skill and should be assigned to those with a suitable mix of flair and
restraint and especially warmth.
OK, enough. This
was a great event otherwise, and just because it seemed to be considered
a throway in the threeday extravaganza by some middlefolk who couldn't
even provide a microphone for the panel, many people left sincerely and
deeply moved to see the words of Joyce given a fine dose of life by
scholars and artists of the highest order.
The first speaker was Margot Norris of
UC Irvine Eng/Lit, the author of JOYCE'S WEB & THE DECENTERED
UNIVERSE . . ., two books well known to readers of this list.
She chose as her topic THE MIME OF MICK, NICK, AND THE MAGGIES.
Speaking with the gentle but rapid clarity we wish for in every teacher,
she tied this episode in Book II, Ch. I in terms of Joyce's iritis and
Freudian sexuality theory.
Early on she mentioned that Joyce had told Harry
Levin that he (Joyce) expected permanent blindness to result from an eye
operation planned for sometime in 1932, and I thought of that possible
reinforcing his interest in the year 1132, but the point Norris was
leading to was that Joyce had explained in a letter to Harriet Shaw
Weaver that the Mime was based on a childhood game called both
"Devil's and Angels" and "Colours," in either case a
child's guessing game involving visuality and its absence.
In the Mime, the object is to guess the colours of
the rainbow girls underpants. From
this she extrapolated the larger view that to children, the entire adult
world is opaque. Just as
naughty boys try to catch a sight of girls' panties, children in general
try to see through the veil by which adults seek to protect their sexual
privacy. Then she really
blew the audience's mind by citing a theory of Freud's that
adults who are research-oriented (that's right -- US!) develop
from children who took longer than average to figure out adult
sexuality, thereby developing their first research project. The
"Birds and Bees" approach thus breeds both senses of metaphor
and skepticism in the formative minds of future scholars.
Man, she hit home. Then
she mentioned something about starting from scratch, and sat down.
Next came Harry Reese of the UCSB Art Studio, the
man whom we had to thank for seeing to it that FW was snuck into the
conference, and my previous remarks not with- standing (what does that
mean?), I express those thanks quite sincerely.
Reese began by giving his own thanks to both Eric and Marshall
McLuhan for their two generation contribution to Wake scholarship,
crediting them for the perception that new technologies turn old
technologies into new art forms.
This elicited a pleasant aahhhh from the audience.
Reese then showed slides on two of his works.
The first involved a landscape architecture done outside the
recently rebuilt City Library of Los Angeles, a series of stairgroups
along a broad paved walkway featuring a flowing pool.
He'd arranged with a cohort to depict a booklike visuality where
each of the four stairgroups represented a phase of reading evolution,
the modern return to the pictograph, including graphic user
The appealing symbols were etched and enameled on
various metallic media, with the very first and last steps blank for the
unknown reaches of past and future.
Personally, I found this very Wakean, as I support the
McLuhanesque premise that abecedeism is very germane to Joycean
criticism. Reese ended with slides showing several pages of his limited
edition (300, I believe) of his book FUNAGAINSTAWAKE, each leaf uniting an original print
of an abstract symbol negatively etched against a watercoloury flat
background above one of the thunderwords of the Wake. The leaves are
bound with wire-edging, making this the ultimate coffeetable prize for
any Joycean . . . but you wouldn't dare put any coffee near it!
Reese finished by saying that he did media ecology, defining that
as "trying to wake up in the process."
Eric McLuhan of the University of Toronto, author
of THE ROLE OF THE THUNDER, then closed the panel section of the
program. With the warm
charm of an academic John Carridine, whom he somewhat resembles in a
goateed version, he immediately challenged the somewhat stiff-seeming
audience to come to terms with the fact that reading the Wake is meant
to be fun! That we try
ignoring the scholarly industry, and emphasize rather the refrain
"Lots of fun at Finnegans Wake!" He was, in effect, asking us to deflate himself, a classic
yet daring oratorical maneuver worthy of
one of those mythic Southern country attorneys secretly steeped
This is where a properly respectful ambiance
created by the event producers would have enhanced the experience, for
such techniques appear broad, but are dependent on considerable
subtlety. Unfortunately, the poor lighting and acoustics detracted from
the natural drama Mr. McLuhan was suddenly injecting into the
conference, and the audience had to strain to make up for it.
But we did so, and were well rewarded, for Mr. McLuhan's
improvisatory delivery quickly revealed a profound substratum.
After recommending that we read passages of the
Wake aloud, he explained that the practice of silent read is quite new
in history, citing a view that Mark Twain was one of the first to read
for readers who did not as a matter of course read aloud.
(I personally find this the single most useful key to tying the
Wake together -- I suggest recording yourself reading a page, then
listen to it over and over against a soft musical background until you
can hear its motifs echoed in any other page).
McLuhan mentioned largely forgotten works in Latin
similar to the Wake from the 4th and 12th centuries!
(And will he please gives us the titles and authors here on the
list?) He further explained
that the overemphasis is our times on visuality is a product of the
alphabet, with its intense involvement if linear interpretation
separating the knower from the known, and distorting our natural sense
of sound with the illusion that consonants and vowels are separate
Acoustic space, in contrast, he described as
relatively spherical and unraveled, and having a mobile diffuse effect.
It is, of course, a space Joyce knew well, tragically as one with
severely impaired vision, magnificently as one of Ireland's finest
tenors. And having taken
the rapt audience into this beautiful simple sphere, he was about to
open the entire affair up for participation when summarily terminated
with a lassol-ike gesture by some self-important stagehand.
It was a magnificent and stirring illustration of
exactly what he was addressing, the modern undeclared war between the
linear rush from some poorly defined point A to some no better B versus
the embrace of the present of the present . . . but it should not have
been allowed. Where were
these bossy children's supervisors?
So I was in no mood for a bunch of interpretive
dancers, mind you, hogging the dusty stage.
And by God, by the end of their piece, I was letting the big tear
fall in appreciation, and that is what true art can do. Conceived and choreographed by Jerry Pearson, Director of the
Santa Barbara Dance Theatre, Finnegans Wake was danced by four couples
and amazingly, it worked.
Joyce translated Nicholas of Cusa's coincidentia
oppisitorum as the "coincidence of contrarieties," if I recall
right, and now that coincidence has come to life.
The bar I'm typing this in has just told me they've decided
abruptly to close an hour early for their own convenience, so I'm
getting smashed by these linear types for the second time!
Wrap-up: Dance theme: "We feel.
We fall." Big audience laugh when Pearson, being HCE, superimposed his
shadow across a slide projection of a map of Dublin from Howth Head to
Phoenix Park. Big cheers
for Faline England's many tiered portrayal of Anna Livia.
We let her, and she done her best.
Eric McLuhan emphasised that the Wake refreshes the
sense and the senses, how after a reading the conversations overheard in
street gain meaning. I'm
Yours, the Roving and Riverend Sterling.