My Five-Week Plan to teach Finnegans Wake
In my last semester of college, about a dozen years ago, I “read” all four of James Joyce’s major works in five months: it was in a graduate seminar on Joyce, and we spent about 8 weeks each on Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. (Dubliners and Portrait I read over Xmas break, in preparation; I think I also read The Odyssey.) I use the scare quotes around “read” because I think the later works of Joyce highlight the fact that you don’t really “read” anything when you read it for the first time, especially for a class — a better term would be “was exposed to.” People always laugh when I tell them we “read” the Wake in half a semester, but I think it was a great way to get a feel for it; I certainly fell in love. At any rate, since then I’ve been obsessed with Joyce, and I’ve also taught a number of college literature classes, so as you might have guessed, it’s my dream to teach a version of this seminar. I’d keep the 8 week structure for Ulysses, but I think I’d spend the first few weeks on the earlier works (in the class I took we went over them on the first day), and then spend the last 5 weeks on the Wake. How would we do the Wake in five weeks? Well, we wouldn’t read it all, and we wouldn’t read it in order. Here’s what I would do:
WEEK 1: I.1 and I.8 — I think you should start from the beginning, of course, and get the “overture” out of the way, but then I think it’s a good idea to read ALP, the easiest and prettiest chapter (in my opinion). Also, then I would open the first session by listening to Joyce read the end of ALP, which should help.
WEEK 2: II.3 (end), all of II.4, and I.2 [optional: I.3 and I.4] — In the second session I would skip to the earliest sketches, “Roderick O’Conor” (380-382), “Tristan & Isolde” / “MaMaLuJo” (383-399), and ”Here Comes Everybody” (30-33). This would be a good time to talk about the composition process and genetic studies.
WEEK 3: I.5 and I.6 [optional: II.1 and II.2] — Then I would move to the more meta stuff, the Letter and the Quiz, which I find really opens the book up and clarifies things, in a weird way. At this point I would want to at least glance at the first half of book II as well, especially the opening section (which I think pairs well with the quiz), and ”The Triangle” (which leads nicely into session 4).
WEEK 4: I.7 and III.1 [optional: III.2 and III.3] — “Shem” and “Shaun”: ‘nuff said.
WEEK 5: III.4 and IV [optional: II.3] — And I would end with the end, probably the most difficult chapters we will discuss, but so important. Students who really want to abuse themselves can then go back and read II.3, which is the last chapter Joyce composed.
The Beatles, Abbey Road
The Beatles, Rubber Soul
The Beatles, “White Album”
Jeff Buckley, Grace
John Coltrane, A Love Supreme
Miles Davis, Kind of Blue
Grateful Dead, Europe 72
Jimi Hendrix, Axis: Bold as Love
Jesus Christ Superstar, Original Cast Recording
Nirvana, In Utero
Pavement. Crooked Rain Crooked Rain
Radiohead, Ok Computer
Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street
Paul Simon, Graceland
Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream
Sonic Youth, Sister
Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation
Spoon, Gimme Fiction
At the moment I am reading (in order of most recently looked at):
Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany, for #AutumnalCity (reread)
Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, by DT Max
Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Suzanna Clarke (reread)
Before Watchmen, various authors (comics)
Tintin and the Secret of Literature, by Tom McCarthy
I Henry IV, Shakespeare
The Ambassadors, by Henry James (been working on this since January, kinda stalled)
Swann’s Way, Proust (working/stalled on this even longer, almost done)
Finnegans Wake (always)
#OccupyGaddis began as a hashtag
…but has turned into much more.
When the Los Angeles Review of Books approached me about reviewing William Gaddis’s 1975 novel J R, I jumped at the opportunity. As I mentioned in my first post, Gaddis has long been on my literary-historical radar, but I’ve never managed to get around to reading him, despite spending ten years as a Ph.D. student and postdoc specializing in postwar U.S. lit. Reading and struggling through Gaddis with a group of dedicated companions seems like the very best way to go about tackling J R for the first time. To my great surprise, J R is less of a struggle than I expected and lots of fun, Which is not to say it’s easy in a conventional sense.
Because #OccupyGaddis is a collective enterprise – because I’m learning so much from others who’re involved – I want to dedicate my second post here to aggregating a number of comments that have already been written on a variety of other sites, and introducing Sonia Johnson, a Ph.D. student at the University of Iowa, who will be joining me here to write about the Gaddis Archives at Washington University’s Department of Special Collections and other Gaddis-related subjects on LARBlog.
Thanks for the shout-out, Lee!
“The accidental progenitor of the blogorrheic style is David Foster Wallace. What distinguishes Wallace’s writing from the prose it begot is a fusion of the scrupulous and the garrulous; all of our colloquialisms, typically diffusing a mist of vagueness over the world, are pressed into the service of exactness. To a generation of writers, the DFW style was the sound of telling the truth, as — in an opposite way — the flat declaratives and simplified vocabulary of Hemingway were for a different generation. But an individual style, terse or wordy, can breed a generalized mannerism, and the path once cleared to saying things truly and well is now an obstacle course. In the case of the blogorrheic style, institutional and technological pressures coincided with Wallace’s example. Bloggers (which more and more is just to say writers) had little or no editing to deal with, and if they blogged for money they needed to produce, produce. The combination discouraged the stylistic virtues of concision, selectivity, and impersonality.”
I feel like the n+1 editors are trying to sound profound but end up sounding profoundly unoriginal. Like this paragraph, isn’t it basically what that horrible Maud Newton piece in the NYT Magazine that everyone was going crazy about a few months ago was saying? And the first part, was that basically an allusion to that horrible Franzen commencement address? Maybe I am missing something.
I do really like “To a generation of writers, the DFW style was the sound of telling the truth”.
OK, probably last one: I’m obsessed with the “Most Played” playlist on my iPod, and today I was wishing I could have a most-played list for my entire life. I’m not sure what individual songs would be on it, but it would probably have these records heavily represented. (I’m not saying these are my “favorite” records, or the “best” records, just the ones I’ve listened to most. But yeah, they probably are. Both.)
- The Beatles - Abbey Road
- Jesus Christ Superstar - Original Cast Recording
- Nirvana - In Utero
- Pixies - Doolittle
- Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
- The Spinanes - Manos
- Radiohead - OK Computer
- Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
#s 1,3,4,5 and 7 are probably on most people-my-age’s list. # 8, well, my love of Spoon is well documented. # 2 I was obsessed with for a long time, as anyone who knew me in high school or college can tell you. But #6, the Spinanes, I don’t feel I have been evangelical enough about. EVERYONE GO LISTEN TO MANOS BY THE SPINANES! Here, I’ll help you get started.
EDIT: Oh, shit, I forgot Bjork! Put Vespertine on there after OK Computer.
Desert island books
For some reason I’m in the mood to make lists today. A fun game to play is “Desert Island”: I always find myself thinking about which books I would take if I were going to be stranded on a desert island. (Because that’s the kind of thing you can plan for, right?) One of the things you have to consider, though, is what is the definition of a book? A single volume? So, then, would you include the Complete Works of Shakespeare? Or a coherent single “work”? So, then, would you include À la recherche du temps perdu? Or the Encyclopædia Britannica? For the purposes of this list, I’m going to say no to omnibus editions (seems like cheating, and it makes it more boring: then you are basically making a list of authors, not books) and encyclopedias (because, come on), but I’m going to allow multi-volume novels as a single item (e.g. numbers 3 and 4, below). Here are five:
- Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
- Shakespeare’s Sonnets (ed. Stephen Booth)
- À la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust (in English, no duh, Moncrieff trans.)
- The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
- Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
The first two are books that I feel like will keep me busy forever: they’ve been keeping me busy long enough as it is. The Wake will be hard to read without any annotations or guidebooks, but it might actually be nice to try to read it on its own (what we call “pulling a McHugh” in the business). (We don’t really call it that.) Booth’s annotations to the Sonnets are essential, though, and are almost as much fun to read as the poems themselves. Proust I would take because I want something long that I haven’t already read, and what I’ve seen of Proust makes me think I could spend some time working my way through, and wallowing in, his prose. The other two are more for nostalgia: my favorite books from childhood and college, respectively. Rereading them serves a dual function: the enjoyment of the book itself, of course, but also the feelings they bring back. So I’d like to have them around.
I should also bring some detective novels or something, you know, for fun. Maybe some Stephen King.
My favorite comic books
I’m not a bona fide comics aficionado (but I care enough about them to call them comic books, not “graphic novels”). I read a few things, mostly Marvel, intermittently in my pre-to-early teens, and then in my early twenties I discovered the “British Invasion” of literary comics writers from the eighties. These are my favorite things I’ve read in the decade since then.
- The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman (1989-1996): This was the series that showed me what comics could do, and it’s still my favorite. It’s the only comic I re-read with any regularity.
- Watchmen by Alan Moore (1986-1987): This is the best single volume comics story out there, I think (and I know, via Time magazine, etc, that I am certainly not alone). This is the book I would give someone who thought superhero comics were stupid. HONORABLE MENTION— The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller (1986): I’m sort of over Frank Miller, but this book pairs really well with Watchmen, and is also just awesome.
- Promethea, by Alan Moore (1999-2005): My personal favorite Moore book; three times the length of Watchmen but half the length of Sandman, which feels about perfect. Not that I would wish Sandman any shorter.
- Swamp Thing, by Alan Moore (1982-1987) and Animal Man, by Grant Morrison(1988-1990): These two exemplify what was so cool about DC/Vertigo in the Eighties.
- Animal Man, by Jeff Lemire (2011-) and Swamp Thing, by Scott Snyder (2011-): And these two exemplify what is cool about the New 52.
There are still an awful lot of things I have to read, of course. For example, Grant Morrison is a relatively recent discovery for me: I haven’t read his magnum opus, The Invisibles, yet. But these are my favorites so far.