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James Joyce and dreams and such - Input Junkie
February 13th, 2012
11:50 pm


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James Joyce and dreams and such
I listened to a lecture about a paragraph in Finnegans Wake, and, unsurprisingly was left with a thought or two.

It's claimed that people don't know (don't remember?) their own names in their dreams. Offhand, I can't remember a dream which included my name, but I don't remember that many of my dreams anyway. Do any of you remember any dreams with your name in them? Or heard accounts of dreams which have the name of the dreamer?.... "The Name of the Dreamer", that's nice and echoey and would fit nicely on a fantasy novel.

Anyway, there's substantial exegesis of the history and bartending and so on referenced in the paragraph, followed by an explanation that Finnegans Wake is about sleep and dreams, so a more associational approach is needed.

And the associational approach is more fun and more reasonable than you might think, with quite a bit about the methods, costs, and effects of the civilizing process.

However, there's a big blank spot from my point of view....the prankquean is a major figure in the paragraph and the lecture, but it's all about the quean. Where's the prank? Is it possible that people who are enforcing rules are having a bit more fun than they want to admit? Could civilization be a bit of a practical joke, with so much that seems certain actually being made up? And, since that lecture can make a person be a bit associational, the joke may be funny from the outside, but can we get by without arbitrary rules that we pretend are laws of nature? If we need those rules, the joke is very practical indeed.

There's an interesting bit about Age of Enlightenment reading protocols-- the idea being to read from the beginning to the end, and (if I remember correctly) come out with a coherent summary. As might be expected, that isn't exactly how you read Finnegans Wake. I'm not sure what non-Age of Enlightenment reading protocols would be. Perhaps they're the religious and literary approaches of reading again and again for new insights rather than hoping to make a summary.

Supplementary material: The paragraph discussed in the lecture.

The Chi Rho page from the book of Kells.

Detail of the Chi Rho page with the rats eating a communion wafer. I can't make out the subject matter myself.

Link to lecture found in comments to 16 Reasons Why James Joyce Is the Greatest Writer Ever, and thanks to supergee for pointing me there. Just for the record, I don't think James Joyce is the greatest writer ever, or at least when I tried reading the paragraph before I posted this, it seemed like occasionally evocative blather.

You will need Real Player to hear the lecture.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/527990.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

(8 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:February 14th, 2012 05:32 am (UTC)
If you don't have the read-from-beginning-to-end structure, you will not in fact get the key structural joke of Finnegans Wake in which you get to the last page and read the incomplete sentence that clearly feeds into the uncapitalized opening sentence. Joyce seems to have been assuming that his readers would "begin at the beginning, go on until you come to the end, then stop." I can imagine a reader who had no concept of linear sequence not noticing that the Wake is cyclical or that the cycle violates expectations.

Did you know that one of Joyce's many failed attempts to make money involved running one of Dublin's first motion picture theaters? Back then it was a common experience (as indeed it still was in the 1970s) to come into a film after the reel started, watch to the end, and then sit through the opening scenes until you got to "this is where we came in." chorale and I and a friend actually did that in the late 1980s at the Ken Cinema, where by miscalculation we arrived too late for the opening of Touch of Evil. I've thought for some time that this little joke of Joyce's represents an early use of technological metaphor in 20th century literature, comparable to T.S. Eliot's use of channel surfing as a key structural metaphor of "The Waste Land."

Of course, the interesting question then is, where is the true "first scene" of the Wake? I don't know it well enough to make a plausible guess. But I have to suppose it's not the scene that opens the first page in midsentence with riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, I guess, if I want to play this game.
[User Picture]
Date:February 14th, 2012 02:14 pm (UTC)
Lawrence Sterne certainly blasted the beginning to end, linear tale to bits. But the novel was evolving so fast in the 1700s that these generalizations seem to be shifty ground.
[User Picture]
Date:February 14th, 2012 02:32 pm (UTC)
Sterne was an influence on Joyce; there are puns about him in the Wake, often pairing him with Swift:

(one yeastyday he sternely struxk his tete in a tub for to watsch the future of his fates but ere he swiftly stook it out again, by the might of moses, the very water was eviperated and all the guenneses had met their exodus so that ought to show you what a pentschanjeuchy chap he was)
[User Picture]
Date:February 14th, 2012 04:17 pm (UTC)
Ah yes. There it is.
[User Picture]
Date:February 14th, 2012 05:44 pm (UTC)
It just so happens that I remember a dream from last night where I heard someone call my name, and I recognized it as my real name too.
[User Picture]
Date:February 14th, 2012 07:24 pm (UTC)
It's claimed that people don't know (don't remember?) their own names in their dreams.

In my experience, every claim that people don't know or can't do something-or-other in their dreams is false. (I have certainly known my name in dreams; I can read and write in my dreams; I have been killed in my dreams and have not yet been dead in real life.)
[User Picture]
Date:February 17th, 2012 09:11 pm (UTC)

I have noticed certain very odd patterns of what does and does not happen in my own dreams, that seem to be reliable rules -- *for me*. I doubt that many, if any, of them generalize.
[User Picture]
Date:February 26th, 2012 02:08 am (UTC)
I know my own name in most dreams (though it may not be MY name, as it were) but like most of the things I know in dreams, I lose those syllables on waking. The singular exception to this is, in fact, my handle-- which may have been a name, or may have been something else, but was the only and overwhelming word which rattled around the drain after I woke from an otherwise unremembered dream, and then followed me until it BECAME a name.
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