Sunday, April 21, 2013
So I'm remembering the spectacle of Finnegans Wake, a book that digests other books, as all books do, and it digests language-outside-books as well as all books do, ok, though weirdly it likes to prove that it has digested them, it shows off its bones or makes them up: the skeleton of other books the author has read become the book, nice gift for investigators I'd think if I considered it hypothetically, for imagine what it would be like if the Bible had been written by people who decided to put all their references in, but I know he hasn't used all of his references, and how many has he decided to leave out, how many thousands have been left aside, no, he says to himself in the mid-1930s, this didn't work, no, I don't want to put that in he decides, squinting through his round mushroom glasses which are being worn at the same time, in other photographs, by Himmler, blindness, blindness; the book of references that didn't make their way into the Wake would be larger than the Wake, the mind dealing with the composition as it deals with the presents the senses give it, a piece of the scenery, a puddle of smells: notice that, discard that, winnow, winnow, and conclude.
The conclusion not total or passive; it streams out now toward the reader.
One hand-picked set of influences has been placed in this book, and on purpose they are left recognisable, or, not left, made recognisable; the rug of dirt is wiped diligently off the top of this graveyard, fluorescent arrows applied to some of the bones, the knob of a thigh protrudes, the top of a skull is visible, and some of the skeletons are trying to sit up and talk, but the book could have been different, the author could have tried to write a family saga with the inspiration concealed and only a faint trace of someone else's accent sticking through to guide the reader to the spot (I put down Nicola Barker's Behindlings once because it would not stop shouting, "Cowper Powys, John Cowper Powys" in my mind's ear), graveyard covered over, the earth almost flat, the moss quiet, the stones upright, the rabbits running between the stones as they do in the Williamstown cemetery in Victoria, dying sometimes and the entrails hauled up tautly by the crows, stringing the sails of this fur ship on the green sea of the lawn and sailing away into port.
Exposure is part of an author's arsenal and Joyce's way is one way to do it, not by having a character talk to the reader, not by killing off the plot suddenly to remind the reader that there is this thing here known as plot, but by pretending to only half-digest his elemental matter; this book a multisonic multidirectional amplification of the occasional direct homages that books pay directly and openly to their beloveds; it glances at Steven Carroll in the last volume of the Glenroy trilogy as he names a character's girlfriend Madeleine.
A person can read Carroll's books without paying attention to the allusion, it doesn't matter, you can understand The Time We Have Taken and you don't have to think of Proust gently moistening his crumbs, but in the Wake your ignorance is publicised inside the relationship between reader and book -- the book knows; Carroll's book doesn't have to know, both parties can stay politely mum -- but Joyce's book does not remain mum about your ignorance, it is not so nice and mannerly, it says, "I would like you to know what I am referring to when I say, Goat to the Endth, thou slowguard. Where else do I give you to go besides knowledge and singing?"