This post is about images sparked by pages 12 – 15 of the Wake. I’ve included pictures from my annotated sketchbook as a reminder of the reading process I am exploring. Rereading these pages over the last couple few days and then revisiting the sketchbook pages has left them dense with a new layer of responses. I consider this accretion of visual notes to be in some ways representative of that sense of being in the text of the Wake – or should that be in the wake of the text? As usual I’ve also included some sampled details as an indication of the revelations of re-reading the visual notes once out of the text, and examples of more emphatic charcoal drawing developments. Though bolder, the charcoal works hopefully manage to resist too strong a sense of fixity in their visual interpretation of passages. It’s the ambiguity, instability, shift and contingency that the media is so economical in relaying.
In summary, these pages of Finnegans Wake, seem to invite us to observe Biddy more closely, to take in the Dublin landscape in which we find ourselves after leaving the Museyroom; and to consider pre-histories of Ireland, its macro and micro strife, including the birth of the ever-conflicted twins Shem and Shaun.
Of the many motifs and connotative strands to be found here there are some which emerged quite strongly through my personal reading and which shaped the visual documentation of it. We are in a blurry, diluvial landscape where things are still floating or settling in tidal heaps after apocalyptic rearrangement. However, following an intriguing transition mediated by historoical markers, what is clogged and damp on page 12 foliates into lushness by page 15. Our location seems peripheral and although a sense of the urban is evoked it remains distant. Luntum sleeps. Dublin is an indistinct vision, both ghost town and yet to be city. The wet landscape and all the topography envisaged here is also and simultaneously a bedroom interior.
I am struck particularly by an interrelated chain of morphing forms animating these pages. A cell (a room, the world, an egg to be brooded) evokes its homophone ‘sell’ thereby initiating another chain concerned with commercial exchange by multiplying into the speculative coins – mercenary – mercenaries – liquidation and so on. The egg form becomes that eyes, then some cockles and then cooked eggs, sunny side up. A quince is then suggested which becomes two mounds which proliferate into many hills and other rounded protuberances. The association of Dublin with doubling, as cell division, growth and proliferation anticipates the arrival of the twins as aspects of an initial central singularity. An image emerges of things in frenetic orbit around a point of stasis – the dormant body. The letter ‘O’ becomes suddenly very apparent as a surface presence of the text as typography, but also as a dynamic representation of elements at play deeper in the piece.
By page 15 the muddy prehistoric midden-like landscape has become something more like a fairy tale hedgerow or tangled forest, a pastoral setting within sight of the town that will be; more Midsummer Night’s Dream than blasted heath. Yet the collision of opposites permeating the entirety of the Wake becomes really visible here, particularly regarding romance/violence, beauty/ugliness, barbarity/civilisation. The scene is set for the comic meeting of Mutt and Jute on page 16, which I will discuss next time.
As this is very much still an experimental approach to reading Finnegans Wake and I am eager to promote and participate dialogue around visuality and the text, please do contribute your responses to this blog using the comments box below or by emailing me direct.
Meanwhile I’ll let the images speak for themselves.