Guest Blog: Illuminating the WAKE with Clinton Cahill: Part 5

Image 1. His Millwheeling Vicociclometer

                                                                     His Millwheeling Vicociclometer, FW 614.27, Acrylic on card and wood

‘The world is deep: deeper than any day can comprehend!’
Friedrich Nietzsche

We are still very much on the (re)introductory pages (FW. P. 4) – here glimpses, hints and pre-echos of the book’s themes, motifs and ‘characters’ are offered. Apparently somewhere on the banks of Dublin’s River Liffey, having taken a just little time to acclimatize to the foggy and unstable universe of the Wake and listened to our pronunciation of the thundering annunciation of the fall of man. We find ourselves deep in the murky past amidst what Finn Fordham has summarised as ‘the post-lapsarian struggle for existence’.   There is darkness, chaos and conflict.  Alarm bells and other alarming sounds – ‘Brékkek Kékkek Kékkek Kékkek! Kóax Kóax Kóax! Ualu Ualu Ualu! Quaouauh!’

 Image 2. Oystrygods Gaggin Fishygods!

                                                                                           Oystrygods Gaggin Fishygods!, FW 4.1-2, charcoal on paper

Roland McHugh annotates this with a reference to Aristophanes The Frogs, a chorus of the ghosts of frogs in Hades – a sure sign that we have not just fallen back but ‘under’.  I can’t help hearing birds amongst these words – seagulls and ravens, perhaps.  To me there is a raw and violent graphic rhythm in all those diagonals ‘K’, ‘X’s and accents – chopping, barbed wire, wild battle cry.  References to weapons and primitive murder abound, but as we sprawl deeper into the filthy mud, dust and peat of the past we are aware of what is in the opposite direction, distantly high overhead – the possibility of a redemptive future.


Image 3. FW p.4 Sketchbook Detail 1

                                                                                                                     FW p.4 Sketchbook Detail 1, pencil on paper

Image 4. FW p.4 Sketchbook Detail 2

                                                                                                                              FW p.4 Sketchbook Detail 2, pencil on paper

Thus descended we reach a bleak archaeological horizon in the margins of the deep past where ‘Bygester Finnegan’ lived ‘toofarback’.  Back before numbers and writing, when even prophetic vision failed.  Finnegan is a giant, a founder, a brute, a builder, grotesque of hump and hod.  He has a woman, his ‘liddle phifie’ Annie.

Image 5. Bygmester Finnegan (detail)

                                                                                                       Bygmester Finnegan (detail) FW 4.18, charcoal on paper

Image 6. Hodhead

                                                                                                                                                    Hodhead, charcoal on paper

Image 7. FW p.4 Sketchbook Detail 3

                                                                                                                                FW p.4 Sketchbook Detail 3, pencil on paper

As mentioned in earlier posts my method of reading the Wake, though informed by reference to interpretative works, is to read and annotate the text without these references to hand, by notating my impressions directly in a sketchbook.  Some of these are then developed in other media as means of further exploring their implications.  I think its important that each reader values their own reading, maintaining a balance between what others discern in the text and their own imaginative response.

I found, for example, that this page seemed to have a different tone to the ‘opening’ page 3.  For me the first half of page 4 conjures something like an ethnographic ‘surface’ of battle, reminiscent of decorative ritual patterns on museum artefacts but with a jarring cubo – futurist brutality.  This initial or background layer is overlaid and interwoven with other more specific references such as those evoking particular objects, materials, figures and situations.  There are astronomical/ astrological images and many other chains of association e.g. grass – hay – hair – straw – rushes and sod – dust – peat.

The second paragraph, introducing ‘Bygmester Finnegan’, seems to shift perspective from a certain level of texture and detail to a more ‘horizontal’ widescreen scene, taking the reader over a threshold into deeper territory, yet further back to the space of deeper memory, to the ‘once upon a time’ domicile of the sleeping giant.  I found charcoal an excellent medium for recording fleeting impressions of this passage at the point of reading it and for enabling forms to emerge and evolve as the reading proceeded and meaning coalesced.  There is also something here to do with ambiguous detail rendered in charcoal – notational gestures that become images within images and so analogous with the way Joyce’s neologisms, puns and portmanteau language works.

 Image 8. His Tete in a Tub (detail)

                                                                                                                       His Tete in a Tub (detail), charcoal on paper

Image 9. What a Pentschanjeuchy Chap He Was!

                                                                                             What a Pentschanjeuchy Chap He Was!, charcoal on paper

If this is the first time you have accessed my monthly guest blog ‘Illuminating the Wake’ you can find out more about my drawing-based approach to reading Joyce in my previous posts.


Fordham, Finn (2007) Lots of Fun at Finnegans Wake, Oxford, Oxford University Press, p. xxxv

 McHugh, Roland (1980, 1981) Annotations to Finnegans Wake, Baltimore and London, The Johns Hopkins University Press, p.4.

 Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spoke Zarathustra IV, translated by R.J. Hollingdale in A Nietzche Reader (1977, 1984 edition) Penguin. P.255