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Finnegans Wake


tariki
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I thought I would open a thread just for this book, by James Joyce. The book took Joyce over 15 years to write and his notebooks associated with it are numerous. Biographies of Joyce reveal that he would often be up late into the night scribbling into the notebooks, chuckling to himself. Possibly laughing at your own jokes is not to be encouraged, and certainly Joyce's long suffering wife Nora was not amused. She just wished that her hubby would "write something people could understand" and thus result in bigger sales, not to mention royalties. 

The book is written in what has come to be called "Wakese", a mixture of various languages Joyce could speak, plus various mythologies and folklore chucked in. The suspicion is that Joyce was chuckling at future generations of scholars who he envisaged pouring over his book seeking understanding. Maybe a way Joyce was seeking some form of immortality?

The wordplay begins with the title, Finnegans Wake. No apostrophe. Therefore not the wake of Finnegan, but more "Oy! Wake up Finnegan!" . Finnegan is everybody, therefore a call to us all. The Buddha made no claim other than that he was awake. 

There is indeed a Wake involved. Death, the wake, then resurrection. The story of us all, whether understood as a once off in linear time, or as an on-going spiral where the road goes on forever, the journey itself a home. But always returning in some sense to the ground/heart of Reality itself, radical freedom. ( "Love has no why" Meister Eckhart)

To show what any reader is up against, here is a short passage drawn from near the beginning of the Wake:-

"What clashes here of wills gen wonts, oystrygods gaggin fishy-gods! Brékkek Kékkek Kékkek Kékkek! Kóax Kóax Kóax! Ualu Ualu Ualu! Quáouauh! Where the Baddelaries partisans are still out to mathmaster Malachus Micgranes and the Verdons catapelting the camibalistics out of the Whoyteboyce of Hoodie Head. Assiegates and boomeringstroms. Sod’s brood, be me fear! Sanglorians, save! Arms apeal with larms, appalling. Killykillkilly: a toll, a toll. What chance cuddleys, what cashels aired and ventilated!"

 Double dutch does not really cover it! Samuel Beckett said that Joyce's book was the thing itself rather than being about anything. Of the passage above, Joseph Campbell draws forth all the multiple meanings, which are indeed there, waiting to be found. Which all added together do tell a story of sorts. But "the thing itself" is life. I see reality itself as being much like the Wake. What we see is what we get. "We are what we understand" We can look out and see simple confusion and discord, yet with the "examined life" we can seek to make sense of it all. 

Sages have said that the true gift of God is "himself". God is often seen as "good" and a representative of a particular creed, but I see God, Reality-as-is, as freedom itself. No sooner said than the doctrinaire seek to dictate the "choice" that must be made, that between absolutes, opposites, the "decision for Jesus" etc etc. The wrong choice and its the outer darkness, the gnashing of teeth! I see God as a "jealous" God, jealous simply because "he" wants the very best for us, radical freedom, a freedom that can only exist in the moment, now. The "appropriate statement" that is the "teaching of a whole lifetime". Appropriate always, there, now, here but nowhere else. No time else. As I see it there is no "truth" out there waiting to be discovered, acknowledged, chosen. Truth is more a constant advance into novelty. And the road goes on forever, the journey itself is home. 

But I must go. Maybe more on Finnegans Wake later.

 

 

 

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I intended to mention something about a "childlike" heart but my cappuccino got cold before getting there. 

I think any talk of an "examined life" can infer some sort of intellectual accomplishment. We are a very egalitarian crowd in the Pure Land which makes us (at least me) love the little verse in the OT about a "little child leading them." I don't see this as sentimentality, more as something profound about Reality. 

Reading about James Joyce, there was much that was childlike about him as he cadged his way through life. Despite how impenetrable Finnegans Wake can appear there is much to love in his life. Once he was walking down a Dublin Street with a companion and a tramp like guy accosted him, begging for a penny. Joyce asked him why he wanted it. The guy said, "well, to be honest, I'm dying for a drink" obviously meaning alcoholic. Joyce gave the guy his last penny. After the tramp went away Joyce turned to his friend and said:-"If he'd said he wanted a cup of tea I would have hit him! " This reminds me of Shinran, one of the "fathers" of Pure Land Buddhism, a bit of a sourpuss, yet when he came in after a funeral and found the people sitting in grief he encouraged them to have a drink or two of sake. Mercy and grace come in all shapes and sizes, through the commonplace. Often it can be missed. 

Anyway, once again I waffle. Its just that as I see it Reality loves "simplicity". Some people just seem to have it without any  particular "intellectual" claims, sometimes coming naturally. Children too. 

 

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Back to Finnegans Wake. Dogen was getting a bit heavy and I needed constant escapes to Candy Crush Soda Saga to rest my weary mind. 

As an aid to the virtually unreadable Wake I am reading Richard Ellmann's biography of James Joyce, still the finest biography although first published back in 1959. Very detailed. Joyce drew deeply upon his own life and experiences as the source for his books and Mr Ellmann constantly gives examples of episodes from Joyce's life that found there way into Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, even though often in a slightly altered form (and even more often with names changed "to protect the innocent" - or not so innocent!)

Joyce comes across as very advanced in his early years. By the age of 16/17 he had already passed through a "pious/overly religious" period and had thrown off the yoke of any overt Catholic indoctrination. This apart from a life long fear of thunder (the sound of which appears in the Wake as "bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner- ronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!")

 .....a sound which I am told represents The Fall, a recurring feature of humankind's history rather than a once off. It is also suggested that the vivid hell-fire sermons took their toll upon his tender young mind, but not so as to cower his artistic expression. It seems that he sought to transform his own given time and place - 19th century Dublin - into universal themes. 

Yet Joyce retained his appreciation of his Jesuit teachers, recognising a certain slant of mind that they inculcated in him that he was able to transfer to other frames of reference beyond Church doctrine. 

Joyce:- "To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to create life out of life" No fears of damnation would deter him. He saw great meaning in Christ being born in a stable and his writings often draw forth profound epiphanies from what others would dismiss as commonplace. As I see it, how the mythic becomes our own experience. 

I see correspondences with Dogen. 

Off now to Oxfam. 

 

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I have come across a new word of Wakese while dipping into Finnegans Wake, chaosmos.

A combination of chaos and cosmos.

Often I have contrasted the two, asking which one Reality was. Joyce obviously had his own ideas and I find it suggestive, given a Reality of becoming rather than a fixed something. 

(I did come up with one word of Wakese of my own, agonversary. This a word describing a wedding anniversary, combined with the state of the marriage itself.... 😃 Maybe others can give thought to words of their own?)

 

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15 hours ago, romansh said:

Yes ... nice. The universe (cosmos) is clearly chaotic. And we humans are part of that chaos.

In Wakese the word combines Cosmos (suggesting order, purpose, significance) and chaos. Joyce writes in Finnegans Wake of a constant rise and fall, circular, both for individuals and all Reality. A coming together, a falling apart. 

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Following on - now in Costa's with extra hot cappuccino - Joyce's Wakese has much that relates to Dogenese. Particularly the "coming together" (the gathering of chaos) in the present moment, keeping in mind what Dogen's own teachers passed on to him in China, this that to teach students the power of the present moment as the only moment "is a skillful teaching of buddha ancestors" but this doesn’t mean that there is no future result from practice. 

Hee-Jin Kim, in his commentary on Dogen, relates all of this to faith, not always spoken of in western books on zen. Kim explicates how any such creative practice-expression in the present moment is not a matter of some refined understanding, but of deep trust in the activity of Buddha-nature: “Zazen-only cannot be fully understood apart from consideration of faith.”

So there is always the hub of the wheel, even though the wheel turns, the "still" point of T.S.Eliot:-

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

(Lines from Four Quartets)

Of relevance to all this is the wider understanding of what might be seen as the "one way". Deep correspondences can be seen (as above) between Joyce as he seeks the universal within the particular, with Dogen, as he seeks his very own path, time and place. Also with Eliot and that man's insights drawn from his own travels through "eastern" ways and Christian mysticism. Anyone conversant with understandings of the Universal Christ will also see how each relates to the other.

How distant from such concord is the "only way" of some fundamentalist sects, where all who challenge one word of their own beliefs are deemed to be goats, to be cast into the outer darkness!

 

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On 10/20/2021 at 11:21 PM, tariki said:

In Wakese the word combines Cosmos (suggesting order, purpose, significance) and chaos. Joyce writes in Finnegans Wake of a constant rise and fall, circular, both for individuals and all Reality.

I can't speak to what Joyce and his interpreters mean by chaosmos, but some chaotic systems have an "attractor", This prof gives a technical explanation, but I think the prof has a nice voice.

These so called attractors, I can't help but think, parallel our illusion of purpose.

On 10/20/2021 at 11:21 PM, tariki said:

A coming together, a falling apart.

The chaotic systems exhibit the coming together and falling apart. So it is not clear to me this represents purpose. I can't help thinking purpose is a useful illusion, like me thinking my kitchen chair is red.

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2 hours ago, romansh said:

 

 

The chaotic systems exhibit the coming together and falling apart. So it is not clear to me this represents purpose. I can't help thinking purpose is a useful illusion, like me thinking my kitchen chair is red.

As I see it, an overall/final purpose, any end product envisaged (teleological) would counteract, even negate/make impossible, radical freedom. 

I cannot do better than quote again from Hee-Jin Kim, from his book "" Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist" when speaking of the zen notion of "dropping body and mind":-


"To cast off the body-mind did not nullify historical and social existence so much as to put it into action so that it could be the self-creative and self-expressive embodiment of Buddha-nature. In being “cast off,” however, concrete human existence was fashioned in the mode of radical freedom—purposeless, goalless, objectless, and meaningless. Buddha-nature was not to be enfolded in, but was to unfold through, human activities and expressions. The meaning of existence was finally freed from and authenticated by its all-too-human conditions only if, and when, it lived co-eternally with ultimate meaninglessness"

In "western" and theistic terms, we have Thomas Merton speaking of God, equating God with freedom itself and that God's gift to us is "himself."

 We also have from Christian mysticism:-

"Love has no why" (Meister Eckhart)

So, just how "useful" is the idea of purpose? Even in a Cosmos (rather than a chaos)? Or a Chaosmos?

Sometimes perhaps we ask the wrong questions, frame them incorrectly, confuse the implications of our "answers".

(Jung suggested that the greatest and most important problems of life are all in a certain sense insoluble…. They can never be solved, but only outgrown…...)

 

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1 hour ago, tariki said:

In "western" and theistic terms, we have Thomas Merton speaking of God, equating God with freedom itself and that God's gift to us is "himself."

I must admit I see freedom as a bit of an illusion, if not a delusion. The feeling of freedom stems completely from a lack of awareness of the underlying mechanisms in this universe as it applies to ourselves. Of course, having an awareness of the how the cogs are turning so to speak would make functioning untenable. So what Merton ultimately seems to be claiming is that God's gift is a lack of awareness.

1 hour ago, tariki said:

So, just how "useful" is the idea of purpose?

 

My perspective is that evolution has provided a capability to confabulate (even forward looking confabulation) as a societal mechanism for survival. It is really hard not to describe an ecological landscape without anthropomorphizing; it seems to make the landscape more understandable.

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4 hours ago, JosephM said:

Personally, i would only saythe universe appears chaotic. However, it is my opinion that it is not. 

Appearance and Reality are deemed as "one" by certain cosmological ideas propounded in zen. Again it comes back to "we are what we understand".

Thanks Joseph. Although at the moment I find all my speculations and waffling therapeutic, my bedrock could be called the "opinion" (faith) that Reality-as-is, our Cosmos, is not chaotic in any nihilistic sense of that word.

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15 hours ago, JosephM said:

Personally, i would only saythe universe appears chaotic. However, it is my opinion that it is not. 

Firstly ... I am using chaotic in its scientific sense. But if you claim it is not ... how do you know it is not? What bits of our existence are not chaotic? Here's a more of a layman's explanation of chaos.

 

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14 minutes ago, romansh said:

I don't really understand this or perhaps even agree. So I am not Dogen.

I see my previous post in reply to Joseph as being sufficient to address/respond to your last two. 

(As far as chaos is concerned, our two grandchildren have recently turned up)

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