tENTATIVELY, cONVENIENCE's Reviews > Passages from Finnegans Wake

Passages from Finnegans Wake by Mary  Manning
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Mar 15, 12

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Mary Manning's Passages from Finnegans Wake by James Joyce - A Free Adaptation for the Theater
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - March 15, 2012

I finished reading James Joyce's Finnegans Wake in february of 1976 when I was 22. Even tho I'd read Lautremont, Jarry, Breton, Genet, Burroughs, & other experimental writers by then, this was the most experimental work I'd read yet & it comes close to remaining so! I remember reading Burroughs say in The Job something to the effect that Finnegans Wake is too experimental! Ha ha!

W/ that in mind, I'm always fascinated by people who do work inspired by Finnegans Wake. What a challenge!! There's John Cage's song, for voice & closed piano, "The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs" (1942) the words to wch "are adapted from page 556 of James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake" as the liner notes to Brian Eno's "obscure" label release of it say. A few things about this latter: 1st, the title of the bk is Finnegans Wake not Finnegan's Wake. the song that the title of the bk refers to has an apostrophe but the bk title doesn't. 2nd, Robert Wyatt, formerly of The Soft Machine, sings the song. 3rd, the obscure album that this song is on, Voices and Instruments was released in 1976 when I read Finnegans Wake & I got the album shortly thereafter - so things started to fit together.

The lyrics to Cage's song, as presented in the afore-mentioned album's liner notes, are "nightby silent sailing night isobel wildwood's eyes and primarose hair, quietly, all the woods so wild, in mauves of moss and daphnedews, how all so still she lay, neath of the whitethorn, child of tree, like some lost happy leaf, like blowing flower stilled, as fain would she anon, for soon again 'twill be, win me, woo me, wed me, ah! weary me! deeply, now evencalm lay sleeping; night; Isobel, sister Isobel, Saintette Isobel, Madame Is a Veuve La Belle."

& on p45 of Manning's Passages from Finnegans Wake by James Joyce - A Free Adaptation for the Theater Shem is presented as saying: "Isobel, she is so pretty, truth to tell, wildwood's eyes and primarose hair, quietly, all the woods so wild, in mauves of moss and daphnedews, how all so still she lay, neath of the whitethorn, child of tree, like some losthappy leaf, like blowing flower stilled, as fain would she anon, for soon again 'twill be, win me, woo me, wed me, ah weary me!"

& when I got to this part of Manning's adaptation, I automatically started singing the Cage melody along w/ the words. More about the musicality of Joyce's text anon.

There are slight differences between the mutually quoted passage so I decided to look at p556 of the 1975 Viking edition of Finnegan's Wake that I have &, sure, enuf, I have the page number, "556" circled & the phrase, "the wonderful widow of eighteen springs", wch appears on it, underlined in pencil. SO, obviously, I'd been thru this process before. Interestingly (perhaps only to nerds & detail-oriented folks like myself), Cage's beginning phrase, "nightby silent sailing night" is the the 1st 4 words of the paragraph in wch the rest of the text is contained & is actually written (at least in the edition I have) as "night by silentsailing night" - ie: the contractions are changed - wch cd be b/c of the record liner notes or b/c of Cage's adaption (I suspect the writer of the liner notes). Also, the 1st "isobel" is spelled w/ a lower-case "i" - another mistake, again presumably b/c of the liner note writer. Again, in Cage's version as presented by the LP, "now evencalm lay sleeping; night;" is followed by text that actually precedes it, in fragments, in the original..

Contrarily, Manning's quoting is a straight excerpt - although the attribution to Shem is her call. Following the paragraph that both Cage & Manning quote from, the 1st 3 words of the next paragraph are "nowth upon nacht" wch is the name of another Cage vocal & closed piano piece (1984) & includes the entire paragraph verbatim - w/o any rearrangement.

In 1976, again, I also got a copy of the record "anna livia plurabelle", a "Jazz Cantata" by Andre Hodeir on the excellent Philips label. Hodeir studied w/ Olivier Messiaen &, according to Wikipedia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andr%C3%... ), "He composed, in 1966, the monumental jazz cantata Anna Livia Plurabelle, on James Joyce's text, and in 1972 of Bitter Ending, by The Swingle Singers and a jazz quintet, on the final monologue of Finnegans Wake." Interested? For music scholars, let me make it even more interesting: the violinist on the recording I have is Jean-Luc Ponty, & the alto saxist is Michel Portal! Whew! I'm listening to the record now as I write this & Ponty's prominent playing sounds Stephane Grappelli inspired. Hodeir was also a violinist.

Now many a work has been inspired by both Joyce & Gertrude Stein, often considered to be the 2 most radical modernists of 20th c. English lit. Cage was a staunch proponent of the work of both. I found this online: "There is a strong theatrical element to works like “Living Room Music” (1940), performed with sofa, table, chairs and props all used as percussion instruments to create percussive-speech woven around a brief spoken text by Gertrude Stein" in reference to a 2012 Cage music fest.

Online ( http://www.rosewhitemusic.com/cage/te... ), I also find this relevant excerpt from "John Cage: Choral music (a timeline)" by James Pritchett:

"1940

Cage composes Living Room Music. Living Room Music for percussion and speech quartet is in four movements: "To Begin", "Story", "Melody", and "End". No percussion instruments are used. Instead, Cage indicates that "any household objects or architectural elements may be used as instruments." Examples given are things such as magazines, a table, "largish books", the floor, a window frame. In the second movement the players perform a rhythmic reading of a text from Gertrude Stein's The World is Round: "Once upon a time the world was round and you could go on it around and around." The third movement is optional. In it, one player performs a melody on "any suitable instrument."

This is an informal music, a home entertainment. Cage's percussion players were frequently not professional musicians—his earliest ensemble consisted of bookbinders he knew. In Living Room Music they are as the amateurs of the past, sitting around the table at home with their parts and playing for their own pleasure."

Elsewhere online, ( http://newalbion.com/artists/cagej/au... ), Cage is quoted in an autobiographical statement re using Stein's text:

"Later when I returned to California, in the Pacific Palisades, I wrote songs with texts by Gertrude Stein and choruses from The Persians of Aeschylus. I had studied Greek in high school. These compositions were improvised at the piano. The Stein songs are, so to speak, transcriptions from a repetitive language to a repetitive music."

Stein's repetitiveness was probably not conducive to Cage's later development but Joyce's much more complex musicality probably was & he composed many pieces that used Joyce:

"the wonderful widow of eighteen springs" (1942)

"Roaratorio" (1979)

"Writing for the ___ Time Through Finnegans Wake" (1979?-?)
[there are multiple versions of this - at least 5? that I 'know' of - hence the blank]

"Marcel Duchamp, James Joyce, Eric Satie: An Alphabet" (1982)

"nowth upon nacht" (1984)

There's also "Laughtears", a "Conversation on Roaratorio" recorded between Cage & Klaus Schöning in 1979. The Joyce coined word appears on p1 of Manning's play & I cf it to the epigraph before the introduction to it:

"For

STEPHEN JOYCE


"Loud, heap miseries upon us yet entwine our arts with laughters low!""

Even Mary Ellen Bute, perhaps mainly known for her 35mm animations to classical music, made, as her final film, Passages from Finnegan's Wake, a feature-length film made from 1965-67. While, alas, on the Bute Wikipedia entry I find no mention of Manning, I found this excellent article, "Finnegans Wake on Film", by Patrick A. McCarthy ( http://www.flashpointmag.com/pmfilm.htm ) wch I hereby excerpt from:

"What made it possible for Mary Ellen Bute to create her film, Passages from Finnegans Wake, was the play of the same title by Mary Manning, which inspired the film. In a 1964 interview, Bute described how she got started:

'It's long been a cherished dream of mine. I went to see it at Barnard College, the play by Mary Manning, Passages from Finnegans Wake, performed by the Barnard girls. It was marvelous—witty and moving. It was also a great success in Paris. So I telephoned the Joyce Society immediately and its secretary, Frances Steloff, of the Gotham Book Mart … went to see it. She agreed with me about its power and we first tried to produce it off-Broadway as a play, but the project failed because Margery Bartington's dramatization, Ulysses in Nighttown, was also trying to raise backing and the Joyce Society felt it couldn't afford to sponsor both.

'So I applied for the film rights for Mary Manning's play and the book and they came through.

'Mary Manning took two years to extract from this enormous book the characters and high points and to give it dramatic form. She did the screen treatment too.'"

It's tempting to quote the entire article! Read it!

I've never witnessed the play OR the film! What a shame! (& I'm not being sarcastic!) For what it's worth, by the by, Parker Tyler's bk Underground Film - A Critical History lists the Bute film under 1965 in his chronology.

I might as well also mention that I have at least 2 other recordings of readings from Finnegans Wake - 1, that I probably got in the early 1980s from poet Chris Mason, of Joyce himself reading from it, &, 2., "Shem the Penman" read by Cyril Cusack & "Anna Livia Plurabelle" read by Siobhan McKenna - both directed by Howard Sackler (wch I didn't hear until 1997). Earlier today, I listened to the Joyce recording again. I remembered it as lo-fi & scratchy. It is. I also remembered that I wasn't that impressed by it when I 1st heard. I still wasn't. Perhaps the 'strange' thing about Joyce's reading of it is that, if I hadn't seen the incredible text 1st, I'd just think that the recording was just of a guy reading an English text w/ a thick Irish brogue. I'd never think that hearing any of the other recordings - including in the relatively straight-forward Cusack & McKenna readings. .

As if all of this weren't enuf, there was also another play wch the great ESP record label put out the soundtrack of: "The Coach with the Six Insides" (1962). I found this in the ESP website ( http://www.espdisk.com/official/catal... ):

"Jean Erdman, choreographer and wife of the late Joseph Campbell, the leading authority on James Joyce, adapted FINNEGAN'S WAKE into a musical play, with music by Teiji Ito. The late Leonard Frey, best known as the hapless tailor in stage and film versions of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, was in the cast. It was recorded by Richard L. Alderson. Musicologists, take note."

Erdman had been a dancer w/ the famous Martha Graham dance co. As her Wikipedia bio says: "She had become well acquainted with the novel during the four and a half year period that her husband collaborated with Henry Morton Robinson to write A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (1944)." Teiji Ito was also married to the great American filmmaker Maya Deren & he composed for her films too - amongst other remarkable accomplishments! The :33 excerpt from the ESP Sampler of the Erdman play's soundtrack has a Finnegans Wake remake of 'The Lord's Prayer'.

In Denis Johnston's "Introduction" to Manning's bk it's written:

"We must also remember that Joyce was a man already half blind when writing the Wake, but with a wonderful ear for music. Consequently, large sections are not intended for the eye at all, but for the ear. It has a rhythm, and sometimes even a rhyme that demands to be read aloud.

"His bludgeon's bruk, his drum is tore. For spuds we'll keep the hat he wore And roll in clover on his clay By wather parted from the say."

& I have to whole-heartedly agree. Johnston begins w/:

"Finnegans Wake is a book that everybody knows about, but that few - apart from professionals - can honestly claim to have read."

Well, I read it, the whole thing. I'd read somewhere that it was written circularly & that the end joined the beginning, so I started somewhere in the middle, I don't remember where - maybe p256 or 356 or 364 or.. - & read to the end & then back from the beginning to where I started. I remember that it was a very slow process but, still, maybe only 2 or 3 mnths. I recall realizing that if one read it aloud (I probably did it mostly mentally - thru what I call "Sound Thinking") the flow of it became much less laborious.

Mann's play almost makes the Wake 'linear'. Shem & Shaun might also me Mutt & Jute who might also just be pairs of men as archetypes. The Wake is brilliant in its phoneticizations & these are used for excuses for puns galore. Take the easy example of Manning's rendering into dialog:

"JUTE

"Are you jeff?

"MUTT

"Somehards.

"JUTE

"But are you not jeffmute?"

Mutt & Jeff are, of course, taken from "Mutt & Jeff" the cartoon characters. This leads to "jeff" as a rhyme for "deaf" & "jeffmute" as a play off "deafmute" & "MUTT & JUTE".

In the play, the song "Finnegan's Wake" is sung. In the Wikipedia entry on the song ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finnegan... ), it's written that: "In the ballad, the hod-carrier Tim Finnegan, born "with a love for the liquor", falls from a ladder, breaks his skull, and is thought to be dead. The mourners at his wake become rowdy, and spill whiskey over Finnegan's corpse, causing him to come back to life and join in the celebrations. Whiskey causes both Finnegan's fall and his resurrection—whiskey is derived from the Irish phrase uisce beatha (pronounced [ˈiʃkʲə ˈbʲahə]), meaning "water of life"."

In the same entry, it's explained that: ""Finnegan's Wake" is famous for providing the basis of James Joyce's final work, Finnegans Wake (1939), in which the comic resurrection of Tim Finnegan is employed as a symbol of the universal cycle of life. As whiskey, the "water of life", causes both Finnegan's death and resurrection in the ballad, so the word "wake" also represents both a passing (into death) and a rising (from sleep). Joyce removed the apostrophe in the title of his novel in order to suggest an active process in which a multiplicity of "Finnegans", that is, all members of humanity, fall and then wake and arise."

In keeping w/ this 'universality' of Joyce's original, Manning quotes, on pp14-17, various "HCE" (Here Comes Everybody) references:

"Humme the Cheapner, Esc, overseen as we thought him, yet a worthy of the naym..."

"H! C! E!"

"Our hero! here Comes Everybody!"

"Finnegan, the late corpse, now enters resurrected into H. C. EARWICKER"

I'm sure that Finnegans Wake is a treasure trove of reference & that Joyce embedded far more than most. In the play, there's a reference to "Nanon L'Escaut" wch is, of course, a reference to "Manon Lescaut", the name of a short novel published in 1731 & of operas by both Daniel Auber (1856) & Puccini (1884). Why the different spelling in Joyce? Only yr local Joyce scholar may know, I certainly don't!

Speaking of Joyce scholars, I've avoided reading A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake b/c I didn't want to resort to a 'Cliff Notes' type understanding of the work. Now I think maybe I shd read it.

In a scene where 2 women are washing clothes, there's this:

"Throw the cobwebs from your eyes, woman, and spread your washing proper! It's well I know your sort of slop. Flap! Ireland sober is Ireland stiff. Lord help you, Maria, full of grease, the load is with me!"

Joyce manages to punningly incorporate a "Hail Mary" into the talking. On page 35, he changes "handmedown" into "handwedown" - more HCE perhaps?

But what about the play?! It must've been quite the thing! In the "PRODUCTION NOTE" near the end of the bk, Manning writes:

"Versatile actors, clever and imaginative lighting, ingenious sound effects are essential to this production of Finnegans Wake. The words are the things indeed and the words should be sacred. Perfect audibility is required and the most loving training of the choral passages. Joyce wrote to be heard."

Indeed. It's hard for me to imagine the skill that it must've taken for people to realize this play. Just remembering the words must've been a phenomenal feat. & what's happening to Joyce scholarship now? Has it become mostly a thing of the past? Are the days of all the great works inspired by Finnegans Wake now 'safely' behind us? Aside from the works already mentioned, I find on the Wikipedia page for Finnegans Wake ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finnegan... ) these updates:

"Phil Minton set passages of the Wake to music, on his 1998 album Mouthfull of Ecstasy."

"Danish visual artists Michael Kvium and Christian Lemmerz created a multimedia project called "the Wake", an 8 hour long silent movie based on the book. A version adapted by Barbara Vann with Music by Chris McGlumphy was produced by The Medicine Show Theater in April 2005 and received a favorable review in the 11 April 2005 edition of The New York Times."

I'm fairly sure that my friend Gerry Fialka is part of a group near LA that discusses the Wake. After researching for this review, I'm tempted to do a sampler piece based on it too. Who Knows? Holus Bolus.

***********************************************************************************

Of course, there are far more people who were influenced by &/or directly used text by Joyce than those that I've mentioned above. Scott W. Klein, in an article I found online ( http://www.cmc.ie/articles/article850... ) entitled "James Joyce and Avant-Garde Music" says this:

"Composers have been drawn to these diverse sides of Joyce, in many cases the more traditional tonal and Romantic composers finding a congenial set of texts for setting from the poetry -- and Myra T. Russel has noted that there are well over 140 composers who have set them"

One sidenote that I'm not sure has been widely noticed, is that the Luciano Berio piece entitled "THEMA (Omaggio a Joyce)" (that I have a recording of as part of the "Electronic Music III" LP on the turnabout vox label) is not exactly the same piece as Berio's "Omaggio a Joyce" (wch I have a recording of on the "ELECTRONIC MUSIC/MUSIQUE CONCRETE - A Panorama of Experimental Music, Vol. 1") b/c the latter doesn't include Cathy Berberian's unaltered performance of the Joyce text that begins the former. Oddly, "THEMA (Omaggio a Joyce)" is listed on the liner notes as having been composed in 1958 & "Omaggio a Joyce" is listed as having been composed in 1959. Given that the latter is 6:23 & the former is 8:15, it seems that the main or only difference between the 2 is the elimination of the unaltered voice reading (wch I timed at about 1:54). Perhaps this was removed (w/ or w/o Berio's permission) to shorten it for the "ELECTRONIC MUSIC/MUSIQUE CONCRETE" record.

***********************************************************************************

See my related review of Indians here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13...
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