Typewriters in Finnegans Wake

by | Feb 17, 2012 | Uncategorized | 13 comments


  1. rn

    Brilliantine, Sir Riccardo Poltroon — jaonickally speaking of course! The idea of playing jouay allo misto posto with some foolufools all barely in their typtap teens! Herr JJ was e'er an icy child amuser.

  2. Mike Speegle

    English major though I am, JJ and I just never got along. I just never saw his prose as "lyrical" or whatever the effusive adjective du jour is.

    Still—for mentioning typewriters—I award him exactly One Mike Point. No cash value.

  3. notagain

    I think of him as the literary version of Jackson Pollock. To most of us his work looks like an incomprehensible mess, but there are those who see something in it they like.

  4. Adwoa

    Excellent analogy, Peter! Fortunately I have never attempted to slog through any of his work, just hearing my friends describe it in college was enough to turn me off.

    I like this post, though, for showing us how a non-traditional writer depicted typewriters. Especially as I would not have come across these passages without your help, Richard!

  5. rino breebaart

    That's quite an effort of transcription, such murky dreamtext! For that I salute you, Richard.

  6. rn

    This lack of emotional connection with Joyce make me sad. Time to grab Finnegans Wake off my overcrowded shelf and get to work.

  7. Richard P

    The Wake is admittedly hard to love. Individual sentences and paragraphs can be fun exercises in decoding punsterdom, but in my experience it can get tedious. Ulysses is more accessible and human, Portrait of the Artist still more so, and everyone should be able to enjoy the well-crafted short stories in Dubliners.

  8. rn

    For me, reading Joyce reveals the manifest mad joys of life. Consider this, from Ulysses:

    Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods' roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.

    So simple and so complex. The alternation of singulars and plurals. The profusion of g's–soft and hard–and the fizzy alliteration of f's and s's. Saying so much about Bloom & his appetites, about Irish food, about the viands that were likely, at the time, the cheapest cuts one could buy, and about the uniquely human attraction to flavor.

    I prefer Ulysses to Portrait and Dubliners. I've attempted but not succeeded in making it through FW. But every book has its time.

  9. Jason

    Yeah, I'm responding over a year after this was posted but, whatever, it's a slow day at work.

    I just wanted to note that Ulysses, the first draft, was written by hand. Pen and paper. The library I work at has a 3 volume set that reproduces the entire thing.

    Just take a moment to let that sink in. Ulysses was written with a pen and paper. I love that.

  10. Richard P

    Thanks for this. I dug around a bit and found that according to this story, "Although one of the most cherished exhibits in the Dublin Writers Museum is James Joyce's typewriter, the truth is that the author suffered greatly from serious eye problems, including iritis, cataracts and glaucoma, could not read typed characters and rejected suggestions that he use a typewriter. Instead, he hand-printed in large letters using a charcoal pencil – which snapped off continually – on butcher's paper. The typewriter was used by his stenographer."

  11. Unnamable

    Now that’s interesting. Joyce wasn’t fond of typewriters, but FW does include modern technologies. There is a long scene with publicans tuning into a radio program. He also references television (specifically John Baird). I came to typewriters after working through FW.

    The 28/29 girls are the rainbow girls that attend St Brigid’s. They represent the cycle of the month, with the 29th girl being Issy, (leap year) daughter of Humphrey Earwicker and Ana Livia and sister to Shem and Shaun.

    The presence of the servant, Kate, is sometimes represented by a tapping sound.

    I guess Joyce was too old and too male to take to typewriters, but now you’ve piqued my curiosity!

  12. Unnamable

    One other bit of trivia: As his eyes worsened, he needed help writing FW. Samuel Beckett assisted him several times, but then there was a falling out between them for a while. Joyce’s daughter was at the center of this.

  13. Unnamable

    I’ve been digging through those passages. My reference books unfortunately don’t uncover any typewriter references in them. This first passage (123-124) includes a parody of Sir Edward Sullivan’s commentary on the Book of Kells. That whole section, in its investigation into who authored a fictitious letter, works through a history of manuscript writing. The perforated pages relate to that.

    The next section (page 360) includes a bunch of musical references. Apparently Carmen Sylva inspired a bunch of music.

    The final passage (430) connects more to the rainbow girls of St. Bride’s school.
    I’ve written about them a little. The “eight and fifty” refers to their feet (29 girls) as they dance around making tapping sounds. The two brothers compete for their attention in a game of ring-around-the-rosie. There is a big riddle in that section in which Shem must guess the color that Issy is thinking about. As per usual, Joyce throws in some dirty references to guessing the color of her underwear. Heliotrope is the final answer, which is a trope in itself, with sunlight splintering into a rainbow prism. The girls are sometimes reduced to the seven colors of the rainbow, which is also calendrical (seven days in a week.) Joyce was a bit of a numerologist.

    The whole book is constantly talking about itself and how to read it and misread it.

    I wonder why Joyce never took to a typewriter. I wonder if it has something to do with his jesuit education. I suspect that he would have felt like he was giving away control to something, too.


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