Recordings of James Joyce Reading from his Work

Thoughts on the two recordings below... 22 January 07

Section: joyce-tapes

Categories: Mention

Anna Livia Plurabelle from Finnegans Wake

The passage below this entry is from the Anna Livia Plurabelle chapter of Finnegans Wake and is “about” two washerwomen on opposite sides of the River Liffey, washing and talking, and turning into a tree and a stone… “My branches lofty are taking root” — one of them seeing her reflection in the water.

I haven’t read Finnegans Wake from cover to cover and I approach the book with awe and humility, like the powerful and beautiful river of a prose-poem that it is. But I think I have read most parts, and some passages many times. The book has a circular construction, with the last word of the book being “the” and the sentence continuing on the front page with “riverrun…,” a word also echoing French for “we dream again…” and the German “Erinnerung” for “memory.” ([E]rinnerun[g] => riverrun).

It is a dream and takes place in one/some person’s mind but is about everyone; the main male protagonist appears often as “HCE” which takes on diverse meanings, mainly “Here comes everyone!”. (One story about Joyce: when he was about three years old his father was carrying him downstairs on his shoulders to dinner: Joyce exclaimed: “Here comes me!”) The female protagonist is referred to as ALP, also with diverse meanings but mostly: “Anna Livia Plurabelle.” Below is a recording of Joyce reading from the end of this chapter.

It is the river Liffey (“Livia”) and all rivers. I believe Joyce integrated the names of about 800 Rivers into the text, with dozens in the passage below.

Well, you know or don’t you kennet…

Well, you know or don’t you know it… The River Kennet is referred to with a play on the Northern English/Scottish word ken as well as the German kennen, to know.

every telling has a taling…

The Taling River is I believe in China and the word–play is of course, besides simply “telling a tale,” along the lines of “every story has a tale/tail/ending” with tail echoing the title of the book, Finnegans Wake, as in “fin again,” related to Joyce’s interest in Vico’s Scienza Nuova and his cyclical view of the development of civilization.

The Root is a river. The Cher is a river in France. The Fie is a river somewhere, but I can’t find it. “Fieluhr? Filou!” derives from a story about the trenches in WWI, in which a French soldier cried out to a German soldier “Filou!” (scoundrel) which was understood as “Wie viel Uhr?” (What’s the time?”) and answered accordingly.

And it goes on. Like the river it is.

Latin me that, my trinity scholard,...

Reminds me of:

...I wouldn’t give a snap of my two fingers for all their learning why dont they go and create something…

from Ulysses, from Molly’s soliloquy at the end. By the way, “scholard” reminds me of “collard,” which is defined in my Oxford Dictionary as: “a cabbage of a variety that does not develop a heart.”

Joyce assimilated words and expressions from upwards of 70 languages into the Wake, but it is still English and it is not a question of understanding everything, every word and reference. As already mentioned, the book itself is for me like a powerful river I can return to again and again. Or a well (the first word of the passage below) I can always draw from. I once read that Joyce would go to the Seine and sit on its banks listening to it while writing this chapter. He depended on his hearing increasingly as his sight failed.

didn’t you hear it a deluge of times, ufer and ufer

Over and over: Ufer means bank in German, the bank of a river.

My sights are swimming thicker on me by the shadows to this place.

When he made the recording of this passage from ALP, he was in London visiting an eye doctor.

The Aeolus episode from Ulysses

The passage from Ulysses, from the Aeolus episode, takes place among advertisers and journalists, and its “art” is rhetoric, which becomes evident.

The quality of the recording is not very good. I did my best to polish up both recordings… well, to at least take out some high frequencies and to enhance the volume of the voice, since I am not a sound technician. By the way, I digitized these recordings from cassettes that I own. The digitizing was done with Audio Hijack Pro and an iMic/USB audio interface to a simple walkman.

Also: Joyce’s readings diverge from the written version a few times.

Things I love, acushla

The word acoolsha comes from the end of the Wake, and it is Joyce’s variation on the Irish word acushla, meaning my pulse in the sense of my dearest, a term of endearment.

Once some years ago I took stock of things I loved, and at least one result of that is this acoolsha. Also a little part of me to share with the many people I love.

  • Title: Thoughts on the two recordings below...