Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Finnegans Wake: First Sentence

riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

The first sentence of Finnegan's Wake by James Joyce, though, actually, it is the end of the last sentence of the book:

A lone a last a loved a long the riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

And so the beginning is the end in this infinite circle of a book ( "a commodius vicus of recirculation")

The question arises why one should read this book, this book of the night, that revels in it's own obscurity, a book that focuses on the confused, vague images of a mind in various stages of sleep. Personally, I would say don't read it unless it entertains or amuses you. I am not a big advocate of must reads or should reads. Despite, or perhaps because, I received a classical education, I have very little respect for traditional educational paradigms. I rather like the wilderness of Internet learning, where each person can develop their own idiosyncratic path, their own canon. I feel no need to defend the classics. If they are indeed classic, if they still speak, they will find audience; if not, let the chaff fall where it will.

That being said, Finnegan's Wake amuses and entertains me. I intend to work through it sentence by sentence in this blog. I won't catch everything, in fact, I will probably miss more than I find. But I will entertain myself, at least. Consider it my form of sodoku. A mental exercise to stave off eventual Alzheimer's.

It won't be the only thing in the blog and I will label each blog that focus on the wake "FWake" so they can be asiduously avoided.

So, the first sentence. . .

Stephen's name, from Ulysses is hidden here: "st Eve and." And also Eve and Adam, according to Genesis, our progenitors, and the first of us to take the fall.

"riverrun," "swerve of shore to bend of bay, " refer to the landscape of Dublin, the river being the Liffey. A vicus was a civilian Roman settlement, but more importantly, it recalls Vico Giambattista an Italian thinker from the 1660s who wrote a book called "The New Science" that contains speculation on many things including the origins and evolution of human language. Commodius just means spacious, a settlement that can accommodate many--one such as Dublin perhaps. The use of the Latin terms for a settlement along side modern Dublin binds the past to the present in a circle of time.

Howth Castle lies close to the village of Howth, Fingal County in Ireland. It is the ancestral home of the line of the St Lawrence family (see: Earl of Howth) that died out in 1909. From 1425 to 1767 the title had been Lord Howth, holding the area since the Norman invasion of 1180. It is now held by their heirs, the Gaisford St. Lawrence family.

So Wikipedia.

The initials HCE in "Howth Castle and Environs" appear in many forms though out the book. Appropriate that the first appearance should be in the first sentence.