[NetBehaviour] six weeks left

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Thu Aug 5 21:52:06 CEST 2021

Hi Alan,

I have to agree about the time cost of reading Finnegan's Wake.  What percent of the 17 years it took to write should one spend?

Beckett has an interesting comment in his essay, that Finnegan's Wake is not meant to be read, or "not only read," but looked at and listened to.  He argued that Joyce tried to undo the losses caused by formulaic writing and reading that destroy the organic relationship of form (clothing) and content (body).  If I do try to read FW this year it will be that way i.e. not-reading.  There is something about the folly of every map in this perhaps.

Beckett also discusses what Graziano mentioned about Dante's elevation of the Tuscan dialect, pointing out that in the Convivio Dante condemns all dialects -- including Tuscan -- and says that any general vernacular language for Italy should take the best elements of all the dialects (albeit a subjective judgment of course).  Dante also condemned his home city; after all it had banished him on penalty of death and confiscated all his property.  Beckett asserts that Dante's main goal was to create a new language which had never existed before but would work well enough in practical terms to be usable by all Italians in place of Latin to discuss art, science, philosophy, history, etc.  This is certainly debatable -- the video Graziano posted is a good counterpoint -- but probably at least partly true, given that Dante's remains were very nearly burned at the stake posthumously for heresy based on his calls for the separation of church and state (also mentioned by Beckett).

In this context, Beckett compares FW and Dante as attempts to reclaim or "re-birth" language from a codified, administrative form (Latin for Dante, English for Joyce):

"Between 'colui per lo cui verso--il meonio cantor non e piu solo' and the 'still to-day insufficiently malestimated notesnatcher, Shem the Penman,' there exists considerable circumstantial similarity.  They both saw how worn out and threadbare was the conventional language of cunning literary artificers, both rejected an approximation to a universal language.  If English is not yet so definitely a polite necessity as Latin was in the Middle Ages, at least one is justified in declaring its position in relation to other European languages is to a great extent that of Mediaeval Latin to the Italian dialects."

Beckett's essay also refers to the vegetation in "Ante-Purgatory," i.e. the river grass or rushes:

"A last word about the Purgatories.  Dante's is conical and subsequently implies culmination.  Mr. Joyce's is spherical and excludes culmination.  In one there is an ascent from real vegetation -- Ante-Purgatory, to ideal vegetation -- Terrestrial Paradise: in the other there is no ascent and no ideal vegetation.  In the one, absolute progression and a guaranteed consummation: in the other flux -- progression or retrogression, and an apparent consummation."

I mention these quotes not to claim that Beckett, Joyce, or Dante are correct or incorrect or make any such value judgment, just to point out some examples of how Beckett is comparing Purgatorio and FW.

To your very important question, why bother looking at the bridge?  I'd have to say it's many reasons, mostly in a jumble, as well as no reason at all.  The bridge is typically not mentioned in Leonardo scholarship.  This creates a funny vacuum, which nature abhors!

Aside from recent sleuthing about whether the bridge depicts an actual bridge somewhere in Tuscany I've found only three interpretations of the bridge, all from the last 15 years.  One says the bridge is meant to bring Leonardo's engineering into the painting's themes; one says it is meant to connect the background macrocosm to the foreground microcosm, and one says it is meant to connect the past to the present.  These existing explanations of the bridge do not seem robust enough, on the contrary, especially when considered together.  If the bridge is in fact a metaphor, like those found in Leonardo's writings, of the flow of the history of technology then an entirely new and profoundly relevant level of meaning is present.

Moreover this metaphor -- if it is there -- is not simply descriptive, as for example the words of an accompanying essay or banderoles might be, but experiential, not only calling attention to the problem of technology in human history but suggesting an approach toward what to do, and even further, doing what it is suggesting be done, like a musician not just leaving a score but playing it, and playing it while we not only listen but play it too.  The bridge as metaphorical attribute blends with the metaphor of the garment (which is widely accepted, somewhat oddly, to be an illustration of nature but not art), to juxtapose engineering or heavy infrastructure with the local, decorative, and light yet necessary infrastructure of clothing.

Therefore the bridge, which couldn't be more nondescript, functions like a subtle, completely optional pivot or door to subject matter which in Leonardo's time was both illegal and had no conceivable audience.  By contrast, today our relationship with technology is the most present and planet-endangering problem we face.  If the bridge is one proposed avenue to, like Matelda, help actively create, as by the crossing of Lethe, out of the Purgatorio's error-correction something like a sustainability that preserves the planet's life, well I see no harm in looking at it and listening even if the level of proof per se is not of the same type we might find for other kinds of hypotheses.

But that's just me, from a very idiosyncratic perspective, and I have no compelling reason why anyone else should give it a second thought.

Of course the hypothetical metaphor I'm describing may not be there at all, and may be nothing more than a figment of my projection.  This is not a totally negligible risk and warrants at least a grain of salt.  Despite the caveats, sussing out the detail engages my interest just for the heck of it, like finishing a crossword puzzle, or even just something like daydreaming on a walk.  Yet even if the bridge as technology is a completely nonfactual fiction, it may be unusual enough to merit attention for that reason alone.  Add to this coincidences like those between my writing of the poem on Sunday and Monday and reading the Beckett essay for the first time yesterday and the curiosity is understandably perpetuated.

Just think of it: an image of all human technology worn by humanity as a garment woven and delivered by the bridge of history in concert* with both nature and present human agency, body, and gesture.  Also remarkable is how a metaphoric bridge would place Leonardo's portrait of Esperienza not just on a geometry parallel to Joyce's sphere, in its mobile and cyclical representation of at least one stage of the Commedia (which in Dante's defense are not strictly linear for the simple reason that Dante returns to earth), but even might identify a possible omission in the High Modernism of Beckett and Joyce -- an omission we perhaps may wish to address with some alacrity.

Despite being over five centuries old, Leonardo's offering could thus conceivably qualify as the most modern and postmodern of any work extant.

All best,



*Beckett's essay mentions the below painting, created during Leonardo's lifetime (formerly attributed to Giorgione but now to Titian) and thought to depict the paragone or relationship between poetry and painting as I believe the Mona Lisa also does and which Leonardo indisputably did in extensive detail throughout his writing.  Beckett does not say much about the relationship of visual to verbal imagination, but does say of FW that "This writing you find so obscure is a quintessential extraction of language and painting and gesture."

From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of Alan Sondheim via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Sent: Wednesday, August 4, 2021 9:19 PM
To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Cc: Alan Sondheim <sondheim at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [NetBehaviour] six weeks left

Hi Max,

I've 'used' Finnegans Wake but never read it in its entirety. My father did, over a long period of time, along with a book that was a commentary or decoding. An enormous amount of work was done on the book; I've never been up to that, focusing instead on my own stuff; they seem mutually exclusionary.
Perhaps you might decode your decoding, for example the eternal question of the bridge - why is this of concern to you?
I remember taking a year of Chaucer in college, and what it meant to fall into that. But more to the point I had a year of Blake with S. Foster Damon, one of the world experts on the poet at the time. We literally waited impatiently to see what he would say about Tiger Tiger Burning Bright; Damon came into the classroom and said "I have no idea what this means" and went on to the other poems. In some ways it was a bypass; in some ways it was Zen. His reply fascinated me. -

Best, Alan

directory http://www.alansondheim.org tel 718-813-3285
email sondheim ut panix.com<http://panix.com>, sondheim ut gmail.com<http://gmail.com>
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