The Wake's Wake
By Icaro Canto
Finnegans Wake, long considered literature's grandest experiment in deliberate linguistic morphology, simmered in the global stew of languages and media advances for some ninety years before its effects were fully felt. The culmination of several generations of thought about the experiment did not blossom until early this century. Icaro Canto of Bellona here surveys the full efflorescence of the Wake experiment in a multitude of writers in the early part of this century. It should be noted that the book intentionally comes in two editions, one with the apostrophe in the title, one without; there is no other difference between the versions.
By the first decade of the 21st Century, authors the world over had come to understand Joyce in their own ways, and in their own languages. It has been said that their brains caught up with his, now that they were immersed in the globalizing media of the times. What had been a foresighted work on his part, a torch thrust ahead into the darkness, was now an accepted form of the emergent art of deliberate linguistic morphology.
Authors raised new questions, beginning with the translations of Joyce's Wake, full-length works in Gaelic, Urdu, Swahili, Chinese, Thai. Fully half the world's language groups are represented here, with page samples from each. Unfortunately, the trend pushed itself over its edge by witnessing new translations into invented and imaginary languages: Esperanto, Ebonics, Klingon.
The second phase of the new experiment broke from mere adaptation into new creation. Having shown that the original Wake could translate more or less (often less) into any language, writers now dreamed their own dreams. First came Gong Ting's Chinese attempt, Old Cold Mountain, with its ideogrammatic puns in Mandarin, Cantonese, Mongolian, and any number of imported ideograms and scripts from China's neighbors, reflecting the empire's historical and cultural extent through the fevered ramblings of a village party functionary, her dead grandmother's hungry ghost, Genghis Khan, and all the Dalai Lamas.
Five years later, a Lebanese tailor named Hummus Assam published a relatively thin book that related in Hebrew and Arabic the daydreams of Gilgamesh's tailor as he mended the king's clothes. He considered the travels of Odysseus and Marco Polo, as well as their tailors, exploring the linguistic bounds of exploratory possibility in Ancient Greek, Akkadian, and Renaissance Italian.
Regional interest expanded among the literati until a Japanese-Finnish author, Bikini Dakini, managed to fit what was once calculated to be the greatest number of natural human languages into one novel: 375. The plot concerned a space-borne diplomat watching the earth spin below her as she meditated on the bridging of cultures by means other than language, but ended up drowning when her satellite home was struck by space junk and fell to earth. Her final monologue is a mixture of Finnish and Japanese, and blends with the songs of whales around her, the transcription including a unique notation for those songs that require the reader to invent his own textual sounds. The survey includes an audio sample of the author reading this final passage.
After that, the floodgates opened. Every language had its dream and dreamers, which over time became more and more incomprehensible to a wider and wider group of readers. Fully 293 writers manipulated their native languages (and their etymologies, sister languages, dialects, creoles, and pidgins) to explore the parameters of Joyce's experiment, opening the doors to finer (that is, thinner, shorter) works. Thus it became time for the translators to begin their work again, adapting dream-books into their home languages. The sample pages here show how much was lost in translation, and so the third phase of the experiment began.
The dream books now began to change into other media, scene by scene, sense by sense, including new modes of recital and reference, until the narratives had acquired completely new texts, even including non-linguistic, non-narrative media: music, sculpture, cooking. A Brazilian author by the name of Paolo Sao created just seventy editions or showings of his work, each one completely edible, and to be enjoyed while he recited his own poetry. A chorus of waiters moved between tables in perfect synchrony with the plot, which involved a cook negotiating with hunters and gatherers, butchers and bakers, farmers and grocers throughout human history to collect the ingredients for the perfect meal, the one in which he, a culinary Orpheus, brought back his love from the dead. During the interludes, he returned to the kitchen to cook the next chapter. The survey includes a video sample of his final performance, and can be smelled but not tasted.
One wonders if Joyce would have recognized his own metempsychosis in these transformations. One wonders too if Joyce would have believed the final transmogrifications of his book were not some bad dream of his own. When greeting cards for office parties featured crowds of people approaching the receiver, with the caption "Here Comes Everybody!" in big crayon-like letters, we knew it was over; the experiment had invaded us completely, a virus devolved from a burst of solitary energy at the beginnings of the universe into an entropic film in which no one escaped, or realized, the extent of their involvement in someone else's book.
(Entry by Wally Bubelis)