Thursday, December 29, 2011

Finnegans Wake | James Joyce

Roy R. Behrens © Combat Fatigue. Digital montage (2004).

When I initially made this digital montage—in a form that alludes to a book spread—it had nothing to do with the Irish novelist and poet James Joyce (1882-1941), at least not directly. In fact, the obscured image on the right is reworked from a photograph (in the Library of Congress) of an equally admired writer and Joyce's contemporary, the Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). But it had everything to do with writing and designing. Years earlier, when I was in an architecture class in graduate school (the only one I've taken), I began to think about Venn diagrams in relation to figure-ground patterns, and then, by extension, to architectural building plans. In part I was led to this by the writings of Christopher Alexander. It seemed to me then that one can make purposeful "category confusions" (puns, rhymes, parodies, allusions and so on) in architectural building plans as easily as one can with words. I was "reading" Finnegans Wake at the time, so to some extent this came to me because of their concurrence.

Not to pretend to explain Joyce's comic novel, its two central characters are HCE (Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker) and ALP (Anna Livia Plurabelle). Beyond that, you can find a detailed and reasonably good summary at the Wikipedia article on the book. For the moment, I would simply like to share a few examples of the astonishing word play that Joyce employs throughout the book.

He frequently offers sentences that say one thing and yet, by the way they are written, they echo (or parody) other famous passages, especially religious texts. Listen to these two examples:

"In the name of Annah the Allmaziful, the Everliving, the Bringer of Plurabilities, haloed be her eve, her singitime sung, her rill be run, unhemmed as it is uneven!"

"Wharnow are alle her childer, say? In kingdome gone or power to come or gloria be to them farther? Allalivial, allaluvial! Some here, more no more, more again lost alla stranger."

The complexity of the patterns he makes is beyond belief. Here's a particularly interesting part in which he poses a question, then follows with an answer:

"8. And how war yore maggies?
Answer: They war loving, they love laughing, they laugh weeping, they weep smelling, they smell smiling, they smile hating, they hate thinking, they think feeling, they feel tempting, they tempt daring, they dare waiting, they wait taking, they take thanking, they thank seeking, as born for lorn in lore of love to live and wive by wile and rile by rule of ruse 'reathed rose and hose hol'd home, yeth cometh elope year, coach and four, Sweet Peck-at-my-Heart picks one man more."

Finally, I don't know how many people realize that, throughout this astonishing book, Joyce has embedded word sequences—words that begin with h, c and e—to allude of course to HCE (the protagonist). There are tons of them, but here a few:

"Howth Castle and Environs. he calmly extensolies. Hic cubat edilus. How Copenhagen ended. happinest childher everwere. Hush! Caution! Echoland! How charmingly exquisite! human, erring and condonable. heptagon crystal emprisoms. Heave, coves, emptybloddy! Hengler's Circus Entertainment. Heinz cans everywhere."

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Priestly Curators

Mary Snyder Behrens, American Canvas Series, mixed media, 4" w x 5.5" h

British artist-writer Patrick Hughes, from the essay "A Bit of Artobiography," in the catalog of his recent exhibition at Flowers Galleries in London, titled Patrick Hughes: Fifty Years in Show Business 1961-2011

"The museum of art has replaced the church for popular devotion, and so the curator is the new priest. The priestly curator's job is to introduce new mysteries and moralities to the impressionable public, backed up by spectacle and verbiage.

My art has always appealed directly to the people, calling out over the heads of the priests straight to the congregation, doing the vicars and bishops of official art out of a job. I am an unbeliever. I do not speak in tongues. Thus officialdom ignores me. I like to think that art is a lingua franca which can be understood by all the inhabitants of the planet. The idea of Korean art or New Zealand art or Polish art or Nicaraguan art or Californian art or Kenyan art is anathema to me. Writers may be stuck in their languages, but we artists can be seen and understood by all."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Les Coleman | Just Thunking

Whatever can be said about British artist and writer Les Coleman (whose work we have followed for decades), he is not thoughtless.

He thunks, he unthunks—and now in his latest book, he's been having afterthunks. It's called (appropriately) Afterthunks (Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Boekie Woekie, 2011. ISBN 978-90-78191-25-4). Above is a scan of the cover, as beautifully designed as are the interior pages by Colin Sackett. Some of Coleman's other books are available here at the same publisher's website (scroll down the page to find his name). Like many of his earlier publications, this is a book of his puzzling aphorisms (his thunks), ever so wonderfully interspersed with his equally "doubletake" drawings (one of which is shown below). As for the verbal thunks themselves, here are some teasing samples of those:

A triple-edged sword.
What is it about rag that makes a bull see red?
Houdini spent his life escaping from himself.
Terrified of shooting himself in the foot, he had both feet amputated.
"How the Electric Chair Saved Me From the Firing Squad"

As I have myself have always said, Les is more.