Tuesday, 24 March 2015

St Patrick and the Druid in Pictures

'Much more is intended in the colloquy between Berkeley the arch druid and his pidgin speech and Patrick the [?] and his Nippon English. It is also the defence and indictment of the book itself, B's theory of colours and Patrick's practical solution of the problem. hence the phrase in the preceding Mutt and Jeff banter 'Dies is Dorminus master' = Deus est Dominus noster plus the day is Lord over sleep, i.e. when it days.'  

Joyce to Frank Budgen, 20 August 1939, Letters I p 406

It struck me that this St Patrick and the Druid piece is so visual that it calls out to be illustrated. So, inspired by Clinton Cahill, Stephen Crowe and John Vernon Lord, I've made my first attempt to illustrate Finnegans Wake.

The first picture shows the night world of the book, defended by the Archdruid Balkelly, who is wearing a 'heptachromatic sevenhued septicoloured roranyellgreenlindigan mantle'.  

Saint Patrick, on the right, is dressed as a Japanese Buddhist bonze (monk). He is the messenger of the dawn, and Japan is the land of the Rising Sun ('the messanger of the risen sun...shall give to every seeable a hue and to every hearable a cry)'. At his first appearance, Patrick is called 'the Chrystanthemlander with his porters of bonzos' (609.32): 'Chrystanthemlander' combines the Japanese chrysanthemum with Christ, anthem and lander. Joyce has him talking Japanese.

In the middle is High King Leary, who is also HCE and Finn, buried in the book's opening chapter, but who now 'rearrexes from undernearth the memorialorum.' (610.03)



The sky is covered with a thick black cloud because, in their encounter with St Patrick, 'the druids by their incantations overspread the hill and surrounding plain with a cloud of worse than Egyptian darkness.' (The Catholic Encyclopedia). This was miraculously dispelled by the saint.

The druid is claiming, in pidgin English, that the daytime visible world of colour is an illusion. When we see a coloured object, we are seeing the one colour it has reflected, rather than the six colours of the spectrum it has absorbed. But a true seer, like the druid, can see the 'sextuple glory of the light actually retained...inside them.'

Pointing at High King Leary, he explains that his red hair, orange kilt, yellow breasttorc, green mantle, blue eyes, indigo gem on his ring and violet warwon bruises on his face are all really various shades of green! 

A green-coloured resurrected king reminds me of Osiris - 'Pu Nuseht [the sun up] lord of risings in the yonderworld' 593.23

Patrick is not impressed at all by the druid's argument, and accuses him of being colour-blind: 'you pore shiroskuro blackinwhitepaddynger'. You poor chiaroscuro black and white Irishman. 'Shiro' is Japanese for white and 'kuro' for black. 

The sun rises, dispelling the black clouds of the Book of the Night, and Patrick kneels in worship before the rainbow. Daytime colours are visible, and the furious druid is defeated.



Patrick and the Druid are opposites in every way. The druid is dressed in rainbow colours but only sees green. Patrick is dressed in black and white ('niggerblonker'), but can see the rainbow.  But each will have their turn as day and night alternate.

'Yet is no body present here which was not there before. Only is order othered. Nought is nulled. Fuit fiat!' 613.13




Tuesday, 17 March 2015

St Patrick and the Druid

Today is St Patrick's Day! A good day to look at Joyce's own treatment of St Patrick in this sketch, which he wrote in the summer of 1923 while on holiday in Bognor Regis. This was the fourth Wake sketch Joyce wrote, following Roderick O'Conor, Tristan and Isolde and St Kevin.

'St Patrick and the Druid' eventually found its way into Finnegans Wake, at the very end, on pages 611-2.


Joyce sent this to his patroness, Harriet Shaw Weaver on 2 August 1923, with a letter saying 'I send you this as promised – a piece describing the conversion of St Patrick by Ireland.' (Letters III: 79)

Harriet Shaw Waver was baffled by it, not least because much of it is written in pidgin English! 

But she made the above typescript for him, which he corrected, and which she then mislaid. So these corrections never found their way into the published text.  This was not among the manuscripts she gave to the British Museum and was published for the first time, in June 1989, by the James Joyce Broadsheet.

The piece is based on the story of Patrick's arrival in Ireland, and his magical duel with the Arch Druids of High King Leary - in the story, related in the Tripartite Life of St Patrick, the saint wins the battle. But in his sketch, Joyce only gives us the druid's side, and so he described the piece as 'the conversion of St Patrick by Ireland.'

Note the addition of 'Lochru', which was the name of the main druid opponent of St Patrick.

Patrick's enemy is the 'archdruid of Irish chinchinjoss' - 'chin-chin' is pidgin for talking and 'joss' means god. So he's the top man in Irish God-talking - or theology!


Our druid is called Berkeley, because he's also the Irish philosopher and bishop, George Berkeley (above), author of An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision (1709), in which he argued that the objects of sight are not material, but ideas in the mind.

Joyce's archdruid has his own theory of vision, which he explains at length to an uncomprehending St Patrick. This is how Joyce wrote it in his very first draft, when it was in clear English, from www.ricorso.net:

'The archdruid then explained the illusion of the colourful world, its furniture, animal, vegetable and mineral, appearing to fallen men under but one reflection of the several iridal gradations of solar light, that one which it had been unable to absorb while for the seer beholding reality, the thing as in itself it is, all objects showed themselves in their true colours, resplendent with the sextuple glory of the light actually contained within them.'

So the druid is claiming that the visible world of colour is an illusion. When we see a coloured object, we are seeing the one colour it has reflected, rather than the six colours of the spectrum it has absorbed. But a true seer, like the druid, can see the 'sextuple glory of the light actually contained within.'

He then points to High King Leary, witnessing the duel, and uses him as an example of what a true seer can see:

'To eyes so unsealed King Leary’s fiery locks appeared of the colour of sorrel green, His Majesty’s saffron kilt of the hue of brewed spinach, the royal golden breasttorc of the tint of curly cabbage, the verdant mantle of the monarch as of the green of laurel boughs, the commanding azure eyes of a thyme and parsley aspect, the enamelled gem of the ruler’s ring as a rich lentil, the violet contusions of the prince’s feature tinged uniformly as with an infusion of sennacassia.'

The druid claims that King Leary's red hair, orange kilt, yellow breasttorc, green mantle, blue eyes, indigo gem and violet bruises are all really green!
'An Arch Druid in His Judicial Habit',
 
Joyce then expanded this, adding pidgin English and Latinate terminology - so 'absorb' became 'absorbere'. He also included a description of the druid's rainbow coloured outfit:

'Topside joss pidgin fella Berkeley, archdruid of the Irish josspidgin, in his heptachromatic sevenhued roranyellgreeblindigan mantle then explained to Patrick the albed, the illusiones of hueful world of joss its furniture mineral through vegetable to animal appearing to fallen men under but one reflectione of the several iridal gradationes of solar light that one which that part of it had shown itself unable to absorbere whereas for the seer beholding interiorly the true inwardness of reality, the thing as in itself it is, all objects showed themselves in their true coloribus resplendent with the sextuple gloria of light actually retained within them. In other words, to vision so unsealed King Leary’s fiery locks appeared of the colour of sorrel green while, to pass on to his sixcoloured costume His Majesty’s saffron kilt seemed of the hue of boiled spinach the royal golden breast torc of the tint of curly cabbage the verdant cloak of the mouth as of the viridity of laurel leaves, the commanding azure eyes of a thyme upon parsley look, the enamelled Indian gem of the ruler’s maledictive ring as an olive lentil, the violaceous warwon contusions of the prince’s features tinged uniformly as with a brew of sennacassia.' 

I love the change of 'the violet contusions of the prince's features' to 'the violaceous warwon contusions of the prince’s features'. They're King Leary's battle bruises!

Joyce then dramatically developed the transition between the two parts of the druid's speech, changing 'In other words' to this:

'Patfella no catch all that preachybook belong Luchru Berkeley bymby topside joss pidgin fella Luchru Berkeley say him two time with other words' (August typescript)

Patrick didn't understand Berkeley's message, so Berkeley told him a second time in a different way.

You can follow the development of this to the published text, which has more pidgin, at the www.ricorso.net website

PATRICK'S ANSWER


When Joyce put this into the Wake, in 1938, he followed it up with St Patrick's answer, which is to accuse the druid of being colour blind:

'you pore shiroskuro blackinwhitepaddynger' 612.18

You poor chiaroscuro black and white Irishman. 'Shiro' is Japanese for white and 'kuro' for black. 

Patrick follows this with an obscure reference to the shamrock, which the saint famously used to demonstrate the Trinity (left). In Joyce's version, it becomes a handkerchief:

'My tappropinquish to Me wipenmeselps gnosegates ahandcaughtscheaf of synthetic shammyrag to hims hers' (612.24)

There's an underlying scatological level running through the whole piece, echoing the earlier Wake story, of 'How Buckley Shot the Russian General'. That story was reintroduced on page 610, when Juva says that King Leary has bet on both the druid and the saint: 'He has help his crewn on the burkeley buy but he has holf his crown on the Eurasian Generalissimo' 610.11-12 

Patrick, the invader from the East, is the Eurasian Generalissmo.

In the earlier story, the Irish Buckley shoots a Russian general after seeing him relieving himself and wiping himself with a green sod. Our 'shammyrag' plays the role of the sod in the earlier story, and it's not clear if Patrick's wiping his arse ('hims hers') or his nose ('gnosegates') with it!

The Saint then kneels down in prayer to the Rainbow - to the world of visible daytime colours:

'to Balenoarch (he kneeleths), to Great Balenoarch (he kneeleths down) to Greatest Great Balenoarch (he kneeleths down quite-somely), the sound salse sympol in a weedwayedwold of the firethere the sun in his halo cast. Onmen.' 612.27

'Arcobaleno' is Italian for rainbow. Balenoarch is also God, the whale (Balena, Baleine) ruler (arch).

'the firethere the sun in his halo cast. Onmen'  is a play on 'The Father the Son and the Holy Ghost, Amen' - the Trinity again.

The appearance of the sun - 'the firethere the sun' - spells defeat for the druid. In the original story, St Patrick caused the sun, blotted out by the druids, to reappear:

'The druids by their incantations overspread the hill and surrounding plain with a cloud of worse than Egyptian darkness. Patrick defied them to remove that cloud, and when all their efforts were made in vain, at his prayer the sun sent forth its rays and the brightest sunshine lit up the scene.'  

The Catholic Encyclopedia 

'That was thing, bygotter, the thing, bogcotton, the very thing, begad! Even to uptoputty Bilkilly–Belkelly-Balkally. Who was for shouting down the shatton on the lamp of Jeeshees. Sweating on to stonker and throw his seven. As he shuck his thumping fore features apt the hoyhop of His Ards.

Thud.' 612.31-6

The Archdruid, furious at his defeat, tries to shout down the sun. He shakes his thumb and forefingers in defiance at St Patrick's arse, or at the High King (Ard Ri). Then he falls to the ground with a thud. On the scatological level ('shatton' is 'shat on') this may be the sound of the Saint's turd hitting the ground.

The Irish hail the new dawn and the sunrise:

'Good safe firelamp! hailed the heliots. Goldselforelump! Halled they. Awed. Where thereon the skyfold high, trampa-trampatramp. Adie. Per ye comdoom doominoom noonstroom. Yeasome priestomes. Fullyhum toowhoom.'                                                                                                              613.01-4

The 'firelamp! is the sun and Ireland. 'Heliots' are helots and worshippers of Helios, the sun. Elsewhere Joyce calls Ireland 'Healiopolis' (24.180 and 'Healiotropolis' (598.08), after Tim Healy, governor general of the Irish Free State from 1922-8. McHugh says Dubliners called the Viceregal Lodge in Phoenix Park 'Healiopolis'.

'THE DEFENCE AND INDICTMENT OF THE BOOK'


Describing this piece to Frank Budgen, Joyce wrote:

'Much more is intended in the colloquy between Berkeley the arch druid and his pidgin speech and Patrick the [?] and his Nippon English. It is also the defence and indictment of the book itself, B's theory of colours and Patrick's practical solution of the problem. hence the phrase in the preceding Mutt and Jeff banter 'Dies is Dorminus master' = Deus est Dominus noster plus the day is Lord over sleep, i.e. when it days.'  

20 August 1939, Letters I p 406

So Joyce's druid represents the night world of Finnegans Wake - a world when we don't see daytime colours, but do apprehend the sextuple glory of inner reality (even if it looks green because it's Irish!). Then St Patrick comes and brings the sunrise and daytime colours. The druid defends and St Patrick indicts Finnegans Wake.

What I wonder is how much of this did Joyce foresee when he originally wrote the sketch in Bognor Regis that summer in 1923? Did he even know he was going to write a night book?

Patrick drives out the snakes from Ireland

'The kindler of the paschal fire.' 128.33

 

Patrick's association with light and the druids with darkness goes back to the original stories of the saint.  On the eve of Easter, the saint lit a paschal fire on the Hill of Slane. At this time of year, it was practice to put out all fires before a new one was lit at Tara. When the druids at Tara saw the light from Slane, they warned King Leary that he must put it out or it would burn forever.

Patrick's paschal fire is on the opening page of Finnegans Wake: 'avoice from afire bellowsed mishe mishe to tauftauf thuartpeatrick'


'My Irish Saint'

 

Joyce had a special affection for St Patrick who was with him at the beginning, in Bognor Regis,  and at the end of the writing process. Here's a lovely recollection from the Swiss writer, Jacques Mercanton:

'On the Quay de Lutry...he installed himself on the little wall at the harbor's edge, stretched out his legs, pulled his straw hat down over his forehead, closed his eyes like the lion of Asia and basked in the last sunlight....So he sat there, pondered over 'Work in Progress', spoke of St Patrick, whose intercession was indispensable if he was to complete the book, wherein he has the saint carry on a dialogue in Chinese and Japanese with a druid....He made no move to leave until the cold evening air began to chill him: 'I follow St Patrick,' he said, pointing to Mrs Joyce, who was motioning to us from the platform of a streetcar. 'It is the title of an erudite book by my friend Gogarty, the Buck Mulligan of Ulysses. It would interest you.'
  Then with a sigh, 'Without the help of my Irish saint, I think I could never have got to the end of it.'

'The Hours of James Joyce', Portraits of the Artist in Exile, ed Potts, p.219 

A footnote to this tells us that Gogarty's book was found on Joyce's desk after his death.








Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Television in Finnegans Wake

Here's a scene from Mary Ellen Bute's wonderful film 'Passages from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake', which you can see on youtube and ubuwebBute needed to find ways of visualising Joyce's text, and one of them was to re-invent the Wake narrator as a television newsreader. It might seem that she's taking liberties here, but television is in Joyce's book.

The 'Stories' chapter (p309-82) is set in a pub, based on the Mullingar House in Chapelizod, which I visited in 2013. The extraordinary thing about the Wake pub is that it has a television set! 

If you travelled back to the Mullingar House in 1938, when the chapter was written, and told Mr Keenan, the landlord, that one day his pub would have a television, he would surely have dismissed the idea as science fiction. But I can confirm that it really now does have a tv, showing sporting events. Finnegans Wake has the power to predict the future!

Here's the key passage. The pub drinkers have been listening to a double act, Butt and Taff, who are trying to tell the Crimean War story of 'How Buckley Shot the Russian General.' On page 349, the characters appear on the pub television screen, with Taff fading (becoming Tuff) and Butt emerging (becoming Batt). They are then replaced on the screen by the figure of the Russian General, a version of HCE:
 
A 1938 Baird television
In the heliotropical noughttime following a fade of transformed Tuff and, pending its viseversion, a metenergic reglow of beaming Batt, the bairdboard bombardment screen, if tastefully taut guranium satin, tends to teleframe and step up to the charge of a light barricade. Down the photoslope in syncopanc pulses, with the bitts bugtwug their teffs, the missledhropes, glitteraglatteraglutt, borne by their carnier walve. Spraygun rakes and splits them from a double focus: grenadite, damnymite, alextronite, nichilite: and the scanning firespot of the sgunners traverses the rutilanced illustred sunksundered lines. Shlossh ! A gaspel truce leaks out over the caeseine coatings. Amid a fluorescence of spectracular mephiticism there caoculates through the inconoscope stealdily a still, the figure of a fellowchap in the wohly ghast, Popey O’Donoshough, the jesuneral of the russuates. The idolon exhibisces the seals of his orders: the starre of the Son of Heaven, the girtel of Izodella the Calottica, the cross of Michelides Apaleogos, the latchet of Jan of Nepomuk, the puffpuff and pompom of Powther and Pall, the great belt, band and bucklings of the Martyrology of Gorman. It is for the castomercies mudwake surveice. The victar. Pleace to notnoys speach above your dreadths, please to doughboys. Hll, smthngs gnwrng wthth sprsnwtch! He blanks his oggles because he confesses to all his tellavicious nieces.                 349.06-29

This is an astonishing account of the working of television, merged with the Crimean War 'Charge of a light barricade' combines beams of light firing at the 'bombardment screen' with the Light Brigade charging the Russian guns at Balaclava.  You can imagine how Joyce's imagination took off at the name 'Light Brigade'!

Here's Erroll Flynn in the 1936 film, 'Charge of the Light Brigade'. If you've ever seen this on television, you will have experienced both the beams of light and the charging cavalrymen simultaneously. I wonder if Joyce saw this film, released just two years before his own Crimean War treatment.

There's also a religious dimension to Joyce's text, suggested by the word 'iconoscope', a technical television term, from the Greek eikon (image) and skopon (to watch). The General's appearance on the screen is like that of a Saint from an Icon, or a Spectre - 'idolon' is from the Greek eidolon - spectre - which also gives us 'idol' . This all suggests the miraculous impact of early television.

To Joyce, with his Jesuit education, 'General' would recall the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, nicknamed the 'Black Pope'.  Between 1915 and 1942, this was Wlodimir Ledóchowski (right).

So Joyce calls his General 'Popey O’Donoshough, the jesuneral of the russuates', and describes him wearing various religious seals.

JOHN LOGIE BAIRD

 

'Bairdboard' is named after John Logie Baird, who transmitted the first television images in 1925.  This is the first known photograph of a moving image produced by Baird's 'televisor', in around 1926. It shows his business partner Oliver Hutchinson.


This is how I picture Joyce's Russian General emerging, like a spectre, on the screen of the Mullingar House television.

Joyce, who opened Ireland's first cinema in 1909, followed the development of television almost from the beginning. The Wake has two television references written in the late 20s:

'Television kills telephony in brothers' broil. Our eyes demand their turn. Let them be seen!' 52.18

Television will replace the telephone, for our eyes demand their turn, after our ears.

The fact that television needed 'betterment' is commented on in the second reference:

'looking through at these accidents with the faroscope of television, (this nightlife instrument needs still some subtractional betterment in the readjustment of the more refrangible angles to the squeals of his hypothesis on the outer tin sides)' 150.32-5 

I think one reason that Joyce was interested in television was that it was a new technology which required new words. 'Television' itself combines the Greek 'tēle' (far) and the Latin 'visio' (seeing). It's almost a Wake word! In the passage above, Joyce has come up with his own alternative, 'faroscope', meaning 'far seer' (Greek 'skopon' again). It also has the special Wake echo of the 'fire escape' in Medina Place, Hove, used by Charles Stewart Parnell to escape from being caught with Kitty O'Shea (cf 'a skyerscape' 4.36; 'fuyerescaper! 228.29; 'fairescapading in his natsirt' 388.03). There's also 'Pharos', the Greek lighthouse.  

Imagine if the television pioneers had been Joyce fans. Along with the physicists' 'quark', adopted from Finnegans Wake by Murray Gell-Man, we might today talk about what we saw last night on our faroscopes rather than our televisions.

THE ICONOSCOPE

Zworykin with his iconoscope
The 1930s saw big leaps forward, with electronic television improving on Baird's mechanical system. This was the work of many inventors, but the most important was probably Vladimir Zworykin, who invented and named the iconoscope, the first practical television camera tube.



An iconoscope focussed an image through a camera lens on a  'mosaic screen', a mica plate, covered with vast numbers of tiny silver cells, made photo-sensitive by being coated with caesium (Joyce's 'caeseine coatings'). Each cell on the screen built up an electrical charge, whose strength depended on how much light it received. This complete image, or teleframe, was then scanned by a stream of electrons, which traversed the mosaic screen in a series of slightly sloped parallel lines. So Joyce gives us:

'Down the photoslope....the scanning firespot of the sgunners traverses the rutilanced illustred sunksundered lines'

Again, there's the Battle of Balaclava here, as the Russian gunners traverse the British lines. 'sunksundered' is an echo of 'rode the six hundred', from Tennyson's 'Charge of the Light Brigade'.

I've found a 1956 film which explains this simply.

The image captured on the mosaic screen, in the form of a stream of electical impulses, was then converted into a radio carrier wave for transmission - 'borne by their carnier walve'

These signals were then picked up by radio receivers - tv aerials -and converted back into an electrical current, which was then amplified and used to create the image on the television screen.

Synchronizing pulses added to the signal at the end of every scan line and teleframe ensured that the receiver remained locked in step with the transmitted signal ('Down the photoslope in syncopanc pulses').

THE CATHODE RAY TUBE


To convert the electrical current back into the original image ('its viseversion'), televisions used the Cathode Ray Tube, also named by Zworykin. This was a vacuum tube containing an electron or spray gun, which bombarded a flourescent screen with a narrow beam of electrons ('Spraygun rakes and splits them'). This caused the screen to glow, recreating the original teleframe.


'DECTROSCOPHONIOUS PHOTOSENSITION'

 

1938, when Joyce was writing this, was a big year for television. It was the year that the British Scophony System was revealed at the Radiolympia exhibition.  This was like an early form of home cinema. Here's how Peter Yanczer describes it at his Early Televsion Museum:

'Without a doubt, the Scophony systems provided the highest performance ever achieved with mechanical scanners. In 1938, Scophony showed and successfully demonstrated three types of 405 line mechanical television receivers at the annual Radiolympia show in England. One was a home receiver, in a cabinet that produced a picture approximately 24" by 22". The other two were of similar construction, but without cabinets, intended for theater type operation. One produced a 6 by 5 foot picture and the other, 9 by 12 feet. Several of the theater models were installed and operating successfully. None of these receivers were sold because their production was halted due to the oncoming war in Europe. The Scophony system consisted of several unique innovative devices working together. It used a new "split focus" optical system coupled to a "Jeffree Cell," light modulator and special high speed synchronous motors to drive the scanners. Each were important fundamental Scophony inventions, developed by them for their mechanical scanning systems.'



The system used supersonic light control, shown above, and explained on this web page by Chris Long of Australia
Its effect was to split the focus of the light ('splits them from a double focus').

Joyce describes this system in another part of Finnegans Wake, also written in 1938:

'(his dectroscophonious photosensition under suprasonic light control may be logged for by our none too distant futures as soon astone values can be turned out from Chromophilomos, Limited at a millicentime the microamp)' 123.12-15

A Scophony television at Radiolympia
It looks as if the television in the pub episode is also a Scophony one, because at one point, somebody exclaims:

'Hll, smthngs gnwrng wthth sprsnwtch!' 349.26


Hell, something's gone wrong with the supersonic switch! The missing letters represent missing parts of the television image.


A lot of the information above comes from Danis Rose, who transcribed Joyce's notes on television in his Index Manuscript, published by the Wake Newslitter Press in 1978. The Index Manuscript is a transcription of one of Joyce's last working notebooks, known as VI.B.46.

Here are Joyce's notes, with page and line numbers added by Rose, showing where each item appears in the Wake.  The letters 'G' and 'S' refer to the green and sienna coloured crayons which Joyce used to cross out each entry when he transferred it to his text.



As far as I know, nobody has yet identified the source of Joyce's notes. Most of the words would be commonly used in newspaper accounts of television, which makes identification difficult.  The best clue is the obscure phrase 'guranium satin'. Rose writes of this, 'I have been unable to find a reference to the singular material, guranium satin, with which Joyce constructs his bairdboard screen.'

Another unusual entry for an account of television is the word 'ghastly' which inspired Joyce's description of the Russian General as 'the wholly ghast' 349.19

Tracking down Joyce's source is a job for the Genetic Wakeans! 






Monday, 2 March 2015

James Joyce Describes Finnegans Wake

'We are both somewhat dazed by the heavy heat here. I work every day at my big long wide high deep dense prosework.' 

Joyce to Giorgio and Helen Joyce, 1 June 1934. Letters III p.306

Following my last post on descriptions of Finnegans Wake, let's look at what Joyce himself had to say about his book. He loved talking about 'Work in Progress', as it was known until publication. The best single source of these conversations is Portraits of the Artist in Exile, edited by Willard Potts, which every Wake lover should seek out.

From that book, here's Ole Vinding, who interviewed Joyce in Copenhagen in 1936:


'I haven't lived a normal life since 1922, when I began 'Work in Progress'. It demands an enormous amount of concentration. I want to describe the night itself. Ulysses is related to this book as day is to night. Otherwise there is no connection between the two books. Ulysses did not require the same amount of concentration. Since 1922 my book has become more real to me than reality, and everything has led to it; all other things have been insurmountable difficulties, even the smallest realities such as, for instance, having to shave in the morning. There are, so to say, no individual people in the book – it is as in a dream, the style gliding and unreal as the way it is in dreams. If one were to speak of a person in the book, it would have to be of an old man, but even his relationship with reality is doubtful.'

Ole Vinding, 'James Joyce in Copenhagen',  in Portraits of the Artist in Exile (ed Willard Potts), pp 149

The next four quotations come from the Czech artist and writer, Adolf Hoffmeister, who met Joyce in Paris in 1930.

'I am thinking of a beautiful book where each occasion, each situation and each word will choose its own
language.  In all the languages of the world there is only one word that exactly designates a given thing....' 
'If you write that way few people can read you.'
'What is that to me? In the work I am now writing I use eighteen languages. The English-Parisian of the Americans is a language that no one understands any longer.'

''Work in Progress' gives the first view into the kneading trough of creation. In the beginning was chaos. But chaos is also at the end. The reader participates in the beginning or the end of the world as it occurs. Everyone is anyone and every instant is any instant. The fall of angels is mixed with the Battle of Waterloo, and H.C.E. is more changeable than history can provide names for.'

'I don't think that the difficulties in reading it are so insurmountable.  Certainly any intelligent reader can read and understand it, if he returns to the text again and again. He is setting out on an adventure with words. 'Work in Progress' can satisfy more readers than any other book because it gives them the opportunity to use their own ideas in the reading. Some readers will be interested in the exploration of words, the play of technique, the philological experiment in each poetic unit. Each word has the charm of a living thing and each living thing is plastic.' 

''Work in Progress' has a significance completely above reality; transcending humans, things, senses, and entering the realm of complete abstraction. Anna and Humphrey are at the same time the city and its founder, the river and the mountain, as well as both sexual organs; there is not even a chronological ordering of the action. It is simultaneous action, represented by the novel's circular construction.... Wherever the book begins it also ends.... '

Adolf Hoffmeister, 'Portrait of Joyce',  in Portraits of the Artist in Exile (ed Willard Potts), pp 126-32

Granta have published a wonderful extended new translation of the Hoffmeister interview, which you can read here.

My favourite description is this 1937 one from Jan Parandowski, which I've quoted before:

'Perhaps you have heard that I am writing something...'
'Work in Progress.'
'Yes, it doesn't have a title yet. The few fragments which I have published have been enough to convince many critics that I have finally lost my mind, which by the way they have been predicting faithfully for many years. And perhaps it is madness to grind up words in order to extract their substance, or to graft them one onto another, to create crossbreeds and unknown variants, to open up unsuspected possibilities for these words, to marry sounds which were not usually joined together before, although they were meant for one another, to allow water to speak like water, birds to chirp in the words of birds, to liberate all sounds of rustling, breaking, arguing, shouting, cracking, whistling, creaking, gurgling - from their servile, contemptible role and to attach them to the feelers of expressions which grope for definitions of the undefined. I took literally Gautier's dictum, 'The inexpressible does not exist.' With this hash of sounds I am building the great myth of everyday life.'


Jan Parandowski, 'Meeting with Joyce', in Portraits of the Artist in Exile (ed Willard Potts), pp 160-2

Here's the French Swiss writer, Jacques Mercanton, who got to know Joyce well in the late 1930s:

"Work in Progress'? A nocturnal state, lunar. That is what I wanted to convey: what goes on in a dream, during a dream. Not what is left over afterward, in the memory. Afterward, nothing is left....
  I reconstruct the nocturnal life as the Demiurge goes about the business of creation, starting from a mental outline that never varies. The only difference is that I obey laws I have not chosen. While He?...
  It is I who could draw up the best indictment against my work. Isn't it arbitrary to pretend to express the nocturnal life by means of conscious work, or through children's games?....Isn't it arbitrary of me to make use, as I do, of forty tongues I don't know in order to express the dream state? Isn't it contradictory of me to make two men speak in Chinese and Japanese in a pub in Phoenix Park, Dublin? Nevertheless, that is a logical and objective method of expressing a deep conflict, an irreducible antagonism.'
  ....He later explained to me his method of working according to the precise laws of phonetics, the laws that rule over all languages....'The only difference,' he declared, 'is that in my imitation of the dream-state, I effect in a few minutes what it has sometimes taken centuries to bring about....Nevertheless, my whole book is shaky. There is only one thing that keeps it on its feet: the author's obstinacy....This book has to do with the ideal suffering caused by an ideal insomnia. a sentence in the text describes it in those terms. When you say it in advance yourself, you silence the critics.'

Jaques Mercanton, 'The Hours of James Joyce', in Portraits of the Artist in Exile (ed Willard Potts), pp 209-221

Joyce also gave Mercanton detailed notes on the Phoenix Park Nocturne episode.  He gave another set of notes, on Anna Livia Plurabelle, to C.K.Ogden, which you can read here.

Yet, while explaining references, Joyce also downplayed the importance of reference hunting. He told Professor Heinrich Straumann of Zurich:

'One should not pay any particular attention to the allusions to placenames, historical events, literary happenings and personalities, but let the linguistic phenomenon affect one as such.'

H Straumann, 'Last Meeting with Joyce', A James Joyce Yearbook, ed Maria Jolas, p.114 

Apart from Potts' book, there are two other major statements, quoted by Eugene Jolas and Max Eastman. These are harder to track down:

'There really is no coincidence in this book,' he said during one of our walks. 'I might easily have written this story in the traditional manner.... Every novelist knows the recipe....It is not very difficult to follow a simple, chronological scheme which the critics will understand....But I, after all, am trying to tell the story of this Chapelizod family in a new way. Time and the river and the mountain are the real heroes of my book....Yet the elements are exactly what every novelist might use: man and woman, birth, childhood, night, sleep, marriage, prayer, death....There is nothing paradoxical about this....Only I am trying to build many planes of narrative with a single esthetic purpose....Did you ever read Laurence Sterne?'

Eugene Jolas, 'My Friend James Joyce'  in Givens (ed), James Joyce:Two Decades of Criticism, 1948, p.11-12. The elision marks are in Jolas's original text.

'In writing of the night', – he told me – 'I really could not, I felt I could not, use words in their ordinary connections. Used that way they do not express how things are in the night, in the different stages – the conscious, then semi-conscious, then unconscious. I found that it could not be done with words in their ordinary relations and connections. When morning comes of course everything will be clear again. They really needn't worry and scold so much. I'll give them back their English language. I'm not destroying it for good!' 

Max Eastman, The Literary Mind, 193, p.101
  
Ellmann's biography is another major source of Joyce's accounts of the Wake:

'When the sculptor August Suter asked what he was writing, he could answer truthfully, 'It's hard to say.' 'Then what is the title of it?' asked Suter. This time Joyce was less candid: 'I don't know. It's like a mountain that I tunnel into from every direction, but I don't know what I will find.' Actually he did know the title at least, and had told it to Nora in strictest secrecy 
....Joyce informed a friend later, he conceived of his book as the dream of old Finn, lying in death beside the River Liffey and watching the history of Ireland and the world – past and future – flow through his mind like flotsam on the river of life....
  'Jes suis au bout de l'anglais,' Joyce said to August Suter, and he remarked to another friend, 'I have put the language to sleep.'
....He said to Edmond Jaloux that his novel would be written ‘to suit the esthetic of the dream, when the forms prolong and multiply themselves, when the visions pass from the trivial to the apocalyptic, when the brain uses the roots of vocables to make others from them which will be capable of naming its phantasms, its allegories, its allusions.''

Ellmann, James Joyce,  p.543-6. 

The Jaloux quotation comes from an article, 'James Joyce' in Le Temps, 30 January 1941. It's a shame Ellmann doesn't give a source for the 'dream of old Finn' idea, which reminds me of Vinding's 'If one were to speak of a person in the book, it would have to be of an old man'.

There are more quotations on p 590 of Ellmann's biography:

'About my new work – do you know, Bird, I confess I can't understand my critics, like Pound and Miss Weaver. They say it's obscure. They compare it of course with Ulysses. But the action of my new work takes place at night. It's natural that things should not be so clear at night, isn't it?' 

Joyce to William Bird, recalled in a 1954 letter to Ellmann

'It's all so simple. If anyone doesn't understand a passage, all he need do is read it aloud.'  

Joyce to Claude Sykes, recalled in a 1954 interview with Ellmann

'Perhaps it is insanity. One will be able to judge in a century.'

Louis Gillet, Claybook for James Joyce, 59

Joyce's patroness, Harriet Shaw Weaver, is another source of his descriptions of the Wake. She wrote to Professor Joseph Prescott, 'In the summer of 1923 when Mr Joyce was staying with his family in England he told me he wanted to write a book which should be a kind of universal history.' (Joseph Prescott, 'Concerning the Genesis of Finnegans Wake', PMLA, Vol LXIX, No. 5, Dec 1954) 

Joyce's letters to Weaver provide several readings of specific passages, such as the opening page, as well as some general descriptions:

'One great part of every human existence is passed in a state which cannot be rendered sensible by the use of wideawake language, cutandry grammar and goahead plot.'

To Harriet Shaw Weaver, 24 November 1926, Letters Vol 3, p146 (Selected Letters p.318)

‘I think I have done what I wanted to do. I am glad you like my punctuality as an engine driver. I have taken this up because I am really one of the great engineers, if not the greatest, in the world besides being a musicmaker, philosophist and heaps of other things. All the engines I know are wrong. Simplicity. I am making an engine with only one wheel. No spokes of course. The wheel is a perfect square. You see what I am driving at, don’t you? I am awfully solemn about it, mind you, so you must not think it is a silly story about the mouse and the grapes. It’s a wheel, I tell the world. And it’s all square.’ 

To Harriet Shaw Weaver, postcard of 16 April 1927, Letters Vol I, p250

Joyce's symbol for the title of the book was a square, as he had explained in this letter to Weaver of 24 March 1924.
In his notebooks, Joyce used the square sign to represent the book itself, and other containers, listed by Roland McHugh in The Sigla of Finnegans Wake.



Harriet Shaw Weaver took the intriguing letter of April 1927 as a hint at the secret title, and suggested 'A Wheeling Square'.  Joyce replied:

'The title is very simple and as commonplace as can be. It is not Kitty O'Shea as some have suggested, though it is in two words. I want to think over it more as I propose to make some experiments with it also....My remarks about the engine were not meant as a hint at the title. I meant that I wanted to take up several other arts and crafts and teach everybody how to do everything properly, so as to be in the fashion.'  Letters Vol I 251. 

Those 'experiments' with the title must be to do with leaving out the apostrophe.

Joyce also describes his book in the pages of the Wake itself, most famously on page 120:  

'and look at this prepronominal funferal, engraved and retouched and edgewiped and puddenpadded, very like a whale’s egg farced with pemmican, as were it sentenced to be nuzzled over a full trillion times for ever and a night till his noddle sink or swim by that ideal reader suffering from an ideal insomnia.'
120.09-17