Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Finnegans Wake in SoHo.

For the English majors and Irish lit fans out there - my sister Elizabeth, for example - today's NYT has a human interest story on the Finnegans Wake Society of New York, which meets monthly in a SoHo apartment to discuss James Joyce's legendarily opaque magnum opus:
On Thanksgiving Eve, after 15 years of monthly meetings to read and discuss a page or so of "Finnegans Wake," the Finnegans Wake Society of New York was only on Pages 303-5, with 324 to go. James Joyce's novel could be the most difficult in English, with puns in 40 languages, including Esperanto and Volap√ľk.

Until three months ago, the Wake Watchers, as the members call themselves, used to meet at the Gotham Book Mart in Midtown. The store has closed its doors for financial reasons, however, and so the group now converses in the SoHo apartment of its leader, Murray J. Gross, 71, a retired lawyer known from his eye-rolling interpretations of sexual allusions.

. . .

The group starts its monthly meeting by reading the passage aloud before discussion. Last week's passage opened with the words, "As I was saying, while retorting thanks, you make me a reborn of the cards." The passage closed with
"Item, mizpah ends."

As the group made its way through its textual critique, there was much crunching of potato chips and trail mix, and a prominent refrain during the discussion was, "Pass the wine!" Interpretations ranged far and wide, to subjects as varied as baseball, the death tarot card, the Gap and Allah.

Before the meeting started, Marilyn Apelson, a gray-haired teacher from Manhattan, who has been with the group since the beginning, was searching the row of rusted buzzers at 178 Spring Street. "I can never remember where to ring," she said. As it turned out, Mr. Gross's apartment was under the name "James Joyce."
For the rest (there isn't much more), click here. Starting this post, I was tempted to write something about how the presence of unusual groups like the Finnegans Wake Society makes New York a unique place to live - until I came across the global directory of Finnegans Wake reading groups on the Society's website, which shows that New York isn't at all unique in this respect. One way or another, I respect and admire the dedication of the people who make up groups like the Finnegans Wake Society of New York. If and when I ever read Finnegans Wake myself, I may have to drop in on a meeting of the Society or one of its sister organizations for some interpretive assistance. In the meantime, my studies in philosophy offer more than enough for me to puzzle over. AMDG.


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