It’s Bloomsday today, so hit the books and read the twentieth century’s best author James Joyce. Bloomsday is a yearly celebration in Ireland as well as other parts of the world. The celebration commemorates the day Joyce’s masterwork Ulysses is set (the entire book takes place in a day).
In honor of Bloomsday, I’d like to write down some of the words from Joyce’s other masterwork Finnegan’s Wake and supply my interpretations of their meaning. There’s no definitive dictionary of Wakespeak, so it’s all guesswork. Finnegan’s Wake is an enormous puzzle of a book, comprised of puns, innuendos, double entendres, and portmanteaus. Here’s my take on a few.
TS Ildiot: This is one of Joyce’s more obvious puns. It’s a jab at his modernist rival T.S. Eliot. TS Ildiot= TS. Eliot + Idiot. Given Joyce’s preoccupation with myths, it could also be a reference to The Iliad. Why would Joyce so blatantly slam one of the most renowned of poets? James had a long standing enmity towards TS Eliot, a man he’d previously been friends with. Long time correspondents (Joyce is said to have helped edit and offer input on Eliot’s earlier works), Joyce sent an early copy of Ulysses to TS Eliot. A very short time later, Eliot published The Wasteland the same year as Ulysses. James claims Eliot nabbed much of the book’s style from his book (I’d largely agree with his accusation).
Queenoveire: A simple dismantling gives us Queen of Eire, (Eire, I believe, is another name for Ireland). Phonetic association though gives us Guinevere. Joyce is always on about how everyone has unsavory thoughts, everyone sins, everyone at least thinks about adultery. Here, he suggests even the queen of Ireland would have such vices (comparing her to Guinevere, mythology’s most well known adulteress).
Abfalltree: My favorite of his portmanteaus. Phonetically (say it aloud to get it) abfalltree sounds like Apple tree. Apple tree calls to mind the tree of knowledge from the Bible as it was reimagined by Milton (another figure Joyce read a lot). Fall suggests the fall of man, as brought on by the breach of trust in the garden of Eden. Ab though makes this word more interesting. A and b are the start of the alphabet. It’s my theory abfalltree connects the fall of man with the fall of language. In the time of Eden, the language they used must have been perfect; afterwards, it experienced the same splintering everything else did.
Buildung supra buildung: Buildung, at first glance, is a combination of building and dung. Thinking a bit harder, buildung also resembles bildung, the German word for education. Add to that, the coming-of-age story, or the novel of education, is often called a bildungsroman. James Joyce wrote one of the most widely read of bildungsroman literature, The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Supra is an academic term for transcending or exceeding. It seems to me Joyce is connecting our highest human activities (constructing buildings, receiving an education), with one of our most basic activites… Insert potty humor.
Anyways, this is the most Wakespeak I can handle right now. I might try and translate more of his wild terms later. In the meantime, get reading! James Joyce once joked that all he asks of his reader is that they spend their lives reading his work. If you have extra time, check out my book too.