Jouissance of the Joyce Word


Reading Joyce’s Finnegans Wake is an encounter with singularity, a vicariously bruising encounter, blessedly joyful, often surprising and yet sometimes, when the signifier fails to strike, downright maddening. On the one hand there is the writing of the symptom on the side of meaning, in Joyce’s case, an inscription of the failure of the phallic function (?), and on the other hand, on the side of jouissance, there is the sinthome derived in “an asceticism of writing which seems [to Lacan] only able to succeed by rejoining an “it is written” by which would be installed the sexual rapport”[[1]]. The novel itself is a dream, a formation of the unconscious, a vortex of signification – which begins in the navel of the same sentence in which it ends -, and it is woven around a hole. Despite the sedimentary layers of metonymic ciphering, meaning is not all that is at stake; the melodious, homophonic effect of Joyce’s poetic rendering of lalangue goes beyond what does not cease not to be written, beyond the impossibility of writing the signifier of the lack in the Other and on to the sinthome.

However, Finnegans Wake is also a book to be spoken. A book of speech to temper the jouissance of humanity… Derek Pyle, project director of Waywords and Meansigns – Recreating Finnegans Wake [in its Whole Wholume] – came to this particular work through what was clearly a fortuitous encounter with Lacan’s Seminar XXIII while studying with a Lacanian analyst as an undergrad in Hampshire College. He relayed this to me when we met over breakfast in Dublin to discuss a possible contribution to the effort. Now in its third and final open edition (the project is still open for ongoing contributions).

Waywords and Meansigns sets Finnegans Wake – unabridged – to music, and contains work by poets, writers, composers, actors, musicians, artists, filmmakers and translators (did I leave out circus performers?) No record deals or publishing contracts are involved. Neither is there any corporatism – mainstream or otherwise – , nor a well funded mass marketing campaign. Participation is invited on a voluntary basis whereby a passage, section, or indeed chapter of the Wake, is selected, recorded as spoken word and infused (wetting the tea, as Joyce might have said) in an original piece of music. The project, open to all, has attracted a loose affiliation of musicians and artists, as diverse as they are eclectic, and in this era of the push to the norm it comes to represent a true rendering of collective independence, which is as refreshing, as it is rare. Others who have contributed include punk rock icon Mike Watt, BBC radio playwright Lavinia Murray, pianist John Wolf Brennan, and composer Seán Mac Erlaine.

Well, if Von Wartburg, in 1946, remarked that the Académie… tried to cleanse language of the jouissance of the word[[2]], of its equivocation and ambiguity, then Waywords and Meansigns, in 2017, is putting it back in! The third edition IS on general release from the 4th of May and can be accessed here:

[1] Lacan, J., Litturaterre, in Autres écrits, Paris: Seuil. 2001. p. 20.
[2] v. Wartburg, W., Évolution et structure de la langue française. Editions Franke, Berne, 1946. p. 173.

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