Finnegans Wake is the last, most mysterious book by the Irish writer James Joyce. Usually described as a novel, it is a fascinating text written primarily in English (more strictly Hiberno-English), but the words are often fused with any of several dozen languages (McHugh, 1991). This dream-like narrative features a Dublin pub owner Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, his wife Anna Livia Plurabelle, their twin sons Shem and Shaun and their daughter Issy. They travel through space and time to discover the truth about a scandalous incident in Phoenix Park in which HCE was implicated and to deliver a letter written by ALP in his defense. Drawn into a whirlpool of the past, they metamorphose into historical and legendary figures, a hill, a river, a cloud, a tree and a stone (Campbell and Robinson, 1944/1959; Bishop, 1986). The story of HCE’s fall overlaps with the story of a drunken bricklayer Tim Finnegan who fell off a ladder but was resurrected when whisky splashed on his face during a fight at his wake. This fuses with the original Fall, with sexual falls of politicians and celebrities, with Napoleon and Wellington on the battlefield of Waterloo, with Tristan and Iseult’s romance, a hen discovering an ancient manuscript in a rubbish heap, and more. Full of sexual innuendoes, historical, literary, autobiographical allusions and hilarious wordplays, multiple plots of Finnegans Wake develop in non-linear ways and can be followed like a maze, or a hypertext (Hart, 1962; Hayman, 1978; Loska, 1999 and 2000; Armand, 2003; Bazarnik, 2011).
In The Middle Ages of James Joyce. The Aesthetics of Chaosmos Umberto Eco offers a diagram that visualizes hypertextual complexity of the Wakean language (Eco, 1989). It shows how MEANDERTALE and MEANDERTHALLTALE, two of innumerable puns making up the textual labyrinth of Finnegans Wake, can be unpacked into separate words. The image represents a network connecting major components: meander, German Tal, tale, and Neandertal, which combine to suggest a cluster of meanings. This Wakean pun nudges us about how to read the book: as a “tall tale” wandering waywardly, looping backward and flashing forward, into the pre-historic past, and the origins of the human species. And as a watercourse – of course, ‘the Meander’ is a river which (giving us the word) meanders. Working on the logic of associations, it hints at different interpretative paths, visualised by the wavy lines of the diagram.
In our project – First We Feel Then We Fall – we aspire to offer a similar, dynamic, visual translation of hypertextuality and simultaneity of Finnegans Wake (Joyce, 1939/2002). Inspired by Eco’s diagram, our project is based on a comparable analysis of narrative streams in Joyce’s text. Having analysed the Wakean imagery, euphonies, rhythms and polyphonic contexts, we have selected four narrative strands, or “plots,” which are translated into an up-to-date audiovisual form of an interactive Internet app. Thus networks of linguistic, historical, symbolic, and mathematical meanings entailed in Wakean puns are transposed into a dynamic audio-visual structure that the audience can co-shape in the process of interactive viewing. The viewer can switch at will between four simultaneous streams of film clips accompanied by sound (and optional captions with the FW text). The interactive and immersive nature of First We Feel Then We Fall will go beyond previous cinematic adaptations of Joyce’s novel. It is the advance of digital technologies that has enabled us to approach complexity of Finnegans Wake in this novel way.
In our presentation we will briefly describe the rationale for our multimedia adaptation of Finnegans Wake, and let the audience experience it in an individual, interactive viewing on an available mobile device and/or a computer.