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Frank Zappa: Finnegans Wake .. Omnium Gatherum!
an occasional essay by Out To Lunch
Everything has a significance, and the closer you get to the dark pestle of your own most misfortunate longings, the deeper the correspondences tinkle in the mortuary: symmetry under a cemetery wall. If you are reckless enough to expose the contents and discontents of your mind on a website, chances are that cybergliders will zip by with their casual, street-ballet insouciance and let slip glib questions or requests, some of which will gradually work you into a läther. Such a foam-flecked response is festering here before you, Laid-ease and Genital-men, a blobulent outgrowth of speckled speculation prompted by an electronic communiqué from a schoolboy in Norway called Calvin Krogh.
Already, by virtue of his name - a severe, latinate, north-french conscience diving into the icycled mouth of a terminal viking loch (it's not the Kyffin, it's the boffin they bump you off in) - Calvin Krogh is a worthy constituent of the rewritten scarscape which rips like weasels through the esemplastic uncalculus, and whose twinkling canopy stretches like the Duke of York's broomhandle between Stonehouse & Lancaster, Hillsborough & Bromley, Earshape & Eyewurzle, Amen & Omen, a mixed-metaphorical schema making a counter-angle to the fine dotted line between Muzak & Dyoublong?.
In short, this is what the Militant Esthetix website received on 25 February 2004:
My name is Calvin Krogh. I'm a young Zappa fan from Norway, who is just starting to get into Finnegans Wake, after getting an excellent lecture about it in school. I have read your (Mr. Watson's) book Negative Dialectics.... Perhaps I understood 1/10th of what I read, but I liked it. It's informative, entertaining and mind-boggling (isn't that the word?). I also saw Finnegans Wake mentioned under Bibliography in The Complete Guide To The Music Of FZ. What I'm dreaming of now is a book, or at least a paper, that deals with the relationship (or whatever) between Zappa and Joyce (especially Finnegans Wake). And: I must admit, I was a little dissapointed to see that there was no "zappological reading of James Joyce's Ulysses" as promised at the International Conference of Esemplastic Zappology (1) ... It's an interesting topic. If such a book is ever released, no matter who writes it (almost), I'll be first in line to buy it.
Sincerely, Calvin K.
The only way Out To Lunch could deal with the pustulent, pushing, seminal, seminiferous, ludicrous, criss-crossed, litter-strewn, letter-raving literary energies unleashed by such a missal, so reminiscent of his own ominous encounter with the Wake, aged fourteen, in the school library, was to go to his sickbed and watch the gristle grow porter. Using the excuse of a gastric flu from Birmingham (named in the Evening Standard [2 March 2004] as Small Round-Structured Virus, or SRSV) which was taking down the London intelligentsia like so many ten-pin skittles (no Pudel, this SRSV!), OTL cancelled all engagements and, hugging a copy of Finnegans Wake, locked the door, switched on the answerphone, dowsed the house lights and wrapped himself in the rank sheets of an enseamèd bed. He would read his way through the problem ...
The Wake fell open at the Shem chapter, which Out To Lunch read in its inkish entirety, his reading of its guiltridden exposé striated with comments overheard from adolescents smoking matches and empty rizla papers in the communal hallway and talking about ginger girls dying their hair to avoid the nasty comments, their random urban chatter helping to dispel the nuisance of a mono-reading imposed by having listened repeatedly to an LP of Cyril Cusack reading these pages back in 1972. Sleep after the Wake was characterised by a grinding compounded of greenish drops of unnamed desires, the furnace-traction roaring and clunk-clinking of the metabolic rate, Rabelaisian lists, port-hole scratchings, parallax funnelled into thunderous brow-clenched argument, the pennyweather bellshirts of Ken-Fox-like unpreplanned physico-verité ejaculations, winter grease, merry varlets, coshed quotatoes, disinterred monuments, burnished plop plops, schystlike micas, incredulous incas, jesuits squirted the wrong way, blobules of mercury, excess'n'excess'n'excess, zappaesque weren't-beenie bouquets strung on anti-catholic wireless immanent critiques, and wasp stings. The hurt wound of nonstopping torture, the punishment machine of Kafka's penal colony which your comfy moralism merely upholsters (Raoul Vaneigem out of Frances Stracey), the unholstered pistols shooting sex signs at the starlets, pop! pop!, the grim grey grind in the back of the tooth and the continual black pump of the heart, no lentsome ventilation or the dove pigeon peace pledge, no blue skies courtesy Microsoft Corp, no knowberry boots at the back of the store. Hard hard hard in the body of the mind. Like Dallas Boner said of Maxayn Lewis, true funk gets the machines back into the body, plays a keyboard ripple on the vertebrae, makes me know the electro-spark of nerve tissue. Helter Mass Skeleton Endroit! I'm an ident-fix of the human imago, better see what the others are doing by writhing here on this my couch of foolskin flusick bedmento. The licksmoothies' amorphous cheese of disorganised nomad protoplasm can't take the crunch and splinter of the bone itself: the rigour of our phallicism is a merely a reminder of the bonehard splendide within this our living corpse. To be alive we must know our very bodiness and place-mat, our ortal actuality. Bonney bony elbows in the face of every Bloomsbury pusillanimity!
Let's say the names and place them toe to toe, as if on a deathslab:
That frigging fits. What more do you want, a catachism? A catamite schysm? A dynamited parliament and a catachistic strokeback, a cat-o-nine-tails waved in your features?
It must be admitted that
is more spookily congruous, a coincidence wreathed in esemplastic ectoplasm, and no doubt explains why Franz Kafka's "In the Penal Colony" is the only piece of modern literature referenced on a Zappa album. But (another aperçu of Dallas Boner's), all those "avant" popmusic wankers who drop heavy names (on their broken toes!) in Wire interviews are just so much tiresome chestphlegm and nuke-us mucous: the testament must be written INTO THE METHOD OF THE BODY OF THE WORK. No flashes on readymade images confirming a commercial imaginary! No icons plugged into the power circuit of temporary illusion! No exploitation of semiotic triggers which will look quaint-as-Victorian-fairyporn when the next wave of image-change splashes on the bitchhead! No collusive inclusion of "sexy pics" like a Sonic Youth LP cover ... no Roger Deanesque fantasy lanscape like Edgar Quinet rhapsodizing the scentladen florist's array ... no chiffon to sneeze on, no baby hooks (the "drazy hoops"? does anyone out there believe the lyric sheet on the Troutmask CD?) to bleed on, no streets left for dummies to jog on or doggies to god on. MATERIALIST ESTHETIX, baby, as inexpensive as plea song: no mystery, gnome history, no images, no references, no tuned-up Bowie-esque sing-song and pouting, no moral: a cavalcade, a cornucopia, a barrelload, a garbage truck, a sorghum pipe, an icing'n'ointment utensil fuelly-charged with STUFF STUFF STUFF, all from somewhere, scintillated and wriggling with its torn-from vectors, a velcrose-fastened animé ball comprising a bit of everything from whatever bin (and gwine be, I hear), seething and weaving and frothing and spuming into a monstrous garish collagenikov mock abstract on the freeway TEN FEET TALL! How like your dreams ...
Er, more specifically ... Zappa and Joyce are cultural subversion cranked up to multispeed, where impediments to the artist's megalomaniac will to put anything next to anything have become a persistent itch whose scratching rends the body of the work so it longer "works", it's all over the place ... but what a place! Both were medievalists contesting a puritanical rationalised logico-commodity system imposed by the Protestant Worth Ethic, reacting against repressive Roman Catholic upbringings and schoolings, but saving the good part: the yearning for a universal world picture. But instead of an inert ecclesiastical myth designed to prevent the masses noticing their chains, Zappa and Joyce turn the rosy esemplastic holographic wonderment of the Chartres effulgence into a begargoyled beast at the beck-and-call of anyman or woman brave enough to walk by hissside. It hisses at cowardice and snarls at censorship and sniffs at repression, electrically sensitive to the BULLSHIT surrounding SOCIAL OPPRESSION.
People who write about Finnegans Wake without reading it (mostpeople) forget how OBSCENE and SHOCKING and ANGRY and RAW and NAKED it is. Folding everything into the thumping rhythms of a few favorite prose passages whose style he loved but whose content he disdained, Joyce evaded the British wartime censors (the same ones who'd pooped on Ulysses) by producing a book of "incomprehensible gibberish" - incomprehensible to every "educated" person, that is, who's forgotten that everything written is merely a transcription of something said in lust or anger or accountancy or pure punning fun. Joyce catches the words in their spastic automatic splenetic shapescule before they've had time to settle into orderly grey-ruled narrow-feint monosense. Finnegans Wake is the best book of the twentieth century. It has of course has been roundly condemned and squarely rejected as "unreadable" or "difficult" by politicans, academics, journalists and mass-media spokepersons who wish to keep alive the desiccated, non-lived, duped and BORING spectacle of life supplied to us by those who rule. But the Wake has been celebrated and pored-over and disputed and read - read read RED - by all true REVOLUTIONARIES, SURREALISTS, BEATS, POETS, FREE IMPROVISORS, ZAPPA FANS & COCKROACH-FANCIERS as the Bible of Post-Capitalism, our glimpse of a humanist democracy beyond war, exploitation, media manipulation and the money form, where MATERIALIST RECOGNITION OF OUR ACTUAL LIVES (what the Communist Manifesto called "facing with sobers senses our real conditions of life and our relations to our kind") becomes the open swinging-bar door on a limitless realm of play, adventure, learning, social contact and sexual bliss.
Frank Zappa was born into a time when James Joyce was still alive: Joyce died on 13 January 1941; Zappa had been alive just 23 days (a number which always appears when your thoughts are concentrated on the Great, the Pleasurable and the True (2)). Although their names fit the same lettrist grid, their boehmic syllababbles waft totally different aromas. James is soft, the repeated "J" is soothing, the sounds around his name invoke aimiable joy and soulful high spirits (âme is "soul" in French, "Oi!" is a Jewish ejaculation used in London's East End); Frank Zappa is a weird abutment of northern Germanitude ("Frank" rather than Frances or Francesco) and the southern Italianate (in Italy "zappa" means a primitive garden implement). "James Joyce" is soft on the tongue, almost labial, smooth on the ear: "Frank Zappa" is staccato, a shock, a joke, a poke in the eye. In the 60s, ignorant of Italian words for primitive garden implements, most pop fans thought Zappa's name was a put-on, a perverted brandname-style misspelling of "zapper", i.e. "one who zaps" ("Zap!" being a word like "Pow!" and "Wham!" used by post-war comic strips used to describe the impact of ray-guns, or the sound of fists meeting well-shaved chins).
People develop the meanings of words in use, as associations accrete around them. Since the special area of artists is, as the Danish painter Asger Jorn put it, "fascinations, their elaboration and interplay" [The Natural Order, Report No. 1 of the Scandinavain Institute of Comparative Vandalism, 1962 (3)], the names of artists are especially conducive to such accretions. Nevertheless, the fact that Joyce was a pacifist and humanist born into an era of wars and a successful revolution, and that Zappa was a brash self-promoter born into an era of wars and consumer booms and failed revolutions, should not extinguish the extraordinary congruence of their project/objects. Both made vast works which require inhabitation by the reader/listener. Joyce acts like a summary of everything the book and reading can do, Zappa like a prediction of everything recording media can and will do: yet only reader/listeners who are sensitive to what they have in common can understand what makes them tick unique. Zappa was a saboteur in the face of the mass-media spectacle, a font of lacerating poetry who relentlessly criticised hype, lies and manipulation. His emphasis on the detail and surface of his art (so unlike the mysterious promises of hip lurking behind the folk modes and echoic shimmer of the Velvet Underground) links him straight to Kurt Schwitters and James Joyce. Zappa's art doesn't speak by provocation, positioning or reputation (Duchamp, Warhol, Koons) but in the grain of its maximalist mediation. It's not good because it shocks the art world, it's good because it improves MY world.
Far from being a bookish retreat from modernity, Finnegans Wake is set in a public house with a TV-set playing (a device yet to be inflicted on the masses when he wrote), though this TV-set is generally ignored in favour of the psychic reality of those in the pub (which include the landlord's family and children upstairs in bed or seated on the stairwell staring down through the banistars). Joyce's prose evades the repression of literature and the responsibility of the concept, and proposes instead a universal humanism in recognizing the quaint proclivities of the human animal. Zappa recognised that the superficial "immediacy" of the mass media was in fact the same spectacular oppression which Joyce found in book learning. They both had a thing about knickers. Different social poisons: same radical-subjective antidote.
The New York Times didn't take kindly to the links between Joyce and Zappa made by Poodle Play [see Poodle Play p. 559], interpreting them as a claim that Zappa was a "wordsmith on a par with Joyce", as if I wasn't aware Zappa turned out albums not books. But since it irritates the brokers of cultural value so much to be reminded of how Joyce took literature down to the dregs, to the left-behinds, those who aren't afraid to say what's on their minds, let's look at this STUFF - even though it comes out as something that looks like nonsense to you, oh my bourgeois brother.
Dropping into the Wake is so like listening to Zappa, it's pitiful how few critics have remarked upon the similarity. You are buffeted by powerful hot winds full of acrid scents you cannot name but which you know promise strange and wondrous feasts (in pots!). It's like landing on the roof of an alien factory in the midst of the arrival of an important shipment of off-planet ores while also drinking meths with the winos in a bivouac made of discarded rocket fins, moon rocks and space rubbish. The poor saddoes who believe that sorting out each little "reference" will clarify the oeuvre miss the point: only readers/listeners who are prepared to drop "getting the point" and experience the prose/music as a sensual, below-the-belt massage will ever get the point. This is not to deny the fun to be had in Joyce Studies and Zappology, which in the right hands (sceptical, materialist, interested, unfixated, collective, Marxist) can use the objectivity of their projects to develop a holistic, dialectical (esemplastic) interpretation of history and cosmos, a science that (unlike positivism) has desire in it, and a desire that (unlike postmodernism) has science in it. But we HEARD the "meaning" of the Wake and we SAW the "meaning" of Weasels as soon as we jumped with joy to experience such wilful, artful, SINFUL transgresssions of the norm-oriented artefacts pumped at us down the culture shoot. The lack of ostensible here's-the-hero, boy-loves-girl, I'm-a-bright-guy, here's-a-sad-song "meaning" was our Orghast, our Persephone, our Citron Peel of Lebanon. What did Joyce and Zappa want, an audience of FREAKS??! Yes indeed, sir.
Allah 'n' Fang Ist Schweppes ... logically enough, the chapter [Wake pp. 169-95] begins with Shem's origins:
Shen is as short for Shemus as Jem is joky for Jacob. A few toughnecks are still getatable who pretend that aboriginally he was of respectable stemming ... [FW, p. 169]
But this narrative logic is directed at a cipher. Who is "Shem" anyway? We've never been introduced. The first whole sentence of the Wake (a leitmotif perpetually recycled in variant versions throughout the book, a list of events) is followed directly by:
Rot a peck of pa's malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by arclight and rory end to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsome on the aquaface.
Nearly Shem, but not quite. This is Joyce's assault on the written word as an inadequate transcription of sound, and nowhere is this more apparent in names, which resist the homogeneity imposed by national, codified languages and force people to pay attention to "accent", a term for linguistic residues and tongue habits of subaltern tribes and communities. Think of all the problems which southern English people have with spelling the "Micks" and "Mikes" from up north correctly, or the extraordinary discovery made by Mick (or was it Mike?) Dougan from Pudsey, when he visited Derry and heard Eamon McCann address his partner Goretti: we'd all been fooled by the gaelic spelling into pronouncing her name - which was obviously "Gerty" - in McCann's Irish brogue!
Finnegans Wake is not simply about the dissolution of sense as the post-structuralists and postmodernists would have us believe. The rot in the malt is yeast and it makes beer, leading to drunkenness and conviviality (a wake, as in the booze-up after a funeral). The dissolution of sense has a positive outcome. The Wake is a highly determinate and charged satire on English as a definitive tongue, stretching its syntax to include the variants and nuances of its future worldwide users. It reads less like literature than as a transcript of the ravings of a stand-up comic:
he was an outlex between the lines of Ragonar Blaubarb and Horrild Hairwire and inlaw to Capt. the Hon. and Rev. Mr Bbyrdwood de Trop Blogg was among his most distant connections ... [FW, p. 169]
The residual Anglo-Saxon letters preserved in aristocratic names are mocked as stuttered pomposity. The social resentment in Finnegans Wake - against an England whose first imperialist foray was the subjugation of Ireland - is relentless, raging and violent, and only academics have the "training" to blot it out of their analyses. It corresponds very precisely to the resentment in Zappa versus the "beautiful people", the blonde pupils with surf boards who lord it in the Californian high school, condemning brunettes, wops, dagos, Mexicans and blacks to lower levels of the social hierarchy.
Shem was a sham, so low that, like Keith Richards, he prefered tinned salmon to the real thing. Beefsteak is rejected as the feastmeal of the English oppressor, who'd wrecked Irish peasant life, and reduced the land to a green meadow for the rearing of cattle.
None of your inchthick blueblooded Balaclava fried-at-belief-stakes or juicejelly legs of the Grex's molten mutton or greasygristly grunters' goupons or slice upon slab of luscious goosebosom with lump after load of plumpudding stuffing all aswim in a swamp of bogoakgravy for that greekenhearted yude! Rosbif of Old Zealand! he could not attouch it. [FW, pp. 170-1]
This is a good example of the "the subaltern grandiloquence", which according to Paul Sutton in his talk at the First International Conference of Esemplastic Zappology ["Bogus Pomp and Bourdieu's Paradox: Zappa and resentment", ICE-Z 2004] "has been particularly noted of Black and Irish verbal culture". The hungry tend to wax big on food (cf. Louis Jordan's "Beans & Cornbread"). It's not exactly what Sutton calls the "mincing but menacing" style of Zappa's "the sterile canvas snoot of a fully charged icing annointment utensil" ["Muffin Man"/"Little Green Rosetta"], where a parodic techno-fetishism adds a surface of gleaming chrome to farinaceous-fatty facetious presentness (Sutton also contends that the famous, swooning conclusion of Joyce's "The Dead" is not sublimity but kitsch, a piss-take of the sentimentality of the appalling Gabriel; by putting in question the only known locale of unalloyed sublimity in Joyce's oeuvre, Sutton brings Joyce still closer to the 360°-parody of Zappa). Such is the zinging compatability of Zappa's attitude with the poetry of the colonised - speaking English, but without inhabiting it - that he could recite Dylan Thomas at the Hammersmith Odeon without anyone guessing it wasn't Zappa's own text [see Poodle Play p. 478]. The "weird correspondences" between Joyce and Zappa noted by readers/listeners result from the fact that they really opposed - right into the grain of their artistic production, right into the body of emotive truth - the "oppression" which all good liberals tut-tut about.
This holds true for concepts of the New World in their work. As an ideology for the comfortable middle class, postmodernism - post-colonial studies and all - totally misconstrues colonisation, blaming the "whites" in toto for crimes against "blacks". Actually, the colonisers of New Zealand, Australia and America were the oppressed and marginalised of the first world countries, hounded out of their allotments by the capitalist enclosures. As an Irishman, Joyce never ceased to think about the New World where so many of his compatriots were forced to flee: the Wake's first whole sentence, by putting "North" in front of "Armorica" (an ancient kingdom subjugated by Julius Caesar) invokes America; the sentence also mentions the "stream Oconee", which any world atlas will reveal as the river in the United States on the banks of which there's a town called "Dublin", founded by Irish refugees.
There have been exhaustive attempts to nail singular meanings in Finnegans Wake, and honest attempts to register its effects generate insights unheard-of in idealist literary criticism, but Joyce's puns and jokes and linguistic sabotage refute definitive interpretation. Nevertheless, in its whirl of random detail and association-by-wordsound, Finnegans Wake digs a ditch totally unlike the high-culture modernism of the American poets with whom he is associated, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. They came to Europe to escape American "vulgarity" and learn about "European culture", which in the United States is a synonym for the rights and privileges of the top stratum of society. Joyce, on the other hand, dragged literature down into a morass of oral wit and song and repartee, drinksodden and jovial, to which no amount of classical learning can ever provide a key. Yet everybody to whom you read a sentence of the Wake will provide some information from their own particular walk of life which will illuminate your understanding - of the Wake, of themselves, of the world. Frank Zappa's oeuvre works just like that: you can't look up the meaning of "crab-grass" or "sexual harrassment in the workplace" or "why does it hurt when I pee?" in a reference book. Ask your neighbour instead. It's amazing how much people know. This discovery of infinity in the mundane - the Romantic concept of a life as a perpetual unfolding, an ongoing hail-fellow-well-met metropolitan metamorphosis - was deliberately fostered by Zappa as a counter-blast to the vain, isolated, adolescent mindset of rock, which wants a heroic, superman ideology ("I have stared at the abyss!" ... no, you've stared at your failure to get a date!) circumscribed by a couple of books (one by Nietzsche, the other by Gilles Deleuze) and a few soundtracks (the Doors and the Velvet Underground).
Shem's proclivities are enumerated in the Wake - not only is he a sham, but he's addicted to drink, especially a
rhubarbarous maunderin yellagreen funkleblue windigut diodying applejack squeezed from sour grapefruice [p. 171]
The phrase "fancy you're in her yet" becomes the name "Fanny Urinia" [p. 171]. Female peepee, the taste of which all men thirst for: the sexual reductionism used by both Joyce and Zappa as their weapon against pomposity and hierarchy.
Finnegans Wake is a book, but it must be read aloud or you won't get it:
shaking the worth out of his maulth [p. 172]
It's when you say "worth" you realise how close it actually is to "words"; a "maul" is a hammer, and putting it inside "mouth" makes you realise how how slight a movement of the tongue is needed to add "l" to "th". Wakese makes your tongue work, you splutter and gargle, making all those barbaric sounds which ignorant and unreflecting people say foreign languages are full of. This is anti-chauvinism below the level of morals, it's entered the grain of speech itself, it's physical. After this immersion in polysyllabic macaronic, it's the transparent discourse of the upper classes which appears cruel and oppressive:
some wellwishers, vainly pleading by scriptural arguments with the opprobrious papist about trying to brace up for the kidos of the thing, Scally wag, and be a men instead of a dem scrounger, dish it all [p. 172]
"men" for "man" and "dem" for "damn" mock the clipped accent of the stiff-upper-lipped British Imperialist.
Joyce indicts the racist prurience with which racist whites project their repressed desires on the behaviour of black folk. Like Zappa's "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" and Thing-Fish, this is achieved via unchecked wallowing in the regressive murk of their secret fantasies and desires:
darkies never done tug that coon out to play non-excretory, anti-sexuous, misoxenetic, gaasy pure, flesh and blood games, written and composed and sung and danced by Niscemus Nemon, same as piccaninnies play all day, those old (none of your honeys and rubbers!) games for fun and element we used to play with Dina [p. 175]
Joyce got this past the British censors because he staged Finnegans Wake as a flow of gibberish rather than realism: a continual commentary on what it's like to reads something where the text is only what it is, and never gives itself over to a narrative suitable for Broadway or Hollywood.
Like Zappa, Joyce indulges in self obsession to the point where his oeuvre becomes the entire world. The Situationists coined the term "radical subjectivity", but they never gave us opportunities to experience it. Joyce and Zappa explode the boundaries of bourgeois politesse and a rational public order sustained by legal contracts between supposedly equal citizens. They reveal an actuality of lust, greed and lies beneath the bourgeois veneer. Shem is Joyce's self-portrait as a writer, and echoes his own biography:
He even ran away with hunself and became a farsoonerite, saying he would far sooner muddle through the hash of lentils in Europe than meddle with Irrland's split little pea [p. 171]
This self-portrait sits inside Finnegans Wake like the scene in 200 Motels where Ringo Starr, dressed up to look like Frank Zappa, composes music using the magic lamp, a transister radio and spilt black coffee: it's an illusory moment of self-reflection because artistic subjectivity has already swallowed the universe, and there is nothing that isn't drenched in the artist's personality.
his Ballade Imaginaire which was to be dubbed Wine, Woman and Waterclocks, or How a Guy Finks and Fawkes When He Is Going Batty [p. 177]
"Ballade Imaginaire" puns together a play by Jean-Baptiste Molière (La Malade Imaginaire) and the traditional Irish ballad which the Wake sometimes imagines it is. But as Zappa pointed out in the Central Scrutinizer's preamble to "Watermelon in Easter Hay" on Joe's Garage, imaginary art only exists in the imagination of the imaginer(4). "Wine, Women and Waterclocks" substitutes a Roman method of measuring time - the waterclock - for "song" in the list of life's pleasures for men; this is because it sounds like "waterclosets", or toilets, and Joyce's fascination for women pissing and chamber pots is legendary. Joyce's art is poised on the same ludicrous brink of absolute indulgence as Zappa's, and therefore begs similar questions about freedom in a society where free competition is meant to resolve every issue.
Guy Fawkes was the Catholic rebel who attempted to blow up the English Parliament: Joyce's battiness/madness was to believe that bourgeois representative democracy was not the summit of human history. As he wrote to his brother Stanislaus:
You have often shown opposition to my socialistic tendencies. But can you not see plainly from facts like these that a deferment of the emancipation of the proletariat, a rection to clericalism or aristocracy or bourgeoisism would mean a revulsion to tyrannies of all kinds? [c. 12 August 1906]
If the Irish question exists, it exists for the Irish proletariat chiefly. [25 September 1906]
Joyce detested Sinn Fein because they campaigned against the English using reactionary sexual politics, accusing them of "venereal excess".
I am nauseated by their lying drivel about pure men and pure women and spiritual love and love for ever: blatant lying in the face of truth. [13 November 1906]
Having observed the fiasco of Stalin's Communism in Russia, Zappa was neither a Marxist nor a socialist, but throughout his life vilified the hypocrisies of bourgeois public figures and politicians in a Joycean manner. Both Joyce and Zappa perceived the English as responsible for global oppression (first the British Empire, and then the United States, where the top layer of society originates from England). Their art revels in reducing English to rubble. The Wake's self-descriptions could work as descriptions of Thing-Fish:
he would wipe alley english spooker, multaphoniaksically spuking, off the face of the erse [p. 178]
Like Zappa, Joyce's heavy use of collage and parody made him unpopular among critics wedded to conventional notions of artistic originality and genius. Both show that artistic materials are not invented out of thin air by the isolated individual, but are social products.
Who can say how many pseudostylistic shamiana, how few or how many of the most venerated public impostures, how very many piously forged palimpsests slipped in the first place by this morbid process from his pelagiarist pen? [p. 182]
The extra "e" makes "plagiarist" refer to Pelagius, the British heretic. Pelagius insisted that human will is capable of good without divine grace and denied the doctrine of original sin. He was attacked by St Augustine. In 418 AD he was excommunicated by Pope Zosimus. The materialist view of culture is fundamentally anti-religious, since it demystifies ultimate meanings, making them something we can all play with (not just priests). Sexuality is the holy orifice available to everyone, and oppressive religiosity, mystical bullshit and bad rock music all stem from sexual frustration.
Like Zappa, Shem sports a moustache:
anna loavely long pair of inky Italian moostarshes glistering with boric valine and frangipani [p. 182]
Like Zappa, ("Montana", "Excentrifugal Forz", "Porn Wars", "Tiny Sick Tears"), Shem loves to talk about masturbation:
Handmarried but once in my Life and I'll never commit such a Sin again ... This is the Way we sow the Seed of a long and lusty Morning [p. 176]
And he's accused of it by his enemies:
... every day in everyone's way more exceeding in violent abuse of self and others ... the worst, it is hoped, even in our western playboyish world for pure mousefarm filth [p. 183]
In a fantastic list of the contents of Shem's room, there at least two Zappaesque motifs:
worms of snot ... globules of mercury [p. 183]
"Let's Make the Water Turn Black" (We're Only In It For The Money) is about a boy called Ronnie who smeared his nasal mucous on a window; The Real Frank Zappa Book reports "... blobs of mercury. I used to play with it all the time. The entire floor of my bedroom had this 'muck' on it, made out of mercury mixed with dust balls. One of the things I used to like to do was pour the mercury on the floor and hit it with a hammer, so it squirted all over the place. I lived in mercury." [p. 19]. Metal which is liquid at room temperature; the perfect element for Heraclitean freaks (the Wake begins with "riverrun", referencing Heraclitus's famous dictum "no man goes down to the same river twice"; "Baby Snakes" is clitoral).
Joyce indulged in furious scatology ("your scatchophily", p. 190), as did Zappa. They took delight in the body and its products as much as any infant. Both had problems with propriety and property: obscenity and copyright laws.
he shall produce a no uncertain quantity of obscene matter nor protected by copriright in the United Stars of Ourania [p. 185]
The figure of the mad professor in Zappa is derived from 50s monster movies, but it nevertheless stands for the alchemist: Doctor Faustus at work in his study/laboratory. Zappa and Joyce both wanted to create oeuvres which would include everything and be conceived as a single entity.
the first till last alshemist wrote over every square inch of the only foolscap available, his own body, till by its corrosive sublimation one continuous present tense integument slowly unfolded all marryvoising moodmoulded cyclewheeling history [pp. 185-6]
Zappa said he conceived of time as a "spherical constant" [Zappa! from the publishers of Keyboard and Guitar Player, Miller Freeman: San Francisco, 1992, p. 64]. Both Joyce and Zappa understand that linear time is a social oppression, and that when human consciousness conceives everything, time is circular. This is what analytical phiolosophers call "mysticism", but never before has mysticism been proposed by such funny and bullshit-free thinkers (unless it was Giordano Bruno).
Justius accuses Shem of antisocial behaviour:
you, who sleep at our vigil and fast for our feast [p. 189]
Zappa's eccentric sleep patterns are well-documented (he prefered night time, when there weren't so many people "scurrying about doing bad things"): he hated Thankgiving, complaining when his wife and children prepared turkey and cranberry sauce and forced him to eat with them.
Shem likes fire and explosions:
the dynamitisation of colleagues, the reducing of records to ashes, the levelling of all customs by blazes, the return of a lot of sweetempered gunpowdered didst unto dudst [p. 189-90]
As a child, Zappa was obsessed with explosives; his art was likewise a firestorm, breaking rules and incinerating customs.
Justius's speech compounds all the misery and mystery which religion and the judicial buraucracy inflict on the oppressed. Joyce's satire on officialdom brings the Wake into the orbit of Zappa and Kafka:
O, by the way, yes, another thing occurs to me. You let me tell you, with the utmost politeness, were very ordinarily designed, your birthwrong was, to fall in with Plan, as our nationals should, as all nationists must, and do a certain office (what, I will not tell you) in a certain holy office (nor will I say where) during certain agonising office hours (a clerical party all to yourself) from such a year to such an hour on such and such a date at so and so much a week pro anno ... [p. 190]
Justius winds up calling Shem insane:
Sh! Shem, you are. Sh! You are mad! [p. 193]
It is one of the contentions of the Mad Pride civil rights movement that capitalism - i.e poverty, alienation, lack of recognition in a celebrity culture - drives the poor and oppressed crazy. We take heart from the fact that during economic slumps and social revolutions, when money suddenly wields no power, it's the turn of tycoons and bankers to go mad.
There is an outbreak of guilt at the end of the Shem chapter and a running into mother's arms [pp. 193-5] which is not Zappaesque at all. Zappa kept faith to his delinquent distrust of guilt and sentiment all his life. The point of this essay is not to claim Joyce and Zappa were identical as people, that would be ridiculous (besides, such arguments belong to the twilight world of gossip). The point is, that as rebels against the Roman Catholicism they were born into, Joyce and Zappa had an extraordinarily keen understanding of how religious oppresssion works. They understood how an honest recognition of one's own sexual impulses can serve to liberate people from religion, petit-bourgeois nationalism and fascism. For them, art - joy-in-words in Joyce's case, joy-in-music in Zappa's - wasn't something "high" and "uplifting", the kind of secular replacement for religion it is in W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot, but a weapon for improving society and vanquishing its ills. Anyone who understands Joyce and Zappa in this way this has a duty: to help foment a left culture which is as brave, subversive and progressive as theirs. And as funny!
(1) Yes, it was a pity Gamma chose instead to talk about John Whiteside Parsons at ICE-Z, although it did enable him to have a go at rocket science and George Dubya. If Gamma wrote books, who'd need to write anything else? ... blow your harmonica, son. This paper is dedicated to Calvin Krogh, obviously, but also to Gerry Fialka, who has long inisted on connections between Zappa and the Wake, and made them real by answering the phone for Barking Punpkin in the early-90s whilst simultaneously leading a Wake reading-group at Los Angeles Public Library - and also jwcurry in Ottawa, who sees things our way too. Go Fialka! Go Curry!! Go Krogh!!!
(2) Are the strange coincidences noticed by Poodle Play articles of faith, mnemonic devices or simply jokes? We're still not sure. The jury (a terrifying dream team consisting of my mother Katherine, my brother Oliver, J.H. Prynne, Tony Cliff, Esther Leslie, Charles Fort, T.H.F. Drenching, Paul Sutton, Vladimir Vernadsky, Andrew Greenaway, Raya Dunayevskaya and Eleanor Crook) is still out. Benjamin called such spurs to the poetic imagination "constellations". It's a useful analogy. There's no astronomer who didn't start by recognising the Plough, but from an extra-terrestrial point of view, the constellations are arbitrary projections on random clusters: as arbitrary as my excitment with the numerological/Burroughsian/Mittonesque favourite "23". Giordano Bruno - who speculated that the universe was infinite and the sun just another star, thus breaking out of astrology into astronomy proper - made his living outlining "world pictures" to rich noblemen and courtiers. These weren't simply inaccurate versions of the diagrams at the front of your world atlas (those which show the milky way, the earth's crust, the world's religions), they were mnemonic devices, prototypes of the personal computer and the personal organiser. Science without mnemonic devices - recognition of the thinking subject - is undialectical, unteachable, dishonest. Poodle Play rejects postwar surrealism as it sank into individualised art-production, astrology and magic, but follows Marx in refusing to accept knowledge frozen at the moment of Thomas Hobbes, when "knowledge based upon the senses loses its poetic blossom" and "passes into the abstract experience of the geometrician" [The Holy Family, p. 151]. Microsoft's Encarta has something wrong epistemologically: it stuns with facts about everything under (and above) the sun, but it doesn't lead you to understand why the facts are there and why you're looking at them. Those who dismiss the 23 day overlap between Zappa and Joyce as "irrelevant" know nothing about the internal motivation of either: this "fact" would've made both of them laugh! Deprived of the fascinations which buzz about them like fireflies, "facts" about artists disintegrate into historical dust so dry and boring only reference books can contain them. What is the point of quantifying the qualititatively-defined achievements of art? Encarta has a reply, and one dear to the heart of Bill Gates: historical importance, or sales figures! The Microsoft view of knowledge is boring because, like all bourgeois thought, it really only understands marketing, not the world. Such reference works are only brought down from the bookshelves to "settle disputes" (dictionaries for Scrabble players). Poodle Play doesn't doubt the need for positive fact (the 23-day overlap is a positive fact!), but alerts the reader to the unconscious repressions and gratifications involved in being subjected to "facts". Louis Althusser did a great disservice to Marxist theory, when, dimly plodding in the wake of the French Enlightenment's critique of Catholicism, he portrayed Marxism as "objective science" versus "popular ideology". In Britain, a country where the denial of personal experience has long been the commonsense of the bourgeois scientific system, Marxism should pack a shocking emphasis on the experiential and contingent. We's been feeling this way for a long time now, and we wants ARTICULATION! When facts flash from the rubble of the centuries, it's because they speak to desires that require satisfaction: powerful mnemonics require psychoanalytical and historical investigation. The astro-physicist who can't name the constellations will not be able to explain the universe to a child under a night sky. Education de-linked from the senses is abstract and authoritarian, idealist and neo-Kantian, seamless and scriptural, boring and bookish, however "true". A truth which cannot be tested by the person who's told it is an article of faith, not of science. Repression of the desirable scrambles of pleasurable thinking makes knowledge professional, unchanging, hieratic - in short, religious. Constellations matter because they ensure we recognise that knowledge is a historical product. The astronomer who says star names are "arbitrary" and "irrelevant" erases the Arab world's contribution to "European" knowledge, and will be more susceptible to historical nonsense in debates about Israel and Palestine. Good Golly, Cheb Alghol!
(3) Asger Jorn, The Natural Order, translated Peter Shield, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002, p. 63.
(4) This is what the Scrutinizer actually says on the record, it's transcribed wrong in the lyric sheet.
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