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Event tackles ‘Finnegans Wake’ with reading, Joyce-themed activities

This graphic is based on the sigla, the visual signs, found in "Finnegans Wake." Graphic: Christian and Catherine Crochet

By SUE WUETCHER

Published October 24, 2017

“I hope it will encourage the public to go deeper in the work, which in many ways still belongs to the future of literature and opens the question of reading itself.”
Franck Bauchard, director
Techne Institute for Art and Emerging Technologies

UB’s Techne Institute for Art and Emerging Technologies is looking for faculty, staff, students and other Western New Yorkers to take part in a free, one-of-a-kind event on Nov. 1 that will explore James Joyce’s legendary work “Finnegans Wake.”

Finnegans Waves, produced by the Techne Institute with support from Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center and the UB Department of Theatre and Dance, will take place from noon to midnight in two different, but connected spaces: Hallwalls and the 9th Ward at Babeville, both located at 341 Delaware Ave., Buffalo. Participants may attend for as long as they like, and come and go during the course of the event.

Finnegans Waves consists of two simultaneous parts: a Reading Machine, during which a “community of readers” will read “Finnegans Wake” out loud in 15-minute increments, and a Recirculation Café featuring a range of activities related to Joyce and the study of his work. The Reading Machine will be broadcast live in the Recirculation Café.

Techne Institute Director Franck Bauchard organized a 36-hour reading of “Finnegans Wake” in a medieval monastery in France in 2011.

“I know that it’s a memorable experience to listen to this text, which produces very specific effects on the readers and listeners alike,” Bauchard says.

But, he notes, there’s “a more specific and driving utopia” regarding Finnegans Waves: It aims to build an “ephemeral and polyglot community of readers and create social interactions around a major work through the Recirculation Café.”

“I hope it will encourage the public to go deeper in the work, which in many ways still belongs to the future of literature and opens the question of reading itself,” he says.

Event poster for Finnegan's Waves that includes details for the Recirculation Café.

Bauchard is still looking for volunteers to read “Finnegans Wake” in the original English text and in a variety of translations, including French, German, Italian, Spanish and Chinese. Award-winning artist and director Christian Giriat will manage the full 12-hour reading, which will take place in the Hallwalls cinema. Those wishing to participate can sign up here; readers will receive a free, limited edition T-shirt.

At the same time in the 9th Ward, visitors to the Recirculation Café can enjoy light refreshments as they watch the reading via closed-circuit video feed and take part in related talks and performances. Local talent and scholars will present visual and digital experiments, music, a reading of excerpts from Joyce’s “Ulysses” and a Joyce-themed Science & Art Cabaret.

Why “Finnegans Wake,” rather than another Joyce work?

Bauchard points out that “Finnegans Wake” is a highlight of the Joyce collection in the UB Libraries. But there’s also a specific Techne Institute perspective regarding the work, he explains.

“Samuel Beckett used to write that ‘Finnegans Wake’ ‘is not about something; it is that something itself.’ In more contemporary language, the medium is the message,” Bauchard says.

“Finnegans Wake” played a pivotal role in the theory of media prescribed by Marshall McLuhan and others scholars, he says, and more recently, French philosopher Jacques Derrida described “Finnegans Wake” as a “1000th generation computer” or “hyper-amnesiac machine.”  

And, of course, Bauchard says, “Finnegans Wake” is considered to be unreadable. “But this unreadability is not the opposite of reading, but what gives reading its creative, playful and exploratory energy,” he says, adding that from this point of view, “‘Finnegans Wake’ is also a unique work.”