In honour of James Joyce’s 131st birthday, Philip Maltman, whose poem ‘Proteus’ we published in issue 2, tells us about ‘Finnegans Cake’. The set of paintings, based on James Joyce’s ‘Finnegans Wake’, were produced in 1992 to mark Joyce’s birthday of that year.
Back in 1992, I was engaged in a furious ingestion of all things Joycean. This was in the run up to what turned out to be Nulysses, an 18-poem cycle based on Ulysses. I took each episode of Joyce’s novel and distilled it into one poem.
My adaptation of the third episode, ‘Proteus’, was published in issue 2 of Banner and goes like this:
Finnegans Cake is, I suppose, as close as I could get to doing with Finnegans Wake what I did with Ulysses when I produced Nulysses. It is a series of 63 paintings, in oil, on board, pasted into a sketchbook. I painted them as responses to extended readings of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake; and as it became such a fat, bulging tome, it came about that I dedicated the paintings to James Joyce, as a kind of birthday cake.
This was all happening in that same year, 1992, that I was starting to work on Nulysses, and Joyce would have been 110 years old. I was unable, I think, to follow Finnegans Wake in a linear — i.e. episodic — fashion, as I did with Nulysses. The textual gynastics, in shorthand, would be near unreadable.
Hence Finnegans Cake.
I continue to use Joyce’s work to inspire improvisations in paint. My most recent work, Impregnated with Raindew Moisture — 100 watercolours based on James Joyce’s Ulysses notebooks — began after looking at the National Library of Ireland’s Joyce notebooks. They’re covered in crayon crossings-out in red, green and blue: they’re already visual art.
Really, Joyce is all about transversing media: although I like reading Finnegans Wake from time to time, I prefer to listen to it; I’ve painted pictures based on the book; and my favourite way to read it is not to read it at all.
Patrick Healy’s reading of the complete text, again in 1992, is my favourite. He read it at Bow Lane Recording Studios, Dublin, over a four-day period.
Joyce himself recommended that the text be heard rather than read. Here he is reading from the book in 1929:
Healy’s 1992 recording was released in a limited-edition run of 1000, and each copy is accompanied by his128-page book, The Modern and the Wake; essays on Finnegans Wake and its performance.
It feels like 1992 was an important year in my life with Joyce, back when he turned 110 years old. Now, as of this February, he’s 131. Time flies.
Release TBC – the ‘fun and games’ issue.
Including: a vision of a nuclear explosion during London’s Olympics; interviews with artist Joshua Seidner, games maker James Wallis, and the anonymous author of Chameleon on a Kaleidoscope.
Plus: poetry from Will Nicoll, and prints from Rap Coloring Book.
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