- “Funferall in Finntown”: A Report from the First Meeting of the New York-Philadelphia Finnegans Wake Reading Group, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 22 March 2009
From the swerve of the shore of the Delaware to the New Jersey Upturnpikepointandplace, Joyceans professional and amateur converged on South 4th Street in Philadelphia on 22 March for the first meeting of the New York-Philadelphia Finnegans Wake Reading Group. The first and only (we think) bi-city Wake group is the brainchild—or pipedream—of Janine Utell and Gregory Erickson. We thought of it at the last International James Joyce Symposium in Tours (where else?) as a way to get together and get through the book, never mind the inconvenient reality that we live three hours apart. What else is the Northeast Corridor for? So, once a month, Philadelphia and New York take turns becoming Finntown, alternating between the funky Brickbat Books in Queen Village and the friendly New York Irish Center in Queens. [End Page 430]
At our first two-hour meeting, we made the notable achievement of creeping our way through the opening three-and-a-half pages. In addition to Janine (of Widener University) and Greg (of The New School), participants included Liam Kavanagh and John-Paul Spiro (both of Villanova University) and Michael Barsanti (formerly of the Rosenbach Museum and Library). With Mike’s broad expertise in all things Joycean (as well as Umim and Thummim, we later discovered), Liam’s knowledge of Dublin, John-Paul’s background in theology and Shakespeare, Greg’s reading in heresies new and old, and Janine’s dirty mind, we think all the bases were covered—at least until we got to page 7.
Huddled around a small table on that happygogusty March afternoon, surrounded by a fantastic selection of art books and vintage pulp fiction, we each took turns reading passages aloud, followed by discussion, observation, and free association. Customers browsing through the shelves might have heard us considering the relationships among space, time, topography, and geography in the first paragraph; teasing out the appearances of characters to come—Sir Tristram, Jhem or Shen, and, of course, the pftjschute of Finnegan himself; and debating in the friendliest of terms the pronunciation of the thunder word. After every few lines, we would pause and ask that key question: what do the parts have to do with the whole? Once we have figured out all of the references to Islam on page 5, what do they have to do with the romekeepers, homesweepers, and domecreepers on page 6? Is it all part of a mon who merries his lute for whole the world to see? And surely that last bit is a dirty joke?
We are either doing something exactly right or exactly wrong, because we couldn’t really answer these questions in our inaugural meeting, except maybe that last one (yes, of course). But we plan to continue, gathering in the macroborg of New York on 19 April and again in the microbirg of Philadelphia in May. All are welcome, and there will be, naturally, funferall. For information, please see < http://www2.widener.edu/~jmutell/nyphlfw.htm >.