John Cage – Writing Through Finnegans Wake

John Cage discusses the process of writing through Finnegans Wake with Richard Kostelanetz in this broadcas from 1977.

The player will show in this paragraph

Streams from ubu web


M was very busy. Moving a stack of papers from one place to another, walking from room to room and, suddenly recalling something, turning quickly to proceed up the stairs where, once there, he sat on the edge of their bed, looked down at his feet, and thought things over. After a time he got up, surveyed the room, and went downstairs to the garage.

In the garage the car refused to start.

M was alone.


Attached to the house is a shed in which accumulate boxes of manuscripts not to be published in their lifetimes.

X, Y, and James Joyce

X insisted James Joyce wrote portions of Ulysses in a bar at the corner of Bedford and Barrow streets.

Y said this was impossible, as Joyce had never been to the United States, much less New York City.

Some years later, a wall in the bar’s courtyard collapsed.

They found a walking stick in the rubble.

X said, “See.”

Charlemagne Palestine: Schlingen Blängen live

X, Y, and the Baby

X left the baby on the front porch because it was too hot inside and the baby would not sleep.

The baby did not like the front porch.

The baby cried, and cried.

The baby’s cries caught the attention of neighbor Y next door.

A light went on in the house next door.

A silhouette passed across the shaded window of the house next door and moments later neighbor Y emerged from the house next door.

In the morning, the baby was not crying anymore.

A Place They Might Like

They were not too sure how it had once been, what it had once been, and they didn’t see much of a need to go back to where they had been anyway. It wasn’t a place they cared to see again. Even it was a free land or a place where freedom was praised it didn’t seem to them, once they had left it behind, that they had left so very much behind after all.

Now they found themselves in another place which didn’t tout its freedom oh so very much but the one thing they noticed was that in this new place they could walk down the street and people would not look away from them as they passed or they wouldn’t cross over to the other side as happened sometimes in the other place. Plus, in the stores, people waited patiently in line, and would hold their place when they happened to forget something, such as a quart of milk, which happened sometimes as having moved there was a lot of be done, and no one objected or gave them a funny look when they returned to the same place in line. This was a place, a place where freedom was never spoken of, they felt they could come to like, and like very much.

In Corninth

There it is. Now you have it. Push it along.

The sidewalk, every sidewalk, has cracks. Sometimes the ground settling creates tripping hazards because a sidewalk every sidewalk has cracks.

There it was. Then you had it, pushed it along.

Miles of escalators to take you up the mountain. Stand right, walk left. There is still a long way to go. So stand right, walk left.

There it is. Here you have it. Push it along

The Man at the Bar

The unhappy man at the bar thought he could become happy just by writing “I am happy” over and over again. He wrote “I am happy” over and over again. On napkins. On coasters. The back of checks and tabs. But still he was not happy. He did not feel any happier. He not believe he was becoming happier. The only thing that made him happy was the thought that by writing “I am happy” he would become happy. So, properly speaking, the only thing that made him happy was hope. The hope that writing “I am happy” would make him happy, made him happy.

T.S. Eliot on Twitter

As part of our memorize poetry project,  on most days we tweet a few lines of poetry.  We started with The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot.  When this is complete, we will move to much more concise The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams.

Memorize Poetry

Memorizing poetry gives you a feel for the language, exercises the brain, entertains when your electronics are dead, and carries on a tradition that predates writing. If you just memorize two lines a day you will have a good collection in a month or two.

This is a collection of poems we have memorized in whole or in part.  We also send out a few lines each day via our Twitter feed (#memorize poetry).  Please suggest poems to memorize by leaving a reply on this page.

More poetry to memorize:

Cotton Mather


We who are old are marvelously blessed by the use of glasses. Inexcusable the ingratitude of mankind to bury in oblivion the name of that benefactor, the inventor, the original fashioner of glasses, when there stand on record innumerable murderers oppressors and thieves under the name of conquerers.

Perfect Lives – Chapter 1- The Park – Robert Ashley

From Robert Ashley’s 1883 Opera for Television, Perfect Lives


Pictures taped to our window,
drones overhead.

Roosevelt Bassett

Roosevelt Bassett makes objects from lath he salvaged from demolished houses in North Philadelphia. We first ran across his work in 2006. This film by Ron Stanford profiles this remarkable artist.


More information.

Brother Francis

Brother Francis / opened his class / by reading off the names of that day’s dancers at the Troc./ He carried a stick filled with brandy / and had taught a one armed man to type.

Few, Some

there are few / left who remember the day / the rain fell so /fast/ the car slipped / from the road

others sat waiting / quietly weeping and waiting for / the rain to cease / to / quiet down taper off / then stop

the earth didn’t / so much as move as explode / outward before collapsing taking / the /swings, the dog house, / the family pet

some of them / could walk while others sat / in the shade watching / lines / being painted on the / rebuilt interstate highway

more than one / thing to do makes one /seem busy and overworked / but / what if the things / are not difficult


Dean Drummond – Congressional Record

Dean Drummond – 1949-2013.

This clip was recorded at the University of Washington in 2012.

La Monte Young – The Well Tuned Piano

John Cage and Merce Cunningham Interview

John Cage and Merce Cunningham discuss their practice in this 1981 Walker Art Center Interview


Finnegans Wake FAQ

In 1996, Charles Cave put together a Finnegans Wake FAQ.  Since then, the expansion of the web has not only made much more research and textual work available, but also delivered a very broad array of films, readings, and art directly related to the Wake.  As a result, I thought it made sense to dust off and update the original FAQ. The premise remains that Joyce meant the Wake to be read and enjoyed. Updates will be made in that spirit. The FAQ is available here.

Suggestions may be made using this form or by email to

John Cage

This American Masters film was made near the end of John Cage’s life. Posted here on what would have been his 100th Birthday.


The player will show in this paragraph

Michael Chabon – What to Make of Finnegans Wake

Michael  Chabon discusses his relationship with Joyce and opines on Finnegans Wake in this piece from the July 12, 2012 issue of The New York Review of Books.


The limits of language are not the stopping point, says the Wake; they are the point at which we must begin to tell the tale.”

- Michael Chabon

James Joyce and Copyright

The work of James Joyce is leaving copyright, an event much anticipated by scholars and those who believe the Joyce Estate’s interpretation of fair use and its support for creative endeavors is as enlightened as The Walt Disney Company’s. A lot of ink and pixels have been spilled or set dancing on the topic. You can read this blog post from The New Yorker as an illustration. For now, a word of caution is in order. No doubt the Estate will remain on the lookout for rogue readers, singers, actors, and artists. Watch out for knock offs of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.  Stick with the Random House or Gabler texts for Ulysses.  A new edition of Finnegans Wake is also expected, followed no doubt by a dust-up over edits mirroring that of the Gabler / Kidd “scandal of Ulysses” episode in the late 1980s.

Speaking of Finnegans Wake, we have our own reasons to celebrate the expiration of copyright. We plan to relaunch of  a more ambitious version of PROJECT: Finnegans Wake. If you wish to participate, go here.  Also, many years ago, the idea of performing 26 Songs From Finnegans Wake never got off the ground as the Estate objected. If you wish to set up a performance, the score along with our first preparation is available here.  Let us know your plans!

Occupy Ulysses!

On February 2, 2012, Frank Delaney will celebrate James Joyce’s birthday and the release of Ulysses from copyright. He will be reading in Madison Square Park, NYC. More details here. If you can’t make it, we also recommend his weekly podcast, where he presents a close reading from the text.