Finnegans Waves

Christian Giriat

Creating a community of readers with Finnegans Waves: A Reading Machine

The University at Buffalo’s Techne Institute explored James Joyce through a unique two-part experience. Finnegans Waves: A Reading Machine invited everyday people to create a community of readers by reading James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake out loud together. For the duration of this reading, a Recirculation Café featured workshops, concerts, and a range of activities related to Joyce and the study of his oeuvre.  This two-part event took place from noon until midnight on November 1.

Finnegans Waves was a unique, one of a kind event, not only for Buffalo but also for the greater Joycean community.  Award-winning artist and director Christian Giriat guided readers through this artistic and social experiment. Based in Avignon and Lyon, Giriat has directed two previous Finnegans Wake experiences in France.

Why Finnegans Wake? This classic stream-of-consciousness comedy is considered a major novel in the English language – but also one of the most difficult and least read. Giriat seeks to change that. “If we can find the rhythm and make sure that Finnegans Wake is not unreadable, we can enter in the river of life – the riverun – and let ourselves be carried by the deepest stream of consciousness,” says Giriat. As the home to a collection of James Joyce notebooks related to Finnegans Wake, the University at Buffalo is a natural place to celebrate this important work.

"Finnegans Wake, considered as an eternal work in progress by Joyce, can help us to navigate contemporary developments of new media forms of textualities,” says Franck Bauchard, Techne’s director. “Language in Finnegans Wake is a medium of collaboration between readers and the author. To read an unreadable book such as Finnegans Wake is a challenging task in which meanings are formed, as well as a way to explore the contemporary landscape of language, media and technologies.”

Our audience observed the reading, via closed circuit video feed, at the Recirculation Café at The 9 Ward at Babeville. Many members of our community experienced our program as both a volunteer reader and partipant, and as an audience member! We would like to extend our many thanks to those volunteers who made this performance a reality. Readers participated in Chinese, English, and French!

Recirculation Café: Featured Presenters

Introduction to Semantic Markup and Computational Analysis of Ulysses, presented by Jonathan Reeve
This workshop will introduce participants to new methods of computational literary analysis made possible with rich semantic markup. After a brief introduction to TEI XML, participants will contribute their critical observations of James Joyce's Ulysses to the open-source critical edition. No previous coding or computer experience is required.

Poets, Chart-Toppers, and Weirdos: Setting Finnegans Wake to Music, presented by Derek Pyle
Project director Derek Pyle will discuss Waywords and Meansigns, an international project setting Finnegans Wake to music. The workshop will discuss ways of approaching and listening to the text, and review the Wake’s vast musical history with a focus on lesser known adaptations.

John Cage’s Wake, presented by Didier Aschour
In 1979, John Cage composed Roaratorio, a radio piece expressing the sounds of Finnegans Wake. John Cage’s Wake is a deconstruction of Roaratorio, presenting commentary or footnotes of sound that refer to Cage’s original readings, pieces, and field recordings.

Finnegans Waves
Science and Art Cabaret, featuring Reinhard Reitzenstein, Laurence Shine, Nils Napp, and The Vorechestra.

Vincent O'Neill
A staged reading of excerpts from James Joyce's Ulysses.