G: You mentioned that you were pointed towards Finnegans Wake by the author, Robert Anton Wilson. Are there any other writers who have helped you experience The Wake?
R: There are several good guides. I read the first half of the book with A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake by Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson. That's the first book Campbell ever wrote. Also Anthony Burgess wrote two guides: Here Comes Everybody and Joysprick. And then there's the composer John Cage, a devout Joycean. He wrote both essays about, and music based on, Finnegans Wake.
G: You've told me that Joyce was extremely well-read, and he incorporates mythologies from all over the world, so I'm also wondering, How Irish does it feel?
R: It feels very Irish because, more-or-less, everything in the book is seen through the eyes of Dublin. Even though Joyce wrote it in Switzerland because he was an ex-patriot, Dublin becomes a microcosm of the universe.
[At this moment, in the cafe in which we are conducting the interview, a musician who is preparing for a later-scheduled show, begins singing an Irish Ballad.]
R: And the ginkuses become embodied as part of the Dublin landscape. So there's this hill that's really HCE lying down, and of course the river Liffey is really Anna Livia... and so on.
G: And these are real places in Dublin.
G: Have you been to Dublin?
R: I would like to someday. And of course, I'll want to go to all of those places. One of our readers, whose name is John, will often create links to Google Earth locations for locations in the book.
G: So do different members of your group have different specialties?
R: Yeah, I'm the webmaster; Marty, my wife, often has the big picture when we're reading. One of the things we do when we read is follow this format: first we read a passage straight through. Then we'll meander through it and basically figure out what it's saying, without any reference material, and the third and final pass we'll take reference material and ferret out everything we can find that we hadn't turned up yet.
G: How many pages do you get through, typically?
R: Like, one. One a month maybe?
G: So this is going to go on for years.
R: Yeah, I mean I've been all the way through it, on my own, but for our group, yes it will take a long time. Some of the people in the group are in their 60s and so it may not be possible for them to get all the way through the book with us.
G: You were talking, earlier, about the five ginkuses.
R: There are a lot more. For example, the ginkus Issy, is split into seven, and those are split into 28. They're called the Raynbow Girls. These are feminine numbers having to do with the Moon, and menstruation and stuff... and other numbers, there is a whole numerology associated with various characters.
G: OK, well what I wanted to ask you was: Is there a particular ginkus, or sub-ginkus, that you are particularly fascinated by or identify with?
R: Well HCE is the protagonist of the book. He's kind of a "big man" figure. Kind of like a guy who starts stuff, a builder. I kind of tend to be a guy who starts a lot of projects. I started this reading group; I started my game night, Seattle Cosmic, and we're having our 10th anniversary in January. And my book, Mind Performance Hacks. I had to manage a group of contributors for that. And like HCE, I like to think I'm really a big man, but the real power is really ALP, and that's ...[laughs]... the way it works in my relationship with my wife, Marty. And then HCE has two sons, Shem and Shaun, Shem the Penman and Shaun the Postman. Shaun's a jock and Shem's a geek. Most people I know identify much more strongly with Shem.
G: How does your ongoing study of Finnegans Wake impact your reading of other works, if at all? Most people have one book they are reading at a time, or maybe a few, but you have this one book, that is just around you, I imagine, even as your reading other books.
R: Finnegans Wake is extremely intertextual. It's the supremely intertextual work. Have you heard the term "transclusion"?
G: No, but now I'm curious.
R: OK, back before the World Wide Web, Ted Nelson invented hypertext, except he wanted there to be, rather than simple links from one page to another, he wanted it to be that you would include a page inside of another page, and it would kind of suck it in.
G: Did this really exist, or was it just theoretical?
R: This was back in the Sixties so it was mostly theoretical. There is a long sad story of how the World Wide Web, because it was cheaper and easier, beat him to universally-used hyper text. But it is used sometimes in the WWW. Like on Facebook, you will sometimes see another web page within a frame on a Facbook page. And so you can think of that as transclusion. And that's what Finnegans Wake is like. It refers to other books and kind of sucks them in. So for me, The Wake includes the world and the world incudes The Wake. I don't want to get too religious here, but it's almost like the Escher Painting, "Print Gallery." That's what it's like for me to read it.
G: So what do you think about James Joyce? I mean just from what you've told me about him, I infer him to be this extremely comprehensive mystic. Is there anything you can say about his spirituality or personal philosophy?
R: Well, he was really into duality... Shem and Shaun for example... And Issy has a twin.. And HCE and ALP... it's really hard to pin him down, because whatever he says he will also say the opposite.
G: So that's what he believes... in the opposite. Was he religious?
R: He was a mystic, but he was kind of an atheistic mystic.
G: Anything else you want to mention about the book?
R: Well we've been talking about Finnegans Wake as if it's about a pre-funeral gathering, but I want to point out another meaning of the title. You'll notice there is no apostrophe, so perhaps it should be taken as a command: "Finnegans: Wake!"