Introduced by Aaron Schuster
Video, color, 53'
A group of people have been reading a book together for thirty years. They have been reading it again and again, with each journey from the first to the last page taking eleven years. Once they reach the last word, a very enigmatic “the,” they begin again with the first word, “riverrun.” The text appears inexhaustible, its interpretation endless, the inconclusive nature of the reading exciting.
Aaron Schuster: Jacques Lacan once commented that Finnegans Wake is a book that “reads itself”: “Read the pages of Finnegans Wake without trying to understand—it reads itself. It reads itself… in the sense that one can feel the presence of the enjoyment of he who has written it.” One might think of the Joycean Society as a group of readers reading a text that reads itself—and they are also repeating the enjoyment of this ritual act of reading and re-reading. Finnegans Wake gives the odd impression of both being incredibly open and inviting, even demanding an endless work of deciphering and interpretation, and at the same time being radically closed in on itself, self-absorbed in its obsessive punning and inside jokes. If there was ever a book that had no need for a reader, it’s Finnegans Wake.
Dora García: This is all true, or as someone says, in Finnegans Wake"language speaks," "Die Sprache spricht” (is that not Heidegger?). Yet The Joycean Society is only tangentially a film about Finnegans Wake; its central subject is the people who read Finnegans Wake, the readers. Such a book engenders a very particular type of reader. I have never known of any other book that creates such a specific, distinct, dedicated population—an irreverent community, a brotherhood without any hierarchies. The society created by the Wake is one of the most fascinating aspects of the text. Manyidées reçues about language, literature and reading explode into pieces with readers of the Wake: there are no authorities, just people who devote a lot of time to the text; it is not really written in English, therefore English native speakers are in no better position to read it; as Beckett said, “you cannot complain that this stuff is not written in English. It is not written at all”. Many viewers place my film in Dublin because they cannot believe the obviously non-Irish and non-English inhabitants of Zurich could have an interest in the book. Little do they know that Ireland (and England!) was one of the last places on Earth to have an interest in Finnegans Wake.
AS: I like this idea of an irreverent community. If for Lacan Finnegans Wake exemplifies the possibility of creating one’s own private symptom in language, it would seem that for this group, the Wake itself functions as a kind of socially shared symptom, which they are constantly working through—“Enjoy your symptom!” as the title of one of Zizek’s books goes. I am also reminded of your longstanding research on anti-psychiatric and anti-institutional movements from the 1970s, especially your work on the Italian anti-psychiatrist Franco Basaglia, and on artists that explicitly position themselves as outsiders, along with other misfits, dissenters, and oddball figures. The Joycean Society is one of these marginal, eccentric groups, part of the ‘deviant majority’, to cite the title of another of your films.
DG: This is very clear and true. I have never directed the people appearing in the film, never told them what they had to say, and yet, Fritz Senn (the director of the Zurich James Joyce Foundation) really points to what you are suggesting when he says: "I am not saying this just ironically, it is also a therapy group, it does something… and I think it can be more helpful than some therapy you have to pay for… maybe reading Finnegans Wake is a substitute for people who usually are not very successful in life, like me. At least you can interact with a text. If we were happier we would be bankers or have an emotionally full life. I think, and I am here along almost Freudian lines, that culture is a sort of substitute for pleasures that are denied to some of us for many reasons."
AS: How did you first get involved with the Joycean Society?
DG: In Trieste, while making a film on Basaglia, I came upon a statue of Joyce on a bridge. I remembered then that Joyce had lived in Trieste. From there came the meeting with the local Svevo readers, the relation between Jewish culture, Italy, the Austro-Hungarian empire, psychoanalysis, Vienna in Italy, the One Thousand and One Nights translated into English in Trieste by Sir Richard Burton, and the birth of Ulysses. Joyce spoke Triestino with his children, and with Svevo. I met the English translator of Basaglia's texts, he turned out to be the founder of the Joyce/Svevo museum.
AS: The way you film the group suggests a real intimacy or even complicity, the camera hews closely to the Joycean Society members, but there is also a sense of an almost clinical distance, a kind of anthropological documentation of this lost tribe of dedicated readers in the Swiss wilderness.
DG: The film was recently projected several times in Buenos Aires, to a community of psychoanalysts and Joyceans, sometimes both in the same person. They understood immediately that I had filmed the readers of the Zurich James Joyce Foundation as incarnating one of the most notorious episodes in Finnegans Wake: Mamalujo—the four old men endlessly discussing the text. When they stop reading the text, the world will collapse.
AS: Indeed, the reading of the text has this almost magical feeling of incantation. One of the things that is wonderful in this film is its attention to the slow, meandering, uncertain, sometimes funny and sometimes painful art of reading. There is perhaps no better to really engage with a text than to read it aloud in a community, to stop, discuss, argue, free associate, digress, and move on.
DG: In A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel, we learn that the individual reader who reading a text without making any noise or moving the lips is a very strange and recent phenomenon. Reading had always been a group experience. So, and again as Fritz Senn says, there is something very modern about the book, and we are still trying to be contemporaries ofFinnegans Wake. But then again there is something very old about it, something indeed related to the reading of sacred texts, even if, as a text, it is not very holy.
The film has been presented in collaboration with Auguste Orts.
A film by Dora García
Camera: Arturo SolisEditing: Dora Garcia & Inneke Van WaeyenbergheEditing Assistant: Thomas DepasMusic: Jan Mech
With: Fritz Senn, Sabrina Alonso, Ron Ewart, Tad Lauer, Hansruedi Isler M.D., Mary Moore, Seamus Hughes, Janos Biro, Walter Albrecht, Andrea Matha, Marc Emmenegger, Gabi Schneider, Sylvia Herzig, Andreas Flückiger, Dora García, Jan Mech & Geert Lernout.
Sound recording & editing: Laszlo UmbreitSound mixing Christophe: DeramaixColor grading: Fairuz
Commissioned by Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco, XLVème Prix International d’Art Contemporain
Produced by Auguste Orts
With the support of the Flanders Audiovisual Fund, Atelier Graphoui, LUCA Sint-Lukas Brussel & Argos, Centre for Art & Media
Thank you Emiliano Battista, Boris Belay, Rita Bertoni, Manon de Boer, Greet Busselot, Jan Cools, Eva Fabbris, Moritz Küng, Marie Logie, Anna Manubens, Rolf Quaghebeur, Dirk Snauwaert, Rosa Spaliviero, Véronique Vaes, Eva Wittocx
Many special thanks to the Zürich James Joyce Foundation and Fritz Senn.Many special thanks to Professor Geert Lernout, Antwerpen.