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The James Joyce Message Center

By tomsoterwriting - Posted on 18 May 2014


James Joyce lives! The Irish author, known for his weirdly experimental novels Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, which are noteworthy for their stream-of-consciousness, unpunctuated paragraphs, is lucky that cell phones didn't exist at the time in which he was writing. If they had, his seminal achievements might not have seemed so impressive.

Take this bit from Finnegans Wake, for instance:  "past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. Sir Tristram, violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea, had passencore rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war: nor had topsawyer’s rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse to Laurens County’s gorgios while they went doublin their mumper all the time: nor avoice from afire bellowsed mishe mishe totauftauf thuartpeatrick: not yet, though venissoon after, had a kidscad buttended a bland old isaac: not yet, though all’s fair in vanessy, were sosie sesthers wroth with twone nathandjoe. Rot a peck of pa’s malt had Jhem or Shen

Scholars can debate the meaning of that passage, but my cell phone, with its special feature that transcribes voice mail messages as it hears them, can create its own obscure texts, offering a kind of Joyce pastiche, which scholars might also debate for years and years and still not arrive at the true meaning.

Take this message from "Peggy" on January 24:

"Hey tom it's peggy I just wanted to give you a callback just call from my mother and apparently lance props thinking a turn for the better thanks thankfully and sushi 2 dozen it's for now so which is which they release some very good news but then so I don't know if you've already found somebody for sunday but if you wanna yeah if you haven't heard don't worry about making phone calls or anything I can I can definitely be there on sunday I still won't make tomorrow but but if you can today that's fine but a great as said a if you didn't you haven't got in touch with you buddy I haven't heard from anybody in kempee sunday so any clay sorry for that the phone calls and yet but but anyway take care I will talk to you soon bye bye thanks.'

What does it all mean? What is a "lance props" and why is it "thinking a turn for the better"? And what is the cryptic "sushi 2 dozen" and what is it that Peggy is asking when she remarks "if you can today that's fine but a great as said a if you didn't you haven't got in touch with you buddy I haven't heard from anybody in kempee sunday"? And what is a "kempee sunday"?

"Alan" is equally cryptic on January 28:

"Hey sundar I'm calling you back I'm heading back up 37 at to go down to Laura and for dennis appointment but everything is working along fine with with jordie stuff I'll give you an update call me later tonight." 

Some meaning here: could a "dennis apointment" be a dentist appointment? But what does "heading back up 37 at to go down" mean?

Don't despair! The seemingly dense remarks from "Carolyn" are rich with hidden meaning and even include key – but still mysterious – plot points in this Joycean tale, which clever scholars can unlock without much trouble:

"Hi if you can guess what happen I'm sorry but I thought it was the the park right now but 5 then I saw you called I'm got I just got out there somewhere in I know you think with my phone I wanna look at this time I was looking at the clocks in my outbox and my husband seen but I thought I was on I wasn't on time the months they gone by now I'm so sorry it's I'm arriving a new are probably have already last goodbye hans it's about trying to night I think and I told this moment I thought it was and 8 I'm very sorry link I left for you see you okay maybe you will be there if I got it all right."  

The meaning of the passage is clear: it seems that Carolyn is expressing her fears of getting older as she confronts an unexpected pregnancy. "Looking at the clocks" obviously indicates the passing of time, while the outbox symbolizes death. We quickly learn that her husband is upset that she has gotten pregnant (she apologizes for not being "on time" and something – presumably a baby – is "arriving a new"), although she suspects that the child is not her husband's but actually the love child of Hans, with whom she broke up months ago ("last goodbye"). But there is still her current lover, Link, who may be the missing link who will support her, if her husband abandons her, and make it all right. 

I bet you never thought your cell phone was so deep.

May 18, 2014