Thursday, 23 February 2017

Frank Delaney

The final episode

Like Joyceans everywhere, I was shocked and saddened to learn yesterday of the sudden death of Frank Delaney. Since 2010, his weekly Ulysses podcast has been our regular Saturday morning lie-in listening. After seven years, Frank was almost a third of the way through, and he was looking forward to continuing it for another twenty years at least.

Listening to the podcasts, you could see why NPR described him as 'the most eloquent man in the world'. He seemed to be talking without notes, yet always fluently, and quoting from memory from Shakespeare, Coleridge, Browning, the Latin mass and assorted Irish songs (which he would often sing). In one episode he even gave us a rap, which has been animated by dizkoteck on youtube. He was also a great dramatic reader, with a range of accents – using a Cork accent for Ned Lambert and Simon Dedalus, and a Derry one for Richard Best.

Frank was a very partisan reader, strongly on the side of Stephen and Bloom, and sensitive to slights against them. With Bloom, he found antisemitism in seemingly innocent exchanges, even accusing Jack Power and Davy Byrne. He disliked Buck Mulligan, seeing him as an enemy of Stephen from the very beginning. So, when Mulligan borrows Stephen's handkerchief to wipe his razor, Frank responded:

Frank Delaney with his pocket square
'Now admittedly it wasn't the cleanest handkerchief in the world, but that's not the point. I've been wearing pocket squares in my jackets since I was twenty years old, and if anyone did that to me, there'd be a fire on the moon, that's for sure! Such an invasive act.'

I loved the way he would always bring in his own memories of Dublin or of his childhood in Tipperary.  The phrase 'Bad Cess!' in episode 362 inspired a digression on swearing.

'Dublin was full of swearword euphemisms, my favourite being 'James's Street Christ Church and the Coombe!'... used instead of 'Jesus Mary and Joseph' and usually shortened to 'James's Street!''

Bloom's thoughts on watching communicants receiving the eucharist ('they don't seem to chew it only swallow it down') brought this memory:

'When I was a child of seven being taught how to take communion for my first communion, and practising with disks cut out of an ice-cream wafer, it was impressed upon me and upon all of us that we must never never never chew the host because it's the body of Christ. We had to swallow it whole, which wasn't always easy, because it always, it seemed to me, stuck to the roof of the mouth.'


After every twelfth podcast, Frank put up a 'Baker's Dozen' episode, a more general Joycean discussion. Here he is in episode 240a, talking brilliantly about how to read Finnegans Wake:

'Now we come to Finnegans Wake. Ha! Ha! (sigh) Two notes here, one minor one major. The minor note - there's no apostrophe in 'Finnegans'. We've all made that error, but you'll never make it again after I tell you that it is not a title with anything possessive in it. It's an exhortation to everybody by the name of Finnegan to wake up: 'Finnegans WAKE!'

The major note, Finnegans Wake is not a novel....No! No! Finnegans Wake is a poem, it's a symphony by a modern atonal composer. It's an assembly of language tying together floating evanescent ideas. It's a long rapid eye movement dream, it's a marathon technicoloured musing that might have been induced by mescaline or LSD or some other mind-bending substance. It's a seemingly reckless careening through English and other languages. Yet you know that every word has been considered in this hodge-podge pot-pourri of miscellaneous and not always aligned thoughts and ideas, in this flamboyant and brilliant linguistic exercise that mimics the intensely illustrated pages of a medieval Irish manuscript. It's a massive rap, as in rapper, as in street talk, as in lingo, as in the heat of the day and the cool of the night captured dreamily and melodiously in words of all shapes and sizes. It's a mirage. 

So 'How do I read it?' I hear you ask. Answer, don't!  Do not read FW. Feel it. Dip into a page, any page, and if you find something that lights up your synapses, and you will find lots and lots. Enjoy it. Coleridge said that every great and original writer must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished, as Coleridge himself did in trumps....Joyce had already done that with his previous books. Here he does so incandescently. I love Finnegans Wake, but it's a private love, almost a guilty secret. I read it to myself aloud, knowing that I can never ever do it justice.  And I don't follow it page by page. I dip. 

And when all its investigations have done, and when someone comes along and devotes forty or fifty or sixty years to opening out Finnegans Wake in full access, as I am trying to do with Ulysses, well then ladies and gentlemen we shall have available to us one of man's greatest works of art. I so hope that happens in my lifetime.  I so hope it's going on now. And I so hope we'll get to it during my life. And my life has to last another twenty-five years because of the Ulysses podcast. So my final advice in a single sentence is, read Finnegans Wake on any page at any time, and listen to it. Feel the words in your mouth and smile. But above all else: feel it in your spirit.'

Episode 240a 'Reading Joyce' 16 January 2015

PQ has written about this passage on his excellent Wake blog, coincidentally called Finnegans, Wake!

I still have episodes 365-8 left to listen to, and it will be so unbearably sad to hear the final one.


1 comment:

  1. aw man. so sad. i was puzzled why there was no new podcast today. "they go up on wednesdays, yeah?" i hit "refresh" over and over thinking itunes was at fault. now i wish there was a "re:joyce" button. because i've listened to every one of them. that sucks so bad. i'll probably miss his intro most. "rejoyce! hello, i'm frank delaney." rip frank delaney.