JJ: INFRATHIN AND INFRARATIONAL, by Sérgio Medeiros
Atualizado: Fev 19
JJ: INFRATHIN AND INFRARATIONAL
My drawings - one for each page of James Joyce's novel Finnegans Wake - try to rescue the Irish writer's petroglyphs and hieroglyphs, that is, that language that I really appreciate and that would be semi-hidden in this work, barely appearing among its infinite letters.
I read the novel again as if each page was a fragment of a codex from ancient Irish literature. In fact, not only that, but also a codex of Amerindian literature, which is, as we know, full of strokes, figures and colors (I refer in particular to Mesoamerican texts). In this sense, the lines, signs and images that I suggest in my visual version of the novel could only be partially defined as an “unthinking language”, to use an expression that appears, in another context, in FW. My visual language, anarchically respectful, as Joyce would say, actually exists in FW, and to speak of it, I would now like to use the concepts of “infrathin”, by Marcel Duchamp, and “infrarational”, by Joyce himself.
According to Didier Ottinger’s comments, that can be read in Marcel Duchamp dans les collections du Centre Georges Pompidou/Musée national d’art moderne, infrathin would be the place of all intermediaries, the place of all passages, revealing the “coexistence of opposites” and announcing the transformation of one thing into another.
It is the point where the more and the less, the high and the low, the positive and the negative are inverted. Didier Ottinger mentions, as an example, a work by René Magritte that Duchamp had recommended to André Breton. It is Le Modéle rouge (1935), which shows a shoe, or boot, whose end turns into toes, thus confusing the inside and the outside, as if claiming, according to the French critic, that “This is not a shoe”.
The becoming-passage between the letter and the glyph, the word and the image, defines a type of infrathin that would be, as I understand it, the place (for example, this visual translation of FW) where the writings of the past, the present and the future mix themselves, in a way that the hieroglyph, in this portal, would not only be primordial, but also digital.
The infrarational, as Joyce defines it in the first chapter of his novel, alludes to the runes, which appear to be inhuman writing, the writing of the world, which would be under ordinary, human letters. Runes are thus part of the magical alphabets that challenge our senses and widen the limits of our experience, inextricably mixing what we can see and what the world shows and says: “But the world, mind, is, was and will be writing its own wrunes for ever, man, on all matters that fall under the ban of our infrarational senses…”
In this passage, the “infrarational senses” initially seem to banish the immemorial runes, but throughout the novel, we will actually be facing a demystification of reason, since we, its readers, will be in frequent contact with portals capable of revealing us the inhuman signs inscribed in the world.
The infrarational, in short, is porous, as it is, so to speak, full of portals (there are many of them, of all sizes, in FW), which allow us to experience the encounters between inside and outside, the rational and the irrational ...
The infrarational is the place that houses the literary infrathin, that's why it demystifies reason, as I said.
The codex I propose here, made up of more than 260 drawings, tries to bring out what is commonly excluded from the text. However, as we now know, the infrarational senses cannot entirely prohibit the “other side” of history, as there is always a portal (the meeting of intermediaries) that can take us out of reason, where we will be citizens of the world and inhabit all places and all times in our hallucination, because each one of us will have already become a complete “cauchman”.
Before making my first drawing, I was more or less familiar with the languages (I emphasize the plural) of FW, as I have been a reader of JJ's work for many years. As I recently reread each page of his latest novel, in order to create a drawing that could summarize or represent it, I had to choose only one image or one word among numerous others.
Then, I remembered an observation I read in Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations about expressive reading and the relationship of the word to the image: “But if a sentence can strike me as a painting in words, and even a single word in a sentence as a picture, then it is no more astonishing that a word uttered in isolation and without purpose can seem to carry a particular meaning within itself.”
I did not look for the right word, or what the French call “le mot juste”, but I accepted only that word that, in the rereading of each page of the novel, imposed itself on me. From that fragment, I created an image that, in my opinion, should be understood as a visual metaphor for the full text.
Finally, I would like to quote a passage from the essay “Life and Death in the Navajo Coyote Tales”, by Barre Toelken, in which he relates the indigenous narrative to the ritual: “In a ritual, an allusion to a well-known line, or speech, or action of Coyote will summon forth the power of the entire tale and apply it to the healing process under way”.
I hope that my version of JJ's novel, which I call A Visual Finnegans Wake, can, through its numerous images, allude to the narrative as a whole, although this whole is potentially infinite.
A Visual Finnegans Wake will be published in e-book in 2022.
*SÉRGIO MEDEIROS is a poet, visual artist and essayist.