Star Wars and Finnegans Wake

by Sara Jewell

Polish writer and translator Krzysztof Bartnicki is no stranger to the multitudes contained within Finnegans Wake, having spent ten years translating the entire book into Polish. While the musicality of Finnegans Wake has always played a large part in its allure — Joyce himself stressed the importance of experiencing the sound of words — Bartnicki has gone further than many in demonstrating just how much music can be found in the book. Bartnicki has found the ghosts of many familiar melodies in the Wake, from Hendrix to “Moon River”. Bartnicki has even found scores of Star Wars music, from famed composer John Williams!

Star Wars musicians

It is precisely the Wake’s density and inscrutability which validates as wide the range of impressions that have been taken away from it. As Bartnicki reminds us, “In one of the Star Trek novels, Finnegans Wake was suggested as a codebook in some space war between the Starfleet and the enemies: the enemies could not break the code ofFinnegans Wake, so humans were able to encrypt messages in the Joycean language, but unfortunately the senders hardly understood their own messages themselves.” [James Blish, Spock Must Die! – scroll down to see text] Because of the impossibility of reaching a definite consensus on precisely what Finnegans Wake means, or even what it is (novel? disquisition? the impossible record of a dream?), there is an appealing parity in the weight given to its slew of takeaways. Bartnicki recalls that Jack Weaver referred to the book as music (“a suite in the key of e-flat”) or in Petr Skrabanek’s estimation, a message in Morse code.

 Far Wars (audio above) is Bartnicki’s latest musical composition that combines John Williams with the Wake. Bartnicki’s method for unearthing Star Wars in the Wake appears arduous, but is perhaps a cakewalk for someone who spent years on the herculean task of translating Joyce’s opus. The base text for Far Wars is “The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly” (Finnegans Wake, p. 44-47) from which Bartnicki removes all but the letters in the musical set {ABCDEFGH}. (This musical cryptogram is the same one used in the Bach motif; B corresponds to B flat and H stands for B natural.) Bartnicki then determines the musical phrasing and note duration, pulling out and accentuating sequences that match Williams’ compositions.

The interest here for Bartnicki is not the prescient ghost of an Academy Award-winning score in a piece of sui generis literature so much as the question of authorship. Who is the creator to be credited for the existence of Far Wars? Joyce? Williams? Or Bartnicki himself?

“I know Soundcloud would not like me not to credit my sound work as Williams,” Bartnicki admits. “To ask if letters or strings of letters (such as an alphabet) can be patented or copyrighted, this might seem crazy but it can still be a valid legal question. My interests are primarily theoretical (as in: relating to theory of art or of text), and fit in with my long search for answers about the notions of authorship, the identity of a text, and the boundaries of interpretation, especially in interdisciplinary endeavors.”

stills from Bartnicki’s process; the full scores can be accessed here (see PDF files on right hand menu)
Krzysztof Bartnicki Star Wars ScoreKrzysztof Bartnicki Star Wars ScoreKrzysztof Bartnicki Star Wars ScoreKrzysztof Bartnicki Star Wars ScoreKrzysztof Bartnicki Star Wars Score

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