Brain Pickings

Id-Grids and Ego-Graphs: A Typographic Confabulation with Finnegans Wake


“First we feel. Then we fall.”

Long before the Tumblr era of visual quotes, long before the ubiquity of typographic treatments of famous words, long before the age of art and design projects inspired by literary classics, in 1978, to be precise, Brooklyn-born artist and poet Jacob Drachler (1909-1998) released Id-Grids and Ego-Graphs: A Confabulation With Finnegans Wake (public library) – a visually gripping suite of 44 graphics that captures in a beautifully abstract, ethereal yet tangibly coherent way the essence of the dense Joyce classic.

Drachler writes in the foreword:

I have mined the immense “Unterwealth” of Finnegans Wake, not with the aim of illustrating Joyce’s mythic narrative, but rather to tap into the energies of his truly protean language, and thus to bring about new contexts of word and image. Having been for many years a spellbound delver in the Wake, I began, for this project, a systematic culling out of hundreds of brief texts that spoke to me with particular resonance. I would then comb back and forth through these texts somewhat the way a water-douser follows his forked branch. Texts would call forth forms and forms would find their texts. The new contexts which were thus given shape are, to be sure, merely one man’s response to Joycean insights — a confabulation with a fabled work.

Thanks to Austin’s wonderful South Congress Books, where I found Joyce’s little-known poems, I got my hands on one of the few surviving copies — here is a glimpse of the deliciousness inside:

Though this gem is sadly long out of print, used copies can still be found. Happily, my limited-edition find includes this gorgeous original screenprint, signed by Drachler:

Take the abstraction level down a significant notch, but not the visual delight, with some illustrations from Joyce’s posthumously discovered children’s book.

Thanks to my friends at the School of Visual Arts for letting me use their large scanner.

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