Saturday, September 7, 2013

General themes

Joyce claimed to be writing a history of the world in the style of dreamspeech. [overview]

No one seriously doubts that Ulysses was the most masterful display of English prose style ever, and dreamspeech is right up Joyce's alley, so it should be assumed that all apparent shortcomings in FW's prose style may well turn out to be our fault, not Joyce's.

He packed it with puns, but they had to meet his very very very high standards. We have dozens of notebooks where he jotted words and phrases that tickled his fancy, and we can trace many to their sources in his reading, and to their destinations in FW. (Google Books has scanned many of these source texts.) He intended it as a puzzle that would take centuries to solve, and he had an eye for historical obscurities, starting with anything related to Dublin.

It's cyclic, like Vico's model of history. The title summarizes the cycle: Finn wakes again. It also puns on the song "Finnegan's Wake" (the book title omits the song's apostrophe)

There seems to be an archetypal family:

HCE = E = father
ALP = △ = mother
Shaun = ⋀ = 'good' (conformist) son
Shem = [ = 'bad' (artistic) son
Isolde/Iseult/Issy = ⊥ = daughter
Tristan = Shaun + Shem? = young HCE?

The earliest drafts offer simpler vignettes about Tristan, Isolde and Mark, St Kevin, St Patrick, an archdruid (aka Berkeley), four old Masters (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John aka MaMaLuJo).


This blog is being created to encourage people to read straight though Finnegans Wake, along with the 80,000 annotations at  Hopefully we can do a new blog post every day, where people can discuss one page of the Wake... and collect links to every relevant web resource. I'll also try to itemize the biggest unsolved mysteries on each page.

Page-a-day page-pages look like this:
"Assigned reading" links the Fweet page-of-the-day with the text, plus interlinear notes (see below). The little "[]" link is to the web edition of FW at, with old-style line-numbers. "[secondary]" links to an alternative Web collation of notes, without the interlinear text, and with a lot of extra suggestions that can get wild. "[McH]" links page-images of Roland McHugh's Annotations to FW, the godfather of all these efforts, now dated.

"FDV:" links David Hayman's classic First-Draft Version of FW, followed by an extract of just the deepest layer. At the bottom of each page-page you should find a little mp3-player tuned to the lickety-split 17-CD FW reading by Patrick Healy.


The Fweet links are complicated (and getting comfortable with them will be a shorter-term goal), so before we start with page 3, I want to address more general questions.

The text itself is on the mustard-colored lines, with the standard page and line numbers at the start of each line. Fweet offers a font for displaying Joyce's 'sigla', but it only works if you let webpages choose their own fonts.

At the top and bottom of the Fweet pages there are links to both the Next and Previous pages. Because the Wake is a circle, the Previous page is page 628. (If we do a page a day, it should take about two years.)

There's a "Comment on Me!!" link at the bottom of the Fweet screen that you can use to suggest additions, but I'd recommend you post them here instead to make things easier for Rafael.

Here's an Online Shorter FW. And a listing of the changes in the new "Restored" edition (FW2):

If you want an ebook, I recommend the FW2. [Amazon-UK] If you want something printed, avoid the Penguin with the introduction by Bishop-- it's got the worst typos and bad printing. Any other edition you can pick up secondhand will be a better value. This one looks great. (It's nice to mark your progress with lots of underlining and marginalia.) [Amazon] [pdf]

Historical maps of Dublin

It's agreed that Joyce intended the language to be conventionally grammatical, with subjects, verbs, and objects that obey the classic rules.  Sometimes it takes a lot of digging to fit the clues together.

All language has rhythm, but sometimes it's hard to tell what rhythm Joyce intended. It's always meant to express the themes of the passage, often by echoing the rhythms of other literature or song. There are lots of places where Joyce's preferred pronunciation is uncertain, with very weird Gaelic spellings especially tricky. The rhythmic echoes can be so subtle they take years to unpack.

All existing theories of what Joyce was doing and what FW is 'about' are wrong.