8. How would you describe your experience of reading FW? Why are a growing number of scholars and students interested in FW?
Fritz Senn said ----- I started out full of enthusiasm at the age of about 25 and invested a great deal of time, at one time really trying to resolve its minute obscurities into tentative meaning, and often this brought good returns, and experiences. But more often not. After many years -as a scholar- I simply gave up Finnegans Wake, in semantic despair; my ignorance it so overwhelming that I cannot, in all honesty, pose as an expert (and the experts don’t help). This does not exclude occasional probes and references in what I have written, All Joycean ways lead to FW. But I cannot imagine writing a book about something that I so fundamentally and in many details fail to grasp. So often in our weekly reading, I find that after 40 years or so of endeavour, I have no clue what a passage or a sentence does. Disheartening. Fortunately most others do not have such qualms. (I articulated my defeat in “Linguistic Dissatisfaction at the Wake” -- which I vaguely remember the Abiko Quarterly may have reprinted long ago.) One actual, “real life” effect of Finnegans Wake is to bring people together and closer, literally so. Reading groups take on social functions, and I believe beneficial ones. Some do become therapy groups (not as much irony involved as it may seem). --- From my experience, the reading groups become something that helps various member to go on, may be it is the exercise of grappling with a text, maybe to engage in a common pursuit, a kind of community feeling arises (also animosities, naturally), maybe the sort of processes for which in real therapy sessions one would have to spend a lot of money. Not to forget, no one sees the reading groups as therapy, they may just keep some people out of even more harm. What I can tell it that many friendships do arise, locally and beyond. --- A lot remains to be explained, related, perhaps even clarified. It offers multiple openings for research, a rich field for academic and amateur research, reinvigorated by novel theories and trends. Also it is often hard to falsify claims made about it. One strange characteristic about the book: without real familiarity, intimate knowledge, one can say valid, brilliant, perceptive things about FW - and also very vapid ones. Finnegans Wake has become part of literary and verbal culture, by a process of osmosis.
Katarzyna Bazarnik said ----- Reading FW does require a lot of effort, intellectual work. One must read actively, i.e., read and interpret, connect and check connections all the time. It's a different kind of reading, not sliding over the surface, like reading for plot and not paying much attention to every word. Here everything may be meaningful to the highest degree, so one must be very attentive all the time. In this respect it resembles reading poetry, especially modern, in which one has to dig for meaning, extract it from the words and from between the words. But when you come to think of it, it is also true for poetry of other ages, too. This, of course, is only a part of the answer. Different people find different aspects of it difficult. --- I believe because it is such a challenge. And such a change from what most people usually read. Because it leaves room for your creativity in interpretation, or what's called "reader response". Because it has remained "terra incognita" of literature, so, potentially, everybody can still make a great discovery. --- At the moment genetic studies are developing quite rapidly, but I am not sure if it's of great importance to the readers. I suppose the readers look for some kind of guidance and a method to read FW. What I find really fascinating is different close readings, which actually goes back to your point about reading about FW being more interesting than reading FW itself. I liked the sentence (don't remember who said that) saying that "literary criticism has grown to be another literary genre." If it's so, its development is virtually unpredictable because some undiscovered genius may be waiting at the doorstep. I could also imagine "hyper-criticism", a kind of glossing of electronic texts of FW and Ulysses, with links to corresponding places/words/paragraphs, perhaps forking at some points so it would be up to the reader to decide which track to follow. I suppose it could actually comment much better on the nature of FW and the way it could be read than 'linear' critical works.
Michael S. Begnal said ----- FW describes everything from the simplest details of everyday existence to the whole cosmos. i.e. "life". --- Joyce did not restrict himself to everyday/common prose, he made his language reflect the context of the subconscious mind. --- Since the language used is often portrayed as "nonsensical" it is easy to impose one's own theories on the book without paying serious attention to what Joyce was actually trying to do. --- It is possible that the chaotic appearance of FW's prose might encourage an opportunist to twist Joyce's words to benefit his or her own theory.
Ryan G. Van Cleave said ----- In general, I look to figures such as Lorca, Neruda, and Mark Strand for poetic inspiration. All three (and many others) have the ability to transform language into a medium of exchange that benefits both writer and reader. Finnegans Wake does this for me, too. I read it not as a text, per se, but as a word-poem. Perhaps that's not right, either. I think what I'm trying to explain is that when I tackle FW (which I endeavor to do every other year), I let the energy and the power of the words accumulate and expand into a state of inertia, pure controlled confusion (something akin to Keat’s negative capability). I think that when my own poems are working at their best, they operate on subconscious levels that sometimes border on abstraction, yet always they strive for clarity of voice, structure, shape, image. --- In one sense, FW is too difficult for general readers. But if you buy into Keat’s negative capability idea, then a person can relish in it, without quite knowing why. --- I'm not sure that there are too many books about FW coming out right now. It's a rich text and I'm perfectly happy with many people plunging whole-heartedly into it. I don't have a favorite yet among those that exist, but perhaps that's the siren-call asking me to try my hand at it down the road.
Alfred P. Crumlish said ----- It depends on the day. Sometimes I get annoyed, frustrated. Other times I laugh. Sometimes it sends shivers down my spine and I experience great joy, the "pop" I look for for example when listening to music, the feeling that all is right with the world and so what if it isn't because the world is just an amazing place in which to pass the time. --- [Another question: To some people FW looks like a sutra. Buddhist monks learn to read the sutra like a song without knowing its meaning at first. It is beautiful for ears. Did you see the monks reciting the sutra?] I have never seen monks reciting a sutra. I like the image presented in your question. While I am not a Buddhist, it does sound like good advice to readers of FW. It is music to the ears and, like the sutra, as you say, much more. --- FW is of interest because it constitutes a literary culmination and turning point, consolidating the innovations of modernism and western art up to that time and opening doors to future works and of course a counterrevolution. That makes it of interest, perhaps, to scholars, but I think too that people respond to FW in a manner more similar to the way they respond to great music or poetry and not so much as they do to novels. It touches something at a deep level, and this keeps them coming back. We might all dig for specific meaning, read and write criticism, and develop as a result deeper insights that increase our pleasure, but as with all great art there will always be mystery.
Finn Fordham said ----- To be honest, sometimes it is frustrating. But generally it's intense. --- It is the most satisfying form of the pleasurable game known as close reading, and yet, however close you get to the text every so often it seems to take you to the edge of the human universe and give you a glimpse of things from up/down/over there. It feels like a cosmological vision of the universe of language. --- [Another question: Would you let us know about your thought on the critical approaches like Derrida, Lacan, etc? ] Blimey - in a paragraph? I'd like to know more about what influence Lacan's reading of FW had on his ideas: I think his theory of the mirror-stage could be traced back to Issy. Derrida's "Grammatology" claims to cover the science of writing but it doesn't examine the processes of revision in writing and rewriting. Finnegans Wake and its archive is an incredible place to take this early strand of Deconstruction on into a new science of writing. --- [Another question: Do you expect a new theory coming out in the future? If so, what type do you expect and why?] Let me look into my crystal ball.... I see... wild predictions coming soon . . . Cultural materialism looks to be emerging as the dominant new practice, that could well run and run. Its methods are simple and conclusions satisfying (they're quantifiable, to some extent, which is important for Research Assessments for funding). But it's wedded to historicism which could come under attack. Aesthetics might then be a reaction against the ideological commitments in the above (and a return to the text). It wouldn't be very new though. Religion will replace race and gender to be the new topic studied ideologically in literature and culture because of the perceived dualism between the West and Islam since September 11. I hope there'll be more genetic scholarship - comparative genetic scholarship, but it will always be a specialized and marginal scholarly activity.
Michael Patrick Gillespie said ----- I agree with you that a nonlinear, post-Newtonian way of thinking is the most useful form for discerning meaning in Finnegans Wake. At the same time, I have had moments of great pleasure reading portions of Finnegans Wake, particularly when I do so with a group. When people around me begin to read passages aloud, I hear things in Joyce's words that had previously escaped me. I find delight in connections that I did not know existed. I take pleasure in hearing others explain puns, allusions, or multiple references that did not occur to me. It is moments like this that make me feel that it is not Finnegans Wake but me that has limitations that inhibit my enjoyment of the work. Deconstruction theory falls short of this because it cannot get beyond Cartesian cause and effect thinking. When Derrida sees language as imprecise and arbitrary, he presents this condition with regret and a nostalgia for the certitude that others had in the efficacy of language. A more useful way of thinking is Joyce's own which embraces the ambiguities in language and takes pleasure in them.
John S. Gordon said ----- Joyce's insistence that reality was difficult, and that literature should reflect that fact. That humanity has been arguing about how to interpret it and how to act in accordance with that interpretation forever. If understanding the fundamental nature of things were a simple matter, we'd have settled on it by now. When it goes well, one of the high points of my life. I've done some articles and e-mail commentary since my book came out. If I live long enough, I may do a second book. --- [Another question: Do you think today's critical approaches on FW have been much progressed than when you wrote A Plot Summary?] The main thing is to keep piling up information - and that process has continued. I think the high theorists who dominated the field at the time are now in decline, and that that is all to the good.
David Hayman said ----- I am still working on the evolution of the Wake. My most recent Joyce essay is a longish treatment of chapter II.3 for Crispi and Slote. In progress are essays on aspects of the notebooks including an essay on the Wake-era epiphanies or ‘epiphanoids.’ --- [Another question: Some critics deny the existence of narrative structure in FW and dig only the language. What do you think of this trend?] The emphasis is fine, but it does not rule out plot or narrative.
Tim Horner said ----- Early mornings spent on the back porch, hours before the kids come downstairs for breakfast. Evenings spent sprawled on one end of the couch, my partner stretched out reading magazines on the other end. Late nights under the reading lamp, long after the kids have been tucked into bed. Massive bouts of frustration and self-doubt. Slivers of elation. Hiding in my den, out of earshot, mouthing the words aloud. Strange dreams; voices telling me that Shem is what was, and Shaun what is soon to be. Reading a little further to find a passage similar to the comments of my dream, only concerning Anna Livia, not Shem nor Shaun. When all is said and done, an obsessive, life absorbing experience.
Geert Lernout said ----- My first reading was the result of undergraduate hubris and it is only when I began to work with the notebooks and the drafts that I understood that it was possible to understand more of FW if you could understand the way it was written. I agree with Fritz that that fact in itself is an "aesthetic argument against the Wake". --- I was quoting from Fritz's answer: he believes that if it is necessary to study the notebooks and drafts in order to understand FW, then the book does not stand on its own and that would be an aesthetic argument against it. --- Its reputation as "the most difficult book" certainly has something to do with it: people like a challenge. In my more cynical days, I think that scholars like to refer to this book because only very few people will challenge what they say about the book. --- [Another question: Why did Joyce make the book so difficult? Is it done intentionally?] Of course it was intentional. The second half of Ulysses was pretty difficult already, and Joyce cannot have failed to notice that the new work was even more complex. Why he was doing it is another matter. His comments are far from clear about this, although he does seem to have thought that the complexity of his style reflected the complexity of the book's subject matter.
Patrick A. McCarthy said ----- Over the years I have derived more pleasure from reading FW than from any other book with the possible exception of Ulysses. There are passages that I have read dozens of times and still find so funny that l laugh every time I read them. I think scholars or students are attracted to the book's richness and complexity, and above all to its humor. But this is a guess; I haven't conducted a survey. I don't know what will come next, but to some extent Derrida and Lacan have already been displaced by postcolonial theory, in keeping with the tendency to politicize all literary works. This too shall pass. --- [Another question: How do you evaluate your book The Riddles of Finnegans Wake now?] The book appeared in 1980. That is a long time ago, and it has been so long since I looked at the book that I don't know what I would think of it now. I remember that people whose opinions I especially respected--including Mike Begnal, Tom Staley, Bob Boyle, Berni Benstock, and Zack Bowen--liked it, and that gave me a great deal of reassurance.
Roland McHugh said ----- As a biologist I hardly ever come into contact with literary people or prospective FW readers. I'm a specialist in myxomycetes (acellular slime molds). See my book The FW Experience (1961). I work as a lecturer in Biology. My other books are The Sigla of FW (1976) - which might say deals with 'plot' - and Annotations to FW (1980, 2nd ed. 1991). --- The prime necessity is repetition. Problems arise from insufficient repetition plus failure to understand words and see overtones. My Annotations should help. ---(About the increased interest in FW) I suppose it'd a consequence of increased exposure to U. The gratitude to the author one feels after U produces the energy to attempt to cope with FW.
Joan Peternel said ----- Before my first reading of the Wake, I had studied Ulysses in such depth that I could write about it. The characters in Ulysses are symbolic, but they are also "real." We "see" the hero of Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, walking along a street, we "hear" him conversing with others. But Bloom is also all fathers. His wife, Molly, is all mothers; his son(s), the living Stephen and the dead Rudy, all sons; his daughter Millie, all maidens and brides. In the Wake, however, the characters are only symbolic. They are enacting the plot of the Fall on the unconscious level at which dreams are made, where--according to Freud's three dream principles-the "dream-work" is formed through condensation, displacement, and symbolization. With condensation, composite figures are formed--in myth, as well as dreams, as in the centaur, half man, half horse. Through displacement, the dreamer allots disproportionate values to certain elements of the dream; in one of Freud's own dreams, botany plays a major part, whereas botany was of little interest to the waking Freud. And symbolization is simply that, as when a galloping horse is taken to suggest passion. In the Wake, we do not see HCE pausing in the park or conversing with the customers in his pub. We can know him only through the bits and pieces of information drifting in his subconscious, including the inaccuracies of his memories of the day--bits and pieces interpreted by readers over many years and shared with Wake readers who come afterward. --- When people ask me why they should trouble themselves to read this difficult book, I might reply that the Wake can teach us something about the structure and functions of consciousness (including the subconscious and the unconscious)--how dreams and fiction are made, how dreamers and narrators proceed. At the deepest level of the collective unconscious, according to Jung, we are one. We are Carbon. Or we are Water. (Jung suggested that the Ocean is the unconscious.) But we came out of water. We stood up. We dreamed. We experienced thunder which, like Joyce's tremendous thunder word, bewildered us, mystified us. We invented words, we told stories. At the highest level of consciousness, an individual is unique. When HCE wakes up, he will find that he is living at a certain time, in a certain place, owns and works in a certain pub, and is married to a certain woman who has brought forth certain children. --- I would imagine that psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and others in the field of psychology would be interested because this is the only novel that expresses the subconscious activity of an individual who is sleeping, from page 1 to the end. There is also material in the Wake which seems to be contents of the collective unconscious, the level of consciousness below the individual subconscious.
C. George Sandulescu said ----- As a small child, during the War (1941-1944), my favourite hobby was to identify foreign languages on short-wave radio. Having had a smattering of Greek from earliest days (my paternal grandmother came from the island of Rhodos), and speaking English with my father most of the time (he had received an American education at Constantinople), I could identify up to twenty languages on the radio without ever having seen them written, or without having met any people who were native speakers of them. In secondary school, I was the best pupil at languages: first German, during the occupation, then Rumanian, Latin, some Russian, a lot of private lessons of French at home, and finally, massive English at the end of the war. Throughout my schooling days, & University, l was the acknowledged multiLanguage expert. I then learnt Swedish in six months (after my father died), and thus easily understood both Danish & Norwegian. I tried Finnish without any success. It is against this language background that I came to FW as a teenager: I took it to be the universal language book. For I am one of the rare persons who reads FW for multiLanguage rather than for the Story: and I have remained like that all my life, I'm afraid. The fundamental attraction of my first reading of FW, fragmentary of course, was the rather childish research Question "How can so many Languages & so many difficult words be in one single head ? That of Author Joyce ?" And I have stayed with this Question. To put it bluntly, I think I am at the opposite pole of scholars like Adaline Glasheen & Bernie Benstock who concentrated on WHO'S WHO in the book and were almost exclusively digging for the Story, which was then so elegantly displayed by Anthony Burgess, my neighbour here in Monaco, in his book A Shorter FW. The Story is vastly important of course, but there are also other structural elements, like Clive Hart's motifs, which give the book both Shape & Symmetry. Then I discovered that it is not the Story that is so important but rather the characters, headed by the protean HCE. But I usually do not adopt other people's ready-made conclusions: l prefer to read & reread FW until I reach conclusions of my own. That is why I always have a copy of it at hand. --- I met Jacques Lacan first in 1974 at the First World Congress of Semiotics in Milan, a congress organized by Umberto Eco (both his lecture, & my FW paper are printed in the Congress Proceedings). Then l met him again at the 1975 Joyce Symposium in Paris. His lecture there l have in front of me, edited by J. Aubert, entitled "Joyce le Symptome". On both these occasions I discussed FW with him, sometimes in the presence of Roman Jakobson of Harvard. I basically agree with Lacan (esp pp.16-17 of vol.1 of Paris Proceedings) where he compares Joyce with Verdi & calls pages 162 & 509 'un tour de farce', a comment full of praise. I studied Derrida in the early 1970's in Stockholm, in a Danish translation of De la Grammatologie, which I still must have somewhere. l was asked to do presentations of that particular book to the Swedish Society of Psychoanalysis whose members had no French. The discussions went on in Swedish about a text in Danish, originally written in French by Derrida. Then, I met the Man himself at the 1984 Joyce Symposium in Frankfurt, organised by Gabler: as I shared the same hotel with Derrida, we had breakfast together and, inevitably, discussed FW. I feel I have very little in common with him, as his fundamental views on Language are so very divergent from mine. We never found common points worth the notice. There is a lot of preliminary FW work to do before we get to Derrida's brand of philosophy. I never even quote him in my book on FW. --- [Another question: How do you evaluate your book The Language of the Devil (1987) now? Why did you use the word devil?] You ask how do I evaluate my book Language of the Devil now: I think it is as topical as ever, and as correct as ever. I am slowly putting together a follow-up along identical principles: that was mentioned here and there in the text, if you remember. I am using DEVIL in the sense of Blake, esp. his Marriage of Heaven & Hell. It is the sense of Joyce too, in his letter to his grandson Stephen J who visited me in Monaco several times, and who published that letter in bookform, in English, and then separately in French. Actually, Joyce was fond of the devil: he even looked like one. Remember also his slogan "Silence, Exile, & Cunning", very devilish indeed. Then the Dante-Inferno associations & affinities which bring in Beckett and the whole of Italian literature.
Joe Schork said ----- In my judgment, very few people read FW during the last half of the 20th Century. Many people pretend they have read the WAKE, but they have usually merely read about it. Others read into FW their own political/social concerns. That will continue; but I suspect that the current century will see a drop in WAKE readers, as its linguistic and cultural foundations seem more remote and require years of study. The WAKE is now a book for a small international group of intellectually elite who like looking things up in reference books (and that has nothing to do with academic credentials or positions); it will remain even more so in the future. Please note, my answer is undoubtedly conditioned by my primary interests in the "genetic" background of FW, its sources, their traces in the NOTEBOOKS, and the development of the text. --- Given the exotic nature of the development of FW there are certainly many typographical error in the final text. Also, Joyce's handwriting is often extremely difficult to decipher. One of the reasons why I like genetic scholarship is that the finding of Joyce's source is sometimes the only clue to what one of his notes says. --- Why are quite a number of students and scholars interested in FW? I guess that Joyce felt that FW was the next step in his writing career, one to which he was willing to devote seventeen years of intensive work, even though many of his friends told him that very few people would or could read it. Despite its technical innovations ULYSSES is a relatively conventional novel; the WAKE is unique in matter and form. FINNEGANS WAKE stands all by itself as the ultimate linguistic/cultural puzzle. The two works cannot be compared, even though some Wakean elements are present in ULYSSES.
Catrin Siedenbiedel said ----- There is obviously a number of reasons why scholars and students are interested in FW as you can see from the various approaches they choose in dealing with the work. Among them is certainly the point that FW marks a summit of the use of literary form in that its language differs as much (or even more) from Basic English as is possible to be still understandable. Another aspect is also that the text reflects itself as an artwork, as a text, as a piece of literature and therefore is concerned with exactly those topics that scholars of English literature are interested in. --- [Another question: Do you think that other theories than famous poststructuralism will appear in the future critical approaches on FW?] Certainly. Fortunately, as long as Anna Livia will flow through FW as the river Liffey, criticism will never stop finding new approaches to this enigmatic work.
Sam Slote said ----- At first: ambitious. I read FW before reading anything else by Joyce and thought that I could "get it" with enough work. The first time I went cover to cover in about a month and pretty much deluded myself into thinking I had attained some slim level of understanding. Still haven't cracked it, not expecting that I will anytime soon, or ever. In some ways I could say that at each new reading I understand it less overall but enjoy it more. There is something almost magical when a passage starts to gel, not all the pieces resolve, but something unexpected emerges. I think that there's very little that's accidental in FW; I think Joyce rarely (if ever) puns for the sake of punning, there is some kind of cohesion within passages, but it's a lateral cohesion (and there would be many different modes in which this kind of cohesion could happen). As I said earlier I think people rely on plot too much, this may be because plot is a privileged mode of cohesion. I'd say that FW works otherwise. --- I simply mean an interpretation where everything fits together. Cohesion is when you can close a book, lay it on your table, and smoke a pipe (or another suitable activity for moments like this), smug in the knowledge that you have mastered the object you have just consumed. I don't think that one can ever approach FW with an expectation of eventual mastery, it's not in the dice.
Donald Theall said ----- It has been a wonderful, life long encounter and interaction with a great poet, visionary and thinker of the twentieth century. Obviously with such a rich text there is increased pleasure and understanding which occurs over time through continuous study. --- Like all great, complex works it has a prospect for being read long into the future as long as there is a future, which may not be, if we cannot sense the critique of war and violence in books such as the Wake. --- Joyce was writing the Wake between two wars, the first of which it is known affected him and his writing of Ulysses (see, for example, Fairhill's James Joyce and the Question of History). The Wake was launched as a period of military action and violence in Ireland was coming to a conclusion. As he was finishing the work, Hitler was rising to power and the threats of impending war permeated Europe. Joyce well understood Hitler's power as Ruth von Phul's note in the Wake Newslitters ( New Series v. I, #5 (1964)) suggests. The Wake opens with the "museyroom" and its remembrance of Napoleon and Wellington ("Willingdone") and closes with the debate between Muta and Juva, which von Phul suggests referred to the Munich pact of 1938 among other things. Puns such as those present in "Ghazi power" link Irish violence to later Nazi violence. But it is permeated with remembrances and echoes of wars, some of which focuses around Buckley and the Russian general. The wars are often linked with religion which seems to be an aspect of the conclusion to the debate between Patrick and the Archdruid following the Muta and Juva interchange. But the point is that Joyce satirizes war and violence as part of his overall satiric vision. This association also often involves religious elements as well, since wars are so frequently permeated by religious elements as they were in Ireland. This fits with Joyce's satirization of organized religion and his celebration of the secularization of the sacred. I'd like to go on at greater length, but the complexity and importance of this subject makes it impossible to encompass in an interview. --- [Another question: Do you expect a new theoretical approach on the critical study of FW?] The nature of literary theory is such that there will always be a new theoretical approach to the critical study of texts and the complexity of Joyce's text particularly invites this. In some ways the approach through virtuality and cyberspace that has arisen in works such as those of Darren Tofts and my own writings suggest this. In the light of such recent work as Kathleen Hayles, HOW We Became Posthuman, this approach should take on new significance for reasons which I mention below. --- [Another question: You think the reading difficult, what are the causes?] An unfamiliarity with the complex play with language and languages coupled with a global culture that seems to favour the unintellectual and what is easily grasped and sensational. Reading the Wake becomes easier the more one plays with it while reading it. There are other attendant difficulties. It, like Ovid one of Joyce's most cited classical poets, invites a certain amount of research on the part of its readers into history, myth and religion because it is of genuinely satiric epic proportions. --- [Another question: Can FW be included in the poetical work too?] The Wake can only be described as a post-Menippean (or Varronian) satire and like the Varronian or Menippean satire a poetic mixture of poetry and prose.
Laurel Willis said ----- Maybe it will be comparable to what English will become by then, a salad of foreign languages as the internet or other new avenues of communication develop. --- It is experimental and we're not yet wired to its meaning. --- [Another question: Why did Joyce mix with other languages in FW? Do you like it?] It points to the Tower of Babel Story. --- Most people move on from Ulysses. Few people can understand Ulysses or stick it out reading it, maybe five percent who open up U, can get through it.
Aida Yared said ----- When I tried to read it initially, I was totally baffled; two books helped me get in the mood of sorts: The Finnegans Wake Experience a small volume by Roland McHugh, and the cartoon version of the first chapter by Ahearn. I then read it in its entirety, trying to understand spontaneously as much as possible. I then got the Annotations to Finnegans Wake by Roland McHugh, mostly to check if my findings were correct and also to try and get enlightened on the majority of words or sentences or passages that I did not understand. I still keep the Annotations handy when I read the Wake. At the Joyce Conference of 1992 in Dublin, I learned of the existence of the James Joyce Archive and the Finnegans Wake Notebooks, and that became a central starting point of my readings related to the Wake. --- [Another question: Would you explain what you wanted to describe in your article of the Abiko Quarterly #18] It attracted my attention that the central female figure ALP had component figures that had sinister connotations (Baudelaire's mistress Jeanne Duval whom he called the "vampire," the Biblical queen Judith who gruesomely beheaded Holophrenes, and Islamic deities), and therefore I wanted to report on this dimension. I also was fascinated by how a change in a couple of letters in a word brought in a whole story as a sub-plot in FW; ALP carries a "mealiebag" and this can be read as a "mailbag" since one of ALP's children is a mailcarrier, but also "meal" refers to the "foodbag" where Judith put Holophrenes' head. This is an example of what I was mentioning earlier: the precision of Joyce's language, as well as the "subplots" brought in by a word or sometimes just the substitution of a few letters. We try as readers to "correct" the words back, and McHugh's Annotations very often do that, but I wish we could rather unravel (possibly by the study of sources) what every letter that seems "wrong" in FW actually means. --- I think the text is so rich that everyone find something of their own interest in it. For example I am from the Middle East and I found a lot to do with the Arabic language or Middle Eastern religion which made reading much more interesting to me. People from very different backgrounds or varying interests can undig or discover something literary much like a "goldmine". If someone knows about heraldry or chemistry or hermeneutics or astrology... they are likely to stumble upon something that will be very much from their area of interest. ---The main reason of difficulty I think is the amount of information that forms part of the text. It is so much packed in that the words become unintelligible and this is very frustrating. Another reason is that people are accustomed to a plot and a story line, or the description of something very visual, and these are rarely readily obvious in Finnegans Wake. --- [Another question: We have nostalgia for a hidden plot in FW even if its presence is denied. Why are there words without a plot?] I think there are too many plots rather than the absence of one. The plots relate to the "storyline" of FW (the possible crime of HCE and the events happening in his household) but there are also innumerable embedded plots that come from fiction books, historical events, newspaper clipping, the lives of saints, myths and legends...
[All these discussions were reproduced from the Abiko Annual #22.]