By Tatsuo Hamada
Reading the Books About ‘Finnegans Wake’ to Fortify the Previous Interviews

“Framed by the dream-induced experiences of Dublin publican, Finnegans Wake (FW) recapitulates the cycles of Irish history, and in its multiple allusions almost reveals a universal consciousness. In order to present this new reality Joyce manipulated and distorted language that pushed the work to the furthest limits of comprehensibility. Because of the complexity FW is perhaps more talked about than read, and despite the publication of the manuscripts and drafts of the novel in 1939, probably will never be completely understood (from The Columbia Encyclopedia, p.1431,1993).” The previous Abiko Annual #21 & #22 aimed to give the average reader a guide on how to read and understand FW through editor’s interviews to many distinguished Joyceans. In those interviews the following questions were asked.
Can we read through FW?
Can we understand FW?
How can we best read FW?
Is there a plot in FW?
What are the riddles or enigmas of FW?
Are there too many sexual matters in FW?
What did Joyce want to communicate in FW?
Why did Joyce invent tough, mighty words in FW?
Did Lucia’s illness affect FW?
What techniques are to be learned from FW?
Is FW translatable?
How do we evaluate our reading of FW?
The following are excerpts from the books about FW, which may fortify or supplement the previous interviews.

1. Can you read through FW from the beginning to the end?  Are there many parts which cannot be understood?

Fritz Senn wrote ([A Reading Exercise in Finnegans Wake; pp. 48-58] in Critical Essay on James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake edited by Patrick A. McCarthy in 1992; G.K. Hall & Co.,New York) ---- (Page 48) The following remarks are an attempt to generalize from what is essentially a personal but continuous reading experience. The first effect to notice is a slowing down of the process. Ulysses cannot be rushed through. A leisurely, ambling pace is much more to the purpose; we do well to pull up from time to time for pauses that are, in both senses of the term, re-creative, and we are compelled to treat ourselves to a privilege that was forbidden to Lot's wife -- to satisfy our curiosity by turning back. One of the recurrent phrases in the book, about a “retrospective arrangement,” seems to hint at this demand. Events and relations arrange themselves for us if we look, or turn back, and this holds good in a much more retrospectacular way than it does in any traditional novel. But it is Finnegans Wake, really, that makes us aware just how inadequate normal consecutive reading can become, starting at the top of a page and going from left to right (or, in a different culture, starting at some other end, which comes to the same thing), unreeling a linear semantic thread. This we still do with Finnegans Wake; a book is not to be read -- literally -- backward. But the rewards of that kind of serial advancement are limited. The restrictions can be counteracted, up to a point, by reiteration, by a theoretically interminable circular progress. Joyce's conspicuous device is to make the end fold back into the beginning and to have the reader recursing, if his patience lasts, eternally along a Viconian spiral. This still amounts to traveling along one road that happens to form a closed circuit. From the very start the discerning reader of Finnegans Wake is aware that he finds himself traveling on two or more roads at the same time, roads that may or may not appear to be interrelated, but somehow always manage to coalesce verbally in the one typographical line, for there cannot be anything except a single-track string of letters. There is, for a first example, a recognizable syntactical movement from beginning to end of:
Now eats the vintner over these contents ---- (318. 20)
The sense may be a trifle odd, but not really baffling. If we are familiar with the opening line of Shakespeare's Richard III, however, we can hear an entirely different semantic development: "Now is the winter of our discontent. . . ." We may not see the thematic connection of the two lines (the context would have to provide that). What matters here is that both of them can be followed independently, both are (syntactically, semantically) self-contained. We can learn to take them both in our (one) stride. Similarly, "Bacchulus shakes a rousing guttural"(365.6) does not in itself confuse us. A clumsy phonetic effort seems to be going on ("Bacchus," an overtone, may hint at the cause for the uncouthness of the speech). A reader who has worked his laborious way as far as p. 365 of the book will have little trouble to catch one more echo of what is perhaps the most frequent phrase to come across, a reference to an episode in the Crimean War (Joyce's version): "Buckley shot the Russian General." This reader will probably also see how the manifest meaning somehow tallies with the latent one; the surface version is, perhaps, an illustration that suits the context. Another variation, for instance, spreads an air of philosophical calm about it: "Berkeley showed the reason genrously" (423.32). A first-comer opening the book at random on this page would not suspect a war incident here. This is not so different from what happens to the reader of any novel. If I know the whole series of events leading up to any given episode it will mean more to me than to the casual onlooker. In Finnegans Wake, however, the words themselves have acquired a new, often entirely new, meaning to the initiated.
(Page 51) Assuming that in Finnegans Wake several meanings are often just “there” simultaneously, and even granting their occasional transparency, we, the readers, will hardly experience the two or more meanings at the same time, right from the start. At one particular moment (or never) the mind is startled and begins to apprehend luminously that more is at stake than at first met the eye.
(Page 52) A large part of the irritation about Finnegans Wake is the certainty that we shall always remain deaf and blind to a great many potentialities of the text.
Fritz Senn also wrote (in Joyce’s Dislocutions in 1984; The Johns Hopkins University Press) ---- (Page 112) Practically minded, I am going to illustrate the paradogmatic nature of the Wake by a last example. I am choosing the Eumaean approach; in rambling qualifications I will try to impose subjective sense on a relatively simple sentence, 19 out of 218,076 words arranged in a certain order. (This is to give some quantitative dimension to the probable relevance of the following speculations.) The aim is not any new interpretation, in fact the observations made will be commonplace, and the focus is on the dynamics of the uncertainty principle. Moreover, the context will be ignored and the passage treated as though it were a self-contained unit. It is taken from Jaun's sermon:
We may come, touch and go, from atoms and ifs but were presurely destined to be odd's without ends (FW455.16).
Note that the first part is tentative, careful, and the second part, after "but," much more assured, with the emphatic word "presurely," the only one that is not standard English. And it is the reference to the origin, what lies behind us, which is expressed with caution: "We may. . . ." The assurance extends to what is yet to come. Experience teaches us the other way: the past usually looks more certain than the future. In similar reversion of what might be expected, the language of the more doubtful proposition is reasonably clear, on the surface, but it is far less obvious what we are presurely destined to be ---- what is it to be "odd's without ends," mind you, with that disturbing apostrophe? So there are anomalies before the statement is even looked into. Something appears to be said about a general "us," about the human condition, the origin and goal of life. One account of it, the one that emerges almost of its own, looks like a popularized scientific view. It suggests probability ("may, odd's"), it proceeds from the observation of the (once) smallest perceivable particles, the atoms, and it is aware of the hypothetical nature of all deductions. It acknowledges the chaos of appearance and the oddity of a seemingly infinite kosmos. Human destinies may be ultimately determined by the atoms that constitute bodies, and the indeterminable movements of the atoms may resemble the couplings and separations of human beings. An element of randomness remains. The scientific mind is doing its best to impose some normative order on what it perceives. Evidently this view is colliding with an entirely different but simultaneous exposition of the human predicament, the traditional doctrine of the Church. In this rendering there is no doubt about the origin: we descend from our first parents, Adam and Eve, whose doings also predetermined our fate. In this reading, "odd's" resolves itself into "God's," and "odd's without ends" can be anchored in the doxology: "world without end"---- in saecula saeculorum. Salvation is somehow connected with predestination. The two views whose outlines have become visible are in conflict, or at least they were so at some stage in history (they remind us of controversies between the Church and Science in the nineteenth century). Here they are merged almost totally. It is as though ---- to change the ground ---- the voices of Bloom (with his scientific curiosity and materialist outlook) and Stephen (whose terminology remains saturated with Catholic concepts) were blended. (Remember how Stephen's "soul . . . a simple substance," of Augustinian origin, somehow became Bloom's "simple soul"---- U 633-34). In Ulysses a deceptive answer still had to follow a misunderstood question, or else the manner of the Telemachus chapter is retroactively corrected by attitudes emerging in Ithaca. Finnegans Wake can do away with succession: contradiction is immediate. We can (as I have tried) separate it into component dictions if we want to. But actually the two views that I dissociated are not simply there, they had to be extracted. It takes an act of interpretation to assemble the various textual stimuli into several homogenous systems. And it takes a bit of straining too. For the two overlapping accounts of life are not only subjective options but, moreover, incomplete and defective and literally -- as a matter of letters -- faulty. The transformation of "odd's" into "God's" can be supported by lexicography, but even so it is a transformation. And, as the documents will tell us that it occurs in oaths and asseverations, it amounts to a somewhat irreverent way to prove the linguistic existence of God. The two statements are then defective in themselves and corrective of each other, as though, under the onslaught of each one, the other were cracking a bit. The meanings are there then by some ghostly presence. Eve is really absent and conditional, but "ifs" coupled with "atoms" makes her absence so obtrusive that she seems evoked. She and Adam are hidden, perhaps here in compliance with Genesis 3:8, but discernible. Why, anyway, should we undo Joyce's handiwork and back-translate a Wakean item into what it is at such pains to evade? Finnegans Wake refuses to remain content with the habitual simplifications of language. Our minds, however, can only grasp simplifications. My own, in this case, were shaped by a desire to place the Wake within a tension between dogma and doubt, so I reduced the coexistent conflicts into one that suited my purpose. We extract what sense we can find to rearrange it according to our needs and our categories. But let us by all means know that this is what we are doing and not confuse it with what Finnegans Wake "is."
Clive Hart wrote ([The Elephant in the Belly: Exegesis of Finnegans Wake; pp. 1-8] in A Wake Newslitter No.13 in May, 1963) ---- (Page 2) For the average reader -- and all too often for the average student as well -- the common standards have been replaced by a set of publicly announced critical views on FW which have been taken for granted as a basis on which to work. The highly flavoured dicta of the Skeleton Key have very often been accepted without question, while categorical statements about Joyce's methods of word-formation and word-association have been reiterated for years without their being subjected to scrutiny by application to selected passages of text. One suspects, indeed, that a great many people have written about FW without devoting to it even as much time as they would to Ulysses. Many a false trail has been started, many a chimera hunted through the dense pages as a result. The danger is not, I believe, that incorrect readings will be offered (ultimately there is, I think, no such thing as an incorrect reading of FW), but that we shall lose our sense of proportion in assessing the relative importance of readings.
(Page 6) Finally, I should like to set out in summary form my own present approach to this literary phenomenon. I think that Mr Atherton's view of FW as a cosmos with its own laws and self-consistency has been demonstrated beyond the need for further comment. It is from this position that I start. The concept of correctness must, I believe, give way entirely to pragmatism. A reading is to be accepted if it provides answers. But we must take care: by this method it is possible to prove literally anything. Take any passage at random and you can demonstrate that it is about, say, the twenty-four golden umbrellas of the King of Thailand. Now, my point is that I believe that this apparently lunatic principle has a certain validity, and that anything in FW is indeed about anything else -- but only in the last of an infinite regress of planes of meaning. The all-important question, in my view, is how to get these planes of meaning into the right order, and into the right perspective. I have no doubts, myself that Joyce intends all the planes to be there. But he does not intend the book to be a meaningless jumble -- which is what it becomes if we do not keep the frames of reference separated. To continue the analogy with the physical world: in the last plane everything is like everything else -- a cricket cap is discovered to be identical with a cracked cup when the universe is an undifferentiated agglomeration of energy; in less remote planes various coherent configurations of world-material are stabilised and made apprehendable by the functioning of a variety of laws. In both the physical universe and FW chaos results if we do not distinguish between the laws of physics say, and the laws of society, or between the world-views of scientist and mystic. But this is all general theory; let me deal with some more specialised matters.
(Page 8) I shall conclude, then, with a few propositions about the reading of the book: l) Every syllable is meaningful. FW contains no nonsense and very little onomatopoeia etc. Joyce deals principally in semantemes. 2) An explication is lacking unless it accounts for every syllable. 3) Elements in an explication which are of widely disparate natures must -- unless they can be seen to have hidden relationships -- fit into a number of different but coherent planes of meaning. 4) If an element of explication does not fit into such a coherent plane it is probably irrelevant except on that last plane where meaning dissolves because everything corresponds to everything else. 5) The most important task of the explicator is to sort out the planes of meaning into an order of precedence. 6) FW is, throughout, a work of imagination and should not be read as a biographical or factual record of any sort, except in so far as James Joyce is a part of the world it describes.
Clive Hart also wrote ([Afterword: reading Finnegans Wake; pp. 155-164] in A Starchamber Quiry edited by E. L. Epstein in 1982; Methuen, New York) ---- (Page 158) I do not yet know how to read Finnegans Wake, but the more I can learn to read it simply, the happier I believe I shall be. Now that we have learned to understand a good proportion of the detail -- and above all now that we have a reasonable grasp of the kind of materials from which it is built -- I am inclined to advocate quite rapid reading. Unless one is willing to ignore local difficulties and to make the best of rather cursory attention to complexities, a grasp of the whole is, in my experience, very nearly impossible. For such a reading I suggest adopting the working hypothesis that, with the exception of three main kinds of phrase and a few other unclassifiable words, most of the text has a basic English sense, or sometimes two parallel senses, as in everyday punning. This basic thread of English sense we should always try to hear as clearly as possible, since it usually supplies the primary meaning of the book. The three main exceptions are (1) phrases specifically written in a foreign language and often signaled by Italics (e.g.“Hircus Civis Eblanensis!” FW 215.27); (2) Proper names and initials; (3) some exclamatory words and phrases which lie, so to speak, outside the controlling syntax of the text (e.g.“Hou! Hou!” FW 11.35). Allowing “the linguistic phenomenon [to] affect one as such”, one absorbs additional meaning en passant, but with the emphasis always on a consecutive reading. Two examples may help to make the point, one simple, the second more difficult to accommodate to my proposed method:
Liverpoor? Sot a bit of it! His braynes coolt parritch, his pelt nassy, his heart's adrone, his bluidstreams acrawl, his puff but a piff, his extremeties extremely so: Fengless, Pawmbroke, Chilblaimend and Baldowl. Humph is in his doge. Words weigh no no more to him than raindrips to Rethfernhim. Which we all like. Rain. When we sleep. Drops. But wait until our sleeping. Drain. Sdops. (FW 74.13-19)
In offering the following simplified version I do not wish to reduce this marvelously evocative passage to a flat paraphrase, but to propose that we attend to an underlying English utterance which holds the paragraph together:
Is his liver poor? Not a bit of it! His brains are like cold porridge, his pelt is nasty, his heart's droning, his bloodstream is crawling, his puff is but a “piff”, his extremities are in extremis: he is fangless, broken, has chilblains and is as bald as an owl. Humphrey is in his dotage. Words weigh now no more to him than do raindrops to Rathfarnham. Which we all like: rain when we sleep. Drops. But wait until our sleeping train stops.
Much of what is omitted from such a version is obvious: the animals in “His braynes coolt parritch”(the donkey's bray, the pigeon's coo, the young salmon in parr-), not to mention Humphrey's itches; the role-call of Dublin place-names; the drain in which all ends; above all, of course, the play of vowel and consonant. Most significant for my present purposes is the priority I give to “nasty”, in “his pelt's nassy” over the more directly relevant “damp” (German nass): his skin is clammy. For a moderately practised reader of Finnegans Wake “damp” is the primary sense here. I nevertheless advocate trying to hear “nasty” first.
Richard Ellmann wrote (in James Joyce in 1982; Oxford University Press) ---- (Page 716) All human activities begin to fuse into all other human activities, printing a book into bearing a baby, fighting a war into courting a woman. By day we attempt originality; by night plagiarism is forced upon us. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Joyce had demonstrated the repetition of traits in the first twenty years of one person's life; in Ulysses he had displayed this repetition in the day of two persons; in Finnegans Wake he displayed it in the lives of everyone. The language of the new book was as necessary to it as the verbal arrangements of his previous works to them. He had already succeeded in adapting English to suit states of mind and even times of day, but chiefly by special arrangements and special kinds of words in different chapters. Now, for Finnegans Wake, a polyglot language had to be brought, even more daringly, to its own making-house. To imitate the sophistication of word- and image-formation in the unconscious mind (for Joyce discarded the notion that the mind's basic movements were primitive), he took settled words and images, then dismembered and reconstituted them. In his earlier books Joyce forced modern literature to accept new styles, new subject matter, new kinds of plot and characterization. In his last book he forced it to accept a new area of being and a new language. What is ultimately most impressive is the sureness with which, in the midst of such technical accomplishments, he achieved his special mixture of attachment and detachment, of gaiety and lugubriousness. He was no saturnine artificer contriving devices, but one of life's celebrants, in bad circumstances cracking good jokes, foisting upon ennuis and miseries his comic vision.
(Page 589) But now Miss Weaver's uneasiness about Finnegans Wake had grown to the point where she could no longer keep it to herself. During January 1927, she steeled herself to articulate her objections, and on January 29 began them a little timidly. Joyce had followed her advice to work a bit less hard, and she wished to take advantage of his amenability:
As the ceasework order was followed so promptly I feel encouraged to 'try my hand at it again' and give another and different order -- but also for eyes and health's sake. As its subject matter is, however, not such as to present any very strong appeal to you (unless perhaps on the minus side of the line) and is indeed, as we read, an 'ungrateful' one, I shall await your express permission to mention it. . . . And perhaps when the present book is finished you will see fit to lend ear to several of your older friends (E. P. to be included in the number): but the time to talk of that matter is not yet.
Joyce was much disturbed. He answered by return mail on February 1:
Your letter gave me a nice little attack of brainache. I conclude you do not like the piece I did? I have been thinking over it. It is all right, I think -- the best I could do. I will gladly do another but it must be for the second part or fourth and not till after the first week in March or so. Do you not like anything I am writing. Either the end of Part I ∆ [Anna Livia Plurabelle] is something or I am an imbecile in my judgment of language. I am rather discouraged about this as in such a vast and difficult enterprise I need encouragement. It is possible Pound is right but I cannot go back. I never listened to his objections to Ulysses as it was being sent him once I had made up my mind but dodged them as tactfully as I could. He understood certain aspects of that book very quickly and that was more than enough then. He makes brilliant discoveries and howling blunders. . . .
(Page 590) Miss Weaver apologized for worrying him, but held to her position. She wrote on February 4, 1927:
Some of your work I like enormously -- as I am sure you know -- especially the more straightforward and character-analytical parts and the (to me) beautifully expressed ghost-parts (for instance the sentence in Shaun about the date and the ghostmark and the one about the waterworld's face before you, as I think, distorted it -- though I confess it couldn't otherwise have been inserted where it was); but I am made in such a way that I do not care much for the output from your Wholesale Safety Pun Factory nor for the darknesses and unintelligibilities of your deliberately-entangled language system. It seems to me you are wasting your genius. But I daresay I am wrong and in any case you will go on with what you are doing, so why thus stupidly say anything to discourage you? I hope I shall not do so again.
Joyce was now so upset that he took to his bed. Nora was not sympathetic. 'Why don't you write sensible books that people can understand?' she asked. But she went to tell Eugene and Maria Jolas that her husband was too disturbed to prepare the manuscript for their next number. After a day or two Joyce got up and went to consult McAlmon, a candid man. 'Do you think I may be on the wrong track with my Work in Progress?' he asked him. 'Miss Weaver says she finds me a madman, Tell me frankly, McAlmon. No man can say for himself.' McAlmon assured him he was not mad, 'just touched enough for genius in the James Jesus Joyce manner.'
Richard Ellmann also wrote ([Foreword; pp. iii-v] in Adaline Glasheen’s A Census of Finnegans Wake in 1956; Northwestern University Press) ---- (Page iii) Yet, even when we accept Joyce's methods, the difficulties of reading his book are not cleared away. It has been evident since Finnegans Wake was published in 1939 that it requires, much more urgently than Ulysses, a critical apparatus with which to board it. If Joyce had lived, he would have commissioned someone to perform for his last book the service which Stuart Gilbert performed for Ulysses. As it is, we have only Our exagmination round his factification for incamination of Work in Progress, a series of essays by friends published ten years before the book was finished. The work of subsequent scholars has been slowed by Joyce's absence. Harry Levin and Edmund Wilson have thrown light on the book, and so have other critics; but only one full-length explanation has been attempted, A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake by Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson, published in 1944. Since it appeared, many passages have been illuminated by the discovery of Joyce's sources, many clues to the interconnections of parts have been found, so that this work, indispensable as it is, is already a little out of date. Part of our difficulty in reading Finnegans Wake is suspending the whole intricate pattern in our heads. Some kind of index to its 628 large pages has obviously been needed. There is the precedent of Miles L. Hanley's Word Index to James Joyce's Ulysses, but the complications of a word index to the Wake are so great that the mind boggles before them. It is Adaline Glasheen's distinction that she perceived the possibility of making a more specialized list which would require only half a decade to complete and would have uses that a mere index would lack. Her Census names all, or almost all, the characters in Finnegans Wake, tables their appearances in various distorted forms, and then proceeds to identify most of them.
Margaret C. Solomon wrote ([The Phallic Tree of Finnegans Wake; pp. 37-43] in The Celtic Master edited by Maurice Harmon in 1969; The Dolmen Press Limited) ---- (Page 37) A fair portion of the critical discussion of Finnegans Wake among Joycean scholars has consisted in speculation regarding the significance of several terms whose phonic affinity would, it seems to me, be a clue to their symbolic relationship; the understanding of these terms will, perhaps, pin down the meaning of that elusive 'letter.' Consonance and assonance, plus the familiar punning quality so typical of Joyce, constitute grounds for suspicion that 'three, 'tea,' and even 'the' are all closely associated with the tripartite aspect of the letter 'T,' and that the examination of each of these terms will lead to a recognition of that capital letter as a major symbol of the book. Moreover, the sexual 'T,' rising and falling as it does throughout the novel, becomes a paradoxical token of man's looming importance -- and yet his pitiful impotence -- as the power historically represented by a father-god. Joyce uses his peculiar version of synecdoche initially in the Prankquean story, which establishes a male trio -- HCE, Tristopher, and Hilary -- as composite parts of the whole man. The Jarl is the two-branched tea tree with dead leaves that must be wet by woman to become rejuvenated. In an inverted fashion, Joyce's five characters may be regarded as representing members of the propagating family, namely, the penis and the testicles on the male side, and the labia of the vulva on the female side. Indeed, I am convinced it would be proper to say that the universe of Finnegans Wake, which is, from one point of view, as boundless as infinity, could also be reduced, from another point of view, to the area immediately surrounding and encompassing the human genitals.
(Page 38) Closely related to the symbolic 'letter' applications pertaining to 'three,' 'tea,' and 'the' (applications which must be set aside for this particular study) are those which are associated with the image of the tree in Finnegans Wake. There can be little doubt that the 'tree' and 'stone' motif which threads through all of the chapters pertains to the sons, that the tree-stone combination is signified by the 'Tristan' spelling of Tristram, and that this dual threat to the old man eventually results in the father's replacement. And, since the three (father and sons) have already been defined as figuratively represented by the phallic 'T,' there is a strong temptation to suspect that 'tree' and 'stone' are names for the testicles on either side of the penis. As a matter of fact, certain passages do support that hypothesis. The end of the Norwegian Captain story for instance, describes the unified family as pulling the boat together ('we'll pull the boath toground togutter') and refers to the five as 'testies touchwood and shenstone unto pop and puma . . . to whom she (anit likenand pleasethee!).' The whole story, elsewhere, is referred to as 'the tale of a Treestone with one Ysold.' In one possible reading, tree-stone signifies the amalgamation of the twins as the young Tristan, and links them with the eternal' temptress, Isolde. In another reading, tree and stone as the two sons accompany the one who is old, the father: the tale of the two (tree-stone) plus one is old. If one could accept this analogy the puzzle of shifting the Tristan role from one twin to the other would be solved. Nevertheless, I do not believe that the tree-stone relationship is fully explained by such an interpretation. I am convinced that the branches of the 'T' swing not only from side to side but also from front to rear. There is multiple evidence that 'stone' refers to the homosexual rear of the man, and that 'tree' is another phonic member of the group signifying the three-pronged 'T' in front. In this latter relationship, the twins are leaves or twigs of the tree. Shaun, in one place, describes himself as the 'most winning counterfeuille on our incomeshare lotetree,' whereas, in the 'games' chapter, the 'tree-grown girls, kings game . . . are in such transfusion just to know twigst timidy twomeys, for gracious sake, who [of the twins] is artthoudux from whose heterotropic.'
Louis O. Mink wrote ([Reading Finnegans Wake; pp. 34-47] in Critical Essay on James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake edited by Patrick A. McCarthy in 1992; G.K. Hall & Co.,New York) ---- (Page 35) When I began reading Finnegans Wake almost twenty-five years ago, very little had yet been written about the book; a long essay by Edmund Wilson and the Skeleton Key by Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson were about the only guides, and while they gave some idea of what goes on in its chapters they were of no help at all in decoding it page by page, sentence by sentence. So every reader could congratulate himself on discoveries; we were all prospectors in newly discovered territory, and every stream could be panned for gold. Since then the Wake has become a book for the amateur scholar rather than for the amateur reader. Clive Hart's Concordance to every word and symbol in the Wake, and Adaline Glasheen's Census of all the names in the Wake, together with James Atherton's book on Joyce's literary sources and a whole library of exegesis and lexicography, have mapped the area and worked all the rich lodes. Yet the book is such a fantastic anagram that it still promises discoveries to every reader. Reading Finnegans Wake is something like playing charades, with the mounting excitement that goes with the recognition that one is getting warm and the certainty and triumph when the answer is finally guessed. Every paragraph, almost every sentence, and most phrases and even single words rise from the page, signaling and gesturing, acting out a hidden meaning with body English, appealing to every resource to hint at some arcane allusion. From this standpoint, Finnegans Wake is a virtually inexhaustible game of solitaire charades, ready to play whenever you are. And as in other forms of inquiry, every success generates a number of new puzzles not noticed before. To give a couple of examples: There are five places in the book where the initials “V. P. H.” are connected with Earwicker, usually so subtly that one would not notice them unless he were looking for them. One looks for them only because in one case HCE’s cloak is described as bearing the initials V. P. H. on the tailor's tab, and two hundred pages later an otherwise inexplicable footnote says “V for wadlock, P for shift, H for Lona the Konkubine”(284.F4). So you look for other occurrences of “V. P. H.” to help explain the connection between these two, knowing that such repetitions are never accidental in Finnegans Wake. But I haven't guessed this particular charade, although I have discovered that other students of the Wake have noticed it and are just as baffled. I have spent a fair amount of time looking out of plane and train windows turning over possible connections. Numerology, for instance: V. P. H. are the 22nd, 16th, and 8th letters of the alphabet. That adds up to 46, but 46 is not one of the important numbers in the book. Then there is the fact that those initials appear in contexts in which Earwicker is being hunted down as a man or as a fox; and one thinks too of any other possible group of three such as the colors of the British or Irish flags. The most famous triple is of course the Trinity: and in German “V” could be “Vater” and “H” “[der] heilige Geist,” but “P” isn't anything to complete that interpretation. And so on -- every hypothesis seems to work for one or two of the initials but not for all three. So all that is left is serendipity. There is a 50-50 chance that some day, maybe tonight, I will read or hear something that will go click with “VPH,” and that particular guessing game will be over. But the supply of games is inexhaustible.
Edwin Muir (in 1939) wrote ([review, Listener; pp. 675-677] in James Joyce, the Critical Heritage, Volume 2, edited by Robert H. Deming in 1970; Routledge & Kegan Paul, London) ---- (Page 677) There is an exorbitant amount of this storytelling without any story, an endless eddying of words that return upon themselves...There are occasional flashes of a kind of poetry which is difficult to define but is of unquestioned power... There is rarely any sense of urgent compulsion, except at the end, where it is possible that Mr. Joyce is speaking his own thoughts... The cold mad feary father is the sea, but how many things the sea may mean in Mr. Joyce's sleep-kingdom I should not like to guess. The end of this book, like the end of Ulysses, is the best part of it, and no one can read it, I think, without receiving an impression of a strange sorrow and mourning over life. It is curiously simple and direct. But as a whole the book is so elusive that there is no judging it; I cannot tell whether it is winding into deeper and deeper worlds of meaning or lapsing into meaninglessness. Anything can change into anything else. . . . The book has the qualities of a flowing stream, sound and rhythm; the rhythm is sometimes beautiful, as can be tested by reading certain pages aloud. How much Mr. Joyce has concentrated on this, and how much he has given way to his mere intoxication with language it would be hard to say; for long stretches the book reads like a long private joke, the elaborate blarney of an insatiable linguist... There are parodies of the sagas, skits on almost every style of writing, enormous catalogues in the vein of Rabelais, snippets of folk-lore, echoes of music-hall songs, all slightly dissolved, all tending to flow into each other, and producing a continuous effect of storytelling while continuously avoiding the commission of a story. To dip into this flux for a little is refreshing, but to stay in for long is to be drowned, 'with winkles, whelks and cocklesent jelks', in Mr. Joyce's enormous Baroque moat. A reader might well cry 'Lifeboat Alloe, Noeman's Woe, Hircups Emptybolly!' . . . .