Herschel Farbman's book on dreaming explores a number of subjects of immediate interest to Joyceans: Sigmund Freud, Maurice Blanchot, Samuel Beckett, and Finnegans Wake. Looking into what Blanchot calls "the other night,"1 the night of dreaming as opposed to the night of sleeping, Farbman argues that dreaming "is an experience of language as shared—of the sharing of language—and that the experience is essentially literary" (10). Founding his theory on [End Page 616] Freud's and Blanchot's ideas about dreaming, Farbman seeks to find the "democratic implications" of "the restless heart of the night" (11).
This small book covers few topics but seems wide-ranging because of the depth with which Farbman investigates the subjects of his four chapters. Writing in an appropriately dreamy style (which sometimes becomes a bit precious), he seeks to find "another, grayer kind of literary common ground—a ground neither historical nor transcendental" in which "everybody has, every night, an intimate experience of the gray area of writing" (17).
Freud's problem with dreams, Farbman suggests, is their fundamental writtenness. According to his reading of Freud, "if the theory is right, we would cease to dream the moment we became truly comfortable with the idea that what we're really faced with in our dreams is writing" (25). This implies a "radical and general entanglement of writing and experience" that Freud fights and deconstruction attempts to explicate (33). Ultimately, "I am not the source of the words I speak"; rather, "my dream shows me again … that my words precede me" (46). Though the "anxious" relation of the world of dreams to the world we inhabit troubles Freud, our act of seeing dreams as a form of writing, alienated from speech as speakers are already alienated from words, allows us to understand how words "continue to come to us" through the dreamwork (46, 47).
Farbman's chapter on Finnegans Wake is the strongest in the book and generates some important insights on Joyce's last work. He focuses principally on two things: the way Joyce's words about his book have restricted potential readings of it, and Biddy Doran's letter and the ending of the book.
Joyce's famous advice to Harriet Shaw Weaver—that Finnegans Wake concerns that part of existence not amenable to "wideawake language, cutanddry grammar and goahead plot" (LettersIII 146)—has arguably helped subsequent readers by offering a place from which to begin to encounter the text. Derek Attridge, for one, notes that this starting point has been "productive" in approaching the book,2 but Farbman urges readers to abandon Joyce's words as nonexplanatory. That is, "the Wake will tell its reader more about the dream than any theory of the dream will tell him or her about the Wake" (95). The dream is, by definition, unknown—always alien from dreamers and beyond their control—and similarly writing cannot "explain itself" (95). Thus Joyce, in suggesting the dream as explaining Wake structure, "is pointing to this basic fact of writing and asking his readers to read" (95). While I would not be as quick to dismiss books like John Bishop's Joyce's Book of the Dark,3 I see Farbman's point that Joyce's extratextual words, perhaps more than those of other authors, may have a centrality in criticism that forestalls useful approaches. [End Page 617]
The section on Biddy Doran's letter and the book's end/beginning is the most persuasive detailed reading in Farbman's book. He starts by looking for the end of the letter, usually thought to be the final part of the paragraph beginning with "P.S." (FW 619.17). But, he suggests, the shift from "letter" to "ALP's 'monologue'" is "not entirely abrupt and thus does not alone justify talk of an 'end of the letter'" (103). Here, one wonders whether Farbman meant merely to make the point, observed by countless readers of Finnegans Wake, that the book does not operate with the "cutanddry" beginnings and...