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"Unfallable encyclicing": Finnegans Wake and the Encyclopedia Britannica
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Finnegans Wake and the Encyclopedia Britannica are both remarkable texts. The first edition of the latter work was produced by "[a] Society of Gentlemen in Scotland" between 1768 and 1771. Based in part on principles developed by Dennis de Coetlogon, it was both a quintessential product of the Enlightenment and a powerfully authoritative statement about Britain's status in the world. The eleventh edition, from which Joyce worked, describes how the project was designed as a "digest of general information," its purpose being nothing less than to "give reasoned discussions on all the great questions of practical or speculative interest." The Wake, positioned very differently at the tail end of the modern age, is far from a digest, but it reflects back on the encyclopedic tradition in fascinating ways. To put it simply, Finnegans Wake is a text that has apparently swallowed or "digested" vast amounts of information only to return it in ways that seem outside all reasoned discussion. This essay explores that relationship, not because the eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica is somehow "key" to any Wakean "metameaning" but, rather, because, in the ambitious and characteristically modern approach it takes to a universal and democratizing epistemology, the Encyclopedia Britannica stands as the antithesis of the Wake. It is, of course, only one of a large number of important intertexts but one that focuses powerfully on the epistemological issues raised by the Wake. The EB is a text that achieves certainty in areas where the Wake "fails," performing in ways the Wake simply cannot. For this reason, it plays a precise part in framing what it is that the Wake articulates against—the knowledge the world claims to have of itself.

This essay is concerned, in part, with the technical issue of knowledge about where Joyce used the EB in the Wake and what methodological problems are involved in identifying that usage. Its main focus, however, lies in the larger question of how the Wake engages with the order and authority embodied in a text exemplifying the very idea of the encyclopedia. The central argument here reflects the differences between the Wake and the EB, the latter dedicated in its eleventh edition "by Permission to His Majesty King George the Fifth King of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions Beyond the Seas Emperor of India and to William Howard Taft President of the United States of America" (EB 1:v). Both, I argue, are instruments "of culture of world-wide influence" (EB 1:x), but Joyce's senses of instrumentality and culture are quite at odds with what the editors of the Encyclopedia have in mind. Their goal is to make available to the public "all extant knowledge" as it is discovered by the "civilized world" (EB 1:ix). The EB's ambition is educative—to produce "a trustworthy guide to sound learning"—but also celebratory (EB 1:x). Above all, the EB is a testimony to the awesome power of the western intellectual tradition, to its authority and universality. At the same time, the EB has a proselytizing mission. Through "the medium of the University Press," it hopes to "maintain direct relations with the whole of the English-speaking world," to bring "all extant knowledge within the reach of every class of readers" (EB 1:ix). The editors have aimed for a traditional order, of course, but also for new levels of uniformity in construction. Dispensing with "the old-fashioned plan of regarding each volume as a separate unit," they instead "arrange their material so as to give an organic unity to the whole work," placing "all the various subjects under their natural headings, in the form which experience has shown to be the most convenient for a work of universal reference" (EB 1:x).

It is hard to imagine anything more removed from the Wake's project. Far from maintaining good relations with the empire and the wider "English-speaking world," Joyce's text undermines the very idea of "English-speaking." Rather than formulating knowledge with an alphabetical and progressive coherency, the Wake constitutes an astonishing refutation of any kind of epistemological order. Equally, it refuses hierarchy, centrism, and progressivism and seems specifically...

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