- How Joyce Wrote “Finnegans Wake”: A Chapter-by-Chapter Genetic Guide
What tasks should, or can, a review of a book entitled How Joyce Wrote “Finnegans Wake” set for itself? Upon the book’s release, a number of responses focused upon specific details: readings of manuscript passages, factographies, and dating. There is, of course, such a high standard of scrupulousness required of textual genetics that matters of this kind remain central to the evaluation of an individual scholar’s work. Other responses have naturally been concerned with the “[h]ow” so boldly advertised in the book’s title. For my part, though, it is the relation of the book’s editorial project to the larger placement of textual genetics within the field of Joyce scholarship that will concern me here, since it seems that this book requires consideration in more than terms merely of efficacy.
If How Joyce Wrote “Finnegans Wake” simply accorded with the various prepublication endorsements that it received, then it might indeed be enough simply to praise the editors for their historiographical work and to keep the book on a shelf beside other secondary reference materials that are considered useful. But useful for what? According to Roland McHugh, this book represents the “most complete and accurate account to date of the composition of James Joyce’s greatest work” (back cover). For Derek Attridge, it is “[a] major step [End Page 591] forward in the critical history of the book that is Joyce’s most challenging work” (back cover). On the one hand, it is a most accurate account, on the other a major step forward. These are commendable qualities in themselves, but hardly all that this book is or could be held to be. Why is that?
What very few Joyce scholars, professional or otherwise, yet realize is that textual genetics represents one of the major theoretical breakthroughs after poststructuralism. And while this book only purports to be a genetic guide to how Joyce “wrote” Finnegans Wake, it is also something of a reflection upon a state of affairs—above all, upon the status of textual genetics within the larger project of Joyce scholars—and any serious review of this book needs to take both of these factors into account. I say both, because they are not equivalent. First, the state of affairs of Joycean genetics is ambiguous, indeed ambivalent, and this book is, among other things, a symptom of that ambivalence; it is this ambivalence that has complicated the status of genetics within the larger discipline.
In the introduction to How Joyce Wrote “Finnegans Wake,” Luca Crispi and Sam Slote, with Dirk van Hulle, write: “The editors and contributors believe that readings of Finnegans Wake can only benefit from a solid critical awareness of the archive of the Wake’s composition” (3); “[w]e hope to present here the fruit of the past decade’s consolidation of Wakean genetic studies in the hope of stimulating and encouraging further work” (4). Here begins my first serious criticism of this book: the anemia that robs it of its proper ambitions. For this is a very serious work, and yet its claims are constantly understated, to the degree that it defeats its own hopes. How? Let me say this: by retreating into the aspirations of usefulness, this book robs itself, and Joycean genetics, of a central place in Joyce scholarship apart from that of a secondary augmentation of core works like Clive Hart’s Concordance and the James Joyce Archive.1
In a review circulated almost immediately upon the book’s release, Robbert-Jan Henkes noted that “this book has been at least seven years in the making . . . some chapters were already presented at the 2000 London [symposium],” yet “it still is very much state-of-the-art.”2 This is true, but for more reasons than simply that there “are things in it nobody knew before” (n.p.). Henkes describes the book’s organization as a “spatial alliance of chapters...