- Another Irregular Finnegans Wake-End, 7–8 November 2014
(UCD JAMES JOYCE RESEARCH CENTRE IN COLLABORATION WITH THE JAMES JOYCE CENTRE)
Taking place irregularly from year to year but regularly around the weekend (hence ‘Wake-End’), the Dublin Finnegans Wake-End is devoted to the study of Joyce’s last and most challenging work. This year’s Wake-End was kicked off by Professor Daniel Ferrer from the Institut des Textes et Manuscrits Modernes, Ecole Normale Supérieure/CNRS, who gave a lecture entitled ‘From Tristan to Finnegan’ in the James Joyce Centre, 35 North Great George’s Street. In his talk, Professor Ferrer discussed the genetic evolution of ‘Tristan and Isolde’, one of the early sketches that Joyce composed for Finnegans Wake. Based on a meticulous study of extant sketches and notes, Professor Ferrer claimed that the ‘Tristan and Isolde’ vignette is an important proto-text because Joyce creatively developed his ideas for the whole book as he revised and enlarged this segment. He mentioned, for example, how the four old men who spy on the amatory exchanges between Tristan and Isolde in one draft would ultimately be detached from the vignette and become the four [End Page 178] evangelists, or ‘Mamajulo’, as Joyce’s plan for the book became more definite. According to Ferrer, the language of the ‘Tristan and Isolde’ vignette also bears witness to the development of the Wakean aesthetic. As he explained, the drafts show that the linguistic experimentations became more radical and inventive with each revision, suggesting that Joyce was eager to develop a new style for his new book from the very beginning. The questions that followed the lecture focused on Joyce’s interpolation of his own poem (later published in Pomes Penyeach) into an early version of the vignette. Although the idea was subsequently abandoned, in the opinion of one commentator this act of textual recycling elucidates the nature of the creative process behind the Wake: namely, the book, rather than being completely sui generis, is a hybrid product of Joyce’s past and present artistic creations. In this and other ways, Professor Ferrer’s informative and insightful talk deepened our understanding of the genesis and the evolution of the Wake.
The second day of the Wake-End consisted of a day-long reading of the latter part of the ‘Anna Livia Plurabelle’ section in Book I, Chapter 8. The session was moderated by Dr Finn Fordham, Royal Holloway, University of London. Flanking the two were the Wakean and Joycean experts from Dublin and further afield, including Dr Luca Crispi, Professor Anne Fogarty, Terence Killeen, Dr Christine O’Neill, Professor Daniel Ferrer, and Dr Sam Slote. Around this nucleus ringed (literally, for the desks were formed into a circle reminiscent of the Wake’s cyclical structure), Joyce scholars and enthusiasts as well as students of all ages and backgrounds, each with a copy of Finnegans Wake. The atmosphere of the Wake-end was a nice mix of a university seminar and a casual reading group: academic enough to sustain the participant’s scholarly interest in the activity, yet relaxed and sociable enough to make everybody comfortable. Comfort was a vital factor, as Finnegans Wake can be a daunting book to read, let alone comment on, for the as yet uninitiated. Not being a Wakean myself, I had a nagging fear that I might be left out of the discussions. My fears, however, were quickly dispelled. Fordham expertly navigated the group through the section, supplying glosses for tricky words and passages that were bound to frustrate many readers. He also ensured that every member of the group participated in the discussions, occasionally pausing at a passage to ask what everyone thought of it. Crispi and Slote too provided useful contextual information, making helpful links to other works of Joyce. At times, the Wake experts got into a heated debate over a passage among themselves, in the process illuminating the subtle nuances and shades of meaning in the text that might escape other readers. Indeed, listening in on [End Page 179] these exchanges was edifying, for one could get a sense of the critical issues at stake in Wake scholarship. Apart...