More Books on the (Finnegans) Wake

Finishing up a few more sources from last time. Personally speaking, I enjoy reading books on Joyce more than on most authors, because of the sense of the shared quest to unearth sedimentary layer after layer and the willingness of scholars to lean on one another in doing so.

Joyce-again’s Wake, Bernard Benstock. Invaluable for the outline Benstock gives, which is useful in carving up the monolithic chapters of the Wake into more manageable chunks. It also contains a fantastic analysis of the Prankquean fable located on pages 21-23. The rest of the book both summarizes previous scholarship and elaborates on it in a rather freewheeling fashion. There’s plenty of good stuff, but Benstock sometimes is too exclusive about his readings, and I read them with more salt than I did Hart or Atherton. On Issy, the topic I researched, I disagree with him.

A Reader’s Guide to Finnegans Wake, William York Tindall. I confess I did not find this book all that useful. Like Blamires’ Bloomsday Book, it explicates the Wake page by page. Unfortunately, what’s left out is far greater than what remains, and Tindall often makes controversial interpretations without appearing to do so. It’s less of a problem in Blamires because the narrative of Ulysses is reasonably uncontroversial, but since narrative in Finnegans Wake emerges from linguistic confusion and contradiction, Tindall’s approach makes the Wake appear smaller than it is.

Third Census of Finnegans Wake, Adaline Glasheen. The exact opposite of Tindall’s book, this is nothing more and nothing less than a catalogue of all the proper names in the Wake that Glasheen could identify. (It also includes another summary with, as is to be expected, some contentious interpretations.) Glasheen’s list of references is exhausting, if not exhaustive, and while I wouldn’t recommend the book to neophytes (such as myself), I’m sure it’s incessantly useful in generating ideas when analyzing passages. It poses thousands of questions along the lines of, “Why did Joyce connect person X with person Y?”

Joyce’s Book of the Dark, John Bishop. This book probably deserves its own entry. While schooled in the above traditions of Wake scholarship, Bishop goes in another direction entirely, focusing on Joyce’s linguistic methods as theme, particularly as they relate to sleep, the body, and the five senses. Bishop is fond of making extremely short citations and combining them from all over the Wake in close succession, which emphasizes Joyce’s sea of language while downplaying any potential linear continuity. Bishop also analyzes two key mythologies that influenced the Wake, the Egyptian Book of the Dead and Vico’s New Science, but his interpretations are highly heterodox and not especially structural. Consequently, Bishop has the effect of making Finnegans Wake seem even weirder than the other books make it out to be. I recommend the book, with the proviso that it may leave you, as it implies, in the dark.

Finding a Replacement for the Soul, Brett Bourbon. I wrote on this book last year, and while it is not exclusively concerned with the Wake, it invokes Finnegans Wake as a central example for Bourbon’s non-propositional view of fiction. Bourbon, I believe, was a student of Bishop and locates Bishop’s nighttime uncertainty in the processes of language itself, taking Bishop’s argument even farther. Not an exegesis of Finnegans Wake, but a reflection on what the Wake says (or shows) about readers and reading.

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