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Atherton on Finnegans Wake and Giordano Bruno

One of the best books on Finnegans Wake, William Atherton’s The Books at the Wake, has just been republished, and I’d recommend it to anyone trying to get a basic grip on the text. But I quote him here for the Brunian synopsis he gives early on, which follows nicely from Blumenberg:

There was a medieval theory that God composed two scriptures: the first was the universe which he created after having conceived the idea of it complete and flawless in his mind; the second was the Holy Bible. What Joyce is attempting in Finnegans Wake is nothing less than to create a third scripture, the sacred book of the night, revealing the microcosm which he had already conceived in his mind. And as the phenomenal universe is build upon certain fundamental laws which it is the task of science and philosophy to discover, so the microcosm of Finnegans Wake is constructed according to certain fundamental axioms for which Joyce is careful to provide clues, but which it is the task of his readers to discover for themselves.

And one of the sources of these axioms is Bruno:

Probably Joyce was first attracted to him as a self-confessed ‘Restless spirit that overturns the structure of sound discipline’ and as a heretic who was burned to death. But he is not likely to have read his work very thoroughly for Bruno is one of the most verbose of all writers and on one occasion takes a page to say that he himself, Il Nolano, calls things by their right names: Chiama il pane pane, il vino vino, il capo capo, il piede piede… and so on to say that ‘He calls bread bread, wine wine, a head a head, a foot a foot’ until he has given nearly a hundred examples of his own virtue in calling things by their right names…[Joyce] seems to have found his style irritating on a second reading, and appears to be parodying the passage I have just quoted in ‘did not say to the old old, did not say to the scorbutic, scorbutic’ (136.10).

I like Bruno’s proof of proper use of language. Talk about self-assertion! But isn’t this part of the problem with setting up the duality of law and reality?


  1. Wonderful news – this really is a terrific book, a product of much reflection and pre-computing labour.

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