2001. Japan - Who’s Afraid of Finnegans Wake ?

(An Interview, in extended version,  with C. George SANDULESCU of Monaco, done in July 2001 by Tatsuo Hamada, and published in Japan, in the Abiko Annual (formerly Abiko Quarterly) No. 21 (2001), pages 131 to 151)

1. QUESTION:      Can you read Finnegans Wake to the end ?Are there many parts which one cannot understand ?

ANSWER:          Yes, Finnegans Wake is indeed meant to be read through. There are parts of the Book which are more readily understood  than others,  without any doubt. But if Joyce is sure to have understood everything, so can we !We are still, sixty years after, most humbly learning from him:  In all respects. The ones who still reject any part of Joyce’s writings considering them as failures will one day repent. If they are still alive.

Q1 ctd:  Would you explain about the meaning of understanding: Does the best understanding mean to know exactly what the author thought or felt or planned? Or is it a more subjective and a more creative act in the reader’s mind ?  From your context you may support the former.

ANSWER:        The understanding of understanding—or  Understanding Understanding, for short—is a HERMENEUTIC problem which, I thought, stands, on account of its complexity, quite outside the scope of the present interview; initially I had a passage about it which I left out, its being too philosophical. Here is a quick tentative reply to your query: A text once definitive stands on its two feet—be they Form & Content ... The fundamental problem is that, in FW, Joyce fuses the two inextricably: the thing obtained circulates, but in another Cosmic dimension. That baffles Critics and Readers alike. And nonMaterialized (in the Text!) authorial intentions come to naught. They simply do not exist! Mine is a text-oriented approach. Not an author-oriented one. But Joyce’s mind was so linguistically vast that no careful Reader  can ever hope to find something in there that Joyce had not envisaged at least in part. Just scrutinize the Beckett “Come in!” contreoversy, as told by Nat Halper.

2. QUESTION: Can you understand the plot while you are reading ?

ANSWER:    Let me tell you the following story: Somebody went to Joyce once and said “I’ve read your Ulysses and I don’t understand it!”  And Joyce asked in his turn “How many times have you read it ?”. And the man said: “I’ve read it twice over, sir.” “Then read it ten times over!”, replied Joyce commandingly.

            It is the same with Finn W: which reading are we talking about—the very first, or the very twelfth ? Each and every one of us have so far done hundreds of readings of it, in part or in toto, and every time we discover new things.  

            I’ll tell you another one: Sergiu Celibidache—the famous Rumanian-German conductor  of the Berlin, Munich, & Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestras, who never made a single intentional recording in his life, out of pure principle—said the following to the press: “When I scan a music score of genius the very first time, I don’t understand absolutely anything. I read it ten times over: that’s when I begin to understand its underlying patterns. I read it a hundred times: I know it better than its author!” Not quite so with Joyce, where even the two editors of the Wake Newslitter gave up in despair, and stopped publication  of their most useful periodical more or less at the same time with the collapse of the Soviet Union, after a solid quarter century of endeavours. But the Celibidache procedure helps a lot:  for, as the saying  is, ‘to travel hopefully is better than to arrive.’ Another important point here: Finnegans Wake, just like Ulysses, is thoroughly episodic; so was in part Dubliners (mere sketches !), and the Portrait of the Artist (ultimately, a carefully hidden set of “prospective” & retrospective Diary entries & jottings down).  And last of all the Epiphanies:  so very short, but so overwhelmingly important.  So significant that the term bobs up so frequently in the last thirty or so pages of the Finn W Book, where everything is so very important:

          (611.24: 7)             [ epi^wo ]

          (611.22: 4)             [ pan^epi^wor ]

          (611.19: 1)             [ hue^pan^wor ]

          (611.18: 5.6)          [ heu^pan^epi # world ]

(611.13: 5.6.7)          [ pan^Epiphanal world ( of  Lord Joss ) ]

Q2 ctd:          What is the Celibidache procedure ? Would you explain more about your assertion that FW, like Ulysses, is thoroughly episodic?  Can you recognize the narrative structure or plot which binds each episode in the whole book? Compared with Ulysses such narrative structure of FW appears to be invisible.

          (a) Both a Music score & a Literature text have this in common that they have a script. But the music score has the advantage of carrying no stable semantic component. What a Conductor of genius does is simply to appropriate the “syntax” of music:  melodic patterns and other patterns. Celibidache takes in EVERYTHING that is there, but no more: the FW Reader should do the same. Remember that an Opera is easier to direct than a Play: there are TWO Scripts.

          (b) Ulysses is not at all divided into Chapters! It is made up of EPISODES!  For Pragmatic features—Time, Place, Person, and Manner—are discontinued:  the narrative thread is thus totally disrupted.

          (c)  In FW, there are still so many macro- & micro- elements to be interConnected: once that done,  the Reading will become plain sailing. (Never give Windows Millenium to a French or Italian old-age pensioner who’d never seen a keyboard in his life before:  I was as frustrated when I read Kafka’s Metamorphosis as a 12-year-old!).

Footnote:  For Manner, or MODE, SEE Stuart Gilbert. 1930. And James Joyce's Ulysses, passim.

3.QUESTION: If so, what did Joyce want to describe in the book ?

ANSWER:     Finnegans Wake is the very first cosmopolitan Epic of the Global Village—together perhaps with Ezra Pound’s  a hundred and twenty or so Cantos. It is about EveryWoMan in the Eternal City of the  World Village PanEpiphanizing in Time, Place and Person. Quite a mouthful this, for the average litCritic to swallow with contentment. Hence, the FW battle . . . But:

 In order to answer this question, you must first think in terms of Browning’s The Ring and the Book  (perhaps compared with his Sordello), Pound’s Cantos, Eliot’s Waste Land & Sam Beckett’s two Trilogies — only in order to stay reasonably within the end of the previous Millenium;   to say nothing of Nabokov’s Lolita, which was the first text ever to have an Annotations volume published during the Author's own lifetime.

How well do you know these texts ? If you haven’t scanned them properly, then it is high time to get cracking, and do it now.  Perhaps before proceeding to handle Finn W.  Stop messing around with Shirley Conran’s laces & P.D. James’ devices, the flaming bonds & blondes, Folletts & Forsyths and that ilk of best sellers.  As  that guy Burgess put it, ‘you must get it well into your head  that, never for a second, Joyce ever intended to have his Finnegans Wake book available for Airport purchase & inflight reading’. For you’ll have to work hard at your forty (European ?) languages, even before starting scanning the ... Books at the Wake, the whole lot. (I find it more than weird how every reader is supposed to “know”, even remotely, the. . . actual Books at the Wake, but nobody—ever—is equally supposed to be at all conversant with any of the forty languages...) And then, How many learners in this world of internet speeds & ubiquitous addresses are indeed prepared to invest so much time and so much effort ? Only the philosophers... and the Joyce nuts.  

Footnote: Beckett’s Two Trilogies are as follows (with years of first publication in French or English):


                                      1.Molloy (1950.fr).    

                                      2.Malone Dies (1951.fr).   

                                      3.The Unnamable (1952.fr).

                     Nohow On:


                                      2.Ill Seen Ill Said (1981.fr).

                                      3.Worstward Ho (1983.eng).

Q3 ctd:                   In your book  The Language of the Devil you said that FW is a universe simulacrum. Simulacrum means image or representation. Would you explain more about this ?

ANSWER: Simulacrum is far more than ‘image’ or ‘representation’: it should nowadays be interpreted as “virtual Reality” in Literature.

4. QUESTION:      How do you evaluate the book ?   

ANSWER: I leave this answer to Anthony Burgess, who, in his book Ninety-Nine Novels, the best in English since 1939, (first published in 1984 !), rates Finn W as the star of his 99 texts, and even states by implication that the date of 11 February 1939 is far more important than its corresponding 11 September. AB, Mr ClockWorkOrange as it were, then concludes:

                        (1984 : 26) Janus-faced, Finnegans Wake looks back to the twenties
                        but also to the indefinite future: no writer of the contemporary period
                        has been able to ignore it, though most writers have succeeded in not
                        being influenced by it.

          However, AB’s opening statement of this two-page entry is equally important in placing Finn W against the important  background of its specifically idiosyncratic literary tradition:  

                        (1984 : 25) This long and difficult work  represents for many the end
                         of the period which began in 1922 with Eliot’s Waste Land and         
                         Joyce’s own Ulysses [and, I add Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway].
                            To eliminate all traces of Victorianism, literary style had to change 
                          to the spare, ironic, experimental. There was also a franker realism
                          than known in the old days.
I agree with him more than entirely.  

Q4 ctd:                   How do you evaluate FW or Joyce’s other works if you might criticize them from the feminist perspective?

ANSWER: Practically all feminist criticism comes from the United States, where knowledge of Foreign Languages never counts for very much, except in professionals. I consider myself a LanguageMan first, and try to consistently promote a language-oriented approach. Joyce the Author decided to write FW in order to ram home the overwhelming significance of Language, which is less obvious, but always there in his earlier writings (he admired Ibsen). (NB: There is no feminist approach in Linguistics: Linguistics is all ONE!) 

5. QUESTION: Is reading Finnegans Wake worthwhile or not ?

ANSWER: More than that: it is the ideal and sole item to take along  on a Desert Island!  (in the sense of the BBC Radio Four programme anchored by Sue & her Disks): a prerequisite to understand Finn W is never never to back  M. Drabble in choosing Old Wives’s Tale (1908) by Arnold Bennett  for sole reading on that island... Finn W is mighty malt whiskey, by comparison.  

6. QUESTION: Do you think FW is too much concerned with sex ?

ANSWER: It must be understood once and for all that the 20th  Century and its Great War (the First) brought about the collapse of the Victorian Puritanism in Literature and social morals, which had put Oscar Wilde into prison just before the Fin de Siècle (though it is still lingering on in some non-European cultural and political Establishments, such as China and Cuba, and certain related areas). In the forefront of this change were writers like D. H. Lawrence & Henry Miller. Joyce had identical intuitions with them and, in consequence, most, if not all, of his early books were banned for precisely the same reasons.

          The literary panorama nowadays is to such an extent overtolerant that the Joycean descriptions—in Ulysses—of  Poldy’s defecation, Stephen’s  &  Poldy’s respective micturitions, and Molly’s menstruation  (there’s symmetry in all that !) look so benign by the side  of the current literary output of, say,  Anais Nin, Erica Jong, Régine Desforges, and even . . . Alberto Moravia.

          To end this answer with a rhetorical question: how important is sex to current television programmes all over the world, with few totalitarian exceptions? It ultimately was Joyce who opened our literary eyes wide to it, though Stanley Kubrick wound it all up with his eyes wide shut (which, by the way, is, ultimately, a quotation from FW...).

           Then,  on a lighter note,  though wife sex & parents sex are never talked  about in public, unless deviant, we shouldn’t forget that we owe our own individual lives to our own parents’ more than adequate sex life  (singular, rather than plural; mutual & interactive, rather than individualistic & narrowly hedonistic). Joyce was more than aware as to how important Sex was to the newly set up Kingdom of Darwin, and, in incommunicado connivance with Lawrence (not the one of Arabia), helped bring down for ever the World Empire of Victorian Puritanism (which still survives in large pockets of the greenest Island of purest Ireland, where proper obstetrics is still practised only on board the Dutch ships...).

          No, there is never enough Sex in the highBrow Dantesque Circle where our friend under scrutiny—Finn W—sits. Just reRead the Honuphrius Episode (FW, pp 572-3)!

Q6 ctd:                   Do you think that the treatment of sex in FW is different from that in Ulysses?

ANSWER:    Joyce is the same: though his Freedom of Expression (on Sex) is far greater on account of his CRYPTIC discourse: that may well have started it all! His cryptic stance, I mean!

7. QUESTION:      Is the reading of FW in any way interesting ?

ANSWER:    A large chunk of the answer here was already given, perhaps under Question Number Four. However: The word interesting must be further qualified and/or rephrased:

Reading FW is essential to the Writer of Fiction:

                                                for it is he who’s got to learn.

Reading FW is indispensable to the Talented Poet: for he innovates.

Reading FW is necessary to the PlayWright: Shaw hated it;

                                                                     O’Casey shunned it;

                                                                     Wilde would have adored it.

Reading FW is a treasure trove to the Journalist:

                             to better headings in The Sun & The News of the World.

Reading FW is an occasional fountain of ideas to the Scientists:

                                for  what would they do without the quark (fw 383)?

Reading FW is a menace to the practising Literary Critic:

                                             how to handle it & stay clean ?  And learned ?!

Reading FW is an ideal kow-tow opportunity to the Literary Historian:

                                       for mentioning it would elevate his own Status

                             (and a mere mention is a mere Form of Politeness...).

Reading FW is a breadWinner-cum-StatusPedestal  to the fwNuts:

                    but even Nat Halper was sensitive to Brancusi in Paris in 1975...

As to the Global-Village  Professors of Literature:

                                                               they are sure to know better.

Q7 ctd:          Would you explain the meaning and significance of the Global Village?  

 ANSWER:     The G8 Meeting starts about now in Genoa, Italy, where I am most of the time: it deals with MONDIALISATION & GLOBALISATION, which IS the Global Village. The European Union, likewise, is one Europe, for better or for worse. So was the Soviet BLOC. So is Scandinavia, or the British Commonwealth. Joyce had sure seen this. 

8. QUESTION: What, in your opinion, is FW’s destiny in the 21st Century?  

ANSWER: With some luck (which it never had, because of the outbreak of the Second World War),  it may still be the Book of Literature which had witnessed  the Linguistic Pool of the World: The Global Village idea didn’t start when it started, nor did the Common Market; let us be honest about it: they all started in 1939, with  the publication of Finnegans Wake:  How many realized that ? Practically nobody. For it is in there that the Spirit of the Age first nested:  Chaos & Babel come again: sprouting in Brussels & Bruxelles, Belgium. But with Order superImposed: quite Administratively so; the €uro kangaroo, qv, provided The Concordance of Maastricht,as it were...

Footnote: According to the O. E. D., and to most Australians, the Euro is the standard name of a kangaroo the size of a Labrador . . .(Look it up, if you don't believe me !)

Q8 ctd:    How do you evaluate Vico’s theory now?

ANSWER:    Vico’s Theory, rightly approached, is for all time; like Lavoisier's.

9. QUESTION: Can one learn anything by reading Finnegans Wake ?                        

ANSWER:    I defy anybody in this world who may say that Something— let us call it x — is not there: All Languages are there  (Joyce listed at least 40 or so). All Great Authors & Texts are there (cf Atherton’s 1959 Books at the Wake). All major philosophic-historic-scientific-psychologic ideas are there: (from Vico to quark to  young Jung to Freund Freud to Beria...). The very specialized branches of Scholarship are there too: (even Topometry & Geodesy , & Topography, according to Clive H, Motifs...(1962/1971 : 95; 117; 249).

Supplement to Q9: Didn’t Beckett comment “the Wake is not about something; it is that something itself” ?

ANSWER: Beckett precisely meant the Virtual Reality I mentioned above, under Q3, though the actual term did not exist at the time (in 1929 !).

10. QUESTION: Do you think that Lucia’s madness affected Joyce’s writing ?

Not at all.  Neither the direction of his work, nor its  very essence: He was far too single-minded for that. He was set on his course like a space rocket is set on its course: Linguistic acrobatics was, beyond doubt, Joyce’s forte, and he was sure to go the whole hog. Give me six months, and I’ll have any language. Volubly. Joyce was the same. Not even his wife (“Jim, how about writing a best-seller ?”), the War, the European mess, the Irish mess could set him off his course. He finished FW, published it, as usual, on his Birthday, had it reviewed in the TLS in the very same issue with Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and then, not having much else by way of plans, chose to pass away (13 January) his work completed. With a little effort he could even have managed to die on his Holy Birthday (2 February): Like Shakespeare (23 April (both ways!) & St George, Patron Saint of England).  

Q10 ctd:           How could Joyce be so strong to cope with his daughter’s sickness ?  

ANSWER:     Joyce was no ordinary man at all: he went from Massiveness & Meticulousness in both Ulysses (10 years  & 500,000 words) & FW (17 years & 500,000 words), precisely because of Lucia’s illness, (b) his own blindness (please try and dictate to somebody a difficult passage from FW!) and (c) his own wife’s inability to understand what he was after (“Jim should write a bestseller!”).

11. QUESTION: What passages do you find the most interesting ?  

ANSWER: Most certainly NOT the ones that Joyce recorded for Charlie Osgood in the 1920’s. And NOT the opening — or closing —  pages that make such excellent anthological & Seminar material  for a host of  such respectable lecturers. No. I here advance that Joyce should be read paradigmatically, the way Atherton, & Hart, & Glasheen, & Halper used to do! And rather less so  syntagmatically, which is indeed “the Pasages”, and ... the pages). To make full sense, We can never read  Finn W in part, we must always read it in toto.   That’s where the difficulty really is. 

        Most difficult to interpret—but exceedingly fascinating—are to me the ten one-hundred letter words. In fact, that expression carries a slight inaccuracy of fact, as one of them—the last one, in fact— is 101 letters (fw424.20).  Add it all up, and you will get 1,001; Les Mille et une nuits, in French;  O mie şi una de nopţi, in Rumanian, or The Arabian Nights., in English. A very good beginning that! Joyce carefully tells the careful reader right at the beginning of the Book—

                        (FW 005.28)(There extand by now one thousand and one stories,  
                         all told, of the same).

            Could these ten “words”, hypothetically put together, end to end, make a run-on text ?  If so, take the ten together, start chopping them up the way Hart does in his Concordance Syllabifications, and you will be having a splendidly difficult nut to crack: Like the genes & chromosomes of the human body. Sort of. Only more chaotic! Like Hamlet’s (3.2.366) cloud/camel/weasel/whale analogies...

            That was, is, and will be The Paradigmatic Approach! It was thus that Bonheim (1967) followed the Germanic element quite germanically, and somebody else followed the Italian streak italienissimo. Cheng (1984) looked at Shakespeareana, and  Reynolds (1981) at Dante (esp pp 302 to 326); I for one am looking at philosophy: In the FW texture. For I firmly believe that Joyce remains the most exquisite philosopher of all Language. A philosopher practitioner promoting a mandatory philosophy (oxymonron that?) of the pan€uropeans’ Language. Or should it be the common unional language of the pun€uropeans ? Very rare that. Shakespeare was one. So was Dante. So is Browning & Eliot & Pound...And more especially,  Joyce was indeed a philosopher of  languages other than his own. 

It is a real pity that so many outstanding literary scholars of our days have so little languages (sic!):  the linguistic tours de force of Browning & Pound, Eliot & Beckett, and also, more recently, Borges & Nabokov  are quite, quite out of our students’ minds these days.

          But on top of it all, Joyce remains and will eternally be the Supreme Philosopher of Literary Rhetoric. For in the Age of exclusively pecuniary incentives, who will again work for nothing for full 17 years, not to take into account the so very special skills of the genius involved? (how many HollyWood-type filmScripts, multiMillionworth, could Joyce had turned out these 21C days, if only he had lived a hundred years later, emigrated to America during the Great War (which one ?), and willed himself into the skin of a professional money-making writer of pulpFiction of the type of Moses or Man of Nazareth ? ).

12. QUESTION:  Are there any literary techniques in FW worth imitating, or, at least, letting oneself be influenced by...?

ANSWER: All. Everything. Stuart Gilbert (1930/1969 : 172-176) pointed to many... It is only a pity that scholarship hasn’t got that far yet. But it will come. It will sure come. When the period of linguistic-discourse debasement by the media will have spent its force... And it is here that the Internet will help. Stuart Gilbert brought circumstantial  evidence to prove that ALL figures of speech were there within the span of a single episode of Ulysses.    Later a contributor to the Wake NewsLitter proved beyond a shade of doubt that all these, and more, were to be discovered within one single page of Finn W !  Though they were both speaking in terms of 50, or so, literary devices, rather than in terms of the existing 500 or more, their point was proven beyond doubt, and their evidence is very, very relevant.

13. QUESTION:      Do you recommend FW to other people ? If so, how should they handle it ?

ANSWER: God forbid Finnegans Wake is ever recommended  as Obligatory Reading by any Educational Establishment well-established through Government push anywhere in the World ! Anywhere ! For that would kill it the way it has quite quite killed Shakespeare & Flaubert & Proust  & Blake in the eyes, ears & hearts of so many millions of little boys & girls plodding unwillingly to school, in ever so many schools all round the world . . . 

          I do recommend it most warmly, but only by implication... and occasional hints: For imposition ex cathedra kills Literature.  Irremediablement. 

Q13 ctd:           Do you think that Joyce wanted FW to be read by general readers who have no profound knowledge in languages ?

ANSWER: He thought—together with Eliot and Pound—that the whole world would gradually get more & more educated: our own parents thought so too. Instead, the whole world gets more illiterate with pulp fiction generating cheap television (with a range of vocabulary of 3,000 American words or even less), & Government Education foregrounding the Here & Now to the detriment of a panChronic Wetanschauung (with Thunder taught as part of Environment Studies), and Poetry having disappeared from the Media absolutely everywhere. Paradoxically, a Reader today is far less equipped culturally than a Reader 100 years ago. Then, WHY did Joyce study Italian (& French), and not English, like you and me ? And not Irish either ?

14. QUESTION: Why are quite a number of scholars or students interested in FW ?

ANSWER: Because they might intuit its overwhelming importance.  Others of course do it for mere academic—or scholarly—credit.

Q 14 ctd:  How do you evaluate the famous critical approaches of Lacan or Derrida on FW? What do you think of the future trend of those critiques ?

ANSWER:          (a) I met Jacques Lacan first in 1974 at the First World Congress of Semiotics in Milan, a congress organized by Umberto Eco (both his lecture, & my FW paper are printed in the Congress Proceedings). Then I met him again at the 1975 Joyce Symposium in Paris. His lecture there I have in front of me, edited by J. Aubert, and entitled “Joyce le symptome”. On both these occasions I discussed FW with him, sometimes in the presence of Roman Jakobson of Harvard & MIT. I basically agree with Lacan (esp pp. 16-17 of vol. I of Paris Proceedings)  where he compares Joyce with Verdi & calls pages 162 & 509 ‘un tour de farce’, a comment full of praise.

          (b) I studied Derrida in the early 1970’s in Stockholm, in a Danish translation of De la Grammatologie, Which I still must have somewhere. I was asked to do presentations of that particular book to the Swedish Society of Psychoanalysis whose members had no French. The discussions went on in Swedish about a text in Danish, originally written in French by Algerian Derrida. Then, I met the Man himself at the 1984 Joyce Symposium in Frankfurt-am-Mein, organized by Hans-Walter Gabler: as I shared the same hotel with Derrida, we used to have breakfast together and, inevitably, discussed FW.  I feel I have very little in common with him, as his fundamental views of Language are so very divergent from mine. We never found common points worth the notice.  There is a lot of preliminary FW work to do before we get to Derrida’s brand of philosophy. I never even quote him in my book on FW.

15. QUESTION: If you think the reading is difficult, what are the causes ?

ANSWER: I explained this in my book The  Language of the Devil: the paradox is that the more difficult the text, the faster the very first reading must be (forget the Reader's Guides!):  just like driving a car on a bumpy road — going faster: you may kill the car, but you get there with less hiccups in your breast...

16. QUESTION:      How to describe your experience of reading FW  ?

ANSWER: Exhilarating ! Quite probably it is the most “charged-with-meaning” Book in the whole of World Literature. Always remember Ezra Pound’s so very relevant definition of Literature “Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.” (in: ‘How to Read’, in:  Literary Essays. 1918/1968. p.23.)

Q16 ctd: Would you tell me about your first experience of reading FW: when, how, and why ?

 ANSWER: As a small child during the war (1941-1944), my favourite hobby was to identify foreign languages on short-wave radio. Having had a smattering of Greek from earliest days (my paternal grandmother came from the Island of Rhodos), and speaking English with my father most of the time (he had received an American education at Constantinople), I could identify up to twenty languages on the radio without ever having seen them written, or without having met any people who were native speakers of them. In secondary school, I was the best pupil at languages: first German, during the occupation, then Rumanian, Latin, some Russian, a lot of private lessons of French at home, and finally massive English at the end of the war. Throughout my schooling days, and University, I was the acknowledged multiLanguage expert. I then learnt Swedish  in six months (after my father died), and thus easily understood both Danish and Norwegian. I tried Finnish without any success. It is against this language background that I came to FW as a teenager: I took it to be the universal language book. For I am one of the rare persons who reads FW for multiLanguage rather than for the Story: and I have remained like that all my life, I’m afraid.

          The fundamental attraction of my first reading of FW, fragmentary of course, was the rather childish research Question “How can so many languages & so many difficult words be in one single head?  That of Author Joyce?”  And I have stayed with this Question. To put it bluntly, I think I am at the opposite pole of scholars like Adaline Glasheen & Bernie Benstock who concentrated on WHO’S  WHO in the Book and were almost exclusively digging for the Story, which was then so elegantly displayed by Anthony Burgess, my neighbour here in Monaco, in his book A Shorter FW. The Story is vastly important of course, but there are also other structural elements, like Clive Hart’s motifs, which give the book Shape & Symmetry. Then I discovered by myself that it is not the Story that is so important but rather the Characters, headed by the protean HCE. But usually I do not adopt other people’s ready-made conclusions: I prefer to read & re-read FW until I reach conclusions of my own. That is why I always have a copy of it at hand.

17. QUESTION:      Is Finnegans Wake translatable ?

Most faithfully & absolutely accurately, NEVER !  (Nor can Shakespeare, within the same narrow Range of Rigour, with Pentameters, (non)Rhyme, Alliteration, Pun, etc met on an ABSOLUTE parity basis.) (No! No genuinely great literary text ever is:except perhaps by Beckett his own work only.) 

          But very, very approximatively, MAYBE! If we define journalistic subediting of press agency fax & teleprint pulp as intraLanguage paraphrase, then Translation becomes almost automatically what we should call interLanguage paraphrase, the prerequisite of which is to define the Language first. Let us state the folowing: There is genuine consensus that Dickens wrote in English. Balzac wrote in French. Equally clearly. Which means that the Languages of Dickens & Balzac are Constants.

           In the 20th Century  however, the language picture changes drastically, as Sam Beckett would be Dickens & Balzac in one, sending his English  manuscripts to Publisher John Calder in London & his French  manuscripts to Publisher Jérôme Lindon in Paris, equally famous. (There is then here the subsidiary question—Was Beckett translating himself ? If so, from what Language into what Language ? On that point, all Critics either fumble, or remain quasiSilent.)

          Bearing all this well in mind, we must then ask the question: How about Joyce in Finnegans  Wake?  Where is the Language Constant? It is not at all by  mere chance that he clearly appended his List of 40 Languages right at the end of his (British Museum Library) Finnegans Wake Manuscript. Why did he do that ? To ram the point home with the finesse of a dull sledge hammer that it was these 40 Languages  (and perhaps a little more) that was his Constant. Quite idiosyncratically so.

          If we are to adopt a consistent Fragestellung Approach in dealing with Translation, we must then also ask—Is the Honuphrius  Episode (fw572.21 to 573.33 down to “Translate a lax”) written in crystal-clear English? My answer to that question is most categorically YES!  One only needs to take into account the following types of “rewrite transformations” in point of ubiquity of personal reference, or ubiquity of identity, for short: 

          Another theoretical aside is necessary here:  Roman Jakobson’s fundamental definition of the Sign in 1972 at the Milan Congress of Semiotics is more than essential for a rigorous outline of the FW Story. Jakobson says in untranslatable French: “Le signe est un renvoi.”  If we represent it by an arrow,thus—

                                                P  ==>  π

we obtain a remarkable placement of the 48-line long Honuphrius microtext against the overall macrotext of 628 pages (of,roughly, 36 lines each) which is the whole of Finnegans Wake:

(in order of appearance in the Episode:)

(1)Honuphrius  <==> Humphrey <==> H. C. E. <==>{ The Father...}

(2)Felicia< ==> Issy <==> Izzy < ==> Isabel< ==> Isolde <==>{The Daughter...}  

(3)Eugenius <==> Coemghen <==> Finn <==> Kevin <==>Shaun <==>{Son 2 ...}

(4)Jeremias<==> Jerry <==> Shem<==> {Son 1 ...} 

(5)Anita <==> Ana Livia <==> A. L. P.<==> {The Mother...}  

          It must be said in passing that the Honuphrius Episode carries exactly thirty different  Names of Persons in 48 lines: the rest is written in very “pure” and unadulterated English.

                    One of the relatively few writers of good literature who resorts to ubiquity of identity in his fiction is William Faulkner in his The Sound and the Fury (1929).  Did he ever get it from Joyce? They seem to have caught a glimpse of each other in a Paris restaurant...The hypothetical answer (in part to Question 12 above) is that most Americans have always been fascinated by the ubiquitous Man in the Macintosh... (Ulysses: 6.895 “I don’t know who he is. Is that his name?”). Then, the most important question in Paraphrase & Translation is that of Equivalence. Complex informational-cum-linguistic equivalence. (Most acutely aware of it was  of course ... Beckett.) It constantly asks the question whether A is equivalent to B, and on what grounds: the range of grounds is indefinite, too often fringing infinity. We should never forget that there is Cultural Equivalence and Linguistic Equivalence:  a word is sure to always and invariably have a corresponding equivalent; not so much a Proverb or a Cliché. Or rather: not quite as easily. Then come the more complex Stylistic Rhetoric Equivalence, and last but not least national(?)  Discourse Equivalence. One last thing on the issue of Translation: by the side of the most outstanding Linguistic Genius of James Joyce, the Linguistic Competences of a Dickens, of a Balzac, and even of a Beckett look minuscule: Shakespeare himself pales somewhat. The only pity is that the glitterati  have so little foreign Alien Language to go by in their value judgments...

Q17 ctd:  There are FW translations into French, Italian, Spanish, Korean, Japanese, etc. However, Yanase’s FW translation into Japanese looks like to make a different FW. On the other hand, a paraphrase of the end of FW entitled “Soft Morning, City!” by John Hinsdale Thompson (in The Analyst XII) conveys the original meaning and beauty. Do you think the paraphrase of FW into modern English is still useful?

ANSWER: I have right in front of me the Italian Translation of Luigi Schenoni as well as the French Translation of Philippe Lavergne. I know Schenoni  personally—I met him often at Joyce Congresses, and he visited me several times in Monaco. Between 1977 and 1987, I used to co-ordinate at Joyce Symposia panes called “Linguistic Analysis of FW” and both Schenoni & Liana Burgess (Anthony Burgess’s wife) were my panellists in Dublin, Zurich, Frankfurt, etc.  I have the Japanese translation, boxed, somewhere too, though I cannot lay my hands on it right now. The Spanish & Korean translations I have never seen.

I rate Schenoni’s Italian translation the best of all the ones I know and can judge: he is far more courageous and dares to twist Italian most energetically; Joyce himself is sure to have looked benignly upon it.  Schenoni is so cocksure of himself that he puts the original FW text a fronte, that is, by the side of his own work. Also, his critical apparatus is formidable.

          Lavergne’s is quite tame by comparison: it is more than clear that does not dare to mangle the delicate French language as he should in order to pack in all that Joyce wanted carried by the FW texture.  The text is complete it is true—all the 628 pages of the original are there—,but the translator more than flimsy Avant-propos (pp.3-6) does in no way reveal the translator’s motivations or procedures. Whenever I look at it, I wish I could do some research into the specific constraints societally imposed on French non-casual discourse... As to paraphrase, it is better than nothing, but I don’t think much of it.  What did Joyce think himself of Ch.Lamb’s “Adventures of Ulysses” (cf his letter to his  aunt Josephine, in: Letters, vol. I)?

18. QUESTION:      What is the place of FW in World Literature ?

ANSWER: I am using the term Weltliteratur in the Goethe/Eckermann sense, qv, and I consider it superior to the overSubjective overCirculated Comparative Literature,for global-village mentality & ways of thinking do in the long run impose World Literature as one.  Within this optic Finnegans Wake is still patiently expecting its doom in the Great Dentist’s waiting room, with Joyce non-novices doing far too little to ensure it pride of place. This sustained interest in Japan for Joyce & ALL his work amply proves my point.  

Not quite agreeing with Vladimir Nabokov, who extols Ulysses, but not Finnegans Wake, this is exactly what I for one am trying to do.  A quixotesque undertaking ? In this world of semiLiteracy & avalanche of pulp fiction, perhaps. The book may have been half killed by Hitler & his War,  but my conviction is that the 1939 artistic & literary standards are not history yet. FW is sure to come into its own when—

         (1) non-translation attitudes will carry the day,

         (2) individual European Languages will all of them be thriving

                                                         all over the world, and

         (3) Rhetoric  as a complex Theory of Literary Devices will again be

                                                     what it used to be in the good old days...

Footnote: The term is first  mentioned in— Gespräche mit Goethe in den letzten Jahren seines Lebens, 1823-1832, published by his secretary Johann Peter Eckermann.

Q 18 ctd:  Could you tell us who are your favourite authors apart from Joyce?

ANSWER: Favourite Authors?  I like to discuss William Blake or Joseph Conrad with my students: years ago, in a series of lectures at the University of Turin I gave an Analysis of Blake’s Prose for a whole term.  Other names of authors have already cropped up in my Answers to your Questions here, which I entitled “Who’s Afraid of Finnegans Wake ?”.  I am at the moment preparing for a couple of lectures on Ezra Pound, whom I consider to be, with Eliot, even more important than Joyce or Beckett in point of weighty theoretical statements.  Beckett, of course:  I gave about ten lectures on Beckett in Stockholm & Uppsala in December 1969, when he got the Nobel Prize. In Monaco, at the Princess Grace Library, where I had been appointed Director by Prince Rainier III,  I organized the following international Congresses:  (a) Gabler’s 1984 Ulysses, in 1985;  (b) William Butler Yeats (with Norman Jeffares, who even sent an invitation to attend to the Crown Princess of Japan), in 1987; (c) the Joyce Symposium, for 500 participants, in June 1990; (d) the first ever Congress on Samuel Beckett, in 1991; (e) the first ever Congress on Oscar Wilde, in 1993. (All  Proceedings Volumes were published by Colin Smythe.)  My research interest at the moment is focused on Writers who Wrote in Languages Other than Their Own:

          (a) Tristan Tzara, Eugene Ionesco, Mircea Eliade & Emile Cioran (coming to French from a Rumanian background);

          (b)  Elias Canetti, Nobel Prize 1981 (coming to German from Bulgarian & Spanish, via English ?);

          (c)   Vladimir Nabokov (coming to English from a clear Russian background);

          (d) even the poet Dylan Thomas, whose Welsh language is omnipresent in his English...

          They are practically all 20th Century writers.

          From previous centuries I would first name Dante Aligheri, who wrote everything in Latin, except the Commedia (I am lucky to be so close to Italy, and have the opportunity to polish my Italian all the time). And, of course, Blake & Browning.  esp, The Ring & the Book. . . and Sordello . . .

19. QUESTION:How many distinct types of Imagination did Joyce have?

ANSWER: There is a close interdependency between what I call Joyce’s  Linguistic Imagination (fw539.06 Daunty, Gouty and Shopkeeper) to say nothing of—                        (fw47.19 Suffolose! Shikespower! Seudodanto! Anonymoses!)on the one hand, and what  is generally known as the Imagination Character-Situational on the other hand, in the following very relevant microtexts: Dickens  ( “Papa, what’s money ?”) & Ch. Brontë ( “Reader, I married him.”) &  Swift ( “My father had a small estate in Nottinghamshire”) &  Defoe—Joyce’s favourite! ( “I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York”).  Remember that, by comparison, Joyce’s Imagination  has always been more than episodic ( Epiphanies, to Diary jotings down, to snatches of interior monologue, to—in Finn W—snatches of words). Throughout. It should always and invariably be defined as (a) episodic, and (b) thoroughly linguistic. One of the most superb of Joyce’s “linguistic” achievements is beyond doubt—

                        (fw 244.34 : 1.2)  (Panther monster  for gloss ‘paternoster’)

Its counterpart in point of exquisiteness of aesthetic perfection (in plain words, Joyce’s by far the most beautiful piece of texture) is the very last Sentence of the second Episode of Ulysses—the well-known ‘Mr Deasy’ Episode:

                        (u 2.448-9) (On his wise shoulders through the checkerwork of                         leaves the sun flung spangles, dancing coins.)

Footnote: cf my Language of the Devil, which is devoting a whole chapter to a Paradigmatic Analysis of the various occurrences of Paternoster segments in FW, pp. 36 to 55.

Q19 ctd:          What is the source of Joyce’s imagination ?

ANSWER: There is no single source for Joyce’s imagination. He had a fixation with Languages, and ALSO a fixation with Prose Fiction: hence TWO.

          (a) We should all remember that wherever Joyce went he not only learnt the language of the Place, but also, more important, pushed all his family to do the same (his wife’s Italian was adequate; his grandson’s Stephen Zurich-German is near-native). 

                    Then, Trieste has this in common with both Monaco & Zurich that they were and are places where many languages are spoken (cf Italo Svevo, La Coscienza di Zeno, and Tom Stoppard’s Travesties—with Tzara, Lenin & Joyce in the Zurich Public Library).

                    According to statistics, there are today 92 national groups in Monaco, speaking at least 40 languages:  this is hypothetically true of both Zurich & Trieste, full of 'exiles' (or 'exPats', as the British saying is ...) throughout the 20th Century.

          (b)          Genuine imaginations, be they fictional or linguistic, are compulsive in nature. The most relevant examples are the major novelists who produced a book a year (not necessarily for money!) for long stretches of time. Rabelais & Fielding. Balzac & Dickens, or Thackeray. Proust & Henry James. Graham Greene & Anthony Burgess.  Not all had other languages (neither Greene nor James did!),  but they all had the compulsion to write fiction, which is one way of materializing imaginative outbursts. What triggers the outbursts?  That we do not know. Money?  No! That only happens with nonPermanent Literature...

          But one thing is certain: James Joyce was a compulsive writer. Throughout.