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Joyce, James / A first-draft version of Finnegans wake

Introduction,   pp. 3-43 PDF (3.5 MB)

Page 3

"We ought to be deeply thankful that we have even a written on with now dried
ink piece of paper after it all and cling to it as with drowning hands."
(A sentence added to the first draft 
of FW 118—119, MS 47471b, 41b) 
 Although it has often been described as a work of destruction, James Joyce's
Finnegans Wake was designed as a triumphant reconstruction. It was in reference
to this characteristic of his last book that Joyce is reported to have remarked
during a visit to Stonehenge, "I have been fourteen years trying to get here."
The task of reproducing with words the aesthetic unity of the past was an
arduous one. For seventeen years, Joyce, having at his disposal all the means
of knowing and all the means of expressing, labored to resolve the "proteaform"
mass of modern learning into a "faustian fustian" of words. Such a process,
the mixing and blending, the ordering and composing, the choosing and discarding,
was necessarily a lengthy one entailing numberless revisions which bear "hermetic"
testimony to the nature of the creative act while recording the mind in a
state of flux. It is self-evident therefore that the manuscripts for Finnegans
Wake are of immense importance to the scholar. They are capable of revealing
the basic plan of each passage and the root ideas which, when early drafts
are juxtaposed with the printed version, show how simple concepts have ramified,
taking on in each case microcosmic implications. The manuscripts also illustrate
the varied methods and approaches, the singlemindedness with which Joyce
pursued his ends; they reflect the relationship of manner to matter. Through
them we discover the rationale behind the book's form and the stages through
which that form passed. 
 The nine thousand pages of holograph, typescripts, and revised proof, now
available for study at the British Museum, cast both light and shadow. The
sheer bulk, the embarrassment of riches makes total reproduction impractical,
if not impossible. Therefore, as a convenient and 
 ' Statement by Mrs. Kathleen Griffin on the BBC Third Program, Part II,
"The Artist in Maturity," 17 February 1950. 

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