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McHugh, Roland / The sigla of Finnegans wake

Introduction,   pp. 1-4 PDF (242.0 KB)

Page 1

James Joyce is probably the greatest stylist in the English language. Finnegans
Wake is his last book, to which he devoted more energy than to any other.
It is immensely difficult to read: I should in fact say that it is not a
reasonable thing to expect any unaided person to attempt Finnegans Wake.
There is in consequence a pressing need for exegetical studies which actually
work, as opposed to producing a mere tranquillizing effect. 
 The earliest appraisals of Finnegans Wake (hereafter abbreviated FW) were
essays published during the book's composition, the most important constituting
Our Exagmination round his Factzfication for Incamination of Work in Progress.1
The first comprehensive analysis was Campbell and Robinson's A Skeleton Key
to 'Finnegans Wake', which appeared in 1944.2 Despite its frequent lapses
into uninformative paraphrase the Skeleton Key musters a stronger conviction
of its subject's dignity than any earlier study, and supports this conviction
with an impressive bulk of novel interpretation. The popular image of FW
is the image created by Campbell and Robinson: several recent 'guidebooks'
seem to owe little to any subsequent investigators. 
 The difficulty of absorbing FW results not merely from the highly fragmented
nature of its text but also from the fragmented nature of the absorption
process itself. In reading FW one makes a succession of isolated discoveries
pertaining to various disciplines and stationed randomly throughout the volume.
Appearing in no special order, they are soon forgotten unless some form of
cataloguing is attempted, which is an occupation repugnant to most persons
in search of aesthetic ends. 
 Three books of the 19505 attempted to catalogue their authors' 
'By Samuel Beckett and others (London, Faber and Faber 1929). 
 ~ Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson, A Skeleton Key to 'Finnegans Wake'
(New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1944; London, Faber and Faber 1947).

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