Joyce's Kaleidoscope: An Invitation to Finnegans Wake

Joyce's Kaleidoscope: An Invitation to Finnegans Wake

Joyce's Kaleidoscope: An Invitation to Finnegans Wake

Joyce's Kaleidoscope: An Invitation to Finnegans Wake


James Joyce's Ulysses, once regarded as obscure and obscene, is now viewed as a masterpiece of world literature. Yet Joyce's final novel,Finnegans Wake, to which he devoted seventeen years, remains virtually unread. Its linguistic novelties, layered allusions, and experimental form can make it seem impenetrable.

Joyce's Kaleidoscopeattempts to dissolve the darkness that surrounds the Wake and to display instead its mesmerizing play of light. Philip Kitcher offers an original, appealing interpretation of Joyce's novel while also suggesting an approach to the magnum opus that will attract readers of every sort. Focusing throughout on the book's central themes, Kitcher proposes that Finnegans Wake has at its core an age-old philosophical question-"What makes a life worth living?"-that Joyce explores from the perspective of someone who feels that a long life is now at its end.

Alert to echoes, Kitcher progresses through the novel, adding texture to his portrait of an aging dreamer who seeks reassurance about the worth of what he has done and who he has been. The novel's complex dream language becomes meaningful when seen as a way for Joyce to investigate issues that are hard to face directly, common though they may be. At times the view is clouded, at times it's the music or sheer comedy that predominates, but one experiences in the retrospective momentum a brilliant clarity unlike anything else in literature. With a startlingly profound compassion and a distinctive brand of humanism, Joyce points us to the things that matter in our lives. His final novel, Kitcher believes, is a call to life itself. Those who heed the call and pick up Finnegans Wake , whether for the first or the fifth time, will find in Joyce's Kaleidoscopean ideal companion.


For every type of action we perform, every scene we witness, every person with whom we engage, there will come a last occasion of doing, seeing, or meeting. Often we are only aware in retrospect that something that has figured in our lives has happened for the last time, that a particular chapter is over. At other times, however, we know at the moment that we shall not see this face or this place again, that this form of activity is over for us: we stand in the house in which we have grown up, or in the home we have made for our children, and recognize that we shall never be back. the sadness or nostalgia that sweeps over us under these circumstances may be tempered by our realization that a new mode of life is opening for us, one that will bring its own experiences and rewards, that the elements in the kaleidoscope of our lives are falling into different patterns.

Yet the finitude of human life makes it likely that some of these final occasions will be bereft of any such consolation. There are forms of activity we take for granted, simple things that underlie much that we do and most of what we delight in, elements of the kaleidoscope whose removal would leave so little that any reconfiguration of them would be impoverished and dreary. Someone whose life has been lived in a particular place may have walked beside the river, watching the trees come into bud, shade the stream, the leaves fall and be carried away by the current, the trees stand bare in the wind, and may know that this walk is the final one, that soon there will be no more walking, that the cycle that starts with the indistinct blur around the denuded branches will not be seen again. That knowledge can provoke disappointment and dissatisfaction with the experience itself—however beautifully the light glints from the trees or catches the eddies, it is only one angle, one perspective, one version of the scene, and it cannot sum up the many occasions that culminate in this one. Even while one is realizing that this part of life is going, it is already gone.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.