Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

'Dear Reader' and 'Drear Writer': Joyce's Direct Addresses to His Readers in 'Finnegans Wake.'

Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

'Dear Reader' and 'Drear Writer': Joyce's Direct Addresses to His Readers in 'Finnegans Wake.'

Article excerpt

No major literary work since medieval times has a reputation of being more difficult for the reader than Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Aware of the difficulty of his text, Joyce hoped and indeed expected that the "ideal reader suffering from an ideal insomnia" (120.13-14) would devote the time necessary to appreciate this book about the operations of the mind at nighttime (much as Ulysses focused on daytime streams of consciousness).(1) The fact that Joyce, like eighteenth-century novelists, frequently addresses his readers throughout the Wake - advising, cajoling, and mocking such industrious insomniacs - is a key aspect of the book that has received relatively little attention.(2) Considered together, Joyce's conversations with his readers function like a comic "user-friendly" reader's manual to the very complex "program" that is Finnegans Wake. "Herenow chuck english and learn to pray plain. . . .

Think in your stomach" (579.20-22), the reader is advised at one point. Early in the book, the narrator/author admits about his text, in a fairly typical comment, "What a mnice old mness it all mnakes!" (19.7-8). The narrator is confused, too, and thus the narrator and the reader are invoked together on several occasions in the first person plural: "Thus the unfacts, did we possess them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude" (57.16-17). Or as we are told later, "We are once amore as babes awondering in a wold made fresh where with the hen in the storyaboot we start from scratch" (336.16-18). The narrator makes fun of readers, both male and female: "You is feeling like you was lost in the bush, boy?" (112.3). "So sorry you lost him, poor lamb! Of course I know you are a viry vikid girl to go in the dreemplace" (527.4-6). Yet the. narrator's equally frequent self-mockery establishes identification and sympathy between the narrator and the reader, who are lost together in the world of the Wake. Similarly, if I refer interchangeably in this essay to "Joyce" and "the narrator," it is because no clear distinction between the two (or rather, between an intrusive author and his various narrators) is maintained in Finnegans Wake.(3)

Among theorists and Joyceans, the knowledge that in revising the Wake Joyce deliberately sought to make its language increasingly dense, obscure, and elaborate has only encouraged the attitude that reading this book is an exercise in futility. Even so influential and insightful a critic of fiction and its relationship to the reader as Wayne Booth, in his pioneering book The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961), claimed that Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are works that "cannot be read; they can only be studied" (325). As for students and other readers, the Joyce industry with all of its extensive guidebooks to understanding Joyce and his world has been perhaps more obstacle than aid. John Henry Raleigh, himself the author of a guidebook to Ulysses, admits that "such guides . . . can intimidate the beginning student of their subject" (10). He humorously imagines the conscientious student trying to wade through all of the Joycean guides: "What I have in mind is an ideal student with an ideal desire to use all the resources of the Master. . . . My hypothetical student sits down at his desk, the text of Ulysses open before his eyes, his reference books arranged about the text. . . . He can either engage a friend to turn the pages for him or, if he has some money, he can buy mechanical book-page turners" (9). If this is the case for Ulysses, the reader's task with Finnegans Wake appears even more overwhelming. For example, Frances Motz Boldereft does not consider the reader except as one who must learn Joyce's glossary, Ireland's history, and so on in order to even begin reading the book. In more recent years, the idea that reading the Wake is a playfully futile task was further encouraged, of course, by the rise of deconstruction, with its insistence that every text contradicts itself and eludes the reader. …

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