Today, James Joyce’s 127th birthday, is the 70th anniversary of Joyce’s greatest novel – his great book about dreaming: Finnegans Wake.
Here are some quotations noted by David Kelly.
The world has forgiven Joyce for the excesses of Ulysses, but it is not yet ready to forgive him for the dementia of Finnegans Wake. Yet it is difficult to see what other book he could well have written after a fictional ransacking of the human mind in its waking state. Ulysses sometimes touches the borders of sleep, but it never actually enters its kingdom. Finnegans Wake is frankly a representation of the sleeping brain. It took Joyce 17 years to write between eye operations and worry about the mental collapse of his daughter, Lucia. He got little encouragement, even from Ezra Pound, that prince of avant-gardistes; his wife, Nora, merely said that he ought to write a nice book that ordinary people could read. But clearly Finnegans Wake had to be written, and Joyce was the only man dedicated or mad enough to write it.
Madness he knew to be the secret of genius . . . . He preferred the word exaltation, which can merge into madness. All great men had that vein in them. The reasonable man, he insisted, achieves nothing.
My favorite book on Finnegans Wake (other than the novel itself) is John Bishop’s Joyce’s Book of the Dark. (I know the author, but I formed my high opinion of the work before I met him.) Bishop’s book treats the Wake as a dream novel, and has incredible explanatory power to this famous difficult book.
See also this first draft version.