Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Finnegans Wake

ENGL 365.301
TR 1:30-3:00


This will be an unusual course devoted to a most atypical, experimental book, James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Finnegans Wake took Joyce 17 years to write; it uses approximately forty languages to produce a macaronic "language" of the unconscious mind in sleep, which moves across the world and through human history in an attempt to correlate the nonrational way the mind moves with the equally unpredictable ways that the world and time move. It is extraordinary in that it is not written for the individual, but for people working together to construct "meaning" across national, linguistic, and historical boundaries, and in that sense it anticipates in extremely challenging ways the phenomenon of globalization. Anyone considering taking this course should be forewarned that most readers do not consider Finnegans Wake intelligible in the usual sense of the word, and many find it frustrating and even indefensible as a literary experiment. It has been defended, though, as the verbal equivalent to the achievement of splitting the atom; by splitting the word, Joyce aims to unleash previously untapped creative and interpretive energy, which he hoped would produce widespread revolutionary effects.

Instead of reading all of Finnegans Wake, we will concentrate on getting a fuller understanding of selected episodes by reading them carefully (using annotations), understanding their evolution through different stages of composition, and situating them contextually. For example, when we do the Prankquean episode, we will also read a book about Grace O'Malley, the Irish Renaissance pirate; when we read the Mookse and the Gripes and the Ondt and the Gracehoper, we will also read Aesop. Additional supplemental texts will include Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, Ibsen's The Master Builder, Vico's The New Science, material on Napoleon and Wellington, Buddha and Mohammed, St. Patrick and St. Kevin. Students will be responsible for indepth oral reports and for two 8-10 page papers involving extensive research, each of which will focus on an individual episode. For a course like this to work, everyone involved must agree to do the difficult reading with care and diligence, and to "wipe their glosses with what they know," as well as what they learn.