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Dissertation Finnegans Wake


James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, Giambattista Vico, literature, oral poetry


This thesis argues that Finnegans Wake II.3 reveals a role for a dynamic kind of art to contest the dominant narratives in an age of seemingly static new-media technological saturation. By redeploying resources from ancient oral poetic tradition, Finnegans Wake creates a form of resistance to the totalizing effects of textualized mass culture. Technologically saturated media culture often attempts to encode stable, binary identities into the fabric of sociopolitical reality; Finnegans Wake II.3 contrasts two alternatives to escape this oppressively rigid encoding. Beginning with an extended description of the radio-televisual device in the background of Earwicker’s pub—“their tolvtubular high fidelity daildialler” (309.14)—II.3 goes on to contrast a traditional oral-poetic narration of “Kersse the Tailor,” delivered by HCE to an underwhelming crowd reaction, with a more innovative radio broadcast of “How Buckley Shot the Russian General,” one that HCE’s patrons prefer. Butt and Taff’s telling of “How Buckley Shot the Russian general” attempts, as Finnegans Wake styles it, an “abnihilization of the etym,” an attempt to tear open the smallest semantic units of our culture, and hurtles us forward into a postmodern, hybrid future, away from the embrace of a naive folk-art past. This new form of art breaks down boundaries to suggest an alternative to the hegemony of a cultural existence driven by oppressive binaries. A first section establishes some background about what “oral poetry” means in light of Vico's "The Discovery of the True Homer," a chapter in his New Science, a book which influenced Joyce’s work on Finnegans Wake. The thesis next uses a Bakhtinian analysis to explore how these themes are foreshadowed in the opening chapters of the Wake, developed into a techno-poetic climax in II.3, and then reacted to in the Wake's last sections. A final section sketches out some ways that II.3’s enactment of a newly technologically sophisticated oral poetry models a strategy for escaping the dualisms so seemingly inevitable within our own “culture industry.”

Recommended Citation

Brown, Joshua, "“The abnihilization of the etym”: Finnegans Wake ii.3 as oral poetry in the age of mechanical reproduction" (2017). College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations. 229.


The complex of rites, rituals, and mythic reenactments known in Irish mythology as the Rites of Tara provides an interpretive model for James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Using information and theories pertaining to the Rites of Tara obtained from sources used by James Joyce, a comparison of the Rites of Tara with Finnegans Wake reveals important correlates related to chronology, characters, architectonics, themes, and defining characteristics. The three separate chronological events presented by Wakean scholars as possible dates for the events in the Wake---Easter, an unnamed pagan festival, and the Vernal Equinox---converged on a single day at the Rites of Tara. The model of the Rites of Tara can thus resolve the controversy over the date and occasion of Finnegans Wake. The dramatis personae of Finnegans Wake---the Sigla Group---are nearly identical in names, number, and functions to the ritual functionaries conducting the Rites of Tara. The larger structure of Finnegans Wake---the Viconian cycle of Religion, Marriage, Wake and Ricorso---correlates with the major events of the Rites of Tara, which cluster around the same four Viconian components. The individual episodes in Finnegans Wake have their analogues in the distinctive rites, rituals, and performances that collectively constitute the Rites of Tara. The great themes of Finnegans Wake---the Celtic Triangle, the superannuation of the father, the manifestation of antinomial forces as a cosmic pattern of existence, cyclical renewal as a property of both the human soul and the seasons---are identical to the religious principles expressed through the Rites of Tara. The three most distinctive characteristics of Finnegans Wake---its origin in the dream of "Old Finn," its microcosmic qualities, and most significantly, its language---all have their important analogues in the Rites of Tara. Collectively, these parallels between the Rites of Tara and Finnegans Wake indicate a deliberate and comprehensive mythic structure underlying Finnegans Wake based closely on the paradigms of the pre-Christian religion of Ireland. Current assessments of Finnegans Wake have identified no underlying structure to Finnegans Wake. The critical interpretations of Finnegans Wake are, at present, built in large part upon this current assessment. The interpretive model provided by the Rites of Tara, however, strongly reinforces James Joyce's own assessment of Finnegans Wake as the sacred canon of a new (or renewed) religion.

Recommended Citation

Gibson, George Cinclair, "Wake Rites: the Ancient Irish Rituals of "Finnegans Wake"." (2001). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 285.

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