As Bloomsday approaches, we are delighted to publish this interview which Scarlett Baron (University College London) conducted with Mikio Fuse (University of Sacred Heart, Tokyo) about his Finnegans Wake Genetic Research Archive. It’s a useful reminder of the broad, global scope of Joyce studies–and the rich opportunities for international collaboration that continue to expand.
Fuse is Professor inthe Department of English Language,
Communication and Cultures, University
of the Sacred Heart, Tokyo . His
specialism lies in textual genetics, and, specifically, in James Joyce’s
composition of Finnegans Wake. His
main project is the construction of a Finnegans
Wake Genetic Research Archive. He is a frequent contributor to Genetic Joyce Studies, in whose
electronic pages he has provided numerous emendations to existing
transcriptions of Joyce’s notebooks. He has also written about the presence of
Japanese and Japanese culture in Finnegans
did you discover Joyce’s works?
I first read
Ulysses as an undergraduatein the English Department at the
University of Tokyo. Hiroshi
Ebine, the professor assigned to me as a mentor, was a brilliant scholar
who led a year-long seminar on Ulysses.
He was also a terrific teacher – one of the few Japanese people I have
encountered who can really read Ulysses.
How did you build on
this initial interest?
First, I elected to study for a Master’s
degree in the same Department. Second, I seized a chance, after I’d completed
that course, to travel to Dublin and immerse
myself more fully in the works of the author who by this point had come to
captivated me above all others. I enlisted in a Master’s programme at University
College Dublin and ended up staying in Ireland for two and half years. The
experience completely changed my views of life and language. I spent most of my time exploring the city, delighting
in exposure to its perpetual shower of words. It was at this stage that I began
to dedicate myself to Finnegans Wake. On my return to
Japan, I re-enrolled at the University of Tokyo and set to
work on a PhD on Joyce’s
your doctoral work genetic in its approach?
had started transcribing manuscript documents during my time in Dublin, at that
stage I still had no acquaintance with genetic criticism. My thesis fell squarely
within the parameters of traditional humanistic enquiry as it was carried out
in the 1980s and 1990s. The research I carried out for my thesis was on Joyce’s
treatment of identity and, specifically, on his cultivation of authorial
What do you regard as your central academic
I am trying to understand how
Joyce created Finnegans Wake. To this
endI am constructing The Finnegans Wake Genetic Research Archive.
This involves translating the contents of Joyce’s notebooks and manuscripts
into the language of computer code, and then using this digital representation
of the documents to map the relationships between the stages of the book’s
composition. My work can be divided into two
principal strands. On the one hand, I use Joyce’s notebook entries to identify
the textual sources of Finnegans Wake,
establishing what he was reading and when, and (though this is a far more
complicated question) determining what aspect of the Wake in mind. On the other hand, I chart the specific use Joyce
made of these sources by tracing the journey of each notebook jotting into the
published work. As a sideline to this core
research, I am collaborating with Robbert-Jan Henkes on an even more arcane endeavour
to reconstruct Joyce’s ‘lost’ notebooks – notebooks which, on the basis of
textual evidence, we positonce
mention the translation of Joyce’s texts and avant-textes (to use the parlance
of genetic critics) into computer code. How did you acquire the requisite
skills for such an undertaking?
When I first
started to study Joyce’s manuscripts, I relied solely on searchable Excel
spreadsheets to organize the data I was harvesting. Excel is a perfectly
serviceable software programme as far as such information storage is concerned,
but as a means of using the harvested data to achieve more than simple word
searches it leaves much to be desired. In 2012-3 I was granted a period of
sabbatical leave and decided to spend the time studying with Asanobu Kitamoto, a computer
specialist based at the National Institute of Informatics here in Tokyo. Under
his guidance I taught myself to convert the data I had already accumulated into
the TEI (or Text Encoding Initiative) XML format, thus making it ready for deployment on the Archive’s
Do you regard your project as pertaining to
the sciences or the humanities?
The coding component is scientific. But decisions as to how
to encode literary documents demand forms of interpretation and understanding which
are specific to the humanities.
At what point do you
expect your Genetic Research Archive to reach its destination on the
World Wide Web?
I am currently still in the
process of encoding Joyce’s manuscripts for the Wake. The task will take me another year
at least. Once that is done, I will turn my attention to Joyce’s notebooks.
Encoding those will take around ten years. The total project – the production of a truly
comprehensive and fully functional dynamic database – will not be completed in
my lifetime. My aim is to establish a foundation upon which others can build – a
system underpinned by a strong methodology and governed by a rigorous protocol
for the integration of future revisions.
this encoded representation of Joyce’s notes and drafts help answer questions
about the published text of Finnegans
What I am creating is a research archive or, to put the emphasis
elsewhere, a research tool. I do not
see it as my task to answer questions definitively. I am not creating an
edition, such as that which was being issued in the volumes of the (now
suspended) Finnegans Wake Notebooks at Buffalo, or that showcased by Danis Rose
and John O’Hanlon on the site of their James Joyce
would you pinpoint as the principal differences between the James Joyce Digital Archive, launched in
June 2018, and your own Genetic Research
some noteworthy differences. What Danis Rose and John O’Hanlon have produced on
their beautifully designed website seems to me to warrant description as a reader’s edition rather than a
researcher’s archive. Their intention is to provide an accurate, authentic text for the reader, and their
expertise eminently qualifies them to do the job. My archive, by contrast, is set
up to allow the researcher not just to access and browse the data I have
harvested but also to verify my transcriptions and analyses and add to them as
new sources are discovered and their relationship to Joyce’s drafts established.
I take this provisional, ‘work-in-progress’ approach because I strongly believe
that the Wakean geneticist’s work is
never done. The decipherment of Joyce’s various styles of handwriting, the
search for the sources of his notebook entries, the mapping of the
relationships between his manuscripts and his notebook jottings, the
restoration of the ‘lost’ notebooks: these are all enormous and ongoing
projects. Serious Joycean geneticists know that these tasks are so vast as only
achievable through collaboration.
My dream is to provide a dynamic matrix which will facilitate large-scale,
integrated cooperation among genetic scholars.
How important is it for literary research to
marshal the potentialities of new technologies?
I think it is very important and I very much look forward
to a time when technology will be harnessed far more fully than it is now. The
invention of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s completely altered the state
of play, providing a phenomenal tool for the Joycean source-hunter. It was an especially great
boon for someone like me living so far from libraries of European books and
journals. But beyond the massively enhanced search power it afforded the
scholarly community, the World Wide Web, also seems to me significant for enabling
us to see the
complex structure of Joyce’s manuscript archive in a new light, as a paper Web.
Joyce has emerged from the internet age as a kind of human scanner. What we
have discovered about his note-taking over the past two and a half decades is that
he was often interested in reading documents as a scanner would
‘read’ them – that is, in practising an intentionally superficial mode of
engagement driven more by the urge to excerpt words and phrases than to respond
to a text’s ideas. As such, his jottings seem to offer a window into the
functioning of the brain, a glimpse into how the mind interacts with print, an
insight into the reuse involved in creative acts.
It is an exciting time to be a Joycean. As more and more diverse
kinds of documents are made available online, scholars can draw on ever more
extensive and sophisticated machinic assistance in their navigation and
analysis of Finnegans Wake’s urtexts.
The opportunities for technologically aided progress are still momentous. Take
the James Joyce Archive.
Its 63 volumes are an invaluable resource. But in the era of the Internet and
Google Books there’s so much room – and so much need – for improvement. The
accessibility online of an exhaustive high-resolution, technicolour scan of
every item of Joyce’s archive (such as Google Books, for example, could
provide), would immediately open up new possibilities for exploration and lead the
way to answers which have so far proved elusive.
is the point in analysing what Joyce so painstakingly synthesized?
‘scanning’ I’ve just described is of course not the only process documented by
Joyce’s manuscripts. The ‘scanned’ materials inscribed in his hand were the
necessary components of his creativity. Genetic critics are not only interested
in acting as palaeontologists – excavating and tabulating the origins of
literary fossils – but also in trying to extrapolate from such particulars to
emit hypotheses about the creative process itself.
frequent are your contacts with the global Joycean community?
I have contacts with genetic
Joyceans both on and off a mailing list I started in the 1990s and which
comprises around 15 members. The group is not as active as it used to be, but
over the years many of its participants have been extremely helpful to me,
generously sharing unpublished notebook transcriptions and cheering me on when
I stumble upon useful information. Geert Lernout, whom I first met through this
virtual channel, was instrumental in enabling me to spend a year in Antwerp
studying Joyce’s transition notesheets
with his colleague Dirk Van Hulle, and in introducing me to many other genetic
scholars. Robbert-Jan Henkes, with whom I continue to collaborate a good deal,
has also been a highly encouraging interlocutor.
so much awe-inspiring source detection and computer wizardry to your name, do
you feel any closer to understanding what Finnegans
Wake is actually about?
I have read
it time and again, at different levels, by different methods; I go from sound
to sound, from word to word, from chapter to chapter. But will it surprise you if I
tell you that, having dedicated decades of my life to this book, I feel not a
single bit wiser about it than when I began. This might strike
some as a cause for frustration, but I just marvel at the uniqueness of a text
which can make even old hands like me feel like complete beginners.
there a sense in which the contemporary enthusiasm within Joyce studies for a computer-powered
form of source study reflects a collective resignation in the face of the
impossibility of making sense of the Wake
as a stand-alone text?
That is a
view one can take. I see the Wake’s resistance to
established modes of meaning-making as exalting rather than depressing. I’m
tempted to sound a more provocative note too, by asking whether such questions –
about sense and meaning-making – are as sound as they might seem, and, indeed, whether
they are not on the verge of becoming outdated.
you think of Finnegans Wake as a
successful work of art? Do you think of it as artat all?
To me it is definitely art,
because it is an entity created with extraordinary care and labour and because
it articulates what non-artists do not know (or feel the need to know) how to
And what is that?
To me what the book tries to
articulate is twofold. Firstly, it deals with what life is (as against, or
along with, what it is said to be). It is about what we are, what we do, and what
we cannot resist doing. Secondly, it is about how blind and deaf and mute we
are to all that lies beyond what we think we see and hear and say. To me, these
basic human limitations are what Joyce, through the development of his
wondrously impossible language, sought both to foreground and to overcome.
 Mikio Fuse, ‘Japanese
in VI.B.12: Some Supplementary Notes’, Issue 7 (Spring 2007), http://www.geneticjoycestudies.org/articles/GJS7/GJS7mikio
 Mikio Fuse,
‘Introduction to The Finnegans Wake
Genetic Research Archive (in Progress): Part 1. The Document Data,’ Genetic Joyce Studies, Issue 17 (Spring
 See Robbert-Jan Henkes
& Mikio Fuse, ‘INSIDE D1’, Genetic Joyce Studies, Issue 12 (Spring 2012), http://www.geneticjoycestudies.org/articles/GJS12/GJS12_Henkes_Fuse
 Mikio Fuse and Asanobu
Kitamoto’s work on the project is set out (in Japanese) in ‘Groundwork for a
TEI-based Digital Genetic Archive’, Proceedings
of IPSJ SIG Computers and the Humanities Symposium 2012, 2012-11, 143-150, http://id.nii.ac.jp/1001/00087014/