Finnegans Wake at 80 in Dublin

History of Joyce Music by Sara Jewell

Finnegans Wake, the book that has baffled and delighted readers since 1939, turns eighty this year. To celebrate this monumental publication anniversary, there are multiple events scheduled in Dublin this spring, which explore the book through a variety of academic, artistic, and popular approaches.

The festivities begin April 11-13 with “Finnegans Wake at 80” , a symposium organized by Sam Slote at Trinity College Dublin. With an emphasis on genetic analysis of the text as well as Joyce’s manuscripts and notes, the symposium features three days of academic presentations and includes keynotes by Chrissie Van Mierlo and Tim Conley.

“James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake is many things,” says Sam Slote, “but it is not always easy to agree about which things it may or may not be, a book of ‘changending constancies’, a ‘laughsworth of illformation’, and a ‘hiberniad of hoolies’. Its playful and mesmerising obscurity have elicited numerous responses and reactions in the eighty years since its first full publication.”

The symposium is significant because it marks a major shift in the way Finnegans Wake is received in academic circles. “When I was graduate student, papers – let alone whole panels – on the Wake at Joyce symposia were few and far between,” explains Slote. “Whereas for the past ten years or so, symposia have been filled with many excellent papers and panels on the Wake. ‘Finnegans Wake at 80′ is, I believe, only the third conference fully devoted to the Wake and, certainly, the first in Ireland.”

In addition to the scheduled papers and presentations, the symposium’s roundtable on translating Finnegans Wake with Congrong Dai; Robbert-Jan Henkes & Erik Bindervoet; Enrico Terrinoni is sure to provide fascinating perspective on the Wake’s multilingual nature. “With its many languages, Finnegans Wake could be said to be about translation,” says Slote, “and likewise, in some weird, even perverse manner, translation is about Finnegans Wake — that is, the Wake tells us something about what translation can and cannot do.”

The “Finnegans Wake at 80” symposium is sponsored by the Trinity Long Room Hub, the Trinity Centre for Literary and Cultural Translation, the Making Ireland research theme, and the James Joyce Centre, Dublin. On Friday, April 12, the Joyce Centre will also host a special Wake reading group for symposium speakers.

Immediately following the symposium conclusion on Saturday, April 13, Genevieve Sartor is organizing a special afternoon event entitled “Lucia Joyce: Perspectives,” in the Trinity Long Room Hub at Trinity and supported by the School of English.

“The event will feature presentations and performance to explore the qualities of Lucia’s character, her influence on contemporary writers, playwrights and dancers, as well as her impact on Finnegans Wake,” explains Sartor. While taking place at Trinity College, Sartor seeks to make thoughtful approaches to Lucia and her legacy more accessible, and the event is geared toward a general audience.

The festivities continue at the James Joyce Centre with the “Finnegans Wake-End,” May 3rd through 5th, with a full programme of events supported by Ireland’s Department for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The “Wake-End” features Gavan Kennedy’s “Finnegan Wakes Film Project,” a participatory project that captures readers around the world reading from the Wake. Kennedy previously filmed readers at the Ossenmarkt plaza in Antwerp during the 2018 James Joyce Symposium. Kennedy and Wake scholar Finn Fordham also ventured to Burning Man to record readers on the playa last September.

Kennedy asks participants to read their passage while accompanied by a piece of instrumental music, which he finds helps readers to find a rhythm within the daunting text. “The goal is to bring Wake’s lyricism to life, and in doing so, to invoke meaning in an otherwise often ungraspable work that has baffled many a determined journeyer,” explains Kennedy.

The filming project is perfect for the Joyce Centre, which seeks to bridge academic and popular audiences through innovative yet accessible approaches to the legacy of Joyce, an author often championed but seldom read in his home country. “This event provides a valuable opportunity either to get to know Joyce’s last work for the first time, or to deepen knowledge one already has,” explains Terence Killen, the Centre’s Research Scholar, who leads a reading workshop on Saturday afternoon of the “Wake-End.”

In addition to three nights of filming — two nights at the Joyce Centre, and Sunday night at Sweny’s Pharmacy — the “Wake-End” will feature a walking tour, evening performances, and a panel discussion led by Centre manager Jessica Peel-Yates and featuring Gavan Kennedy, Genevieve Sartor, and Derek Pyle. Pyle, best-known for his project Waywords and Meansigns, co-produces the “Wake-End” with the Joyce Centre, and he will also curate an audio-visual installation for “Finnegans Wake at 80.”

As Finnegans Wake marches into its eighth decade, the Joyce’s famously obscure work shows no signs of disappearing into the past. As Sam Slote explains, “the past few years have been a very interesting period for Wake studies with much new significant work, especially from younger scholars.” While met with dismay and confusion from many would-be readers upon its first publication in 1939, perhaps the 21st century is the book’s golden era.