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Interview with Professor Mikio Fuse

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.

Mikio 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 Wake.[1]

How 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 works.

Was your doctoral work genetic in its approach?

Although I 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 impersonality.

What do you regard as your central academic project?

I am trying to understand how Joyce created Finnegans Wake. To this endI am constructing The Finnegans Wake Genetic Research Archive.[2] 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 existed.[3]

You 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 online platform.[4]

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.

Does this encoded representation of Joyce’s notes and drafts help answer questions about the published text of Finnegans Wake?

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 Digital Archive.

What would you pinpoint as the principal differences between the James Joyce Digital Archive, launched in June 2018, and your own Genetic Research Archive?

There are 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 to be 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.

What is the point in analysing what Joyce so painstakingly synthesized?

The mental ‘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.

How 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.

With 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.

Is 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.

Do 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 articulate.

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.


[1] Mikio Fuse, ‘Japanese in VI.B.12: Some Supplementary Notes’, Issue 7 (Spring 2007), http://www.geneticjoycestudies.org/articles/GJS7/GJS7mikio

[2] Mikio Fuse, ‘Introduction to The Finnegans Wake Genetic Research Archive (in Progress): Part 1. The Document Data,’ Genetic Joyce Studies, Issue 17 (Spring 2017), http://www.geneticjoycestudies.org/articles/GJS17/GJS17_Fuse

[3] See Robbert-Jan Henkes & Mikio Fuse, ‘INSIDE D1, Genetic Joyce Studies, Issue 12 (Spring 2012), http://www.geneticjoycestudies.org/articles/GJS12/GJS12_Henkes_Fuse

[4] 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/