Last night I finnished the Anna Livia Plurabelle chapter, and with it the first half of the Wake (eight out of sixteen chapters) or the first third of the Wake (200ish out of 600ish pages) or the first quarter of the Wake (first out of four books).
At this point, I’m tempted to consult some secondary literature for kicks, and blessed with a Borders gift card I got Joseph Campbell’s Skeleton Key to Finnegan’s Wake and Giambattista Vico’s New Science.
The Skeleton Key I must admit I’m wary of. I got it as various people from David Earwigger Medine to the venerable Finnegans Wake Society of New York recommend it as an essential book. OK. But upon opening it up, I find that much of it “translates” the Wake into plain English, which necessarily flattens out the whole thing. Even in the introduction of the book, the opening statement “Finnegans Wake is a mighty allegory of the fall and resurrection of mankind” strikes me as depressingly two-dimensional. Still, it could be a handy reference if used gingerly. I’m just worried about the movie effect—you see a disappointing movie of a favorite book and when you got back to the book try as you might you can’t get Daniel Radcliffe or whoever out of your head as you’re reading.
I’m much more excited about Vico, whose name stirred me as a college freshman for its mystery and resemblance to the villain of Ghostbusters II (“So be it…”). Vico, for those who were napping in post-Renaissance Intellectual History was an 18th century Italian thinker whose writing was a major influence on the Wake. I understand that Joyce was primarily inspired by Vico’s conception of cyclical time, of history moving through cycles. The back of my newly arrived edition of New Science emphasizes Vico’s breaking away from the widespread adulation of the Romans and Greeks to point out that they were in fact genuinely weird. What’s his deal? I shall do my best to discover and report.