James Joyce on Finnegans Wake

James Joyce Describes Finnegans Wake

‘We are both somewhat dazed by the heavy heat here. I work every day at my big long wide high deep dense prosework.’ 

Joyce to Giorgio and Helen Joyce, 1 June 1934. Letters III p.306

Joyce loved talking about ‘Work in Progress’, as it was known until publication. The best single source of these conversations is Portraits of the Artist in Exile, edited by Willard Potts, which every Wake lover should seek out.

From that book, here’s Ole Vinding, who interviewed Joyce in Copenhagen in 1936:

‘I haven’t lived a normal life since 1922, when I began ‘Work in Progress’. It demands an enormous amount of concentration. I want to describe the night itself.Ulysses is related to this book as day is to night. Otherwise there is no connection between the two books. Ulysses did not require the same amount of concentration. Since 1922 my book has become more real to me than reality, and everything has led to it; all other things have been insurmountable difficulties, even the smallest realities such as, for instance, having to shave in the morning. There are, so to say, no individual people in the book – it is as in a dream, the style gliding and unreal as the way it is in dreams. If one were to speak of a person in the book, it would have to be of an old man, but even his relationship with reality is doubtful.’

Ole Vinding, ‘James Joyce in Copenhagen’,  in Portraits of the Artist in Exile (ed Willard Potts), pp 149