Finnegans Wake, James Joyce’s untranslatable dream

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“In the name of Annah the Everliving, the Bringer of Allmaziful, the Plurabilities, haloed be her eve, her singtime sung, her rill be run as it is uneven, unhemmed!”

This would be enough short/abstract glimpse to analyze the terrifying creature brought forth by James Joyce, one of the most eclectic and innovative minds of the 20th century, founder and INSPIRER of many currents that developed in the course of the century, modernism in Primis. The first taste of the stylistic and technical upheaval of the novel denoted the author can be identified already in his earlier works, in particular a portrait of the artist as a young man and Ulysses, who will be the preamble for creating a work that same author has called “insane, you can judge only in a century“.

The truth is that after almost 80 years after its publication (which took place in 1939, two years before the death of Joyce), a keystone to attempt to render our author’s thinking has not yet been found. Fior di writers from all over the globe have attempted in the arduous task of completing the reading comprehension of the manuscript, but is unsuccessful. The same Umberto Eco, landmark of Italian literature in 1962 stated that “Finnegans Wake is the most terrifying instability document formal and semantic ambiguity that you notice”.


Let’s analyze the core of the matter: because Finnegans Wake turns out to be the nightmare of translators and not only? Because it can translate a dream translated, where words are not the words of a language understood but unconscious language. The work is not that night counterpart of Ulysses. Just as Odysseus is the story of a single day in the life of Leopold Bloom, and at the same time, his whole life, and humanity itself, so it’s macroscopic Finnegans Wake Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker dreamlike night.

Ulysses closes with the stream of consciousness of the wife of Leopold, who doze talks about his life, and Finnegans Wake opens with a whisper that flows, with Adam and Eve and a fall that is also a thunder and that goes like “bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner”. In fact the core of the mammoth opera Joycean, is the use of so-called multilingual pun. In it the words are amalgamated and wedged into each other, in order to delineate the boundless dimensions of meaning: the conjoined twins are “soam heis”, “riverrun” is a Union of river and slide (the first word of the opera).

The basic problem is this: the only way to truly discern the true meaning of such terms would be entering the author’s head. It is perhaps for this reason that we must let the writing of Joyce as is in the wild, because any translation would be useless and would pollute indelibly marked message made by the author.


The history goes back to 1922, a year after the release of Ulysses. It was then that the boundless mind of Joyce gave birth to the idea of a new project, or “Work in progress” as defined by the author himself, who would become his worthy swan song. The title, Finnegans Wake, refers to an old Irish ballad that recounts the wake of a drunken, during which his friends make their freebies carousing with litres of alcohol. During an argument, those horrible gentry dropped a shot of whiskey on the corpse, it awakens (in fact “wake” means either “standby mode”, “wake up”, if stated as a verb). Joyce made her this title and changed “Finnegan’s” in “Finnegans”; for which the official title became Finnegans Wake, defined as “the vigil of Finnegan” or “Finnegans Wake”. Even the title can therefore take on myriad meanings, as Finn is a giant of Irish mythology, whereby the term “Finn again” could prove to be an exhortation to the spirit of the rescue. Another interpretation comes from Latin, where negans is the present participle of denying and therefore “negans wake” represents a vigil, or an awakening that denies the end.

As you can see from the very beginning it is clear that only the most erudite among readers can grasp the meaning of Finnegans Wake and it is no coincidence that the first to undertake this tremendous adventure Joyciani were convinced such as Marshall McLuhan and Umberto Eco. It seems that James Joyce would like to leave an indelible mark of himself having a unique creation and that, according to his predictions, can be judged a lucid madness from the rest of us in another 20 years.

In conclusion the stunning record of Samuel Beckett, another of Joyce’s Loyalists, who perhaps before everyone understands the true essence of his writing, made “not only to be read, because you also have to look at it and listen to it; Joyce’s writing is not about something, is that something “.

“Lord, heap miseries upon us yet entwine our arts with laughters low.” 

“The Gracehoper was always jigging akkant of his joyicity, hoppy ajog on.” 

“So weenybeenyveenyteeny.” 

“And you’ll miss me more as the explicit weeks wing by. Someday duly, oneday truly, twosday newly, till whensday. ” 

Finnegans Wake by James Joyce is at Amazon
Cover Image: Max Beckmann, La Notte (detail)

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