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Joyce's Book of the Dark: Finnegans Wake (Mark H Ingraham Prize) Paperback – June 15, 1993
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“Mr. Bishop has ventured on the process more boldly, more thoroughly, more imaginatively and more informedly than any of his predecessors. He makes the text comment on itself, as it was constructed to do; but, knowing the whole thing by heart (as I surmise), he is able to multiply a thousandfold the concords and discords of which a reader is aware, and to amplify them through an impressive array of theoretical circuitry.”—Robert M. Adams, New York Times Book Review
“Bishop shows a masterful command of the text and its nuances; but of even greater importance is his sense of the comic flair and wit that so distinguishes this ‘funferall’; it is the mark of a true Joycean. Because of its freshness of approach and positive contribution, it belongs in all libraries housing even a preliminary Wake collection.”—Choice
“Though it is well known that Joyce claimed that his intention in Finnegans Wake was to ‘reconstruct the nocturnal life,’ Bishop is the first scholar to see in this notion the key to Joyce’s wildly obscure masterpiece. His reading of Finnegans Wake as a night-book produces a new sense of the book’s form, shape, and structure. In his reading, Freud, Vico, and the Egyptian Book of the Dead take on new meaning, and his accounts of the geography and sexuality of the Wake are fascinating. Bishop brings a rare command of the text to his difficult enterprise, and the organization and prose are models of clarity. ‘You is feeling like you was lost in the bush, boy?’ Joyce’s Book of the Dark will help all serious readers of the Wake get their bearings.”—Keith Cushman, Library Journal
About the Author
John Bishop is associate professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley.
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Surely it's the largest and most exciting critical treatment Joyce's book has received thus far. It's big, about the width of a coffee table book while running about 500 pages thick. There are anatomical diagrams, beautiful two-page spreads with branching etymological charts, and other illustrations. There's a huge section of notes, many of which are extremely fascinating and could send you off on long tangential paths.
Most importantly, Bishop displays a vast knowledge of the text as he delivers his unique thesis. He begins with the theory that underlying all of Finnegans Wake is one sleeping body, then builds up his argument over 12 chapters culminating in one of the most unique (and well-argued) ideas about the Wake you'll ever find. It's a tour de force, an intellectual thrillride that will not only change how one views FW but also the experience of sleep in general. That's really what this entire book amounts to: it's a study of what happens to us when we sleep.
Bishop's perspective is only one way of seeing the Wake, though. There are myriad angles to approach Joyce's kaleidoscopic masterpiece. And while Bishop presents his view rigorously, he also leaves out discussing plenty of themes from the Wake. "Joyce's Book of the Dark" is definitely NOT an introductory work nor is it a comprehensive guidebook for the Wake. He doesn't cover the ancillary characters all that much, certainly doesn't attempt to examine all of the Wake's sections, and neglects to discuss elements of the book that may not fit with his theory (all of the Tristan and Isolde stuff, for instance). His prose can also be challenging to read because he frequently weaves together quotes from all over the Wake, making Bishop's book about 30-40% direct Wake quotes.
It's not an EASY read but it's sure as hell an enjoyable and enlightening one.
The Wake deserves more books like this. For now, we can all settle for plumbing the depths of Bishop's rich and illuminating study.
From Bishop's text, pages 4-7: "Suppose we charged ourselves with the task of providing in chronological order a detailed account of everything that occurred to us NOT last night ... but in the first half-hour of last night's sleep. The 'hole affair' [535.20], (and a 'hole', unlike a 'whole', has no content), will likely summon up a sustained 'blank memory' [515.33]: 'You wouldn't should as youd remesner, I hypnot' [360.23-24]. What would become equally obscure, even questionable, is the stability of identity... No one remembers the experience of sleep at all as a sequence of events linked chronologically in time by cause and effect."
Joyce remarked to his friend William Bird: "About my new work - do you know, Bird, I confess I can't understand some of my critics, like Pound or Miss Weaver, for instance. They say it's *obscure*. They compare it, of course, with Ulysses. But the action of Ulysses was chiefly in the daytime, and the action of my new work takes place chiefly at night. It's natural things should not be so clear at night, isn't it now?"
Bishop's book is superb scholarship and a major key to understanding the dream and sleep aspects of Finnegans Wake.