by Dominic Ward
I thought we’d take some time out of our usual monthly glance at writing and technique to focus solely on the writings of James Joyce, a writer considered by many to represent the absolute genius of the art form. But the Joycean canon is large enough to keep us in discussion for more than a decade or two, so let’s focus down even further on to his final work, Finnegan’s Wake. The Wake is a phenomenal work, a visit inside a dream, or the dream state. And, more importantly, it is mind map of Joyce’s internal creative process – a rare insight into the sub-conscious mechanisms that drive creative expression. Forget MRIs. You discover how to read the Wake, you discover the raw substance of creation; you see inside the functioning brain of an artist. I’m getting ahead of myself – let me slow things down, go back and clarify all of this spew and show you exactly what it all means for the writer.
James Joyce was a Dubliner. Genetically, he was predisposed to a creative use of language. If you doubt me on this one, you really haven’t come far with me on my journey. Nonsense aside, Joyce was a romantic poet in a novelist’s trim, serious suit and jacket. Alcohol played its part in all of this of course, as did his passions for Nora, which were, inextricably, ephemeral. His genius declared young, Joyce nevertheless took his time building his great works. He was already a man in exile when Ulysses was finally finished and published. But, dammit, the way the man could put two words together, that was just something special, something ethereal. Which brings us to the Wake. Joyce had created perfect union between romantic poetry and prose in Ulysses. The only possible direction he could then go was to take the full step into the swirling madness of the abyss that had allowed him to carefully design the union of Ulysses. For only in fully succumbing to those forces of the subconscious he had channeled so well in his last work could he hope to top that work. And so the visionary states of the Wake came to be.
Now the Wake cannot be read like an ordinary Dan Brown or a Franzen. No, one needs a special method to enjoy the mad rush of ink that represents the Wake. Seemingly indecipherable to the logical brain, you must let go your conscious and read from that same part of your brain where you dream and day dream. And that is the same way that Joyce wrote it, placing all his creative energy in the dream cortex. He wrote entirely from his sub-conscious. Similar to automatic writing, really. Except, and here is the big point score of this month’s article, Joyce controlled the depth and angle of his dive into the birthing waters of the sub-conscious. Jung agrees with me on this, declaring that the only cognitive difference between the essential madness of Joyce’s beloved daughter’s schizophrenia and the writing of the Wake is that Joyce had some control over his ascent/descent into the sub-conscious whereas his daughter had none.
Whatever you think of Joyce, this is a technique you can learn from. It’s not easy and it takes a lot of practice to start getting usable results. But it’s worth the effort, trust me. Because you’re either Dionysian or Apollonian, a thoroughbred or a Clydesdale.
Dominic Ward’s new novel is Prism and Graded Monotony.