Finnegans Wake – the last word in literary fiction – a spell-binding use of language – but what’s it all about?
“ What Joyce is doing, then is to make his hero relive the whole of history in a night’s sleep. The history is not what we learned at school—a chronological treadmill of kings and ministers and wars and revolutions. It is rather a special way of looking at history—less a parade of historical facts than a pattern that seeks to explain those facts. The pattern is loosely derived from the Italian philosopher Giovanni Battista Vico (1668-1744), who wrote an important book called La Scienza Nuova, in which he presented history not as a straight line but as a circular process of recurrences. If we say that Finnegans Wake is based on this book we shall be right, but only in the sense that we are right when we say that the same author’s Ulysses is based on Homer’s Odyssey. Both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are primarily works of fiction, and Vico and Homer are enlisted only to help with the telling of a story. Finnegans Wake is not an interpretation of Vico, and Vico is not much of a key to the difficulties in Finnegans Wake. What Joyce found in Vico was what every novelist needs when planning a long book—a scaffolding, a backbone.”
From Anthony Burgess Introduction to A Shorter Finnegans Wake, Published by Faber