“Finnegans Wake: What It’s All About” — Anthony Burgess

Books, Literature, Writers

Read Anthony Burgess’s essay on James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. From said essay—

In his dream HCE, as we shall now call him, tries to make the whole of history swallow up his guilt for him. His initials are made to stand for the generality of sinful man, and they are expanded into slogans like “Here Comes Everybody” and “Haveth Childers Everywhere”. After all, sexual guilt presupposes a certain creative, or procreative, vitality, and a fall only comes to those who are capable of an erection. The unquenchable vitality appears in “our Human Conger Eel” (despite the “down, wantons, down” of the eel-pie-maker in King Lear); the erector of great structures is seen in “Howth Castle and Environs”. From the point of view of the ultimate dreamer of the dream, though (the author himself), “HCE” has a structural task to perform. As a chemical formula (H2CE3) or as a genuine vocable (“hec” or “ech” or even “Hecech”) it holds the dream down to its hero, is sewn to it like a mono­gram-HCE: his dream. But HCE has, so deep is his sleep, sunk to a level of dreaming in which he has become a collective being rehearsing the collective guilt of man. Man falls, man rises so that he can fall again; the sequence of falling and rising goes on till doomsday. The record of this, expressed in the lives of great men, in the systems they make and unmake and remake, is what we call history.

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