“It’s not just a stream of gibberish” |On Illustrating Finnegans Wake


At The Honest Ulsterman, Darran Anderson talks with Stephen Crowe about illustrating James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake in his project Wake in Progress. From the interview:

DA: Do you approach the book as a puzzle or a palette? Do you try to make your artwork close to what Joyce might have meant or do you embrace the possibilities of your own interpretations? Is it possible or even desirable to try to work out what Joyce meant?

SC: Clearly Joyce meant to say something – it’s not just a stream of gibberish. So as an illustrator I think I owe it to the text to try to understand as much of it as I can. I try to figure out at least a couple of different ways to interpret every passage, but I certainly don’t exhaust every avenue. There’s a limit to how much information I can cram into the illustrations anyway. On the other hand, I do think that there are portions of the book where it’s not really important to understand it on a semantic level. Joyce was deeply influenced by music in his writing, and I think it’s fine to appreciate some of the book quite passively, as if it were music. I would agree that there’s no such thing as “understanding” the book entirely. Partial incomprehensibility is part of its design.


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