Bahman Zarrinjooee

If Ovid tells of “bodies changed to other forms,”(1) James Joyce tells of the metamorphosed languages, cultures and The Thousand and One Nights in Finnegans Wake. Many Hermes-like readers, and critics who are “always between something understood and something to be understood,”(2) attend the meetings, speaking one language and discussing Joyce’s multidimensional-language texts in the hope of gaining control over them. Their questions and arguments concerning Joyce’s texts are questions about the meaning of such texts as being, at the same time the questions leading to the observation of the self. Derek Attridge argues that the Wake is a text that “will never be mastered, never dominated or exhausted by interpretation, nor will it ever offer itself up unproblematically as a single set of meanings.”(3) In a similar vein, Umberto Eco argues that it is “impossible to read Finnegans Wake except as a huge intertextual laboratory—unless you want to read it out loud to enjoy it as pure music.”(4) This might be originated in the migration of meanings, the outcropping of codes, the passage of citations and the indeterminacy of the origin of the stories that makes it a plural text with a “polyglot language”(5) which sets up across its instability. Therefore, the text is moving in an indeterminable network of meanings or in the plurality of cultural codes, unhinging all the borderlines which might limit the readers.

Much has been written about the Wake regarding the“possibility of rediscovering or reinventing a pre-Babelic language, a language common to all humanity, capable of expressing the nature of things through a kind of innate homology between things and words.”(6) Hans-Georg Gadamer reminds us that “the story of the Tower of Babel too indicates the fundamental significance of language for human life.”(7) In addition Eco argues, during the “year when Dublin is being celebrated as the European cultural capital, it is appropriate to reflect on the fact that the search for a perfect language was and continues to be a typically European phenomenon.”(8) Such arguments indicate man’s attempts in searching a universal system of communication, and discovering the original language of human from his first babbling of an articulate sort. It seems that Joyce’s attempt in the Wake familiarizes a universal discourse, of all forms of discourse into a single text, of all cultures into a single universal culture; in short, of the whole world into one book. In fact, in the Wake, Joyce attempts to restore the “conditions of a perfect language through his own personal literary invention, and to overcome the “post-Babelic chaos not by rejecting it but by accepting it as the only possibility: Joyce never tried to place himself on this side or the far side of the Tower, he wanted to live inside it.”(9) The tower of Babel, in the Wake, simply becomes the Woolworth Building and the fall of man the fall of stocks in Wall Street. All histories, things, times, events, actions, stories, battles, games, races, and people are neighbours; at the same time, all man’s languages are comprehensible. Therefore, the Wake “is nat language at any sinse of the world” (FW 83.12) but the babble of Babel and the product of its fall; it has a “perfect language” (FW 424.23-4). Where English does end and where the non-English languages do begin, is determined by both the text and the readers through the process of reading. The Wake which is composed of “a jetsam of literage,” (FW 292. 16) and “every dimmed letter in it is a copy and not a few of the silbils and wholly words,” this intertextual “stolentelling” (FW 424. 30-5) signifies the role of other languages. It shifts from one language/culture to another, and opens itself up according to the reader’s interests while tracing his own language among other languages. In it, as a multicultural text in which one culture reciprocally transcribes another and languages overlap each other, it is the language that speaks.

My argument is focused on the Wake’s diverse language which plays an important role in the reader’s experience, knowledge, understanding and conceptualising the world. Moreover, my purpose is to show how the reader, here a Persian, retains the possibility of free movement back to himself, and how his knowledge in reading the Wake, makes him trace his own language, a “language that is not only his but also proportionate to the original.”(10) Finally, I want to show how such a reader is seeing and being seen, a gazer/gazee, while tracing Persian language in the Wake.


Man is an essentially linguistic living being who possesses logos; in its primary meaning the word is language. Moreover, “language is the universal medium in which understanding occurs”;(11) in short, understanding is language-bound. The reader’s access to the world, and to anything that might show up within the world, is structured by language as a place where meaning circulates and human knowledge takes place. It is from language that “our whole experience of the world” “unfolds”;(12) hence, centralising language. Focusing on the significance and function of language, one might see that Joyce, in the Wake, puts emphasis on this point that man lives within a language.

The being of the world as world is verbal in nature, so is the Wake’s world. As the characters grow into the text’s language, worldview, and as the reader grows into it, it introduces both the characters and reader to a particular orientation and relationship to the world. Therefore, the reader gains experience and knowledge of the world by means of Joycean language regarding the way the potential language of his text acts to create institutions, social bonds, cultural codes, emotional effects, and modified realities originated in all cultures. Moreover, the reader’s understanding of the Wake is in a dialectical process of question and answer. At one point the reader and the text are conversing agreeably. At another moment either the reader or the text remains dumb and there might be no sign of agreement. At one more moment either the text challenges with the reader or the reader challenges with the text, particularly a text like the Wake which is written for many “generations, more generations and still more generations” (FW 107.35).

Gadamer states that, “all understanding is interpretation,” and “all interpretation takes place in the medium of language that allows the object to come into words and yet is at the same time the interpreter’s own language.”(13) Having an eye on the preceding points, one might see to what extent Joyce’s conceptualising the words of all languages is highly under discussion. In understanding the Wake, the reader shares a basic agreement about the possible meanings in the text, and the issue at hand; in other words, the reader challenges to come to an agreement with the text, which is something that occurs mostly through language. To understand the Wake is to reconstruct the meanings of the text according to the reader’s presuppositions, to put and articulate something into words. But reading the Wake is somehow different from that of the other texts. Margot Norris argues that to begin reading the Wake is like taking a journey in a boat having a “tour guide” who speaks his own language.(14) The reader catches enough cognates to keep himself from drowning in that unknown verbal stream. Even though he might not understand completely that foreign language, he tries to associate himself with what he encounters throughout the text based on his own cultural codes. His verbal experience of the world through Joyce’s text has the capacity to “embrace the most varied relationship of life.”(15)

Joyce’s verbiage, malapropism as “impermanent waves” (FW 101. 30), pun and portmanteau words invite every reader to travel in this adventurous world of various languages and cultures, which helps the readers to experience different cultural signs. It is indicated in the form of some digressions or distortions. For instance, he distorts in every possible direction the writing and pronunciation of Dublin as “Dobbelin,” “Dyoublong,” “Dbln,” “durlbin,” “Doublends,” “Devlin,” to name just a few (FW 7.12; 13.4, 14; 19.12; 20.16; 24.25). His verbiage is a form of English, supplemented by foreign words, such as the game of the twenty-nine leap-year girls who use a name which, according to William York Tindall, “are words for peace in twenty-nine languages.”(16)

Joyce even calls Isabel’s or Issy’s twenty-eight friends by a list of names which includes two Persian names “Hilda” and “Mina” (FW 147.12-13). All women of the Wake, under whatever names, Mrs Earwicker, Issy , or Shahrzad, are aspects of A. L. P., as all men, whatever their names, Mr. Earwicker, Shem, Shaun, Cyrus, Shahriyar, etc., are H. C. E. “Earwicker, that patternmind, that paradigmatic ear, receptoretentive as his if Dionysius” (FW 70-1) is not only an outsider but also an insider “all the eddams ended with aves” (FW 69. 10-11), he is Shem and Shaun, father and son and “he skall wake from earthsleep, haught crested elmer, in his valle of briers of Greenman’s Rise O, (lost leaders live! the heroes return!)” (FW 74. 1-3). Through reading this novel, the reader enters into “the panaroma of all flores of speech” (FW 143. 3-4).


Every reader who “studies a foreign language and literature retains the possibility of free movement back to himself, and thus is at once both here and there” at every moment.(17) As a being that is always concerned about its own being, human existence is always concerned with and in search of orientation. The Wake as an attempt to search for such an orientation is acted out in some sort of attuned understanding, the reader’s abilities, and his capacities that make up entire realisation of his experience. On the one hand, Joyce’s carnival of languages “caricatures the slippery qualities of language, which prevent it from supplying a consistent model of the universe or permitting a conclusive reading of a text”;(18) on the other hand, the reader challenges to overcome the Wake and master its language. The horizon of understanding and thus the meaning of the text cannot be limited either by what Joyce originally had in mind or by the horizon of the reader to whom the text was originally addressed. The important point is whether the reader’s interpretation of the Wake takes distance from the original, similar to the process in which “one views the distance between one’s own opinion and its contrary as ultimately unbridgeable.”(19) Consequently, the reader perpetually encounters “a sense of reality” which makes him “the victim of his own hallucinations.”(20)

The Wake opens a very appropriate space for every reader who has no preconceptions; in this way, Joyce invites all readers, “Freudians (115) and Marxists, (116) paleographers, epigraphists, linguists, and probably epistemologists.”(21) In fact, Joyce writes the Wake for a universal reader, especially as he says, for “an ideal reader suffering from an ideal insomnia” (FW 120. 13-14). In addition, one might see that “Shem the Penman” (FW 125.23) writes the universal story or letter and indicates that “the words which follow may be taken in any order desired, hole of Aran [Iran] man the hat through the whispering his ho (here keen again and begin again to make soundsense and sensesound kin again)” (FW 121.12-16).

The Wake is like a letter written by Joyce or Shem the Penman and carried by Shaun the Postman while addressing every reader. The letter itself makes a universe, in which the readers get along as they are able; in Mutt’s words, he “who runes may rede it on all fours” (FW 18. 5-6). In spite of the fact that there are endless elaborations, lists of events, stories and variations which might be understood differently by various readers, Joyce writes: “(Stoop) if you are abcedminded, to this claybook, what curios of signs (please stoop), in this allaphbed! Can you rede (since We and Thou had it out already) its world? It is the same told of all. Many” (FW 18. 17-20). This structural and thematic tautology governs the world of the Wake. De facto, Joyce invites all the ideal readers of the world or that universal ideal reader to read his interweaving stories within stories, “Efter thousand yaws, […] yow will be belined to the world” (FW 156. 19-20) after thousand nights, “Ofter thousand yores” (FW 156. 21) or years.

Joyce’s use of various forms of wordplays, “once current puns, quashed quotatoes, messes of mottage” (FW 183. 22-3), etc., makes the process of reading the Wake exhaustive; therefore, every sentence is present to be read and re-read and different readers might find variety of meanings. Paradoxically, different readers make the Wake impossible to hypothesise a typical reader. If we have a group of readings, one might see that “each member of the group contributes his or her particular insights, which in turn trigger others, in a process which creates a growing network of meanings and patterns.”(22) The group of readers might “see all there may remain to be seen” (FW 113. 32-3). Each reader strives to liberate himself from the constraints of his own language, from the interpreters whom he might substitute for Joyce, and from his own blindness to shed more light on his anticipation, to expand his insight and to understand the languages of the Wake, at the same time he is engaged in understanding both himself and the world.


The reader’s self-understanding is always in part a socio-cultural act, one in which understanding one’s context becomes a necessary part of any act of personal reflection. This means that unmediated access to the self, either through supposedly pure reflection or introspection is impossible. To understand the self also requires an inquiry of the cultural and linguistic forms of one’s life world; i.e., self-understanding passes through the detour of understanding the cultural signs. Reading the Wake is a means of observing and interpreting the self; i.e., the process is a mutual interpretation between the reader and the text through which both the reader and the text open up themselves to each other. The difference is that the Wake invites the readers from all over the world to participate and co-operate in the act of reading actively and creatively; hence, Here Comes Everybody. In reading the Wake, the Persian reader, one out of thousands, might focus his gaze on the Persian words or expressions which are understood as the manifestation of a life-experience that his understanding actually strives to re-enact and reconstruct. Throughout this process, he makes what is ambiguous intelligible based on Persian language. At the same time, his understanding of the Wake implies an element of self-observation, in the sense that it is always a possibility of his own self that is played out in understanding. Moreover, he has to move outside the Wake to make inferential walks, to gather intertextual support for understanding what he is reading.

The Persian reader’s gaze moves from one foreign word to the next one in the hope of recognising a Persian word, converging with the text while unfolding both the dynamic features of the text and himself. Despite his attempts to speak the Wake’s language, the language speaks him. Above all, the Wake never leads its readers to a “transcendental perception, intuition, or knowledge,”(23) rather it triggers many readers, even the Persian reader, in a process which creates a growing network of meanings as well as patterns. Thus, Joyce makes a free market of languages, which needs an international co-operation to be read, understood and interpreted. As an example out of the galaxy of words in this universal culture, one might refer to the frequent use of the word ‘nightingale’ in different languages:

We are now diffusing among our lovers of this sequence (to you! to you!) the dewfolded song of the naughtingels […] in rosescenery haydyng […] Mount Saint John’s Jinnyland, whither our allies winged by duskfoil from Moore-parque, swift sanctuary seeking, […] (Oiboe! Hitherzither! Almost dotty! I must dash!) to pour their peace in partial (floflo floreflorence), sweetishsad lightandgayle, twittwin twosingwoolow. Let everie sound of a pitch keep still in resonance, jemcrow, jackdaw, prime and second with their terce that whoe betwides them, now full theorbe, now dulcifair, and when we press of pedal (sof!) pick out and vowelise your name. (FW 359.31-6; 360.1-6)

The passage indicates the “song of the naughtingels” or nightingales, i.e., the same as “lightandgayle.” The cluster of words such as “winged,” “swift,” “sanctuary,” “jemcrow,” “jackdaw,” “Hitherzither,” or hither-and thither movement of the bird flight refer to the movements and the sounds of nightingale. Furthermore, the words ‘Bolbol’ and ‘bulbul’ are the Persian words for nightingale, as Joyce says “the mockingbird whose word is misfortune, so ’tis said, the bulbul down the wind” (FW 476.1-2). This bird sings throughout the night in the season of mating, but its song is different from that of the other birds. In Persia, it is known as the bird of one thousand tales, because it sings different songs none of them similar to each other. In its universal symbolic significance, the nightingale is esteemed for its perfect songs. It is the songster of love in the enclosing darkness. Through its beautiful song, which enthrals the listening darkness, the nightingale signifies the magician who makes his hearers oblivious of the dangers of the day. Similar to Shahrzad and her tales in The Thousand and One Nights, if the two lovers listen to the nightingale they will remain together but in danger of death. In The Thousand and One Nights, Shahrzad plays with the King of Persia through postponing her stories; similarly Joyce plays with the readers through the Wake’s metamorphosed language. There is a parallelism in Shahrzad’s postponing her endless stories, the bulbul’s song and Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. In Persia, during the Bloomsday, the bulbuls are singing their enthralling songs of one thousand stories. As the time of mating for the bulbul comes to its end, the bird stops singing its songs until the next one thousand years, “Efter thousand yaws […] Ofter thousand yores,” (FW 156.19-23) ad infinitum.

Joyce paves the way for practicing a perspective that is continually moving and changing based on the ways the reader makes sense of the Wake. Similar to the mina-bird, Joyce’s Persian reader is supposed to read in his own language or to read the words in different languages while trying to recognise to which language they might belong, even if he might (mis)understand the significations of such words in that given language and culture. Consequently, he begins to write his one thousand and one interpretations based on his own disposition. This Persian ideal reader gazes at the words, as being a gazee, decides, shifts from one decision to the next, transforms his expectations, he might also question, accept or reject in a dialectical process of tracing the signs of Persian language and culture in the Wake. In this way, he is struggling with the Wake to confirm his expectations, reveals and determines one of the text’s potential unheard thousands stories. Moreover, through reading the Wake, he might find out that the text mirrors him, his disposition, at the same time directs him to one possibility out of one thousand and one possibilities which in turn mirrors him ad infinitum. The endless process of mirroring, regarding Joyce’s ideal reader, shows that the Wake is a potential postmodern text full of potential mirrors; in Jean-Michel Rabate`’s words, “weird multimirror[s].”(24)

By giving the reader a sense of being individual subjects through addressing him in the Wake in certain ways, Joyce constructs his individual ideal reader. Joyce’s reader like Finnegan, “must become a ‘gaylambouring’ man, as full of knowledge as falling Adam, alert as the rising son.”(25) Through populating the Persian words with his own intentions, his own accent, when appropriates the words, adapting the words to his own semantic and expressive intention and creating a new meaning which is new to the text, the Persian reader can make the language his own. He traces the Persian words, signs, cultural codes etc., in the hope of assimilating his thoughts, himself with that of Joyce and the text. Having an eye on the other readers, he translates the untranslatable Wake into his own language, which is not completed rather is postponed.

The Wake is determined not by a desire to narrate just the variations of culture but by a desire to exchange cultural codes and to see how much they are similar.(26) The Persian reader actually in interpreting the Wake changes it in accordance with his interpretation while the text appears to him in new different ways. The more he reads the Wake the less it becomes clear “who is in fact doing [interpretation] and who is being”(27) interpreted; i.e., who is the gazer and who is the gazee. In other words, as the Persian reader struggles to master the Wake, he becomes the prey of the text and it gains control over him.


By superimposing several languages in a multilingual, universal text, and overcoming the separation of languages as a permanent grief, Joyce shows there is the unity of languages. The meanings the reader discovers while reading the Wake are obviously the result of an interaction between the text and whatever expectations and knowledge he brings to them. Such a reader, in Attridge’s words,“needs to be at home in several languages and cultures, to have absorbed huge tracts of esoteric lore and historical fact, and to possess the verbal dexterity of a crossword-puzzle composer as well as the patience of a saint.”(28) Therefore, the Wake is not one but it is necessarily many texts or a universal library of texts; the Wake “is universal” since it is made “of many languages.”(29) Joyce extracts from each tale his ideal model “then out of these models” he constructs his great narrative structure; hence, articulating upon the “infinity of texts, of languages, of systems.”(30) The Wake, which “places before the reader the ambiguities of language and of real life,”(31) is a universal network of discourses that provides many potential layers of reading.

Definitely, no single reader could decode all the possible layers of meaning in the Wake; hence, most of the text’s resources are left untapped. If the reader studies the text, says the words over and over, listens to their sounds, studies their letters, allows them to resonate to the furthest reaches of his memory, he will recognise that probably no literary text is able to encourage as full an engagement with all the features of language and all the processes of reading as the Wake. Even though each reader might consider himself as an ideal reader, hence a transcendental one déjà-dit, the Wake dismantles and unhinges his interpretations. Each reader traces what accords with his horizon of understanding while being erased from the process of interpretation because the other ideal readers are assimilating the text with their own horizon of expectations.

Not only is the Wake open to multiple interpretations, but also is the process of reading open to multiple ideal readers considering themselves as the transcendental one. If Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and other postists put an end to the role of the Author-God as the only source of making meaning, the Wake puts an end to the role of both the Author-God and the ideal-godlike reader who not only tend to pin down the text to one possible meaning but himself as the transcendental reader; hence, there is no one ideal reader rather infinite ideal readers. The Wake puts an end to the arguments of those who search for a beginning, a middle and end in the process of interpretation. Last but not least, Joyce puts emphasis on the role of different readers in the Wake: “for if the hand was one, the minds of active and agitated were more than so” (FW 114. 33-5); thus, Here Comes Everybody.

1 Ovid, Metamorphoses, transl. A. D. Melville, book 1 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998) 1. “Of bodies changed to other forms I tell;/You Gods, who have yourselves wrought every change,/Inspired my enterprise and lead my lay/In one continuous song from nature’s first/Remote beginnings to our modern times.”
2 Dermot Moran, ed. The Routledge Companion to Twentieth Century Philosophy (London: Routledge, 2010) 709.
3 Derek Attridge, ed. The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999) 11.
4 Umberto Eco, On Literature, transl. Martin McLaughlin (New York: Harvest Book, 2005) 226.
5 Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (New York: Oxford UP, 1982) 716.

6 Eco, On Literature, 88.
7 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, transl. David E. Linge (California: U of California P, 1977) 60.
8 Eco, On Literature, 87.
9 Eco, On Literature, 92.
10 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, transls. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (London: Continuum, 2004) 389.
11 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 390.
12 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 453.
13 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 390.
14 Margot Norris, “Finnegans Wake: The Matter of (with) Finnegans Wake,” The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce, ed. Derek Attridge (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999) 161.
15 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 445.
16 William York Tindall, A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce (London: Thames and Hudson, 1969) 290. One might refer to the Wake: (Frida! Freda! Paza! Paisy! Irine! Areinette! Bridomay! Bentamai! Sososopky! Bebebekka! Bababadkessy! Ghugugoothoyou! Dama! Damadomina! Takiya! Tokaya! Scioccara! Siuccherillina! Peocchia! Peucchia! Ho Mi Hoping! Ha Me Happinice! Mirra! Myrha! Solyma! Salemita! Sainta! Sianta! O Peace!). (FW 470-1)
17 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 392.
18 Sydney Bolt, Joyce (Essex: Pearson Education, 1992) 192.
19 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 388.
20 Eco, On Literature, 7.
21 Tindall, A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce, 274.
22 Attridge, The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce, 11.
23 Paul de Man, Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (London: Routledge, 1996) 107.
24 Jean-Michel Rabate`, “Narratology and the Subject of Finnegans Wake.” James Joyce: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Mary T. Reynolds (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1993) 198.
25 Tindall, A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce, 238.
26 Cf. “From Topphole to Bottom of The Irish Race and World” (FW 342. 31-2).
27 de Man, Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism, 10.
28 Attridge, The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce, 10.
29 Tindall, A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce, 260.
30 Roland Barthes, S/Z: An Essay, transl. Richard Miller and preface by Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1974) 3.
31 Eco, On Literature, 4.