Grant McDermott bio photo

Grant McDermott

Assistant Professor
Dept. of Economics
University of Oregon

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At the beginning of last year, I announced a (mostly) informal book challenge that I'm partaking in. The goal of which is to complete six carefully selected "epics" before my friend and rival literatus, Bloomsboy[*].

Truth to be told, I'm faring pretty disappointingly on that score. Course work and related uni readings have taken over my life. What little spare time I now have is normally spent trolling the internet perusing something a shade lighter and, well, shorter.

My one consolation in all this is that \(-\) according to my sources[**] \(-\) his own progress has been equally unimpressive. Since he allegedly works for a publishing firm, I don't see what his excuse is...

At any rate, it was Bloomsboy who told me a great anecdote not too long ago about one of the five authors in our mandatory set, James Joyce. It concerns his relationship with protégé and Waiting for Godot playwright, Samuel Beckett, at the time when failing eyesight had left him dictating his words to others:
Beckett's mind had a subtlety and strangeness that attracted Joyce as it attracted, in another way, his daughter. [...]Once or twice he dictated a bit of Finnegans Wake to Beckett, though dictation did not work very well for him; in the middle of one such session there was a knock at the door which Beckett didn't hear. Joyce said, `Come in,' and Beckett wrote it down. Afterwards he read back what he had written and Joyce said, `What's that "Come in"?' 'Yes, you said that,' said Beckett. Joyce thought for a moment, then said, `Let it stand.' He was quite willing to accept coincidence as his collaborator.
Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (New York, 1959), pp. 661-662.

In its own small way, the above passage goes some way towards explaining the incomprehensibility of Finnegans Wake... Perhaps making it a bit more palatable at the same time.

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[*] Self-styled in a moment of apparent irony.
[**] i.e. Bloomsboy.