Date of Award
Dissertation - Restricted
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Gillespie, Michael Patrick
This study examines the juxtaposition of multiple religious and mythological traditions in James Joyce's final novel, Finnegans Wake . Joyce frequently pairs Biblical narratives with elements from Islam, Egyptology, Celtic paganism, Greek or Norse mythologies, and other religious traditions, a technique that produces both thematic cohesion and conflicts of doctrine. Much of the existing scholarship that addresses religion and Finnegans Wake is either bibliographic, tracing how and where Joyce incorporates particular traditions, or aesthetic, examining Joyce's conception of the "artist as god" and thus the conflation of religion and linguistics. Additionally, the popular conception of the novel as cyclical, with its last sentence, incomplete, returning to the first line, as well as the attention given to Joyce's use of Giambattista Vico's philosophy of recurring cycles, tends to overshadow the significance of death and terminality in the novel.
The role of eschatology is significant to this problem since, despite popular usage, the word refers not to the end of the world, but rather in theological terms an "uttermost point" or perceived goal that brings meaning to the present. In that light, this dissertation examines the arrangement of religious allusions that often complement one another, while also containing ironies or paradoxical relationships. These arrangements allow the text to "conclude" in Frank Kermode's sense of the term, producing a sensation of concord for the reader while never allowing a distinct solution to emerge and thereby close the text. This project employs reader-response and related approaches of cognitive linguistics and chaos theory to examine methods by which readers construct meaning from the fragmented and interlaced religious allusions. It posits that paradoxical relationships estrange readers from canonical interpretations of religious narratives. The effect is a modernist eschatology, a text that does not mock or negate religion, but prompts an uttermost understanding by heightening the reader's sensitivity to the metaphoric and metonymic underpinnings of religious representation.