"Group drinkards maaks grope thinkards or how reads rotary" (FW 312.31): Finnegans Wake and the Group Reading Experience
One precedent for reading the Wake communally is the practice sometimes accorded to the reading of religious texts, namely group monastic readings of scripture in the Middle Ages. It may be appropriate that the profane work which probably comes closest to continuing this tradition is Finnegans Wake, a work apparently conceived of, modeled on, and developed as a kind of surrogate for the sacred scripture. The Wake is permeated with references to the world's great religious texts, and even identifies itself with a religious manuscript: The Book of Kells. James Atherton, in The Books at the Wake, points to Joyce's romantic conception of himself as artist-God as the very basis of Finnegans Wake:
There was a medieval theory that God composed two scriptures: the first was the universe which he created after having conceived the idea of it complete and flawless in his mind; the second was the Holy Bible. What Joyce is attempting in Finnegans Wake is nothing less than to create a third scripture, the sacred book of the night, revealing the microcosm which he had already conceived in his mind. And as the phenomenal universe is built upon certain fundamental laws which it is the task of science and philosophy to discover, so the microcosm of Finnegans Wake is constructed according to certain fundamental axioms for which Joyce is careful to provide clues, but which it is the task of his readers to discover for themselves. 2
sensitizedbytheclimbupJoyce'stowerofbabble.Today,halfacenturyafter thepublicationofFinnegansWake,itisnotuncommontofindgroupsofreaders conveningonaregularbasisincitiesthroughouttheworld-groupsofacademics andamateursalikewithnomoreofanagendathantoreadaloud,ponder,discuss, andenjoyJoyce'sgreatenigma.