I am writing this on October 2005, some time before this site, hopefully, may be unleashed upon an otherwise-unsuspecting Internet. It briefly tells the story of this site as seen from this restricted vantage point. Please feel free to ignore this page completely; there are no happy joyful adorable little elves to be found anywhere on it.
It turned out to be that I had intended to spend the summer of 1983, the summer between high school and university, reading James Joyce's Ulysses, followed immediately by Finnegans Wake. While Ulysses struck a chord, and has done so again in later years, Finnegans Wake was altogether a different thing. It can safely be said that on the first read I had only understood perhaps ten or twenty percent of what I was reading. But here was a book that squarely fit into my vision of what fiction should endeavour to be, or so it seemed at the time. Over the following years I reread portions of the book, read some introductory texts about it, and began to unravel some of its complexities. On later reads, I had tried to use Roland McHugh's Annotations to Finnegans Wake alongside Finnegans Wake, but as I tend to read in rather awkward locations – on crowded buses, while walking, and in other bloomy places – it soon proved unwieldy to trudge about with two large volumes, so I often resorted to just using the Annotations as a shelf reference, flipping through its pages in search for some guidelines.
Always a late bloomer, I came across personal computers only in 1988, and in 1990 landed upon the idea of having a searchable computer-based Annotations. Joyfully, I sat down to type the first edition of the Annotations into the computer. At a rate of about a page a day, a year or so later, I was around the middle of chapter II.3. At this point, quite understandably, especially as my interest in Finnegans Wake was already waning, I gave up, shelved the project, and embarked upon other, equally-unlikely, equally-finite, endeavours (e.g. reading letters A through C of the OED, writing experimental fiction, meeting a woman I wanted to spend my life with).
In 1995 I had a relapse, agenbite-of-inwit-like, and finished typing in the second half of the Annotations. Mind you, the idea at the time was just to have a searchable Annotations, so notes from other books read – before, at the time, or later – never entered the database, nor was any editorial selection applied to what was being typed in. Sated, I again forgot about Finnegans Wake, so to speak, for a few more years.
The year 2000 saw me returning to Finnegans Wake and to Finnegans Wake studies, this time with the idea of forming a collection of elucidations from a wider range of sources. I decided to use the typed-in Annotations as the core, unshelved it, rapidly incorporated the revised edition of the Annotations into it, quickly added a few of my findings collected over the years, and set about to read in some previously-unread sources about Finnegans Wake, primarily Joycean journals (e.g. A Wake Newslitter, A Finnegans Wake Circular, James Joyce Quarterly). Five years later, I have not yet been able to outgrow the habit.
All these years, Finnegans Wake had been a largely private thing for me. In July 2005, I attended The Ninth Annual Trieste Joyce School in, of all places, Trieste. Discussing Finnegans Wake with other Joyceans, amateurs and professionals, kindled in me the desire to share what I had collected over the years and I came up with the idea of setting up a website, allowing others to browse and search the collection. I had no previous experience with designing websites – and I have been told it shows – but it seemed at least one of my earlier pet projects, teaching myself computer programming, would be a benefit.
Since late August I have been designing this site. I wanted it to be different from other websites; in some ways, I wanted it to be more simple, more intimate, less anonymous; in other ways, I wanted it to be more sophisticated, more powerful, less immediate. I knew I wanted to supply two central things: a powerful search engine to allow users access to the collection and a willingness to enable users to affect the contents of the site and the collection. Hence, the two core pages of the site; everything else is just icing.
I do not believe things should be so trivial they can be accessed without learning and reading – would I be interested in Finnegans Wake were it not so? I have therefore allowed myself to design a rather complex search engine, but have made the initial version relatively simple, waiting for user input as to which directions it should complicate in. I also hope I have excavated a wide enough channel of communication between myself and potential users for information to flow in both directions.
Initially, I thought I would spend a couple of years organising the collection itself before launching the site. The collection was designed years ago with me as its sole user, which may yet prove to be quite a deficiency for others. For example, following McHugh's lead and since I know French, I did not bother to translate many French references and quotations, so they still appear in the collection only in French. As another example, there is no simple way to find Shakespearian allusions, short of searching for Hamlet, Venice, Verona, Othello, &c. Sadly, the collection is often inconsistent, especially when it comes to cross-references, sigla, local clusters, general motifs, &c. &c. – perhaps it is not clear enough for anybody other than me to use... I finally decided that in this case it is better to offer a flawed product than none at all, with hope to engage the assistance of others in bringing some order into the collection. Thus, the collection is in a state of flux and is likely to change many forms in the months and years to come. Look at the current offering as just a prototype.
I can easily find reasons why this site never gets launched at all. If it does, I can easily find reasons why it remains abandoned and unvisited. If it does not, I can easily find reasons why it rapidly dwindles back into anonymity and uselessness. I just cannot seem to curb my natural cheerful optimism. Perhaps, however, it is best to try and see what happens...
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