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Title: 'What can't be coded can be decoded' : reading, writing, performing 'Finnegans Wake'
Author: Evans, Oliver Rory Thomas
ISNI:       0000 0004 5991 8772
Awarding Body: Birkbeck, University of London
Current Institution: Birkbeck (University of London)
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis examines the ways in which performances of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939) navigate the boundary between reading and writing. I consider the extent to which performances enact alternative readings of Finnegans Wake, challenging notions of competence and understanding; and by viewing performance as a form of writing I ask whether Joyce’s composition process can be remembered by its recomposition into new performances. These perspectives raise questions about authority and archivisation, and I argue that performances of Finnegans Wake challenge hierarchical and institutional forms of interpretation. By appropriating Joyce’s text through different methodologies of reading and writing I argue that these performances come into contact with a community of ghosts and traces which haunt its composition. In chapter one I argue that performance played an important role in the composition and early critical reception of Finnegans Wake and conduct an overview of various performances which challenge the notion of a ‘Joycean competence’ or encounter the text through radical recompositions of its material. In chapter two I discuss Mary Manning’s The Voice of Shem (1955) and find that its theatrical reassembling of the text served as a competent reading of the Wake’s form as an alternative to contemporary studies of the book, and that its specific ‘redistribution’ of the text accessed affective and genetic elements that were yet to be explored in Joyce scholarship. In chapter three I consider several decompositions of the Wake by John Cage (1975-1983) and find that by paying attention to the materiality of the book rather than its ‘plot’ or ‘meaning’ his performances reencountered the work concealed in Finnegans Wake’s composition. In chapter four, I document and analyse my own performance, About That Original Hen (2014), a ‘research-as-performance’ lecture which re-enacts a visit to the James Joyce Archive. By reconfiguring Finnegans Wake in relation to a marginal figure from its composition process and a contemporary act of protest within the university, this performance explores how a diachronic re-animation of archival materials can engage with the ghosts which haunt its composition and enact a political reading of the text’s production and subsequent archivisation. I conclude the thesis by arguing that these performances repeat the contingencies, misreadings and appropriations and collective acts of reading and writing that were integral to the composition of Finnegans Wake.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available