College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

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Department/Program Conferring Degree



James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, Giambattista Vico, literature, oral poetry


This thesis argues that Finnegans Wake II.3 reveals a role for a dynamic kind of art to contest the dominant narratives in an age of seemingly static new-media technological saturation. By redeploying resources from ancient oral poetic tradition, Finnegans Wake creates a form of resistance to the totalizing effects of textualized mass culture. Technologically saturated media culture often attempts to encode stable, binary identities into the fabric of sociopolitical reality; Finnegans Wake II.3 contrasts two alternatives to escape this oppressively rigid encoding. Beginning with an extended description of the radio-televisual device in the background of Earwicker’s pub—“their tolvtubular high fidelity daildialler” (309.14)—II.3 goes on to contrast a traditional oral-poetic narration of “Kersse the Tailor,” delivered by HCE to an underwhelming crowd reaction, with a more innovative radio broadcast of “How Buckley Shot the Russian General,” one that HCE’s patrons prefer. Butt and Taff’s telling of “How Buckley Shot the Russian general” attempts, as Finnegans Wake styles it, an “abnihilization of the etym,” an attempt to tear open the smallest semantic units of our culture, and hurtles us forward into a postmodern, hybrid future, away from the embrace of a naive folk-art past. This new form of art breaks down boundaries to suggest an alternative to the hegemony of a cultural existence driven by oppressive binaries. A first section establishes some background about what “oral poetry” means in light of Vico's "The Discovery of the True Homer," a chapter in his New Science, a book which influenced Joyce’s work on Finnegans Wake. The thesis next uses a Bakhtinian analysis to explore how these themes are foreshadowed in the opening chapters of the Wake, developed into a techno-poetic climax in II.3, and then reacted to in the Wake's last sections. A final section sketches out some ways that II.3’s enactment of a newly technologically sophisticated oral poetry models a strategy for escaping the dualisms so seemingly inevitable within our own “culture industry.”