"In retrospect, it seems clear that the 'monster', as Joyce several times called Finnegans Wake in these days, had to be written, and that he had to write it. Readers may still sigh because he did not approach them more directly, but it does not appear that this alternative was open to him. In Dubliners he had explored the waking consciousness form outside, in A Portrait and Ulysses from inside. He had begun to impinge, but gingerly, upon the mind asleep. There lay before him, as in 1922 he well knew, this almost totally unexplored expanse. That the great psychological discovery of this century was the night world he was, of course, aware, but he frowned on using that world as a means of therapy. Joyce's purpose was not didactic; he wishes, unassumingly enough, to amuse men with it.
The night attracted him also for another reason.* He had begun his writing by asserting his difference from other men, and now increasingly he recognized his similarity with them. This point of view was more easily demonstrable in sleeping than in waking life. Sleep is the great democratizer: in their dreams people become one, and everything about them becomes one. Nationalities lose their borders, levels of discourse and society are no longer separable, time and space surrender their demarcations. All human activities begin to fuse into all other human activities, printing a book into bearing a baby, fighting a war into courting a woman. By day we attempt originality; by night plagiarism is forced upon us. In A Portrait of the artist as a young man Joyce had demonstrated the repetition of traits in the first twenty years of one person's life; in Ulysses he had displayed this repetition in the day of two persons; in Finnegans Wake he displayed it in the lives of everyone.
The language of the new book was as necessary to it as the verbal arrangements of his previous works to them. He had already succeeded in adapting English to suit the states of mind and even times of day, but chiefly by special arrangements and special kinds of words in different chapters. Now, in Finnegans Wake, a polyglot language had to be brought, even more daringly, to its own making-house.** To imitate the sophistication of word- and image-formation in the unconscious mind (for Joyce discarded the notion that the mind's basic movements were primitive), he took settled words and images, then dismembered et reconstitute them.
In his earlier books Joyce forced modern literature to accept new styles, new subject matter, new kind of plot and characterization. In his last book he forced it to accept a new area of being and a new language. What is ultimately most impressive is the sureness with which, in the midst of such technical accomplishments, he achieved his special mixture of attachment and detachment, of gaiety and lugubriousness. He was no saturnine artificer contriving devices, but one of life's celebrants, in bad circumstances cracking good jokes, foisting upon ennuis and miseries his comic vision."
(*The theory that Joyce wrote his book for the ear because he could not see is not only an insult to creative imagination, but an error of fact. Joyce could see; to be for periods half-blind is not at all the same thing as being permanently blind. The eyes are closed in Finnegans Wake because to open them would change to book's postulate.
**Joyce insisted to Jacques Mercanton that he worked strictly in accord with laws of phonetics. 'The only difference is that, in my imitation of the dream-state, I effect in a few minutes what may have taken centuries to bring about.')
- Richard Ellman (1959 : 616-7)