Finnegan's Wake: A Decoder Ring

Before plunging into Finnegan's Wake (still the perennial champion of Literary Labyrinths) I exclaimed to a few friends, 'I'm going in!', so strong the impulse to let someone know where I was going should I never return. (More erudite readers than I have disappeared in the Dubliner's Bermuda Triangle). Like many, I found myself intrigued but also nonplussed by the seemingly lunatic locution and began (somewhat embarrassingly) a search for commentaries, something I rarely do prior to reading a work. Thankfully, before becoming too mired in Joycian conjecture (where labyrinth becomes Gordian Knot) I stumbled across a short essay by James Stephens, a friend and, more importantly, desired accomplice: James Joyce, afraid of not completing his life's work, asked Stephens to finish Finnegan's Wake for him in case death preceded publication. So, it is with no small authority that Stephen's offers the following as, perhaps, the best decoder I've yet discovered:

Every other prose book is written in prose. This book is written in speech.

Speech and prose are not the same thing. They have different wavelengths, for speech moves at the speed of light, where prose moves at the speed of the alphabet, and must be consecutive and grammatical and word-perfect. Prose cannot gesticulate. Speech can sometimes do nothing else.

Finnegan's Wake is all speech. Now it is soliloquy; now it is dialogue; it becomes at times oration and tittle-tattle and scandal, but it is always a speech, and however it be punned upon by all the European and a few of the Asiatic tongues, it is fundamentally the speech that used to be Dublin-English.

- James Stephens, 'Finnegan's Wake', The Oxford Book of Essays