I have a confession: though I have been reading Finnegans Wake for decades now, and will be reading it (I hope) for decades more, I have never completed it in Campbell fashion from cover to cover, and doubt I ever will.
Before I discovered Joseph Campbell’s work, I was turned on to Finnegans Wake as a result of reading Robert Anton Wilson’s and Robert Shea’s Illuminatus! trilogy, a delightful, delirious, fictional romp through the conspiracy theory mythscape that lampoons just about everyone (Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged, for example, appear as author-philosopher Atlanta Hope, author of Telemachus Sneezed, with its catchphrase “Who is John Guilt?”).
The Wake became part of my psychedelic ritual many many decades ago: a joy to read during the comedown period after mushrooms or an intense LSD experience (had several dozen of those; Ram Dass and Timothy Leary are the only people I’ve met whom I knew had ingested more acid in a single sitting). On those leisurely morning-afters, it would take forever to get through a single passage as each image would open out and unfold in manifold directions at once – layer upon layer of associations, personal and collective. I found the pun imagery, visual as well as verbal, enchanting and intoxicating.
At that point in time I was in the process of realizing the incredible resonance between dream consciousness and the psychedelic state. Much the same as writing down dreams, I took to recording as much as I could remember the morning after a psychedelic experience – and, as with dreams, I discovered the more I practiced this technique, the more I was able to recall. Hence Stanislav Grof’s work (The Undiscovered Self, The Holotropic Mind, etc.), documenting insights from observing and/or participating in thousands of legal LSD experiences, struck such a chord when I read it – and Grof’s work, as Campbell has noted, provided independent scientific confirmation of the existence of mythological archetypes humming along in the unconscious psyche.
Can’t say I had the same reaction to Ulysses. I attempted to read that book a couple of times back in the same period, but it did not capture me the way the Finnegan did. In fact, I found it excruciating and snooze-inducing; it took Campbell to open the door to an appreciation of that work.