By Barbara DiBernard
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Additional resources for Alchemy and Finnegans Wake
Many of those who turned to alchemy and other aspects of the occult in the nineteenth century desired to return to such a world. However, the occult revival which served as a source of Joyce's knowledge of these things did not really represent the original tradition. Hermeticism had gone underground in the Middle Ages, and when it Page 7 reappeared, it was with a difference. " She continues: In fact, the Hermeticism which was known to Joyce had undergone many changes and been bastardised by the addition of much alchemical material, theology derived from Meister Eckhart, and simple magic during the nineteenth century.
I had hoped much from the quintessence, but it disappointed me like the rest. 12 The tendency to eschew all laboratory processes exhibited by this discouraged alchemist became more pronounced, until the Hermetic Art became completely spiritualized, refined out of the laboratory and almost out of existence. Whereas the aim of some of the alchemists and their supporters was clearly monetary, those who believed that the end of alchemy was spiritual condemned the idea of material gain so much as to deny it had ever been part of alchemy.
Part of the joy of reading Finnegans Wake is the recognition of these elementswe smile, congratulate ourselves, annotate our marginsyet Finnegans Wake also transmutes them into a type of literary gold. For me both levels are simultaneously and equally real. Joyce resembles those alchemists who worked on both the physical and spiritual levels; that is why he is both the most realistic and the most symbolic of writers.
Alchemy and Finnegans Wake by Barbara DiBernard