Finnegans Wake at 80

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference


‘“irismaimed”: Finnegans Wake and Visual Impairment’

Joyce experienced a multitude of eye problems: he wore glasses through childhood and into adulthood; suffered a range of eye diseases (iritis, glaucoma, and cataracts); and underwent several eye operations. Joyce’s impaired vision necessitated the use of varied writing methods, including scrawling in charcol on large sheets of paper, using three magnifying glasses at once, typewriting, and dictation.

In his biography of Joyce, Ellmann relays an amusing anecdote relating to dictation: Joyce is dictating a section of Finnegans Wake to Samuel Beckett, there is a knock at the door and Joyce shouts ‘come in’. Beckett duly writes down ‘come in’ but, when he reads back his transcription, Joyce queries the insertion, asserting that he did not utter the words; Beckett replies ‘“Yes, you said that”’ and, after pausing to think, Joyce states ‘“Let it stand”’. This is just one example of Joyce’s unusual writing methods, compelled by his failing sight, having a material effect on his text. Finnegans Wake is also littered with allusions to impaired vision, from the ‘irismaimed’ (iritis) of my paper’s title to the ‘blind of black sailcloth’ (Joyce’s post-operation eyepatch) and references to Joyce’s eye doctor, Louis Borsch – ‘Loulou! Tis Perfect. Now (lens your dappled yeye here, mine's presbyoperian)’.

This paper will examine visual impairment in relation to Finnegans Wake, exploring the relationship between Joyce’s own eyesight and his writing methods, references to vision and eye care in his text, and the way in which Joyce’s eye doctors and amanuenses can be seen as influential interlocutors.
Period11 Apr 201913 Apr 2019
Event typeConference
LocationDublin, IrelandShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • James Joyce
  • modernism
  • medical humanities