Towards a Vagabond Humanism

Times Literary Supplement

When the American writer Max Eastman asked James Joyce why Finnegans Wake meandered through more than 800 river names, Joyce replied that he liked “to think how some day, way off in Tibet or Somaliland, some boy or girl reading that little book would be pleased to come upon the name of his or her home river”. Joyce could not have imagined that Finnegans Wake would prompt the Ayatollah Khomeini to declare a fatwa against Salman Rushdie fifty years later, but it did, notes Peter D. McDonald in his commanding new study. Analysing faxes, sent by the Islamic Foundation, which first alerted Muslim institutions to The Satanic Verses, McDonald shows that the book’s incendiary passages are those that borrow the most from Joyce’s Wake.