Sometime in the mid-80’s I spotted a notice (in the New York Times, as I recall) that Garland Publishing was offering the Finnegans Wake portion of the Archive at a significant reduction. A call to their 800-number revealed that this “fabulous deal” would total over $2000; nevertheless, I ordered and donated the volumes to the Special Collections in my university’s library. When they arrived two weeks later, I got my first glance at the books which I have continually puzzled over for over for 15 or so years. I was initially disappointed, since I expected more visual and graphic glitz, like the laid-in facsimile of the “‘Oxen’ mandala” in Herring’s Notesheets. For weeks (it was summer vacation) I did nothing but page through the material, from VI.B.1 to VI.C.18 -- the drafts and proofs got a fast and selective leaf-through. Colleagues who spotted me hunched over those dark green quartos in the library knew then that I was addicted.
My first real discovery was triggered by a long index of numbers and phrases (VI.B.28.9) which I was able to trace to the exact pages in a popular biography of the American circus-magnate, P. T. Barnum. That source and Joyce’s use of it (in several notebooks) led to an article in JJQ (27 [Summer 1990] 759-66). (At that time, because I had never heard of Understanding Finnegans Wake or its “HCE Project” appendage, I did not know that Rose and O’Hanlon had previously identified this source.) Meanwhile, I had volunteered to be the Classical representative on a language-panel at the 1988 symposium in Venice. My truncated topic (we were all upstaged, if not pre-empted by David Norris) highlighted some Latin snippets in the notebooks. A favorite is “Urbs antiqua (limerick)” (VI.B.23.21): Joyce’s reflection on the recyclability of a verse from the Aeneid (1.12-13), “There was an old city [named Carthage].”
The chairperson of that panel was Geert Lernout, who gathered us for lunch in the garden of San Giorgio Maggiore before our presentations. From that time on, it has all been archivally up hill. That Adriatic introduction to several other genetic researchers lead to subsequent contacts: the Irish mandarins, Vincent Deane, Danis Rose, John O’Hanlon, Roland McHugh; the Flemish prodigies, Wim Van Mierlo (his maiden international talk was on my panel at Dublin in 1990), Ingeborg Landuyt, Dirk Van Hulle – all students/colleagues of Lernout at Antwerp. At various conferences and meetings (especially those in Antwerp), I have seen our interests in the notebooks and drafts move from a fringe-obsession to a more-or-less accepted – albeit esoteric – aspect of Wakean scholarship. All the members of the coven (including Bill Cadbury of draft-stage fame, Sam Slote, Aida Yared, the Islamic mavin, and Mikio Fuse, whose modest announcement of his internet-discovery of a source in Katherine Masefield was the single most astounding bit of detection I have ever witnessed) are fun to be with and can be depended upon to give immediate suggestions and assistance. From many countries and cultural backgrounds, young and old, these genetic buddies have been -- and I hope will continue to be -- the best company anyone could imagine. My initial outlay for the Archive has proven to be the wisest and most profitable investment I have ever made.
Finally, a look back and a glance ahead. Many of the procedures and methods which are the focus of genetic scholarship on the Wake -- notebooks, lists, crayon strikeouts, off-the-wall sources -- were also used by Joyce in the final stages of the composition of Ulysses. The pioneering archival scholarship and publications of Phil Herring (“Ulysses” Notesheets  and Notes and Early Drafts ) anticipate and exemplify the purposes and techniques of current Wakean genetic research. Moreover, his detection of sources (for example, the Bertrand Russell index in V.A.2.28-30) deserves more attention and praise than it has received from Joycean critics up to their necks in post-colonialism or sexual politics. The latest project in archival scholarship is the Brepols edition of The “Finnegans Wake” Notebooks at Buffalo (2001+). The first three volumes (VI.B.10 and VI.B.3 [edited by Deane], VI.B.29 [edited by Lernout]) represent the second generation -- and the scholarly maturity -- of notebook research: crisp introductions, clear reproductions, scrupulous interpretation, meticulous comment. Every library should place an order for the series, since all future genetic scholarship will require these works, as primary documents and essential, reliable references. In just a bit more than 25 years, then, the Buffalo notebooks -- which are the key to the Wake -- have moved from the necessary cloister of a magnificent university collection to the uneven facsimiles and preliminary introductions in the JJA to the inauguration of complete accessibility in a first-class edition by world-class scholars. I am lucky to have been around to watch the action -- and every now and then to have jumped into the arena myself.