Tuesday, December 09, 2008

James Joyce - Finnegans Wake

If it wasn't a big book, I'd say he's taking the piss.

James Joyce
«Finnegans Wake»

[...] riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.
Sir Tristram, violer d'amores, fr'over the short sea, had passen- core rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war: nor had topsawyer's rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse to Laurens County's gorgios while they went doublin their mumper all the time: nor avoice from afire bellowsed mishe mishe to tauftauf thuartpeatrick not yet, though venissoon after, had a kidscad buttended a bland old isaac: not yet, though all's fair in vanessy, were sosie sesthers wroth with twone nathandjoe. Rot a peck of pa's malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by arclight and rory end to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsome on the aquaface. The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner- ronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthur- nuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy. The great fall of the offwall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finnegan, erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes: and their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock out in the park where oranges have been laid to rust upon the green since dev- linsfirst loved livvy.

From the book's wikipedia page:
Critics disagree on whether or not discernible characters exist in Finnegans Wake.

How can anybody take a book seriously, which is so unreadable that critics can't even agree upon whether it has any characters or not? Holy frig.
I suspect the book is so famous simply because it becomes an obsession for people to try to make sense from it. They can't let it go. And then they have to justify their interest by claiming it to be a significant literary work.


Ron Hale-Evans said...

Hi, Eolake. I'm a long-time fan of your Beauty of the Day (but too cheap to buy a Domai subscription). However, I got to your blog post via a Google Alert for "finnegans wake".

I've read the book once all the way through and am reading it again with Allforabit Funferall, my Wake reading group in the Seattle/Tacoma area. What most people won't tell you (because they haven't bothered to read the Wake themselves but pretend to be experts on it anyway) is that it's rollicking fun, not at all solemn with the right people -- and it's meant to be read collaboratively.

To address your question about how one can read or enjoy a book for which there's not even a conclusive answer as to whether it has characters, look at it this way. We all know Zeus is the god of thunder and lightning, right? If Zeus were in a novel, he would probably be a character. But what about thunder itself? Could that be a character? And what about Thor? He's "the god of thunder" too, so if Zeus = thunder and Thor = thunder, is it true that Zeus = Thor?

And so on. I don't recall Zeus and Thor making appearances in the book specifically, but I'd be surprised if they didn't. Thunder certainly makes an appearance! Many of the figures in the book are "aspects" of one another, so in my opinion -- though not, I must say, that of the other members of my reading group -- it makes more sense to talk about "archetypes" in Finnegans Wake than about characters. And the whole "mnice old mness" is laced with Joyce's wicked yet compassionate humor.

Does that help at all in shedding light on how one can enjoy the Wake? If not, does it help that our reading group's motto, because of the number of phallic symbols hidden in the Wake, is "A pound of penises on every page!"? Come for the obscure wordplay, stay for the penises.


Ron Hale-Evans

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

I am happy to hear somebody is enjoying it. I had not expected it, since I simply can't read it. I don't understand text with three made-up words and five deliberate misspellings in each sentence.

When I try to read it, I feel like I'm being continually slapped in the face by the author!

I can deal with stuff where I have to work a bit. But when I don't have a chance of understanding things, I give up fast. How do you deal with that?

Ron Hale-Evans said...

We refer to a lot of good books and commentaries from people who've read the book several times, and can give a plot summary and an outline of the "characters". It's valuable to at least read one of these through before attempting the book, such as this super-brief outline. After that I'd recommend reading a book-length synopsis of the Wake, such as Joseph Campbell's Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake, which was the first one ever written, around the 1940s. Many readers feel it's been superseded, but it's still quite readable and accessible.

I also recommend some kind of word-by-word analysis tool. The best online tool for this is called Fweet. At our reading group, we always keep at least one Fweet window open on a laptop while we read, so we can refer to it for really difficult passages. Here's Fweet's annotated first page of the Wake.

There are many, many more books and tools available to understand the Wake, but best of all is a group of willing friends -- even one or two allies in tackling the Wake can help a lot.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

I wonder where you live. In my town I'd be surprised to find one person who has heard of FW, much less read it.

Anonymous said...

If Zeus were in a novel, he would probably be a character. But what about thunder itself? Could that be a character? And what about Thor? He's "the god of thunder" too, so if Zeus = thunder and Thor = thunder, is it true that Zeus = Thor?

Could I have your address? I would like to send you a Mensa application and practice test.

Ron Hale-Evans said...

Eolake, I live in the Seattle/Tacoma area of Washington state, USA. It's a university town and our major industries are software and aerospace, so there are plenty of smart people looking for offbeat things to do.

Joe, I was in Mensa in high school, and have since attended Mensa social gatherings, but it mainly seems to be an excuse to hang out and drink. Thank you anyway. In return, may I recommend my book, Mind Performance Hacks? It even has a chapter on Finnegans Wake.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Why would anybody need an excuse to drink? My town has more pubs than shops.

Anonymous said...

Joe, I was in Mensa in high school, and have since attended Mensa social gatherings

You'll have to forgive my (understandable) skepticism.

Ron Hale-Evans said...

Joe, what are you skeptical about, and why do you think it's understandable?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link to the outline. What a hoot. I'm making my way across the Wake and am through most of the first chapter. It's a trial but worth every minute. What a funny and dirty book it is! And much more fun to read aloud. I live in a very small town in the country and I've found a neighbor who shares my interest. Group waking is definitely the way to go!

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Thanks, Anon. How did you find this blog post?

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