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Finnegan's Wake ()


Anthony Burgess : 99 Best Modern Novels (1934-84)

    The demand I make of my reader is that he should devote his whole life to reading my works.
        -James Joyce

Okay, here's the first paragraph:

    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.

(it's actually the end of the last sentence in the book). I defy anyone to honestly say that they would have any desire to read further (in fact, I am certain that no one has ever actually read this book). But, lest you think it must get better, here's a random paragraph from later in the book:

    So olff for his topheetuck the ruck made raid, aslick aslegs would run; and he ankered on his
    hunkers with the belly belly prest. Asking: What's my muffinstuffinaches for these times? To weat:
    Breath and bother and whatarcurss. That breath no bother but worrawarrawurms. And Slim
    shallave some.

Uh-huh, fascinating stuff, eh?

Here's the cover blurb from the version I have, as written by Joseph Campbell, one of the folks who tried popularizing Joyce:

    Finnegan's Wake is a mighty allegory of the fall and redemption of mankind...a compound fabe,
    symphony, and nightmare...Its mechanics resemble those of a dream, a dream which has freed the
    author from the necesssities of common logic and has enabled him to compress all periods of
    history, all phases of individual and racial development, into a circular design, of which every part is
    beginning, middle and end.

Let me just point out that "freed...from...logic", is code for "it doesn't make sense". And the blather about circular design reflects something I recall reading about how Joyce intended the reader to be able to read the book from any point and in any direction with equal felicity. It worked; it's idiotic from start to finish.

So what's the end result? Well, you remember that old example that's used to demonstrate the magnitude of infinity--if you set down infinty monkeys in front of infinity typewriters (I suppose now it's computers) eventually one of them types Hamlet. Well, I think it's safe to suppose that in the meantime, they're typing Finnegan's Wake.

Now, some folks claim that it should be read for the beauty of it's language alone. But let me just say this, you'ld get en equally enjoyable aural experience by listening to the dialogue of the Ewoks from a Star Wars movie and it won't make any less sense.
 

GRADE: G (as long as we're being experimental, let's go lower than F)

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (F)

  

Websites:

Book-related and General Links:
    -Bill Cadbury's Finnegans Wake Page
   -Encyclopaedia Britannica:  Your search: "james joyce"
   -Work in Progress: The Writings of James Joyce (Temple University)
   -International James Joyce Foundation
   -James Joyce Resource Center (primary reference source for anyone interested in Joyce studies)
   -In Bloom: A James Joyce Homepage
   -James Joyce (1882-1941)(Kobe University)
   -The Brazen Head: A James Joyce Public House
   -OVERVIEW: James Joyce 1882-1941 (Brown University)
   -IQ Infinity: The Unknown James Joyce
    -The Writings of James Joyce
    -James Joyce Web Page
    -World Wide Dubliners
    -Literary Research Guide: James Joyce (1882 - 1941)
    -Wallace Gray's Notes for James Joyce's "The Dead"
   -PROFILE: Top 100 People of the Century: James Joyce (Paul Gray, Time)
   -ANNOTATED ETEXT: Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
   -ARTICLE: The Fate of Joyce Family Letters Causes Angry Literary Debate (CARYN JAMES, NY Times)
   -ARTICLE: NEW EDITION FIXES 5,000 ERRORS IN 'ULYSSES'  (EDWIN McDOWELL, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Dublin Journal; 90 Years Ago, Leopold Bloom Took a Walk . . .  (JAMES F. CLARITY, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: MIAMI J'YCE: LOVE WALKS RIGHT OUT OF A 'ULYSSES' SYMPOSIUM (Brenda Maddox. NY times)
    -ESSAY: JOYCE, NORA AND THE WORD KNOWN TO ALL MEN  (Brenda Maddox. NY Times)
    -ESSAY:   COULD NORA COOK? PORTRAIT OF THE WIFE OF THE ARTIST   (Brenda Maddox. NY Times)
    -ESSAY:  Richard Ellmann: The Politics of Joyce
    -ESSAY: LITERARY FOOTNOTE; ELLMANN REJOYCING (Richard Ellmann, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: A Fine Madness  (Dr. Joseph Collins, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: James Joyce's comic messiah  (Robert Alter, American Scholar)
    -ESSAY:  James Joyce's Zurich  (PAUL HOFMANN, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: Whose Life Is This, Anyway?  (James Atlas, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: A Not-So-Lit'rary Bloomsday (FRANCIS X. CLINES, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Virtually A-Wake (Robert Sullivan, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : "Finnegans Wake" breakdown :  A team of valiant friends tackles James Joyce's famously unreadable opus -- and one winds up in family court because of it (Susan G. Hauser, Salon)
    -REVIEWS: New York Review of Books Archive
    Finnegans Wake by James Joyce - in lieu of review (The Guardian, May 12 1939)
   
-REVIEW: John Banville: The Motherless Child, NY Review of Books
        James Joyce by Edna O'Brien
    -REVIEW: of JAMES JOYCE By Edna O'Brien (Robert Sullivan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of   `Reading Alcoholisms: Theorizing Character and Narrative in Selected Novels of Thomas Hardy, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf,' by Jane Lilienfeld. (Shelley Cox, Library Journal)
    -REVIEW: Richard Ellmann: The Big Word in 'Ulysses', NY Review of Books
        Ulysses: A Critical and Synoptic Edition by James Joyce
    -REVIEW: Robert M. Adams: Yes, NY Review of Books
        Nora: The Real Life of Molly Bloom by Brenda Maddox
    -REVIEW: Robert M. Adams: Scrabbling in the 'Wake', NY Review of Books
        Shakespeare and Joyce: A Study of Finnegans Wake by Vincent John Cheng
    -REVIEW: Michael Wood: Joyce's Influenza, NY Review of Books
       James Joyce in Padua edited by Louis Berrone
        Afterjoyce: Studies in Fiction After Ulysses by Robert Martin Adams
        "In the wake of the Wake" edited by Elliott Anderson and David Hayman
        The Consciousness of Joyce by Richard Ellmann
    -REVIEW: Stuart Hampshire: Joyce and Vico: The Middle Way, NY Review of Books
        BOOKS DISCUSSED IN THIS ESSAY
        The Exile of James Joyce by Hélène Cixous and translated by Sally A.J. Purcell
        Ulysses on the Liffey by Richard Ellmann
        Closing Time by Norman O. Brown
    -REVIEW: Matthew Hodgart: Portrait of the Artist as a Middle-Aged Adulterer, NY Review of Books
        Giacomo Joyce by James Joyce and with an Introduction and Notes by Richard Ellmann

FILM:
    -REVIEW: Denis Donoghue: Huston's Joyce, NY Review of Books
        The Dead a film directed by John Huston and based on the story by James Joyce
    -REVIEW:  Richard Ellmann: Bloomovie, NY Review of Books
        Ulysses produced by Walter Reade and directed by Joseph Strick

GENERAL:
    -REVIEW: Robert M. Adams: Mulligan Stew, NY Review of Books
        A Colder Eye: The Modern Irish Writers by Hugh Kenner

Comments:

Bingo! That's exactly the pose you're supposed to strike after pretending to read it.

- oj

- Jul-23-2008, 19:49

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i, in fact, did read finnegans wake, cover to cover. and, i must say, i thoroughly enjoyed it. the book has a number of themes running through it, to be sure, but is not be read and analysed. it's to be read and experienced. once i started reading it quietly aloud, i had a blast... it's lovely. i'm certain i only scratched the surface of all the things joyce was thinking about or even the moments he was trying to convey, but i wasn't trying that hard. i was just along for the ride.

if you want to be able to understand and compartmentalise everything you read, fw's not for you. if, on the other hand, you enjoy crafty use of language, dizzying amounts of detail and the idea of reading a story that is, as you rightly point out, entirely circular... well, shoot, read it... you don't have to get through all of it or even understand most of it, just enjoy. it's really fun. i feel bad for the folks on here who have no idea what that means. personally, i prefer to go on a journey with a book than to be able to brag about how i understood all of the subtextual themes... because, gosh, what kind of way is that to live?

- puck

- Jul-15-2008, 16:48

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Whose Wake is it?

- oj

- Jan-08-2006, 10:45

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I have to admit, though, that I only read the first 50 pages and tried to write a ten-page paper on the book. Luckily, since there really is no one plot, I got a B.

- Vince

- Dec-11-2005, 11:51

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By the way, retards, it's called Finnegans Wake--No apostrophpe. The one with the apostrophe is the song.

- Vince

- Dec-10-2005, 16:47

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I had to pick a book to do a thesis on for my 12th grade english class-i chose FW because i'm a dropkick murphys fan and i liked their cover of the song. Yes, the book is difficult, but you have to keep in mind that he isn't writing incoherent vomit. If he can't say what he wants to in English, he finds a word in Hindi, or Japanese, or Gaelic. I don't want to overanalyze though; you guys are probably all grad students, and i probably look like an idiot. However, it is kinda fun to just take a page and try to figure out what he's trying to get you to think-i just can't do that 623 times.

- Vince

- Dec-04-2005, 22:57

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My point exactly. No one enjoys it. Some, geeks, pretend to have.

- oj

- Oct-13-2005, 19:49

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Yes, both Ulysses and Wake are hard to read. Yes, some bits of them are hard to make sense of. But if, for a moment, you let yourself sink into the worldview of the narration, it isn't SLOGGING. It's stream of consciousness, for goodness' sake! You cannot interpret it from your own POV. If you accept some things that you don't understand and let the words be *your own thoughts* for a time, Joyce is not at all unplesant to read. I first read both in high school. I still read them periodically. I mean, come on, it can't be that hard for you to live in someone else's head, for a while. You can always come back to the real world later, if you don't enjoy yourself.

And that is the reason this is not a book for stauch conservatives to be comfortable with. It urges you to see things from a perspective you might not agree with, which is anathema for many far right-wingers. That is OK. If you don't want to read it, that is absolutely fine. If it makes you uncomfortable, that is alright. But don't blame the work- nothing is inherently wrong in it. It is letters on a page. It is only the way you see it that makes it good or bad.

And, before you ask, no I am not an english major. I am a geek - I tinker and I ponder and I calculate. I read niether because they were assigned, but instead because I felt like it.

-s 5TF!

- stm

- Oct-13-2005, 19:27

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OJ, you don't even think Joseph Campbell read the book?

BTW, one time at a bookstore I flipped open a copy of the book and told my dad to read a random paragraph. The look on his face is still a treasured memory of mine.

- Matt Murphy

- Oct-13-2005, 02:25

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gret line (that one about the monkeys)

- k.m.

- Sep-09-2005, 13:52

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That's because he's never read the book either. No one has.

- oj

- Aug-28-2005, 19:14

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Roger Davidson appears to be a sheer idiot.

He certainly didn't give a single specific to support his mindless blabber.

- Ed Austin

- Aug-28-2005, 18:59

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Hello,

I've never read this book but i have to give a presentation on it for my irish literature class. i think ill use your review in my little speech....

- TAK

- Mar-31-2005, 08:34

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beautifully stated, mr davidson.

-

- Jun-01-2004, 05:48

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Orrin, You have the most amazing capacity for missing the point, a kind of built-in connection-prevention monitor which steers you safely round each and every item among the myriad constellations of wonderful things which are offered in art, which allows you to remain comfortably in the warm sticky darkness of your bedroom in your mother's house, soaking in the stench of your stagnant cheese. My god! Imagine if you chanced to stumble and land in the midst of one of these gems...imagine if you actually made some effort to read The Wake! Imagine you used a Finnegan's Wake guide and...found one of the connections in it! You might die from the shock of realising how much time you had wasted masturbating in cyberspace, and the sheer hopelessness of your being anywhere at all! I have read the Wake many times, and it is brilliant. The dullest idiot ought at least to be able to grasp its humour, if not the abundance of intellectual allusions, and the overall view of history and world therein. Enjoy this evening's masturbation, Orrin. Don't be terrorised by the existence of the Wake. It wasn't meant for such as you.

- Roger Davidson

- Feb-11-2004, 14:33

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wow!! this site is more worthless than I had originally thought

- arebomb

- May-28-2003, 04:03

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It's not much of a conspiracy when the ringleader is this explicit:

"The demand I make of my reader is that he should devote his whole life to reading my works." -James Joyce

- oj

- May-19-2003, 12:15

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"an author who made his work intentionally unintelligible just so that readers would have to study only his books their whole lives"

... AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

you're the most schizoid conspiracy theorist conservative i've ever met. holy living god, man.

-

- May-19-2003, 11:45

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AGN:

Ah, but there's the rub...you can't both believe in freedom and believe that people should waste their lives reading an author who made his work intentionally unintelligible just so that readers would have to study only his books their whole lives.

- oj

- May-19-2003, 08:11

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orrin:

Well, if your sole manifesto is to recommend books that conservatives will find comfortable, then good luck to you.

It does seem a bit sad that you can find nothing else to take from a book than a political interpretation though. Obviously you get no enjoyment from the use of language itself, or psychological insight, or even plot and character?

I like Evelyn Waugh (old-fashioned conservative) and George Orwell (socialist). I like Martin Amis (leftie) and Kingsley Amis (rightie). My political views probably don't align with any of these, I just like novels.

As it happens, like you I believe strongly in individual freedom. But I still love Ulysses. Disliking James Joyce isn't preserved for right-wingers, socialists can find Finnegan's Wake unreadable too, if they want!

But as I said, if you have a particular aim then that's your prerogative... it just seems very self-sacrificing of you to slog through so many books, learning or gaining nothing that you don't already know, just to warn other conservatives what not to read.

Although of course, you haven't actually slogged through Ulysses, have you...?

- AGN

- May-19-2003, 06:45

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AGN:

Bingo!

That's precisely anmd explicitly the point of the site. All literature is political and does serve political purposes. In school, in the press, and in literary criticism you'll hear from the Left how it fits their worldview. We're trying to point out how it serves our conservative views. There is no literary criticism here, nor are any claims made that what we do is literary criticism. There are book recommendations for people who don't share the established views of liberal academia. The great bulk of emails we get are from folks who say: "Thank God! I thought there was something wrong with me because I found Joyce or Proust or whoever unreadable." We're trying to let them know that they aren't al;one and that there are specific political reasons why certain books are hailed as classics even if they're dreck.

- oj

- May-15-2003, 09:39

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In response to the comment below, it becomes increasingly obvious as you look around this site that there is actually no literary criticism here at all.

This site should be called "Lots and lots of books and how they fit in with my conservative world-view". The quantity of books covered is impressive, the quality of the review distinctly less so: in fact, it is essentially the same review over and over again.

Orrin is only interested in cherry-picking bits that confirm his political views. All else is ignored or rubbished. As such, I'm afraid the whole project stands as a monumental folly, an utter waste of time: its author would be better served reading the same conservative political pamphlet 100 times than reading another 100 novels.

- AGN

- May-15-2003, 09:09

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you know, "rating" literature is preposterous. throughout my reading, i have yet to stumble across any literature of pitch and moment that deserves to be brutally packed away into categories as rigidly objective as a five-letter value system.

although i have not read finnegan's wake to its completion either, i daresay that your open-mindedness towards stylistically unique literature is found wanting. this book is not intended to be rated for accuracy and clarity as though it were some non-fictional account; the reader is meant to take what he can from it, and come to terms with the fact that a complete understanding of the work is, really, quite impossible.

what variety of book inspires the praise-laden review on this site? the book willing to do the following: subscribe to an already crystallized, immutable, and mildly conservative truth; advertise such with pleasant diction and sufficient repetition for the hard of hearing; and make merry discourse on the human condition, without really addressing its depths at all (lest it become burdensome and tiring for the reader).

let's take, for example, the reviewer's opinions on dostoevsky's crime and punishment, eliot's lovesong, conrad's heart of darkness, faulkner's sound and the fury, kafka's short stories (good job on the _really_ subtle gay-bashing, by the way), beckett's godot, eco's name of the rose ("characters who are killed by their own literary curiosity" are supposed to suggest that "perhaps it is best that we delve no further"?! nom de dieu! talife cumi!), &c... in each of these (and many, many more), the reviewer either denounces the work as rubbish or points out the few tatters of significance he drew from it, beyond which he sees nothing (and is wiling to see nothing) but void.

is this bad? well, in and of itself, no; if you hate a book, well huzzah! good show! however, it is not the duty of the literary critic to publicly condemn a work of literature without adequate basis (eg, neglecting to read the novel, failing to recognise the author's intended thematic content, &c).

to return to the matter at hand, finnegan's wake stands as a testament against critics like yourself: the critic who opens a book (or fails to open it at all, in your case) with the intention of lightly plucking its singular, underlying truth from its pages. when the serious reader sits down to read finnegan's wake (or ulysses, or any stylistically unique novel), he reads it through and accepts whatever reward he is able to reap from his efforts. should he believe it to be worthwhile, he may well attempt to read the book again in a more analytical fashion. this is the literary critic of our age.

-

- May-14-2003, 00:55

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i will defend ulysses with alacrity, but i have to say that Finnegans's Wake is beyond me, though i still have issues with anyone writing a critism about a book they never read.

- GRD

- May-05-2003, 09:01

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Thank you, for this most sublime and perfect review of the unreadable terror that is "Finnegan's Wake".

Both this and Ulysses share a common denominator: a rite-of-passage for English majors and grad students everywhere. By finishing these and writing papers upon them, they enter a select core of readers who don't know when to quit. Sadly, they try to tout Joyce's greatness to others, thereby losing all friends, but at the least they have Joyce's gibberish for solace.

I've tried. Hell, I made it through Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow" and Burrough's "Nova Express". Joyce is beyond my patience or interest.

Thank you ever so for this unflinching review of what is still one of the 20th century's greatest works of fiction. Fiction in the sense that it is a novel at all. To the grad students slogging through this, I salute you and hope the effort was worthwhile.

- Groovy Dave

- Apr-03-2003, 18:15

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