Mixing Memory

What the…?!

I recently made my third attempt at Finnegan’s Wake, and as with the first two, failed miserably. At some point I’m going to decide, once and for all, that I will never be able to read that God forsaken book. It helps that I heard this the other day (via The Valve). I figure if the author reads his own book, and I can’t understand half of what he’s saying, there’s no point in trying to read his damn book.


  1. #1 Dave Munger
    April 14, 2007

    The only way I got through Ulysses is by buying a companion book that explained *what actually happened* in each chapter. Is there such a thing for Finnegan? For that book, you’d probably have to go phrase by phrase, though.

  2. #2 Scott Eric Kaufman
    April 14, 2007

    The “official” companion is the McHugh, but if you do a “Search Inside,” you’ll see it’s quite the…apparatus. The Rosenbloom is more helpful for non-academic readers.

    Two other quick notes: I love coming across something I posted in my RSS feed. (My thought: “I didn’t know people I read on the sly also read me on the sly!”)

    The other is to remember that Joyce hams it up in that performance in order to enhance its puniness. If you follow along with the text, you’ll hear that “creakorheuman” sounds like “Greco-Roman” when the reader has an Irish lilt, which doubles (triples?) what’s already a complex pun: the Western tradition’s been hobbled by its weak knees, &c.

  3. #3 Josh
    April 14, 2007

    I just taught this last semester, so here are my suggestions for reading the Wake:

    – Don’t try to read it as your only book–just read it a little at a time as the urge strikes you. It will take you years to read it! There’s no hurry, and some parts of it will make more sense than others.

    – Make sure you read it aloud – it doesn’t work to read it silently. This is a must.

    – Start with the most straightforward chapter, _Anna Livia Plurabelle_; this is the easiest section. (Joyce reads from the end of this in that recording.)

    – Some very good books that will help are McHugh’s huge volume of annotations; Joseph Campbell’s _Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake_; the _Census to Finnegans Wake_; and John Bishop’s _Joyce’s Book of the Dark: Finnegans Wake_, which is a very good scholarly book. Also, reading Richard Ellman’s biography of Joyce, a great book in its own right, provides a lot of good background.

    _FW_ is great. I’ve taught it but I wouldn’t say that I’ve “read” it, since I don’t think hardly anyone could ever legitimately feel that they’ve finished it. The main thing is to approach it in a spirit of fun. The introduction to the Penguin edition is very good and puts you into the right state of mind about it: “there’s fun, fun, fun in Finnegan’s wake!”

  4. #4 Chris
    April 14, 2007

    Hi Josh, thanks for the suggestions! I may try again, in a less adversarial spirit this summer, using your advice.

  5. #5 Eve
    April 15, 2007

    I’ve been wanting to read it ever since I read Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates by Tom Robbins. The main character is a big fan. I read the Wikipedia entry for the book and I’m terrified. Maybe in a few years.

  6. #6 Clark Goble
    April 16, 2007

    Chris. Ditto for me. I have both Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake. It’s been my goal to read them and yet my collection sets on my shelf unfinished. On the other hand I also have had a similar goal with Kant. That one’s a little closer to reality now.

    BTW – I bought that book on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit you suggested so maybe I’ll be redeemed there as well.

  7. #7 Chris
    April 16, 2007

    Hey Clark, I hope you like Solomon’s book. My understanding is that his interpretation is somewhat idiosyncratic. That is, he tends to de-metaphysicalize (is that a word?) Hegel more than most contemporary scholars would like. Still, it really got me into Hegel in a way that other contemporary secondary texts didn’t.

  8. #8 Douglas
    April 16, 2007

    There’s a reason why Dennis Miller once said (paraphrasing), “the US Tax code is as incomprehensible as Bob Dylan reading Finnegan’s Wake in a wind tunnel.”

  9. #9 Jeff
    April 18, 2007

    Read the Cliff Notes (normally, I’m against this as it can take all the fun out of a book, but in this case, I make an exception). I found, personally, the behind all the word and grammar games, there’s really nothing there. The core story is very flat and uninteresting, such trhat, without all the games, it would have been dismissed as one of the authors lesser efforts (there’s much better in The Dubliners).

    I’ve long held that many people read FW, not out any great sense of literature, but to say they’ve read it. Just My Humble Opinion.

  10. #10 Clark Goble
    April 18, 2007

    Jeff, I find that about most “great” literature. I still curse the day I told someone I’d read Atlas Shrugged and Don Quixote.

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