[RGC 92.] Finnegans Wake by James Joyce

[read: I don’t know how to feel right now.]


» Must haves: nothing but a pencil. Nothing will save you from the confusion (maybe an Oxford English Dictionary if you must) as it is, might as well jump feet first. » Pairs well with: a small black Moleskine to keep a dream journal for your own wake.

I. Just. Read. Finnegans. Wake. Cover to cover. Front to back. And back to front again. “Finn again.”

I’m having a lot of feelings right now. This is the hardest book arguably written in the English language. The ‘arguably’ was situated as such in that sentence because it’s arguable that it is this difficult but it’s also arguable that this book is even written in English. It’s comprised of Joycean mental tortures up the wazoo (or whatever that phrase is) and made to quite seriously make you feel some type of way. Regardless of who you are, where you come from, this book should in some way relate to you.

That’s both terrifying and comforting in some ways. Finnegans Wake to most is a jumble of words (and non-words, and portmanteaus, and puns, and just everything) that are nonsensical and simply strange. Though there’s nothing else that’s simple about it. The book seems to have no meaning upon first glance. My Capstone seminar (one of the final classes you take in your major) was focused on this book. {We also read 8 other novels at the same time [read: the ring of fire]} We started in January and finished today.

I will, thus, say some things:

1) No one ever really reads the entirety of the Wake, as it’s called. If you look at every single detail and work to decode, annotate, re-understand it and use it to understand the rest of the book, you’ll spend your whole life reading it. I know Joyce scholars who have taken 10-15 years at a time to truly read it. That being said, we read it in 4 months but with the purpose of intensely reading it and balancing that with our interpretations and class discussion. So it’s definitely doable, but not recommended in such a short amount of time unless this is the last class you’re taking, literally ever.

2) There’s nothing quite like finishing all of the Wake. I read Ulysses last fall and that turned me into a masochistic mess who enjoys doing this to myself but the Wake? That’s just a concession to personal torture that I still have mixed feelings about. Not really sure what it says about me to have this be what tops off my English career. Although, I wouldn’t have read this on my own, so I’m thankful for the class environment pushing me to do this. And I feel quite a bit accomplished for having my own reading of the Wake paired with my thoughts and creativity to add to the world readers of this work. I feel like I did something substantial.

And 3) That was one rollercoaster, on a never-ending track, that looped in on itself, and floated through space. Don’t think they have a theme park for that yet, as much as Space Mountain might try. ∇

I’m sure you’re confused as to what I’m talking about.

In reality, I can’t really explain it to you because no one really knows what’s going on in the book. And I don’t want to spoil the fun! There’s something you might bring to the table reading this book that I wouldn’t. That’s the magic of it. There aren’t any real conclusive decisions that can be made about it because the book is a *little* out of control and the next person could add a completely different interpretation. Now, this is true of all literature. But I’ve never come across a work so open to meaning derivation as this one; it’s like the book has a huge * over every word pointing to a footnote that can never really be there. You’d need infinite footnotes.

Loosely, it describes a dream/wake/deathlike state of a man (HCE) potentially narrated by a woman (ALP) and interactions with their children (maybe? Shaun/Shem/Issy) about an unlawful incident in Phoenix Park (it’s all in Dublin by the way, and HCE might be Howth/the city while ALP might be the Liffey/the river) and a letter concerning evidence of the event, and a trial that maybe happens but is definitely a large rumor spread through the city, where death is everywhere, so you don’t know what happens to any of these *probable characters. You just get a feel for what it means to be stream-of-unconsciousness (not consciousness, probably) and to be reading it without any real hold of the world. A real rollercoaster of a book.

I loved it. I just loved reading it. It drove me a little crazy, and now no book will ever stand up to this type of experimentation (as I said about A Clockwork Orange). Last year, I never thought I could read Ulysses, let alone Finnegans Wake. I didn’t think anyone could really attempt it, even. But here we are. I’ve read it all. I did my best. I feel like my education is nothing if not the culmination of all my readings into this type of work, where you could be anyone from any walk of life and make sense of the work in a way a scholar can’t. It feels really really good to walk away from Finnegans Wake for a little bit to recollect and reintroduce myself to the normal world. Read some angsty teen novels and say they’re substantive too in a different way. But, as I walk away from it for now, I look back fondly on the time I did what I saw as unthinkable, unimaginable, unreadable. It shows that I can work through all of RGC (and more) throughout my life because as long as I have a love for reading, nothing will shake me.

10 out of 10 would recommend. *Just read one page. Ideally the first & the last, and then together.

In reality, to read all of it? Definitely 0 out of 10 would recommend. For your sanity.

2 thoughts on “[RGC 92.] Finnegans Wake by James Joyce

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