on August 27, 1999
I don't understand this book. I picked up many literary aides and guides to this book and set about getting through it. It is so subtle and difficult... the rewards of understanding this book are not worth the effort. This is a good writer trying to be a real literary cool dude and give PhD students something to focus on. But I admit, the reason I don't like this book is because I am an illiterate moron. I should have never picked this book up; I wasted precious time I could have been watching "Friends," or "Seinfeld." I could have been working on cherry-red Camaro, or down pounding some brews with my buddies, watching the big game. Or I could have been wallowing in my own filth in the pig stye I call my den. This book must be fabulous, I am sure, but because I am a lazy, ignorant, slovenly fool, who likes his books monosyllabic and easy to digest, I don't like this book. I wish I was Mr. Cool Guy College Professor and this book could be my life, but all I have is my rear-projection TV. Tragic, *sniff*
on February 8, 2003
When you get past all the strange words and polyglot puns, Finnegans Wake just isn't that interesting of a book. The ideas expressed are contrived and uninteresting, and many have been already been treated, better, in Ulysses. "But how do you get past the language?" is the rejoinder I'm expecting to hear. It's true that very few people understand every word in the book. However I refuse to suscribe to the school of thought that states that FW is a great book just because its hard to understand and nobody will ever "get" all of it. Some people have come pretty close- MacHugh's "Annotations" goes a long way with individual words, and Campbell's "Skeleton Key" well give you the overarching meaning (yes, there is meaning) if you read it with a critical eye. These two books pretty much have FW cracked, end of story.
Now many people will also argue that one shouldn't read FW for the meanings or ideas, like other books, but rather that simply the sweet sounds of the language are enough to give it value as a literary object- essentially, even if we don't understand a word, it sounds nice. This is just silly. If you want an auditory experience listen to music or the sounds of nature. If euphonious words is your thing, read some poetry. But for heavens' sakes don't spend the time required to read 680 pages of garbled words simply because they sound cool. My point is that there are already artistic and, in my view, far more enjoyable ways to go about getting a cathartic auditory experience. FW has neither the mellifluosity of The Raven or a Spenserian sonnet, nor obviously can it provide the sonic intensity of a symphony. Books, ultimately, are read for the quality of the ideas they express, and the quality of the style used to express them.
The style of FW is idiotic. It was a nice idea at the time, sure, and probably it had to be done when considering the progress of literature as a whole, but these points don't mean that the style is of any aesthetic worth. Most of the words are incomprehensible without some guide, like the "Annotations." Because the difficulty is at the level of words, rather than ideas, one doesn't read FW, one translates it. Joyce uses foreign words (from 60 languages!) and perversions of English as the basis for the vocabulary of the text, and combines and arranges these as he pleases. Now I don't mind foreign language quotes in my books, and I'm as big of a fan of witty word-play as anyone, but when you're essentially inventing a language arbitrarily as you go along you've made a huge and pointless mistake. Why stop at the level of words? Why not write using a whole new alphabet? And the kicker is that the many of the puns are incredibly POINTLESS! A "bad of winds," for example- "bad" is Persian for "wind," apparently. So this means what, a "wind of winds"? Come on, this is lame! and a far cry from true wit. In another "celebrated" passage, Joyce weaves the names of a bunch of rivers into a conversation between two washerwomen. I.e., "kennet," meaning "ken it" or "know it", and the Kennet river in England. But what's the point? That rivers are cool? That Joyce is cool because he looked up a bunch of river names? That we're cool for figuring them out? Such puerile and mechanical displays of erudition are a waste of time for everyone involved.
The common response to attacks on FW's style is that Joyce was attempting to convey the nebulous and polysemous state of dreams. If so he failed miserably. I don't know about the rest of you but I don't dream in portmanteau words- when people talk I know exactly what they're saying. We may not understand why particular things happen in dreams, but at least we know, at a literal level, what is happening (eg. I may not know WHY, in a dream, I'm being chased by a herd of mustachioed ducks wielding blunderbusses, but I can at least describe it as such). FW lacks even that- because of the near-incomprehensibility of the language, it lacks a literal level to start out from.
Now all of this could feasibly be tolerable- the translating, the wading through secondary sources, the silliness of a contrived "dream-language"- if the payoff was worth it- ie if Joyce was saying something really profound and insightful. If the ideas validated the words. Well, they don't. Underneath it all you just have a cliched quasi-biblical myth with aspirations to allegory. It deals with how one man is Everyman and the whole is contained within its parts and history repeats and cycles are cool and male is destructive and female is fertile. Blah blah blah. Its the world according to Joyce. If you want obsolete notions about the "nature of man" and such nonsense, read the Bible or any other religious text. If you would argue that the "meaning" isn't the point, please see paragraph two above.
FW, depending on who you ask, attempts to do a lot of different things. The problem is that it fails at all of them. As music it is necessarily inadequate, as poetry it is far surpassed by real poetry, as a novel it is incomprehensible, and as a myth or an allegory it is highly derivative and essentially boring. And don't try to sell me those poststructuralist lines about "foregrounding language" or "de-stabilizing the signifier" either- you know as well as I do that FW doesn't do either of those particularly effectively, and furthermore that those are silly and pretentious concepts to begin with. I love Joyce's earlier works, but Finnegans Wake is just a monstrous waste of time and effort.
on June 30, 2002
True, Joyce's many masterpieced work of profound interjectional superiority has at last brought the final jigsaw piece to this unChristianly magnifique port-en-tois ouevre...
But that's why it's sooooooo good?!
Hello, my name is Rajish. I am an 8th rank student from The Calcutta Institute of Fine Literary Works. Tonight, we will take a journey of unprecedented backwardness and desolution. When I was 4 years old, my friend (the infamous BLIND MELON JELLAN) and I went to the local book shop to buy our first copies of Finnegan's Wake (FW as we affectionately called it). When we came home we read our copy of FW with the greatest of zeal and devoured the conduit imagery and allusion in this densely conceived and lightly told work. The effect, of one who studies it as my friend and I do, is of entrancement and utmost vermisiltude. By the end, we feel so lost and alone, so dissapointed by literature and its pseudo-world of false authoritarianism, we vow to never read again. Except for Eddy Said that is. Please read this book and join us postcolonially. Peace.
on June 4, 2002
There are scholars who make their careers on Finnegans Wake. I have read many of them, hoping to understand this book. However, among the scholars, there is no agreement as to what this book is about, or even if it is about anything, or even if it is readable. To those of us who have enjoyed Joyce's other works, such as Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and The Dubliners, Finnegans Wake is a real disappointment.
The book consists of 628 pages of crypticisms, foreign languages, and languages that haven't yet been invented. In those 628 pages one will struggle to find two words that actually go together to form a discernable thought. Of his works, Joyce said, "Ulysees is the day; Finnegans Wake is the night." Well, I take a lot of walks at night, and even on moonless nights I can make out shapes and shadows, something that is quite impossible in The Wake.
No one will ever deny that James Joyce was a brilliant writer. But, It took him 13 years to write Finnegans Wake. If he actually meant to say anything, 13 years is enough time to come up with a way to do so that actually communicates. This book actually seems like Joyce took a set of the Oxford English Dictionary, placed it atop a couple of sticks of dynamite, detonated the dynamite, and walked through the fragments, writing down whatever his failing eysight was able to pick up. Hence, one is left with the conclusion that Joyce has succeeded in pulling off a hoax, the literary equivalent of the Sokol hoax on the high-brow journal Social Text. And this is what is so disappointing about Finnegans Wake.
If you feel that you must read James Joyce (and you should), then by all means, read one of the aforementioned books. But avoid The Wake; you have better things to do with your time.
on February 18, 2002
all. After just reading a small portion of Finnegans Wake here on Amazon - thank you for the excerpts because you saved me a bundle - and after flipping through a few pages of Ulysses - too bad I paid full price for the Modern Library Edition - I am now disposed to think that Joyce was the biggest humbug for a writer ever.
When I read through the first page of Finnegans Wake, I was quite consternated at my limited vocabulary - I mean, after all, there were something like twenty words - I didn't count - that I didn't know! Which has never happened to me from reading any book, even Melville or Shakespeare! Then I looked some of them up and discovered that they weren't even in the dictionary.
Even if some of the words are foreign and actually do exist, this doesn't prove that Joyce was a great writer in English. For a man who was so educated, he sure couldn't compose an original piece of literature with any sort of structural integrity and plot congruency.
Scholars would have you believe that Joyce was a genius, whose mastery of the language was invidious. But I query which lingo he conquered, for it surely isn't English.
Maybe it was because Melville wrote Moby Dick in one year, or maybe it was because he composed White-Jacket and Redburn in one summer, perhaps Joyce realized his limitations and provinciality of ingenuity, so that's maybe why he foisted Ulysses and Finnegans Wake at the public. In this way he could besot us with "enigmatic art."
Some have called Joyce a writer's writer. I wonder if Melville, James, and Dickens would bethinkestit ( hey, I can invent pseudo-words too ) of him of such.
on December 13, 2001
Okay, this edition of Finnegans Wake may not exactly be dishonest, but it is disingenuous enough to be seriously misleading. Up front they tell you that the text of the book is taken from the first edition published in May of 1939. This is true, but it doesn't tell the whole story, and most people have no idea what it really means.
Finnegans Wake was originally published in 1939. The first edition was replete with errors and typos -- thousands of them. James Joyce spent the last two years of his life (he died in 1941) going through the text correcting the mistakes. An errata list comprising many single-spaced pages was printed in the back of the second edition, and the third edition had all of Joyce's corrections incorporated into the text. So the third edition is the definitive one.
But Penguin is reprinting the first edition. Get it? The text you'll be reading will have all of the typos that Joyce spent two years correcting -- uncorrected.
Viking does have the third edition of Finnegans Wake in print. It's smaller, with smaller type and not nearly as pretty a cover, but it's the text that Joyce approved. I would get that one (it has a white cover with a green stripe going across the middle of it), and leave this edition alone.
on November 2, 2000
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)
on July 22, 2000
OK, so, yes, some sort of very sophisticated intelligence was involved in this work. No doubt the allusions, multi-lingual puns, and invented words that fill over 600 pages were carefully chosen. But as a whole, or even in small parts, it doesn't make any sense and doesn't yield even to careful analysis and background research.
There is no plot, it explains nothing, and it describes nothing coherently. If the goal was to capture the confused, disorganized dream state of a polygot Irish writer then, yes, it's all there on paper. But was an entire book needed for this?
The hubris of this undertaking -- and of the literary critics who saved it from obscurity -- can be seen in the condescending introduction to this Penguin edition, where the editor writes:
"...any reader can enter Finnegans Wake and find something to absorb him -- as long as he or she doesn't expect to find it all in one place or, complementarily, understand everything else that appears around it. It is even possible to argue, with this same logic, that Finnegans Wake may be more accessible to the common reader that Ulysses -- or, for that matter, War and Peace or Remembrance of Things Past -- since one doesn't have to comprehend it as a totality to profit from it or enjoy it."
In other words, unlike those other books where we read about people, ideas, history, etc. here we can just enjoy the sound and look of random phrases and sentences, the way a baby enjoys pleasant sounding nonsense.
The introduction goes on to say, "It can sometimes seem that one is doing well if one makes sense of only a sentence or two on a single page. If, however, one surrenders the need to be master of everything -- or even most things -- in this strange and magnificent book, it will pour forth lots of rewards."
I humbly disagree -- one or two identfiable bits of prose per page is almost by definition an unsatisfactory reading experience. And the estimate of one to sentences per page is high -- after a paragraph or two of incomprehensible invented words, even a few straightforward words or sentences have no context or meaning.
I wouldn't discourage people from buying this book, just to see for themselves how weird it is. But I wouldn't say its a good book, anymore than the scholarly yet demented ravings and ramblings of a schizophrenic former PhD student on a streetcorner constitute good oratory. Fascinating, but more worthy of medical and psychiatric scrutiny than literary study.
on June 15, 2000
I can't see why everybody, even if they don't understand Finnegan's Wake, proclaims it to be a 'masterpiece' and that it encapsulates 'the entirety of human history'. How absurd. This piece of inconsequential nonsense may mean something to James Joyce or 'Neeborg' from the planet 'Zobtreeg', but not to any rational person who doesn't pretend to be intelligent or philosophical.
I paid seventeen dollars for a book that is puportedly a 'classic' that discusses all sorts of important issues. I read the first page and thought "this is ridiculous", so I put it back on my shelf and got a book that actually makes sense. Irish history/literature professors and well versed people that boast about having Ph.D's and masters degrees, in my opinion, use this book as a vehicle to sound smart and convey all these ideas that could not possibly be derived from the actual text. Therefore, I've formulated my OWN little theory about what this book is about: it's about nothing. It's just words that mean nothing, so that people can make whatever they like out of it, and smart people can sound smart and dumb people can listen to them, then transcribe the smart people's words verbatim, and sound smart! That little theory makes just about as much sense as Finnegan's Wake and all of the professing Professors that devote their lives to sounding intelligent, when, ultimately, Finnegan's Wake is just a bunch of nonsense.
Don't get me wrong- I'm a nice guy (don't worry- I'm from Australia)
on March 5, 2000
Reading somewhere that Finnegans Wake was one of the greatest novels of this century, I decided to give it a try. When I was taking it out of the library the librarian told me that she had never known anyone to check it out before. This should have told me something right off. Eagerly I turned to the first page and was hit with "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..." Then I came on to "bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!" I quickly scanned the rest of the book "Surely it can't go on like this for the whole thing!" I thought in despair. It did. I tried to read two pages of it then gave up in disgust. "Whats the use of reading it? It doesn't make any sense or mean anything at all." It was like I was just reading a string of words that had nothing to do with each other, I saw no use to waste my time with it. I'm not saying that just because I couldn't read it doesn't mean its not readable. I'm sure a lot of intellctuals have (fun?) reading it and also have fun telling other people they are stupid oprah reading TV obssessed coach potatos if they don't like it also. Some of these reviews have shown the people that like this book to be in this frame of mind. Anyway, if you like it then fine, but I can't see the point in trying to decode it, it wasn't like Joyce was the messenger of god, why should decoding nonsense passages like the above be so important?