11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars not yet finished.
i haven't yet finished my first read through of this book, but even now i think it's fair to say that this is an amazing piece of work. i just want to reiterate what a couple of people have said. firstly this is not literature, as such, it shares far more with music than it does with literature, and secondly, it should be read as you would listen to music, letting it wash...
Published on July 4 2005 by patrick bateman
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A silly little monstrosity
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...
Published on Feb. 8 2003 by Ookie Cookie
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars not yet finished.,
This review is from: Modern Classics Finnegans Wake (Paperback)
i haven't yet finished my first read through of this book, but even now i think it's fair to say that this is an amazing piece of work. i just want to reiterate what a couple of people have said. firstly this is not literature, as such, it shares far more with music than it does with literature, and secondly, it should be read as you would listen to music, letting it wash over you, not trying to control any of it, not trying to realize what is happening. you should realize that after a while things will make sense, and even if the book never makes sense to you entirely it doesn't matter. to view this book as beautiful nonsense does no disservice to it, i think, because it is definitely the ultimate in beautiful nonsense if that's the way you want to see it.
and really, if you're going to write this off as gibberish, realize the man spent 17 years of his life perfecting this book. he went blind while writing it. his daughter was put into a mental asylum and europe was in the begining throes of world war II and still he wrote this book. more work has been lovingly poured into these pages than most writers put into their entire career. if you don't like it, fine, but calling this book gibberish is doing a huge disservice to the author and only making yourself look stupid. just say you don't like it, that's all you need to say.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A silly little monstrosity,
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bizarre, confusing, enigmatic, overwhelming- but wonderful!,
This review is from: Finnegans Wake: Centennial Edition (Paperback)
I just finished reading FW last night after almost six weeks of thorough plowing-ahead through it. I don't know where to begin in my review of it. I would start by summing it up in the word amazing. This book reinvents language. All through school, we're taught grammar, spelling, punctuation, the format for writing essays, letters, etc., but Joyce rejects that education, says the hell with it and does his own thing. What interpretation of a word is right? Is there a correct interpretation to be conceived? Is there any possible way to wrestle the magnitude of this book to the ground and pin it down to really understand what's going on?? Who knows. Joyce has the reader in the palm of his hand, and it's frightening what FW can do to one's mind. I'm sure that now everything else I read will make me think of Joyce in one way or another. I probably don't know 2% of the amount of foreign languages, literary, geographical, historical and mythological allusions and references which are crammed into the book, but the parts that I CAN decipher are very clever. It's not an interesting "story", but it's captivating simply because it's such an enigma of a book.
There is not so much a story here as there is a SERIES of stories or vignettes parodying various myths, historical events, etc. But several patterns occur and reoccur. Variations of the initials H C E and A L P (What does Joyce achieve with FW? Why, He Confuses Everyone! All Living Persons!), rearrangements of the name of Finn MacCool, the mythological Irish hero, and the predominant Vicoian theme of history repeating itself. H C E is born and reborn as Adam, as Humpty Dumpty, as Finn MacCool himself.. ad infinitum. Joyce deliberately left the whole thing open-ended so that every word can be interpreted in any way, depending on the individual readers personal knowledge. The more you learn, the more meanings will apply themselves to FW. Tip.
And those of you who call this book a piece of garbage have to admit one thing- at least it's original and unique. There's no other book quite like it. Joyce didn't write for other people to understand him. He didn't write to appeal to the literary elite. Joyce wrote for Joyce, and if the reader can be in on the joke, it can produce great results. If you don't get it and call it a pretentious collection of random phrases, then darn it, it's your loss. And don't criticize people for saying they like it. And no, I'm NOT "pretending" to like it- I LIKE IT! Certainly it has some dull spots, but it's 90% great!
It Awnly tuck me sicksweex to reed the hole booke, anned I enjoid it vary moch. Tip. To you extramely pretentious revousers who say that knowbody has ever red it all the weigh thru (whaat maycs you so dammed shore of it in the fursed plays?!), then increase the number of people of all time who have read it all the way through from "zero" to ONE. That one being me. Not only did I read every last word, but I ENJOYED it, and very much so. So stack that in yore piep und smoe kit!
On to bigger and better(?) things! I'm starting Ulysses tonight!
5.0 out of 5 stars The Wrath of the Understanding,
The phrase that I've used to entitle this review is from Hegel, "Wut des Verstehens." It refers to the human drive to want to understand everything---and the irritation that human beings feel when something slips from their intellectual grasp.
FINNEGANS WAKE is a ceaseless flow of language... It has neither beginning nor end... It is without sentences... Perhaps it doesn't even enfold words...
Give up the attempt to understand FINNEGANS WAKE. Glide along its multitudinous surfaces. Bask in its language. Read it silently. Read it aloud.
Read without trying to understand any of it.
The reviews that surround this one may be used by a future scholar who would like to track down the misreception of FINNEGANS WAKE in the United States in the early twenty-first century. Again and again, Joyce is lambasted for not common-parlying. The apostles of commonsense want to hear only what they think that they already know. When a writer comes along and says something in a new way, they balk and coil.
This is not a book to be understood. It is a book of darkness, of ciphers, of dreams.
I will leave you with a brief excerpt from FINNEGANS WAKE, Part III. It is a description of hellos:
"...after their howareyous at all with those of their dollybegs (and where's Agatha's lamb? and how are Bernadetta's columbillas? and Juliennaw's tubberbunnies?..."
5.0 out of 5 stars this is the book that never ends.,
By A Customer
"This is the book that never ends it goes on and on my friends. Some people started reading it not knowing what it was and they will continue reading it because this is the book that never ends..." (based on the song the never ends)
If you are a person who like to read the ending first please do with this book. Read the ending or at least the last sentence. The book opens with the last half of the sentence that closes the book. Just as I jokingly changed the song lyrics from song to book, this book does not really end. It is a cycle that repeats and does not really have a begin point. Open the book any where at begin.
Since it is a book that does not end, I have read the pages twice through, but truely I have never finished reading it.
The book has a flow which as printed text stays the same but each reading through is different. It is a simple plot as given in the summeries, but also one of great complex. It is a book to be spoken, not one to read in silence. The way to read this work is to simply hear it. If you do not understand, simply keep listening. As a child I was told, if you do not know a word look it up. In this book, skip the looking up and keep the flow alive. At some point you will enter the flow of the words.
The book remind me of the Lord of the Rings. Both authors create an multilayered and deep reality. Both authors like to play with language. LORTR is adventure styled after the sagas of spoken by the winter fires old and creates a myth saga in a dream like world. FW is styled to be spoken by a winter fire and interweaves myth with the conscious and the unconscious struggles of modern life in a dreamlike world. The LORTR is easy to follow, but the reminding ends for FW is not easy to follow. Yet how can flowing struggle of conscious and unconscious be easy to follow?
It can be said half joking "that reading FW is like the withdrawl off Paxel or any of its class of drug. You risk part of your sanity as you struggle with the conscious and unconscious flow of life."
5.0 out of 5 stars The philological scourge of our language,
"Finnegans Wake" is a novel for people who are tired of reading novels. The chapter summaries in the table of contents, and not the body of the novel itself, give evidence of a plot, which concerns the dream-consciousness of a man whose initials H.C.E. recur as an acronym at various points in the text and whose wife Anna Livia Plurabelle, sons Shem (the Penman) and Shaun (the Postman), and daughter Issy figure prominently among many other exotic and unexpected characters. However, the presentation is so nebulous and abstract that the novel resembles nothing else in literature, although the style looks deceptively easy to imitate.
Upon first looking at the pages of "Finnegans Wake," one inevitably must wonder what it's supposed to be. My explanation of it is an extension of my theory about "Ulysses," which is that "Ulysses" was Joyce's effort to write a novel that used every single existing word in the English language, or at least as many as he could. (Among its 400,000 words, "Ulysses" certainly has a much broader lexicon than any other novel of comparable length.) Having exhausted all the possibilities of English in "Ulysses," he had only one recourse for his next project, which was to create an entirely new language as a pastiche of all the existing ones; the result is "Finnegans Wake."
The language in "Finnegans Wake" is a continuum of puns, portmanteaus, disfigured words, anagrams, and rare scraps of straightforward prose. What Joyce does is exploit the way words look and sound in order to associate them with remote, unrelated ideas. For example, his phrase "Olives, beets, kimmells, dollies" may sound familiar to those who happen to know that the first four letters of the Hebrew alphabet are aleph, bet, gimel, daled. "Psing a psalm of psexpeans, apocryphul of rhyme" recalls a nursery rhyme that may reside quietly in your most dormant memory cells, while "Where it is nobler in the main to supper than the boys and errors of outrager's virtue" sounds like a drunk auditioning for the role of Hamlet. Imaginary adjectives that pertain to letters of the English alphabet are employed to describe Dublin as a city "with a deltic origin and a nuinous end." "Finnegans Wake" is the ultimate in esoterica, and what you get out of it depends largely on your store of knowledge, so that upon completion, with a mutual wink at Joyce, you congratulate yourself for being so clever.
The text is supposed to reflect a dream or a dreamlike state, an imperfect rendering of hazily remembered pictures and thoughts, but it also evokes the multivocal babble one might hear in a crowded Irish pub, multiple rolling streams of lilting brogue-laden speech combining into a sort of rhythmic cacophony, a variegated procession of verbal images ranging from the mundane to the fantastical. It cannot be read in any conventional manner of reading prose; each sentence has a melody, and the words must be vocalized in the mind to hear the verbal music. It can be maddening if you try to make meaning of it all, but if you're familiar with Joyce's past work, you've already risked your sanity adequately to make it through "Finnegans Wake."
5.0 out of 5 stars one book compactification of the world,
you will, not likely, ever "read" the wake in any average sense of the word. joyce has created something amazing, a book that, rather literally, has something for everyone, yet encompasses all too much to be read by any one person (likely even himself, he spoke only a handful of the languages (estimated at upwards of fifty) he made use of in his prose). making sense of even just a paragraph may contain a slive of russian history, a nod to the great italian violin makers, and (almost without fail) contain some lesson about the catholic church burried in it somewhere. if you enjoy puzzles that require remarkable reliance on outside sources for help, this is an excellent place to spend your time. truth be told, whatever it may be literarily, what it is socially is even greater, for an attempt at a reading verily requires a group of variagated back-grounds to even begin to scratch the surface, an end-result of which is that it brings together people (particularly academics) of various backgrounds to work on a single problem. i would imagine few other ob- and/or sub- jects require such interdisciplinary coöperation. so, the next time you find yourself sitting around a table with a physicist, a musician, a historian, a linguist, and a carpenter, pull the book out and see if you can't make some sense of it. it's all there, it just takes a bit of work.
5.0 out of 5 stars My Bible,
Oh, man, it just puts me down to see how people who obviously haven't read the whole book (and more importantly read it twice, thrice and so on) slag it down, blame it a joke, a pure jumblebumble of twisted words, blame the author insane and so forth... It's not too great to hear, when I recommend it to someone: "oh, i've read it's just Joyce's joke" or "it's just puns, it's meaningless" etc. If you don't understand it, let it be, it's not for you. You've right to your opinion but...
I'm reading FW for a 3rd time now, and I'm convinced it's not a novel, or poetry or even a book (although it is, in a way) but a new kind of medium. It's written vertically, like counterpoint in music. That one leaf on the last page, that the mother river is bearing on her, is the actual page you're holding; the river takes it out to the sea and to the first page. It's a spiral. I have no words to describe it; the feelings, the moods I get when reading it. You HAVE to learn to read FW. It took me 4 years of struggle before it actually struck me, and I got it. And the text hasn't ceased to suprise me since. It's always with me, wherever I go. Even if I don't even open it, because I've noticed that when I've left the book home, I'll be missing it sooner or later.
Joyce insane? I don't care, but it takes a genius to write something as striking as this.
3.0 out of 5 stars You let us down James,
By A Customer
James loved to play. In fact it seems he enjoyed playing alone more than he did with others. Nevertheless I give James 3 stars for his playfulness, and for showing us emphatically that rules are for fools. For the same playful spirit along with coherence, wisdom and compassion I highly recommend anything by Nobel laureate Jose Saramago, in my humble opinion a superior writer to Joyce and a writer who writes for and plays with all of us. My feeling is that wisdom, compassion, and the abilty to communicate lucidly count for a whole lot more than linguistic gymnastics, ingenious experimentation with the archetypal nature of words and impressive erudition. If there is in fact something of substance in Finnegan it will be found by very few. Try Saramago. (I am the self-appointed minister and creator of the Jose Saramago church of common sense.) With his vast knowledge of mythological tales, I'm sure that James Joyce knew that after the hero goes into the dark forest to search out, and finally attains the boon, he returns with the boon so that the world (or at least the social group) can also enjoy the benefits of that which was won. Although I do believe that Joyce found his way there, upon returning he shared that hard won boon with only a few of his buddies. Fortunately for all of us, there were those who took the boon from James and learned from that which it offered. Was James Joyce a genious? I believe he was.(however) In The Portait and his other writings he states clearly what he considers to be "proper art" and improper art", declaring that "Art" intended to teach, instruct, guide (didactic), is not "proper" to what he feels to be "ART". He pretty much stuck to that. After Dubliners and The Portrait, he didn't teach us anything. Although Ulysses and Finnegan are certainly "ingenious" creations, They are not Great books. A necessary quality for a great book is to have an affect on the reader beyond and above entertainment, fascination, self enjoyment. I'm with Saramago and Tolstoy on this one.
5.0 out of 5 stars Something for everyone here,
There are many people who own Finnegans Wake. I have seen these people. The book sits peacefully on a shelf, the spine of the book as immaculate as the day the book was purchased. To understand SOME of Finnegans Wake, the book needs to be falling apart due to the wear and tear of years of study. I refuse to listen to anyone who claims to understand all of the Wake, unless they have spent no less than seventeen years reading and studying it.
Of course the beauty of this book is that a reader need not understand the whole thing. Joyce wrote this for the "common reader," so there must be something here that all readers can find amusing or touching in some way. Granted, the book's reputation alone frightens away some readers. We are talking about a book that has been labeled "unreadable" by some folks. Let us not forget that JR was labeled similarly, and many people thoroughly enjoyed that book.
My point, and I do have one, is that this is a book that can be read at any level possible. If I want to spend days studying each page, I can do it. If I want to read the book straight through and not care what I miss along the way, I can do it. And if I don't want to read the book at all, I can do that too. But doing that, or giving up after the first page, will offer no opportunity to find that passage that may stay with me. I hope that you will give this book a chance, and perhaps you too will find some passage or some joke that will brighten your day and make you glad that you got tangled up with this Joyce fellow in the first place.
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Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (Hardcover - 2010)
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