Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Word in Your Ear: How & Why to Read James Joyce's Finnegans Wake (by Eric Rosenbloom)

I'm getting really into reading Finnegans Wake; the more I read it, the more I am interested in understanding it. (My finest moment was the other night, when I translated an entire incomprehensible sentence about "esoupcans" without using any sources at all. I don't have the sentence in front of me, but once I connected "esoupcans" with "europeans," the sentence made sense to me. It was sexy.)

Anyway I've been looking up books that help illuminate the text and in my search, I ended up reading the first edition of this book, which I found as a PDF online. It is uneven and lacks a certain academic rigor; on the other hand, it has many worthwhile tidbits worth noting for posterity. I will now note some of them:

  • On the idea that Finnegans Wake is a dream: the opening word of the novel, "riverrun," suggests the French "reverons," meaning, "we will dream." Cool, huh?
  • "explications of Finnegans Wake are often more arcane than the text itself" (true, very true)
  • There is a critical theory that ALP is in reality a widow of a man executed after the 1916 Easter uprising. The hanging scaffold is the scaffold Tim Finnegan is building. (I don't think the book has an easy solution like this, or that it can be solved, even, but it's interesting.)
  • Phoenix Park (the site of HCE's crime, of Humpty Dumpty's wall, and of Finnegans scaffold) is Eden, "where the fall into knowledge is enacted nightly."
  • "The challenge of reading is not to see through the veil of printed words to something hidden but to transubstantiate them as symbols back to originating thought." Oooh. Deep.

I loved the author's symbol language that shows how characters morph from one into the other. He also connected each of the characters to characters in the myth of Osiris and in the Tristan and Isolde story (not an original theory by any means but an extremely illuminating one, and in this case, explained particularly well). Also includes "the shorter Finnegans Wake" (about ten sentences long, available online and charming) and various guides to reading.

Did this book blow my mind? Not really. But it offered more pieces to the puzzle. I can't imagine why anyone would want to follow in my footsteps at this point, but Finnegans Wake? Is really, really fun to try and figure out. Especially once you realize that Joyce isn't being random at all; that it all fits together; it all makes sense in a really frustrating, cool, brilliant way.

(And I've just realized that once I finish this book I am in danger of name dropping it in every conversation I ever have about literature, only I will refer to it as "the Wake" and be really pretentious and annoying. Crap.)



Blogger Fighting the Darkness said...

Oh my gosh, I'm reading it too...
When I heard you mention it on the 3Fast podcast I almost died laughing because it takes me an hour to get through a few pages between reading the actual book and the guide as well.
Good luck!
What page are you on?

3:00 PM  
Blogger mo pie said...

That's awesome that you're reading it too! I'm on page 290, I think. Not quite halfway. Which means I need to step it up, because I am trying to finish it this year! (I started in January.)

3:02 PM  
Blogger Fighting the Darkness said...

Ah, I'm only up to the 70's... started last month for a project that I'm working on for my senior High School English paper this coming year. I'm supposed to be done by the end of the year...

7:22 PM  
Blogger mo pie said...

Wow, that is damned impressive. And I thought I was hot stuff reading "Catch 22" in high school. FW is a totally different league (although the more I get into it the more I'm tempted to teach it myself, on the college level). What's the project, if I may ask?

8:35 PM  
Blogger Fighting the Darkness said...

It's been individualized for just this book.
I read three pages a day and then spend about fifteen to thirty minutes writing what I think it means, citing various allusions (the omnipresent Adam and Eve and the Garden popping up quite a bit) and then comparing my personal analysis with the companion book, then, after noting the affirming or dissenting views in the companion, I debate the validity of the interpretation.

5:55 AM  
Blogger mo pie said...

Well my hat is off to you; that's amazing!

8:33 AM  
Blogger Fighting the Darkness said...

Well, thank you.
This is a bit forward, but I have a question. After reading the book blog and listening to your occasional and, during the "Books" topic, more direct opinions about books on the 3Fast podcast, I was wandering if you would give a quick read to a novel I have been working on. Before you shudder, giggle, or snort, let me say I would only send you the first chapter (5 pages in MSWord), and would appreciate all platitudes and dissenting comments alike.

3:29 PM  
Blogger mo pie said...

Well, I can't make any promises, but feel free to send it to me! I will try and be honest. My email address is piegirl at

11:08 AM  

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