This was going to be a regular review. It’s just a book after all, and I should be able to critically look at it and judge it for its merits.
But thisThis was going to be a regular review. It’s just a book after all, and I should be able to critically look at it and judge it for its merits.
But this just isn’t any old book and this isn’t really going to be a review as I have written in the past.
There’s a cliche about the Velvet Underground; supposedly (and God knows this isn’t really true) but supposedly, only 1000 people actually listened to VU while they were still together, but every one of those people started their own band. This criminally overlooked band in its time didn’t garner the fame it so richly deserved, but from its ashes came so many other bands and movements (i.e. punk, post-punk, new wave, etc., etc.).
I kind of get this same feeling about Finnegans Wake. Just so freaking weird and unknowable by anyone that it can’t help but inspire. Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange), said that it was one of his favorite novels. Samuel Beckett, who helped in researching for it and whose prose couldn’t be any different than Joyce’s, said it was one of the most important books of the modern age. So those are two fairly good recommendations.
All I can say is that I probably understood maybe 10 percent of this book. If that. But I loved it. I loved the funny witticisms, the plays on words, the revolving characters who were never what they seemed. The words seemed to dance around the page, changing their meanings, playing with you, making you think what these words actually meant. Were they just symbols in print or were they a epiphany of language?1
You can’t really pin down a narrative in the Wake. There are two main characters (that take dozens, if not hundreds of permutations) that go by the initials of HCE and ALP. The actions of the books take place in the dreams of the narrator (if you can call him/her that) and the loosened strictures of logic that take place in your dreams. HCE is accused of a lewd act and ALP is the love interest. S/He take a multitude of forms (most famously ALP, the feminine character, taking the form of rivers, the life-givers, the cradles of civilization, this is the one passage that almost always is given when an anthology includes the Wake).
It is said that Joyce based the plot of the novel on a Viconian view of history; or, that all history is essentially cyclical and always comes back to the beginning, no matter what. So it is in the Wake. Beginning with the sentence that it ends with, the same themes, characters, and plots are recirculated repeatedly throughout the book, through a variety of interpretations, to the point where the reader isn’t sure what is really and what is imagined (again, the vagaries of sleep and dream).
To go back to the idea of the Velvet Underground and their inspirational presence in the late 1960s and early ’70s; they gave so many ideas to so many musicians that their legacy is so much larger in retrospect. In looking at reviews of Finnegans Wake that were written concurrent to its publication, no one knew what to make of this book. People had started to unravel the mystery that was Ulysses but this was an entirely different set of puzzles, one that we are still figuring out today.
Ultimately, this book has inspired me to write again. It’s been a long time since I’ve written for myself, but now, wherever I go, there is a writing utensil and paper with me. I know that I will never reach the peaks (or the depths) of what Joyce produced during his lifetime, but he serves as an inspiration to what we as humans can do, when we truly put our minds to it.
1. Every place I’ve ever lived was mentioned in this book. Completely random, as not too many American states and cities are mentioned, but lo and behold, Kansas, Philadelphia, and New York are all in this book. This Philly mention is the best:
Honuphrius is a concupiscent exservicemajor who makes dishonest propositions to all. He is considered to have committed, invoking driot d’oreiller, simple infidelities with Felicia, a virgin, and to be practicing for unnatural coits with Eugenius and Jeremiahs, two or three philadelphians.
Naturally, Honuphrius (one of the many, many names of the main character HCE) would be “practicing for unnatural coits” with two Philadelphians....more
weird, complicated and i only understood about 75 percent of what was going on. but, i want to read it again and again. i don't know why, it just hasweird, complicated and i only understood about 75 percent of what was going on. but, i want to read it again and again. i don't know why, it just has a wonderful momentum that builds each chapter and if it isn't the narrative it's the prose itself. wonderful and completely worth the time and effort....more