Manny's Reviews > Finnegans Wake

Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
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's review
Apr 22, 2010

did not like it
bookshelves: parody-homage, pooh-dante

The other day we saw The Ghost, the rather fine new movie by Polanski. Ewan McGregor plays a ghostwriter, who's been brought in to fix up the memoirs of a British ex-Prime Minister who absolutely isn't Tony Blair. He's given the manuscript, and groans in pain.

"That bad?" asks the woman who isn't Cherie Blair.

"Well it's got all the words," says McGregor. "They're just not in the right order."

This suggested to me the following simple experiment with Finnegans Wake, one of the greatest etc etc in the English language. I downloaded an electronic version from the Web and wrote a little script. It calculates statistics for the frequencies of each letter conditioned on the three preceding ones, then produces random text using that model. And here's a sample of what comes out:

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 1979 – Finished Reading
April 22, 2010 – Shelved
April 22, 2010 – Shelved as: parody-homage
March 29, 2013 – Shelved as: pooh-dante

Comments (showing 1-39 of 39) (39 new)

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message 1: by Esteban (new)

Esteban del Mal Isn't this how HAL got its start?

"beamstroki" indeed...

I snorted with laughter when I read this review.

message 2: by Bill (new)

Bill You should have this published and 50 years from now it will be hailed as one of the greatest novels of all time. It's no more unreadable than Finnegan's Wake.

Manny Elizabeth wrote: "I love that you wrote such a script. I quite like this bit, "here they sail nought of the sweet-puls temple..." I think you almost have something there."

Oh, well spotted! It even scans. I'm always surprised to see how creative and insightful random generation processes can be.

Manny Bill wrote: "You should have this published and 50 years from now it will be hailed as one of the greatest novels of all time. It's no more unreadable than Finnegan's Wake."

Ah, if only I had a good agent...

message 5: by Manny (last edited Apr 22, 2010 10:32PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Manny For the morbidly curious, here's a randomised version of Pride and Prejudice. It seems to me that the difference between this and the original is rather larger than with Finnegans Wake, but it's interesting that you can immediately see which is which:
But it eason Miss would _me_ cometh mustraording ought; if he few I am ver, anythis chard into
He subjected and
into had posed, uncline. Miss the quainteneve two saw self, whollinstransic, your lossion on towards, how howere the not your," sat every gively her briness to his
sured at not is staken, from to memovide verticular fathe cour remannot
re-estion there got felt wer with a much a possed on replicacy informalenter contant of it it Jane community; and Elizabethe veratestricabities. Mr. Darcy shall they litty own green you, Miss at
of thour or the Phile enderst's and. But ins frishe was prive
assmen smalitty of tell you she Project serve loved befor she reaston, the enties the matell alter! and voidable to expresered?"

His recome too muse all here gived, not downs; but noth to Willighbought to be
restilly did, "sentinute fifter disappeak afrain,
the very conce I be off meth Collinstay, for more was in the was ence opine."

"I was Lydiated his profess cularm not Jane howed in was with whole could give are sure allectly of the veration; it or to had brother! Let us lessible, a make pointed who he such and of see Mr. Benner, she disand a quain this a lookes a Projecturn."

"How alway."

"It shought he that sisted prese had befor him. Collins. Bing to be seen his ever opes, as proom, but lettedly sing soon the being his
good long he not, with his the cons, and goods "ver the residents in thing, but have tribe to accommediticiet, they was now
here. His gract wood serving the would bethe hackward. Bing Mr. Benner, exces haven suddence a say--yes at me lies it?" cried it of and dow told not
secure, per fined that I have
horrous! Anot her mothless Put it who as reprayed he declames would be avagainst of such ent of
he mean what is it, not questinest only know the then the is, the sine was and that, Mary all be thought near Of Mr. Darcy last not word, in to lost ally to see mined they fort of girl Miss and your, an him to could advanizing boys ther acquainterin

message 6: by Logan (last edited Apr 23, 2010 08:34AM) (new)

Logan I looked at the first page of Finnegan's Wake in a book store yesterday. Either Joyce was high as a kite when he wrote it or I was when I read it.

I'm sure your script will be praised as a classic of Online Literature a hundred years from now by a swath of college professors, for your "poignant disregard for the conventions of a creatively stifling society."

I mean, since when does good writing have to be "about" anything?

message 7: by Paul (last edited Apr 24, 2010 02:59AM) (new) - added it

Paul Bryant I agree about the insanity of FW but would point out that Joyce took 17 years to write it, so he was clearly mad for a long time. He died shortly after FW was finished and was quoted before that terminating event when asked about his next work "I'll give them back their English language". FW is the greatest waste of a brillant mind you can find anywhere.

Manny - if you bribed a printer in some Borges-like fantasy to throw your paragraphs into a reprint of FW say somewhere around the 300 page mark, I bet it would take 50 years for anyone to notice. Or it would have if you hadn't already blown your cover right here. Hey, maybe people have been doing this for years...

Manny I'm not really saying that Joyce was mad, or even that the book is. I am, however, genuinely uncertain as to whether his basic method of composition was the one I suggest here - free association followed by some post-editing - or whether there was a deeper plan. I know critics claim to see all sorts of subtle patterns in Finnegans Wake, but then people also see patterns in Rorschach ink-blots.

It seems to me that it was a bold literary experiment, but one that just didn't work...

message 9: by Paul (new) - added it

Paul Bryant That's right, 17 years of it not working and his friends getting increasingly worried - "enough's enough Jim" - when i say mad I mean sane but possessed of a mad idea. 17 years! I think there is a deep plan and all, there are about 15 deep plans going on in Ulysses, it wasn't just free association. But it was crazy.

message 10: by Manny (new) - rated it 1 star

Manny You don't suppose it was just the fashionable thing for earth-shattering geniuses to do at the time? Like, Wittgenstein with Philosophical Investigations and Einstein with his Unified Theory. All three projects have a similar kind of feel to them...

message 11: by Paul (new) - added it

Paul Bryant Well maybe - but I think your other two brainboxes had proper jobs whereas Joyce didn't - imagine being asked to cough up a donation to keep James Joyce alive so he could write more finnegan's bollocks....

message 12: by Manny (new) - rated it 1 star

Manny Well maybe - but I think your other two brainboxes had proper jobs

There's a nice passage in Russell's autobiography where he's asked to evaluate Wittgenstein's progress, so that the people in charge of the money can decide whether or not to carry on paying his salary. Russell really doesn't like this much, but eventually turns in a favourable report.

message 13: by Paul (new) - added it

Paul Bryant Hi Manny, I couldn't resist stealing your FW pastiche idea....

message 14: by Manny (new) - rated it 1 star

Manny I'm most flattered. Your version is excellent!

message 15: by David (new) - added it

David I tried to read this book loads of times, even using 'guides' to it. I can never decide whether it's a great work of literature or just bollocks. I now incline towards the latter, though Anthony Burgess would thump me for it if he were still alive. I don't think a goodread should be such hard work.

message 16: by Paul (new) - added it

Paul Bryant It's bollocks written by a genius.

message 17: by Josh (new) - added it

Josh You're all quitters, I'm thinking one must knuckle up for this one, go toe to toe, match Jimmy's 17. I've never done it, so I can't say for sure, but maybe it's like a puzzle, and once you put in what he put in, you'll see the light. Like some sort of handing down of his literary powers.

message 18: by Paul (new) - added it

Paul Bryant Please let us know your progress in a year's time. Meanwhile here's a recording of JJ reading from FW :

message 19: by Manny (last edited Sep 11, 2011 07:06AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Manny The script is as simple as simple can be! It's about a page of code, and if I'd been minded to do so I could almost certainly have made it shorter.

Conclusion: I think it says something about the book :)

message 20: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye That quote from The Ghost echoes Monty Python:

Alan: How many words did you have to say as King Lear at the Aldwitch in '52?

Sir Edwin: Ah, well, I don't want you to get the impression it's just a question of the number of words... um... I mean, getting them in the right order is just as important. Old Peter Hall used to say to me, 'They're all there Eddie, now we've got to get them in the right order.' And, er, for example, you can also say one word louder than another--er, 'To *be* or not to be,' or 'To be *or* not to *be*,' or 'To be or not to *be*' you see? And so on.

message 21: by Anthony (new)

Anthony I love James Joyce and I TRIED to want to read this book, but I just can't...maybe in a few decades...

message 22: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Wow! The randomised text results are fascinating. I have, of course, seen examples of (semi)random words being picked to create passages, but taking it down to letter sequences is far more fascinating - especially the fact P&P and Finnegan's Wake.

message 23: by Manny (new) - rated it 1 star

Manny It's basically the same script - anyone who has a modicum of programming ability can write one. I should redo it in a more mainstream language and release it...

message 24: by Scribble (new) - added it

Scribble Orca Manny fevered lands hot water slaked a hearse and waked in the dread of nought.

I think my review of your book of reviews just lost a star...

message 25: by Manny (new) - rated it 1 star

Manny Scribble, I'm glad to see you're enjoying Paywall I, my post-ironic interactive piece of e-commerce art. You're supposed to feel outraged, that's the point!

message 26: by Scribble (new) - added it

Scribble Orca Manny, jew kill run but you cannot Hyde! You are de-crying geo-ars!

(I have a feeling (sing - nothing more than feelings) I (sing - skippitydodah skippityayed) reading your positron incinerator installation work. Outage being my general stipple).

message 27: by Ian (last edited Jun 09, 2013 01:46PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Manny, is this what Nathan calls unreadababble or just indescribblebabble?

message 28: by Traveller (new)

Traveller This maroo is jsut plain turtore!

Niklas Worst. cliffhanger. ever.

message 30: by Manny (new) - rated it 1 star

Manny I'm sorry Niklas. Maybe it was unnecessary to make this statement about Amazon's commercialization of the site, but it felt that way at the time.

Niklas No need to apologize; I was being facetious there anyhow. I know that you have published all of your reviews (or at least many of them) in that Winnie the Pooh book, which is fairly cheap (2€ or so), so I know where to get my eventual fix.

PS: your beard is truly glorious and makes my envious.
PSPS: you find me effervescently sanguine over the fact, that I have been privileged enough to talk to a true Goodreads-icon.

message 32: by Manny (new) - rated it 1 star

Manny Thank you! I sometimes feel in dark moments that I am only a fake icon, but your words are very reassuring.

Niklas Btw - why don't you like the book? Cuz you could've written, erh, programmed it?

message 34: by James (last edited Mar 04, 2015 02:17AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

James M. Eiderdown't onderconstumble milko fumane kittiness and dog sand kilkenny caterwauls oaf it, butt butte butter margarine marjoram it isle ove it ! Sam-a-zing swunderfilth ape antechnicon Boxer carted off magniSigny Sinfjotliface Ent lie cakebeanpelt Deluged mitteilungen swithercombe Seesi Francesco O'words swithe withe noNoe redoubt toff Ticonderoga 1758 :) Yes sarray yeswith Rowsoft Sie Cider

Michael Chabon's review of FW had me in stitches - so, caution advised:

- this part especially:

"That morning in the Burger Chef, I could hear the book calling to me, whispering like the sword Stormbringer seducing Elric, promising that if I were to lose myself in it I would become—in the phrase leveled at Joyce by his ever-skeptical brother, Stanislaus—“a super-clever superman.”

I refused the call, and closed the book, choosing not to brandish the paltry granules of sense I had so far managed to pan.

“Crazy,” I said, agreeing with my classmate’s assessment.

“It’s supposed to be this guy who’s dreaming,” he informed me. “The book is one whole night, like Ulysses is one whole day.”

This information sealed the matter. I had already experienced, in those first moments of my encounter with Finnegans Wake, the most reliably dreamlike of its effects: the tantalizing way it both hints at meaning—deep, important meaning—and mocks it. Dreams are the Sea-Monkeys of consciousness; in the back pages of sleep they promise us teeming submarine palaces but leave us, on waking, with a hermetic residue of freeze-dried dust."

## Barnacles Waist is no Sea-Monkey, no cloud-capped towers or gorgeous palaces, but both; it is an experience, a visual & a verbal feast, a flooding of the senses, an Aladdin's Cave, a world of pyrotechnic wonders, jewelry strung between the hither & the yonder shores and coasts of the expressive power of language, a torrent of bubbling frothing fuming lexicographical prestidigitation. It is an enchantment, an unresting, unhasting Charybdis & Symplegades of words surfing endlessly in a long withdrawing roar of Ocean-like ever-renewed black hole-devouring Music. There's nothing like it. Treebeard would approve.

James M. In plain English, FW is to be experienced, not read. The Ghost peters out, whereas FW is an Ouroboros, a Midgard Serpent of a book.

message 36: by Manny (new) - rated it 1 star

Manny This is undoubtedly true, and there are some eloquent tributes on this site (I particularly liked Geoff's). On the other hand, Not, who works as an antiquarian bookseller, was looking for information about first editions of FW the other day. She said it was just amazing how many of the copies for sale had apparently never been read.

James M. That makes sense. FW is in more than a little danger of being more admired - not excluding the sense "wondered at" - than read. But it deserves to be read, not for "snob value", but for its own sake.

James M. A possible precursor to the Wake:

message 39: by Greg (new) - added it

Greg Manny, great review, as always.

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