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Thread: Finnegans Wake - 'the Most Colossal Leg-pul In Literature'?

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    Worthless Hack Zippy's Avatar
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    Finnegans Wake - 'the Most Colossal Leg-pull In Literature'?

    From the Daily Mail, Thursday 23 February 2006.

    QUESTION: Did James Joyce write the impenetrable Finnegans Wake as an elaborate joke? I heard that when critics called it a masterpiece and praised it for its complexity, he couldn’t stop laughing.

    “FINNEGANS WAKE was Joyce’s final and most controversial work. He began writing it in 1922 and didn’t finish it until 17 years later. From 1924, instalments of the work appear in various publications under the title Work In Progress.

    “The first half of the 20th century can be characterised as ‘science split the atom and Joyce split the word’ and this is particularly applicable to Finnegans Wake, where every word and phrase is loaded with meaning.

    “The title itself is a complicated pun fusing Finn as in the French fin – ‘end’ with ‘egan’, sounding like ‘again’, together forming the paradoxical ‘end again’.

    “Wake refers to a party for the recently dead, but it is also a joke because the dream content of Finnegans Wake takes place during Finnegan’s sleep.

    “The book starts by using the second half of the final sentence of the book: ‘riverrun, past Eve and Adams, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth, Castle and Environs.’

    “The level of wordplay gets no easier, continuing ‘Sir Tristram, violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea, has passencore rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war; nor had topsawyer’s rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse to Laurens County’s giorgios while the went doubling their mumper all the time’, etc., etc. for 388 pages.

    “Its impenetrable language has led many to regard Finnegans Wake as a joke. The author’s brother, Stanislaus, said it was either ‘the work of a psychopath or a huge literary fraud’.

    “Oliver Gogarty, a literary critic and friend of the author, called it ‘the most colossal leg-pull in literature’.

    “Ezra Pound wrote: ‘Nothing short of divine vision or a new cure for the clap can possibly be worth all that circumambient peripherisation.’

    “No one will ever know if Joyce meant the book as a joke. But, having spent half his adult life writing it, if it was written as a joke it was one of the most complex, thoughtful and literary jokes ever.

    “Wendy Clemens, Portsmouth.”


    Has anyone read (or attempted to read) Finnegans Wake? Do you believe it’s a work of genius or a huge literary joke?
    Last edited by Zippy; 02-23-2006 at 05:54 AM.

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    I've read it Zippy. It"s impenetrable and not worth the effort. Stick to Ulysses. One thing - it's not a joke. Ulysses was an encyclopaedia of the world, its history, literature and present-day situations (in Dublin 1904) set in one day. FW is the same, but further reaching, and set at night, through dream language. And several of JJ's personal obsessions (his father's story about Buckley & the Russian General, for instance) are gone over in incomprehensible detail.
    I'm a Joycean & Wildean scholar and I can tell you the paper's 1st sentence comes as news to me. Never have I heard of JJ laughing at anyone over FW: in fact, as he got older, he became more foreboding & gloomy. If there's any truth in the story, he must have been laughing because to call it a masterpiece to his face wd imply an understanding of the book, which no-one outside his closest circle cd've possibly hoped to do during his own lifetime - and even they weren't professors or even, mostly, native English-speakers (there is a base language buried in FW: it's English, kinda)
    BTW in his letter, Pound spelt it 'clapp' for some reason.

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    Worthless Hack Zippy's Avatar
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    Joyce is one of those writers I've always wanted to read but never really got around to. I have read a few of his short stories, however, and found them excellent, but haven't tackled any of his longer works.

    I recently bought a copy of Ulysses however, so I'm going to attempt it soon. Wish me luck!
    "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." Anais Nin.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Zippy
    Joyce is one of those writers I've always wanted to read but never really got around to. I have read a few of his short stories, however, and found them excellent, but haven't tackled any of his longer works.

    I recently bought a copy of Ulysses however, so I'm going to attempt it soon. Wish me luck!
    If you ever desire the plunge of reading Finnegans Wake, Zippy, I highly recommend it, but warn you to prepare yourself for quite a challenge. I have read it twice, and find it probably the most perplexing book I have encountered; I still even have a quote of the end and/or beginning in my signature.
    Whether call it a literary joke or a masterpiece, I feel unsure, yet perhaps both. I would like to think that all literature written by any author has an immense personal element to the writer that no reader can understand, yet think that Joyce, maybe, had an extreme edge and ability to incorporate that personal element to the point that no one can quite understand it, hence making it both a masterpiece and joke (often, I can see Joyce still laughing at me whenever I even think of Finnegans Wake).

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    Joke or not?

    No it is not a joke. It is one of the most remarkable books ever written. It is full of treasure.
    Joyce requires effort. If you do not bring your learning and your life to the "wake" you won't get much out of it. Much like a stage play, it unfolds mostly in the present tense, and, it is meant to be read aloud.
    Is is an imagined history of life...eve to now...and it includes everything. Of course this includes you!
    Part of the "cost" of the book is that you must read it at least once before you can truly begin.
    Let's begin!

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    Registered User Eufrosyne's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by abcedminded View Post
    Part of the "cost" of the book is that you must read it at least once before you can truly begin.
    I believe you! I started reading Finnegans a week ago or so, I read twenty pages and then I realised I didn't understand it at all! there seems to be at least three different meanings to every word, and occasionally I get one of them. Still there's something about the book i want to find out...! I think it's worth the effort, but understanding it would take a long long time! I'm having it as a lifetime-project...!
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    The Wake is most definitely not a joke.

    If we call the Wake some kind of prank, then we should not take any of Samuel Beckett's brilliant and rich novel work seriously either.

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    A ist der Affe NickAdams's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jolly McJollyso View Post
    then we should not take any of Samuel Beckett's brilliant and rich novel work seriously either.
    The suggestion is blasphemous!

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    A Side Question

    Why isn't Finnegans Wake listed on the left side of this site's "Biography and Works" page for Joyce?

  10. #10
    Definetely the masterpiece.
    In the paradigm of "everything that is to write is already written" Joyce creates this "meaning machine" with unlimited possibilities.

    Some Ideas on wake just to...

    A book about the Night.
    As Ulisses was about Light, the Day... FW is about the night and the darkness.

    How to describe something when your eyes are blinded ?
    Whats the language you speak at night, when you're sleeping?

    It's the best book I ever put my hands on...

  11. #11
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Honestly, read it beside the newest editions of annotations (I can't remember who the editor of that book is, but the annotations are placed on the page to be corresponding to the location on the Viking edition of the book, and help quite a lot). After that, it seems to unravel, and then you can start scraping at it. after about 2-3 reads you may like it.

    Or, you can consider it a joke, and save the time and effort.

    And, it is not listed here because it is subject to copyright.

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    I grow, I prosper Jeremiah Jazzz's Avatar
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    I'm reading it now and I'm in love with it. It's the type of novel where I can expand my own creativity and actually 'play' with the novel like a child with a toy. The piece itself is littered with beauty. There's this majestic quality that keeps me going back even when the book is rough. It's certainly the most rewarding read I've ever had the pleasure of reading. It's quite the experience.

    Also, my friend who had taken a class on Joyce gave me this CD to listen to while I read the Wake. It's called 'Bonaparte's Retreat' by The Chieftains. It doesn't exactly sync up with the Wake but it's definitely food for thought while you head about the book.
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    I think another famous Joycean, the author Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange), said it best about this book when he called it "a great comic vision, one of the few books of the world that can make us laugh aloud on nearly every page."

    And you know what? He's right... the book is full of really clever wordplay. Of course a lot of it goes over your head (I'd question anyone's sanity who claims they understand this book completely) but part of the fun of Finnegans Wake is to try to untangle the puzzle.

    I've read it through, cover to cover, once, and I plan on revisiting it sometime in the future. It really helps to read it aloud, and there's a literal library of criticism, guides and annotations for those who want to get into a deeper understanding about what the Wake is really about. There is a story imbedded in the text, but truthfully I think it's secondary to the language, if that makes any sense.

    It's a wonderful book... and, to echo Burgess once again, quite funny as well!

  14. #14
    The Wake is difficult, but it is not nonsense... No way.

    In the book, Joyce attempts to tell the whole history of the humanity as if it were a dream in the mind of a mythical giant... It is completely unconventional. The plot is not situated anywhere, but EVERYWHERE. It does not have characters, but archetypes. It does not have A plot, but ALL plots.

    For me, Wake proves that Joyce was the best writer in the English Literary tradition, in terms of style.

    I suggest you two books by the leading authors about FW.

    John Gordon - Finnegans Wake: A Plot Summary. (Gordon believes that the book is comprehensible in its entirety. He was strongly influenced by Joseph Campbell's A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake, published in the 1950s)

    John Bishop - Joyce's Book of the Dark: Finnegans Wake.
    Bishop, on the other hand, believes that it is impossible to completely understand the Wake. The more you get from the book, the more you are able to find.

    Finally, the website is www.fweet.org . It is mantained by Raphael Slepon, and it is a collection of almost all the annotations that were ever published about Finnegans Wake.

    Roland McHugh's Annotations to Finnegans Wake is basic, too.

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    Has anyone read Finnegans Wake lately?

    Genius or joke?

    I hate to sound diplomatic, but I see both elements here.
    I see a colossal work of fun painstakingly assembled by Joyce, as well as many serious critics taking it too seriously.

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