Waggish is reading Finnegans Wake and reporting enticingly on the results. Of the two entries so far posted, the first is a general introduction:

The book is easier than its reputation would have you believe because it exudes purposeful meaning: everything is there for a reason, and usually several reasons. It’s more difficult than its reputation because underneath the surface text, there is no single plot, character, or explanation for what is buried under the opaque verbiage. This becomes most noticeable in most of Book III, where the text tends to be a lot less abstruse than in Book II, but in which the situations being portrayed are even less realistic than before, culiminating in the grandiose fantasia of III.3, in which four senile old men seem to be excavating the mound of history itself, until a litany of betrayals and suffering pour out. I found this section tremendously moving, however little I understood it. Though the book may be impenetrable, Joyce is not the most philosophical of writers: he constantly references the physical and the commonplace, and as much as we all know these things, we can read ourselves into bits and pieces of the Wake.

The second pursues a comparison with John Crowley’s Little, Big, which I haven’t read, but he makes an important point about Joyce’s this-worldliness:

One look at Finnegans Wake and it seems like mysticism. But Joyce is almost devoutly quotidian: the things he repeatedly, obscurely analogizes are the very basics of the world and more importantly, the known: male, female, parents, children, birth, death, day, night, sex, education, work, play. The most realistic scene (in III.4) appears to concern a pub-owner and his family, and the situation as far as I can discern it is hardly anything more unusual than Leopold Bloom’s in Ulysses. If anything, it’s more normal, as there’s far less information given to make these people unique. The pub-owner, named Porter, is a Protestant Irishman and well-respected citizen leading an typical middle-class life. Joyce loads the scene up with the usual allusions and such, and I take from it that this scene is to be put on an equal footing with all the complications and mysteries have gone before. The message: This is it. This is the world for all to see and all that anyone can see.

If you’re at all curious about Joyce’s famously “difficult” final work, this might be just the thing to get you started.

(Via wood s lot.)


  1. wow, language–thanks for this post. Waggish links to John Crowley’s blog. For the life of me, I never in a million years thought John Crowley would have a blog.

  2. language,
    Joyce wrote in the Dubliners: “Love between man and man is impossible because there must not be sexual intercourse and friendship between man and woman is impossible because there must be sexual intercourse.”
    What you quote from Cowley seems reasonable. I’m afraid of a dude who calls himself Waggish, however. A dog wags its tail to trick us into thinking it wants to have sexual intercourse with us.
    Ulysses is the funniest book (just ahead of Lolita) that I’ve ever read. The Wake, isn’t it just the death of the penis?
    I love being led on odysseusian journeys by a drunken, legally blind Irish raconteur with a blasphemous attitude and a penchant for writing as though he were singing as loudly and beautifully richly tenor as he remembered his drunken father singing as he stumbled home from his precious pub, so charming he was after blowing his pay and bringing nothing of value home to his family but song (and just like his father, old Jimmy was a fine Irish tenor, too). You make the best out of that song.
    Maybe Finnegan’s Wake is simply Jimmy playing a game of blind man’s bluff with us.
    Ur fiend,

  3. Thanks for the link. I hope I can encourage at least a few people to give it a try, because there is something wonderfully egalitarian about the book: it cuts everyone down to size.

  4. Perhaps you should leave these ones in, LH; there’s an appealing sort of surrealism about them.

  5. Unfortunately, much of what is said about Hump and his family is simply not true. “Porter” is probably a pseudonym, Annie is almost certainly not Hump’s wife (she has had several husbands before him, and he several wives), and whether his children are really his children is quite debatable. His pub is an unlicensed establishment / blind pig / shebeen, and in short the whole family belong to what is nowadays called the criminal underclass.

    But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a grand book altogether.

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