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Rampage470

Tips on attempting to read Finnegans Wake?

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So I've been... attempting to read the infamous Finnegan's Wake by James Joyce, and... I'm having about as much luck as you'd expect. If you're not familiar with the book, just google it and try to read it. You'll see what I mean.

Anyway, I was wondering if anyone around here had any tips to help me understand just what the hell is being communicated. I've been peering at the online glossary for the book, which has helped a... small bit, but still any help or advice is appreciated.

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Buy a bottle of scotch. The more you drink, the more sense it'll make.
Not a joke.

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Bucket said:

Buy a bottle of scotch. The more you drink, the more sense it'll make.
Not a joke.

See I'd do that but I'm only 18 so... sadly not legal for me to be drinking.

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As I understand it there are two approaches to reading it:

The first is that you read it very slowly, analyzing every line very carefully with a guide in order to understand the references. See here for an annotated example, or check out fweet.org which seems like a pretty impressive resource. Joyce included a ton of different cultural references and puns (in various different languages) so there's certainly hidden depth there that you'll miss otherwise (whether it's worth the time to discover is another matter I guess). Some people form reading groups to do this kind of thing together.

The other approach is to do the exact opposite. You must read the book out loud - it could just be to yourself but it has to be out loud. There are a lot of puns and wordplay you'll miss if you try to read it silently. Joyce's intended style with this book was that he was trying to reproduce the experience of a dream-like state.

I tried this second approach myself a couple of years ago and although I still couldn't stomach reading more than a few pages, it was an interesting experience nonetheless, and probably the one I'd recommend you try. I found that although individual words and sentences made little to no sense, read together as a narrative they produced a kind of "intuitive sense" of a plot-line. Kind of as though, unlike a normal book that communicates things literally, it was communicating on a more emotional or intuitive level. Maybe this sounds ridiculous, I don't know. It's difficult to explain.

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The first page:

riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay,
brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle
and Environs.
Sir Tristram, violer d'amores, fr'over the short sea, had 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
gorgios while they went doublin their mumper all the time: nor avoice
from afire bellowsed mishe mishe to tauftauf thuartpeatrick: not yet,
though venissoon after, had a kidscad buttended a bland old isaac: not
yet, though all's fair in vanessy, were sosie sesthers wroth with twone
nathandjoe. Rot a peck of pa's malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by
arclight and rory end to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsome on the
aquaface.
The fall
(bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntro
varrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) of a once wallstrait
oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian
minstrelsy. The great fall of the offwall entailed at such short notice the
pftjschute of Finnegan, erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of
humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of
his tumptytumtoes: and their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock
out in the park where oranges have been laid to rust upon the green
since devlinsfirst loved livvy.


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fraggle said:

As I understand it there are two approaches to reading it:

The first is that you read it very slowly, analyzing every line very carefully with a guide in order to understand the references. See here for an annotated example, or check out fweet.org which seems like a pretty impressive resource. Joyce included a ton of different cultural references and puns (in various different languages) so there's certainly hidden depth there that you'll miss otherwise (whether it's worth the time to discover is another matter I guess). Some people form reading groups to do this kind of thing together.

The other approach is to do the exact opposite. You must read the book out loud - it could just be to yourself but it has to be out loud. There are a lot of puns and wordplay you'll miss if you try to read it silently. Joyce's intended style with this book was that he was trying to reproduce the experience of a dream-like state.

I tried this second approach myself a couple of years ago and although I still couldn't stomach reading more than a few pages, it was an interesting experience nonetheless, and probably the one I'd recommend you try. I found that although individual words and sentences made little to no sense, read together as a narrative they produced a kind of "intuitive sense" of a plot-line. Kind of as though, unlike a normal book that communicates things literally, it was communicating on a more emotional or intuitive level. Maybe this sounds ridiculous, I don't know. It's difficult to explain.

Alright I may try the second one then.

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It's hard to tell from reading the first page only plus this thread, but from what I'm getting of this, being something portrayed as almost dream-like, perhaps it's best to take things at more face value rather than try to read too much into every strange word. Dont get me wrong, to some extent you need to be able to recognize certain things, to be sure, but I think think that some of these words just sound totally made-up, like tumptytumtoes, that you just have to understand that it's something you're meant to not be farmiliar with. So stuff like that needs to be taken as just something that doesnt exist in this world: up to your imagination, or at least something from some fantastical language and culture.

Of course I could be totally wrong on this, but from a quick assessment that's what it appears to be to me. Though it seems to fit with what fraggle said about it making an intuitive sense rather than a literal one.

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Gothic Box said:

The first page:



Ulysses is on my list of books to read at some point but I think I'll skip this one.

This looks almost like poetry which I'm not very good at reading either. Getting familiar with some of the more abstract poets may be good practice for tackling this thing.

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david_a said:

This looks almost like poetry which I'm not very good at reading either. Getting familiar with some of the more abstract poets may be good practice for tackling this thing.

You can thank modernism for this. I think Ezra Pound should have said "Make it Confusing!" instead of "Make it New!", maybe that would help clarify things.

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I just 'read' the first few pages. At this time, it doesn't seem like anything I'd want to partake in, at least not right now. I know it's probably not intended(?) but I feel like I'm feeding pure nonsense into my mind, even though there's clearly something there..

An interesting approach though, at this point in my life I'll file it under 'not currently interested but need to check it out again in a couple of years'. Maybe I'll have a different perspective on it by then. I'm glad it was written though, it's almost like a challenge to be overcome, and I don't mean that in a negative way, more in an endearing way.

"They went doublin' their mumper all the time" could have definitely been a Zappa song, though.

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fraggle said:

The other approach is to do the exact opposite. You must read the book out loud - it could just be to yourself but it has to be out loud. There are a lot of puns and wordplay you'll miss if you try to read it silently. Joyce's intended style with this book was that he was trying to reproduce the experience of a dream-like state.


This is your best bet, OP, for getting something out of it.

Modernists like Joyce weren't so interested in communicating meaning, plot, or narrative, as they were in experimenting with the material fabric of language. One of the interesting things about FW is how sight and sound play off each other. You see one phrase, then read it aloud and find it sounds like another word or idea. Distant, seemingly totally unrelated thoughts come together through puns or visual tricks.

One of the biggest influences here is Freud, who theorized dreams and the unconscious as expressing repressed memories and desires through verbal play and slips of the tongue/pen. FW is in many ways a literary attempt to plumb the depths of the human psyche by creating a text of puns and word plays linking our oldest stories (like the Bible) with modern-day slang, etc.

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