Monday, November 20, 2006

Plan of Attack

Thus far I’ve read all the other major Joyce works: Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist, and Ulysses. I have picked up his one play, Exiles, and found it so awful I put it down after a few pages. I tried to read Ulysses a few times before getting sage advice from a beloved professor. He said one should start reading Ulysses knowing it will take at least three go rounds. The first time, just keep on reading to the end, knowing that you won't get a lot of it. The second time, look up every reference and study it as closely as possible. The third time, just keep on reading to the end, knowing all the Ulysses arcana you now know. It was great advice, as it gave me permission to just plow through when I didn’t understand something and to enjoy Ulysses as a good read. And it turned out it was a great read! Since then I’ve reread the whole thing a couple of times, and individual chapters many times, assisted by Gifford's Ulysses Annotated, Anthony Burgess’s Re Joyce, Stuart Gilbert’s classic study, and Richard Ellmann’s definitive biography of the guy, among other books.

So the plan is to attack the Wake in a similar way. Unlike Ulysses, it is going to be impossible for me to not look anything up at all the first go round. It’s just too damn difficult at times to figure out what is going on. But I’m going to initially limit myself to Burgess’s Re Joyce which is insightful but brief so I won’t be tempted to get bogged down in scholarship; the time for that will come later. I learned from my first read through Ulysses that the confusion is part of it. It’s a dream after all, and you’re not supposed to understand everything at once. Sometimes instead of thrashing to stay afloat, you have to let yourself be carried along by the rhythms and half-understood words and images. Of course you do that all the time and you’ll drown so we’ll see what the balance is.

OK we're off! Cheers and jeers welcome.


At 9:29 AM, Blogger parabasis said...


What makes Finnegan so particularly difficult? (I must admit, I've never read Joyce, something which I'm sure you'll harass me about soon!)

Do you think all of the reading-in to Joyce's work (I saw a book recently on Amazon called "The Meaning of Thunder in Finnegan's Wake") is finding things in the text or creating meanings for the text? Does it matter?

At 12:31 PM, Blogger RVR said...

Wow, I commend you for not only finishing Ulysses, but reading it thrice. It's inspiring...perhaps I'll take your professor's advice and give it another try...or two or three.

At 1:54 PM, Blogger Herxanthikles said...

I'll be doing a bigger post about it, but the short answer is that the Wake is not really in English. Or rather it's mostly in English, but an English made up of puns some of which are multi-lingual. That and people randomly turn into stones.

As to reading things into Joyce's work, this is a guy who said (I paraphrase, parabasis) "I've put so many puzzles into it to keep the scholars busy for centuries, which is the only way to ensure one's immortality." As a student of Dante, Bruno, et al Joyce is not shy about symbolism. That being said, while it's valid to discuss thunder in the Wake as a symbol of guilt or Blake's Nobodaddy or whatever, it's also valid to say the thunder words are a hell of a lot of fun! Example:


This is one of the things that makes me love Joyce rather than just admire him: at the same time he is ambitiously trying to encode the history of the world onto modest Dublin characters, he's having riproaring time doing it.


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