Nick and myself have been pondering starting a Grimeycast for a while now, and over the long weekend at fellow Grimey Max Brustkern’s digs, he re-presented the notion that we should really just all read the same set passage of James Joyce’s infamous masterpiece Finnegan’s Wake and then have a debate about what that passage even said. An idea which I’m actually all for.
It has been said that Joyce, having used as much of the English language as could be used in Ulysses, proceeded in Finnegan’s Wake to make a good and solid attempt at using everyone else’s languages as well. Five eyar’s ago “AJ” from Maryland said the following about the novel in a review on Amzon, and from what I’ve read myself I haven’t found a more apt assessment of the work:
The language in “Finnegans Wake” is a continuum of puns, portmanteaus, disfigured words, anagrams, and rare scraps of straightforward prose. What Joyce does is exploit the way words look and sound in order to associate them with remote, unrelated ideas. For example, his phrase “Olives, beets, kimmells, dollies” may sound familiar to those who happen to know that the first four letters of the Hebrew alphabet are aleph, bet, gimel, daled. “Psing a psalm of psexpeans, apocryphul of rhyme” recalls a nursery rhyme that may reside quietly in your most dormant memory cells, while “Where it is nobler in the main to supper than the boys and errors of outrager’s virtue” sounds like a drunk auditioning for the role of Hamlet. Imaginary adjectives that pertain to letters of the English alphabet are employed to describe Dublin as a city “with a deltic origin and a nuinous end.” “Finnegans Wake” is the ultimate in esoterica, and what you get out of it depends largely on your store of knowledge, so that upon completion, with a mutual wink at Joyce, you congratulate yourself for being so clever.
The idea of a group discussion is, I’m almost sure, occuring to Nick because of my many discussions about the merits of Tom Robbin’s under-appreciated masterpiece Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, in which Switters, the main character, is a member of a group of CIA agents and related trouble-makers and intellectuals who get together infrequently to discuss Finnegan’s Wake in all-night bravado sessions featuring more alcohol and bullshit than a cattle ranch after a whisky rain. And having attempted to read the Wake myself, I think Robbins might have been onto how to actually read that sucker.
And, I need to read Finnegan’s Wake anyway. While I seriously doubt it’s as influential a work as Tristram Shandy–which set the ground-work for what would much later become post-modernism–Finnegan’s Wake is at least the most obvious influence on another of my favorite works of literature, the mind-baffling and circuitous Only Revolutions by Mark Z Danielewski. While both Only Revolutions and Finnegan’s Wake indulge in stream-of-consciousness verbal cartwheeling on top of a circular narrative that renders both of them nigh unreadable, that’s also what gives them their magic.Reading it through one is almost always either one of the most frustrating, exasperating disappoing experiences of your life, or one that’ll gnaw at the back of your mind, forever inviting you to do it again and again until the walls of the insanity dissolve and leave you understaning the majesty that you just know is lurking in there somewhere.