This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Saturday Rave: Finnegan's Wake by James Joyce.

Joyce spent seventeen years writing Finnegan's Wake, and he reckoned that it'd take the critics three hundred years to work out what it all meant.

(It was published in 1939, so no one is even a third of the way there, yet.)

Finnegan's Wake is therefore impossible. It's actually designed to be very nearly impossible: at one point Joyce even put in some words in the language of the Samoyedic people of Siberia because he found a sentence he thought too easy.*

There are four ways of dealing with Finnegan's Wake. First, don't read it.

This is what most of the world has decided.

Second, treat the whole thing as a kind of wild music. This may well involve reading it out loud (probably best not in a public place).

Third, you can read the guides and join the study groups and think very hard about each non-existent word. Then, eventually, you can either become a Joyce scholar (but only if that's the best way you can imagine spending your life) or you can look back in astonishment at the sheer amount of time you've wasted on a triviality. Or possibly a work of genius.

Fourthly, you can read the first page or two, marvel at the delicious nonsense of it, and move on to something else.

I'm in the fourth category.

Here's the first sentence of the book to give you a flavour:

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.

It's not too bad, really.

Here's another sentence:

Evilling chimbes is smutsick rivulverblott but thee hard casted thereass pigstenes upann Congan's shootsmen in Schottenhof, ekeascent?

Are you having a life's-too-short moment?

Because I am.

Word To Use Today: rivulverblott. Sorry, I really haven't a clue.

*Having repeated this anecdote, Joyce's list of the languages used in Finnegan's Wake doesn't include Samoyed, or any of its variants. But it does include English, Irish, Norwegian, Latin, Greek, Chinese, Japanese, Esperanto, Volapuk, Novial, Flemish, French, Italian, Burmese, Basque, Welsh, Roumansch, Dutch, German, Russian, Breton, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Kisuaheli, Swedish, Spanish, Persian, Rumanian, Lithuanian, Malay, Finnish, Albanian, Icelandic, Portuguese, Czech, Turkish, Polish, and Ruthenian. 

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