Friday, November 26, 2010

Our Cubehouse Still Rocks (Finnegans Wake, Day One)

No, that's not a Robert Pollard/GBV reference, but is an announcement that I've finished Michel Houellebecq's Atomised and have begun James Joyce's Finnegans Wake.

I have no idea what I'll think about this book. I'm only a few pages in and I don't actually know how much of the language I'm intended to understand. I have decided to read it quickly and just plow straight through and if I get the gestures and some of the precise meanings, that's good enough. I am familiar enough (I hope) with the literary conceits and the basic ideas behind the book (the Fall of Man repeating itself over and over, and the weird sexual crime at the heart of the book, and that it's nighttime in Dublin and that Anna Livia (the mother) is the river Liffey (which also means that since her soliloquy ends the book and the first word of the introduction ("riverrun") is the last word of her soliloquy, she should also properly speaking be the narrator of the introduction, and that "Finnegan" is "Finn again" maybe, and the "wake" is not the wake of the old story but "wake" as in what comes afterward, like the wake of a boat, and Finn is perhaps Finn McCool, the hero who sleeps in a cave like Barbarossa, and after another Fall, maybe, Finn McCool will come forth and save Dublin, which is every city. Maybe.

This is less a text than a performance, and it's unreadable and it's not unreadable, and it's a novel and it's not a novel, and it begins with "riverrun" and ends on that same word in Dublin, which is the Garden of Eden. I don't know if I'll enjoy reading this book, but I do know that already it's making me think about narrative in a different way, and making me wonder about open versus closed narratives and gosh, but our cubehouse still rocks as earwitness to the thunder.

7 comments:

  1. I studied Finnegan's Wake in a college class and covered all of the above you discussed, and possibly more. It was a long time ago. I'd like to read it again because I remember getting to the end of it and feeling an overwhelming sense for a need to write. Only good literature does that to me - whether I enjoy it immensely or not.

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  2. Michelle: I know! This book makes me want to run to my office, grab pen and paper and start throwing phrases at each other as hard as I can. It's amazing; it leaves me breathless.

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  3. I've never read it either, though I do love me a good Finn McCool story. Like how he broke off a piece of Ireland and threw it at a Scottish giant who was pissing him off. That was pretty much awesome.

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  4. Ben: For about six years I have had an idea for a sort of ghost story that features Finn McCool and involves supernatural travel between Seattle in the present day and Ireland in the Fenian age. Finn's a total badass (ahem) in that story. "There was a lot of blood" is a line used often. There are also kleptomaniac leprechauns with very short attention spans. I'm not kidding.

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  5. Yes -- the Chlurichauns! They're like drunk, really unfriendly Leprechauns. Surly-chauns, if you will.

    Definitely loved the Fenian Cycle stories... I read a ton of them when I was researching Finn a few months back (he's going to be in the next book, btw) and it seems like every story he's involved in ends with a lot of bloodshed. I also love that his final story is titled "The Violent Death of Finn". Not too many more badass ways to go out!

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  6. Have not read this one. I did just finish Joyce's The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. (Have you read it?) I didn't like it, per se, but like Michelle, I had this drive to write, to create. Quite brilliant -- I'll recognize that, yes. There's too much to ever take in; his novels are meant to be read again and again and again.

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  7. Ben: When's Badass 2 pub? I want a copy! And you still haven't signed my copy of Badass, damn it.

    Weronika: I didn't much care for Portrait of the Artist, but it made me want to write, too. I love the stories in Dubliners, and I loved Ulysses. Finnegans Wake is making me work pretty hard and I know I'm missing a lot of Joyce's meaning, but the sound of the words are so glorious that I keep reading even if I don't understand a word of it. Though sometimes I go back and re-read a page and it makes sense the second time through. You're absolutely right that his novels have too much depth to be read only once. We should all be so gifted.

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