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August 31, 2006 11:10 AM   Subscribe

Have you read Finnegan's Wake? How did you do it?

I'm teaching a class on the Wake this fall and want it to be as enjoyable as possible. Tell me about your experience reading it. What did you do to make it as fun as possible? (Or: what are some ideas for making it fun?)
posted by josh to Writing & Language (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Drink. Drink a lot. Drink until you think you shouldn't drink anymore. Then drink a little bit more. When you wake up, if you can manage to keep your eyes open in anything brighter than semi-darkness, open it at random and start reading. Repeat this until you feel like you've gotten a good grip of what the book is about. When you do, check yourself into an inpatient substance abuse clinic, because man, you have to be on something to understand that book!
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:18 AM on August 31, 2006

I think it might be fun to ask the class to read a short section without consulting any outside sources and write their best understanding as to what occurs in the passage. Can they figure what characters are present? What actually occurs during the passage? Try again with a different passage, only this time allow them to consult select references like dictionaries, translation tools, and encyclopedias (but still not glosses or aids specific to the text).

Out of curiousity, what level is this class and how much of the book are you going to try to cover?
posted by justkevin at 11:23 AM on August 31, 2006


READ ALOUD. Really. It's like middle english; It makes absolutely *no* sense reading it statically on paper. Seriously, even if one isn't reading it in class, even if they're all alone, they should be reading it aloud. It's akin to music: it probably won't make direct logical sense, but the sound of it can be lulling and good, and experiencing that is the first step.
posted by koeselitz at 11:34 AM on August 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

I agree with koeselitz. I don't know why, but Joyce is much easier when read aloud. Reading to each other in teams might be fun, and with pints might be even more fun.
posted by caddis at 11:41 AM on August 31, 2006

I read Joseph Campbell's "Skeleton Key to Finnegan's Wake." After all that, well, the urge to actually read the book subsided.
posted by Gucky at 11:44 AM on August 31, 2006

More agreement with koeselitz -- when you read it aloud, you realize how funny it is. I also relied heavily on James Joyce’s Ulysses, by Stuart Gilbert.
posted by gleuschk at 11:48 AM on August 31, 2006

For example, get them to read the thunderwords. Hilarity ensues.
posted by gleuschk at 11:51 AM on August 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Reading aloud is definitely part of the game plan. justkevin: it's actually a one-on-one tutorial with a very advanced college junior. If all goes well, next year I'll try to teach it to a group.
posted by josh at 12:05 PM on August 31, 2006

Definitely reading aloud. I also recommend a thick Dublin accent, and lots of whiskey.

Watch the apostrophe, though.
posted by goo at 12:09 PM on August 31, 2006

Also, as far as reading Joyce in general goes, I find I've had the same experience as Gucky; once I read "Skeleton Keys" and "Guides" and "Annotated Editions," I lose interest. It's easy to get the feeling that you're getting all of the meaning by reading a bunch of notes, but you're not. (If that were the whole meaning, Joyce wouldn't have written books. He would've written footnotes.)

As such, it helps me to spend as long as I possibly can reading without footnotes. (I find, if I wait at least a week after reading a section before going over it with the notes, I get time to mull it over and soak it in before getting some guy's explanation of the whole thing.) They are rare, but the moments when you experience the thrill of recognizing something Joyce is referring to constitute one of the joys of reading Joyce. If somebody does it for you, it gets boring pretty fast. And, again, the music of it is important; it sometimes doesn't matter if you understand it all.
posted by koeselitz at 12:28 PM on August 31, 2006

Ditto on the apostrophe.

And use this recording of Joyce reading from 'Anna Livia Plurabelle', as your point of entry. (It starts here in the text.)

If you're interested in showing the layering of language, then the 'Work In Progress' versions are also your friend, because many passages published in the 1920s got worked over by 1939.
posted by holgate at 12:34 PM on August 31, 2006

If your class has people from different cultural/linguistic backgrounds, that's a fun place to start, as well: there are so many cross-language puns that you're likely to winkle out a few.
posted by holgate at 12:38 PM on August 31, 2006

The 'Case Study' volume is quite good, and the Annotations are indispensable, though they slow reading down a great deal. Best to plow through passages unaided, then go back and forth a bit to see the underlying texture and continuity.

The introduction to the last Penguin edition, by John Bishop, is a remarkable piece of work; Bishop is arguably the best overall authority on the book, and his doctoral thesis (published as Joyce's Book of the Dark) is a bad first stop but a priceless eventual resource for readers of the Wake, given how nicely it pulls together lots of ways of reading the book. He's got a wicked ear for punnery as well.

But at day's end the way to read it is this: get (from Bishop's intro, say) a sense for just what the hell is going on, roughly. Then dive in. It's all punnery, high and low, so reading aloud helps, but paying attention to the way words are assembled from other words is also key. People who say the Wake can't be read, only read aloud, are just wrong. Hearing and seeing at once is vital. It's both mosaic and music. And it's so fun - let it be fun. A pretense for a good time hard at work.

Anthony Burgess's Re Joyce is the most enjoyable writing on Joyce that I've read, and Burgess knows his Joyce. That'd be my first suggestion: hit it for a sense of Joyce the comedian and linguist.

Don't actually read it drunk.

Once the student catches the rhythm of the writing it'll be full speed ahead, but knowing roughly the point of a passage will make it a lot easier to get there. It's an easy book to be frustrated by. Good luck!
posted by waxbanks at 1:07 PM on August 31, 2006

That's so interesting about reading aloud, I thought I was the only one who noticed. I spent a summer in Berkeley taking turns reading Ulysses aloud with my girlfriend and was shocked by how much funnier it was.

As for FW, you might as well give up. I seriously doubt any one of you people has ever actually read it. No one can read that shit.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:08 PM on August 31, 2006

Yet more agreement with koeselitz. As for the annotations, different strokes for different folks; I love footnotes and annotations myself, but I know they can turn people off. Definitely read a chunk without any help, just to get the rhythm and feel of the amazing prose, but if you're like me, you'll then want to plunge into the inner workings.

No one can read that shit.

Don't be childish.
posted by languagehat at 1:43 PM on August 31, 2006

It was fun to read the last sentence of the book and keep going into the first sentence of the book. Admittedly not something you can get a whole lot of mileage from.
posted by Aghast. at 2:54 PM on August 31, 2006

I just read it, like how I'd look at a Rothko or Twombly (or a spiderweb or sunset).

I did read a lot of it aloud, when I had the chance, and that really helped.

After I finished, I enjoyed the totally alien process of reading without much "understanding" so much that I spent a month or so "reading" a book in Corean (a language I don't speak, but whose alphabet I know just fine). A very interesting thing to do...
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:36 PM on August 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

My HS English teacher used to pass out a page from FW to us as an example of something she couldn't read. I took this as a challenge.

After 3 years of looking at it, putting it aside, then looking at it again, I figured out what was going on. She was very happy, and started passing out a different page of FW as example of something she couldn't read.

This is probably not going to work for you.
posted by QIbHom at 11:38 PM on September 2, 2006

Your HS teacher did you a disservice. Her attitude is one of not learning. I can understand it as FW is so thick as to be not worth the effort for many readers. I may be included in that group. I don't know, I remain undecided on this. However, at the one page level, well you may not have a full sentence, but really at the sentence and paragraph level there is no greater master than Joyce. He can wrap a full NYT Sunday crossword's worth of wordplay and tricksterism into a single sentence. No teacher should tell students that this or that work is unreadable. Let them decide for themselves.
posted by caddis at 12:10 AM on September 3, 2006

caddis, she was trying to trick cynical kids into exploring the classics and modern art. It worked. I still love Joyce.

She didn't say FW was unreadable. She said *she* couldn't read it. Huge difference. A good teacher wants her students to go beyond her.

She did a similar thing with a Cage score, and 4 of us spent hours listening to the piece and looking at the score to figure out the notation. Which we did. And, she was very happy.
posted by QIbHom at 12:21 PM on September 3, 2006

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