How not to write

Most of the time, I try to put my money where my mouth is: just a while ago, I finished “reading” Finnegans Wake. I didn’t read the novel just so I can brag about it to others (although that’s a plus); on the contrary, I’m even quite ashamed that I wasted time reading it. I have a personal sense of duty, however, (especially with regard to books) to finish what I’ve started. I may not finish perfectly; I may end with haste; but I will try to finish what I began.

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This is my Finnegans Wake face.

I admire Joyce. He has written one of the best kunstleromans in the 20th century; he has written one of the best short stories of all time (The Dead); and he has (arguably) written the most influential novel of the 20th century. He was a literary genius, and this is undebatable.

I believe, however, that Finnegans Wake was his worst work, if not the worst book of fiction I have ever read. I’m no stranger to complex writing: I have read and loved the Faulkner novels that I’ve read; I have read two other novels of Joyce; and I have also read some of Woolf‘s novels. It was disturbing for me, however, because I wasn’t able to grasp a plot within the 628 pages of the novel. (I am quite sure that the entire novel written with a made-up language was one of the primary reasons.)

I understood quite a number of the puns (but very little in the context of the whole ‘novel’), but I still didn’t think of it as a great comic novel. On the contrary, I thought of it as a travesty of comic novels, as I believe it was simply Joyce intellectually masturbating to his own ‘words’. I am not alone in this regard (great writers like Nabokov, and even Joyce’s brother thought he was going too far). Joyce uses the terms ‘tsukisaki’ and ‘makoto.’ Avid fans of anime and manga would have picked up the words. The passage was supposed to be eruditely funny because there was a portmanteau of ‘moon’ in the same sentence that was akin to the translation of ‘tsukisaki’ which is ‘a flowering moon.’ I thought it was a bad joke, however. It can be recognized from the passage that Joyce was a master polyglot, but is mentioning moon in two different languages a symbol of intelligence?

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This is my Finnegans Wake face close up

The same can be said of ‘makoto.’ I learned of its meaning from watching Ayakashi ~ Japanese Classic Horror as it was one of the requirements that was needed to unsheathe the spiritual sword that the medicine seller used to exorcise the troubling monsters of the afterlife. This was corroborated by the fact that School Days used it as an attempt in irony, because the character that possessed the name was a profligate liar. Does this mean that when one mentions truth in two different languages, it also follows that one is intellectual? I really don’t think so. Even a bilingual dictionary can do that.

[By the way, I came upon ‘tsukisaki’ because she is the lead heroine of Pastel, a manga series that has taken too long to finish.]

Finnegans Wake was a total disappointment for me. I can recognize the effort that Joyce put in its writing (17 years!), but my opinion is that of Nabokov and the rest who respected this attempt despite wishing that this attempt should have been channeled into another direction: it fails as a story, because there is none; it fails as poetry, because the words are hardly lyrical; it fails as an allegory, because most people don’t even understand what it alludes to, and ultimately, it fails as a novel.

Perhaps the person who spoke about this novel as the best of the 24th century is right. Right now, however, I’m just among those who are frustrated.

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33 Responses to “How not to write”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Different strokes for different folks.

  2. Michael Says:

    Anonymous:

    To be honest, even my professors hate this ‘novel’ of Joyce. And they have their PhD’s already. So while that statement of yours is correct . . . I don’t see any different folks around me, that is.

  3. Lelangir Says:

    What about A Clockwork Orange[-kun]?

  4. Michael Says:

    You didn’t see Finnegans Wake yet, did you?

    http://www.trentu.ca/faculty/jjoyce/fw-3.htm <-- That's the first page of the novel, and the entire novel is something like that, only worse. BTW, I fixed your comment: you mistyped dasaku.com for dasaku.net.

  5. Asperger's Anime Blogger Says:

    I’ve heard this book is in people’s bad books.

    This beast is mythical in that it is difficult to slay by even the most hardened of readers, and apparently the Australian Patrick White is worth checking out as a similar vein to Joyce, try Tree of Man or The Solid Mandala…

    Alternatively you can purge this Joyce garble from your system with Watchmen, which is a great work of graphic literature and yet still intelligible in many ways.

  6. gk Says:

    “My spirits, as in a dream, are all bound up.”

  7. RyanA Says:

    That sample page looks like it’s mimicking some Canterbury Tales speak in original English. Perhaps someone should slim-down or clarify this Finnegan’s Wake. It just doesn’t seem like it would be enjoyable or worth the time :/

  8. nekkid despanais Says:

    Finneganes Wake be pure poetry to me. Nevertheless, it sux … as prose.
    A traditionalist R.C. upbringing (pre-Vatican 2, of course) with lots of reading in classics doth aid ones appreciation egregiously moreover.
    Thanx for the spelling correction btw. I couldn’t resist the AS genitive form (as also in Chaucer as well as Beowulf) in this replie.

    nekkid

  9. super rats Says:

    Finnegan’s Wake is Joyce being a dick. It’s like he’s saying, just because of who I am you’ll put up with this crap.

    Oh and I have to hand it to you for actually finishing it. I couldn’t put up with it for more than five minutes.

  10. Michael Says:

    nekkid:

    Thank you for the comment. It does suck as prose. While we disagree on it as poetry, at least we agree on something! 🙂

    RyanA:

    Someone made a shorter version of it. It was still barely understandable.

    super rats:

    Exactly. That was what irritated me. He’s a genius, and he’s a great writer, but come on … that was too much.

  11. Baka-Raptor Says:

    In the words of James Joyce:

    bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!

  12. nekkid despanais Says:

    And furthermore the study of the ‘Awakening Again of the Mighty Finn’ like that of many other epics such as Iliad, AEneid, doesn’t fit with American academia as it was restructured in the early 1960’s. This restructuring “to keep draftable personnel from hiding out in colleges and graduate schools” ended the leisure that students formerly had to pursue extensive interests in American universities. Ah, brave new world!

  13. Lelangir Says:

    BK: Yeah, that word was awesome, lfjaslkfjsjsoijrwrfkjlskjfkjwrworjfks, indeed.

  14. Michael Says:

    Baka-Raptor:

    YEAH!

    Lelangir:

    You mean askfhghjdcnjgbjkscmzfvxcdbsdczk right?

    nekkid:

    I think that’s a good thing. Only Joyce really focused on that Irish ballad (correct me if I’m wrong), and he didn’t do a good thing at it. Besides, winning a war (for them) is more important than learning some more Joyce. :3

    Making fun of Finnegans Wake aside, Joyce was a great writer. He just went too far. I mean, when your brother tells you that you’ve gone too far, you have gone too far.

  15. A Day Without Me Says:

    I feel your pain – I am taking a lit class in which we are reading Joyce, and we read an excerpt from Finnegan’s Wake. I like the title, so it is too bad that it is nigh-on unreadable.

    In general, I must admit to preferring Joyce’s short-stories to his longer works.

  16. IKnight Says:

    I imagine you already know my thoughts on this already. I’m taking a compulsory course next year which may (or may not) involve FW and I’m hoping I can avoid the book – and I think I’d say that even if I was convinced that it was a masterpiece, for I am ultimately a hedonist in what I choose to study.

    You know that I dislike novels in the first place and, contrary to nekkid, I think anything that looks like prose should be judged as such (the only workable definition of poetry being ‘text in which the writer, not the publisher, positioned the line breaks’).

  17. Pablo-kun Says:

    The biggest riddle of all it’s that you decided to start reading FW knowing beforehand it was gonna be a grammar nightmare and that you were probably gonna end up hating yourself for even touching the cover, but you have to admit it wasn’t a total waste of time.

    Sure, your neurons would cry every time you read a sentence and you’d sweat blood every frustrating second you stumbled upon words like “askfhghjdcnjgbjkscmzfvxcdbsdczk” but if you look past that I’m sure you’d admire the complexity and detailed (or so I’ve heard) environments of the novel. I mean C’mon James is a genius and just because his long works are a bit more most people can take doesn’t mean FW should get the evil eye when you’re browsing a book store.

  18. Michael Says:

    Pablo-kun commented! KEIKAKU DOORI!

    It’s hard to admire something most people (even esteemed professors of literature) don’t understand for the most part. Sure, the novel is complex and perhaps detailed, but it doesn’t do anything: it doesn’t even inform. I admire Joyce, and I’ve written that in this post. I can even deal with Ulysses, but Finnegans Wake was simply going too far.

    Thank you for the insightful comment. I appreciate it. Goading you to do so, however, was a chore! :3 hahaha

    IKnight:

    If ever a bastard professor plans to discuss the novel with you, please inform me regarding your performance in his class. While I very well trust your ability in literature, I also have doubts as to you enjoying the ‘novel.’

    A Day Without Me:

    It’s a good thing that your professor only got an excerpt. Because the entire book is just a magnum opus of unintelligibility, even for people who attempt to be patient with their reading.

  19. [52] Microcosmic Ergo Proxy: The Paradigmatic Narrative | Super Fanicom Says:

    […] that very postmodernism – the seemingly irrelevant ambiguity of interconnected ideas, intellectual masturbation, unmerited name dropping and uninvestigated themes – takes absolutely no heed in episode 16, the […]

  20. hikago Says:

    I’m glad I went through the comments – getting a chance to see a sample of this monster made me realize how forgiving the language you used was.
    Honestly, the only reason someone could enjoy something I might liken to a nightmare of erudite polyglots and wordplays is the same attraction one might feel towards an obscene but novel scene… or a car crash.

  21. natsuneko Says:

    I lol’d when I read Finnegan’s Wake in the first lines of your post. And I immediately skimmed towards the end – you reiterated almost the exact same things my uni teacher told the class about that book. We were talking about Joyce (before reading Dubliners), and my teacher ranted “Joyce is a brilliant author, but he really should not have wasted that decade on writing that book. That book is a real misery to read until the end, and it’s just a waste of time. “Finnegan’s Wake”, despite making extensive use of this “stream of consciousness” technique, is just too difficult, confusing and outright demotivating to read anything else for the next few weeks after you finished. “Ulysses” was pretty similar… I really wonder why I even had to read those books.” I thought he was exaggerating, but after looking it up on the internet… I’ll NEVER want read it.

    I still commend you for finishing it, you’re pretty courageous (and suicidal) ^^

  22. mellow_bunny Says:

    I <3 your pictures. Very E.T gone bad. Also I totally got hooked on your wikipedia links and as such ended up reading about all this other shizz. Your description of this book makes me totally not want to attempt reading it. Thanks for saving me some time :D!

  23. astrobunny Says:

    Oh man. That art is so expressive. I can almost feel the aliens come out of my stomach.

  24. TheBigN Says:

    I might have to read this book now, just because the way phrase it, it seems like random fun. I know I like it when I see it in anime and other forms of entertainment, but I haven’t seen that sort of thing in literature before. 😛

  25. IcyStorm Says:

    slowpoke.jpg

  26. psychotaku Says:

    hahaha. just as john romero created daikatana, james joyce wrote finnegan’s wake.

    you won’t believe how bad they are until you see them for yourself!

  27. Reactive Says:

    YOU ARE UGLY! Finnegans fag!

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  31. dm Says:

    (got here via a review of Hols, Prince of the Sun) Finnegans Wake is okay in small bits, and is especially okay when those small bits are read aloud. I’ve never managed to get through more than a few pages at a sitting, though. I tend to view it as very dense poetry, with an occasional gem of a turn of phrase here and there.

    There is a shorter Finnegans Wake by the author of A clockwork orange: Anthony Burgess.

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