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.
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?
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.