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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Finnegans Wake

While it may have seemed difficult reading at the time, A Clockwork Orange was a model of clarity next to my second (and sadly not my last) James Joyce novel, Finnegans Wake.  Its often described as one of the most difficult works in the English language.  I believe that is intended as an accolade, though it's difficult for me to see it as such.  I might also contest the describing it as a work in the English language.  Before I go further, I'd like to be clear: I get that this book isn't designed to be enjoyed by simply reading through it as one would any other novel, if it's meant to be enjoyed at all.  It's supposed to be difficult and confusing.  I believe the intention is that there is a reward for having spent a hundred or more hours dutifully studying the text and available commentaries to pierce its veil.  This book is included on three of the eleven lists I combined to create my list of classic books, so clearly some people have found that reward.  Personally, I can't imagine it justifying that effort when I could easily spend the same amount of time reading War and Peace, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, The Count of Monte Cristo, and, just in case I need something that's a challenge to read, A Clockwork Orange and Infinite Jest, including commentaries for both.

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Including those last two isn't a coincidence.  This book takes the elements that makes each of those works difficult to read, combines them, and multiplies them several times over.  None of the slang words that Burgess invented for A Clockwork Orange were a hundred letters long.  Finnegans Wake has ten of those.  It annoyed me that a significant portion of Infinite Jest takes place in end notes.  I don't recall, and I think I would, significant portions of the book being nonsensical prose in all caps with footnotes.  That is one of the many delights that await you in Finnegans Wake.  Clearly I didn't enjoy this book and wouldn't recommend it.  I feel like the most effective way to keep people from reading this book is to close with a quote, so it can speak for itself (insofar as it ever says anything).

"Margaritomancy! Hyacinthous pervinciveness! Flowers. A cloud. But Bruto and Cassio are ware only of trifid tongues the whispered wilfulness ('tis demonal!) and shadows shadows multiplicating (il folsoletto nel falsoletto col fazzolotto dal fuzzolezzo), totients quotients, they tackle their quarrel."

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