Why should anywhoyou Wakeread? Read to the fin? Read it again? To the fin again? Weigh?
Finnegans Wake may be the most impenetrable book ever written. Joyce intentionally made the book obscure. Oh hell, it’s obscure, he even created his own language for the book. It’s difficult to get beyond a page or two without a commentary to break some of the casing.
Hailed as a work of genius, the book is rarely read and up until recently, out of print. (I see a couple of new editions released very recently so perhaps the copyrights have expired?)
To assist the uninitiated, there are volumes of commentaries available.
I decided to take the Finnegans Wake plunge a couple years ago. I worked damn hard at the thing and made it to around page 60 of the 627 pages.
This year I renewed my commitment to get through it and ordered more commentaries! So far, I’ve read about 300 pages of commentary and I’m on page 16 of the book! (That’s a 19 to 1 ratio of commentary to Wake)
Why do it? Why even try to read the thing? Why expend the effort?
I am a little sad that this question keeps coming up. Why not make the effort? It is recognized as a masterpiece. And the effort to see inside the darkness will reward the reader.
At first I only saw the darkness. It’s pitch black in here! I can make out nothing. But like astronomy, I had to learn how to see before the really wonderful sights became apparent. Well, not apparent to me, yet. Better I say “less unapparent”.
As I worked with my commentaries, I began to discern some shape. And I felt around for meaning and discerned some vague notions of what “this might be”. It’s still dark. I still grope. I’m still lost. But I’m just starting to get “dark adapted” and I think Joyce intended this. No, not to discourage the reader but to make the experience richer—more real. Plunged in complete darkness, it is a book of the night and of an eye-closed sleeper, one has to expect a period of vision adjustment. Adapt to the dark, fall asleep, join the dream. Not easy. Especially not easy if you try.
I think that’s fairly profound in itself. I’m gaining ground. I think?!
So why read it?
Because so few will do anything that requires effort these days. Effort brings its own rewards. We learn from effort. We are stronger from effort.
I was told a long time ago by a fellow businessman and friend, that “every time you do something difficult, there is one less person chasing you. They quit. They fall away.” Andy Jacobson (Nordic) told me that 30 years ago. He was right.
I like being in the company of the few. I like conversation with those who have also made the effort.
And, I like what the book is teaching me. I like the experience when I get just a couple of photons in the darkness.
It’s worth it to me.
Chris Reich, TeachU