YMMV / Finnegans Wake

  • Cult Classic: While the book is (in)famous for its sheer levels of incomprehensibility, a lot of people over the decades have come to see it as Joyce's best work, and one of the best novels of the 20th century. See Vindicated by History.
  • Dancing Bear: Ask a person what he or she knows about Finnegans Wake: the first thing to come to mind is most likely the style of the book, rather than the actual content. Though to be fair, the former makes the latter rather hard to discern.
  • Ensemble Darkhorse: Of Joyce's four major works, the Wake certainly sticks out the most for a few reasons.
  • Epileptic Trees: From literary critics. With years of training they are well placed to hold forth on how Joyce counterpoints the surrealism of the underlying metaphor by utilizing indigenous ligneous vegetation with a tumid episodic spasmodic pathophysiology.
  • Genius Bonus: Joyce apparently sneaks a few references to existing jokes into this book, most of which are obscured beyond recognition and most likely stacked on other jokes. e.g. "Gee each owe tea eye smells fish." (p. 299)Explanation 
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: How did the Wake manage to get away with numerous sex jokes, not to mention descriptions of incest and general perversion, without causing a storm of controversy and bans like Ulysses did? Well, you'd have to know what you're reading in order to say it's obscene...
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: The book is surprisingly popular in China. A new translation sold out of its first pressing within the first month of publication. If the Chinese have been gifted with any special insights into what the book is all about, they certainly haven't shared them with us. Maybe we're not ready for such insights?
  • It Was His Sled: The first and last sentence. Also, it's necessary to look through multiple outlines to understand even vaguely what the hell the book is about.
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible: Quite possibly the purest form of true art, made by the distillation of multiple layers of mutual meta-incomprehensibility. Joyce said it would take about three centuries for anyone to figure out what was really going on in the book. Justified in that the characters are all asleep, so even they don't really know what they're doing.
    • The difficulty of figuring out what's going on in the book is mostly on the level of narrative. In terms of the emotions (loneliness, familial hostility, sexual hangups) and style (the Western Literary tradition refracted through the lens of the multicultural world of the 20th Century) the book makes a lot of sense.
    • Arguably, it's not actually necessary to comprehend the book well to enjoy it, and in fact, trying too hard to comprehend it may actually detract from a reader's enjoyment of it. It's not really the sort of book one reads, at least in a traditional manner; if you try to read it literally, trying to comprehend the meaning of every word or phrase in the novel, it'll be incredibly tedious. The pleasure in reading the book is more along the lines of simply absorbing it as a whole. Not every word will make sense to the general reader, but that's arguably the point, since it's a book of dreams and the night.

      The subtitle of Nietzsche's Also sprach Zarathustra - translated to English, A Book for All and None - may actually apply to Finnegans Wake as well. It's a book for all because, if read properly, it has something everyone will enjoy (though what that something is will vary from person to person), but it's a book for none because it's unlikely anyone but Joyce will ever understand all of it.

      The Wake can also be considered something of a literary mirror, as a person's interpretations of it often can be considered to say as much about the person themselves as they say about Joyce's book - or more, perhaps. For instance, due to the wide range of knowledge Joyce put into the book, what a person gets out of it depends largely on that person's own education.
  • Vindicated by History: Most of Joyce's contemporaries and even his own family thought the book was stupid or a joke. It initially had negative reviewers, although one reviewer held off on judging the work, predicting that in the future, "with sufficient study and with the aid of the commentary that will doubtless arise, one might be ready for an attempt to appraise it." He was right.


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