Lots of Fun at Finnegans Wake….Or Not

I like to challenge myself as a writer and reader. The novel I wrote last year started as a challenge in a writing class to create something in a genre I’d never written in before. I wasn’t content to do the 500 word assignment, but had to finish the novel.

And then there was NaNoWriMo. I decided to join in with all the other NaNos and write every day, for 30 days, until I had 50,000 words. And I did it.

It’s been a few months since November, and now I’m up for a new challenge. And when I came across the Roland McHugh book Annotations to Finnegans Wake, I thought–what the hell. The book has been on my shelf since my last year of college. I’ve only ever picked it up and read a line here and there, enjoying the word play and poetry. But what if I tried to read it cover to cover? Could I do it? Would it take the rest of my life? Would it make me lose what little was left of my mind?

Two days later (and only two and a half pages into the book), I am scribbling in the margins, referring obsessively to the annotations, and actually….dare I say it…enjoying the book.

Yes, me. I like something James Joyce did.

The first step is admitting you have a problem.

It’s often senseless. In fact, the first line of the introduction of the copy I have says, “There is no agreement as to what Finnegans Wake is about, whether or not it is ‘about’ anything, or even whether it is, in any ordinary sense of the word, ‘readable.'”

But it’s beautiful. Take, for example:

What clashes here of wills gen wonts, oystrygods gaggin fishygods! Brekkek Kekkek Kekkek Kekkek! Koax Koax Koax! Ualu Ualu Ualu! Quaouauh! Where the Baddelaries partisans are still out to mathmaster Malachus Micgranes and the Verdons catapelting the camibalistics out of the Whoyteboyce of Hoodie Head. Assiegates and boomeringstroms. Sod’s brood, be my fear!  Sanglorians, save! Arms apeal with larms, appalling. Killykillkilly: a toll, a toll.

The scene describes a battle of gods, something off of Mt. Olympus. But it is described in words that no one ever dreamed of–or perhaps which James Joyce vividly did dream of, as the book is reported to be Joyce’s interpretation of the dream state.

So far, two pages in, I have no idea what’s going on, other than we’re learning about the fall of Finnegan (who stuck his head underwater to wash away fate, and the water evaporated, FYI). But it’s really, really beautiful.

You win this round, James Joyce. But I still haven’t forgiven you for the nightmares you gave me with those poop letters. 51ZWM2BWY0L


About thebaffledkingcomposing

Pamela DiFrancesco is a writer with a community college degree in journalism, a fancy art school degree in fiction and a penchant for community organizing. A native of Pennsylvania coal country, Pamela lives in Astoria, Queens, writes, and does whatever else it takes to pay the bills. In the past, Pamela has worked for newspapers and taught children journalism in an after-school program. Pamela's fiction can be found on the web at Cezanne's Carrot and Monkeybicycle, in print in The Carolina Quarterly (who nominated "The Chuck Berry Tape Massacre" for the Best American Mystery Writing anthology) and forthcoming in The New Ohio Review. When not writing, Pamela practices acts of love and kindness in hopes of a radically different world, and is preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse through acts of badassery.
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