Some thoughts on Finnegans Wake

Finnegans Wake is a barroom rant in the style of Professor Irwin Corey.

It's opaque until you see something. But even in its opacity it's God's mirror. (“That is God,” says Stephen, “a shout in the street.”)

It helps to have a few drinks—then you're on his wavelength.

It's a volcano in a cultured mind, a confession mumbled in the sleep, a prophesy, a bag-man’s babble, a bomb site, a pre-fab ruin, a druid’s curse on Rome, an Irishman’s revenge on English, a child’s private language, like the baby talk that starts the Portrait of the Artist, the language cookie crumbling into amusing shapes—concrete shapes, not abstract ones—this is not a Protestant work. It’s sort of a magazine.

Joyce drops the Western tradition into the toilet and flushes, riverrun past Eve and Adam's. He throws it up on the sidewalk, fragments of culture in a stomach-acid soup, and, dog-like, eats it up again—and it ain't bad!

Finnegans Wake is as earthy, grotesque, giant-haunted, list-loving, wine-drenched and fool-playing as its ancestor Gargantua; and as sensuous as Ulysses—the only book I know with its own smell. (Greenish and yellow, if odors be colors.)

It’s a white elephant, a hoax, a waste of time—and this is the key: time wasted is time well spent. It’s any number of things—the one thing it’s not is serious.

I have a horror of somebody trying to tell me what it means.

The writer’s problem is that one must Say Things. Nobody wants to Say Things—it’s a bore. Joyce found the solution.

He's one of the three great Catholic (but not Christian!) artists of the last century—Joyce, Picasso, Fellini. JJ, PP, FF. No Puritan can bear what he does to The Word.

It’s the still point of the turning world—but one laugh, one glimpse of God and you're dragged in and turning too.

You can only read it if you don’t want to get it read—it isn't to be read, it's to be witnessed. It’s a pass at the present tense, the closest thing to now outside of sex. We spend our day traveling between ecstasies—then the book reads us and for a moment we understand ourselves.


The Wake is the end of something; that seems clear. Then came ersatz Joyces—the disciples of modernist difficulty—and then our last great writer, my beloved Nabokov, whose images make me weep with joy but is such a stuffed shirt.

The real epilogues are the comedians—Wodehouse, the first pages of Catch 22, and Anita Loos—whose Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Joyce was following in a magazine series as he wrote the Wake.

Putting aside what one has learned is hard, to say the least. The most most of us can manage is to play music on it. Finnegans Wake puts it all aside: it’s the ultimate sensuality. So dangerous. Nothing left now but The Beginning.

It’s the Western I Ching—you open it at random to find out how you are today. And who.


  1. Humor is certainly the key to carrying on with the Wake. So long as you're aware that there's wit within wit and reference within reference and that, much as you wouldn't expect to know the whole of another consciousness, you can never know the full sum, add ease into the yeast and you're left with two directions at opposing ends! In other words, the Wake contains maltitudes!

  2. Love this post! Just finished reading it a few hours ago (found you by looking up "Finnegans Wake" on Twitter. I've been up about 37 hours reading it (and a few other books, I was participating in a readathon) so way too tired to write a post of my own or comment intelligently on your post! But I will, I've bookmarked this :)