Art, Books, Finnegans Wake

‘A Knot of Coherent Nonsense’: Reading Joyce’s ‘Finnegans Wake’…Again


This week I decided to have another go at reading James Joyce’s massive book Finnegans Wake, and bought an old second-hand copy from a beautiful antiquarian bookshop here in Wellington, NZ. Since I’ve been away traveling in the past few months and living minimally out of a rucksack, this will pretty much be the only real book I’ll be carrying around with me (the rest of my books are on my Ipad!). I’ve tried to read Finnegans Wake a number of times before and I’ve always failed to get much beyond the first handful of pages. I really have tried. The book itself is notoriously and willfully obscure, consisting of dense pages of seemingly senseless neologisms, streams of total nonsense, puns, and mysterious geographical, historical, and literary allusions. And this is absolutely unrelenting for each and every one of its 628 pages.

I first read Joyce’s Ulysses back in college after being partially inspired by reading and enjoying Malcolm Lowry’s stream-of-consciousness masterpiece Under the Volcano, Virginia Woolf’s modernist novel To the Lighthouse, and Samuel Beckett’s Absurdist play Waiting for Godot. I had also been intrigued by the figure of Joyce himself in Tom Stoppard’s play Travesties, where he is a cypher for genuine artistic creativity and integrity in the face of the Dadaist Tristan Tzara’s nihilistic iconoclasm. In fact, I think Stoppard’s characterisation of Joyce made a deep and lasting impression on me, as I’ve always subsequently held Joyce in the highest regard. At the age of seventeen, in the midst  of devouring pretty much any difficult and challenging Continue reading