The Finnegans Wake Challenge
James Joyce: Finnegans Wake (Introduction)
Some years ago, I had a dream that took place in a combination library-pub. Several people were gathered around a table participating in The Great Finnegans Wake Challenge, or Read-Off, or if you will . . . Drinking Game.
The first contestant opened his copy of Finnegans Wake to the beginning, downed a pint of Guinness, and read as far as he could without stumbling.
(Yeah, I know . . . You’re probably thinking: “How could they tell?”
Well . . . judging is strictly hypothetical.)
Bluffing is permitted.
In fact, it’s mandatory.
My advice, while reading Joyce (and just about everyone else) . . .
“When in doubt, read with authority and no one will call your bluff.”
After a successful “challenge” the book was handed off to the next contender, who in turn downed a pint of Guinness, and continued reading.
The Wake and the Guinness meandered around the table during the course of the evening and the festivities continued . . . not until the book was finished (it is, after all, 628 pages) but until the Guinness worked its magic and the bloody thing started to make sense.
Sometime in the late ’90s, after several false starts during the preceding decades, I finally read Joyce’s epic in its entirety. (Or more accurately, I looked at every single word in it. There is a difference.) And I can proudly boast, with only slight exaggeration, that I understand . . . maybe about 1% of it. (Something about a bricklayer falling off his ladder and rising from the dead after a bottle of whiskey is spilled over his corpse.) But even “the other 99%” makes for a fun read.
So, in honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, and without the aid of Guinness (it’s early in the day), here is my stone cold sober assault on the first couple pages.
After that . . . you’re on your own.