Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Announce the Blog of the Night: My Future Failure

As if there aren't enough blogs.


I've got an idea: why not read Finnegans Wake? And blog about it?  Should only take me the rest of my life.


Finnegans Wake is considered a classic, though who has actually read the fucker? Well, I'm going to try.  And I'll blog about it.  It ought to be more fun than that woman's blog about cooking all of Julia Child's recipes.  Maybe I'll get a movie deal!


Why read the classics?  Well… before we get into all of that, and we may very well never get there, let me state for the record that I don’t like the question as it is framed, for it presupposes that there are classics and then there are some not-quite-classics, and, logically, some not-at-all-classics, and, of course, some heaps of stinking crap. 

But this is a question that has been posed at lil’ ol’ me more than a few times.  Why?  Because I was an English major?  Because I like books?  And when you like books, people assume one of two things: 1.  You like the classics therefore they have nothing to say to you out of (1) intimidation or (2) annoyance; 2. You must like the books they like, so they will ask you if you read (1) The Alchemist, (2) Harry Potter and the (fill in the blank), (3) Some other book you probably haven’t read but think is fine to read though you won't because it’s just not your bag. 

During such conversations, the classics inevitably come up, though the two people conversing share an undefined idea of what the word “classics” means.  I'm not so sure myself.

To me, there are the canonical works and then there are those that don’t quite fit in but are still regarded as important works of literature.  The sub-canon, if you will.  I tend to like the sub-canon.  Bulgakov and Calvino and Vonnegut and Cabrera Infante and Arenas and Cardenal and Vallejo and so forth.  To me, their works are classics; their books endure, amuse, challenge, delight.  But that’s not the right definition, is it?


If you go here you can read the Modern Library’s list of the 100 greatest novels in English.  I remember when this list was published.  At the time, I was a James Joyce hater.  I had read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and declared it overrated (I prefer A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog by Dylan Thomas).  Ditto Dubliners (though it has some fine stories).  And then I tried to read Ulysses.  And failed.             

It seemed that Jimmy and I were never going to be close pals.  And I was fine with that.  I preferred his protégé, Samuel Beckett.  And though Ulysses topped the list of 100 great novels, well, I didn’t care.  My pick, The Sound the Fury by William Faulkner, which I still think is the greatest novel written in English, snagged the number 6 spot.  So I was happy enough, though really, what does it matter?  Lists like these are inherently silly. 


I became a bit obsessed with Irish literature a few years later when I read the poetry of Ciaran Carson, Medbh McGuckian, and Paul Muldoon.  These are Northern Irish writers, which makes a bit of a difference, but like their forebears from Dear Old Erin’s Isle, these writers demonstrate such felicity with language that I had no choice but to reconsider some of the Irish lit I had neglected for too long.  I had read Behan, Synge, O’Casey, and some of the contemporaries like Patrick McCabe and Roddy Doyle.  And, of course, the late Seamus Heaney.  But I had still not overcome my aversion to Joyce.

The Modern Library’s panel of judges are not alone.  Many people consider Joyce to be the most important writer in English after Shakespeare.  And Ulysses is considered by many to be indispensible.  Maybe I ought to give it another try, I thought.

So I did.  And I got farther this time, but still failed to reach that classic “yes” that closes the book. 

Oh well.  You can’t read ‘em all.


Borges admitted that he didn't finish Ulysses.  If Borges can do as much, so can I.


Recently, my interest in Irish lit has been re-rekindled.  It started when I rented a box set of Beckett plays put on film.  And then Seamus Heaney died.  (Bummer.)  I started rereading some of his poems, mostly during the long train ride to work when I have to steel myself against the clatter of the city.  Heaney calms me, you see.  (But Muldoon excites me.)

I started thinking about Joyce.  Not Ulysses, which I am determined to give another dance, but the unassailable Finnegans Wake.   

No one I know has read it.  I once heard that Harrison Hayford, the Melville scholar, Northwestern Professor, and frequent visitor of the Aspidistra Bookshop, belonged to a group that would meet weekly to discuss one page of the tome.  And each page, seemingly, is filled with enough riddles so that these intellectuals were quite occupied.  But this weekly meeting makes sense.  I'm sure it is best to read the thing with a support group of dedicated bibliophiles. 

But no one I know will do this with me.  Cowards.


One of the reasons a support group is necessary, aside from the obvious, is that membership implies responsibility and active participation.  And when undergoing such a project, joyful though it should be, one has to find motivation where one can.  Without a group to call my own (there's none in Chicago that I can find), I'm forced to find another avenue that will lead to something like regular readings of The Wake.

Thus the new blog.  It shall focus on my days—probably stretching into years—spent with Finnegans Wake.  I will post all things Joycean and other relevant pieces centering on so-called difficult books, literary culture, and so forth.  It shall be called Rejoyce and it shall be here:  bookofthenight.blogspot.com

(I wanted the address to be "blogofthedark" or "rejoyce" but they were taken.  And I tried to create a Tumblr for this project.  After joining, and being forced to like other pages, I am still waiting for an email from Tumblr, which is required to activate my blog.  Two weeks now, Tumblr, and no email.  What the fuck?  Am I not cool enough?  Yeah, yeah, well fuckoff.)


As I stated above, many would call Finnegans Wake a classic though few have read it.  So why read this classic?  Because it's there.  And if you're going to climb a mountain, why not try Everest?  Anyway, this will likely be another failure on my part, but fuck it.  What else can I do to amuse myself before old age and ruin?