Saturday 11 June 2022


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Finnegans Wake by James Joyce     {Reviewed by THOMAS}
Occasionally, usually when suffering from a fever, my mind takes words and phrases and pulls them apart and recombines them and distorts them and relates them to other words and phrases and hybridises them and separates them from their sense and plays around with their pronunciation. This is distressing. I used to think that this was caused by the neurotoxic side-effect of a pathogen or the delirium of fever, but soon came to believe that this is the nature of language: without our constant yet relatively feeble and fleeting attempts to coagulate it into meaning, language is a heaving sea of chaotic association and permutation, endlessly fertile but ultimately not compatible with sanity. We expend a lot of effort resisting language’s inherent tendency towards chaos, generally with good reason: we seek clarity and sanity. In Finnegans Wake, James Joyce pulls down all the dykes and lets the sea wash over the land. Herein lie all the linguistic symptoms it usually takes illness to induce. Joyce spent seventeen years compulsively holding the idea of the novel underwater, holding it in that moment of uncertainty when drowning and developing gills seem about equally likely. Having prescription for roxithromycin filled before reading this book is probably a good idea.

(Aside: my own copy of Finnegans Wake is of an edition that has 28 pages of ‘Corrections of Misprints’, which make enjoyable Joycean reading in themselves (too bad the misprints were corrected in later editions and this addendum not reproduced)).

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