Anthony Burgess on Finnegans Wake

I finally finished reading But Do Blondes Prefer Gentlemen? (a collection of Anthony Burgess' essays that I'd been reading since July '11) on Sunday night. I'm a decently big fan of his, but the collection could've been curated a bit better, I think.

Burgess is, as it turns out, way too much of a James Joyce fan, and I present here a page that I dog-eared several months ago:

The world has forgiven Joyce for the excesses of Ulysses, but it is not yet ready to forgive him for the dementia of Finnegans Wake. Yet it is difficult to see what other book he could well have written after a fictional ransacking of the human mind in its waking state. Ulysses Sometimes touches the borders of sleep, but it never actually enters its kingdom. Finnegans Wake is frankly a representation of the sleeping brain. It took Joyce seventeen years to write between eye operations and worry about the mental collapse of his daughter Lucia. He got little encouragement, even from Ezra Pound, that prince of avant-gardistes; his wife Nora merely said that he ought to write a nice book that ordinary people could read. But clearly Finnegans Wake had to be written, and Joyce was the only man dedicated or mad enough to write it.

[... Here Burgess gets into "the plot" of Finnegans Wake and selected symbols within it, all very sensible and irritating ...]

There must be many people, and they of the most literate, who have opened the book and groaned wretchedly at what they found:

[... Here he quotes it, but I've already given sufficient samples I think ...]

It looks like nonsense, but it isn't. Joyce never wrote a line of nonsense in his life.

Burgess is a bit of a know-it-all, but he also seems to know everything, and is brilliant at the very least, so it's earned. I definitely don't agree with him on the necessity of Finnegans Wake or its lack of nonsense. But I still really like A Clockwork Orange.

I'm tagging this post with Anthony Burgess and Ulysses as well, since they'll be relevant in several years' time.

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