Tuesday, 19 July 2016

'A complete fiasco' – Malcolm Muggeridge on Finnegans Wake

'It's a complete fiasco!'
'Mr. James Joyce's Finnegans Wake faces the reviewer with peculiar difficulties. In the first place he cannot read it, only battle through a page or so at a time without pleasure or profit. This would not, in itself, matter so much; but he does not know what the book is about. The dust jacket, which might be expected to help, says nothing except that Finnegans Wake has taken sixteen years to write, that it has been more talked about and written about during the period of its composition than any previous work of literature, and that it would inevitably 'be the most important event in any season in which it appeared'....Thus defeated by book and blurb, it is natural to cast a surreptitious eye at what other reviewers have had to say....The usual line is that Mr. Joyce is a great writer, that for reasons best known to himself he has evolved a curious way of writing which bears little resemblance to the English language as commonly used, that so painstaking an effort is not to be dismissed out of hand, and that in any case gramophone records of passages from Finnegans Wake recited by Mr Joyce have been found by competent persons to be delectable.
  Considered as a book, and considering the object of a book to be by means of written symbols to convey the author's emotions to the reader, Finnegans Wake must be pronounced a complete fiasco. Such a word as 'bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!' is not merely senseless, it is absurd. How many mornings Mr Joyce devoted to coining this particular word, I do not know; perhaps it only took him one morning or just an hour or so; but in any case he was wasting his time as surely as, more surely than, a village idiot trying to catch a sunbeam.'

Malcolm Muggeridge, TIme and Tide, 20 May 1939

'There were no serious reviews of Finnegans Wake in the professional press: the notice of it given by Malcolm Muggeridge, still extant, was a disgracefully smug confession of incompetence to tackle it.'

Anthony Burgess, Little Wilson and Big God, 1986

I've just come across this review by Malcolm Muggeridge (the man who tried to get Monty Python's 'Life of Brian' banned for blasphemy).  He's described the mighty Finnegans Wake thunderword from the opening page as 'senseless' and 'absurd' (did he read past the opening page?). This struck me as funny because this thunderword is now so loved by Wakeans that you can buy t-shirts with it on. Here's mine.

And Derek Pyle of the Waywords and Meansigns project has had part of it tattooed on his forearm!

What would Malcolm Muggeridge make of that?!

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