Is Finnegans Wake meant to be cubist? One of the primary objectives of cubism in painting was to provide multiple perspectives of an object, person or scene at once. Is the prose in FW intentionally ambiguous to generate multiple meanings at once? As I understand it Gertrude Stein, who was close with Picasso and several other artists often attempted to incorporate this effect into her poetry- although I don't read poetry so I cannot attest to this myself. Anyway, Is Finnegans Wake just an elephant being felt up by blind men?
It's what happens when people speak many languages. Most of the double meanings are apparent in the English words modified without Irish- the pun will be Latin and English, or English and English, interspersed with each other. It makes a low context language like English read as a high context language.
Where it slips into Irish and English, it more closely resembles Bearlachas, which is to Irish and English what Spanglish is to Spanish and English. Since Irish is a high context language, many of the double meanings are inherent in the words chosen by those who speak Bearlachas, and so Joyce doesn't focus on inserting a secondary meaning or higher context, but on capturing the sound of spoken speech, like his earlier onomatopoeic work with waves or falling.
I don't think it was intended to be cubist, so much as even out the levels of context in English and Irish dominated pieces.
do you not get to do that if someone points out which phrase book he used to steal the norwegian captain's puns from, and how they're not traditional puns for that language like Joyce would have known if he had more than a phrasebook knowledge?
Sort of. The book is stuffed with double, triple, quadruple entendres depending on how many languages you can speak, but in the end of the day Joyce still expected it to be relateable to his fans in the same sense as were his earlier works (just at an even more complex, more satisfying level). This expectation can be seen in the letters he sent to his friends after the book was released and poorly received, letters in which he expressed a lot of confusion and frustration.
The inescapable fact, though, is that even scholars who study him for a living are not able to agree upon a concrete plot or purpose, which suggests that no one is ever going to understand it. And while some would attribute the abstruseness to complexity alone, I think the bigger culprit is that Joyce simply did not lay enough breadcrumbs for anyone but Joyce. In spending so many years working on the novel and living in its world, so little living in the real world, he lost all feel for what his readers can and cannot know.
Basically, the dude needed a better editor.
What's funny and what so many people don't get about literary allusions is that it's an outdated device. It comes out of a time when cultures were insular and spoke only to themselves and there was a reasonable expectation of common literary knowledge. A time when everybody in a society read the same books.
These periods produced the most revered works in Western literature, and the result is that modern writers have mistaken the allusion to be something that makes their work "literary." In an effort to achieve the immortality of Western literature's greatest hits, writers of the past few centuries have deployed the literary allusion in imitation of the great works of the past.
But it's pathetic because literary allusions, they don't make any sense anymore. The world's population has exploded, societies are interconnected, there's so much to read, and everybody today varies so much in what they read, that literary allusions are mostly failures. Today, pop-culture allusions are the old literary allusions. Pop culture is what unites us, not The Bible or Paradise Lost. And that's why The Simpsons is more intelligently and effectively allusive than any novel ever published.
Finnegans Wake is the ultimate expression of a tiny insular literary culture talking to itself amid wider world events. It means something to about 13 people, and that's what Joyce wanted. It's what modernism wanted, it was the whole point, as a response to mass culture. And ever after we've seen ambitious young men trying to earn their way into the club, falling prey to the oldest psychological trick in the book: they mistake exclusivity for value. If you withhold something from people, suddenly it becomes very interesting. It's why everybody is dying to see Pynchon's face in high resolution even though he's just some old ugly guy. So Joyce spends the last years of life writing goobledygook as a final reading-comprehension test for people who've read everything. I'd call it self-parody, and a parody of a whole bankrupt literary movement, but that'd be giving the guy too much credit. Finnegans Wake is the worst book of all time, and it's a testament to the literary world's dishonesty and spinelessness that a soul on this Earth takes it seriously.
On this topic. I have taken to writing a novel wherein the allusions are to non-existent works of fiction which are hyphenated in their entirety upon their mention within the text. However I stopped because I thought maybe this was some gimmicky postmodern wank. Would anyone read such a book? Not that I necessarily expect to be published but I will still probably end up sharing it with some people.
Flann O'Brien does it too. Vonnegut as well with all of Kilgore Trout's work. It's a common post modern device.
There's a more recently published novel, Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, by Larsen which was converted into a movie despite using it, and House of Leaves contains a similar idea, so it's not gone out of fashion even after footnoting fictional references.
I think you've missed the point of literary allusion as it is (should be) used in contemporary literature. So have most academic mold-issued writers, so that's understandable. Does the allusion enrich the text and add to, without taking away from, the reading experience? What's the point of it? If it's only to show reverence and leverage cultural credit, that's indeed nothing but poor imitation of an outdated device, the current iteration of which is indeed that most plebeian of tribal reinforcement mechanisms: pop culture references. "Referencial humour" is nowadays rightfully derided, and so should be the pointless allusion.