November 18: finnegans Wake and my computer

I have given up on my attempt to read Finnegans Wake. I had thought now was the time. I have a smattering of languages; more reading behind me; an interest in playful allusion and the construction of a ludic neologism. I thought: it’s now or never. It’s never. I tried about five blocks of one hour reading in bed over five consecutive nights. Each time reading about four pages in the hour. First time I thought I’d build up my sensitivity to what was going on and get more of it as I got used to the language, but it never really happened. Reading pleasure was scant. Understanding, even provisional, very partial. Joyce wrote it between 1922 and 1939. Seventeen years. Even granting that some of the allusions, local in time and geography (Dublin) are less clear now than they were or are to Dubliners, it remains opaque. And I like difficulty, I enjoy deciphering as a reading process, but this is beyond. Beyond.

I was reminded of the challenge of reading Finnegans Wake when I encountered issues on my computer the other day. I am computer illiterate. The vocabulary is unknown to me. When it tells me to consult my internet provider I do not know who that is or what it means. Is it BT? And is BT a man in India on the end of a phone who once after a forty minute conversation told me to stick a needle into an orifice on my internet hub and wiggle it around for sixty seconds? And what is my proxy setting? I try and examine the word proxy, as I would examine the Joycean neologism. A word of latinate derivation clearly. But this can only get me so far. In the world of computers I am like a four year old in a cocktail party for adults. If I can just get a piece of cake (use of email and word-processing) I’m happy, while the grown-ups are all drinking their fancy drinks and talking about stuff I don’t understand. I am like the reader of Finnegans Wake who just recognises a few words in the mass, a few stars in the Milky Way. With these fragnents I try and piece my way forward to get what I want. In the computer world, if you just leave me a small piece of cake on the side-table I’ll leave the party and go off to my bedroom to eat it on my own. Frankly, I should have been in bed hours ago.

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