Monday, February 18, 2013

Four masterpieces

I’ve recently set myself some difficult reading tasks to achieve this year, and have accomplished three out of four.  Some of these books make for easier reading than others, but all are masterpieces.  So here’s my list:
   Will Self: Umbrella (2012)
   James Joyce: Ulysses (1922)
   Thomas Bernhard: Extinction (1986)
   James Joyce: Finnegan’s Wake (1939)

I started with what I have since found the easiest to read, Will Self’s book, a direct descendant of the lineage of James Joyce, and that sent me back again to Ulysses.  I embarked on this with a gulp, knowing from my previous reading that I was about to plunge into deep waters and then, increasingly, finding myself swimming around in a maelstrom of words, all ultimately somehow flowing together into a current I could understand.  Then thanks to a friend I was introduced to the German writer, Thomas Bernhard, and found myself choosing his last book.  Here I faced 600 pages (in German) without a paragraph or a chapter, but thankfully with the occasional full stop.  This represented a greater challenge, requiring of me short immersions of about 25 pages a time, or at the most a daring 50, but a masterpiece without doubt.

And now here I am, swimming even further out into the moily depths of Finnegan’s wake (see how Joyce’s language is already affecting me), determined as I am at last to reach the distant shore of its final cryptic words:  …”A way a lone a lost a last a loved a long the…”, which will bring me back to its beginning again.  I understand very little of it so far, and am at page 100!  But I am getting some help from the synopsis in Wikipedia, and I take to heart the editors’ advice, beautifully written in itself, “Gentle reader, were you to ask How should I read this book? we would answer: passively, like any good book, neither too fast nor too slow.  Do not pause because you cannot understand a word or words:  you are not expected to understand it all….You are learning a language:  a night language.  Morning will come and the clouds of unknowing will begin to dissipate.”

I leave you with a quote from what I regard as a book of supreme poetry rather than prose: “From goddawn glory to glowworm gleam.”  And I trust that morning will soon come!



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