|Stephen Crowe, Wake in Progress|
MacCabe supplemented Heath's structuralist reading with a light Stalinist politics which accused Joyce of "leftism" for writing beyond his audience. He allowed Joyce a certain tragic grace for this failing - and doubtless for academics writing about Joyce too - but didn't envisage the Wakeas any kind of programme for future action. Joyce was treated as a one-man band, a lone writer of high classics. MacCabe ignored the dialogue with Wyndham Lewis which informed Joyce's practice, and seemed uninterested in the journal transitionwhich published early drafts of Finnegans Wakeamong a host of extreme writers. For Heath and MacCabe, the Wakewasn't an introduction to conflicts we might engage in, but an object of analysis - at one point in the 70s, there were so many people writing PhDs, people talked about a Joyce "industry".However, an object of analysis is a cadaver, and like a coffin at a funeral, Finnegans Wakegradually dropped out of sight.
Some tried to save Joyce from the structuralists. Sokal and Bricmont's famous accusation of "Intellectual Imposture" had its counterpart in Joyce studies: Geert Lernout's The French Joyce, published in 1990, was a devastating exposé of the way Lacan, Derrida and Cixous would raid FinnegansWake for their own purposes without the slightest regard for the organic thrust of its prose, or any of Joyce's references. In their flights of theory,the Wakebecame an unknowable "thing-in-itself". Philosophy could build tottering edifices based upon one word from Joyce's text - which was frequently, as Lernout points out, misquoted - without attempting to see what the Wakedoes to sense or explain why. In Joyce studies today, the reaction against such high-handedness is exemplified by Wim van Mierlo and his group, who work on draft manuscripts collected by the National Library of Dublin. Their "genetic criticism" intends toshow that Joyce was "actually" writing a novel, with scene, characters and plot. The monstrosity can be decoded to reveal Tess of the d'Urbevilles, apparently. This approach is so retrograde, so out of sympathy with Joyce's play on the reception of speech in the uncomprehending mind, his investigation of the somatic aspect of literary phenomena, so ignorant of the confrontational, anti-bourgeois politics which gave birth to the Wake'sextremism, that their endless glosses will never provide the final explanation they hope for. Despite this stand-off between solipsistic theory and blind scholarship, there remain some readers who do deal with the actual experience of reading the Wake,who hear its music: a radical critique of what is taken to be "communication" in the media and of "authority" in legal, political and medical matters. Rabid satire, fulminous and funny. The Wake'smessage in a bottle reveals, not Sting, but social revolution. I'll get to these happy readers at the end of my contribution.
One of the problems Marxists have with Structuralism is its denial of history, its conviction that only a synchronic structure - the apparently atemporal structure of kinship relations analysed byLévi-Strauss - can be described with the exactness of science. But,for all the claims to "science" made by structuralism, itsability to interpret specific texts remains poor. For the reader ofstructuralist and post-structuralist theory, there are manyastonishing moments - denunciations of ideology and apocalypticphrases - but precious few moments of genuine insight into specificwriters or works. So people who like reading books and wanted to talkabout them eventually found structuralism unsatisfying. Alongside athousand-and-one other "postmodern" approaches, Marxism hasmade a comeback in academic literary studies. However, this has beena popular-frontist Marxism which believes in "accessibility". Its object of choice is science fiction. Darko Suvin, Fredric Jameson and China Miéville accept "genre", i.e. commercial definitions of the "popular", so the textual challenge ofFinnegans Wake no longer has any relevance. Aesthetics is replaced by sociology and - in Jameson's case - crashing moralism. The Suvin/Jameson/Miéville brand of sociological positivism can make one nostalgic for structuralism's emphasis on the avant garde. For example, the sudden surge of worthwhile science fiction in the years between 1967 and 1972 can only be truly appreciated by taking on board the politics of novelistic form - lessons only Finnegans Wakecan teach. But there must be something better than either high theory or market commentary - torn halves which never add up - something which appreciates the dynamic necessityof what Joyce did to the English language with FinnegansWake. This "something" could begin quite simply: we could pay attention to what Joyce and his milieu said about Finnegans Wakeat the time it was written.
The place to start is Our Exagmination, a book of essays about the Wakeculled from the pages of transition,the Paris-based literary journal which published chapters ofFinnegans Wake when itwas called "work in progress". OurExagmination came out in 1929, ten years before Faber & Faber published FinnegansWake itself. The first contribution was by Samuel Beckett. Called "Dante… Bruno. Vico.. Joyce", it's a bravura essay in the intellectual terrorism beloved ofavant gardes. Beckett starts with Giambattista Vico, the philologist and philosopher who lived in Naples between 1668 and 1744, someone his readers are obviously never meant to have heard of. It's logical, however, because (as Martin has shown you) a reference to Vico appears online two of Finnegans Wake.Beckett disagrees with Benedetto Croce - the torch-bearer of the contemporary Vico revival - and his contention that Vico was a mystic, disdainful of empiricism, arguing instead that he was a utilitarian and a materialist. Beckett was intimately involved with Joyce and Finnegans Wake. He transcribed Joyce's corrections when the latter's eyesight was failing. He even wrote a book in flamboyant Wakese (after switching to the pared-down style he made his name with, Beckett disowned the work, but it was published after his death asDream of Fair To Middling Women). Beckett's idealist/materialist opposition - in which an author like Croce is an "enemy" even though he has supplied Beckett with most of his information about Vico - is the left discourse of the times, fitting perfectly with the commentary Lenin wrote on Hegel's Logic in 1914. This kind of thinking is completely off structuralism's radar. Following Alexandre Kojève and Jean-Paul Sartre, structuralism replaces the materialist/idealist opposition of Marx with a Heideggerian theology of power, a Neo-Platonic attempt to conceive the One which leaves no room for resistance or dialectic - except some irrational leap of faith. It is this shift away from revolutionary thought which explains why Lacan, Derrida and Cixous see Finnegans Wake as nothing but a burned-out field of scattered debris, to be raided and used, but never felt or understood.
Beckett has been cast as the poet of end-game Angstand nothing-to-be-done apoliticism. But the sheer nerve of his defiance of bourgeois values didn't spring from nowhere, or at least it didn't spring from "Existentialism", the first post-war commodity for the philosophical mass market. When Joyce and Beckett landed on Giambattista Vico as their obscure classic of choice - in a world turned-upside-down, in which a state-capitalist regime paraded Marx and Engels as justifications for imperialist wars, summary justice and mass deportations - they were not alone. Leon Trotskybegins The History of the Russian Revolutionby quoting Vico on the very first page too.
James Joyce was educated by Jesuits, giving him a sympathy for the medieval world denied to those born into a Protestant culture. His attention to Vico springs out of this background. Vico was a stern critic of Descartes, determined to show that knowledge of old texts - myth, religion and history - was not a scholastic diversion to be replaced by arithmetic and experiment. He argued that students trained only in logic and maths made terrible mistakes in business and politics, where assessment of likelihoods is key. His New Science argued that Gods and heroes were imaginative projections of social classes, ways of summarising and glorifying modes of life which were thoroughly mundane. The Enlightenment historian Jules Michelet edited a book of Vico's writings, saying about the Gods and heroes Vico wrote about:
Before these gigantic phantoms the people remained prostrate. Vico bids them rise. "That which you adore," he says to them, "is yourselves, your own conceptions."1
This Promethean argument anticipates Marx's critique of commodity fetishism. It also echoes William Blake's "All deities reside in the human breast" from the Marriage of Heaven and Hell of 1789. This is no coincidence: it's what the French Revolution allowed people to think. In a footnote in Capital2,Marx credits Vico with discovering the difference between human and natural history: we've made the former, but not the latter. In 1862, Marx wrote to Ferdinand Lassalle saying that he ought to read Vico because Vico understood the "spirit" of Roman law, something the "legal philistines" were incapable of. By "spirit",Marx means Vico's ability to imagine people as social actors in real situations, his immunity to the logic-chopping beloved of theologians and jurists. Vico's interpretation of Roman history - the struggle ofthe plebs to gain access to marriage rites and certain parentage denied them by the nobility - was read with enthusiasm by Hegel. It provided the seed idea of Marxist class analysis.
Croce's Vico revival was not entirely without fruit. His book on Vico was translated into English by R.G. Collingwood, the Oxford philosopher. However, to the irreparable harm of Anglophone philosophy - and also to the detriment of Anglophone Marxism - R.G. Collingwood's historical idealism lost out to the logical positivism of Bertrand Russell and A.J. Ayer. For them, knowledge is cold and objective, the opposite of emotion: philosophy approaches truth by a gradual elimination of poetry. This can be contrasted to the insightful pages on myth, poetry and language-formation in Croce's book on Vico (orCollingwood's brilliant Principles of Art).For Vico, we can only think in words and concepts because these were forged to meet human requirements. Viconian humanism is actually the ground of Marxism as a revolutionary science, a ground broken up and made unusable by the disciplines of the academy, which place economics and poetry in different camps.
The Whig interpretation of history also has no place for Vico. Vico was part of the Counter Reformation. His New Science was "to the glory ofthe Catholic religion" and, he boasted, had "procured for our Italy the advantage of not envying Protestant Holland, England orGermany". Schematic left thinking posits "Catholicism" as "less progressive" than Protestantism, but cannot explain what Hegel and Marx might have learned from Vico. We need a dialectic of Enlightenment. Martin Luther was undoubtedly progressive in his criticism of a cynical and venal Papacy, but his point of attack was the individual conscience of the believer. This led to an ideology of individualism well summarised by Margaret Thatcher's "there is no society". For Catholics, though, the church - the communion of the faithful - precedes the individual. This corporatism isn't exactly "social being determines consciousness", but it did allow Vico to investigate history with a sense of social reality and class antagonism. His criticism of Descartes is a defence of this reality against the alienated individualism of the cogito.Residual Cartesianism, plus the baleful influence of Heidegger -existentialism's reduction of philosophy to speculation about individuals - explains why the Viconian basis of FinnegansWake - which brings Joyce into the same orbit as Marx and Trotsky - is utterly invisible to Lacan, Derrida and Cixous. Even though structuralism was meant to abolish the soggy humanism of existentialism, Lacan and Derrida and Cixous were just as much pupils of Alexandre Kojève as Jean-Paul Sartre.
TheViconian "structure" of Joyce's book is frequently mentioned. This is usually presented as a "cyclical" view of history - Divine, Heroic, Human and then a ricorso- making Joyce sound like an unreconstructed medievalist. If you look at what Vico actually meant by his "cyclical" history - the ineluctable descent in accounts of civilisations from myths about Gods to tales of heroes to stories of mundane human beings - you realise he actually meant critique:perpetual vigilance against recourse to the fantastic or transcendentas ways of explaining society. Vico attempted to explain humanity as its own product. This is historical materialism in embryo.
Talking of Roman Law - which he's at pains to point out, was not an import from some previous Golden Age, but a set of rights achieved by the struggle of the Roman plebs versus the nobility - Vico says:
Finally, three years later, through the Petelian law, the heroic law of the bond was completely untied, thus allowing popular liberty to arise, which is the true meaning of existere["existere" being the Latin for "to exist"].(First New Science, p.115)
Basing his definition upon the Roman historian Livy, Vico understands "existence" to mean the ability to live and flourish and propagate your kind as a free human being. This is the concept of existence we find in Marx, who posits society as prior to the individual, who understands the individual as a product of particular societies, and therefore looks askance at belief systems which would place the individual in some direct and trans-historical relationship with God or, indeed, with existence (or "ontology").Critics of Marx who claim he left out some crucial "ontological grounding" which can now be sourced from Martin Heidegger are simply victims of Descartes. By confusing "existence" as concrete and lived with "existence" as a Platonic idea, Descartes planted a transcendental metaphysics - the supreme individual, modelled on God - at the very heart of scientific knowledge. Vico's reply is: Popular liberty is the true meaning of existence! We've been so disciplined by the existential ontologists,that the very idea sounds shocking and revolutionary. Which it is.
Slavoj Zizek's success in putting St Paul back on undergraduate reading lists is far from accidental. It's not the revolutionary Jesus he relates to - the one Hermann Samuel Reimarus [1694-1768], another critic of Descartes, discovered, findings published by Lessing. Zizekis thrilled by St Paul's Platonism, ideas which confirm Zizek's early training in structuralism. Vico understood Christianity's reliance on Plato's arguments about Providence and the reality of ideas. He called Plato "divine". Yet he's not uncritical. Indeed, seen in the light of subsequent arguments about history - the revolutionary historicism of Hegel and Marx - Vico traces a hairline crack on the surface of Plato, a crack which will finally bring down the exalted claims of revealed religion in a cloud of dust.
Yet[Vico says], even Plato lost sight of Providence when, through an error common to the human mind, whereby it measures the relatively unknown nature of others in accordance with itself, he raised the barbaric and rough origins of gentile humanity to the perfect state of his own exalted, divine and recondite knowledge, whereas he ought, on the contrary, to have descended from his "ideas" and sunk down to those origins. Thus, through a scholarly error, in which he has been followed to the present day, it became necessary for him to prove that the first authors of gentile humanity were sages, replete inrecondite wisdom, whereas, since they came from races of impious and uncultured men, such as those of Ham and Japhet must once have been, they could only have been huge beasts, wholly bewildered and ferocious. [Vico, The First New Science,1725; ed/trans Leon Pompa, Cambridge: CUP, 2002, p. 13]
If thou wouldst know thyself, puzzled scion of the house of learning, sink down to thy origins, become as it were a wombfish or a suckling infant! This sets sexual regressionversus holy text as a prime source of knowledge in a manner that would have delighted Wilhelm Reich. Vico is criticising an Ancient Greek philosopher, a pagan, so there's no danger from the Inquisition, but in historicising philosophy this way, he does start to damp the fires of revealed religion. Truth is conceived as something achieved by conscientious minds working on the problems of the day - the sort of intellectual ferment that characterised Naples in Vico's own time, perhaps - not as something vouchsafed in secret to sages in the past. Vico maintained a special place for the Hebrews, since they knew the Christian God from the beginning, but it's apparent that his idea of truth as emerging through intellectual labour could undermine the claims of The Bible too.
Of course, despite their common ground in Vico, FinnegansWake doesn't read like Capital.Marx wrote to expose the contradictions of monetary exchange; Joyce exploded the word itself. The cycles-within-cycles of Divine, Heroic,Human and ricorsomentioned in the student guides help even less than the Homeric structure of Ulysses. Joyce's advice is best: read the text out loud.
9. Now, to be on a new and basking again in the panaroma of all flores of speech, if a human being duly fatigued by his dayety in the sooty, having plenxty off time on hisgouty hands and vacants of space at his sleepish feet and as haplessbehind the dreams of accuracy as any camelot prince of dinmurk, wereat this auctual futule preteriting unstant, in the states ofsuspensive exanimation, accorded, throughout the eye of a noodle,with an ear—sighted view of old hopeinhaven with all theingredient and egregiunt whights and ways to which in the curse ofhis persistence the course of his tory will had been havingrecourses, the reverberration of knotcracking awes, thereconjungation of nodebinding ayes, the redissolusingnessof mindmouldered ease and the thereby hang of the Hoel of it, couldsuch a none, whiles even led comesilencers to comeliewithhers andtill intempestuous Nox should catch the gallicry and spot lucan’sdawn, byhold at ones what is main and why tis twain, how one oncemeet melts in tother wants poignings, the sap rising, the folesfalling, the nimb now nihilant round the girlyhead so becoming, thewrestless in the womb, all the rivals to allsea, shakeagain, Odisaster! shakealose, Ah how starring! but Heng’s got a bit ofHorsa’s nose and Jeff’s got the signs of Ham round his mouth andthe beau that spun beautiful pales as it palls, what roserude andoragious grows gelb and greem, blue out the ind of it ! Violet’sdyed! then what would that fargazer seem to seemself to seem seemingof, dimm it all?
Answer:A collideorscape! [Wake,p. 143]
Here i -language overtaken by the pleasure-principle of saying. It's the transcription of a stand-up comic who's playing so hard for laughs he reveals everything about himself and, by extension, everything about the world. You never need to ask what a paragraph is about, it's always about itself, the process of saying everything any phoneme suggests, of never saying no. It is thrust forward by an overriding need to go further and say more and be more surprising than anything else you've ever read. It's vital and boastful and energised. Even if you're not getting every pun and joke and cleverness, this heat is communicated with incredible clarity. Asking what it's "about" is liking asking what an Abstract Expressionist picture is a picture "of". The language of Finnegans Wakehas more in common with the guitar of James Blood Ulmer or the rapping of Ice T than it has with the hieratic incantations of Ezra Pound or the condescending, world-weary wisdom of T.S. Eliot. It is the opposite of the Zen transcendence of emotion desired by John Cage - when he recited Finnegans Wakein his Roaratorio, he used a mechanical operation (called "mesosticks") to breakup the syntax and create random verbal clusters. FinnegansWake has none of the sleek vacancy which Duchanmp and Cage made the hallmarks of avantgarde art in the USA and the rest of the world.
Blood Ulmer said this about his group Music Revelation Ensemble to Steve Dalacinsky for the sleeve notes to In The Name Of …:
Fusionis not really jazz … Right? They tried to incorporate the element of jazz too quick and that's why they ended up with fusion. They knew the blueprint and the development but they didn't know enough about the whole element … You know what I mean. They didn't know enough about John Coltrane and Bud Powell and Dizzy and all these brothers and what not … so they didn't try to put enough of that in there …So what I was trying to do is to create a thing that has all the basic sounds of jazz … all the chords … Major. Minor. Augmented. Diminished … I play every kinda chord you can hear under the fucking sun behind the players while they're playin' so as to make sure they list every territory that was ever played by these other musicians but that also fits their free sound. So that's what's behind that. I extended the musical language by adding what's always been left out and created a group that had all the colour sounds of jazz.
James Blood Ulmer to Steve Dalachinsky NYC 1994 MusicRevelation Ensemble In The Name Of …(DIW-885)
ie. akaleidoscope! I have to say this chime with the paragraph fromFinnegans Wake was not contrived. The Wake paragraph was picked at random, and the James Blood Ulmer quote was retrieved because of the phrase about "everychord under the fucking sun". When you're dealing with FinnegansWake, these happy congruences happen all the time. It's as if Joyce wove his ideas so densely there's always a thread which connects a passage to your own immediate concerns. It intimates that the generic separations used to keep people apart are actually illusory, that it is possible - and desirable - to see everything as connected to everything else (Marxism, may I remind you, is also an esemplastic3science). In the Wake, the fact that every syllable spoken out loud might also fit a word from a different discourse or language is used to overlay everything in the mind and compare everything to everything. The phonetic unit is seen as inextricably linked to tongue movements used all over theworld. Physical pleasure in saying for the sake of it becomes a universal language, like music, like the blues. In the Wake,to quote Grundrisse:
The concrete is concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations, hence unity of the diverse. [Grundrisse,1857-8, p. 101]
Althoughit upsets the reader's sense of linguistic security, this awareness of the international applications of a sound is not nihilist. Because of the winning velocity of the prose - always based upon known English syntax - the reader is invited to try the twists and turns ofthe syllables on the tongue. The Wakeis a "NIGHTLETTER" [p. 308] because it records the moment where explicit language - bound up with social exchanges based on morals, politics or money - is plunged into the infinitely-gratifying world of the unconscious. This was anticipated in the last paragraphof the penultimate chapter of Ulysses,where the answer to the question - answers previously delivered with scientific accuracy - become unravelled in order to portray Bloom falling asleep.
Going to a dark bed there was a square round Sinbad the Sailor roc's auk'segg in the night of the bed of all the auks of the rocs of Darkinbadthe Brightdayler.
Where?[Ulysses, 1914-21, p.871]
In mouthing or tonguing a word, the reader moves the body, accessing a physical human reality more fundamental than the thin skin of linguistic competence we inhabit in everyday life. It is this active, sub-verbal involvement of the reader which the structuralists cannot admit, and which Finnegans Wakeworks on as assiduously as a jazz improvisor.
Ofcourse, the question arises, is the game worth the candle? Joyce's wager was that exploring every possible association and suggestion inhis head, he'd generate a text which would be fascinating and entertaining for all. He really did think he was writing something amusing and popular. However, for a mass audience worked on by commercial interests which reproduce the wide-awake values of bourgeois society, FinnegansWake is condemned as drab nonsense, the last gasp of a literary modernism soon to be superseded by radio, cinema and television. Actually, these new media pervade the text. FinnegansWake turns out to be the only book worth reading in a situation where every "accessible" novel and play simply provide antiquated straitjackets to shackle new-media possibilities. In making literature do what it can do but no other form can do, Joyce suggests non-exploitative and truly creative use of electronic communications, what Adorno would call "composing with the sound stripe" [Current ofMusic], or using electronic media for their ability to move our bodies and make us think, rather than for their powers of representation. As he moved on from the slogan "the medium is the message" to "the user is the content", Marshall McLuhan argued for this interpretation of the Wake. It works even better in the glosses supplied by his archivist Bob Dobbs (who also benefits from realising that Frank Zappa was the James Joyce of electronic media). I'm now onto the readers who - unlike the post-structuralists - have responded to the actual experience of reading the Wake.
Another Bob, the concrete poet Bob Cobbing, found his aesthetic summarised in a word from Finnegans Wake -"verbivocovisual" (p. 341). Unlike the words picked on by the structuralists, this tallies with how the Wakemakes you read: verbal comprehension, vocal interpretation and visual appearance as one continual tripartite glancing blow. "That could be a ballet score" Cobbing told me, pointing to an indescribable blob he'd produced on a photocopier and which was lying on his kitchen table. Beginning in the late-40s, Cobbing's practice can be compared to the Lettristes, in that he wished to unpack the sedimented social and psychological baggage of script itself. He broke through the notion of literature as mastery and extension of a canon - now seen as a perpetuation of alienation - regressing instead to notions of marks on paper as direct expression. His innovation was the idea that all marks on paper could be back-interpreted, so that any splodge or smear might - and should - be performed. Human intuition and response, far from being some worthless jive impossible to calibrate, became the finest-tuned machine of all. This is something all devotees of jazz and improvised music understand. The wholespirit of the Wakeinfused Cobbing's Writers Forum events: the beer, the come-all-ye attitude, the break-ins by by standers, the relish for the accidental and the absurd, the inkling that the collective event was the point, not a poet's individual genius. Cobbing's rubbishing of analytical repression and academic frigidity was necessary and practical: it's possible to argue that the only genuine voices found by working-class poets writing in English between the 70s and 90s came through his workshops. As it says upon page 259 of the Wake,"Loud, heap miseries upon us yet entwine our arts with laughterslow!".
I'm nearly at the end of my contribution. After this, Martin is going to make some points about Joyce and Irish history which may help to make things still more concrete. One of the themes of revolutionary modernism - implacably opposed to the metaphysical dualism ofNeo-Kantianism - is that a natural language is possible. Kandinsky and Mondrian wanted to create an art of sheer affect that you wouldn't need an education in art to understand, more a shedding of expectations and prejudices. The serialist composers wanted to escape national schools and achieve a music of absolute non-repetition. The modernist artwork invents its own laws, so is more accessible to those without culture. This is what FinnegansWake does too. As Joyce says on page 336:
Weare once amore as babes awondering in a wold made fresh where withthe hen in the storyaboot we start from scratch [p. 336]
This is the necessary ricorsofor a repressed and over-mediated stage of social development. The fact that the Wake is still considered "obscure" when its virtues are actually all on the surface - just read it aloud!- is a measure of how hypnotized we are by spectacular - i.e, alienated or visual - values.
Those trained in structuralism bitterly oppose the promise of a natural language. This is part of the Saussurean doxa about signifying chains, but it also contains a denial of the instinctual life of human beings, a petty bourgeois fear of sex. This training instructuralist stultification explains why those in charge of"Anglo-American studies" cannot see any difference between their own inability to hear the music of the Wakeand the "difficulty" of Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot. Thisfeels apt for liberal sensibilities, since liberals believe that by imbibing both extremes - some Benjamin here, some Heidegger on the other side - they can "balance" their way through the turmoils of the twentieth century. In fact, the Wakekills the Cantos and anyone who "enjoys" both is marvelling at their own expertise, not reading the truth of the matter. Of course, this satirical, critical aspect wipes the Wakefrom many reading lists, but it should make it a pleasure and resource for revolutionaries.
1 Quoted in translators' introduction to The Autobiography of Giambattista Vico, Max Harold Fisch and Thomas Goddard Bergin, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1944, p. 79.
2 Chapter XV, "Machinery and Modern Industry", Section 1 "The Development of Machinery", New York: The Modern Library, 1906, p. 406n2.
3 A term made up by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, meaning "shaping into one".