Understanding the (Net) Wake

By Dan Weiss

Submitted as a partial fulfillment of the regular degree of Master of Philosophy in Anglo-Irish Literature at Trinity College, Dublin.

This paper is in two parts: Page 1 covers sections 1-19, Page 2 covers sections 20-36.


I thought about a dedication "To My own Soul" {35G}, but quickly realized I would not be fooling anyone. That soul is mine only through the good graces of my parents, along with everything else that is mine. Their refusal to lend anything less than 100% of their support to even the most ridiculous of my endeavors is often frightening. This is for them.

I would also like to thank John Nash and Prof. Nicholas Grene, for allowing me the latitude to carry out this project as I saw fit. The freedom to crash and burn is a rare gift.

Finally, I would offer these pages as a cattle-prod to my dear brother Richard the Poet, in the hopes that they might spur him forward and upward, to new poetic heights.


Before beginning this exploration of Finnegans Wake (among other things), two prefatory comments:

1) To dedicate a dissertation to your parents, and then write it in such a way that they can only read it with the aid of a Dictionary of Literary Criticism and an intensive course in Contemporary Critical Theory seems to me a particularly nasty practical joke to play on those who brought you into the world. Until someone can convince me otherwise, the Expulsion of the Triumphant Terminology in this dissertation will stand. It is my belief that most deployments of obfuscating jargonalia have more to do with displays of animal territoriality than the study of literature, anyway. If I do have to use words that fall outside the pale of common intelligent vocabulary (i.e. 'lexeme'), I will try to define them.

2) I would have liked to transfer this dissertation to HyperCard, and hand it in on disk - but Mr. John Nash was intelligent enough to counsel against this, and I was intelligent enough to heed his warnings. To compensate for the paper presentation of what was originally intended as a hypertextual document, I have included an admittedly incomplete network of cross-references within the text itself. Wherever the reader sees a bracketed number and letter (i.e. -- {38V}), he/she/it has the option to ignore it and keep reading, or to go to the chapter and paragraph indicated in the brackets.

Ignoring all of the bracketed 'links' will result in a straightforward, linear reading. Following all of them will result in an endless reading experience, one involving unbearable redundancy. I hope that most people will choose something in-between.

To the straight-ahead readers: I apologize for all those bracketed eyesores. You can't please all the people....

To the hypertextual readers: I apologize for the traditional footnotes, and the frequent references to 'the last section', 'the next section', etc. You can't please all the people....

Understanding the (Net) Wake



"Perhaps it is insanity. One will be able to judge in a century."
--James Joyce, regarding Finnegans Wake

Almost sixty years after its publication, the jury is still out on Finnegans Wake. When Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson asked in 1944, in light of the popular editions of Ulysses that were already being printed, "Is it too much to expect that Finnegans Wake will win its own audience with the years?", they were clearly outstripping most of their contemporaries with their hopeful enthusiasm. Respect for the work which spanned nearly a third of Joyce's life has no doubt increased in the past few decades, but it is still not uncommon to meet 'Joyce Scholars' who have never read more than a few pages of the Wake. Yet in 1931, Joyce was able to insist with a fortune-teller's equipoise: "it may be outside literature now, but its future is inside literature."

B. Joyce was right. Or, he deserves to have been right; no book has more contemporary relevance than Finnegans Wake, and as we roll over into the encroaching millennium, this relevance only grows. To demonstrate this is the motivation behind this intellectual exercise. In the eminently readable (if occasionally misguided) book, The Stoic Comedians, Hugh Kenner makes an incisive observation:

"Joyce's techniques -- it is one of his principal lessons -- are without exception derived from his subject, of excerpted from his subject. They are not means of representing the subject, and imperfectly; they are the subject's very members laid on the page..."

In Finnegans Wake, Joyce's subject is the universe, the super-set of All That Is. To capture this totality as he understood it {11A}, it was necessary for Joyce to incorporate contemporary scientific paradigms and cultural assumptions concerning the nature of things. If we take into account the hyper-extended versions of reality which have come about in the past 90 or so years (though in many cases the coming about is a coming around, a recasting of old conceptual iron), it is fair to consider the Wake a 'realistic novel'. The proclamation of Dr. Ramon Mendoza that Giordano Bruno is "the real founder of contemporary cosmology" may mask the flavor of truth with liberal handfuls of hyperbole, but Joyce certainly saw the connection. Indeed, almost all the words that are most useful in discussing the Wake have their origins in scientific or quasi-scientific, not literary vocabularies. A partial list:

Uncertainty {31C}, Simultaneity, Field, Incompleteness {31B}, Open Work (exception) {20A}, Hypertextual{23A}, Cool {13A}, Implicate {34C}, Isomorphism {10A}, Complexity {32C}, Order/Chaos {32D}, Nodes, Links, Combinations, Permutations {9A}, Probability {31D}, Nonlinearity {23E}, Nonlocality {33D}, Globality {33B}, Hologrammatic{33A}, NETWORK {4A}.

All these are flagship words for "trends in 20th century thought concerning the transitory and multiple nature of human experience." They are all words that will appear again in these pages, especially the last one (NETWORK).

C. If we set aside the endless arguments over the legitimacy of the notion of a central literary canon, Finnegans Wake's place in the following bifurcation by canon-ite Harold Bloom seems obvious:

"One mark of an originality that can win canonical status for a literary work is a strangeness that we can either never altogether assimilate, or that becomes such a given that we are blinded to its idiosyncrasies."

The idea of 'assimilating' Finnegans Wake may not be appetizing to all, carrying as it does overtones of indigestion. But we have all been cultivating the cognitive tools needed to apprehend Finnegans Wake without knowing it {19A}. Another apposite quotation, this time from Walter Benjamin:

"...the history of every art form shows critical epochs in which a certain art form aspires to effects which could be fully obtained only with a changed technical standard, that is to say, in a new art form."

The effects to which the Wake aspires are effects that have strong analogues in the sphere of electric media and communications.{13A} As our lives become further permeated by these media, we become unwitting Wakeans; one of the tasks at hand in these pages is to detail the means by which comparatively new forms of communication pull us Wake-ward.

D. Keeping all this in mind, it is important to remember that the mindsets and 'sensory ratios' of past generations are not swept away by the shock-wave of the new; in many ways, the Wake is about the ineluctable persistence of the past as much as the impending reconfigurations of the future {10D}. It was my original intention to limit this discussion to Finnegans Wake and modern computer network structures, but any true engagement of Joyce's last effort is bound to jump whatever fences one raises to hem it in. In looking backward, Joyce finds not inscrutability, but a mirror. The 'new' and 'unheard of' never is; to forget this is to reinvent the wheel, over and over again. The 'new' and 'unheard of' critic is a modern-day incarnation of Sisyphus -- only Sisyphus never asked for applause. {35D}

E. That no direct quotations from the Wake have yet appeared in these lines, many may find troublesome. They will appear, soon enough. But a warning is in order: this is an examination of How more than a stockpiling of What, an exploration of the way the Wake works, the way it transmits its stores of knowledge and information. "For the 'content' of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind," says Marshall McLuhan, one of the point men in this operation. Umberto Eco (point man #2), is equally suspicious of Joyce's faith in his building supplies: "Joyce accumulates materials whose form captivates him but whose substance does not elicit his belief."

Not a simple choosing a side in the form/content duality -- Joyce impishly resists anything so easy. In the Wake (as Beckett, Joyce's scribe-made-good, knew), "form is content, content is form....His writing is not about something, it is that something itself." The structure and method of the Wake is 'what it's about'; its medium is its message. The search here is for what Douglas Hofstadter (third and final point man) would call "Procedural Knowledge", knowledge that is a "global consequence of how the program [or system] works". Not file-able, manageable 'facts' to be picked out of the text, not details; the 'meaning' of Finnegans Wake is an epiphenomenon of its total network. {21E}

F. Other people have attempted to examine the Wake under the quantum lights of modernity, but they all seem to balk at the idea of addressing it as a unified formal innovation. In the on-line journal Hypermedia Joyce Studies, Darren Tofts is happy to stack technological references and present the Wake as "as index of telecommunicative change". Tofts shows great familiarity with Derrida and computers, but contrary to the assertion of many wise and learned individuals, the world did not begin in 1973. In the same forum, Donald Theall invokes McLuhan, but forsakes the medium while scrambling after the message.

To be fair, even the most seasoned Wake exegetes make similar mistakes. Though Tofts' and Theall's overall contributions to general Joyce understanding may pale in comparison to James Atherton's, their misunderstandings also seem minor in the face of Atherton's insistence that "there are too many real -- or rather, fully realized -- characters taking part in the action for the book to be anything except a novel of the naturalistic type." When Hugh Kenner argues that "Joyce belongs to the age of the printed book", I am compelled to listen, but still conclude: No more than Moses belonged to the Age of the Pharaohs. By the time he reaches Finnegans Wake, Joyce could be said to 'belong' to every age including those to come, but one senses he would allow his membership to the Gutenbergian Authorial Association to expire if they would only let him go. {12A}



"Wipe your glosses with what you know."
--James Joyce, Finnegans Wake

Harold Bloom, in a characteristically dour pronouncement, envisions a future where Finnegans Wake is relegated to "only a small band of enthusiastic specialists." I will not write him off and I will not back his horse, but such would be a sad fate for a thoroughly generalist work. Like nonspecialist electric technologies, like the 'total field' of sound described by McLuhan {34B}, the Wake eliminates "fragmented specialties of form and function that we have long accepted as the heritage of alphabet, printing, and mechanization." {12B} Bloom admits that his Shakespearocentric reading of the Wake "is only one perspective on a book whose readers need absolutely every perspective they can get."

Roland McHugh agrees: "The conviction that Finnegans Wake is exclusively dominated by a particular discipline is very common amongst explicators today....perusal of the notebooks is a good antidote." It is not surprising that McHugh is one of the most (possibly the most) useful writer on the Wake; an M.D. as well as a literary critic, he is a card-carrying generalist. Like Joyce, McLuhan "was interested in anything and everything. He was a polymaniac." Tim Ahern, whose Finnegans Wake, chapter one: The Illnesstraited Colossick Idition shows true insight into the comic nature of its source {7A}, holds degrees in Slavic Languages and Literature, Oceanography, Molecular Biology, and Natural Products Chemistry. The Wake has attracted many other syncretists: Umberto Eco, Terrence McKenna, John Cage, Robert Anton Wilson. The more you know, the better.

B. But the converse is also true: a book for those who know everything is a book for those who know anything. Jim McCabe, who lectures on Finnegans Wake at University College, Dublin, has called it "the most democratic work in literature". The Wake presents immense initial cognitive and imaginative difficulties, but it does so for everyone, democratically, giving the 'unskilled' rare equal footing with 'professionals' -- a quality it shares with the some of the music of figures like Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, John Cage, and Charles Ives. Joyce wanted to let people in; in a book about everything, everyone plays a part: "He had begun his writing by asserting his difference from other men, and now increasingly he recognized his similarity to them."

C. As I write these words after completing the protracted task of organizing one huge pile of notecards into successively smaller piles of notecards, I cannot avoid the relevance of the above image in describing the task at hand. However, like the brain and like the Wake, and like the microchip with its mask layers upon mask layers of silicon dioxide, I would like to give the present inquiry an accretionary flavor. The piling of incommensurates upon incommensurates that stuffs these pages, the attempted shotgun wedding of many disparate sources, is intentional. Adhering to the principle of sympathetic magic which states that 'Like Follows Like' is the only means that I can fathom to begin to come to grips with the Wake's vast complexity. Each new 'angle' provides an increase in the resolution of the overall picture.{33A}


A. For those who are reading straight through in an orderly fashion, and having arrived here from 2B are wondering when this thing is going to 'get to the point', I will now present a brief digression on getting to the point, and why the method of construction by which Finnegans Wake was assembled makes such a thing difficult, if not impossible.

In chapter five of the Wake, the Great Letter motif that is woven through every chapter is given its fullest treatment. We read that the Letter "has acquired accretions of terricious matter whilst loitering in the past"(114) The Letter is a stand-in for the Wake itself (among other things), and this is an apt description of the way Joyce wrote the book. Staying with chapter five -- in the 1925 version, the list of heroine/female archetype/key nodal point Anna Livia Plurabelle's names is twelve lines long. In the final version that appears in the 1939 edition and all subsequent editions, it spans 3 full pages (104-107). In similar fashion, Joyce expanded ALP's final monologue from two-and-a-half pages to ten.

B. Like Einstein's expanding universe {28B}, the pages of the Wake expanded in development -- but they also got more dense and difficult, in contrast to the red-shift dissipation of receding galaxies. Joyce piled words upon words and layers upon layers, increasing the often contradictory condensation of his puns {32A}, until he had produced a work inscrutable enough to compete with the world {11E}. And herein lies the difficulty with bright-eyed attempts to 'understand' the Wake; the act of understanding runs counter to the act of creating. It is not an act of accretion, but an act of unraveling.

The human brain provides a useful example. In its initial development, the brain is grown as an ever-increasing conglomeration of interconnected neurons. From the very moment it starts to interact with the world and develop a heuristic for dealing with the world, it begins to operate through "chunking", pruning down the giant tree of infinite possibility, sacrificing completeness for comprehensibility. As usual, a picture clarifies tremendously:

[missing pic]


A. As his daughter Lucia's schizophrenia worsened, Joyce alone had the ability to follow her giant-steps of thought that baffled others completely. His ability to traverse the flux of her wild metaphoric "correspondance"(452) is evident in his masterwork. If we imagine hero/male archetype/key nodal point H.C. Earwicker's "seven dams....and every dam had her seven crutches. And every crutch had its seven hues. And every hue had a differing cry"(215), we will have a good picture of the branching tree pathways that Joyce knew how to walk with Lucia {20C}. If we then imagine connecting every dam, crutch, hue and cry with every other dam, crutch, hue and cry, we will "translace"(233) that branching tree into the kind of network into which the reader of Finnegans Wake is dropped.

B. Any sufficiently complex and well-constructed conceptual network is far closer to 'reality' and the way our own minds function than a one-way train-track linear system. The idea of the network is behind all ideas about anything, inasmuch as the brains which traffic in these ideas are themselves networks of billions of neurons, each one of which can receive the input of up to 200,000 other neurons through its dendrites, and in turn send its electrochemical pulse to myriad other neurons along the branching tree of its axon. {3B} The dreams which served as the inspiration for the techniques in the Wake can be seen as random meanderings around the symbolic networks of our brains.

C. The network is far from being a modern invention; it has made many past appearances. We have medieval manuscripts {5A} which carry different layers of meaning in images which demand to be read in a number of different ways simultaneously. "Free association of ideas is taken to be part of the intellectual baggage of the monks" who created them, prefiguring Freud by a mere eleven centuries.

In the hermetic magical tradition {10A}, the 'good magic' of Pico della Mirandola is governed by the principle of simpatia, the understanding of the mutual rapports running through nature, and the secret charms through which things are drawn to one another. This tradition reached Joyce through the pipeline of Giordano Bruno, whose more practical magic spoke of drawing spirits or demons through 'links' of words, songs, incantations, images, seals, characters, etc. 'Demons' and 'spirits' were elemental forces, coaxed by the magical operator through the network of nature in ways that would cause them to do the operator's bidding -- after the fashion of a computer programmer, for those amenable to 'correspondances'.

Lexicographers eventually came to understand that organizing knowledge in interconnected semantic 'fields made more sense than linear alphabetic organization in many cases (which was itself a revolutionary concept in its time, suggested by the printer's cast-lead letters, organized alphabetically in drawers for easy access). The most striking example we have in the late 20th century is that of hypertext {23A}, the interwoven web of connected documents that can span across the memory of one computer, or across the collective contents of millions of computers around the globe, the 'links' accessible through nodal 'keywords', often highlighted in boldface.

The godfather of hypertext, Vannevar Bush, realized as Director of the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development in 1945 that "the human mind...operates by association", and postulated a device called the Memex which would operate along the same lines. Ted Nelson, who coined the term ''hypertext', spoke of the "docuverse", and said that "literature is an ongoing system of interconnecting documents." Joyce had many predecessors, and has many successors.

D. As far as I know, Umberto Eco was the first to examine the concept of Wake-as-network in any depth. The 'Open Work' as explicated by Eco will be discussed in more detail later on {20A}; briefly, he speaks of open works as creative endeavors which place the reader (or performer) "at the focal point of a network of limitless interrelations." Referring to Finnegans Wake specifically:

"We should....be able to show that each metaphor produced in Finnegans Wake is, in the last analysis, comprehensible because the entire book, read in different directions, actually furnishes the metonymic chains that justify it."

It is a picture of Finnegans Wake as geodesic dome, supporting itself by the combined strength of its own massive metaphoric edifice. Eco also postulates that apparent 'giant-steps' of metaphor within the Wake's system (or within any linguistic system) are really no more than short circuits of preestablished paths already 'hardwired' into the code of the system. This is true as far as it goes; but hacking a path through the undergrowth to Grandma's House is creating a new path, even if you have been to Grandma's House before along a longer route.

In this network structure, "it is enough to find the means of rendering two terms phonetically contiguous for the [conceptual] resemblance to impose itself." {8A} In Vico's New Science, the beastly descendants of Noah's sons are frightened in the midst of copulating by the sound of thunder, sending them fleeing into caves and bringing about the introduction of moral virtue, and the introduction of marriage. For the reader of the Wake and for bestial man, it is random juxtaposition that creates meaning.

In practice, one of many places where this principle of contiguity comes out in the Wake is in a phenomenon noted by Matthew Hodgart in which the appearance of a certain 'type' of character in the Wake triggers allusions to a character in Shakespeare who is of the same 'type'. Thus, "quotations from Macbeth appear wherever Earwicker endures enormous emotional stress....and when his self-destructive drive emerges most visibly." And so in chapter four, the chapter of HCE's demise and resurrection, he tries "to get outside his own length of rainbow trout and taerts atta tarn as no man of woman born"(79).

The picture on the next page illustrates the small segment of the Wake's total semantic network associated with the portmanteau "meandertale"(18). Connections between two 'lexemes' (words) through 'contiguity of signifiers' (phonetic likeness) and 'contiguity of signifieds' (conceptual relatedness) can be identified therein. {21A}

[missing pic]

E. The elaborate tangle that would result from an attempt to expand the abovementioned picture to include the entire Wake can only be dimly imagined. Still, the question presents itself: How can a limited network, even one of daunting complexity like Finnegans Wake, purport to represent everything, especially when it is included in that everything? {11D} {4G}

This is a question that will be answered globally, in bits and pieces all across these pages. One of the ways is through 'chunking' {3B} -- Atherton suggests that Joyce distilled many books to axiomatic formulations, simplifications which stand in for the whole in the Wake. The New Science is boiled down to cyclical historical periodicity and a handful of other memetic seed concepts, which then go out and replicate themselves over the whole of the book: "vicocyclometer"(614), "rolywholyover"(597), "cycloannalism"(254), "Cycloptically"(54). This is 'Compression', in computerese, the way a piece of text which occupies 100 kilobytes of computer memory can be squeezed into 35 kilobytes. {12D}

In addition, the idea of something smaller representing something larger is problematic only if we insist on one-to-one correspondences. In Interpretation of Dreams, Freud remarked that "A word, being a point of junction for a number of conceptions, possesses, so to speak, a predestined ambiguity." According to the Freudian principle of condensation, any word (Wake words being extreme cases-in-point) is linked to many concepts or symbols. Each of these symbols, when activated, sends out further 'signals' along further 'links' to other symbols, in an exponential explosion of meaning. Discussing the brain again, Hofstadter notes:

"....overlapping and completely tangled symbols are probably the rule, so that each neuron, far from being a member of a unique symbol, is probably a functioning part of hundreds of symbols."


"....it may be that in order to distinguish one symbol's activation from that of another symbol, a process must be carried out which involves not only locating the neurons which are firing, but also identifying very precise details of the timing of the firing of those neurons."

Many of the more 'entangled' words found in Finnegans Wake - "hierarchitectitiptitoploftical"(5), for example - are linked through metonymic association to numerous other concepts. {21B} Which ones it triggers depends upon the order in which you read the book, or how many times you have read the book. As it will be demonstrated later on, the Wake invites a potentially infinite number of different reading strategies. {23F} It is in this way that the potential for signification within the Wake becomes limitless, bursting the literalist chains of logical positivism.

On the next page, note the similitude showing symbol simultaneity in the same synaptic substructure.

F. The word 'limitless' is not intended to suggest randomness or a complete lack of control, in either books or brains; in general mathematics, an infinitely repeating decimal need not be completely chaotic. Heinz Pagels may be right in saying that "a network has no 'top' or 'bottom'", but it does have a functional hierarchy of structures. That hierarchy may not be a simple linear pyramid, and may fluctuate in time, but there are definite principles of organization, even if they are not deterministic and reducible. Derridian notions of networks and 'free play' have free-for-all connotations that do not lend to accurate interpretations. {35B}

The word 'obvious' does not often spring to mind regarding either brains or Finnegans Wake -- but it should not be too difficult to demonstrate that 'I' is a more important substructure than 'tapioca pudding' in the former, and 'HCE' a more central and pervasive figure than 'Popeye' in the later. {7B}

G. This is as good a place as any to first (for the implacably horizontal reader) bring up the concept of self-reference in Finnegans Wake. For any network which would represent the larger network in which it is embedded (generally called 'reality') with any degree of faithfulness and accuracy, it is crucial that it be able to represent itself also, and its place in that network. {11A} A photograph of Everything must include the camera that took it.

There are numerous places in the Wake where the book discusses itself, either to give the reader instructions on how to read it, or to chide him for being unable to read it, or to give an account of how it was received in initial stages by those who tried to read it. This only seems strange if we do not pause to consider that our brains -- which like the Wake, attempt to model the world in which they exist -- have rather significant ways of referring to themselves: the concept of 'I', or 'Self'. Without these concepts, neither the brains nor the creatures they were making decisions for, would get very far in the process of world simulation.

For Vico, according to his translators, "the new science must inquire when, where, and how it itself began" if it is to be of any use. Joyce saw this self-reference in his predecessor, saw it in himself, and worked it into his book.

H. Continuing with the assumption that brains are the Material Cause of ideas, I will assume that they are important enough to merit one more section. There is another way in which the brain analogy and the idea of 'chunking' {3B} can be helpful in understanding the Wake. Again, Hofstadter's wonderfully jargon-free prose, as he ventures an explanation of how you recognize your grandmother:

"People have looked for evidence of the 'funneling' of many low-level neural responses into fewer and fewer high-level ones...[there might be] a fixed set of neurons, say a few dozen, which all fire when Granny comes into view."

It is possible to envision the major characters or sigla of the Wake (HCE, ALP, Shem, Shaun, Issy, etc.), and the major myths and stories of the Wake (the fall, the resurrection, the creation of the Letter) as the thin ends of a system of funnels into which the entire book is poured. King Arthur, Adam, Nebuchadnezzar, and a host of other archetypal figures all appear and disappear, but taking the book as a whole, they all funnel into the figure of HCE.

It is on this higher-level that the Wake is best understood. For all its flaws, Campbell and Robinson's Skeleton Key is probably the single best introduction to the Wake, and a masterpiece of chunking. And as it would be unwieldy to process every piece of information in the visual cortex before saying 'Hi, Granny!', so is a meticulous pouring-over of MacHugh's Annotations be an unlikely way to generate anything but mass confusion regarding Finnegans Wake on the first go-round.


A. From brains (again, for those who insist on strict sequentiality), it is time to move on to something completely different, yet not entirely dissimilar all the same. Joyce had a fondness for the illuminated manuscripts of Golden Age Ireland, created from the sixth century to the ninth century AD, before the Viking invasions made such work impossible. Speaking of his favorite, the magnificent Book of Kells, Joyce said:

"....you can compare much of my work to the intricate illuminations. I would like it to be possible to pick up any page of my book and know at once what book it is."

Kenner presents "visual display" {6A} as one of the "resources of the book as book", but precious few works in the history of the novel or the printed book in general take advantage of this resource to even a fraction of the extent that illuminated manuscripts like the Book of Kells or the Book of Durrow do (which Kenner also recognizes).

Within the limits presented by typography {12B}, and sometimes beyond them, Joyce sought to "arabesque the page"(115) with a supererogatory piling of verbal "whiplooplashes" upon "whiplooplashes"(119), and "prudently bolted or blocked rounds"(119), after the manner of the Kells monks.

B. Many similarities between the Book of Kells and the Book of "Doublends Jined"(20) present themselves, one being the time required to produce both works. Bernard Meehan cites craftsmen's estimates that one of the elaborate pages of the Kells manuscript would have taken a month or more to complete. Joyce purported to have spent a thousand hours on chapter 8 (the 'ALP' chapter) alone.

There is also the presence of self-referentiality {4G} in both books. All of chapter five of the Wake is about the Wake, and the rest of the work is littered with references to itself (many of which are uncovered in other parts of this exposition). As for the earlier book, "The book itself is a constant motif in Kells, depicted over thirty times", in Christ's hands on folio 32v, and in other places. The necessity of self-reference in any network claiming powerful representational abilities will be treated on a page with a higher number than this one. {11D}

And of course, there is the first thunder - "bababadalgharagh takamminarronn konnbronntonnerronn tuonnthenn trovarrhounawnskawn toohoohoordenenthurnuk!"(3; broken up here into segments so Web browsers may wrap text correctly.) Clearly, "it showed no signs of punctuation of any sort"(123), a quality it shares with ancient and medieval texts: Contemporary readers of Plato, Vergil, or Augustine read without the assistance of interword spacing, capitalization, or punctuation. Reading aloud was necessary if one wanted to decipher the text at hand. The orality both Kells and the Wake is of great significance. {12A}

C. The 'compression' mentioned earlier {4E}, whereby a great deal of information is packed into a small informational 'space' by economizing on details which the reader can be expected to fill in with the store of details in her own brain, can be seen in the Kells manuscript. McLuhan noted the allegorical, aphoristic methods of presentation in the illuminated manuscripts, requiring the participation of the viewer to tease out the "three score and ten toptypsical readings"(20) folded into their pages. With the coming of mass-produced texts, print culture moved in the direction of standardization, 'decompressing' the compressed manuscript into simpler, spelled-out fragments.

This decompression largely obviated the need for personal memory in textual interpretation, moving away from the interactivity that characterized the medieval relationship with the individually crafted page, towards the book-as-storehouse-of-memory approach that became necessary with the exponential increase of information. Joyce's recompression, his stuffing of word after word into the same 'lexeme'(word) to the point of overflowing, represents a twisting of the frontlines of typography back towards its distant past, like the world-snake biting its own tail.

D. The medieval manuscript casts its likeness even beyond Joyce; the coexistence of gospels, Hebrew etymologies, concordances of Gospel passages, summaries of gospel narratives, and characterizations of the evangelists within the same book-space prefigures the internal inter-reference of a hypertextual document {23A}, in which clicking on one term in a document stored on a server in Tulsa, Oklahoma can shoot your attentions straight to another document centered in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.

With their varying letter sizes, margin details, inserted illustrations and numerous embellishments to picture and text (often to the point of confusing the two), illuminated manuscripts created effects that were not seen again until the advent of desktop publishing and digital computers - effects that Joyce strove for as well, stretching the limits of his medium. Whether his achievements in that area are "greater THAN or less THAN"(298) those who came before him was of great concern to him.

Larry Gonick, one of the master-illuminators of the present day who is often written-off as 'only drawing comics' by many who mistakenly consider themselves learned {7A}, calls the monk illuminators the "first multimedia artists in the west". In relation to the endless journeys that a single 'open' book like Finnegans Wake or a 'single' hypertextual document can support, it is appropriate that the Kells manuscript is unfinished.

E. When Joyce, in his mock-scholar persona, sees the Great Letter that is Finnegans Wake as "plainly inspiring the tenebrous Tunc page of the Book of Kells"(122), it comes across as comic reversal. Beneath the comedy, however, there lie issues of influence that Joyce as an author took very seriously. {25A} The influence of the Kells manuscript on the Wake was remarked upon often enough to be worrying to someone who aspired to the status of Creator. Creators want to bring networks into being, while somehow escaping the web of any network that precedes them. 'But who made God?' -- case in point. {35G}

In assuming authorship of the Book of Kells, Joyce exercises the last 'revisionary ratio' described by Harold Bloom in The Anxiety of Influence, the tricky maneuver Bloom calls Apophrades: the creator holds his work open to his predecessors....but the key word is holding. The later creator maintains control of the transaction, giving the impression that the Son has created the Father. What the early Christian authors of the "vast and complex literature ascribed to Hermes Trismegisthus" {10A} did by attributing their works to the ancient Egyptians, Joyce does by moving the date of the Wake's composition back a thousand years. By assuming pre-authorship, Joyce vampirically tries to drain the authority of the Book of Kells into his own book.

F. The illuminator monks of Kells, Durrow, Lindsfarne and elsewhere were responsible for perpetuating much of classical Western culture, allowing many of the Greek and the Roman authors to survive the Germanic invasions. The Wake may well have a survival advantage compared to most other books in the face of the oncoming Electric invasions that again promise to tear apart and reconfigure established empires {26A}. Given that the convoluted whimsical fantasias of the Irish monks had the drastic effect they did, is it possible that many works which once seemed certain to outlive Finnegans Wake will only live on through it? {36C}


A. Child psychologist Jerome Brunner has outlined three stages in the mental development of children:

1) Kinesthetic: learning by doing; tactile involvement and manipulation of objects; leading to the ability to mentally rotate objects

2) Iconic: experience begins to reveal similarities, generalizations, analogies, first realized as icons; visual proximity and similarity = relatedness

3) Symbolic: higher level abstractions, icons networking with other icons to form symbols.

In an interesting correspondence, Brunner's individual ontogeny recapitulates Vico's historical phylogeny, whereby he saw language developing from the hieroglyphic/sacred/ divine through the symbolic/sign-oriented/heroic to the epistolary/transmission-at-a-distance/human. Vico's original languages and letters which "expressed themselves by means of gestures or physical objects which had natural relations with the ideas" could correspond to either the kinesthetic or the iconic stage of mental development.

B. Trying to achieve a balance, Joyce tends to give special preference to the first two of the three categories in the above scheme, to compensate for centuries of neglect {12B}. The importance of 'natural proximity and relation in the metaphoric/ metonymic network of the Wake is unquestionable.{4B} Bringing kinesthetic and iconic modes of interpretation back to center stage is a part of a necessary readjustment that Wake readers have to make if they are to interact with its associational latticework in a meaningful way, if they are to be able to "rede....its world"(18) of meaning-through-juxtaposition. Persistently shoving iconicism into the foreground, Joyce nudges us in the right direction.

The phrase "semper as oxhousehumper!"(107) resurrects the iconic origins of the simple ABC's, unearthing their original, ancient Hebrew associations:

[missing Hebrew]



They are ideograms as Pound envisioned them, with their own histories riding on their backs, a "fitting mode for an age that no longer could decipher a past it carried with it nonetheless" (and their Hebrew origins an ironically fitting choice to illustrate the ideas of raving anti-Semite Pound). Reminding us of the metaphoric relationships hiding in the very building blocks of our language, Joyce unmasks them as Vico's "poetic characters" in disguise. The "middenhide hoard of objects! Olives, beets, kimmells, dollies...."(19) are not empty letters, but things to be touched and tasted.{36B}

Through his decorative alphabet (probably almost as dear to him as the decorative alphabet of his daughter Lucia), Joyce is "capturing the language of the gods" (Bruno), emulating "the savage economy of hieroglyphics" (Beckett) in printer's ink. His acceptance of the formal framework of his Jesuit education is as complete as his rejection of its religious contents. Like Bruno before him (a Catholic in style only), and like Jesuit-priest-turned-media-theorist Walter Ong and Catholic convert Marshall McLuhan after him, Joyce is an iconolater, rejecting Protestant word-only iconoclasm.

C. Rejecting word-only iconoclasm -- or subverting it, half-accepting it. George Landow notes that "print...employs more information than people usually take into account" Joyce makes full use of the kinesthetic and visual potential of the alphabet, playing with them, teasing out their possibilities. Take the letter 'F' alone - through rotations and reversals, it visually represents the War of the Twins, Shem and Shaun: "F**, (at gaze, respecting....)" (266) In another place, 'F' can be the casualties of war, lying "**ace to **ace!"(18) Somewhere else again, it is a fidgeting child being toyed with by another fidgeting child, meandering "all over the page, broods***sensationseeking an idea....stands dejectedly in the diapered window margin....returns inhibited, with some half-baked suggestion,***....." (121)

Other letters are dealt with in a similarly capricious manner. One of the Four Old Men, Johnny MacDougal, takes Shaun on a backwards journey through time by rotating a 'T'. Upright it the 'T' of a crusading "templar", but a 90° clockwise turns it into the "serpe with ramshead" of Celtic ornamentation. A further twist sets it on end, where it is a prehistoric phallic monolith.

"In the topographic city of text, shape itself signifies", for numbers as well as letters. The number '1132 that appears as a date in a medieval annal on page 13 has no real historical significance. Hidden in its form, however, is a meaning couched in icon and code: '11' is a double phallic rising, and 32 is the rate of falling bodies (as Leopold Bloom recalls repeatedly). They reappear again, reversed, as "Subsec. 32, section 11 of the C.L.A. act 1885" (61), and in many other places (119, 310, 391, 420, etc) Rise and Fall, Fall and Rise - two simple numbers, repeated often, containing the thematic crux of the most daunting book in literature. Compression at its finest. {4E}

D. The 'sigla' in the Wake are the marks Joyce used in his notebooks as abbreviations for the most important character types or thematic nodes upon which the book is constructed. All the major sigla can be seen in footnote four on page 299. Discussing them all would take up too much space; suffice it to say that the three prongs of the letter 'E' correspond to the three prongs of HCE, and can thereby serve to represent him in various states of uprightness, downrightness, or unconsciousness. The 'Æ' of ALP is her pubic delta, from which the whole world is born. And McHugh notes that the minor sigla 'P', meant to stand for the 'Bishop/High Priest' archetype, was meant to be interpreted as an upright figure carrying a holy book in both hands.

E. In a discussion about advertisements {27A}, McLuhan says:

"....icons are not specialist fragments or aspects but unified and compressed images of a complex kind. They focus a large region of experience in tiny compass."

We have one example of iconic compression in the rise-and-fall number, 1132. ALP, with her proto-iconic, quasi-obscene "cunniform letters"(198), provides the occasion for another. Her sigla, the female delta, is depicted typographically in the beginning of chapter eight:

tell me all about
Anna Livia! I want to hear all"

It appears again, as Shem tries to initiate Shaun into the secrets of the Mother over the course of a seemingly harmless geometry lesson with the following diagram(293):

[missing pic]

When Shaun realizes he is being shown the "sixuous parts" and the "safety vulve"(297) of ALP, he decks his brother for crossing the bounds of propriety. But Shem's use of diagrams is an example of Bruno's 'mathesis' -- what Bruno saw as a way to "insinuate profound and difficult things by mathematical means." Bruno's diagram from De monade numero et figura is strikingly similar to Shem's, in form as well as hidden significance. Yates postulates that its "curious looking curly things" are links to Bruno's 'demons' {4C}. That they also strongly resemble the sperm of which Bruno could have had no knowledge is what we could call a meaningful coincidence, if we are the kind of people who believe in such things:

 [missing pic]

A wide range of human experience can be extrapolated from both pictures. They are a form of advertisement for hermetic, forbidden knowledge. As with today's advertisements, what they are truly striving to sell us is not what they are ostensibly trying to tell us. The latter is only attractive by virtue of its juxtaposition with the former. {27B}

F. "The Mod needs a rebus." (523)

Why do we moderns need the rebus (a riddle representing syllables with pictures) to deal with Finnegans Wake? Regressing to an iconic mode of visualizing language in terms of rudimentary associations and similarities, and back further to the kinesthetic stage where we recover the joy of playing with language for its own sake, are vital for our ability to navigate the netWake. {6B]

Another reason involves the complexity of the Wake. Standardized phonetic alphabets and symbolic language and mass-production of texts made possible the explosion of knowledge that built our world of televisions and hard drives. Now, the complexity of that world -- and this book that most fully represents that world -- has advanced to such a degree that the only way to deal with it is to execute a reverse, to reimpose a simpler order over the vast landscape of information across which we move. A nice explanation by William Gibson, whose net worth would exceed the wealth of the known universe if he'd copyrighted the term 'cyberspace' in 1984:

"All the data in the world stacked up like one big neon city, so you could cruise around and have a kind of grip on it, visually anyway, because if you didn't, it was too complicated, trying to find your way to the particular piece of data you needed. Iconics, Gentry called that."

To find your way around Finnegans Wake, the iconic simplifications of the sigla are often needed. Chunking, Hofstadter called that.


A. An iconic diversion: Comics. Eco rightly blames Atherton's inability to decode "Minucius Mandrake"(486) on his highbrow oversight of comic books, and his resulting unfamiliarity with the character of Mandrake the Magician. No one specialty will do. The iconic, 'cool' nature of comics {13A} has been pointed out by critics like McLuhan, and comic artists like Gonick, Will Eisner and Scott McCloud. Their popularity is a function of their incompleteness, and the extent to which the reader is drawn into play to fill in the details. Comics are participatory, which is why most adults found the first comic books of 1935 "as difficult to decipher as the Book of Kells." Tim Ahern understands the demands of iconic interaction that comics and the Wake both press upon their readers, and this is why Illnesstraited Collosick Idition of the first chapter of the Wake is the most engaging and painless way for a Wake novice to first make contact with the actual material of the book.

B. A digression from a diversion: in the context of Finnegans Wake, Popeye has never gotten his due. Elzie Segar's balloon-forearmed character, appearing first in the "Thimble Theater" strip 1929, and later brought to life by the Fleischer Brothers cartoons in the 1930's, appears all over Finnegans Wake, but is rarely mentioned. In Glasheen's Census he is only given one or two references.

In tribute to my boyhood hero, the only person -- real or otherwise -- who could coax me into tasting spinach, I now present what I believe to be a complete list of Popeye references in Finnegans Wake. This satisfies my quota of literary bookkeeping activity, a prerequisite for any Wake commentator who is to be taken seriously:

-- "....as innocens with anaclete play popeye antipop…"(13)
-- "I appop pie oath"(67)
-- "thereby adding to the already unhappiness of this our popeyed world"(189)
-- "Olive d'Oyly....a salt sailor...."(279)
-- "poopive" (282)
-- "I am yam" (481)
-- "D'Oyly Owens" (574)
-- "I yam as I yam" (604)

This is where I am expected to present several pages of jargonalia relating 'I yam what I yam' to Hamlet and the Hindu 'Tat Tvam Asi'. Not wanting to stuff this particular butterfly into the killing jar, I will leave the list at that.


A. The only relationship between comics and Kabbalah that immediately presents itself is that both begin with a hard 'C' sound, producing an alliteration when read aloud together. But as we all know, "it is enough to find the means of rendering two terms phonetically contiguous for the [conceptual] resemblance to impose itself." Onward, then, to Jewish mysticism.

To provide a history of Jewish mystical thought from the time of the destruction of the second temple to the present day is far beyond my abilities; it will suffice to note that, in pre-Hasidic mystical systems, there are two main branches of practice, both of which are have the potential to illuminate Finnegans Wake (among other things). Both have their origins in the Sefer Yetsirah, The Book of Creation, composed in Palestine some time between the third and sixth centuries C.E.

B. The first of these branches contains the ideas associated with the ten Sefirot, which are the emanations through with the infinite Ein Sof ("Ainsoph"(261)) extends itself downward, culminating in Malkhut, the six-dimensional physical creation that our bodies occupy. The Sefirot -- the Kabbalistic Tree of Life -- represent a network conception which Joyce himself found worthwhile enough to plant at the center of his book.

The diagram of the ten Sefirot on the next page, taken from Daniel C. Matt's The Essential Kabbalah, can be used as a template on which to map out the 'C.O.D.' principle of the universe which Joyce presents in chapter ten of the Wake, teasing us as early as chapter four with the question:"Hoo was the C.O.D.?"(102) Ironic postal and consumer implications of a cosmology centered around the principle of Cash On Delivery aside, each of the three letters of the acronym are further subdivided into three, in the right hand margins of pages 270-271: "CONCOMITANCE OF COURAGE, COUNSEL AND CONSTANCY, ORDINATION OF OMEN, ONUS AND OBIT, DISTRIBUTION OF DANGER, DUTY AND DESTINY."

[missing picture]

This trinitarianism is not only an imposition of Joyce's remnant Catholicism; a glance at the Sefirot diagram makes it clear that the Kabbalah was present in the Wake’s original conception. At the end of chapter ten, a list is given which completes the Sefirot tree by including "Geg", the womb from which revealed reality emanates:

Their feed begins."(308)

The vertical layout of these principles does not do them justice, however; they are 'translaced', networked {4A}, and the paths along which the Ein Sof can travel are numerous - more so if one considers the many levels of correspondences to which the diagram can be said to relate. For example - the fifth Sefirot, Gevurah, can stand for power, judgment, rigor, red, and the left arm (among other things). It is possible to imagine a three-dimensional network of associations, through which one could trace the way the divine effluence pours from the love of Hesed down into the phallus of Yesod. The likeness to Eco's metonymic chains is there, for anyone willing to take the isomorphic leap of faith.

The Kabbalistc Sefirot are the true precursor to Bruno's system of links through which demons and spirits came down to earth to do his bidding, whatever he may say about the Egyptian origins of his ideas {4C}. As in Bruno's cosmology, energy can travel in both directions along this divine web:

"Human righteous action stimulates Yesod, the Righteous One, and brings about the union of the divine couple. Human marriage symbolizes and actualizes divine marriage." {10B}

It is the oneness, the wholeness of Ein Sof that makes this communication possible. Beneath the ten-fold divisions of the Sefirotic Kabbalah is the powerful inscrutable monism of the Ein Sof, the energy that powers this system (which happens to be The System, in Kabbalah). It is all ultimately reducible to Ein Sof, like the 'E' side of the pithy general relativity equation - which would be reductionistic except for the fact that Ein Sof, like HCE, is not reducible to anything less than Everything.

It is this HCE Identity Principle ('Everyone and everything ultimately flow back into HCE') {4H} that holds the Heraclitan confusion of the Wake together. He is the electricity into which things and actions and data and instructions are translated, so they may flow through the network. Without him Shem would not be able to take on the persona of Lucifer, and Above would not be able to influence Below {10A} any more than a computer could inscribe some of its memory magnetically and some of it on clay tablets. An ultimate medium of exchange is necessary. {34B}

C. The myth of creation via Sefirot received many elaborations over the years, and was brought to a peak by the formulations of Isaac Luria, a mystic in the town of Safed in Palestine, and a student of Moses Cordovero. Luria understood the networked nature of reality as well as anyone; when asked why he wrote almost nothing, he told one of his disciples:

"It is impossible, because all things are interrelated. I can hardly open my mouth to speak without feeling as though the sea burst its dams and overflowed. How then shall I express what my soul has received? How can I set it down in a book?"

According to the Luria handed down to us through his students, Ein Sof's first action was withdrawal. In the Shefa Tal, Shabbetai Sheftel Horowitz (16th-17th c) explains:

"Before the creation of the world, Ein Sof withdrew itself into its essence, from itself to itself within itself. It left an empty space within its essence, in which it could emanate and create."

Echoes of the Author, refining himself out of existence to make room on the page for his Great Work. Joyce does not impose a direction upon his readers; he drops them into his creation and lets them go. But like Ein Sof (a comparison he would approve of), he is always there in the margins, 'overstanding'. {35E}

After the withdrawal, or tsimtsum, Ein Sof began to emanate into the vessels, the Sefirot. As the creation proceeded, some of the later vessels were not strong enough to withstand the power of Ein Sof's light, and they shattered - eventually resulting in the entrapment of divine sparks in the material world. There is a shattering of the vessels in Finnegans Wake as well, but it is an implosion, a compression into semantic singularities.

The purpose behind a life of holiness, according to Luria, is tikkun, or the mending of the vessels. Each holy act furthers the process of cosmic healing. Giordano Bruno's aim, "in his eternal efforts to find the images, signs, characters in living contact with reality" was to "unify the whole contents of the universe" by establishing them in his memory. In putting his isomorphism of the universe on paper, Joyce's aim was the same. {36B}

D. The other major branch of Kabbalistic practice involves numerology and meditation upon the alphabet (these have more in common in Hebrew than in English, as both numbers and phonemes are represented by the same 22 characters of the Hebrew alphabet). Hebrew letters are seen not as mundane symbols of human communication, but as the holy forms that God chose to communicate His word to men. By manipulating them, the mystic can gain insight into the nature of God's creation. This line of mysticism also has its roots in the Sefer Yetsirah:

"Twenty-two elemental letters....How did God permute them? Alef with them all, all of them with alef; bet with them all, all of them with bet; and so with all the letters, turning round and round, within 231 gates. Thus all that is formed, all that is spoken emerges from one name."

The name most often associated with the combinatorial meditation techniques of the Kabbalah is Abraham Abulafia, the thirteenth century author of the Hayyei ha-Olam ha-Ba, and persistent presence in Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. As the codifier of many of the combinatorial letter meditation techniques that are the 'Applied Kabbalah' to the Sefirot's 'Theoretical Kabbalah', he had these practical instructions for those delving into the art of letter combination:

"....take hold of ink, pen, and tablet. Realize that you are about to serve your God in joy. Begin to combine letters, a few or many, permuting and revolving them rapidly until your mind warms up. Delight in how they move, and in what you generate by revolving them."

In the beginning was the Word, in all of its permutations. {11E} Like a Richard Strauss simultaneous 12-note hit, creation is the infinite coexisting variations on the Name of God. The versions of the Name "become innumerable, according to the innumerable species of things." Joyce uses a different number/letter equivalency to name ALP: "...if you can spot fifty I spy four more."(10) 54 = LIV = Anna Livia. For the possible readings of the world born from her womb after HCE's divine (ins)emanation, there is "no print equivalent, nor even a mathematical possibility of printing their variations."

An anonymous student of Abraham Abulafia said of the Names that were born in acts of letter combination: "Their intrinsic value is proportional to their degree of incomprehensibility. The less comprehensible, the higher." Meaning is married to confusion {32F} in a technique whose ultimate aim is an epiphany which, in the words of twentieth century mystic Abraham Isaac Kook (an extremely lucid man, despite his name):

"...enables you to sense creation not as something completed, but as constantly becoming, evolving, ascending. This transports you, from a place where nothing is new to a place where there is nothing old, where everything reveals itself, where heaven and earth rejoice as at the moment of Creation."

Extreme difficulty can be trying, but the rewards for engaging the complex and incomprehensible are rewards commensurate with the scale of Creation, not the scale of the stuffed and mounted plot line.


"[Finnegans Wake will be written] to suit the esthetic of the dream, where forms prolong and multiply themselves, where the visions pass from the trivial to the apocalyptic, where the brain uses the roots of vocables to make others from them which will be capable of naming its phantasms, its allegories, its allusions."
-- Joyce to Edmond Jaloux

"Between drinks, I deeply painfully repeat it."(511)

A. Variation, repetition, permutation, combination of a limited number of relatively simple elements -- these are the ways that complex systems such as computers (billions of transistors) and brains (billions of neurons) and geometries (countless applications of a small number of axioms) are constructed. They are also some of the fundamental techniques through which much of the raw material in the Wake is built up into the final product. Joyce saw his book as a "wholemole millwheeling vicociclometer" which "receives through a portal vein the dialytically separated elements of precedent decomposition for the verypetpurpose of subsequent recombination..."(614)

He drew inspiration from Kabbalah {8D}, most likely the 'cabala' of Bruno, who in Cabala del Cavallo Pegaseo called his system "a cabala of theological philosophy, a philosophy of cabalistic theology, a theology of philosophical cabala." It is worth looking into, this attempt to see "how minney combinaisies and permutandies can be played on the international surd!" (284)

B. On the most basic level, there are the acronymic variations, the countless repetitions of all the possible combinations of the initials 'HCE' and 'ALP'. They are far too numerous and far to obvious to catalogue; beginning with "Howth Castle and Environs"(3) and "He addle liddle phifie Annie"(4), they firmly establish the presence of the cosmic couple on nearly every page of the Wake.

We are not allowed to forget Dublin, either, Joyce's particular manifestation of the Universal Place. I do not think that 'Dear Dirty Dublin' ever makes a straight appearance, but the 'D3' motif comes at us from all angles: "dear dutchy deeplinns"(76), "Drinkbattle's Dingy Dwellings"(93), "dire dreary darkness"(136), "dun dartin dullemitter"(317), "dour dorty dompling"(333).

C. More involved than these initial repetitions are the variations on central 'template' phrases which drift through the Wake in forms farther and farther from the original seed phrase. This may be Joyce's riff on the textual drift which inevitably accompanied the copying of manuscripts before the coming of the printing press. I believe it has another compelling motive as well, one which explains all of the various forms of variation and repetition that appear in the Wake {9E}....but first, a brief foray into Joyce's 'theme and variations' approach to template phrases.

One of the more prominent template phrases is the Prankquean's riddle, which ALP-as-Grace O'Malley/Moses asks HCE-as-the Lord of Howth Castle/Ramses II in chapter one: "Mark the Wans, why do I am alook alike a poss of porterpease?"(21) It is repeated almost identically two more times on page 22, and seems to be a question about the identity of the Twins in relation to the Mother -- possibly an initial delving into the mystery of the mother that is carried out in more depth by Shem in chapter ten. {6E}

As we go through the book, however, we get numerous echoes of this initial question which touch off a remembrance of the template phrase more through rhythmic similarity than any extractable connection of sense: "How do you do that lack a lock and pass the poker, please?"(224); "And howelse do we hook our hike to find that pint of porter place?"(260); "Nohow did he kersse or hoot alike the suit and solder skins"(317); "For why do you lack a link of luck to poise a pont of perfect, peace?"(493) Whether they 'mean' what the original 'meant' is irrelevant; they recall the contents of their predecessor in their sound-structure. {12A}

Another crucial riddle is "the first riddle of the universe: asking, when is a man not a man?" The answer, "when he is a -- yours till the rending of the rocks,-- Sham"(170), touches on issues of authenticity, authorship, and plagiarism which are important to all literary works and doubly so to Finnegans Wake.{24A} It is transformed into the "first rattle of his juniverse"(231), and the "first and last rittlerattle of the anniverse"(607), to note a few later sightings. In the latter case on page 607, it receives no answer ("whanas it is a."(607)) - for here it is being considered by Kevin, an amalgamation of Shem and Shaun, a melting of the originator and the thief/plagiarist into one being.

There is also the 'grace', appearing in chapter one, which reverberates down the Wake's many paths:

"For what we are, gifs à gross if we are, about to believe. So pob the begg and pass the kish for crawsake. Omen. So sigh us."(7)

And the often repeated 'ALP' theme, from the end of her chapter (#8):

"Can't hear with the waters of. The chittering water of...Beside the rivering water of, hitherandthithering waters of."(215)

The reader could doubtless track down reoccurrences of the above two phrases, and find new ones that Joyce thought worth repeating.

D. There are other species of textual variations, sub-versions of the kind of Kabbalistic games that tickled Joyce's "jazztfancy" (292). There is the systematic shifting of vowels within a constant consonant frame: "Tok....Tik....Tuk....Tek...Tak..."(141) The 'T-k' form is like an empty fifth, transformed into different chords by the addition of different notes to its middle.

Joyce was also an author with an apposite addiction to ancillary alliterations. The following passage gives evidence of both this, and the vowel-play mentioned above:

"caius counting in the scale of pin puff pive piff, piff puff pive poo, poo puff pive pree, pree puff pive pfoor, pfoor puff pive pippive poopive...."(282)

There is some prefiguring of the concern with rigorous working out of possible variations later evinced by Beckett, with biscuit-eating in Murphy, and with stone-sucking in Molloy. But Beckett was playing gallows games to keep the hangman at bay; in the Wake, there is a playful exuberance in alliterative phrases such as this one, a jazz bounce that could have been lifted from "Oo Bop Sh'Bam" if it had not preceded it. But anything that looks forward also looks backward; McLuhan sees "endless alliterations" as "the necessary norm of oral prose and poetry alike", and the following medieval sentence by Adhelm of Malmesbury may well have been the prototype for the Joyce riff above:

"Primitus pantorum procerum poematorum pio potissimunn paternoque praesertim priviegio panegiricum poemataque passim prosatori sub polo promulgatus..."

E. After these litanies of repetition, the eternal 'Why?' naturally presents itself. That variations and combinations of limited smaller elements is often the process behind larger organic networks has been mentioned elsewhere {9A}. But more important is what Eco has to say about any artist who wants maximum disorder and information:

"[He] will sacrifice some of his freedom and introduce a few modules of order into his work, which will help [readers] find their way through the noise...."

Repetition is necessary transmission insurance in extremely complex textual landscapes -- as it is in the genetic landscape where each person possesses trillions of copies of their own DNA, and in the beach landscape of the Galápagos Islands, where sea-turtles lay hundreds of eggs so a small handful of their offspring can make it to the sea. And the media landscape is no different:

"Ads seem to work on the very advanced principle that a small pellet or pattern in a noisy, redundant barrage of repetition will gradually assert itself." {27B}

HCE's stuttering is not only about guilt; it is about syllabic redundancy to insure transmission. Hieroglyphics can enlighten; a similar technique was utilized by the Egyptians, who represented each syllable with a number of different common hieroglyphs to reduce the possibility of misunderstanding. Colin Cherry notes that "The effect when literally transcribed into English is one of stuttering."

The repetitions in Finnegans Wake appear both as orientation points, rising from the din to guide readers onward like the strains of "Hello My Baby" that surface in Charles Ives' "Central Park in the Dark", and as multiple plantings of the most crucial thematic seeds of the book. All of them may not grow large enough to capture the your attention -- but when one is noticed, backtracking or rereading will uncover many of the others {21D}, insuring the intersection of Joyce's semantic network with your own.

F. Beyond the individual instances of combination, variation, and repetition, we have the instance of the Wake as a whole. It is often noted that 'any fragment of the Wake contains the whole Wake', and while this statement is not strictly true, it spends enough time on the outskirts of truth to be worth mentioning. There are indeed sections of the Wake -- the first four pages, the 'ALP' chapter, and others - in which the full thematic material of the whole book exists in toto, for most intents and many purposes {21D}. Each time they reappear again, they are recast in a different context or perspective, shown from a different angle -- Much like a hologram. Those who don't mind a bent argument can continue along these lines {33A}; the straight-ahead will just have to wait.


"The tasks above are as the flasks below, saith the emerald canticle of Hermes...."(263)

A. Joyce once told an aspiring author to "write what is in your blood and not what is in your brain...In the particular is contained the universal." The correlation and interaction between the microcosm and the macrocosm so central to the belief systems of the alchemists was also central to Joyce. It precedes Finnegans Wake by years, as the following passage from Portrait of the Artist shows:

"His life seemed to have drawn near to eternity; every thought, word and deed, every instance of consciousness could be made to revibrate radiantly in heaven."

The Linati schema that serves as the skeleton of Ulysses also shows Joyce ruminating on the ''isomorphic' relationships between higher and lower. His deep belief in coincidence and correspondence is not only reflected in the manifest content of Finnegans Wake; it is one of the facilitating devices that makes the book possible.

Starting with a definition of 'isomorphism' would be a good idea. To return to Hofstadter:

"The word 'isomorphism' applies when two complex structures can be mapped onto each other, in such a way that to each part of one structure there is a corresponding part in the other structure, where 'corresponding' means that the two parts play similar roles in their respective structures."

That isomorphisms are not only crucial to the Wake, but to any conception of 'meaning' at all, will be clear to the quick-witted. Isomorphism is the rope that lashes together the jeweled net of concepts that is the Wake, and the mental world we all occupy -- and the similarity between the two is in itself an isomorphism.

B. The Smaragdine Table, a kind of 'Ten Commandments' of alchemy, was attributed to Hermes Trismegisthus along with everything else that was thought to be profound or important.{5E} In it appears the formulation:

"What is below is like that which is above, and what is above is like that which is below, to accomplish the miracles of one thing."

This was eventually shortened to 'As Above, So Below'. I will eventually shorten it further, to 'AASB'. In Lisa DiBernard's view:

"The alchemical theory that the macrocosm and the microcosm reflect each other becomes the basis for a literary technique in Finnegans Wake...by which everyday words, characters, and events vaporize into mythic archetypes and cosmic significance and then condense back into jingles, a Chapelizod family, and a not-so-special night in their lives."

DiBernard's observation is sound, even if she does attempt to force Joyce into bed with many obscure alchemical works. Joyce was probably led to thoughts of isomorphisms between above and below by the Nolan. Bruno himself probably latched onto the notion in Cornelius Agrippa's De occulta philosophia (1533) of a three-fold division of the universe into elemental, celestial, and intellectual spheres, each sphere receiving influence from the one above.

Bruno states in L'Asino Cillenico del Nolano that "It is not possible to understand supernatural things, except through their shining in natural things", evoking both the 18th century 'invisible worlds' of Cotton Mather and the 20th century hermeticism of MacGregor Mathers. In DiBernard's defense, Bruno was also heavily influenced by Paracelsus, creating a strong line of communication between Joyce and the alchemical practitioners.

C. Sharing in the alchemical belief in As Above, So Below might be Joyce's single most important networking tool; it allows him to wire every sphere of knowledge and every level of known existence into an electric whole. HCE is a man, and a feature of geography: "O, as he lays dormont from the macroborg of Holdhard to the microbirg of Pied de Poudre."(12) ALP also has authentic landscape potential: "to find a locus for an alp get a howlth on her bayrings".(287) The ego is first and foremost a body-ego, says Freud {36B}; "the greater part of the expressions relating to inanimate things are formed by metaphor from the human body and its parts", says Vico. Man is the measure of all things because man is where the perception of all things begins, the starting point for the farthest-reaching metonymic chains of association.

In the 'Ondt and the Gracehoper' tale told by Shaun in chapter thirteen (414-419), Shem, Shaun, Issy and her friends become various types of arthropods and arachnids as the sociological is mapped onto the entomological. In chapter ten, sublime mysticism is mapped onto mundane schoolwork. A thousand thousand other instances of conceptual crosstalk pervade the Wake on every page and on every level.

D. One permutation of As Above So Below is especially important - AASB becomes ABSA (As Before So Again), and the "IMAGINABLE ITINERARY THROUGH THE PARTICULAR UNIVERSAL"(260) becomes the "FUTURE PRESENTATION OF THE PAST"(272). Isomorphism is also "isochronism"(515), and the latter allows Joyce to stretch his connections back over all the living and the dead as well as across the continuum of existence on every scale. The staggering number of isomorphisms between the characters of Finnegans Wake and figures from history, myth and legend have been too-well mined in Adaline Glasheen's Census to need repeating here. ABSA is the Viconian version of AASB, the recognition of "the marvelous correspondence between the first and the returned barbarian times" that was only one of many examples of such a recurrence.

"Once it happened, so it may again"(625) is what turns a manageable little essay on Finnegans Wake and computer networks into what you are now reading. The 'new and improved' connotations of the original idea are blinkered and incomplete {1D}; to focus on man the information-gatherer without noting his connection as a fellow nomad to man the food-gatherer is to stick your head in the sand of Now.

Finnegans Wake is a lens to bring the future and the past into focus, depending on which way you look through it. It is skewered by the old orality on one side, and the new orality on the other {12A}. For Joyce, Today is re-cycled Yesterday; he looked at modern Dublin and saw "Edenborough"(29), as Baudrillard would later look at America and see "the primitive city of the future".

F. It is important to remember though, that AASB and ABSA are statements of metaphoric relationship, not equivalence. The statement that "for Nietzsche the key symbol of his metaphysics is the ring; whereas for Bruno it has to be the spiral" holds true for Joyce as well. Eternal recurrence as Nietzsche envisioned it implies strict determinism, which neither Bruno, Vico nor Joyce accepted. The quantum physics of which Joyce was somewhat aware did not allow for absolute pronouncements. {31B}

When Brancusi drew his Portrait of the Artist as an Abstract Spiral, he captured his subject well. The blindness that makes history a recurring nightmare need not be eternal, in Joyce's view; the spirals that were begun five thousand years ago on the Newgrange burial mounds could just as easily be moving inward as outward, thereby coming to a point. {35A}

G. Bruno believed "in every man...there is a world, a universe." This is a great truth -- and with Niels Bohr, Joyce believed that the opposite of a great truth is also true. Stuart Gilbert, in his introduction to Joyce's letters, noted:

"On more than one occasion, Joyce told me that certain incidents in his writings had proved to be premonitions of incidents that subsequently took place."

This is the ultimate hubris, evidence of a desire to swallow not just all literature, but all creation. {35G} Interestingly, it is also true, in many cases. Reality sometimes humored Joyce and mirrored his art, although he was not alive to see the most stunning examples. {29A}


"Why, then, should we not permit ourselves a universal image, that is an image of the universe itself? From which it might be hoped to obtain much benefit from the universe."
--Marsilio Ficino, 15th-16th century hermeticist

A. The attempt to create a universal isomorphism -- a mental or written 'map' of the world or the universe which is an accurate representation of totality -- precedes Finnegans Wake by millennia. The sympathetic magic whereby one of great power can gain control over the world by gaining control over a microcosmic model lies at the preliterate core of the literary enterprise. We have already heard of Bruno's desire to "unify the whole contents of the universe" by establishing them in his memory. {8C} More modest than Bruno, Vico limits himself to "this world of nations" which "has surely been made by men, and its guise must therefore be found within the modifications of our own human mind."

On the printed page as well as in the mind, there were encyclopedists long before Diderot, writers whose aim was to compress the world as they knew it between the covers of a book, with all of its spheres of knowledge present in miniature. Critics like Edward Mendelsohn with his 'encyclopedic narratives', and Khachig Tololyan with his 'cosmographic narratives' have examined the notion of universal isomorphism (though they did not use the term) in their examinations of The Divine Comedy, Gargantua and Pantagruel, Don Quixote, Faust, Moby Dick, Ulysses, Gravity's Rainbow, and other works.

The works above are largely synchronic, dealing with the world as it exists at a fixed point in time, usually the generation before they were written. Finnegans Wake is diachronic, standing apart from these works qualitatively as well as quantitatively with its project of presenting all that ever was, is, or shall be {10D}. "Anna was, Livia is, Plurabelle's to be"(215) - Joyce's four-dimensional portrait of the Mother of Creation is a conscious endeavor to effect Martha Clifford's Freudian slip in Ulysses: "I called you naughty boy because I do not like that other world." The sleight-of-hand swap of 'world' for 'word' leaves the door separating the two unlatched, so it can be kicked wide open by Finnegans Wake.


"Locomotion should be slow, the slower the better, and be often interrupted by leisurely halts to sit on vantage points and stop at question marks....I know no prescription of method; avoid whatever increases routine and fatigue and decreases alertness."
--Carl Sauer, famous geographer

Finnegans Wake is a bid to disprove Count Korzybski and somehow create a Map that is the Territory, General Semantics be damned. Before we discount this as impossible, we might at least note how well statements like Carl Sauer's fit the Wake as well as the land. As with the mapping of the world, when first getting the lay of the Wake-scape, we must proceed slowly, rigorously, sequentially (if we are going to try and give directions to another, in any case).

A map may not provide the best analogy; maps are relatively explicit, while much of the information in the Wake is implicit. It might be more accurate to say that Finnegans Wake provides a 'genotype' of the world's 'phenotype' -- that it contains enough information so that a person or creature with enough intelligence can infer the form of the world from the word alone.

Coded into Finnegans Wake are exhaustive compendiums from all major semantic categories. The great Irish writers (40-41), encapsulated lists of the great composers (360), all the great figures of ancient history (306-308, left margin), all the stories in Joyce's own collection Dubliners (186-187)...The Wake is suffused with lists, and following the principle of redundancy {9E}, it is rare that any item off any list appears only once in the Wake. Popeye proves a good case in point. {7B}

C. In chapter five, the Great Letter that ALP (in her manifestation as Belinda the Hen) finds in the middenheap can be construed as the archetypal written communication ("proteiform graph"(107)), the archetypal communication in any medium ("this radiooscillating epiepistle"(108)), or the archetypal reflection on the world and the universe, containing "every person, place and thing in the chaosmos of Alle"(118). At any level, the intricacy of the metaphor holds our attention, like the fractal geometries created by a Mandelbrot set. As Above, So Below. {10A} {21D}

D. The obsessive desire to capture the wide world on paper is enough to send any literary Ahab down with the ship. Aside from the sheer logistical scope of such an enterprise, it presents numerous other problems. Twentieth century physics poses one, by institutionalizing imperfection in measurement, making uncertainty not just a byproduct of human lack of refinement, but an ineradicable feature of the system called Reality.{31C} As envisioned by Niels Bohr, quantum mechanics cannot describe ontology ('What Is'), only epistemology ('What We Know About What Is').

Along with Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem {31B}, the Heisenberg Uncertainty in quantum mechanics severely bruises the concept of isomorphism, highlighting the necessary imperfection in any metaphoric correspondence. Joyce was aware of the problem this necessary uncertainty posed for his project; knowing that the narratives of sciences are among the most important stories humanity tells itself about the universe of which it occupies a very small corner, Joyce dutifully worked their latest anti-ontological revelations into his book. {31E}

Another problem with the concept of universal isomorphism is that it implies the creation of a mirror that is not only large enough to reflect All That Is, but that somehow manages to reflect itself as well. Of the brains that attempt to collate as comprehensive a report on reality as they can manage, Hofstadter says:

"It would be quite a glaring hole in a brain's symbolic structure not to have a symbol for the physical object in which it is housed, and which plays a lager role in the events it mirrors than any other object."

Gödel found a way to make mathematics talk about itself, with the idea of Gödel numbering. In this regard, Joyce's task was easier, as language has been talking about itself for millennia, probably since its inception. The self-referentiality of the Wake stands out, as it brazenly challenges us to "rede....its world"(18). This idea, too, reappears on other pages of this very discussion. {4G}


"Henceforth it is the map that precedes the territory...it is the map that engenders the territory..."
--Jean Baudrillard

In giving birth to the world's twin through his pen, Joyce had in mind a doppelgänger's fate for his creation; he would send "one world burrowing on another"(275), until it prefigured, predated, preempted the original. {5E} His tribute to ALP, "the Bringer of Plurabilities"(104) is a like a Roman tribute to Periclean Athens. He honors what he would conquer, by establishing with John that "In the buginning is the woid"(378), in his best Brooklyn accent. {8D}

Gotama Buddha makes a similar claim for language when he says:

"I have said that on name and form depends contact [with the world]....Suppose, Ananda, there were not these different traits, peculiarities, signs, and indications by which are made manifest the multitude of elements of being constituting name; -- if there were not these different traits...[etc., repetition insures transmission]...pray, would there be any designative contact appearing in form?"

[Ananda]"Nay, verily, Revered Sir."

True to form, the Buddha next turns around as says the exact opposite, that contact depends on name and form, working his way back to his starting point. Joyce makes no such retraction. {35G}



"Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations of legend and colour?"
--James Joyce, Portrait

The careful attention paid to the cat's "Mrkrgnao!", the paper-folding machine's "Sllt", Dave Byrne's tired "Iiiiiichaaaaaaach!" in Ulysses; Joyce's statement concerning the Wake that "the words the reader sees are not the words that he will hear"; the consternation he caused his contemporary Wake translators by "caring more for sound and rhythm than sense"; Pater may not have been right about all literature, but the Wake aspires to the state of music, without question. "Sing the Wake!" poet/teacher/Kerryman Brendan Kennelly urges his students with a deranged grin. Perhaps it is not as ludicrous as it seems.

B. It is the opinion of many historians of the written word that the development of the 22-sign alphabet in Byblos (Phoenicia) in 1000 BC put Western man on the linear fast-track, narrowing and focusing his methods of perception by means of the phonetic writing. "Gutenmorg with his cromagnom charter"(20) accelerated the process exponentially, allowing for the 'speech of nations' which Vico recognized as the most important enabling factor of the modern nation state, long before McLuhan.

Unfortunately for the readers of Finnegans Wake, the linear techniques of the 'abecedarium' (an early Renaissance name for a 'dictionary' that never made it into the modern era) are often all but useless. Joyce knows this, and taunts us:

"(Stoop) if you are abcedminded, to this claybook, what curios of signs (please stoop), in this allaphbed! Can you rede (since We and Thou had it out already) its world?"(18)

C. The serial, focused progression of thought along the lengths of neatly-aligned sequences is what causes most readers to put down the Wake after the first ten minutes of effort and never pick it up again. Fooled by its front and back covers, they approach it as they have approached the hundreds of other books they've encountered in their lives, and this approach is doomed to failure.

Speaking for myself: the first time I made it past the first page of the Wake was a time when I was tired, unable to focus, and about to go to bed. My brain was most likely preparing itself to switch into the 'network-jumping' mode that is necessary for the Dream Work {4B}. Upon grabbing the Wake off my nightstand and encountering the "riverrun" again, I made the shift prematurely, allowing the full field of associations that the Wake triggers to coexist simultaneously in my mind. I was even happier than I would later be when I first made out the 3-D image in one of those gimmick posters they sell in shopping malls, and:

"That's the point of eschatology our book of kills reaches for now in soandso many counterpoint words. What can't be coded can be decorded if an ear aye sieze what no eye ere grieved for."(482)

A shift in modes of cognition, from typographic straight-line marching to aural omnidirectional floating, is necessary before the ears can grasp what the eyes can never see. To appreciate Joyce's "sound seemetry"(17), to catch the nuances of his "poetographies"(242) and his "auradrama"(517), the reader has no choice but to grant his own semantic network the uncomfortable freedom to be fired at will by the Wake's trigger finger.

D. There is one way of writing 'Hello'; there are probably a hundred ways to say it; Stanlislavisky's students probably had to come up with a hundred and thirty. Joyce did not hit upon such a maddeningly difficult technique to perturb and discourage (or not primarily to perturb and discourage). His punning and riffing and variation were the only way he could compress the expressiveness and multiform connations of oral communication into the thin pipeline of type {4E}. Like a phone sex operator trying to cram all the multi-sensory aspects of a sexual experience into the low-fidelity funnel of a phone receiver, Joyce was "Putting Allspace in a Notshall"(455), collapsing the world's network into a prohibitively small space in a greatly restricted medium.

The reason he went through all the trouble was his faithfulness to the idea of the network:

"The notion of moving steadily along on single planes of narrative awareness is totally alien to the nature of language and of consciousness. But it is highly consistent with the nature of the printed word."

To go McLuhan one further, the straight line and the flat plane are not only alien to language and consciousnes, but to any attempt to adequately represent a reality that is lived in at least four dimensions, and more for some mediums, mystics and physicists. Joyce's includes orality in the framework of the Wake because any universal isomorphism has to put a premium on inclusiveness -- something that straight use of accepted typographic practice renders impossible.

E. One of many caveats: inclusiveness does not mean choosing sides. Donald Theall perceptively notes that Joyce is "sensitive to the inseparable involvement of speech, script, and print with the visual, the auditory, the kinesthetic, and other modes of expression", before trying to stuff this entire sensorium into the word 'gesture', thus staking his claim on the dark side of Joyce criticism. 'Inclusive' is not the same thing as 'including the things we like'. Similar notions of 'toleration' cause many problems.

I may not agree with Kenner's relegation of Joyce to the age of the printed book {1F}, but Kenner knows his Joyce, and is well aware of Joyce's deep love for great swaths of the literary landscape. Reductive efforts to staple partisan 'Orality' tags to Joyce because of his chronic eye trouble are not worth discussing. Neither the bushy-tailed, uncritical, Brave New World convert to the New Orality {35D}, nor the "fierce advocate of writing as against orality"(if that is truly what Derrida is) will ever be of much use when it comes to Finnegans Wake. Each is a blind man who refuses to let go of his own favorite chunk of the elephant.

It is possible that "hypertext represents a shift in human consciousness comparable to the shift from orality to print", although like tequila, I wouldn't want to drink it straight. Maybe there is even a splash of prophecy in Harold Bloom's glum consideration that "Perhaps the ages of reading -- Aristocratic, Democratic, Chaotic -- now reach terminus, and the reborn Theocratic era will be almost wholly an oral and visual culture." But our reptilian medullas continue to happily hiss subconscious commands to our cerebrums; print did not obliterate all traces of orality; and the 'second orality' of the computer age, should it come, will not clean the slate, either, for the world or the Wake. Literature will always pulsate beneath its surfaces. {1D} {35C}



"....peeking into the focus and pecking at thumbnail reveries, pricking up ears to my phono on the ground and picking up airs from th'other of th'ether."(452)

In his 1964 book Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan devised the terms 'Hot' and 'Cool' to discuss the ways people communicate with one another in the modern world. A brief examination of these terms as McLuhan uses them will serve as a segue from the world of books to the story electric - the wide array of electronic and electromechanical communications which Joyce saw explode from novelty items to the new agents of human communication in the course of his lifetime.

Like Joyce, McLuhan confounds surface dichotomies through intentional strategies of confusion, covering the coexistence of contraries with an ad-man's glib turns-of-phrase. The basic distinction between Hot and Cool media is one made up of many smaller distinctions: specialist/ generalist, high-definition/low-definition, one-way/two-way, exclusionary/inclusionary. "A hot medium is one that extends one single sense in 'high definition'. High definition is a state of being well filled with data." "Any hot medium allows of less participation than a cool one....the hot form excludes, and the cool one includes."

Among the Hot media, McLuhan places the radio, the movie, the photograph, the phonetic alphabet, and the book. In the Cool category, he puts the telephone, the television, the cartoon, hieroglyphics, and speech. One does not have to agree with every point McLuhan makes about every form of communication (I would imagine few people do) to grant that his cardinal insight is sound. Regarding literature specifically:

"The hot literary medium excludes the practical and participant aspect of the joke....To literary people, the practical joke with its total physical involvement is as distasteful as the pun that derails us from the smooth and uniform progress that is typographic order."

Joyce loved the physical comedy of Chaplin as much as the puns which became the building blocks for the Wake, and was given to 'distasteful' physical displays himself, when his personality had been sufficiently lubricated with alcohol. Finnegans Wake is a Cooling down of the Hot book, opening it to participation - and not just the participation of a small group of 'specialists'. {2A} To create his Cool magnum opus, Joyce emulated the electronic media that had sprung up around him to the greatest extent possible in type. Other media in the past had achieved analogous effects, but none so pervasively, and none so quickly.



"Christ in our irish times! Christ on the airs independence! Christ hold the freedman's chareman! Christ light the dully expressed!"(500)

The linotype machine was invented in 1878, and the mass-produced daily edition of the newspaper was already a fixture of European and American life by the time Joyce was born in 1882. The newspaper is an interesting mixture of Hot and Cool. {13A} It allows for the same detachment as other typography, possibly greater detachment; as in Joyce's story "A Painful Case", with its emotionally flatlined "No blame attached to anyone."

However, newspapers are hardly laid out in a linear fashion, and the eye rarely follows an orderly progression in its dance around a front page. Only the most gripping story can temporarily block out the informational ambush from all sides. McLuhan's own visual style is heavily cribbed from the newspaper format.

It is this 'field of information' effect that Joyce borrowed from "Tass, Patt, Staff, Woff, Navv, Bluvv, and Rutter"(593), whatever he may have thought of its content {27B}. From chapter seven of Ulysses, we might surmise that Joyce felt newspapers said nothing with great skill; and the command by Shaun as moralizing Don Juan in chapter fourteen to "Perousse instate your Weekly Standerd, our verile organ"(439) presents the press as an agent of entrenched orthodoxies, a newspaper penis to joust with William S. Burroughs' newspaper spoon. But the newspaper rides the rail; it mixes Hot content with Cool layout. Finnegans Wake acknowledges both presences; one through wary mention, the other through frequent deviance from accepted 'literary' print formats, and a subtle borrowing of the newspaper's simultaneous array of information.{23E}


A. For Joyce, the telegraph and the telephone speed up Shaun the Post's Great Letter route to the speed of light, pulling all the wired world into his reach. "Now we're gettin it. Tune in and pick up the forain counties! Hello!...Am I thru' Iss? Miss? True!....Clear the line, priority call!"(500-1). As a two-way network that connects vast numbers of distinct and varied persons around the globe, the international phone system (even in its inchoate state in the thirties) shares a fundamental design principle with the Wake. There is no passive way to use the phone -- you plug into the network, and when it talks, you have to talk back to keep the communication going. {26A}


A.Joyce made a phonograph recording of a section of chapter eight of the Wake. McLuhan seems to think that the Wake could not have been conceived in a non-phonographic age. This may be so, or it may not be so. Consider the medium itself for a moment, the now-outdated phonograph disc: a circle, which is actually an inwardly-winding spiral {10F}; along which is contained a line, divided into two distinct Twin channels; from which an engulfing field of sound emerges making possible an endless spectrum of sound placement because of complex interference patterns. Cool field contained in Hot line contained in Cool spiral. {13A} Possibly Joyce had similar thoughts when "pricking up ears to [his] phono on the ground"(452). Possibly not.


A. The radio is more important to Finnegans Wake than the newspaper, the phonograph, or even the telephone; when Shaun steals the Great Letter of human communication, he is more concerned with transmitting it outward than with making it the subject of a two-way phone conversation. {35B} Numerous terms are borrowed in part from radio: "ulvertones", "spectrem", "Ampsterdampster", "dyode"(318-319), "dielectrick", "ham"(322). But there are numerous terms in the Wake borrowed in part from everything Joyce ever knew, knew about, or heard that someone else had heard of. This alone reveals nothing about the book; it merely shines a small penlight in a corner of its vast warehouse.

But the radio has the "doomed crack of the old damn ukonnen power insound in it"(323), and plays "The mujic of the footure on the babarihams of the bashed"(518). As Before, So Again {9D}, with a variation - the crackling radio brings out the transfigured static thunder that heralds the new barbaric Divine Age. Its heavy presence towards the end of Book III and in Book IV trumpets the ABSA principle, and points out an important feature of that principle - the future will be the past, with a difference. {10F}

The radio announces the "Giant crash in Aden"(324), it brings the "static babel"(499), and kicks off the recorso of Book IV with the call: "calling all downs. Calling all downs to dayne. Array! Surrection!"(593) Its advent marked the return to a new theocracy, a new tribalism, with concomitant new variations on the themes of Genesis, and all other creation myths.

B. Radio does all this in Finnegans Wake because radio collapses the world into a village and history into Now with its "unified implosion and resonance", to borrow a phrase. {26A} To borrow another -- McLuhan's definition of tradition as "the sense of the total past as now", and his attribution of its awakening to the impact of radio, bring Finnegans Wake into close proximity with the airwaves. Numerous historical channels from every corner of the globe permeate the 'ether' of the book constantly, simultaneously; it is up to the operator of the Wake's radio dial to determine which ones to tune in.

The connection of everywhere with here and of every time with now was the task at hand in writing Finnegans Wake. He had the alchemists to provide him with the soldiering irons of AASB and ABSA - but one has to wonder whether their voices spoke to him as loudly as the radio voices that spoke in every parlor.

C. The radio is the "harmonic condenser enginium"(309) over which Shaun will broadcast the condensed letter he has stolen from Shem, "as softly as the loftly marconimasts"(407) into the "two millium to humbered and eighty thausig nine humbered and sixty radiolumin lines to the wustworts of a Finntown's generous poet's office."(265) It is the way his "hundred thousand welcome stewed letters, relayed wand postchased" will "multiply, a faith, and plultiply"(404-405). That radio is not the voice of nationalism (that is the printed word, and the newspaper) but the voice of tribalism does not matter; Shaun is the principle of order and hierarchy {32D}, and he will use each radio set as a node around which to grow the crystals of his society.

D. But he has disorder to contend with, as always. With radio signal comes the static Babel of Shem's radio noise {32E}. ALP's fading into the sea at the end of the book is foreshadowed in chapter fifteen: "I'm fading!....I'm fay! Your crackling out of your turn..."(528) The waves of the radio spectrum are of ALP as surely as the waves of the flowing river. On those waves the seed of civilization is carried through time and space, the condensed version of the whole {33B} -- but in any such voyage, one is bound to run into turbulence. The radio medium is marred by unpredictable imperfections, like any medium -- making it perfect for the transmission of the Great Letter of Doublends Jined, the Master of Those Who Do Not Know.


A. One day Nora Joyce mentioned to her husband what a shame it was that Dublin had no cinemas like Trieste's, sparking the "birth of an otion"(309) in Joyce's mind which led to the opening of the Volta Theater in Dublin on December 20, 1909. The Volta failed, due to bad management on the part of Joyce's partners, their emphasis on Italian films in monolingual Dublin, and Joyce's reputation as a heretic, but Joyce did not lose his fascination with the moving picture. In 1917, he had visions of becoming a filmmaker, and went as far as having stationery made up which read "New York Film Studio". He read Boy's Cinema magazine in preparation for Finnegans Wake, and was kind enough to mention the "filmacoulored featured at the Mothrapurl skrene"(443) -- the Motropol Cinema in Dublin, which had more success than the Volta.

B. Film references grow thick as the straight-ahead reader moves into the Human Age of Book III, but gathering them all up and dumping them in a pile on the page will tell us nothing. It is worth noting, however, that many of the 'mock-plays' in the Wake cited by Campbell and Robinson, Atherton, and others are films more than plays. The Mime of Mick, Nick, and the Maggies in chapter nine features "Longshots, upcloses, outblacks"(221) that are not to be found in plays. The Butt and Taff story in chapter eleven appears on either a screen or a television set, with its "photoslope" and "double focus"(349).

The Gospel 'dumbshows' at the end of Book III are all spiced-up film remakes of the old stories. I sense that Joyce had come across some screenplays at some point in his endeavors to break into the business, and picked up some of their format and terminology: "Interior"(558), "Closeup"(559), the "Blackout" to a "Shifting scene"(560) which would not be possible in a play, and the screenplay-shorthand present-participle "Man looking round"(559). The placement and phrasing of the line "Circus. Corridor."(560) suggests a screen play 'slug line', denoting a shift of scene. Like the Wake, the 'style' of a screenplay is to be found more in its formal qualities than in its use of language {1D}. Perhaps Joyce had given up on the Nobel Committee, and was setting his sights on the "Oscur Camerad"(602) instead.

C. Joyce's attempt to entangle himself in "the celluloid art"(534) is a recognition of the ascendancy of film as the premier story-telling medium in the New Divine Age: "It looks like someone other bearing my burdens. I cannot let it. Kane's nought."(536) It is understandable that Joyce would want in, as Beckett did. The "stock of eisen"(536) has built the "sailalloyd donggie" (373) on which new generations of Don Quixotes sally forth into new pre-scripted adventures.

Film's ability to absorb and transform the archetypes of literature, to carry close isomorphisms of character types and plot structures, is a testament to the power of ABSA. The Wake records this transformation; the aptness of its invented connections is what allows its network to be continuous across time as well as space. {33D}

In Finnegans Wake, Napoleon's wife becomes jazz-siren "Josephine Brewster"(71); Don Juan (Jaun) becomes a "linenhall valentino"(458); Shakespeare's Richard III is swallowed by Disney's Seven Dwarfs: "Heigh hohse, heigh hohse, our kindom from an orse!"(373) And Chopin is absorbed into "Chorney Choplain"(351) -- the forced contiguity is both lyrical and ironic, like Chaplin himself. McLuhan saw this tightrope balance of lyricism and ironicism in Leopold Bloom. Once pointed out, Bloom-as-Petit-Bourgeois-Little-Tramp seems so obvious that we are amazed we didn't think of it ourselves.

D. Like the chivalric romances that drove Don Quixote to courageous lunacy, film paints an incomplete sight-and-sound picture: "And roll away the reel world, The reel world, the reel world! And call all your smoke blushes, Snowwhite and Rosered, if you will have the real cream!" Joyce would uncover movies as maya, a smokescreen of illusion that are revealed as such by the more complete representation that is Finnegans Wake. After a movie digression featuring film stars such as "Noah Beery" and "Charley Chance"(65), we hear the "reel world" go "Ack, ack ack!" as it flips through a projector in the 'real' world of Finnegans Wake. It is the same effect used in Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, or Bergman's Persona, but to a different end; Joyce would point the finger of un-reality at someone else. His Creation is the Real Thing. {10A}

E. Yet he milked the movie medium for all it was worth. McLuhan says that a writer has "no means of holding a mass of detail before his reader in a large bloc or gesalt" the way a film does. It was this gestalt that Joyce took from film -- both the hi-definition, information rich spatial field of each individual frame, and the synergy that those frames create when they move through the projector. The condensation effects that he pioneered to achieve this are precursors to cinematic experiments like those of Grahame Weibren, who like Joyce draws his inspiration from the Dream Work that is "not a narrative that unfolds in time -- all the elements are simultaneously present". Whether interactive cinema will ever amount to anything is a separate question. {35D}

The simultaneity of the movie frame, its ability to hold vast quantities of mise-en-scene detail, was what made Joyce think that Ulysses would be better translated into film than into French in 1924. Warner Brothers wrote to him about the film rights, he talked to Eisenstein about it, and had Stuart Gilbert try his hand at some film scenarios; but the film was not made until 1967, in a version directed by Joseph Strick, featuring Milo O'Shea as Bloom and Barbara Jefford as Molly. It was successful enough that, when asked what Bloom looks like, most people will inadvertently describe Milo O'Shea.

A 1965 film version of Finnegans Wake was made by Mary Ellen Bute, but I cannot claim to have seen it. Jim McCabe at University College, Dublin {2B}, has suggested a photo-montage of place and landscape over a reading of the Wake would help to unfold aspects of the book, and allow more people to connect with it. In my opinion, the Wake, or fragments of it, are a film waiting to happen - an animated film. Animation is the only way that I can envision capturing the sense of protean dream-transformations that the Wake engenders. However, I am not holding my breath; traditional animation techniques are painstakingly time and labor intensive, and at the moment the audience for a Finnegans Wake movie could probably fit in a large broom closet and still leave room for the brooms. Only when the computer graphic imaging (CGI) equipment that created Pixar's Toy Story can be bought for a couple thousand dollars will I start scanning the cinema horizon for The Animated Adventures of ALP.



"Television kills telephony in brothers' broil. Our eyes demand their turn. Let them be seen!"(52)

Joyce missed the television explosion for the most part, but he saw enough in his life time to predict the devotions which millions would pay to the cathode ray deity: "We want Bud. We want Bud Budderly. We want Bud Budderly boddily."(337)

B. It is the perceptual influence of television that has prepared a younger generation of potential readers to apprehend the Wake far more easily and more comprehensively than their elders. "TV will not work as background. It engages you. You have to be with it," says McLuhan of TV's "nonvisual mosaic structure" -- a structure it shares with modern art, modern physics and computer networks. Like the Wake, television demands involvement and participation {24C} to fill in the phenomenological void left by a resolution far lower than that of film. Of "the faroscope of television", the Wake says, "this nightlife instrument still needs some subtractional betterment in the readjustment of the more refrangible angles...." Along with illuminated manuscripts {5A} and cartoons {7A}, television is Cool {13A} and iconic, even kinesthetic, pulling the viewer in to put the finishing touches on incomplete images, inviting him to push its buttons. {6A}

C. Television (more specifically, the remote control) gave birth to the 'channel surfing' from one narrative wave to another and back again, the precursor of the 'net surfing' that at the time of this writing is already a tired cliché. The other Joyce in this discussion, Michael, says in his book Of Two Minds:

"Already with remote control channel zapper in hand, most of us can track multiple narrative, headline loops, and touchdown drives simultaneously across cable transmissions and stratified time. In the network we know that what is of value is what can be used and that we can shift values everywhere, instantly, individually, as we will."

This is the cognitive mode we have to switch into if we are to ride the Wake instead of being drowned under an overload of information, which we mistakenly try to absorb in orderly accountant's fashion. Like the director of a live TV news broadcast, the Wake reader has to put together a narrative (or many alternate narratives) from a dizzying influx of events, perspectives, information. The jarring dislocations we often feel when the Wake abruptly shifts gears from prehistoric hunter-gatherers to ham-radio operators is perfectly encapsulated by the TV phrase that is the best three word summary of 'postmodernism' that I know: And Now This.

Next Page>