Finnegans Wake is the, is the, uh, last, and most ambitious and most puzzling work of, uh, the British writer James Joyce who of course wrote Dubliners and Ulysses. And if Ulysses is the algebra of literature then Finnegans Wake is the partial differential equation. Uh, most of us break down at algebra. Few of us aspire to go on the partial linear differential equation. Um, in some ways I think it can be arguably said that this is the quintessential work of art or at least work of literature of the 20th century and Joyce intended it that way. Uh, Joseph Campbell called it a staggering allegory of the fall and redemption of mankind. Equally respected critics have called it a surrender to the crossword puzzle portion of the human mind. So, uh, the main thing about it is that it is linguistically dense. It is dense on every level. It has over 63,000 individual words in it. That’s long- more words than most fictional manuscripts have words, period. It has over five thousand characters in it.
Uh, Ulysses was designed as a kind of…Joyce thought of it as his daybook. Uh, it follows the peregrinations of an ordinary Dubliner – this is Ulysses – an ordinary Dubliner through the vicissitudes of his day, his struggles to buy some kidneys to fry for breakfast, his chance meeting with his wife’s lover, so forth and so on. A fairly straightforward exposition of the techniques of literature that have been perfected in the 20th century: stream of consciousness, uh, so forth and so on, slice of life.
Finnegans Wake was designed to be the nightbook to that daybook. So it was conceived of as a dream and one of the questions that undergraduates are asked to shed ink over is whose dream is it and what is this book about? I mean when you first pick it up it’s absolutely daunting. There doesn’t seem to be a way into it. It seems to be barely in English and the notion, you know, that one could, by spending time with this, tease out characters, plot, literary tension, resolution, this sort of thing seems fairly unlikely. Actually it’s one of the few things that really repays pouring effort into it. The first twenty-five pages are incredibly dense and most people are eliminated somewhere in those first twenty-five pages. And so, never, really... It’s a language and you have to gain a facility with it and you have to cheat, that’s the other thing. There’s lots of help cheating because it has spawned a great exegetical literature; all kinds of pale scholars eager to give you the Celtic word lists of Finnegans Wake or a discussion of, uh, the doctrine of the transubstantiation in Finnegans Wake, so forth and so on. Hundreds of these kinds of doctoral theses in Comp Lit have been ground out over the decades.
The reason I’m interested in it, I suppose I should fess up, is because it’s two things clearly. Uh, Finnegans Wake is psychedelic and it is apocalyptic slash eschatological. What I mean by those phrases is – first of all -what I mean by psychedelic is there is no stable point of view. There is no character per se. You never know who is speaking. You have to read into each speech to discover, you know, is this King Mark, Anna Livia Plurabelle, Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, Shem the Penman, Shaun – who is it? Uh, and identities are not fixed. Those of you who have followed my rap over the years, I’m always raving about how psychedelics dissolve boundaries. Well, uh, Finnegans Wake is as if you had taken the entirety of the last thousand years of human history and dissolved all of the boundaries. So Queen Mab becomes Mae West, you know, uh, all the personages of pop culture, politics, art, church history, Irish legend, Irish internecine politics are all swirling, changing, merging – time is not linear. You will find yourself, uh, uh, at a recent political rally then return the court of this or that Abyssinian, uh, emperor or pharaoh, uh. It’s like a trip and the great technique – I was thinking about this as I was thinking about this lecture – the great technique of the 20th century is collage or pastiche. It was originally developed by the, um, Dadaists in Zurich in 1919. Right now it’s having a huge resurgence in the form of sampling in pop music and Joyce was the supreme sampler. I mean, he draws his material from technical catalogs, menus, uh, legal briefs, treaty language, mythologies, dreams, doctor/patient conversations – everything is grist for this enormous, uh, distillery. And yet, you know, what comes out of this once you learn the codes and once you learn to play the game is a Joycian story that all graduates of Ulysses will recognize.
I mean the main- what Joyce was about was an incredible sympathy with common people and an awareness of the dilemma of, uh, you know, being a Jew in Irish Ireland, being a devotee of Scholasticism in the 20th century and of dislocation and of disorientation of being the cuckolded husband, of being the failed divinity student. All of these characters and themes are, uh, familiar. It-it’s quite an amazing accomplishment. There’s nothing quite like it in literature. It had very little, uh, anticipation. The only real anticipator of Joyce in English I think is Thomas Nash, who most people have never heard of. Thomas Nash was a contemporary of Shakespeare and, and wrote a famous – I don’t know what it means in that context – but a novel called, it was called the The Wayfaring Traveler. Anyway, Nash had this megalomaniac richness of language. This attitude that it’s better to put it in than take it out and, and that’s certainly what you get with Joyce. I mean, Joyce is so dense with technical terms, brand names, pop references, uh, localisms, uh. His- the way to conceive of Finnegans Wake really is like a midden, a garbage dump and there is in fact a garbage dump in the Wake that figures very prominently and what you as the reader have to do is go in there with nut pick and tooth brush and essentially remove one level after another level after another level and sink down and down.
And the theme is always the same, you know. The delivery of the word, the misinterpretation of the word and the redemption of the word in every level at all times and places. Uh, the reason I’ve now gone some distance toward explaining why I think of it as psychedelic; the reason why I think of it as eschatological and apocalyptic is because he really–you know, it’s hard to tell because we don’t have James Joyce around to ask – how much of this material he took seriously and how much was grist for his literary mill – but he was perfectly conversant with renaissance theories of magic. The entire book is based on La Scienza Nuova of Giambattista Vico who was a, a um…I don’t even know what you would call him, a Renaissance sociologist and systems theorist. And Joyce once in a famous interview said ‘if the whole universe were to be destroyed and only Finnegans Wake survived that the goal had been that then the entire universe could be reconstructed out of this.’
Some of you who are students of Torah, this is a very Talmudic idea, that somehow a book is the primary reality. You know – the idea in Hassidism in some schools is that all of the future is that all of the future is already contained in the Torah. Then when you ask, well if its contained there, then isn’t it predestined – the answer is no because the letters are scrambled and only the movement of the present moment through the text correctly unscrambles and arranges the letter. This is Joyce thinking for sure and it’s, it's very close to a central theme in Joyce and a central theme in the Western religious tradition, which is the coming into being the manifestation of the word, the declension of the word into matter. And, uh, uh, in a sense what Joyce was trying to do, he was in that great tradition of literary alchemy whose earlier practitioners were people like Robert Flood, Athanasius Kircher, Paracelsus; these are not familiar names but in the late flowering of alchemy when the birth of modern science could already…the rosy glow could already be seen, the alchemist turned toward literary allegory in the 16th and early 17th century.
Joyce is essentially in that tradition. I mean, this is an effort to condense the entire of experience, all, all-as Joyce says in the Wake, all space-time in a nutshell is what we’re searching for here. A, a kind of philosopher’s stone of literary associations from which the entire universe can be made to blossom forth. And the way it’s done is through pun and tricks of language and, uh, double and triple and quadruple entendre. Uh, no word is opaque, every word is transparent and you see through it to older meanings, stranger associations. And as your mind tries to follow these associative trees of connection, you eventually, you, you get the feeling, which is the unique feeling that the Wake gives you. It’s about as close to LSD on the page as you can get because you are simultaneously many points of view, simultaneously many, uh, uh, dramatis loci, many places in the plot and the whole thing is riddled with resonance. Uh, you know, a man, uh, doing a task on one level is on another level a Greek god completing a task and on another level some other figure of some more obscure mythology. So really one thing about Finnegans Wake, it’s like a dipstick for your own intelligence. What you bring to it is going to determine what you get out. And if you have read the books which Joyce was familiar with, or if you have armed yourself with such simple things as a Fyodor’s guide to Ireland or a good map of Ireland or a good work of Irish mythology then, uh, it immediately begins to betray its secrets to you. And it’s so rich that it’s easy to make original discoveries. It’s easy to see and understand things which probably have not been seen or understood since James Joyce put it there because he had this kind of all-inclusive, uh, intelligence.
Maybe I didn’t make clear enough why that, to my mind, this is an eschatological phenomenon. This production of the philosopher’s stone. It’s about the union of spirit and matter. That’s what the philosophers stone is about. And writing a book, which aspires to be the seed for a living world is about the union of spirit and matter as well. And the, the, um, Christian scenario of redemption at the end of profane history is another scenario of transubstantiate union; union of spirit and matter. This seems to be in fact the overarching theme of Finnegans Wake and of, uh, of the 20th century. In terms of the temporal context for this book. It was finished in 1939, a few months before 1939 and Joyce died early in 1939. In a sense he died in one of the most science fiction moments of the 20th century because the Third Reich was going strong; it had not yet been pegged down a notch, schemes of eugenics and thousand year racially purified super civilizations – all of that crazy early 40’s stuff was happening and the book is surprisingly modern. Uh television appears, psychedelic drugs appear, all of these things appear presciently. He was some kind of a prophet and also he understood the 20th century sufficiently that the part he hadn’t yet lived through was as transparent to him as the part that he had. He could see what was coming.
Well, that’s by way of my introduction. I want to read you what some other people have said about this because I don’t think I can say enough on my own. This is the indispensable book if you’re serious about this, a skeleton key to Finnegans Wake. It takes the view that we don’t know what this thing is so we have to go through it literally line by line and he tells you the story of- entire story in the one page version, in the ten page version and in the two hundred-page version. Even in the two hundred-page version there are sections where Campbell simply reports: the next five pages are extremely obscure. Mark it! But uh, this is, uh, just a short section and one of the things about working with the Wake is - at first this language which is so impenetrable and bizarre, it ends up infecting you and you become unable to write or talk any other way. So I’ll read you some of Campbell’s introduction and I think you will see it’s like the Wake itself except in baby steps.
Introduction to a strange subject. Running riddle and fluid answer, Finnegans Wake is a mighty allegory of the fall and ressurection of mankind. It is a strange book, a compound of fables, symphony and nightmare. A monstrous enigma beckoning imperiously from the shadowy pits of sleep. Its mechanics resemble those of a dream, a dream which has freed the author from the necessities of common logic and has enabled him to compress all periods of history, all phases of individual and racial development into a circular design of which every part is beginning, middle and end. In a gigantic wheeling rebus, dim effigies rumble past, disappear into foggy horizons and are replaced by other images, vague but half consciously familiar. On this revolving stage, mythological heroes and events of remotest antiquity occupy the same spatial and temporal plains as modern personages and contemporary happenings. All time occurs simultaneously. Tristram, Wellington, Father Adam and Humpty Dumpty merge in a single precept. Multiple meanings are present in every line. Interlocking allusions to key words and phrases are woven like fugal themes into the pattern of the work. Finnegans Wake is a prodigious, multifaceted monolith, not only the cauchemar of a Dublin citizen but the dreamlike saga of guilt-stained evolving humanity. The vast scope and intricate structure of Finnegans Wake gives the book a forbidding aspect of impenetrability. It appears to be a dense and baffling jungle, trackless and overgrown with wanton perversities of form and language. Clearly such a book is not meant to be idly fingered. It tasks the imagination, exacts discipline and tenacity from those who would march with it, yet some of the difficulties disappear as soon as the well-disposed reader picks up a few compass clues and gets his bearings. Then enormous map of Finnegans Wake begins slowly to unfold, characters and motifs emerge, themes become recognizable and Joyce’s vocabulary falls more and more familiarly on the accustomed ear. Complete understanding is not to be snatched at greedily in one sitting (or in fifty, I might add). Nevertheless the ultimate state of the intelligent reader is certainly not bewilderment. Rather it is an admiration for the unifying insight, economy of means and more than Rabelaisian humor, which has miraculously quickened the stupendous mass of material. One acknowledges at last that James Joyce’s overwhelming micro/macrocosm could not have been fired to life in any sorcerer furnace less black, less heavy, less murky than this, his incredible book. He had to smelt the modern dictionary back to protean plasma and reenact the genesis and mutation of language in order to deliver his message. But the final wonder is that such a message could be delivered at all.
Every book has to be about something. I mean, so what is this book about? Well, as far as anybody can tell, it appears to be about someone named, uh – well they have hundreds of names actually but for economy's sake, someone named Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker or abbreviated HCE. Humphrey Earwicker runs a pub in Chapelizod, which is a, a, uh, suburb or district of London and he has as it says, his lickle wiffey who is Anna Livia Plurabelle. Now these two people, this barkeep and his wife and their two children, Jerry and Kevin or Shem and Shaun, or, and then they also have hundreds of names because they occur on hundreds and hundreds of level – every brother struggle in history is enacted by the two boys, Jerry and Kevin. They are Shem the penmen and Shaun the other one and they, they dichotomize certain parts of the process. So here is, in one paragraph, this is the cliff notes version of what Finnegans Wake is all about. If you commit this to memory, you will never be caught wanting at a New York cocktail party.
"As the tale unfolds, we discover Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker is a citizen of Dublin. A stuttering tavern keeper with a bull-like hump on the back of his neck. He emerges as a well-defined and sympathetic character, the sorely harrowed victim of a relentless fate, which is stronger than, yet identical with himself. Joyce refers to him under various names, such as here comes everybody and haverich childers everywhere. Indications of his universality and his role as the great progenitor, the hero has wondered vastly leaving families - that is deposits of civilization - at every pause along the way from Troy in Asia Minor (he is frequently called the Turk) up through the turbulent lands of the Goths, the Franks, the Norsemen and over seas to the Green Isles of Britain and Ire. His chief Germanic manifestations are Wotan and Thor. His chief Celtic, Manannán mac Lir. Again, he is Saint Patrick carrying the new faith. Again Strongbow leading the Anglo-Norman conquest. Again Cromwell conquering with a bloody hand. Most specifically, he is our Anglican tavern keeper H.C.E. in the Dublin suburb of Chapelizod.
Like Ulysses, the ground zero here is the utterly mundane – middle class tormented Irish people embedded in the detritus of the 20th century. But there's an effort to never lose the cosmic perspective, never lose the sense that we are, you know, not individuals lost in time but the front ends of gene streams that reach back to Africa that we somehow have all these ancestors and conflicts, warming and storming within it. It’s a, it's a very glorious, psychedelic, heartful, Irish view of what it is to be embedded in the mystery of existence.
Well OK, enough arm waving, now let’s cut the cake here:
riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.
Sir Tristam, violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea, had passencore rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war: nor had topsawyer’s rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselself to Laurens County’s gorgios while they went doubling their mumper all the time: nor avoice from afire bellowed mishe mishe to tauftauf thuartpeatrick: not yet, though venissoon after, had a kidscad buttended a bland old Isaac: not yet, though all’s fair in vanessy, were sosie sesthers wroth with twone nathandjoe. Rot a peck of pa’s malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by arclight and rory end to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsome on the aquaface.
The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner-ronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all Christian minstrelsy. The great fall of the offwall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finnegan, erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to thewest in quest of his tumptytumtoes: and their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock out in the park where oranges have been laid to rust upon the green since devlinsfirst loved livvy.
So, now, granted that the first pages are dense and it isn’t all this dense because even though the concept of fractals lay years in the future, the effort here is to tell the whole damn thing in the first word. To tell it again in the next two words, then to tell it again in the next three words and so on. So here in these first roughly three paragraphs, a huge amount of information is being passed along. Uh, first of all, uh, we’re given a location if we’re smart enough to know it. Riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. Well, now, if you know the geography of Dublin, you know that’s where you are because, and notice Howth Castle and Environs is HCE. These initials recur thousands of times in this book always bringing you back to, to remind you that this has something to do with Humphrey Earwicker.
What this first sentence says is: riverrun. It’s the river Lethe, which we will meet in a thousand reincarnations because Anna Livia Plurabelle is the personification of the goddess river. The river runs past Eve and Adam’s and there is a church there on the shore named Adam and Eve in Dublin. From swerve of shore to bend of bay, then this strange phrase, "brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation". This announces the great architectonic plan of the Wake. That it is fact going to be based on the sociologica; ruminations of Giambattista Vico’s Scienza Nuova. The vicus mode of recirculation because as I’m sure you all know, Vico’s theory of the fall and redemption of mankind was that there were four ages – I can remember gold, silver, iron and clay, I think – and so this idea of the recirculation of the connectedness of the cyclicity of the-as he says, the same again, again and again. Finnegan and again; the same again. This is one of his great, great themes is the recurso. Everything comes again, nothing is unannounced. Every love affair, every dynastic intrigue, every minor political disgrace, and a minor political disgrace figures very prominently in this book because as the carrier of Adam’s sin, the great dilemma for Humphrey Earwicker is he is running for a minor political post, Alderman, but apparently one night, uh, rather juiced – there’s many versions and you hear them all and they’re all given in dreams and mock trials in an accusatory fantasy. He either innocently took a leak in the park or he fondled himself in some way in the presence of Maggie and her sister in such a way that his reputation is now at great risk and it all depends on the testimony of a cad – a soldier or perhaps three soldiers. It’s never clear. It’s constantly shifting. And, uh, this question of, uh, what happened when by the mund of the magazine wall, where our maggy seen all, with her sisterin shawl haunts the book because on it turns the question of whether H.C.E. is a stalwart pillar of the community or in fact a backsliding masturbator and a monster as one always is if one is trapped in a James Joyce novel.
Uh, then this puzzling list in the second paragraph is simply a list of things, which haven’t happened yet. Sir Tristam, lover of music, violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea, had passencore rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war. Now this word penisolate is typical Joyce punning. Peninsulate war because obviously it’s being launched from Brittany. Penisolate war because Sir Tristam is the great archetype of the lover and, uh, so his war is penisolate. So that’s the first thing that has not yet happened, it’s telling you. Sir Tristam has not yet come to Ireland to put it simply. Ummm, "nor had topsawyer’s rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse to Laurens County’s gorgios while they went doubling their mumber all the time." Now this is further obscurity. There is a stream in Georgia and topsawyer is a reference to Tom Sawyer because Tom Sawyer was Huck Finn’s friend. Huck Finn is Finn in America. There is a huge amount of Mark Twain that has been poured into these books because of the Huckleberry Finn connection; Finn in the new world. Um, and Topsawyer’s rocks is a reference possibly to testicles and so forth and so on. Every single word you can just take a word and go into this and- until you exhaust yourself. And then the next thing that has not yet happened: nor avoice from afire bellowsed mishe mishe to tauftauf thuartpeatrick. Tauftauf is Celtic for thou art baptized, so Saint Patrick has not yet baptized in Ireland.
Not yet, though venissoon after, and the venissoon is a pun on[...?] had a kidscad buttended a bland old Isaac. It’s a reference to the Isaac/Esau tale in the bible. It’s also a reference to Isaac Butt who was a figure in the politics of the Irish rebellion. Not yet, though all’s fair in vanessy, were sosie sesthers wroth with twone nathandjoe. That’s at this point a very obscure reference but there is a great incest and sister theme in Finnegans Wake and the twin- the mistresses of Jonathan Swift become carriers of a huge amount of energy in here as do the mistresses of Thomas Stern, uh, because it’s better to be swift than stern, or something like that.
Uh, and then the last of these things which hadn’t happened yet – "Rot a peck of pa’s malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by arclight and rory end to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsome on the aquaface". That seems pretty obscure to me. According to Joseph Campbell, it’s simply a reference to the presence of God moving over the waters, uh, in the first lines of genesis. "Ringsome on the aquaface". Then this phrase, the fall and the multisyllabic word …bababadal…that word. These are the Viconian thunders and they announce the beginning of each Viconian age. And, and when the thunder speaks, you know then that you’re into a transition. Then it actually launches in the last paragraph into a fairly straightforward evocation of at least the mythological, uh, Finnegan. As you all probably know, there is an Irish drinking ballad of great antiquity called the ballad of Tim Finnegan, or the Ballad of Finnegan’s Wake. And it tells the story of Tim Finnegan who was a hod carrier, a bricklayer’s assistant, and he was given to, uh, hitting the poitín rather hard and he fell from his ladder. It’s the Humpty Dumpty story. He fell from his ladder and he broke his back and his friends waked him in the grand Irish fashion and at the height of the wake, they became so carried away and intoxicated that they upended a bucket of Guinness over his head and he revived and joined the dance.
This is the resurrection. I mean, Tim Finnegan is very clearly for Joyce a Christ figure and here is then the first evocation of Tim Finnegan. The fall, then the Viconian thunder, of a once wallstrait oldparr, which is just an old person, is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy. The great fall of the offwall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finnegan. Now this p-f-t-j-s-c-h-u-t-e, pftjschute, is Norwegian I’m informed and it refers to the act of falling and the act of falling from a hill. Finnegan, erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to thewest in quest of his tumptytumtoes: and their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock out in the park where oranges have been laid to rust upon the green since devlinsfirst loved livvy." This is fairly transparent if you’re Irish or a citizen of Dublin because what it’s talking about is Dublin is imagined to be situated basically in the belly of an enormous giant person who is, uh, Finnegan. Finnegan lies like a giant reclining figure along the liffey there. Husband and wife, river and mountain, and, and this is actually then the focus has changed and now we’re talking about the geography. He was a solid man, erse solid man, but then he the somehow [??] that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to thewest in quest of his tumptytumtoes. If you have a map of Dublin laid out, you can actually see this enormous man in the landscape and there are many enormous men and women in the landscape of this planet. Joyce maps the Dublin geography over all of them. Some of you may know Iztaccihuatl, the magical mountain in Mexico. Iztaccihuatl means the sleeping woman in Toltec and many mountains are imagined to be, um, sleeping people. So here he introduces this theme and, um, this is one paragraph. This is the invocation of Finnegan as hod carrier:
Bygmester Finnegan, of the Stuttering Hand, freemen’s maurer, lived in the broadest way immarginable in his rushlit toofarback for messuages before joshuan judges had given us numbers or Helviticus commutted deuteronomy (one yeastyday he sternely struxk his tete in a tub for to watsch the future of his fates but ere he swiftly took it out again, by the might of moses, the very water was eviparated and all the guenneses had met their exodus so that ought to show you what a pentschanjeuchy chap he was!) and during mighty odd years this man of hod, cement and edifices in Toper’s Thorp piled buildung supra buildung pon the banks for the livers by the Soangso. He addle liddle phifie Annie ugged the little craythur. Wither hayre in honds tuck up your part inher. Oftwhile balbulous, mithre ahead, with goodly trowel in grasp and ivoroiled overalls which he habitacularly fondseed, like Haroun Childeric Eggeberth he would caligulate by multiplicables the alltitude and malltitude until he seesaw by neatlight of the liquor wheretwin ‘twas born, his roundhead staple of otherdays to rise in undress maisonry upstanded (joygrantit!), a waalworth of a skyerscape of most eyeful hoyth entowerly, erigenating from next to nothing and celescalating the himals and all, hierarchitectitiptitoploftical, with a burning bush abob off its baubletop and with larrons o’toolers clittering up and tombles a’buckets clottering down."
Now what this paragraph says is he was a great builder and I think if you think back through your impression of hearing it read, you knew that. You know, these words that are associated, words like: a waalworth of a skyerscape and entowerly, these are skyscraper words. Waalworth, skyerscape, entowerly, Howth, so forth and so on. And he can do this; he can build up a pastiche of surfaces, of impressions. Now you might say, why is there no economy? Well there is no economy because economy is an aesthetic criterion for shoemakers, not for artists. And uh, uh, you know, economy is the curse of the Bauhaus babblers from hell. Joyce was very concerned to refute all that. If you have to place this in a context, it’s in the context of the most hallucinatory of the Baroque, uh. You know, this is Arcimboldo land. This is a work that would have been welcome at the Rudolfian court in Prague. It’s a work of magical complexity and uh, and uh, enfolded self-reference.
Now we’ve just been through these first four paragraphs. Now I’ll read you what Joseph Campbell has to say on it and by no means all of what he has to say on it. The first four paragraphs are the suspended tick of time between a cycle just past and one about to begin. They are in affect an overture resonant with all the themes of Finnegans Wake. The dominant motif is the poly-lingual thunderclap of paragraph three, bababada… that one, which the voice of God makes audible through the noise of Finnegans Fall. Narrative movement begins with the life fall and wake of hod carrier Finnegan, pages four to seven; the wake scene fades into the landscape of Dublin and environs.
We’ve just heard how he fell from the ladder. Now we move into a description, um, of the, of the wake and there’s a certain voice that appears at certain times. It’s where there are a lot of words ending in ‘ation’, continuation of that celebration until the examination of the extermination! These are the twelve judges. Each character when they appear has a certain tempo to their character so when that tempo enters the text, you know the character is present even though there may be no trace. For example, Anna Livia Plurabelle tempo is the tempo of the hen: herealittle, therealittle, goalittle, seealittle, doalittle – the hen is scratching. This is this nervous, birdlike – that’s Anna Livia’s signature. Here’s just one paragraph from the wake scene, which builds and has quite a minor amount of humor associated with it.
Shize? I should shee! Macool, Macool, orra whyi deed ye diie? Of a trying thirstay mournin? Sobs they sighdid at Fillagain’s chrissormiss wake, all the hoolivans of the nation, prostrated in their consternation and their duodisimally profusive plethora of ululation. There was plumbs and grumes and cheriffs and citherers and raiders and cinemen too. And the all gianed in with the shoutmost shoviality. Agog and magog and the round of them agrog. To the continuation of that celebration until Hanandhunigan’s extermination! Some in kinkin corass, more, kankan keening. Belling him up and filling him down. He’s stiff but he’s steady is Priam Olim! ‘Twas he was the dacent gaylabouring youth. Sharpen his pillowscone, tap up his bier! E’erawhere in this whorl would ye hear sich a din again? With their deepbrow fundigs and the dusty fidelios. They laidhim brawdawn alanglast bed. With a bockalips of finisky fore his feet. And a barrowload of guenesis hoer his head. Tee the tootal of the fluid hang the twoddle of the fuddled, O!
Well it’s a drunken Irish wake, that seems clear but there are a lot of things going on. "E’erawhere in this whorl would ye hear sich a din again?" And "he's stiff but he's steady as Priam Olim" – all this Dionysian and sexual imagery is fully explicit. In some ways more realized as a character or more loveable is Anna Livia Plurabelle. Anna Livia Plurabelle is Molly Bloom on acid basically. Molly Bloom, we don’t lose her outlines. We understand Molly because Molly doesn’t offer us that much of her own mind. She stands for the eternal feminine but only in the final soliloquy in Ulysses do we really contact her. Anna Livia, it’s her book. It may in fact be her dream and the whole thing is permeated with her tensions and her cares. As it says, "Grampupus is fallen down" meaning the great father God is at wake. Grampupus is fallen down but grinny sprids the boord meaning Anna Livia is always there. She’s always there and in the wake. Really you could almost say that Molly Bloom’s soliloquy has been expanded to three hundred or four hundred pages and the whole thing is a meditation on the river. The river is the feminine and the first image in the book and the last image are the image of the river. The river dissolves everything and carries it out to sea. Let me read this description of Anna Livia Plurabelle and then we'll go back to the synopsis:
How bootifull and how truetowife of her, when strengly forebidden, to steal our historic presents from the past postpropheticals so as to will make us all lordyheirs and ladymaidesses of a pretty nice kettle of fruit. She is livving in our midst of debt and laffing through all plores for us (her birth is uncontrollable), with a naperon for her mask and her sabboes kickin arias (so sair! so solly!) if yous ask me and I saack you. Hou! Hou! Gricks may rise and Troysirs fall (there being two sights for ever a picture) for in the byways of high improvidence that’s what makes lifework leaving and the world’s a cell for citters to cit in. Let young wimman run away with the story and let young min talk smooth behind the butteler’s back. She knows her knight’s duty while Luntum sleeps. Did ye save any tin? says he. Did I what? with a grin says she.
And we all like a marriedann because she is mercenary. Though the length of the land lies under liquidation (floote!) and there’s nare a hairbrow nor an eyebush on this glaubrous phace of Herrschuft Whatarwelter she’ll loan a vesta and hire some peat and sarch the shores her cockles to heat and she’ll do all a turfwoman can to piff the business on. Paff. To puff the blaziness on. Poffpoff. And even if Humpty shell fall frumpty times as awkward again in the beardsboosoloom of all our grand remonstrancers there’ll be iggs for the brekkers come to mournhim, sunny side up with care. So true is it that therewhere’s a turnover the tay is wet too and when you think you ketch sight of a hind make sure but you’re cocked by a hin.
Well Nora felt that Jimmy would have been much better as a singer. She so states it, that she had great hopes for his voice. She was a very practical women, Nora Barnacle. There wasn’t a literary bone in her body I think. I think that’s what Joyce loved about her, was that that she was the real thing. All these women, Molly, Anna Livia, they all are Nora Joyce for sure.
He, uh, died shortly after it was published although it had been known in manuscript for over ten years to the literati of his circle. It was called Work in Progress. And, um, people didn’t even know if he was serious or not and it was very hard to find a publisher. It was a typographical nightmare. Joyce was going blind and so, you know, trying to keep track of, of the spelling…there’s hardly a standard spelling in there. There’s hardly a word that is not somehow fiddled with and changed around. If you pay attention to what you’re calling ‘life as it is,’ you will discover that it’s not a simple thing at all. That it’s an incr- it's like this.
I used to say when you’re vacuuming your apartment, Rome falls nine times an hour and your job is to notice. You always do notice but you never tell yourself that you’re noticing. So in the course of a day, you know, I live and you live to some degree the entirety of global civilization. Rome falls, Algebra is discovered, the Turks are beating at the gates of Vienna and it isn’t even 11AM yet, you know? Uh, so there is this sense of the co-presence of history. We’re imprisoned inside the linear assumption that I’m a person in a place, in a time, I’m alive, most people aren’t – but, but in fact when you deconstruct all that - that is fiction. And the truth is more this onrushing magma of literary association and, you know, in Ulysses you get an enormous amount of half-baked science. Leopold Bloom is always looking at things and explaining to himself how they work using very crack potted notions of hydraulics and electricity and this sort of thing.
Uh, I think uh, you know..people say that the psychedelic experience is hard to remember, that dreams are hard to remember but harder to remember than either of those is simply ordinary experience. You lie in the baths and you close your eyes for thirty seconds and...empires fall, dynastic families unfold themselves, power changes hands, princes are beheaded, a pope disgraced [??] that was for you [laughter] (Possibly directed at Robert Anton Wilson?) and then somebody drops something and you wake up and fifteen seconds have passed. That’s the reality of life but we suppress this chaotic irrational side. The genius of Joyce and to some degree although in a more controlled form, Proust - and there were other practitioners, Faulkner certainly – what they called stream of consciousness but what it was, was an ability to really listen to the associating mind without trimming, pruning, judging or denying. One of the great puzzles to me is the great antagonism between Jung and Joyce because you would have thought they would have been comrades in arms but Joyce loathed psychoanalysis. He didn't- he thought that to use all this material to elucidate imagined pathologies was very uncreative use of it and it should all be fabricated into literature.
It’s very hard to surpass. Uh, you know, Thomas Pynchon, William Gaddis, these people – everybody genuflects to Joyce but very few people plow in the way he did. I mean, Thomas Pynchon is considered a difficult hallucinatory writer and there isn’t twenty pages in, in Gravity’s Rainbow as obscure as a randomly chosen page here. Uh..I, I can understand the impulse to want to get the universe into a book because it hints at something that we’ve talked about in some of these circles or whatever they are – which is the character of life is like a work of literature. We are told that you’re supposed to fit your experience into the model which science gives you - which is probabilistic, statistical, predictable and yet it's- the felt datum of experience is much more literary than that. We fall in love, we make and lose fortunes, we inherit houses in Scotland, we lose everything, we get terrible diseases, we’re cured of them or we die of them – but it all has this, um, Sturm und Drang aspect to it which physics is not supposed to have but which literature always has. And, I think that- don’t know if it’s true but I think what Joyce believed and what I’m willing to entertain at some depth is the idea that salvation is somehow an act of encompassing comprehension. That salvation is an actual act of apprehension of understanding and that this act of apprehension involves everything.
This is why the alc- why before James Joyce and this kind of literature, the only place you got these kind of constructs was in alchemy and magic. The idea that, you know, through an act of magic, the universe could be condensed to yield a fractal microcosm of itself. Well then what Joyce is saying is that the novel, which was unknown in the alchemical era – the novel comes later – I mean, arguably but the real zest of the novel comes in the 19th century and that the novel is the alchemical retort into which these, these theories of how things work can be cast. I think the great modern exponent of this, although now dead, and certainly one who owed an enormous debt to Joyce was Vladimir Nabokov, especially in Ada. Ada is his paean of praise to Finnegans Wake basically and the idea tact in there is the idea of causality and of ordinary casuistry.
See, that- what all these people are saying, I think, and what the psychedelic experience argues for as well, is that we are somehow prisoners of language and that somehow, you know, if we’re prisoners of language then the key which will set us loose is somehow also made of language. What else could fit the lock? Somehow an act of poetic legerdemain is necessary and Joyce in Finnegans Wake, he didn’t live to argue the case or to work it out. He died shortly after but this comes about as close as anybody ever came to actually pushing the entire contents of the universe down into about fourteen cubic inches.
Joyce and Proust had one meeting and supposedly Joyce said to Proust, ‘I’m too young for you to teach me anything.’ Are you all familiar with The Remembrance of Things Past? Well, it could hardly be a more different work of literature. I mean, it is stately and cinematic and you always know where you are and the characters are defined. It’s an old style novel but there are places in it where he just takes flight and, uh, prefigures the kind of writing that Faulkner and Joyce were able to do. As far as psychedelic influences, I don’t, I don't know that there are arguably any. Joyce lived in Trieste for a while and taught English. He may have been, as a habitué of Paris, he may have been familiar with hashish. He probably had some familiarity with absinthe, but I doubt that it was a lifestyle for him.
Um..I think that the whole of the 20th century is informed by this hyper dimensional understanding and you know, Jung tapping into it the 1920s, the Dadaists in 1919 in Zurich, the surrealists, even earlier, the ecole du Pataphysique, Jarry. What it’s about, the 20th century…McLuhan’s phrase comes to mind, the Gutenberg Galaxy. The spectrum of effects created by print, you know, the classes the conceits, the industries, the products, the attitudes, the garments, all of the things created by print. And we are living in a terminal civilization. I don’t want to say dying because civilizations aren't animals but we are living in an age of great self-summation. What we look back at is basically since the fall of Rome there has been an unbroken working-out of certain themes – Scholasticism, the Aristotelian and Platonic corpuses, Christianity, always presented as, uh, somehow a rival to science is in fact- paves the way for science. There would have been no science had their not been William of Ockham, who was a 14th century Nominalist theologian. Really Western civilization has had a thousand years to work its magic and now there is a summation underway and I don’t certainly presume, uh, at least not this evening, to judge it. How do, how do you place a value on an entire civilization?
But, uh, in the same way that when a person dies their entire life passes before them in review – when a civilization dies, it, it hypnogogically cycles the detritus of centuries and centuries of struggle to understand. And, uh, someone like Joyce, I think, just brings that to an excruciating climax because it’s all there. It’s all there from the smile that tugs at the lips of the woman Arnolfini wedding to quantum physics to what Moliere said to his niece in the 15th letter and so forth and so on. And uh, and the, and uh the task is to hold it in your mind. I think it was William James who said, ‘if we don’t read the books with which we carefully line our apartments, then we’re not better than our dogs and cats.’ And uh, you know, too often this is lost sight of and the point of it - it’s not simply that we are asthetes, literatures and that here in the twilight of the gods we should sit around reading James Joyce – that isn’t the point. The point is that this is the distillation of our experience of what it is to be human and it’s out of these kinds of distilling processes that we can launch some kind of new, uh, new dispensation for the human enterprise because we have played it, we have played it out. It’s now a set piece, all of it.
When I listen to Rock & Roll now, it’s interesting to me but it has the completeness of, uh, polyphony. You know, it’s a done deal somehow and we’re looking backward and we’re anticipating. The purpose of literature, I think, is to illuminate the past and to give a certain guidance as we move into the future. And this book by being at first so opaque and so challenging to aesthetic canons and social values eventually emerges as a very prescient insight into our, uh, our, our circumstances. The ballad of Finnegans Wake has hundreds of verses. In an Irish pub it can keep people going all night, uh, all night long.
It’s a celebration of complexity and the human journey and Joyce doesn’t judge. I mean, you know, it says somewhere in Finnegans Wake – "here in the Moy Cane, which is the red-light district of Dublin – Here in Moy Cane we flop on the seamy side, but up n’ent, prospector, you sprout all your worth and you woof your wings, so if you want to be Phoenixed, come and be parked." That’s that passage about death. It was a very optimistic transformative sort of vision. Somehow complexity is the ocean that we have to learn to surf. That’s the river and that’s the psychedelic side of it. Imagine that you can get 63,000 different words in here, tell a story and have all article- all the common articles and modifiers operating normally anyway and then it’s very optimistic. I mean, Molly Bloom’s speech, uh, is, you know, probably the single most optimistic outpouring in all of 20th century literature, not that there was much competition. Yes, yes the final affirmation, yes.
Sam Beckett, Nobel prize winner, genius in his own right, but secretary to James Joyce for many, many years and passionately in love with Joyce’s tragically schizophrenic daughter. One of the, you know, you want an unhappy story, you’ll find out why Sam Beckett is not exactly laughing all the time because of a very complex relationship to Joyce’s schizophrenic child. Joyce’s family life was not very happy. I think he had a wonderfully sensuous life with Nora but I don’t know what it would be like to be the guy who wrote this book and lived with a woman who thought you would be better off as a saloon singer. Uh, not exactly a saloon singer but still….
Shall I try and find a passage?
“Let us now, weather, health, dangers, public orders and other circumstances permitting, of perfectly convenient, if you police, after you, policepolice, pardoning mein, ich beam so fresch, bey? drop this jiggerypokery and talk straight turkey meet to mate, for while the ear, be we mikealls or nicholists, may sometimes be inclined to believe others, the eye, whether browned or nolensed, find it devilish hard now and again even to believe itself. Habes aures et num videbis? Habes oculos ac mannespalpabuatus? Tip! Drawing nearer to take our slant at it (since after all it has met with misfortune while all underground), let us see all there may remain to be seen.
But I am a worker, a tombstone mason, anxious to pleace averyburies and jully glad when Christmas comes his once a year. You are a poorjoist, unctuous to polise nopebobbies and tunnibelly soully when ‘tis thime took o’er home, gin. We cannot say aye to aye. We cannot smile noes from noes. One cannot help noticing that rather more than half of the lines run north-south in the Nemzes and Bukarahast directions while the others go west-east in search from Maliziies via Bulgarad for tiny tot though it looks when schtschupnistling alongside other incunabula it has its cardinal points for all that.”
Tip. Now, this word tip which keeps occurring throughout the text, uh, i-, no one is clear what it means, but Joe Campbell’s guess is it’s a tree branch which is tapping against the window, and whoever is dreaming this huge hallucinatory gizmo of a dream, every once in a while the tap of the branch breaks, breaks through.
McLuhan, I don't know how many of you recall him from the 60's, but he had for a very brief period of time, about 5 or 6 years, an extraordinary influence on American culture. You couldn't pick up a magazine or turn on the TV without hearing McLuhan, McLuhan, what he said, what he thought, what he predicted. He was consulting with Madison avenue, with politicians, with Hollywood, um, so forth and so on. Add it- his influence, he died in the early 70's and his influence died with him. Even though he had uh, founded the Center for Media Study at the University of Toronto in Canada, he really seemed to spawn no highly visible successors. Was a unique, um personality and breakthrough much in the same way that Joyce was a unique personality and uh, and spawned very few imitators. And the irony of this is that McLuhan did his journeyman work before he burst onto the world stage as this mysterious savant of media, he did his work as a Joyce scholar. That's what he was, uh a literary critic, Joyce scholar, medievalist, that sort of thing. And then in the early 50's or middle 50's he wrote a book which I never read. It's very hard to find, called the Mechanical Bride that was his first testing of his um, ideas.
Um, McLuhan is primarily understood as a communication theorist or a philosopher of media, and that's what he talked about. He turned the analytical, Western, deconstructionist method on the technologies of communication: uh, printing, film, photography, dance, theater, even such things as uh, money he thought of as forms of media, and he carried out and analyzed these forms of media and reached uh, very controversial conclusions. One of the things that was puzzling to me as I went back through and read all this is one of the things was McLuhan was synonymous with incomprehensibility in the 60's. I mean, the whole thing was "who can understand this guy!" You know, he's like buddha, he speaks these words we can't understand. Well, now, 25, 30 years later it reads pretty straightforwardly, and uh, most of what he s- predicted has come to pass. I think even McLuhan would be amazed at the speed with which the Gutenberg world has been overturned. I mean there's no hint in here of home computers, let alone interactive networks, virtual reality, uh phone sex and so forth and so on, but these wer- this was all grist for the McLuhanesque mill and had he lived he would have much to say on all this. It surprised me on reading all this stuff how demanding it is on your own um, literacy. I mean you basi- he assumes basically that the people he's talking to have read everything, and have understood it. I mean from Homer to Rabalaise, to Chaucer to mamet. He assumes you have complete knowledge of modern film and popular journalism and popular culture. All of this was grist for his mill. Um, I'll show you the books I'm reading from and talking about, and then I'll actually read you a section of McLuhan because it's a- like Joyce it's a stylistic thing that you can't really uh, encompass without getting your feet wet. Um, this was his best known book probably, and this is the original paperback edition. This book was im- immensely discussed when it came out and probably very little read judging by the quality of the discussion. Understanding Media: The Extensions of man. This is how most people heard of uh, McLuhan, and he followed it up with um, The Gutenberg Galaxy. These are all first editions. These books I don't think are in print. Few intellectuals in this century have fallen so totally through the cracks uh, as McLuhan. The Gutenberg Galaxy, very interesting. I'm going to read from some of it tonight. It's organized around chapter headings such as "Does the interiorization of media such as letters alter the ratio among our senses and change mental processes?" Or um "Popes Duncead indicates the printed book as the agent of a primitivistic and romantic revival. Sheer visual quantity evokes the magical resonance of the tribal horde. The box office looms as a return to the echo chamber of bardic incantation. That's a chapter heading. [audience laughter]. Um, Topographic -- The voice of silence, and one of my favorites: -- along the electronic wave as triu
There's a lot of sun in McLuhan and this comes out of him being a Joyce scholar. You just can't mess with that withoug--. This is his third book "With Harley Parker Through The Vanishing Point.. And I guess I should say a few years ago somebody asked me to review McLuhan's letters which had been published, which I did. It was uh, Gnosis or somebody. Anyway it brought back to me uh, he was a convert to Catholicism and an extraordinarily complex intellectual uh, with uh a medievalist who became a Joyce scholar who became a communications expert, and in McLuhan there's a very deep strain of nostalgia for the essence of the medieval world of what he called manuscript culture, and essentially his entire output is a critique of print and of the impact of print on uh, culture, a- w- and I think though he attempted to be fairly even-handed, his final resolution of all this was that it had, it had had many many det- detrimental and distorting effects uh, on the Western mind. This is another little book he published back in the heyday, and he experimented with topographic layout uh, some work hearkening back to the surrealists whom he discusses a great deal. Uh, and there was something about- it was his fascination with topographical layout that also brought him inso such congruence with the Wake. So let me read you a section from The Gutenberg Galaxy that is both interesting to think about or if you can't understand it, then an interesting example of uh what McLuhan's style was like and what I mean by that he was an extraordinarily demanding intellectual he doesn't cut you much slack. This is a short section called "Only a Fraction of the History of Literacy has Been Typographic."
"Til now we have been concerned mostly with the written word as it transfers or translates the audial-tactile space of sacral non-literate man into the visual space of civilized or literate or profane man. Once this transfer, or metamorphosis occurs we are soon in the world of books, scribal or typographic. The rest of our concern will be with books, written and printed, and the results for learning and society. From the 5th century BC to the 15 century AD the book was a scribal product. Only one third of the history of the book in the Western world has been typographic. It is not incongruous, therefore, to say as G.S. Brett does in 'Psychology, Ancient and Modern.' And Here's the quote: The idea that knowledge is essentially book learning seems to be a very modern view probably derived from the medieval distinctions between clerk and layman with additional emphasis provided by the literary character of the rather fantastic humanism of the 16th century. The rather unnatural idea of knowledge is that of cunning or the possession of wit. Odysseus is the original type of thinker, a man of many ideas who could overcome the Cyclops and achieve a significant triumph of mind over matter. Knowledge is less a capacity for overcoming the difficulty of- difficulties of life and achieving success in this world." So that closes the quote.
Then McLuhan comments: "Brett here specifies the natural dichotomy which the book brings into any society. IN addition to the split within the individual of that society, the work of James Joyce exhibits a complex clairvoyance in these matters. His Leopold Bloom of Ulysses, a man of many ideas and many devices, is a freelance salesman. Joyce saw the parallels on one hand between the modern frontier of the verbal and the pictorial and on the other between the homeric world poised between the old sacral culture and the new profane or literate sensibility. Bloom, the newly de-tribalized Jew, is presented in modern Dublin, a slightly de-tribalized Irish world. Such a frontier is the modern world of the advertisement. Congenial, therefore, to the tran- to the transitional culture of Bloom. In the 17th, or Ithaca episode of Ulysses we read, "what were habitually his final meditations of some one sole unique advertisement to cause passers to stop and wonder a poster novelty with all extraneous accretions excluded, reduced to its simplest and most efficient terms not exceeding the span of casual vision and congruous with the velocity of modern life. In
The Books at the Wake
, James S. Atherton points out, and here's Atherton's quote: "Amongst other things, Finnegans Wake is a history of writing. We begin with writing on a bone, a pebble, a ram's skin, leave them to cook in the mothering pot, and guten morg with his cro magnon charter, tinting fats and grate prime must once for omnibus step rubric-red out of the word press. The mothering pot is an allusion to alchemy- that there is some other significance connected with writing, for the next time the word appears it is again in a context concerning improvement in a system of- in systems of communication. The passage is "all the airish cygnics of her dippendump helpabit from an father hogum told them mutter maskins. Dippendump helpabit combined the deaf and dumb alphabet signs in the air or 'airish signs' with the ups and downs of the ordinary ABC and the more pronounced up and downs of Irish oggam writing. The mason, following this must be the man of that name who invented steel pen nibs, but all I can suggest for mother is the mothering of freemasons which does not fit the context, although they of course also make signs in the air. Is that perfectly clear? [audience chuckles]
Now back to
. "Guten Morg with his cromagnon charter" expounds by mythic gloss the fact that that writing meant the emergence of the caveman or sacral man from the audible world of simultaneous resonance into the profane world of daylight. The reference to the masons is to the world of the bricklayer as a type of speech itself. On the second page of the Wake Joyce is making a mosaic, an Achilles shield, as it were, of all the themes and modes of human speech and communication. "Bygmester Finnegan, of the Stuttering Hand, freemen's maurer, lived in the broadest way immarginable in his rush-lit toofarback for messuages before joshuan judges had given us numbers ..." Joyce is, in the Wake, making his own Altamira cave drawings of the entire history of the human mind, in terms of its basic gestures and postures during all phases of all human culture and technology. As his title indicates, he saw that the wake of human progress can disappear again into the night of sacral or auditory man. The Finn cycle of tribal institutions can return in the electric age, but if again, then let's make it a wake, or awake, or both. Joyce could see no advantage in our remaining locked up in each cultural cycle as in a trance or dream. He discovered the means of living simultaneously in all cultural modes while quite conscious. This means he cites for such self-awareness and correction of cultural bias in his "collideroscope." This term indicates the interplay in colloidal mixture of all components of human technology as they extend our senses and shift their ratios in the social kaleidoscope of cultural clash: "deor," savage, the oral or sacral, "scope", the visual or profane and civilized.
So that's his comment. Only a fraction of the history of literacy has been typographic. These people, Joyce, um to some degree Pound, uh, McLuhan, they were the prophets of the world in which we now stand, the world of uh, integrated, interactive media, extraordinary data retrieval that erases the 17th century notion of the unconscious. Nothing is now unconscious if your data search commands are powerful enough. And uh, the, the remaking of the human image that required centuries for print, the transition that we talked about in here from scribal culture to true book culture occupied five hundred years. The transition from book culture to electronic culture has occurred in less than fifty years. I mean it- it's eerie to read his examples of contemporaneity because they're stuff like Marilyn Monroe, Perry Como, James Dean. I mean, he's writing from another era and yet from his point of view he's firmly embedded in a kind of super future that we are uh, now able to look back on.
Here's another section that I think makes some of this more clear. The name of this section is "The medieval book trade was a secondhand trade, even as with the dealing today in old masters." Then, from the twelfth century onwards the rise of the universities brought masters and students into the field of book production in class time, and these books found their way back to the monastic libraries when students returned after completing their studies: "A number of these standard textbooks, which- of which approved exemplars were kept for copying by the stationarii of the universities, naturally found their way into print quite early, for many of them continued in undiminished request in the fifteenth century as before. These official university texts offer no problems of origin or nomenclature." And then he's quoting Goldschmidt. He adds, "Soon after 1300 the expensive vellum could be dispensed with and the cheaper paper made the accumulation of many books a matter of industry rather than of wealth." Since, however the student went to lectures pen in hand and "it was the lecturer's task to dictate the book he was expounding to his audience," there is a great body of these reportata which constitute a very complex problem for editors. "
So really, like for Joyce, for McLuhan the book is the central symbol of the age, the central mystery of our time. In a sense I sort of share that notion. It's a very Talmudic notion. It's a very psychedelic notion. It's the idea that somehow the career of the word is the central uh, overarching metaphor of the age. And naturally if the book is the central metaphor for reality then reality itself is seen as somehow literary, somehow textual, and this in fact is how I think reality was seen until the rise of modern science. That we're always taught you know that the roots of modern science go back to Democratean atomism um which is of course true, but the number of people who knew that a thousand years ago was probably very few. Uh, the, the real notion out of which science had to divest itself is the notion uh, of a book or if that seems too concrete, a story, a narrative. The story of mans fall and redemption. That was what the Christian Exegesis of uh, post edenic time was all about. With the rise of modern science the idea of narrative hs become somewhat overthrown. McLuhan would say that narrative persisted far beyond its utility because the um, biases of print kept it in place for such a long time. Everyone assumes that tools are tools and you use them and that's that. For McLuhan the entirety of the toolkit of wa- of modern western man can be traced to the unconscious assumptions of print. For example, the idea of the individual which is a pretty personal notion right there in close to the heart. The idea of the individual is a post-medieval concept legitimized by print. The idea of the public, this concept did not exist before uh, newspapers because before newspapers there was no public. There were only people, and uh rulers very rarely bothered to pass on their thinking to anybody other than their closest associates, and then only for utilitarian reasons. The notion of an observing citizenry, somehow sharing the governance of society, this again is a print-created idea. Uh, the idea of interchangeable parts which- without which our world would hardly function, there would not be automobiles, buildings, aircraft, interchangeable parts. That's an idea that comes from the interchangeability of letters in a printer's block. Uh, f- all- that was the first industry to ever utilize the concept of uh, easily reformulated subunits. And it's strange, you know, the Chinese get credit for inventing printing thousands and thousands of years before Europe, but they would carve a single block of wood and print it. They didn't get the notion of moveable type. And moveable type, the distribution of books becomes the paradigmatic model for the distribution of any product, you know? Uh, you- it's produced, it's edited, it's uh, manufactured, it's sold and then sequels are spawned. All products have followed this model, but books were one of the earliest mass-manufactured objects to be put through this cycle. Modern city planning, the linearity of it, the way in which land surveys are carried out- these are all unconscious biases imbibed from the world of print, and they make sense if you're a print-head. But one of the peculiar things, uh, notice that animals do not possess language. Uh, many human societies do not possess writing and very few human societies, only two on earth, invented printing and yet once invented it feeds back into the evolution of social structures and defines everything. And yet it's an extraordinary uh, artificiality and we have been imprisoned in it for hundred and hundreds of years now. Now it is breaking down and uh, we are changing to a different sensory ratio and you might suppose if you hadn't give this a lot of thought that the new electronic media, television and so forth would carry us into an entirely different sensory ratio. McLuhan felt differently. He felt that it was restoring us to a medieval sensory ratio. He felt that television screen is much more like an illuminated manuscript than a page of print. The distinction may seem subtle at first but if, if you're looking at an illuminated medieval manuscript, notice I said looking, you must look in order to understand. Reading is not looking. Reading is an entirely different kind of behavior. As a child you learn what an 'e' looks like, what a printed lower case 'e' looks like. After seeing twenty, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand you know what it looks like. You have an expectation of the gestalt of the lower case 'e'. And nobody opens a book and looks at print unless there's some extraordinary abstract discussion going on. We read print but we look at manuscript because manuscript carries the intrinsic signification of the individual who made it and his or her inter- idiosyncracies need to be parsed through to get the meaning. SImilarly with television, television, uh, is a very low resolution media. I mean these are little pieces of light, pixels flying back and forth, and they must uh, be looked at. They cannot be read, uh, and it's an extraordinarily engaging process. It's- that's why it's uh, creates an entirely different set of social biases than print does. And McLuhan called these biases, and was the one distinction or the one idea of his that made its way into popular culture. He distinguished between what he called hot and cold media. And usually people botch this every time because nobody really to this day understands exactly um, what he meant. So let me read you a little bit about this distinction. This is in chapter two of understanding media, and chapter two is called "Media, hot and cold."
"The rise of the waltz," explained Curt Sachs in the World History of the Dance,"was a result of that longing for truth, simplicity, closeness to nature, and primitivism, which the last two-thirds of the eighteenth century fulfilled." In the century of jazz we are likely to overlook the emergence of the waltz as a hot and explosive human expression that broke through the formal feudal barriers of courtly and choral dance styles." But obviously it was. I mean, when you contrast it with what came before.
"There is a basic principle that distinguishes a hot medium like radio from a cool one like the telephone, or a hot medium like the movie from a cool one like TV. A hot medium is one that extends one single sense in "high definition." High definition is the state of being well filled with data." I love that. "
A photograph is, visually, "high definition." A cartoon is "low definition," simply because very little visual information is provided. Telephone is a cool medium, or one of low definition, because the ear is given a meager amount of information. And speech is a cool medium of low definition, because so little is given and so much has to be filled in by the listener. On the other hand, hot media do not leave so much to be filled in or completed by the audience. Hot media are, therefore, low in participation, and cool media are high in participation or completion by the audience. Naturally, therefore, a hot medium like radio has very different effects on the user from a cool medium like the telephone. A cool medium like hieroglyphic or ideogrammic written characters has very different effects from the hot and explosive medium of the phonetic alphabet. The alphabet, when pushed to a high degree of abstract visual intensity, became typography. The printed word with its specialist intensity burst the bonds of medieval corporate guilds and monasteries, creating extreme individualist patterns of enterprise and monopoly. But the typical reversal occurred when extremes of monopoly brought back the corporation, with its impersonal empire over many lives. The hotting-up of the medium of writing to repeatable print intensity led to nationalism and the religious wars of the sixteenth century. The heavy and unwieldy media, such as stone, are time binders. Used for writing, they are very cool indeed, and serve to unify the age; whereas paper is a hot medium that serves to unify spaces horizontally, both in political and entertainment empires." And he just goes on like this endless, and this was his metier, or his media to connect and comment, um, on this stuff, and television, really with his, both his own media for reaching a very large audience. In fact, I remember the excitement that swept through. I didn't even have a television at the time. I was living in Berkeley at the time and somebody said "we have to go up to the student union at 6 o'clock because Mike Wallace is interviewing Marshall McLuhan, and it seemed like an incredibly freaky notion that McLuhan would be on TV. It, it shows you what a stultified, categorically different world we were living in uh, at the time. Here's just a little bit of uh, of McLuhan on television. This is chapter 31 of Understanding Media, The Timid Giant.
Perhaps the most familiar and pathetic effect of the TV image is the posture of children in the early grades. Since TV, children- regardless of eye condition - average about six and a half inches from the printed page. Our children are striving to carry over to the printed page the all-involving sensory mandate of the TV image. With perfect psychomimetic skill they carry out the commands of the TV image. They pore, they probe, they slow down and involve themselves in depth. This what they had learned to do in the cool iconography of the comic-book medium. TV carried the process much further. Suddenly they are transferred to the hot print medium with its uniform patterns and fast lineal movement. Pointlessly they strive to read print in depth. They bring to print all their senses, and print rejects them. Print asks for the isolated and stripped-down visual faculty, not for the unified sensorium." You see?
So, often very unexpected paradoxical insights emerge from this stuff, and in this book that he did with Harley Parker, "Through The Vanishing Point, Space and Poetry and Painting", uh, it's an interesting technique. They take a number of works of art, either um, literature such as the song from Love's Labor Lost by William Shakespeare, or the Ballade De Bon Consil of Geoffrey Chaucer, or the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and then comment on it and also visual arts, because McLuhan really felt that the art historical and technological and architectural output of Western civilization could be essentially psychoanalyzed, could be seen as the tracings of the mass consciousness, and the, uh- he felt that the evolutionary sensory ratios within historical time had been very very rapid, that uh, for example, he talks about how St. Augustine was a person of great piety and learning, and um, people doubting this would show him an open page of scripture or theological desputation, and he would look at it for a few moments, minutes, and then they would close the book and he could tell them what was written there, and this was taken as proof of his piety. He was, as far as we can tell, the only man in Europe who could read silently at that time. This was a period when the, the audial uh, pre- uh, scribal culture was still being assimilated.
Uh, McLuhan spends a lot of time analyzing this episode in the 14th century when the laws of perspective spring suddenly into being, uh, as- somewhat in the way, very similar in the way that fractal mathematics have introduced us to a new superspace. For the Rennaissance, spatial perspective was essentially a filing system for visual data. at last they knew where to put everything, and where to look for it once they had put it there, which if you a pre-perspectivist arrangement of space you have look, not read, look at each painting in order to locate where the information is. This is again this read-look dichotomy. McLuhan never discussed psychedelics, uh, but psychedelics I think clearly are an extension of these kinds of media that we have to engage with.
That you have to look at, that you cannot read, you cannot take for granted. And these give back a much more complex world. I mean, notice that the world created by print is a world of gestalt. Buildings, highways, bridges. We know how these things are supposed to look. We don't experience astonishment each time we enter a home or an Institutional edifice. There is a built-in set of syntactical expectations in linear space, and when those are violated this is very noticeable and becomes the basis for architectural or design innovation, or something like that.
I think that what's happening, and I think that this would be McLuhan's take is that all of these new media that attempt to suppress the appurtenances of media are in fact having the effect of returning us to an archaic sensory ratio, and McLuhan was on to this. He is the one who coined the phrase electronic feudalism. And he felt that, that we were headed back toward a medieval sensory ratio because he saw television as like manuscript, but I think had he lived into the era of VR, psilocybin, HDTV and implants, he would've seen we're not reaching back to the Medieval. That was simply a stepping stone to the archaic, and that we are going beyond the entire domain of scribal humanity and actually reaching back to a shamanic, uh, feeling-toned kind of thing, and all of the breakdown of linearity that you see in the 20th century: abstract expressionism, dada, jazz, rock 'n roll, nonfigurative painting, LSD, all of these things on one level can be seen as uh, as I've said, as harking back to the archaic, but on another level what they can be seen as are uh, new behaviors emerging as the cloud of print-constellated constipation is, is lifted, its breaking down. An interesting question that we would put to McLuhan if we had him here tonight I think is to what degree can what he said about Television not be applied to HD TV. It seems to me that HD TV is television without the biases of TV, and you know, a perfect medium is an invisible- a perfect media is an invisible media, and print is the least invisible of all media, I mean, print is an incredible, uh Rube, Rube Goldberg invention for conveying information.
Here's McLuhan on this same subject rather than me dwelling on it. This is from The Gutenberg Galaxy. This is a section called A Theory Of Cultural Change is Impossible Without Knowledge of the Changing Sense Ratios Effected by Various Externalizations of Our Senses, in other words, by media. "It is very much worth dwelling on this matter since we can see that from the invention of the alphabet there has been a continuous drive in the Western World toward the separation of the senses, of functions, of operations, of states emotional and political, as well as of tasks, a fragmentation which terminated, thought Durkheim, in the anomie of the 19th century. The paradox presented by professor Von Bexie is that the two-dimensional mosaic is in fact a multidimensional world of interstructural resonance, it is the 3 dimensional world of pictorial space that is indeed an abstract illusion built on the intense separation of the visual from the other senses. There is here no question of values or preferences. It is necessary however for any other kind of understanding to know why primitive drawing is two-dimensional whereas the drawing and painting of literate human beings tends toward perspective. Without this knowledge we cannot grasp why people ever cease to be primitive or audial tactile in their sense bias. Nor could we ever understand why men have "sense saison" [??] abandoned the visual in favor of the audio-tactile modes of awareness and of organization of experience. This matter clarified, we can much more easily approach the role of alphabet and of printing in giving a dominant role to the visual sense in language and art, and in the entire range of social and political life. For until we have upgraded the visual component communities know only a tribal structure. The detribalizing of the individual has in the past at least, depended on an intense visual life fostered by literacy, and by literacy of the alphabetic kind alone. For alphabetic writing is not unique, but late. There had been much writing before it. In fact, any people that ceases to be nomadic and pursues sedentary modes of work is ready to invent writing. No merely nomadic people ever had writing any more than they ever developed architecture or enclosed space. For writing is a visual enclosure of non-visual spaces and senses. It is therefore an abstraction of the visual from the ordinary sense interplay, and whereas speech is an outering utterance of all our senses at once, writing abstracts from speech.
That's very interesting isn't it, that this association of nomadism to the inability to create architectonic space and therefore no writing. That a word is a structure, a written word is a structure and therefore no nomad would ever do such a thing. Interesting.
I think he's saying reading is not seeing, and those who read do not see, even when they lift their eyes from their books, they, they, they carry the attitude of print into the world. They read, they attempt to read nature, and you can't read nature. You must look at nature. You must see nature. Certainly, I think in my own life, I was thinking about this a few months ago and it surprised me. I'm trying to think of the books that really influenced my life and I thought of, you know, moby dick and huxley's Doors of Perceptions, but then when I really got down on it I realized that a little tiny book Huxley wrote that my mother pushed on me when I was about 12 years old called the art of seeing probably shaped me as much as anything. And in there it's a very n- McLuhanesque rap without McLuhanesque terminology. And he says the way to overocme, and I think this is very very very intelligent and simple advice. Huxley says the way to overcome the print bias, and God knows he was a Cambridge-educated gentleman steeped in the traditions of English literacy and intellectualism, is uh, freehand drawing. Draw. Train your eye. Draw nudes, draw seashells, draw insects and pla- go into nature and train the eye to see and you will cease to read the world. And readers are emotionally-person- a seeing person does not want to form a relationship with the reading person. The- you know, this conflict that we get between men and women and between people about which we call the head-heart conflict is really a reading-seeing conflict. It isn't a head and heart, it's that, it's that readers and seers cannot relate to each others' emotional life because they seem to come from uh, such different worlds. So yeah, I think of uh, a very good point and the, the permission to abstract from nature that print created is why we have such a terrible culture crisis, you know? Because uh, uh, well f- just a kind of a trivial example. You know, it was said, by Marshall McLuhan, strangely enough, that the Vietnam War could not be won the way an ordinary war is won because the citizenry of this country couldn't tolerate the sight of what war was, and that modern warfare became impossible when it could be televised into the living room because war is something that you must read about. You must not see it. It must be this grand thing of the distant clash of armies and young heroes being created, but when it turns into amputation and maggots and screams of pain, the political fun goes out of it. So war is therefore a literary activity and, you know, the one argument that can be made, I think in television's favor, is people don't like to see images of violence. If we have to show so much violence on television, let it always be real. The violence is only indefensible when it's vicarious. If it's real violence you need to see it, because it's happening in a world for which you bear a partial moral responsibility, and I, I think warfare has been remade by media in that sense. A lot of politics has been remade because imperial doings are usually ugly, brutal, and not something that you want to exhibit before the populace. And yet uh, modern media makes that very difficult to avoid.
You know, you get the notion of public morality or, you know, the people won't stand for this! We have to get this story out! The people won't stand for this. Well now, this is a moral dimension inconceivable in medieval or Roman times. What would it mean to say the people won't stand for this? So there's an attempt to create through the collectivity a kind of community of moral uh, of moral judgment. The medium is the message means that the medium is the thing which is making the difference. In all- every discussion you ever hear since the 60's about TV, for example, is it good, is it bad, terrible, wonderful. They always- the discussion hinges around what's on TV. People say "well, television is terrible. It just shows violence." And then somebody else says, "No, television is wonderful. There's nature shows and movies from far away and masterpiece theater. This is a stupid argument. What McLuhan meant by the messa- the media is the message, is he meant that it doesn't matter what you put on TV. TV is TV. It has an intrinsic nature. And whether you're showing National Geographic specials or slasher movies, TV will do what it does. It has certain qualities just like driving a car or skiing, certain muscles are going to be exercised, certain, uh, perceptual systems enhanced, others suppressed. And uh, it's r- it's very hard for us to understand this because, because we have accepted this media so thoroughly into our life, but in fact it is shaping our value systems. Uh, in ways that are very hard for us to suspect or even uh, even detect. I mean, television, for example, uh, it's a drug. It has a series of measurable physiological parameters that are as uh, intrinsically its signature as the paramaters of heroin are its signature. I mean, you sit somebody down in front of a TV set and turn it on, 20 minutes later come back, sample their blood pressure, their eye movement rate, blood is pooling in their rear end, their breathing takes on a certain quality. The stare reflex sets in. I mean, they are thoroughly zoned on a drug, and when you think about the fact that the average American watches six and a half hours of television a day, imagine if a drug had been introduced in 1948 that we all spent 6 and a half hours per day on average watching, and the one thing about drugs in their defense is that it's very hard to diddle the message. A drug is a mirror, but television isn't a mirror. Television is a billboard, and anybody who pays uh, their money can put their message into the trip. This is an extraordinarily uh, insidious situation. What McLuhan wanted to become, I think, was the founder of a general new sophistication about media, and he was essentially parodied to death by guess what, media. They made of him an icon of cultural incomprehensibility. Not since Einstein has somebody, have you been so preprogrammed in advance to believe "you ain't gonna understand this guy." And that's what they said about McLuhan and consequently his message and his insight failed. We will have to reinvent McLuhan around the turn of the century because we are producing forms of media of such interactive uh, power and potential social impact that we're going to have to go back and uh, and rethink all of this.