226 Why a duck, or: Tractatus Wakeo-Logologicus
Still, something rankled and what rankled then still rankles now. A reader may have transversed up and down the entire world literature as we know it and may have read everything loose and tied (as the Dutch seafaring expression goes) – if he has not read Finnegans Wake, he cannot be said to have truly read each and everything, hence will not be the one that we can nor will welcome as our new literary overlord. And who can claim in his right mind really and truelly to have actually read Finnegans Wake? (If the verb ‘to read’ still means anything.) No Wake, no cake.
Joyce’s Opus Ultimae Noctis is hanging like a big black cumulonimbus over the head of any literature lover. Why is it so goddamn hard? What the if you see Kay was he up to, the see you in tea? What is this book, if push comes to shove? (as the first poet Laureate of the Dutch Ex-Republic, Gerrit Komrij, asked us face to face) Is it experimental? Purposely inaccessible? Hermetically closed and private? A giant step back for mankind? A weakening of the bone marrow? A joke (inside or outside) at our expense? Written with the lights off? The delirious drunken rantings of an eye patient? Verbal chop suey? A brave but failed attempt at something, anything?
(Scene. Reporters, flashlights. Joyce, Turko-like, turbaned, is sitting crosslegged in a bazaar. On his knees he has a weaving loom with on one side a knot of various colours red and yellow yarn and on the other a knot of various colours green and blue yarn. Under the table are two suitcases full of potatoes. A herring is swinging over his head. His eye patch is sometimes right, then left.)
– Why, why, why, Mr. Joyce? You who have written the crystalclearest prose in the English language!
– Why why, why a duck. Night has fallen. It is dark. You can hardly see. You can only feel, grope, search.
– Is it maybe ... a dream?
– It’s the night itself. The hour in which young brother meets older brother and doesn’t recognize him yet does recognize him. The hour between dog and wolf. The style is strange and aqueous, as in dreams.
– Is the night then so much different from the day?
– The night is free! No literature after dinner! Against the rules! The unconscious resumes its rights. You can get away with saying stupid things. Nobody minds. Portals of discovery or just plain double or triple talk, with forked and knived tongue. It’s the world behind the façade of polished clean nature. Filthy, gritty, dirty, alive. You have no idea how wonderful dirt is!
– Joyce, you’re wasting your genius. This is outside literature!
– But it will be inside it.
– Nothing short of a divine vision or a new cure for the clap can possibly be worth all the circumambient peripherization.
– But it is, dear Ezra, it is. It’s a wheel and it’s all ... square!
– What are you trying to put into words?
– I’m not trying to put into words, I’m trying to put outside words.
– But isn’t it arbitrary to want to express unconscious night thoughts in a conscious work of literature, or in children’s games, or by using words from sixty languages?
– But it works! The Surrealists went from the unconscious to the conscious, I go the other way round, from the conscious to the unconscious.
- And is it no contradictory that St. Patrick and the arch-druid Berkeley speak Chinese and Japanese to each other in a pub in Chapelizod?
– Still, still, it is a logical and objective method to express a deep conflict, an irreducible antagony.
– But which one? Can you summarize? Tell it differently? Explain?
– Read: it says what it not says too.
– But why so hard! Think of us!
– It has to be so difficult because it can’t be done easily. But the thought is always simple. Read it aloud, it’s as simple as good day, as simple as an orange.
– But Mr. Joyce, puns! Isn’t it trivial?
– Some are trivial, others are quadrivial.
– Is it a mix of literature and music?
– No, it’s musicke pure. The words aren’t tones but chords.
– But it does mean something? Anything? What’s the big idea? What is the purpose, the intention?
– The idea is to make you laugh. In risu veritas.
– Why did you write it this way and not another way?
– To keep the Messrs. Critics occupied for two or three hundred years, that’s all.
– Is that you audience? Who is your audience? Who will read it?
– The ideal reader suffering from an ideal insomnia.
– Who is the protagonist?
– There are no individuals in it. If you needs must have one, it would be an old man, but even his relationship to reality is questionable.
– But who is actually dreaming?
(From the table Joyce takes a black snuffbox in the shape of a coffin, and scatters the contents around, with the words: ‘Now I’ve had it with you.’ End of scene. Curtain.)
Joyce, who in A Portrait was one of the first Western writers to mine dream poetics, in Finnegans Wake makes a giant leap further by laying the ax to the root of the logical structure of the world itself, in the way we perceive it. How does he do this? For the answer dot com to that we must return to Stephen Dedalus, Aristotle, Hamlet and Wittgenstein.
Stephen Dedalus, in A Portrait, argues that Aristotle’s entire system of philosophy rests on his statement that the same attribute cannot at the same time and in the same connexion belong to and not belong to the same subject. It s the same question that Hamlet, reading the words, words words of the Analytika Protera of the Stagirite, poses himself about the faculty of knowledge: It is to be or not to be: it cannot be both. To be and not to be is a logical impossibility, because of the way we perceive the world in the oppressive structures of time and space and causality.
This is the fundamental principle of non-contradiction. Something can not be both red and blue. A particle can not be in two places at once. We can not be both amoeba and apes. You can not simultaneously be Arthur Schopenhauer and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. Want and not-want, be able and unable. Be a Beatle and a Rolling Stone. We can’t imagine spatial objects outside space, temporal objects outside time. You can think space empty, but not empty space, emptiness without space. Such is the ineluctable Nacheinander and Nebeneinander, the logical structure of the world.
That we and the world are knitted and knotted together in this Gordian way is also expressed on several places in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: “Just as we are quite unable to imagine spatial objects outside space or temporal objects outside time, so too there is no object we can imagine excluded from the possibility of combining with others.” (2.0121) And: “For example, the simultaneous presence of two colours at the same place in the visual field is impossibe, since it is ruled out by the logical structure of colour.” (6.3751, but see also 6.124, 6.1233 and earlier)
To Wittgenstein, the problem of the world (cur potius sit quam non sit, why there is something rather than nothing) was a logical problem, intimately tied up with what we can say about the world: “To present in language anything which ‘contradicts logic’ is as impossible as in geometry to present by its coordinates a figure which contradicts the laws of space; or to give the co-ordinates of a point which does not exist.” (3.032)
The principle of non-contradiction continued to occupy Wittgenstein, when he had already evolved out of Wittgenstein I into Wittgenstein II. Although (beginning of aside) the difference between the two Wittgensteins difference shoudn’t be exaggerated: for the most part it is academical distinction, because two different schools of thinking were based on it, schools to which Wittgenstein never belonged. And what else are schools than cages that keep the mind from wondering? What Wittgenstein I put as a statement, Wittgenstein II put as a question. The Tractatus already revolves around thoughts about language and speech. And the problems he considered to be solved in the Tractatus, remained solved for him, only the solution didn’t mean a thing. (end of aside)
Two years later, he showed the picture to Maurice Drury with the question: “Now you try and say what is involved in seeing something as something. It is not easy. These thoughts I’m now working on are hard as granite.” For Wittgenstein, the point was not what changed but what the difference was in that change. One thing was sure: the one thing could not be the other at the same time: a hare was no duck, because that was a logical impossibility.
If something is something and not something else, it follows that it is impossible to say of two things that they are the same. “Incidentally, to say of two things that they are identical is nonsense, and to say of one thing that it is identical with itself is to say nothing at all.” (Tractatus 5.5303) With this irrefutable piece of reasoning for advanced students, Wittgenstein wielding his defining dagger, his fiery sword, his barbar’s razor Occam brand, his popperian poker, expelled the equality sign “=” from the Garden of Pure Mathematics, that Russell & Whitehead were diligently weeding in their Principia Mathematica.* Wittgenstein, ‘beiläufig gesagt’ – between nose and lips, proved that the equality sign was not (and hence could not be) an essential part of symbolic logic, precisely because, eben weil there have to be different signs for different things. And entia non sunt multiplicanda sine ratione. Something cannot be not identical with itself, let alone with anything else. If ‘a = a’ is a pseudo-proposition, then ‘a = b’ is a nonsense-proposition, because if it was (a = b), then ‘b’ would have been ‘a’, and then we wouldn’t have needed different characters (a, b) for both entities, would we now? We invented them purposefully to differ from each other, a and b, so that a is not b.
But what about c? — you will ask, just as nonplussed as nonminused, but very to the point, thereby opening wide the floodgates for all other letters of the alphabet. And that is precisely where Joyce’s dreamed dream language of Finnegans Wake constitues the great step forward for mankind. Joyce does not say: it’s logical, but he says: it’s logos, and with this he identifies language and logic. Because indeed it is in a dream that something can be and can’t be at the same time, that something can be one thing and at the same time something else, and the dreamer doesn’t know whether he dreamed he was a butterfly or is a butterfly that is dreaming that he is Zhuang Zhi, to quote the Asian poet-philosopher.
Joyce’s forcing open of Pandora’s dream repository is diametrically opposed to the avocations and preoccupations of the mystics of the neoceltic twilight movement, Yeats, George ‘AE’ Russell and Lady Gregory, for whom spatial and temporal objects apparently could exist outside of time and space – so the reader ended up with a slip of an empty invisibility cloak full of absence. For the proponents of the “cultic twalette” (FW 344.12) mysticisme meant vagueness: the more little ghosts, leprechauns, banshees, fairies and wisps the better. Joyce took his mysticism from the sewer: “That they may dream their dreamy dreams, I carry off their filthy streams” was his crepitating parting shot to the Dublin literary scene in his 1904 pamphlet The Day of the Rabblement. For Joyce, man was the mystic mystery. For Wittgenstein, logic was on the street, in the words they use and the things they think. Both were extremely down to earth.
With his newfangled Wake, that is sleep and dream language, Joyce implicitly follows Wittgenstein’s adage, quoted above, that “there is no object we can imagine excluded from the possibility of combining with others.” Hence the avalanchous amountains of people and things in Finnegans Wake, because he has set himself the task of unleashing these combinations, that branch out their mandelbrot tentacles in all directions of the labyrinth of Daedalus the inventor, to make of every possibility as possible an actualized or actualizable actuality – and precisely in the way that dreams manage to bring this into reality in the deepest midst of our own brain, and what else is reality than a dream, a colorful veil of Maya with sequins and trinkets and bangles and spangles and fandangles, softly moving in the wind of your open bedroom window and on which the magic lantern of the world is projecting its confused images?
The room in which Earwicker, at the end of chapter I.3, takes refuge from a furious Herr Betreffender who is blowing oatmeal and invectives through the keyhole, automatically becomes a toilet, a telephone booth, a grave and an subterranean homesick mine - all being examples, concrete symbols, incarnations, almost living shadows, of one and the same, originally a room in the bar and hence, more generally ‘a place to hide’, of some body that can hold another body, a container. A shed is a cell is a coffin is a mine.
Whenever three shimmy male figures appear on the scenes, by whatever name, the dreamer’s dream logic has extrapolized the qualities of the three soldiers who were also present in the park and saw the unnameable, unmentionable, unspeakable trespass of Earwicker in the park – and as such the are the archetypes of the enemy. Earwicker’s twin sons Shem and Shaun will fuse into Shemshaun and the three of them are also not only themselves, but also at the same time the harrassing soldiers in the park. Everything which comes in three, automatically brings the three soldiers to the dreaming mind.
Whenever two girls enter the audiovisual field, the two temptresses in the park who prompted Earwicker to his foul crime are implicitly present. Earwicker’s daughter Issy will split into herself and her mirror image and fulfill the role of temptresses as well.
The initials of Earwicker’s name, HCE, crop up at least a thousand times in Finnegans Wake, acronimically, acrostichally, arbitrarily jumbled: whenever they do, the man himself haunts the stage, the ghost walks.
His beloved wife Anna Livia Plurabelle permeates the entire fabric of the Wake, being entirely made of river, and water in general. Her initials too percolate through the story and her voice is unmistakable. Every woman, wife, staunch supporter and every flowing principle, every mega and microwave in the book is simultaneoulsy she.
Similarly, Earwicker’s Mullingar Inn pub, where action takes place is at the same time a rolling and tumbling ship when Earwicker tells the tall tale of the Norwegian Captain and his unfittable hunchback – and becomes the Norwegian Captain as well, simultaneously.
Not only HCE becomes the character he is talking about, his own character is always identified and telescoped with, condensed to, all historical and mythical characters who were brought low by slander and circumstances and things they never did but anybody else would have done in his place as well, each and every fallen hero, from Wellington to Parnell and from Napoleon to Humpty Dumpty.
Likewise, an animal in the park, jumping out of the rushy hollow and at the same time splashing in the lushy pond can be – as an exponent of ‘a presence looming, maybe over the horizon’ - a Viking drakehare with its bowprow poised for invasion. And it could be a canned hare, with the French duck, canard, in it (you’ll never know what you get.) For Joyce it is never either-or but always and-and. Mutually inclusive rather than exclusive.
Something can be something and something else in dreams. This is essentialy a poetical device, but in the meanwhile the muses of music and painting have run away with it, leaving words to the lonely barren signifier to sadly solely signify, denotatively with if heaven is willing a tinge of connotation for the couleur locale. Music – to which Joyce likened Finnegans Wake, doesn’t ‘mean’ anything but says everything, and in painting and drawing, it is much more easy to double or triple the existence of a single object. Take for instance this cubist cup and bowl on the table of Juan Gris (Déjeuner, 1915, detail) which is at the same time a brilliant portrait of our Paris Penman.
This does not mean that wherever the earwiggian insect emerges, it immediately follows there is an insectuous desire at large – this reductionist rigour is only found in the most hardboiled psychiatrists and crossword puzzlers among us. Nowhere in the Wake, as has been demonstrated, however inadequately, something stands for something else. It is always and-and: if it was a crossword puzzle (quod non), it would be more like a dictionary of hapaxes legomena, with definitions in other hapaxes legomena. And if it were a jigsaw puzzle (quod neither), it would be one in which all pieces went missing, or it was made up of pieces from just as many different puzzles.
“The danger lies in the neatness of identification,” warned Samuel Beckett, Joyce’s sorcerer’s apprentice (he hacked his broom to pieces but he could sweep with the splinters). Everything connects to everything but especially to yourself. Panta rhei, everything is in a constant flux, in constant metamorphosis, in constant metaphor, in constant metaphormosis. Words are flowing out like endless rain and they always come with clusters of connotations, fighting to take first place, and to want to define them would be to kill them. That words can only be understood in their context, in the flow of life, is also something that Wittgenstein repeatedly argued.
And this is the essence of the Wakean pun: not the deliberate distortion of words, but the identification of multiple identities using new words. Joyce’s Wakean portmanteau is up till now the most realistic way to write without words, to allow the things to talk in their own language, unfettered by the delineations, the limitations of the conscious brain. Ninetyfive percent of our thinking is done below the surfcae of consciousness, and all our so-called conscious decisions have been unconsciously taken a long time before e think we take them. Joyce is the actual inventer of the stream of unconsciousness, and not the surrealists, who took the bull by the tail and allowed vague sounds, anything that their head came up with to gel into words, instead of mapping the structure of unconscious thought and keeping the fluent flux flowing.
Any resemblance to actual persons or objects or other circumstances in the Wake is based exclusively on the operation of our dreaming brain and the corresponding underlying ontological structures of reality and although everything was intentionally intended by the author, it was also meant to be invested with meaning by the reader. After all, in literature and in dreams, you only meet yourself. The dreamer is the bedreamt one. But also: every dreamer is you: everyone you dream, you make yourself.
Finnegans Wake begins where Ulysses ends. Stephen and Bloom in Ulysses eventually amalgamate into Stoom and Blephen. In the Wake, the characters slowly emerge and individuate from the primal soup, the antediluvian sod, the preconscious Iris stew of the Wake. If Ulysses is the summary of all space in a snippet of time, one day in the life of Dublin, the Nacheinander, then Finnegans Wake is the summary of all time in a snippet of space, Howth Castle and Environs, the Nebeneinander. World history is the nightmare from which we all try to wake up, but somehow we always end up stepping from one dream into the next. Life and dreaming, Schopenhauer said, are pages from the same book and what world history is telling us is nothing more than ‘the long, hard and confused dream of mankind.’
The task that Joyce had set himself was to make this dream logic tangible, and therefore he had to devise a ‘night language’ that is without equal or precedent in world literature or elsewhere, and one that shatteringly topples the logical structure of how we perceive the world in a waking state. Joyce has built a whole new multi-meaningful, insatiably expandable vocabulary with the elasticity of sleep, making rainbows out of sentences in which every drop of water is a prism that takes on a thousand colors. Other writers throw sand in our eyes, but Joyce immediately upsets the entire applecart over us, burying us in sand and gravel and marble columns and milk bottles and shells and parchment, dead sea and toilet rolls etcetera etcetera, a middenhide hoard of objects (FW 19.08), from Tagesreste to imperishable human preoccupations, in all tonearts from awe to zest (FW 560.34).
Joyce invested his aviary alter ego Stephen in A Portrait with a motto, cribbed from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, book viii, line 188: “Et animum ignotas dimittit in artes,” translated: “And he (Daedalus) turned his ingenuity to new creations.” But Daedalus’ doings don’t stop there, the quote in fact goes on, with words that could be inscribed as a motto on the giant belly of the whale called Finnegans Wake: “naturamque novat”: “and changed the laws of nature.” Which is excatly what Stephen’s alter alter ego in real life fiction, the blind bard from Dublin, did in devising his night language and flying to the moon and the stars of the dreaming mind. To dissolve the principle of non-contradiction, so he was able to be and not to be.
“Δος μοι που στω και κινω την γην,” Pythagoras already said: “Give me a place to stand and I will lift the earth.” And behold, 2500 years later Joyce lifted the earth, turned it inside out and put it on his head, like a paper hat.
Note. * The equal sign was first used by Robert Recorde in 1557 in The Whetstone of Wytte, and he explains his invention in the following manner, and note the final clause, which curiously seems to foreshadow its own refutation under the surgical hands of Ludwig Wittgenstein: “... to auoide the tediouſe repetition of theſe woordes : is equalle to : I will ſette as I doe often in woorke vſe, a paire of paralleles, or Gemowe [Gemini, twin] lines of one lengthe, thus: ======, bicauſe noe .2. thynges, can be moare equalle.”
References. Above occurred to me, in a flash, lying sick in a flat in Tushina, Moscow, with Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Willard Potts’ Portraits of the Artist in Exile and David Hayman’s A First Draft Version of Finnegans Wake beside me, when I should have been digging potatoes at the dacha, somewhere late in the 1990s. Earlier versions, with additions of Erik’s, appeared, in Dutch, in Hollands Maandblad 8/9, 2003 (Erik Bindervoet & Robbert-Jan Henkes, ‘De Wakeaanse woordspeling, Een pijp is een stok is een colt is een hek is een kist’) and in Erik Bindervoet & Robbert-Jan Henkes, Finnegancyclopedie, 2005, the chapter ‘W is voor het Wezen van de Wakeaanse Woordspeling’. The banner is a detail from a large, gobelin-sized collage-in-progress illustrating Finnegans Wake (see the four finished panels at the bottom); the ‘buildung supra buildung’ (FW 4.26) and ‘the brontoichthyan form’ (FW 7.20) are illustrations to accompany chapter 1 of book I. Still a good watch is Anthony Burgess’ 1973 introduction to Finnegans Wake, here on YouTube, with light relief at the end.