Stephen Heath, ‘Ambiviolences: Notes for reading Joyce’, in Derek Attridge & Daniel Ferrer, eds., Post-structuralist Joyce: Essays from the French (Cambridge UP 1984), pp.31-68.

I: Against continuity
[...] Where criticism explicates, opening out the folds of the writing in order to arrive at the meaning, Finnegans Wake is offered as a permanent interplication, a work of folding and unfolding in which every element becomes always the fold of another in a series that knows no point of rest. The fourth section of the book gives a whole range of discursive expliations of the Letter but the latter exhausts them all (and not vice versa), running through them and encompassing them in the materiality of the letters of the text itself, holding them in that derisive hesitation referred to earlier.’ (p.32.)

[...] It is hardly necessary to recall the multitude of critical studies that derive the whole of the work from ‘aesthetic theories’ extracted more or less opportunely from Stephen Hero or A Portrait of the Artist as a Young man, thus offering to solve what is supposed to be ‘the enigma of the continuity of Joyce’s work’. What is needed, against all attempts to locate some ‘style’ of the Author (traceable through the work as the area of some spiritual development), is the operation of a reading that, on the contrary, will remain attentive to the wriging of each text in order to consider them in their totality as [a] network of specific practices.

It is is worth asking, indeed, how exactly it would be possible to speak of Joyce’s style. Pound recognised the difficulty posed by Joyce’s writing in this respect and expressed his irritation with Ulysses for this very reason [quotes letter to Joyce of 10 June 1919]. [...] Parody, of course, is it mode of stylistics: the gathering together of the marks of an individuality the style of an author - and the subsequent reproduction of that individuality. In Joyce’s work, however, parody finds no simple point of attachment: where is Joyce’s style? in which of the sections of Ulysses? what marks of individuality are to be gathered together from the conjunction of “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” and the “Night Studies” section of Finnegans Wake? In place of style we have plagiarism: Joyce does not express himself as the confident subject of a style; he runs through a multiplicity of styles, of orders of discourse, plagiastically open to a whole range of cultural forms that are stolen and broken in the perpetual fragmentation of the writing - a process in which the ‘declamatory personality’ (Flaubert’s term) founders in the vacillation of the play of forms, sliding through them and retraceable only in the terms of sham and forgery, terms to which we will need to return.

Joyce’s works do not, therefore, form a ‘portrait’ of the ‘Artist’ to be explained or derived in univocal fashion from a supposed biography [...] (p.33.)

II: Strategies of hesitation
The early importance of Ibsen for Joyce is the degree to which his work offers the difference between a paralysed literature and a drama that seems, according to the convention of that literature, to demonstrate, scandalously, the extent of that paralysis. [...] This is the context of the necessity of the strategies of hesitation of Joyce’s texts. Gripped in a general paralysis, Joyce’s writing is obliged to effect a constant activity of refusal of available meanings, explications, discursive forms, all the very texture of paralysis. It is precisely the evasion and baffling of the available, the given, its hesitation, to which the writing of Joyce’s early texts is devoted and which defines their negativity. (p.34.)

[On epiphany:] the definition of a climactic moment of paralytic banality by its copying down in writing. The process of copying down is to be understood literally, since the matter copied in this kind of epiphany is as often as not a fragment of dialogue - an indication of the extent to whch the spread of paralysis is located in the thickening weft of sense, stifling in its all-envelopingness. (Note too how much of the writing of Stephen Hero and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is made up of citations of instances of discourse [...]) This procedures is extended in Dubliners in the writing of “Ivy Day in the Committee Room”, organised through the recitation of a series of commonplaces (of ‘idées reçues’) the stringing together of which mimes with smothering clarity the blanket of paralysis.

Dubliners, in fact, extends the procedure of the epiphany into a second, more general procedure within which it can be contained. This is the development of a kind of ‘colourless’ writing (that zero degree of writing described by Barthes) which can be held at the same level as the repetition of fragments of discourse, framing them in an absence of any principle (of organisation, of order) or, more exactly, in the signification of its purpose to remain silent, outside commentary, interpretation, parole. Joyce, with great precision, refers to this as ‘a style of scrupulous meanness’ [Letter to Grant Richards, 5 May 1906, Letters, II, 1966, p.134]. A further procedure, that of A Portrait, is to rend the blanket of sense through the production of the counter-texts of the fiction of the artist and his ‘voluntary exile’; his para-doxical [sic] status forming a contra-position to the realm of the doxa within the interstices of which the writing can, hesitatingly, proceed.

What has to be understood is the way in which these procedures respond to the problem posed as to the position from which the writing is to be developed, the way in which, that is, they are operative as strategies of hesitation. How is the writing to develop without fixing itself within the whole paralysis? From the position of Stephen in A Portrait? Assuredly not - Stephen has no simple reality as some liberating character. The answer lies not in any position, but precisely in the strategies, in the absence of any position, in the continual hesitation effected by the writing. [… &c.] (p.35.)

The possibility of irony developed within these strategies of hesitation is crucial. Traditionally, irony is a mode of confidence and fixation, elaborated from a stable position to which it constantly refers in its critique of deviations from that position. Joyce’s irony (the term is kept here for convenience and also for the kind of emphasis it finds in the writings of Nietzsche - it would perhaps be preferable to replace it by the term ‘hecitency’, the significance of which in Joyce’s writing will be seen below) lacks any centre of this kind; it knows no fixity, and its critique is not moral, derived from some sense, but self-reflexive, a perpetual displacement of sense in a play of forms without resolution. This irresolution is the very wager of A Portrait; the carrying through of two fictions, that of the doxa (Dublin, the Church, the family) and that of the paradoxa (the artist), without the writing being committed to either. The writing of the book is thus a tourniquet between the two fictions and it is in this mobility that the writing hesitates irresolvably. [...]

[Parenthetically quotes Flaubert in making point about the relation of Ulysses to Bouvard et Pécuchet:] vertiginous hesitation (‘in such a way that the reader does not know, yes or no, whether he is being made a fool of’; quotes Flaubert: ‘stupidity consists in wishing to conclude; we are a thread and we want to know the pattern.’ (Letter to Louis Bouillet, Correspondance, 2ième série, 4 Sept. 1850, p.238; Ibid., p.239); also ‘paring his fingernails’ (Correspondance, 3ième série, Paris: Conard 1927, pp.61-62.)

A mark of this new level of the activity of the writing is what [Hermann] Broch called the urge for totality in Ulysses (‘Totalitätsanspruch’) [Letter to Dr Daniel Brody, 19 Oct. 1934, Briefe von 1929 bis 1951, Zurich: Rhein-Verlag 1957, p.102] and what Joyce described as encyclopaedism:

It is an epic of two races (Israelite-Irish) and at the same time the cycle of the human body as well as a little story of a day (life). [...] It is also a sort of encyclopaedia. My intention is to transpose the myth sub specie temporis nostri. Each adventure (that is, every hour, every organ, every art being interconnected and interrelated in the structural scheme of the whole) should not only condition but even create its own technique. Each adventure is so to say one person although it is composed of persons - as Aquinas relates of the angelic hosts. (Letter to Carlo Linati, 21 Sept. 1920; Letters, I, p.146-47.]

There is scarcely need to elaborate on this description; the complexity of the development of Joyce’s scheme is sufficiently well known from the indications given in the table of ‘correspondences’ drawn up by Joyce for Herbert Gorman and in Stuart Gilbert’s book on Ulysses written under Joyce’s supervision. What is perhaps not sufficiently recognised, indeed, is how little Gilbert’s book explains; on the contrary, in strict accordance with Joyce’s strategies of hesitation (compare in this respect the “Ithaca” section of Ulysses, Joyce’s favourite) it enumerates and lists; in response to questions (interrogations of sense) it catalogues, it gives, that is, the beginnings of the series of elements that [the] writing of Ulysses perpetually unfolds. The aim of the writing of Ulysses is the achievement of a multiplicity of levels of narrative (of ‘adventure’) and inter-reference (the permutations available in the reading of the correspondences), the interplay of which will be the fragmentation of every particular one. (The grossest, and commonest, misreading of Ulysses is that which derives a single realist narrative of Bloom and Stephen and, with this as centre of reference, explains or abandons the writing.) It is in this multiplicity of levels that the urge for totality is to be understood. Ulysses is written as a repertoire of fictions: the writing passes across a range of fictions, of forms, juxtaposing and breaking them in a ceaseless narration. The movement from morning to night is the reality of this passage across of the writing in which the subject, in the hesitation, in the demonstration of fictions and the themes that demonstration invokes - birth/death, order/chaos, etc. - is lost in its ceaseless reinscription in a totality of possibilities (the writing of the interplay of Bloom and Stephen plays its part in this dissolution). Jung saw clearly in his account of the negativity of Ulysses how this passage across fictions was a strategy for the disengagement from sense, for a process of hesitation the self-reflexive effect of which was not the fixing of any sense in the commitment to a single fiction, but an attention to the logic of fictions and to the position of the construction of the subject within that logic: ‘I sincerely hope that [38] Ulysses is not symbolic, for if it were it would have failed in its purpose.’ (Jung, op. cit., p.157.)

III: The Context/Intertext
The practice of reading-writing in Joyce’s texts is the recognition of the text not as absolute origin or source (expression of “Reality”, expression of the Author, &c.) but as intertextual space, dialogue of forms which write it as it writes them. The urge for totality as defined by Broch in relation to Ulysses is the acknowledgement of the problem of intertextuality. Writing no longer seen as unique expression, because an activity of assemblage, of reating (again in the sense on which Kristeva insists), in which activity the writing subject itself is disperses in a plurality of possible positions and [39] functions, read within the orders of orders of discourse. Finnegans Wake comments exactly on the multiplicity of ‘identities in the writer complexus (for if the hand was one, the minds of active and agitated were more than so’: FW114.33-5.)

Joyce declared himself ‘quite content to go down to posterity as a scissors and paste man for that seems to me a harsh but not unjust description.’ (Letter to George Antheil, 3 Jan. 1931; Letters, I, p.297.) The reference is to the literal activity of assemblage that characterises, in part and in differing ways, the writing of Ulysses and of Finnegans Wake . [...] The value is to be found in the heterogeneity, in the very distance between these diverse elements that the writing will cross in a ceaseless play of relations and correspondences in which every element becomes the fiction of another. The unity of these elements is not, then, as is generally supposed, one of content and meaning, but one grasped at the level of their reality as forms, as fictions. What is constructed in the play of their interrelations in the writing is a discontinuity in progress, a constant displacement from ficiton to fiction. It is this discontinuity that realises the negativity of Joyce’s writing. [...] The irony of Ulysses is that of this perpetual displacement, that, briefly noted by Kristeva, of the capture of ‘a meaning always already old, always already exceeded, as funny as it is ephemeral.’ [‘Comment parler à la littérature’, in Tel Quel, 47, Autumn, 1971, p.40.] It is in these terms that Joyce’s irony is not, as in the case of the classic tradition of irony, contextual, but, exactly, intertextual, a strategy of hesitation opening onto a ‘finally real text … the current letter of meaning finally formulated and played.’ [Philippe Sollers, Logiques, Paris: Seuil 1968, p.110.] (p.40.)

V: Parody - pastiche - plagiarism - forgery
A crucial strategy of Joyce’s writing in the fragmentation of the context is that of parody and pastiche. It is only necessary to think of the ‘Nausicaa’ or ‘Oxen of the Sun’ [See letter to Budgen, 13 March 1920; Heath notes that Gilbert argues for the term pastiche rather than parody ] sections of Ulysses or the beginnings of Finnegans Wake in six parodic sketches of medieval literary modes [see First Draft Version of Finnegans Wake, ed. David Hayman] to see the importanceof this strategy. Parody, however, is perhaps not the correct term here. Parody, closely related in this to classic irony, constructs a context of imitation that determines a meaning, the ridiculing of the model imitated; like classic irony, it moves in one purposeful direction. It is hard to equate this activity of parody with the writing of the ‘Oxen of the Sun’ section or of the sketches underlying Finnegans Wake . What is in question in Joyce’s [41] writing is not the proclamation of irony or ridicule against the model imitated, but a copying that fixes no point of irony between model and imitation, that rests, in this respect, in a hesitation of meaning. (pp.41-42.)


The question returns us to the preference for the description of the activity of Joyce’s writing as that of pastiche rather than of parody. It is a matter, al ways, of citation, of a continual citing of elements that will place the writing in a dialogue of forms, that will transgress the laws of the context. These transforming citations are a part of this dialogism, the transformation serving as the disorientation of the citation, its fragmentation within a shifting series of forms, the perpetual displacement of which is the activity of Joyce’s writing. The examples given above [Tennyson, Keats, Hugo, Gray, Milton, Byron, Poe, music-hall: p.42], were deliberately selected for their obviousness. The degree and kind of fame of “The Charge of the Light Brigade” inevitably pulls any transformation into the realm of parody, though even this example offers resistance if read in Joyce’s text in the a hsence of context (and not, as here, as a separate example). The process of citation in Joyce’s writing, however, has a generality far beyond such examples, involving that purloining which is characteristic of its activity. Thus, to take a single instance, a longish passage of Finnegans Wake (545-47) is devoted to the citation and transformation of B. Seebohm Rowntree’s Poverty: A Study of Town Life, the forms and turns of Rowntree’s writing being jostled, exposed, turned back to front, devastated in that reflexivity of Joyce’s writing which breaks rhetoric and its categories. In the citation of Rowntree [...] the passage from parody to pastiche and from pastiche to plagiarism is clear. In the citation of “The Charge of the Light Brigade” the quotation marks remain; in that of Rowntree they have disappeared. Hence the error of concluding ‘from the nonpresence of inverted commas (sometimes called quotation marks) on any page that its author was always constitutionally incapable of misappropriating the spoken words of others.’ (FW108.33-6). Joyce’s writing is precisely a misappropriation; in other words, it is that writing-reading defined by brisleva and which Finnegans Wake calls exactly a’raiding’. (p.43.)


Mention must be briefly made, as a kind of coda to this section, of the operation in Joyce’s writing of an effect of permanent parody of his own texts, that are subject to superimposition of later writings, to transforming citation and, within the space of a single text, to a multiplication of levels of meaning [...] (p.44.)

Quotes: ‘The reason I dislike Chamber Music as a title is that it is too complacent. I should prefer a title which to a certain extent repudiated the book, without altogether disparaging it.’ (Letter to Stanislaus Joyce, 18 Oct. 1906; Letters, II, p.82.]

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VI: The spiral
Flaubert planned a novel to be called La Spirale. [Carnets et projets, [in] Oeuvres de Gustave Flaubert, Vol. 18, Lausanne: Edns. Rencontre 1965, pp.34-37.] That title might be given to the body of Joyce’s work, marking the action of that discontinuity described above. Is it not precisely as a spiral that the succession of Joyce’s works should be conceived? They represent not a line of development but a ceaseless work of return and disengagement, of dissemination, each text reinscribing the others to achieve a distance of parody, derision, anecdote (what is Ulysses for Finnegans Wake if not an anecdote?). The Scribbledehobble workbook, written round about 1924 and having a claim to be considered as one of Joyce’s finest texts, is divided into sections with headings made up of titles of previous texts and, in the case of Ulysses, of episodes of previous texts. Each section is more or less filled with words, phrases, occasional sequences of phrases, related in various ways (via parody, commentary, extension, thematic, aleation) with the previous texts. In the explicitness of its organisation, Scribbledehobble provides a perfect image [45] of the Joycean spiral; a return across earlier writings but in order to open a distance, the circle not closing but disengaging a new activity of writing.

The spiral of Flaubert’s title referred to the narrative of one particular text. His projected novel was to be an attempt to confound in a single narrative line - that of the story of a painter - the ‘real’ and the ‘imaginary’, the events of everyday and the dreams and visions provoked by hashish, the confusion finally putting into question their habitual easy distinction. The spiral described the succession of stages undergone by the painter in the process of this confusion, culminating in a dramatic conclusion: ‘The conclusion is that: happiness consists in being Mad (or what is thus so called), that is to say, in seeing the True, the whole of time, the absolute -’ [Ibid., p.36.]

Flaubert’s plan finds in some sort a realisation in Ulysses in the succession of ‘streams of consciousness’ that interfold and come together in an action which, in the ‘nighttown’ section, spills out of the limitation of any ‘person’ or ‘Reality’. The image of the spiral is not, however, to be reduced to a single level of narrative - one amongst many others - of Ulysses . It is, in fact, precisely the multiplicity of levels that gives the spiral of the text, producing as it does neither the enclosing cohesion of a circular movement nor the unfolding and revelation of a meaning on a line of development but a spiral, a constant displacement of possibilities of reading. The spiral is then the realisation of the urge for totality in Ulysses. The folly of the book is its desire to ‘voir le Vrai, l’ensemble du temps, l’absolu’: its absolute, however, is not the theological stasis of a fixed Absolute but the absolute of possibles, the incessant movement of forms, the spiral of returns and recommencernents in which meaning is always ‘later’.

The image of the spiral finds a precise reference in Joyce’s writing, that of the historical theory of Vico with its conception of the spiral of corsi and ricorsi. This reference, as is well known, is basic to the writing of Finnegans Wake, which makes of the ‘real world’, the stable fixity of realist writing, the ‘reel world’ (FW64.25-6), forming and reforming in a play of difference and repetition, the ‘seim anew’ (FW215.23). This movement of ‘vicous circles’ (FW134.16) - ‘by a commodius vicus of recirculation’ (FW3.02) - is, as was Vico’s work in its opposition to the unidimensional linear progress of the Enlightenment version of history, an opposition to the writing of history as the straight unfolding of a single line of development. ‘The June snows was flocking in thuckflues on the hegelstomes’ (FW416.32-3); disorder and discontinuity (‘June snows’) opposes the order and continuity of Hegel’s writing of the process of the realisation of Geist. The characteristic of Joyce’s writing is, in Beckett’s words, ‘the absolute absence of the Absolute’. [Dante . Bruno. Vico .. Joyce, p.22.] The discontinuity is the mark of this absence, an anti-synthesis: ‘What a meanderthalltale to unfurl and with what an end in view of squattor and anntisquattor and postproneauntisquattor!’ (FW19.25-7). The synthesis is continually postponed in the ‘meanderthalltale’, meaning [47] is deferred. ‘The Vico road goes round and round to meet where terms begin’ (FW452.21-2).

‘To meet where terms begin’ may be read as an appeal not to a simple circularity [see note, infra] but to a primitive level (as ‘meanderthalltale’ appeals to neanderthal). This primitive level is to be understood in thinking the foundation of history eternally and contrapuntally present in the spiralling movement of corsi and ricorsi and given in language as the history of that history. For Vico the spiral is definable exactly in terms of stages of language and the historical humanities are to be included in the general science of philology. Vico’s ‘new science’ is a passage across history in the interests of the disengagement of the logic of the movement of history; ‘the ideal history of the eternal laws over which run the facts of all nations’. [G. Vico, Principi di Scienza Nuova, 1744; Opere, Vol. 1, Verona: Mondadori, 1957, p.546.] This logic functions as a structural model which gives the intelligibility of any particular historical fact, that fact actualising one among the multiplicity of virtualities present in the structure. The importance of this for Joyce’s writing is evident. Where realist writing had made of history the fixed point of its representations, realised in narratives supported by the context of a vraisemblable that defined and ratified their typicality, their ‘truth’, Joyce’s writing is concerned, like that of Vico, with a history of forms of intelligibility. In a very early essay Joyce had written of ‘history or the denial of reality, for they are two names for the one thing’; [“James Clarence Mangan”, in Critical Writings, ed. Mason & Ellmann, Faber 1959, p.81] the reality of Joyce’s writing will be its attention to forms, no longer to ‘Reality’ but to the history of fictions. The history of Joyce’s writing is not that produced by a context but that grasped in its realisation of the intertext as scansion of fictions. It is in this sense that Joyce’s writing is an interrogation of ‘origins’, of the ‘reality’ ‘before’ history as the very possibility of its foundation, of, in fact, the ‘time’ of language with which - this was Vico’s central theme - history begins and which - a further Viconian theme - is perpetually present in every act of language, the horizon of its intelligibility. The spiral of Joyce’s writing, finally, is the process of this interrogation.

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VII: Myth
The role of myth in Joyce’s writing was early defined by Eliot and, in slightly subtler fashion, by Pound in connection with Ulysses as that of the neutral systematisation of a chaotic material: ‘It is simply a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history’ [’ Ulysses, Order and Myth’] ‘These correspondences are part of Joyce’s mediaevalism and are chiefly his own affair, a scaffold, a means of construction, justified by the result, and justifiable by it only. The result is a triumph in form, in balance, a main schema, with continuous inweaving and arabesque.’ [‘Paris Letter’, 1922, in Forrest Read, ed., Pound/Joyce, New Directions 1970, p.197] These definitions [47] coincide with remarks made by Joyce, who, according to Svevo, stated that he used the Homeric reference as his ‘sistema di lavoro’. [Ellmann, James Joyce [1982], p.217.] Similarly, Joyce described the use in Finnegans Wake of the mythological system derived from Vico as that of a ‘trellis’ over which the writing could be woven (‘“Of course”, Joyce told me, “I don’t take Vico’s speculations literally; I use his cycles as a trellis.”’). [Padraic & Mary Colum, Our Friend James Joyce, NY: Doubleday 1958, p.123.] Beckett saw in it ‘a structural convenience - or inconvenience’, but went on to add in qualification, ‘By structural, I do not only mean a bold outward division, a bare skeleton for the housing of material. I mean the endless substantial variations on these three beats, and interior intertwining of these three themes [i.e. the three stages of a Viconian historical cycle before the period of dissolution out of which the new cycle begins] into a decoration of arabesques - decoration and more than decoration.” [‘Dante ... Bruno. Vico .. Joyce’, p.7.]

In the context of these statements, one or two additional qualifications and suggestions may be made with regard to the use of myth in Joyce’s work. If the myth is not the point of any commitment on the part of the writing (the myth, even as ‘simply a way of controlling’, being, in fact, taken up in that activity of copying and plagiarism and ‘pulverised’ in the writing) [Kristeva] it has, nevertheless, a crucial role for the text in that spiral of interrogation described above. Thus in Finnegans Wake it is a question not of a single myth, or even of a single body of myth, but of a whole diversity of mythologies, drawn from a range of cultures and using as great a number of sacred books as possible, from the Bible to the Koran. This assemblage of myths in a writing which refers to them all without fixing itself in any one, leaving them perpetually in its wake, is the appeal to the play (that precisely of the wake) of death and birth, night and day, the same and the other, of difference. Broch expressed the terms of this in two remarks made on different occasions in the course of discussions of Joyce’s work and the conjunction of which is illuminating: ‘myth has always been mankind’s closest approach to knowledge of death’ [Broch, Letter to Friedrich Torberg, 10 April 1943; Breife, p.185.] and ‘the infinite and death are children of one mother’. [Broch, ‘James Joyce und die Gegenwart’, in Dichten und Erkennen, Zurich: Rhein-Verlag 1955, p.209.] The passage of Joyce’s writing across a multiplicity of myths opens up an endless series of traces in which death and the other are held in profile, grasped in the play of the production of fictions. Death and birth as infinity of creations, night and day as infinity of meanings, the unique actants of Finnegans Wake are grasped as ‘Kinder einer Mutter’, children, that is, of Anna Livia, of the flow of the river into the sea, finding their source, their point of ‘origin’ in the constant making and remaking of forms, in the patterns traced in the wake of that flow from which death and birth, night and day, give themselves in their opposition. The ‘time’ of the writing of Finnegans Wake, realised in this interrogation and fragmentation of myths, of fictions of origin, is the point of that wake of the production of fictions, of meanings, of the contexts of history and ‘Reality’.

A final remark in connection with myth. In the section of L’Origine des [48] manières de table [Paris: Plon 1968] entitled ‘Du mythe au roman’, Lévi-Strauss describes a process of degradation in myths that happens in the course of their transformations. This degradation, in which the cyclical periodicity of a myth is lost in a diversity of episodes relating to ever shorter periods of time, may be characterised as a loss of structure (‘Its structural content is dissipated’) [op. cit., 1968, p.105] a fall into seriality. This ‘fall’ offers for Lévi-Strauss significant illustration of the passage from the mythical to the novelistic, the narrative of the novel being exactly a quest for structure and a repetition of the ‘fall’ of its loss: ‘The fall of the novel plot, internal to its unfolding from the very beginning and recently become external to it - since we are now witnessing the fall of the plot after the fall within the plot - confirms that because of the novel’s historical position in the evolution of literary genres, it was inevitable that it should tell a story that ends badly, and that it should now, as a genre, be itself coming to a bad end.’ [Op. cit., 1968, p.106.] What Lévi-Strauss also points to in that passage is the negation of the unidirectional line of narrative in process in modern writing, and Joyce’s work might, of course, be taken as exemplary in this process of negation, pursued precisely in terms of the aim for another periodicity, no longer that of the novel but that of the production of fictions. The recourse to myth in Joyce’s writing marks this aim clearly. The focus of that writing, as was seen in the discussion of the reference to Vico, is not the seriality of the history of realist writing, but intelligibility, structure as logic of ‘origins’, and the spiral of its interrogation of myths is the point of its passage outside the periodicity of that history. Is it not significant in this respect that Lévi-Strauss’s own work of mythologies runs directly into the very image of the spiral (‘In going tirelessly over the same myths or in incorporating new ones [...] structural analysis progresses in a spiral. It seems to retrace its steps, but always in order to get to deeper layers of mythical matter into the heart of which it insinuates itself and all the properties of which it gradually penetrates.’) [Op. cit., 1968,. p.388.]

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VIII: The Wake: ‘le jour, la nuit’
Mon livre [...] n’a rien de commun avec Ulysse. C’est le jour et la nuit.’ [Louis Gillet, Stèle pour James Joyce, Paris: Sagittaire 1941, p.74.] Thus Joyce to Louis Gillet. Finnegans Wake was to be, in its own phrase, a ‘nightynovel’ (FW54.21), what Joyce’s brother referred to with much irritation and more truth as ‘this nightmare production’. [Stanislaus Joyce to James Joyce, 7 August 1924; Letters, III, p.102.] Various critics have wished to reduce this distinction between Ulysses and Finnegans Wake on which Joyce insisted by arguing, according to the criteria of realist writing, that ‘at least half of Ulysses, and that the more important, takes place after dark, while well over a third of Finnegans Wake is concerned with daytime activities’ [Clive Hart, Structure and Motif in Finnegans Wake, 1967, p.71.] It is clear that this kind of argument, whatever side one may [49] take, is as irrelevant to the writing of Finnegans Wake as it is to that of Ulysses. What is in question in the distinction between the two books, the day and the night, is not some quantifiable amount of darkness and daylight (is it really possible still to read Joyce in this way?) but specific practices of writing. Ulysses, definitive end of the realist novel (that it will no longer be possible to write ‘innocently’, but only to repeat in the assumption of a precise ideological position), is the negation of the daylight world of the natural attitude; in its urge for totality, in its perpetual process of fragmentation and hesitation of the multiplicity of fictions it assembles, Ulysses begins to unlimit that world, replacing it in the intertext of the fictions of its construction. Finnegans Wake opens onto a further level, fixing a totality not through an encyclopaedism (which breaks the totality into a multiplicity of fictions) but through an attention to the production of meaning (which breaks the totality into the ceaseless moment of the engendering of fiction in the wake that forges the horizon against which the night and the day are grasped in their difference). Its work is on the fiction of language, its procedure that of, in Mallarmé’s words, ‘le langage se réfléchissant’. [ Oeuvres Completes, Paris: Gallimard 1965, p.851.]

Joyce, developing the idea of the ‘nightynovel’, refers in this respect to the work of the dream: Finnegans Wake would be written ‘to suit the esthetic of the dream, when the forms prolong and multiply themselves, when the visions pass from the trivial to the apocalyptic, when the brain uses the roots of vocables to make others from them which will be capable of naming its phantasms, its allegories, its allusions’. [Joyce to Edmond Jaloux, quoted in Ellmann, op. cit., p.559.] It is a question for Joyce of developing a writing able to realise what Broch calls a ‘Nachtlogik’,” for which the work of the dream provides a crucial instance. This writing is the return to the night of language, to, that is, the point of limits where the day ceases, to the point of origin where language begins. Such a return is interminable; ‘language comes to us from the depths of a night perfectly clear and impossible to master’, writes Foucault in his study of Roussel. [Raymond Roussel, Paris: Gallimard 1963, p.54.] There is no immediate return on some ‘before’, there is always an irremovable ‘already’ (what Nombres calls ‘cette coupure, ce recul sans cesse présents et à l’oeuvre’); [Philippe Sollers, Nombres, Paris: Seuil 1968, p.15.]

Only a constant and oblique work of questioning, a kind of perpetual ‘Rückfrage’ (if Husserl’s term is stripped of any transcendental intention, of any possibility of coming to rest), the elaboration of a writing of fragmentation and hesitation in the detours of which, changing language in language, the area of the production of meaning, of the engendering of sense and its subject, may be grasped in its activity. Thus, for Joyce, the declaration of war on language [’What the language will look like when I have finished I don’t know. But having declared war I shall go on jusq’au bout’: Letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver, 11 Nov. 1925; Letters, I, p.559.]

The necessity for its putting to sleep, [Joyce to Beckett, in Ellmann, op. cit., p.559] for the refusal of ‘wideawake language, cutanddry grammar and goahead plot’ [Letter to Weaver, 24 Nov. 1924; Letters, III, p.146.]

In writing of the night, I really could not, I felt I could not, use words in their ordinary connections. Used that way they do not express how things are in the night, in the different stages - conscious, then semi-conscious, then unconscious. I found that it could not be done with words [50] in their ordinary relations and connections.’ [Joyce to Max Eastman, quoted in Ellmann, op. cit., p.559.] To describe Finnegans Wake as writing of the night is to describe this activity of return, the attempt to write in the moment of night into day, to know that process defined by Sollers precisely through the image of night and day: ‘We live in the false daylight of a dead language of limited meanings: we fail to grasp the day in so far as we fail to grasp the night that we are. But we are nothing other than this nightly and daily movement of the readable and the unreadable, in us, outside us - and that we do not want to know.’ [Sollers, Logiques, p.240.] (pp.49-51.)

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IX: The Wake - ‘l’incomprensible récit’
[...] Beckett, describing the writing of Finnegans Wake, comments: ‘This writing that you find so obscure is a quintessential abstraction of language and painting and gesture, with all the inevitable clarity of the old inarticulation. Here is the savage economy of hierogyphics.’ [Dante . Bruno. Vico Joyce, p.15.] The explicit reference is to Vico’s theory of the development of language, but other references are also present in such a desccription of Joyce’s writing and, as an appendix to this section, it is worth briefly mentioning two of them - Fenollosa and, particularly, Marcel Jousse.

[Gives account of Joyce’s attendance of lecture by Jousse, reported in Mary Colum, Our Friend James Joyce ]

For Jousse gesture was the foundation of language, the very basis of the possibility of any human communication, and the instance of gesture can be traced in the development of language. Like Vico, Jousse postulates three [55] stages in this development which he calls style manuel, style oral and style écrit . [...] The loss of this clarity in alphabetic writing, and increasingly in speech, can be resolved only by an attempt to refind the basic gestuality (what Stephen calls in Ulysses the ‘structural rhythm’): this history is given for Jousse, as, again, for Vico, in etymology, in the return back through words to origins in gesture [.; 56] The emphasis on gesture (which opens a possible perspective against the valorisation of the voice and the presence of the speaking subject, the ‘logocentricism’ described by Derrida) serves to think language as productivity, as production of sense and its subject, and to put in question thereby the repression of language as instrument of experssion and fixed identity. Gesture, production of traces, returns language to writing as inscription of traces, institution of différance that gives the horizon of all expression and identity. This return is the activity of Joyce’s writing, a constant theatralisation of language in its productivity. [...] (p.57.)

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X: The wake: ‘scribenery’
[...] In a sense, Finnegans Wake is to linguistics as Saussure’s Anagrammes are to the Cours de linguistiques générale, a radical contestation of the knowledge of his language constructed by the subject. What Saussure is led to desribed as the ‘compromise’ of language (‘language is a compromise - the last compromise - that the mind accepts with certain symbols; otherwise there would be no language’) is ever threatened by the wavering of identity and by the productivity of the signifier breaking the line of communication and opeing onto a multiplicity beyond the mastery of the subject dependent on the compromise of context, identity and non-contradiction. Finnegans Wake is, as it were, the elaboration of that [57] threat into a practice of writing; its negation is the breaking of the compromise and the accession to language as productivity; its anti-language is not the absence of language but a dramatic presence of language, mis en scène on that ‘scribenery’. (pp.57.-58.)


‘My hypotheses’ wrote Nietzsche, and then set down as his first, ‘The subject as multiplicity’. [Der Wille zur Macht, p.17.] it is the very hypothesis of the writing of Finnegans Wake in its dispersion of the subject. The Cartesian subject is a fraud (‘cog it out, here goes a sum’; FW304.31), a shem, caught up in that interfolding of forms which leaves no return on the self but in that (mis)appropriation of the other. The Cartesian source, via the transformation o a line from Pope’s ‘Essay on Criticism’, becomes an impenetrable darkness, ‘Sink deep or touch not the Cartesian spring!’ (FW301.24-5). The action of Shem and Shaun (‘himother’: FW 187.24)) is the action of this splintering of identity in the play of same and other, repetition and difference, and it is this splintering that is undertaken as the action of the writing in its strategies of hesitation, its attention to language as process in which identity and subject, are produced. The two effects of the writing which have been described in this section serve towards that theatralisation of language, towards the narration of the ‘incompréhensible récit’, the ‘knowing’ of that ‘erste Akt’, of the engendering of meaning and its world. (p.60.)


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XII: Origin
The attempt to discover an origin common to all languages entails the reduction of the diversity of languages to a single common ground retraceable in its transformations in the babel of tongues. The writing of Finnegans Wake goes against this notion of origin. Running through languags, Joyce’s writing poses no point of rest, no point of homogenisation: it lacks what Koyré calls ‘the superstition of “origins”’. Joyce’s etymology is indicative in this respect: where that of a Jousse is a remounting from stage to stage, the unfolding of successive layers to reach the ‘living core’ of meaning, that of Joyce is an anti-etymology, the abrasive extension of words which reveal not a history but a network of fictions, the terms of which are themselves caught up in this extension, producing new fictions, and so on and on in a perpetual interfolding (‘There are sordidly tales within tales, you clearly understand that?: FW533.05.) The horizon of Finnegans Wake is not an ‘origin’ but the ‘world writing its own wrunes for ever’, not the ‘living word’ but the signifier, not the Letter but the play of letters. The appeal to origin turns not into a ‘prefall paradise peace but into the void that edges the horizon of sense (‘In the buginning is the woid ...’: FW378.29), onto the ‘ginnandgo gap’ which is the loss of the Letter, into the ceaseless displacement of the subject ‘from the night we are and feel and fade with to the yesterselves we tread to turnupon’: FW 473.10-11). It is on this horizon that Joyce’s writing attempts to work in its practice of the theatralisation of language; against the mastery of the full origin, it proposes the entry into the signifier, turning all discovery of ‘origin’ into the development in the text (‘polyhedron of scripture’) of the narration, ever to be recommenced, of that ‘incompréhensible récit’. (p.61.)

[Ends with Epiphany No. VII.]

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