Collected Writings

An Other Beginning Here Comes Everybody:

The Joycean work of art against the foil of Heidegger's thinking(1)

Michael Eldred

Back to artefact homepage

artefact text and translation
Cologne, Germany

Last modified 18-Feb-2012
Version 1.0 January 2006
Version 1.1 February 2006
First put on site 15-Jun-2006
Download Sgreek TrueType font (for PC and Mac)

    Table of contents

    0. Introduction: Joyce and Heidegger A non-relationship?

    1. Poetic dwelling on the earth 

    2. Love and struggle

     3. Babel 


    0. Introduction: Joyce and Heidegger A non-relationship?

    The 16th of June 1904, Bloomsday, did not figure significantly in Martin Heidegger's calendar, even though its author, James Joyce who is buried in Zürich, not far from Meßkirch, where Heidegger lies had achieved worldwide fame already in the 1920s, the same decade in which Sein und Zeit caused a stir in philosophical circles internationally. Although they were born only eight years apart, nor does it seem that Joyce took any notice of Heidegger. So it may well be asked what Heidegger in general or, specifically, the Other Beginning, that central concern of Heidegger's thinking, could have to do with Joyce's writing at all, a question I would like to focus on here, with a view to suggesting possible answers. Concerning this paper, however, it cannot be a matter of making any sort of contribution to Joyce scholarship, not only because I am not a Joyce scholar and lack the erudition necessary, but because it would deflect from the main purpose here of situating Joyce's art work against a Heideggerian background. 

    It is well known that for Heidegger, Hölderlin was the Dichter, the poet who could show a way forward in German and world history, and could do so because of the German-Greek axis to which both Hölderlin and Heidegger were committed. Joyce wrote literary prose, not poetry, at least in the narrow sense. More generally, the great contribution of English literature to world literature during past centuries has been above all in the development of the novel as a literary form. Would Joyce, being a novelist, therefore count for Heidegger as a Dichter at all? Did Ulysses find, or could it have found, any resonance with the issues of Heidegger's thinking? And is Finnegans Wake a novel at all? Is it merely 'experimental'? Is it Dichtung in Heidegger's sense of a poet's poetizing a world on a par with how thinkers cast a world?(2)  Moreover, would Joyce's commitment to the question of an Irish relationship to the Greek origins of the West, as evidenced already in the title of his most famous work, Ulysses, be taken seriously by Heidegger as having the weight of Hölderlin's return to the Greeks? 

    These are large questions, and I do not pretend to answer them here, but by posing them provide some observations on the potential history-opening power of Joyce's work akin to Heidegger's focus on Hölderlin as the German poet who fore-casts in the casting of his poetry the historical future. 

    1. Poetic dwelling on the earth

    If Joyce's work is to be regarded as a work of art in the Heideggerian sense, it must be characterizable as setting the truth to work and into the work in a conflict between world and earth, between unconcealment and concealment. The truth of being comes to stand in the work of art in its casting how an historical world could open up and how humankind could stand within a world thus opened. The art work founds, stiftet an historical world. Homer's Odyssey is a primal example of such a casting of the truth of being in that it casts the prototype of Greek, and subsequently Western, man in the shape of Odysseus.(3) The cunning, crafty figure of Odysseus has a connection with the productionist Western metaphysics inaugurated by Plato and Aristotle. Whereas Heidegger's thinking seeks to find the pivotal point at the birth of metaphysics at which it could be levered into the Other Beginning, Joyce's art recurs to the paradigmatic figure of Odysseus and seeks to translate him into a very different, twentieth century man, Leopold Bloom, whose adventures on a normal summer's day in 1904 are something less than heroic, compared to what Odysseus goes through in the course of his twenty years of destined wanderings. Whereas Odysseus plays at being nobody to escape from the round-eyed Cyclops, Polypheme, Bloom is a nobody. As Richard Ellmann notes, "Joyce liked to reinforce his interpretation [of Bloom as a universal character] by the dubious etymology he had conjectured for the name Odysseus as a combination of outis (nobody) and Zeus. His own hero would also be a divine nobody. Not that Bloom was seriously to be apotheosized."(4) To be more precise, Bloom is the nobody that Odysseus becomes once the gods have flown.(5)  At one point of his daytime travels, at his nadir, "the very worst hour of the day," he himself muses to himself, "No one is anything." (Ulysses p. 164)

    Heidegger ascribes to the poet the role of mediating between the gods and humankind. The German poet, Hölderlin, draughts in his poetry how it is necessary to leave the German homeland and venture to foreign climes, namely Greece, to learn in that alien world who the Germans themselves can be in the historical future. Heidegger writes, "To come home requires going away into foreign parts. Because it is seeking its home and has to learn to use its own element freely, the poetizing river-spirit must come from foreign parts into its own." (Das Heimischwerden verlangt das Weggehen in die Fremde. Der dichtende Stromgeist muß, weil er das Heimische sucht und das Eigene frei gebrauchen lernen muß, aus der Fremde ins Eigene kommen. )(6)

    ["What has to be poetized is the poetic dwelling of humankind on this earth," (Das Zu-Dichtende ist das dichterische Wohnen des Menschen auf dieser Erde. GA53:178) asserts Heidegger, thus giving the poet, Hölderlin, his unique, indispensable role as world-caster for, "without the poetic element there could never be in future an historical dwelling for the Germans in their ownmost element, 'near to the hearth of the house'" (könnte künftig für die Deutschen ... ohne dieses [Dichterische] nie ein geschichtliches Wohnen in ihrem Eigensten, 'nahe dem Heerde des Hausses' [sein]. GA53:201). Heidegger cites Hölderlin himself to show why the poet poetizes the great rivers, the Rhine and the Danube, among others, "Because rivers make the land arable" (Denn Ströme machen urbar / Das Land. GA53:183 citing line 16 of Der Ister). And Heidegger continues, "But the rivers are the poets who found the poetic element on whose ground humankind lives. [...] The poet opens the time-space within which it is possible at all to belong to the hearth and be at home" (Aber die Ströme sind die Dichter, die das Dichterische stiften, auf dessen Grund der Mensch wohnet. [...] Der Dichter öffnet den Zeit-Raum, innerhalb dessen überhaupt eine Zugehörigkeit zum Herde und ein Heimischsein möglich ist. GA53:183). For the Germans to come home in Western history, they need their poet who, however, can only open the historical time-space for the Germans via "a passage through foreign parts" (ein Durchgang durch das Fremde, GA53:60). "What is their own for the Greeks is alien for the Germans; and what is alien to the Germans is the Greeks' own" (Was für die Griechen ihr Eigenes, ist für die Deutschen das Fremde; und was den Deutschen das Fremde, ist den Griechen ihr Eigenes, GA53:154). The German gift for "clarity of presentation" ('Klarheit der Darstellung', GA53:155, citing Hölderlin) must first go through the purgatory of the blinding "fire from the sky" ('Feuer vom Himmel', GA53:155), which is the Greek gift, in order then to shape and cast poetically an historical world destined for the German people.] 

    With Joyce, by contrast, the Irish origin is already sullied. There is no Irishness that could be cast or recast in a return to and engagement with a Greek or any other single historical origin. Biographically speaking, Joyce did indeed go away to foreign parts to learn how to poetize his homeland, Ireland,(7)  while at the same time never leaving Dublin, as Joyce once remarked. But it is telling that his protagonists are not pure Irish, indeed often un-Irish. Leopold Bloom is of Hungarian Jewish extraction in staunchly Catholic Ireland; Molly Bloom has Spanish blood; HCE Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, the omnipresent main character or non-character or god of the Wake, is of Scandinavian descent; ALP Anna Livia Plurabelle, HCE's female counterpart, has Russian ancestors.(8)  The source is always already impure. This is shown also in the text of the Wake, which draws on "around four dozen languages"(9), a point we shall return to later. Could Joyce's art work therefore be regarded as a founding in language of a post-colonial, multicultural world in which all origins are interbred? 

    [Another question is: Does Joyce attempt to poetize Ireland? Yes and no. On the one hand, Dublin lives vibrantly in his work of art, through all his published books, and could not have been given a greater literary dedication and lasting existence, although even the city of Dublin is doubled in the New World in the shape of Dublin, Lawrence County, Georgia when "topsawyer's rock by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse to Laurens County's gorgios, while they went doublin their mumper all the time" (FW:3). On the other hand, Ireland itself is not a pure source; it was always a colony, overrun and conquered by various invaders, Christianized, and all these strands are present not only in the narrative structure of Ulysses, but above all in the Wake as a world-book that takes up the countless strands of world history and world-historical traditions, weaving them all into an infinitely complex text. 

    The rivers in Joyce's Wake are not symbols for the artist himself but are themselves characters, or rather, non-characters. Klaus Reichert cites Joyce: "'The true protagonists of my book,' wrote Joyce to his friend, Eugene Jolas, who published the emerging work in serial form in the journal, transition, 'are time, the river and the mountain'".(10)  This contrasts with Heidegger's statement that in Hölderlin's river hymns, "the rivers ... are themselves ... of time and are time itself" (...sie [die Ströme] selbst [sind] dieses Zeithafte und die Zeit selbst, GA53:12(11)). In what sense is this a contrast? One could say that the conception of time underlying Joyce's statement is that derived from Vico's cyclical theory of history, according to which certain universal stages the ages of gods, of heroes and of men followed by a transitionary stage or ricorso returning to the beginning are gone through in endless succession in time, which is simply given without itself becoming a far-reaching question as it does in Heidegger's thinking. In Heidegger's understanding of time, namely, time-space itself only comes about in an historical casting that opens up and shapes this dimension, enabling a people to be historical and stand in its history. Such casting is a creative event that can take place only under the leadership of the people's "great poets, thinkers and artists" (der großen Dichter, Denker und Künstler, GA53:62). It may be possible, however, to bring these apparently divergent conceptions of time into line with one another, especially since what Joyce creates as a poetic art work does not necessarily have to coincide with the (apparently Viconian) intentions and ideas he had in mind.(12)  Is it possible to overlay the Viconian conception of historical time, which for Heidegger would be an instance of a vulgar understanding of historical time,(13) with an Heideggerian understanding of historical timespace and its opening and casting through poetry and thinking? We shall make a tentative attempt in this direction. 

    What is harder to reconcile between the two conceptions, Joyce's and Heidegger's, is that, in addition to time and the river, Joyce also has the mountain. The mountain is in the first place a poetizing of the promontory that sites Howth Castle and lies on the peninsula enclosing Dublin Bay. Howth Castle is the head of the main male protagonist, Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, who, as landscape, has his feet lying in Phoenix Park. The Wake opens with the River Liffey flowing into its estuary of Dublin Bay, up against the headland of Howth and then out into the Irish Sea. "riverun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs." (FW:3) Klaus Reichert comments, "The symbolic level can be seen in the following way: The river, time and thus also the narrative, begins with Adam and Eve, with the polarity of the sexes and the first fall of humankind. With Joyce, Adam and Eve become 'Eve and Adam', an indication for his belief in the primacy of the feminine, which he expresses in the overall structure by giving the woman the first and the last word".(14)

    Reichert treats the opening line of the Wake as having symbolic meaning. Accordingly, the Liffey and Howth headland with its castle would be literary imagery that stands for another meaning, i.e. a Sinnbild in the German sense of the word. Such a symbolic interpretation, however, presupposes that there is pregiven a River Liffey and a Howth headland existing physically, geographically which can be used to transport a meaning beyond the physical facticity of the given river and mountain where the city of Dublin is situated. This meaning would be thus meta-physical in a literal sense and only possible on the basis of the venerable Platonic distinction between the sensible and the intelligible, the physical and the metaphysical. All metaphor and all symbolism rely on this metaphysical distinction. But, following Heidegger, the river and the mountain and the city are not simply given in mute facticity, but are first poetized into being and founded by the poetic word. If this is so, then the opening line of the Wake has to be read differently, not as the description of a landscape that has a superadded metaphorical or symbolic meaning. In this case, the river and the mountain are the movement of history itself, of historical time itself, from its very beginning with Eve and Adam. The observation that Adam and Eve's Church stands beside the Liffey on the site of a former tavern of the same name then does not explain anything at all. Rather, it is the poetizing of the Liffey, Howth and Dublin that first gives them their meaning and allows them to be and remain what they are only within an historical time that stretches back to the Graeco-Jewish-Christian beginning and also heralds the coming of everybody.(15)  The being of Liffey, Howth and Dublin is now poetized being that has been founded by the work of art.] 

    In contrast to Hölderlin's poetry, which bespeaks nature, rivers, winds, the sun, vineyards, and so on, Joyce's literary art work focuses on poetizing a city, a dwelling place for human beings in commerce with one another, along with all its historical traditions and political relations and entanglements and socio-cultural interminglings. Howth Castle, for example, was built on the promontory by one of Ireland's invaders, Sir Amory Tristram, the 1st Earl of Howth, as a fortress to defend the city of Dublin lying behind the headland. Historical time here is always already a commingling of peoples that involves not just trade, but also invasion and warfare, and this history is now poetized and is in a literary work of art. Moreover, the main protagonist of Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, is an inhabitant of the city of Dublin and earns his living as a canvasser for newspaper advertisements. His livelihood thus depends on the commercial intercourse of the city thus poetized as an historical way of living of city dwellers who are all inconspicuous nobodies. 

    Joyce's writings are all set in the everyday and call everyday phenomena into language, thus allowing mundanity itself to shine. This is a further contrast with Heidegger's Hölderlin, who poetizes above all celebratory days, holidays, holy days, "Feiertage" (GA52:67) which, according to Heidegger, are grounded in and prepare the festival, das Fest, whose essence and origin, in turn, is "the greeting coming of the holy" (das grüßende Kommen des Heiligen, GA52:71), where the "holy" or "sacred" is "above men and 'over the gods'" (Das Heilige ist über den Menschen und 'über die Götter'. GA52:77). In Joyce's art work, there is the opposite movement of discovering epiphanies(16)  in the everyday, capturing them carefully in language, and bringing what is normally and traditionally revered as holy and sacred irreverently down to earth. Everyday life itself comes to be celebrated even in its triteness, as if the gods commingled among the people and the trite had again been rubbed up through careful attentiveness into a festive radiance. If, as Heidegger claims, Hölderlin poetizes ultimately the coming festive encounter between men and gods in which, for a while, there could be Ausgleich, i.e. balance, evenness and reconciliation,(17)  could it be that in Joyce's art work such an anticipated encounter takes place as a flowering of the everyday itself, celebrating the coming of everybody in his or her earthly bodiliness and foibles, which itself is holy? Such a coming is not a Utopian casting, but is already close to hand, although overlooked. 

    [A further contrast to Hölderlin's poetry is that, for Joyce, humankind is always already polarized erotically into man and woman, and the casting of human being itself takes into account the lack of self-sufficiency of the human being, expressed above all in the erotic tension between the sexes from the opening of historical time with the "fall". The three ever-recirculating stages of Vico's universal theory of history map onto the mortal cycle of human being as birth, love/struggle and death. Plato calls this recurring cycle the peri/odoj qanatofo/roj, the "death-bearing circular path".(18)  It is impossible not only, even granted metempsychosis, to think this recurring cycle without progeneration between man and woman, but also to think human life without what constitutes it: the struggles of love between man and woman, and also among men and among women, which includes also the struggle between the generations, the displacement of the older generation by the younger, incest, adultery and also jealousy and rivalry in all their subtle variants. The world of Joyce's art work is thus populated from the start by both men and women, different generations and rivals all in tension with one another. It is no accident that Joyce chose for Bloomsday the day he started courting his own future wife, Nora Barnacle,(19)  nor that what preoccupies the sexually frustrated Bloom throughout the day is the presumed adultery of his wife, Molly. Erotic love in all its ambiguity, its joy and pain, bodily lustfulness, seamy vulgarity, tender rapture and loyal commitment is poetized throughout Joyce's oeuvre and, in coming to language, is established in its being as a coming historical world.] 

    2. Love and struggle

    In the Wake the gods have from the outset already fallen to earth, itself poetized as river and mountain, as the prototypical woman and man, and have thus been mortalized. HCE and ALP stand for all men and women, for all love and struggle of which only mortals are capable, for they are not like the unfeeling, immortal gods; they can feel warmth, thus allowing the immortal gods to feel vicariously. Such immortal gods are not given any place in Joyce's art work. They are absent; they have flown. If Bloom in Ulysses is a mortal nobody, in love and struggle with Molly as well as other women, the two underlying main protagonists of the Wake, HCE and ALP, are, among other guises, mountain and river, but also a publican and his wife, and thus suffering mortals. The narrative of Ulysses is situated in the everyday of a typical Dublin day, whereas the Wake, also set in a single day and a night, is woven about the ever-recurring cycle of mortal, human life. 

    The poetized never-ending recurrence of the cycle of birth, love, struggle and death is a formula for the affirmation of mortal human life. Such affirmation is already given by Molly at the end of Ulysses when she says, "yes I will Yes", and it is reaffirmed by Anna Livia Plurabelle at the end of the Wake with her, "Finn, again! Take.", inviting him to take her sexually, but also in love and in another cycle of shared life. In the Wake the recurrence that starts with the last, expirated, aspirated word, "the", and continues with the first word, "riverrun", brings about poetically the intertwining and interference of all cycles of mortal, struggling, loving, human life simultaneously in a kind of dream state so that everybody is present, including all the known figures of history. An other beginning is another beginning of the same, reaffirmed in its recurrence, in which mythical and divine figures are at the same time historical personages or ordinary mortals. The struggle of the sons of HCE and ALP, Shaun and Shem, for instance, is at the same time the struggle of a Cain and Abel or the conflict between Catholics and Protestants, obliquely referred to through the historical figures of the Huguenot leader, Benjamin Rohan, and the progressive, heretic Catholic philosopher, Giordano Bruno[, who in historiographical facticity had no struggle with one another.(20)  Rohan, born in 1583, was too young ever to have met Bruno, who did have a spell in Paris in the early 1580s and was burned at the stake in Rome in 1600.] Let us read a passage from the Wake:

    "Which is why trumpers are mixed up in duels and here's B. Rohan meets N. Ohlan for the prize of a thou. 
    But listen to the mocking birde to micking barde making bared! We've heard it aye since songdom was gemurrmal. As he was / queering his shoolthers. So was I. And as I was cleansing my fausties. So was he. And as way ware puffing our blowbags. Souwouyou. 
    Come, thrust! Go, parry! Dvoinabrathran, dare! The mad long ramp of manchind's parlements, the learned lacklearning, merciless as wonderful. 
    Now may Saint Mowy of the Pleasant Grin be your everglass and even prospect! 
    Feeling dank. 
    Exchange, reverse. 
    And may Saint Jerome of the Harlots' Curse make family three of you which is much abedder! 
    Grassy ass ago. 
    And each was wrought with his other. And his continence fell." (FW:251f) 
    Here we have a quasi-Hegelian dialectic of recognition, not as a process played out between two self-consciousnesses, but as an "exchange" embedded within particular circumstances, with reference to historical events and with multiple plays on the polysemic valencies of words. Saint Mowy of the Pleasant Grin bespeaks the Catholic monastery Glasnevin, from the Irish for Pleasant Little Green, and Saint Jerome of the Harlots' Curse bespeaks the Protestant Mount Jerome cemetery at Harold's Cross. "The mad long ramp of manchind's parlements, the learned lacklearning, merciless as wonderful," refers to several historic English parliaments of 1258, 1640-53, 1404 and 1388.(21)  "And each was wrought with his other. And his continence fell" is a reference to Genesis 4:5 "And Cain was very wroth and his countenance fell". "Feeling dank" is also German "Vielen Dank", and "Grassy ass ago" echoes Italian "Gratias ago", "I give thanks". Joyce scholars have over the years tracked down and unfolded many of the countless implicit references that have been folded into the text of Finnegans Wake

    But apart from these clues to particularity, what is going on in this passage? There is a struggle and exchange between "dvoinabrathran", divine brethren or twin brothers, from Russian 'dvoinya' for 'twins' and Irish 'bráthair' for 'kinsman'. They are locked in struggle over the "prize of a thou", i.e. they are fighting for mutual recognition and estimation, which is only given parodistically with "Feeling dank" and "Grassy ass ago". In their struggle they mirror each other in their interactions, "As he was queering his shoolthers. So was I. And as I was cleansing my fausties. So was he. And as way ware puffing our blowbags. Souwouyou." And Saint Mowy's pleasant grin is to be one party's eternal looking glass, or "everglass", in which he sees his "even prospect". This immediately recalls the Hegelian dialectical movement of recognition: 

    Die Bewegung ist also schlechthin die gedoppelte beider Selbstbewußtseine. Jedes sieht das Andere dasselbe tun, was es tut; jedes tut selbst, was es an das Andere fordert, und tut darum, was es tut, auch nur insofern, als das Andere dasselbe tut; das einseitige Tun wäre unnütz; weil, was geschehen soll, nur durch beide zustande kommen kann. Das Tun ist also nicht nur insofern doppelsinnig, als es ein Tun ebensowohl gegen sich als gegen das Andere, sondern auch insofern, als es ungetrennt ebensowohl das Tun des Einen als des Anderen ist. (Hegel Phänomenologie des Geistes Werke 3 pp. 146f) 

    The movement is thus simply the double movement of both self-consciousnesses. Each sees the other do the same as it does; each does itself what it demands of the other, and only does what it does insofar as the other does the same; a one-sided act would be useless because what is supposed to happen can only come about through both. The act thus has a double sense not only because it is an act both against oneself and against the other, but also because it is inseparably the act of the one as well as the act of the other

    The upshot of this movement of mutual recognition, of which Hegel says that "each is out for the death of the other" (geht also jeder auf den Tod des Anderen, PhG:148), is "the prize of a thou". Hegel puts this differently: "Self-consciousness ... exists (or is) only as recognized self-consciousness" (Das Selbstbewußtsein ... ist nur als Anerkanntes, PhG:145). The Wake does not express the mirror interplay of recognition in the abstract generality of Hegelian concepts, but rather as embedded in multiple particular contexts, starting with the Bible's story of Cain and Abel, which is an historical casting of murderous brotherly struggle. The struggle of recognition in which "each [becomes] wrought with his other", i.e. fashioned through his other through being wroth, and wringing and wrestling with each other, is from time immemorial, "aye since songdom was gemurrmal", that is, since the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and since singing was a mere Gemurmel or murmuring, i.e. at the birth of language itself. Human being is thrust into the struggle of gaining a stand as somewho or other from the moment of the appropriation of humans by being. 

    Does the passage quoted merely boil down to an instantiation of Hegel's abstract dialectic of the struggle for mutual recognition? No, firstly, because the Hegelian struggle for recognition is situated within the movement of consciousness from sensuous certainty through to absolute identity with the world, whereas Joyce's art work is a casting of mortal, finite human being. And secondly, because the text does not boil down at all. There is much more going on in the passage than an exemplification of Hegel. There are implicit references in it to many different historic struggles: those, among others, between Catholics and Protestants, between the English king and his parliament, between the Biblical figures of Cain and Abel, which is perhaps the mythically original conflict for Christianity, the murderous envy and hatred between brothers. But there is also struggle between the nobodies, B. Rohan and N. Ohlan. Furthermore, the lofty is brought down to earth. The high and the low meet, quite irreverently. St Jerome comes into contact with the "Harlot's Curse" of gonorrhoea, whilst encouraging procreation of the family by spending time in bed, "which is much abedder". One would be "feeling dank" if buried in Prospect Cemetery at Glasnevin monastery, a reference to the physical process of bodily decay, rather than to the transcendent flight of the soul to heaven. 

    Moreover, not only is there a play on Cain's countenance falling, but also on one of those engaged in the struggle, being shit-scared, losing full control of his bodily organs, thus becoming incontinent "his continence fell". The sexed human body and all its workings, including spitting, burping, snotting, farting, pissing, shitting, menstruating, masturbating, copulating, ejaculating and orgasming are woven into Joyce's art work without inhibition, alongside and on an equal footing with all other human practices. Here comes every body and all the body for the first time in world literature. It is not, however, merely a matter of a 'first time', but of casting the human body in its earthly bodiliness in a work of art that celebrates, among other things, human bodiliness itself. This arrival of everybody in his or her body does not amount to an inversion of Platonism reminiscent of Nietzsche, in which the sensible gets on top of the intelligible, the physical on top of the transcendent metaphysical, the sw=ma on top of no/hsij, the body on top of spirit. Rather, thinking and the body are now on a par with each other. They meet on an equal plane, not ranked as elements in a hierarchy. What has been vulgar in Christian Platonism is now cast as holy, but the holy has been brought down to earth. 

    3. Babel 

    The Wake is not a book of revelation, but a complex textuality on the cusp between opening and closing, world and earth, a)lh/qeia and lh/qh that, in the words of Klaus Reichert, "never ceases ... to demonstrate its incomprehensibilty".(22)  Such a demonstration of incomprehensibilty is a refusal to be drawn into the light of understanding. And at those transitory points at which understanding is enlightened with a glimpse, the text splinters into polysemy. As a dream-book,(23)  the entire Wake also hovers in that twilight zone where the clearing is almost immersed in the body, has been almost engulfed by the mutely silent, earthy body. The half-awake Anna Livia Plurabelle is approaching death in the last lines, "O bitter ending! I'll slip away before they're up." (FW:627) Dream-immersion in the body is the signification of the Wake's language coalescing with the gritty materiality of its syllables, prefixes and suffixes, the literality of its letters, which are the Wake's impenetrable, never-tiring earth in the strife between world-opening and the earth's closure. 

    The slipping away of ALP at the close of the Wake is also the flowing of the Liffey into Dublin Bay and the Irish Sea, and thus an aquatic dissolution. Reichert points out that this dissolution runs counter to the Biblical story of creation: 

    But finally the Wake is also, on one layer, a revocation of Creation in that it blurs distinctions, negates borders, that is, retracts all that through which Divine Creation a process of differentiation par excellence was enabled in the first place. ... it was God who separated the waters in the beginning." (Reichelt op. cit. p. 158) 
    If this "Creation" is understood as a reference not only to the Bible and the story of how God created the world by making distinctions (separating land from water, etc.), but also to traditional, productionist metaphysics, which investigates the being of each being as it comes to stand and be defined and distinguished as what it is within a vertically structured ontotheology that leaves a place for a supreme Creator, a highest effective cause, then the Wake also can be understood as the revocation of the process of differentation and as a dissolution of narrative language, of language as a rigorously regulated means of expression or means of communication, of language in its intentional articulatedness, into language itself in which the God-author himself now carefully and attentively follows the signs, gathering the significations of all that has been said or written at some time or other and even of the significations lying dormant in language itself, beyond or prior to any human intentionality. The Wake is more radical than Ulysses insofar as the language of the latter is still the stream of consciousness of individual characters, individual sites of consciousness through which language streams, whereas the language of the Wake cannot be attributed unambiguously to any underlying character, and can degenerate even into the babble of an inarticulate god in the work's so-called thunder-words. The Wake has no clearly distinguishable, unambiguous characters, no 'subjects' underlying an action or a unifying plot. The Wake's language seems to be language itself speaking as it emerges from and also sinks back into inarticulateness; it is measureless; it flows, sometimes in many directions simultaneously. 

    The movement of the Wake's language seems to be also a recirculating back into the stillness whence language mysteriously emerges. The author of such a work is more a listener to language in its emergence from stillness than the shaper of language for the sake of telling or expressing. There is a devotion to language for its own sake rather than to how language signifies how beings as such come to gain outline and thus stand "clearly and distinctly" (Descartes) within language, which is how metaphysics, from its inception, has regarded language. Language is no longer for the sake of beings as such, but for its own sake, and the reader is exposed to the wonder of language speaking incomprehensibly, refusing and eluding, but not entirely, the grasp of understanding in a game of hesitating withdrawal into the stillness that is language's origin. In such elusion, a game of hide-and-seek, the materiality of language's syllables and letters, prefixes and suffixes also comes into play in a more musical resonance that says nothing in particular, nothing clearly defined, unambiguous and standing, and thus understandable. 

    The Wake folds in "everything that has been written" (Reichert S. 72) into a complex textual fabric, so that the text is full of implications that have to be explicated, i.e. folded out. In such explication, however, no single-minded sense is laid out, but rather many different threads of senses, directions indicated that mostly break off suddenly. It is as if all the possible truths that language can bring to light are now intermingled, as if there were a mind that could cope with the amalgamation of everything that had ever been written, rather than each language, each nation, each individual putting a different truth into words. The many disclosive truths of the Wake are in parity, interwoven into one texture. 

    Which brings us to the story of Babel and how it is retold, or rather untold, in the Wake in an unravelling of language. Klaus Reichert sums up the story and its consequence for the Wake, "God spake 'Let us ... confound their language', and Joyce finally did it." (Reichert S. 204) Or precisely the opposite: "The new language that Joyce invents can thus at the same time be read as the actualization of archaic principles, including in the sense that the Babel of texture through the amalgamation of 'all' languages 'in reality' potentially reconstitutes the state of affairs before the confounding of languages." (Reichert S. 72) Babylon regained in all its richness and luxury. This regaining of Babylon is performed in almost every one of the Wake's words, but explicit reference is also made to Babel at the end of the first chapter of the second book (FW:258). There, a twilight of the gods is staged in which the meanings of words leave the stage. "The timid hearts of words all exeomnosunt." (FW:258). "Exeomnosunt" itself is a play on words from the language of play-acting, with the stage direction 'exeunt omnes'. The immediately preceding lines tell us what these "timid hearts of words" could be, namely, the vowels or, in German, 'Selbstlaute', those letters that are themselves loud: "Gwds with gurs are gttrdmmrng. Hlls vlls." For, at the end of the performance, after the applause, "Uplouderamain!", we are confronted with "Gonn the gawds" (FW:257). God's words ("Gwds") are entering a twilight of the gods, losing their loud hearts, and this is a cause for astonishment: 'Hell's bells', and all 'hills and valleys' shall be levelled for the exit.(24)  Up until the gods are gone and the "timid hearts of words" all exit the world stage, "how they laud is only as my loud is one", i.e. the words sound only as the Lord is one and reveals His unified meaning in His holy, revelatory scriptures, or the ontotheological god of metaphysics gives meaning to beings as such as a whole. Now, however, in the historical twilight, the holy story of the Bible is untold, even to the point of unravelling the story of God's archangel, Michael, "Go to, let us extell Makal, yea, let us exceedingly extell." (FW:258). 

    The Biblical Lord has become a series of loud vowels. The text calls, "Loud, hear us! Loud graciously hear us!" (FW:258) But the loud Lord has spoken in clearing the air, has caused the towering house of language to tumble and rumble down from the firmament to the foundations into a tumble-down, tomb-like, doomed, worried world in which the inhabitants have been subjected euphemistically to the phenomenon of noise from a megaphone and can now only speak loudly with toil and pain and difficulty, suffering as they do from mogiphonia, 'a difficulty in producing loud vocal sounds with the larynx' (OED), thus becoming unhappy inhabitants of the earth, levelled into the indistinguishability of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. 

    For the Clearer of the Air from on high has spoken in tumbuldum tambaldam to his tembledim tombaldoom worrild and, moguphonoised by that phonemanon, the unhappitents of the earth have terrerumbled from firmament unto fundament and from tweedledeedumms down to twiddledeedees. (FW:258) 
    In this vowelless babble, the lofty Ten Commandments of the Lord become, among those who are now no longer lighted or litten by revealed meaning, the more irreverent beseechings "of these thy unlitten ones" such as "That they take no chill" (FW:259) rather than the Biblical "Thou shalt not kill." Even though language has lost its vowels, thus becoming uncontrollably polysemic and confusing in what it could mean, this misery of humankind can be alleviated by the playfulness and humour of language's play itself. "Loud, heap miseries upon us yet entwine our arts with laughters low!" (FW:259) Whereas Heidegger speaks of the historical possibility of overcoming the Western tradition of ontotheology with its vertical orientation toward a supreme, all-powerful being, albeit leaving a space for a last god to pass by,(25)  and in this deconstruction rethinks language in tracing it back to its source in silence, Joyce's art work performs the dissolution of this vertical orientation into the confusing babble of everybody, whilst acknowledging the silence from which this babble bubbles. The chapter we have been considering closes with a last aspirated gasp of the vowels before silence has the guts to fall: "Ha he hi ho hu. Mummum.(26)" (FW:259) 

      1. Paper presented to the conference Heidegger und die Dichtung in Meßkirch 24-28 May 2006. The thoughts here are distilled from my Social Ontology. Many thanks and much appreciation to Luanne Frank, Astrid Nettling, Dennis Skocz and Jeff Todd for comments. Parts enclosed in square brackets [] were omitted for the presentation in Meßkirch. Back 

      3. "The poetizing of astronomy and meteorology, the 'poetizing' of the explanation of nature of the modern age is of the kind, calculation and planning. Planning is also a poetizing, namely, the counter-essence and absent essence of poetry." (Das Dichten der Astronomie und Meteorologie, das 'Dichten' der neuzeitlichen Naturerklärung ist von der Art des Rechnens und Planens. Planen ist auch ein Dichten, nämlich das Gegenwesen und Abwesen der Dichtung, M. Heidegger Hölderlins Hymne 'Andenken' Gesamtausgabe Klostermann Frankfurt/M. WS 1941/42 1982 GA52:40) Translations from the German throughout are my own. Back 

      5. In a letter dated 4 December 1801, Hölderlin speaks of Greece as the "realm of Apollo" (Apollonsreich). "That is the realm of the heavenly fire for which Homer had to approriate sobriety as that which is alien to the Greeks." (Das ist das Reich des himmlischen Feuers, für das Homer sich die Nüchternheit als das den Griechen Fremde aneignen mußte. op. cit. GA52:184). Cf. Hegel "This, that the subjective purpose, as the power of these [mechanical and chemical ME] processes in which objects rub against and cancel each other, holds itself outside them and is that which preserves itself in them, is the cunning of reason" (Dies, daß der subjektive Zweck, als die Macht dieser Prozesse, worin das Objektive sich aneinander abreibt und aufhebt, sich selbst außer ihnen hält und das in ihnen sich Erhaltende ist, ist die List der Vernunft, Enz. I Werke Bd. 8 § 209). Back

      7. Richard Ellmann 'Ulysses: A Short History' in Ulysses Penguin edition 1968 pp. 705-709, here p. 709. Back 

      9. "Gonn the gawds" (FW:257). Back 

      11. Martin Heidegger Hölderlins Hymne 'Der Ister' SS 1942 Gesamtausgabe Band 53, ed. Walter Biemel, Klostermann Frankfurt/M. 1984 GA53:173. Back 

      13. "But I suspect, Stephen interrupted, that Ireland must be important because it belongs to me." Ulysses Penguin edition 1968 p. 565. Back 

      15. Klaus Reichert Vielfacher Schriftsinn: Zu Finnegans Wake edition suhrkamp, Frankfurt/M. 1989 p. 75, my translations. Back 

      17. Reichert op. cit. p. 71. Back 

      19. Reichert op. cit. p. 194. Back 

      21. Quoted as motto to Dennis E. Skocz's paper 'Of Time and the River: Heidegger's Reading of Hölderlin's River Hymns' in Analecta Husserliana LXXXII 2004 pp. 210-310. Back 

      23. Even with Hölderlin, who for Heidegger is the German poet with the historical mission of overcoming metaphysics, Heidegger nevertheless asserts, "Hölderlin still thinks metaphysically. But he poetizes otherwise." (Hölderlin denkt noch metaphysisch. Aber er dichtet anders. GA52:120). Back 

      25. Cf. Sein und Zeit §§ 73ff.  Back  

      27. Reichert op. cit. p. 40. Back

      29. "Here Comes Everybody"James Joyce Finnegans Wake Penguin 1939/1976 FW:32. Back

      31. "By epiphany he understood a sudden spiritual manifestation either in the vulgarity of speech or gesture or in a thought-provoking phase of spirit itself. He believed that the task of the writer was to record these epiphanies with extreme care, since they themselves were the most delicate and evanescent of all moments." (Stephen Hero p. 224, cited in Reichert op. cit. p. 184; my translation back from the German) Back

      33. "For a while destiny is balanced. Otherwise and most of the time, it is therefore not balanced: human beings and gods and those who prepare and interpret the sending and what is befitting for their encounter mostly do not find their way into what is befitting." (Eine Weile ist das Schicksal ausgeglichen. Sonst und die meiste Zeit ist es also unausgeglichen: Menschen und Götter und jene, die die Schickung und das Schickliche ihrer Entgegnung vorbereiten und auslegen, finden sich zumeist nicht in das Schickliche. GA52:92f) Back

      35. Cf. Plato Rep. X 617d7. Back

      37. Cf. Richard Ellmann in Ulysses p. 706. Back

      39. Bruno had a spell in Paris during which he carried on discourse with the Politiques, moderate Catholics who at the time dominated the court of Henry III and were sympathizers of the Protestant king of Navarre, Henry of Bourbon. Cf. Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Giordano Bruno. Back

      41. Cf. Roland McHugh Annotations to Finnegans Wake Johns Hopkins U.P. Baltimore 2nd. ed. 1991 p. 252. Back

      43. Reichert op. cit. p. 15. Back

      45. "[im] Zustande zwischen Seyn und Nichtseyn wird aber überall das Mögliche real, und das wirkliche ideal, und diss ist in der freien Kunstnachahmung ein furchtbarer aber göttlicher Traum" ("in the state between beyng and non-beyng, however, everywhere the possible becomes real and the real ideal, and this is in free art-imitating a terrible but divine dream"), excerpt from Hölderlin's essay 'Das Werden im Vergehen'; cited in Heidegger GA52:120. Back

      47. For the entry of God, the Bible proclaims, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,..." Isaiah 40:3f. The exit of "the timid hearts of words" gives the lie to, "but the word of our God shall stand for ever". Isaiah 40:8. Back

      49. "die Stätte des Vorbeigangs des letzten Gottes" (GA65:413f). Back

      51. Mum! = silence! G. Mumm = guts. Back


      Copyright (c) 2006 by Michael Eldred, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. and international copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the author is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the author.

      Back to artefact homepage