Fabled by the Daughters of Memory — Part One
‘… jo, openwide sat, jo, jo, her why hide that, jo jo jo, the winevat, of the most serene magyansty az archdiochesse, if she is a duck, she’s a douches, and when she has a feherbour snot her fault, now is it? artstouchups, funny you’re grinning at, fancy you’re in her yet, Fanny Urinia’.
- James Joyce, ‘Finnegans Wake’, 1939
Fanny Urinia, Urania, oh Heavenly One, how I worship thee, muse of Astronomy, daughter of Zeus and of Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, great granddaughter of Uranus, spirit of Universal Love, with the illustriousness and potent capability of your father Zeus, the divine elegance and wondrous beauty of your mother Mnemosyne. Attired in a cloak decked out with stars, your eyes and attention continually focused upon the Heavens. Holding in your hand the celestial globe to which you point with your staff, for you can foretell what lies ahead by the configurations of the stars. And those that you hold most dear are those who are the most concerned with philosophy and with the heavens. Those who have fallen under your tutelage you elevate to the heights of heaven, for it is a truth that imagination and the power of thought raise the spirits of men and women so far aloft.
‘Urania’s Mirror; or, a view of the Heavens’, front box design, for a box that contained a set of 32 astronomical star chart cards, 1824. Engraved by Sidney Hall, (1788?–1831), designed by the Reverend Richard Rouse Bloxam, (d. 1840)
Mnemosyne, goddess of memory, is mother to all nine of the Muses:
‘To each of the Mousai men assign her special aptitude for one of the branches of the liberal arts, such as poetry, song, pantomimic dancing, the round dance with music, the study of the stars, and the other liberal arts . . . For the name of each Mousa, they say, men have found a reason appropriate to her : . . . Ourania, because men who have been instructed by her she raises aloft to heaven, for it is a fact that imagination and the power of thought lift men’s souls to heavenly heights’.
- Diodorus Siculus, (90 BC — 30 BC)
It is of significance that memory and imagination are so connected in this way. Joyce associated memory with the faculty of imagination, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (1770–1831), discusses the psychological functions of recollection, imagination and memory in his account of Subjective Spirit in the Philosophy of Mind. Recollection, Erinnerung in German, is the capacity to retain an intuition and call it to mind at will. The process is as follows: first, there is a sensory intuition of an object in space and time. Then, through recollection, the intuition can be recalled within the privacy of one’s own mind. And in imagination the image can be altered at will. An image of someone’s face can be recalled, but then imagined with different coloured lipstick, or with hair combed differently, or no hair at all, or wearing a different and somewhat alluring necklace, or nothing at all. However, whereas recollection and imagination incorporate images, in memory, at least as defined by Hegel, one is liberated from images through language. Human language is a system of symbols through the use of which there is no longer a concern with the individual and with the momentary to the exclusion of all else, but rather, through language one is granted a conception of the universal.
Memory therefore incorporates an ability to retain words and what they mean, and to recall them and to use them as the occasion demands. And all three of these processes can be said to incorporate the subject overcoming the otherness of the object, and thereby rendering the object its own conscious possession. When Hegel employs the term recollection in the final section of the Phenomenology of Spirit, which is concerned with absolute knowing, the term is used on several occasions to describe what has occurred in the text previously up to that stage. At one point the German word is hyphenated, Er-Innerung, indicating an interpretation of recollection as a going within of the subject. Inner has the same meaning in German as in English, and Innerung has the sense of innering, or, as one might put it, inwardizing. The Phenomenology is indeed a recollection of Spirit’s development by Spirit itself; it is Spirit going within itself, recollecting itself, and subsequently authoring its autobiography, not as some kind of a literal history, but rather the natural history of its appearances.
Thus Urania maintains her influence, for she is more than merely involved with astronomy and astrology, but in addition with all kinds of theoretical, abstract or symbolic knowledge and understanding, nurturing and encouraging the capacity to extrapolate principles and relevant information from a mass of details. Let us proceed further under the sway of her domination.
‘riverrun, 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….’
Thus the Wake begins with the word riverrun, which suggests the German word erinnern, to recall, to recollect, and is a continuation from the last line of the novel: ‘Us then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, mememormee! Till thousendsthee. Lps. The keys to. Given! A way a lone a last a loved a long the’; ‘mememormee’ suggesting remember me, and ‘memoro’, (Latin), to remind, to bring to remembrance. Memory and recollection play a significant role in the Wake; for it may well be unthinkable for one person to integrate in a comprehensive manner, even were he or she to remain within the confines of literary analysis alone, the extensive body of details and their interrelations, all of the references, all of the connections, all of the symbolic cultural and mythical connotations, all of the associated universal notions and collectively inherited thought patterns and imagery upon which the entire Wake is grounded; neither is it feasible nor especially fructifying to deeply immerse oneself in the entire corpus of exegesis and criticism that has accrued to date on the subject of Joycean prose, much of which engages with the Wake as though it were an extensive albeit sophisticated logogriph, a work of fiction to be anatomised, morpheme by morpheme, phoneme by phoneme, for such characterises much of the Joycean critical work that has been undertaken for many years.
Viewed thus as a gargantuan semantic riddle, a huge word game the clues to which are there to be uncovered and deciphered, as the compacting of thousands of allusions into one literary work; as a tour de force of presentation and engagement with etymological obscurities, idiosyncratic phrasings, and hermeneutic complexities; as the amassing of layer upon layer of the seemingly endless eccentrical destabilizing of once established meanings, the Wake then becomes not so much a work of literary creativity, but of the constructing of cerebral puzzles requiring ingenuity from such devotees and compilers zealously predisposed to much cataloguing and linguistic and cultural excavating.
But it is memory working in tandem with recollection that resonate throughout the Wake; it is memory that connects our appetites and their functioning to our physical existence; our aspirations and expectations, our feelings and longings, our fantasies and motivations to our spiritual existence. The appeals to memory in the Wake are not there simply as a kind of calling forth through recollection happenings of the past but additionally, and in some sublime and profound manner, they serve as a restorative, through ever recurring cycles, restoring and preserving the experiences of a life, as all life does, that is otherwise ebbing away.
How apt given his predilection for synchronicity and correspondences that Joyce invokes Fanny Urinia, and furthermore and in true Uranian spirit there is a need for a theoretical framework within which to explore memory and recollection as they function within the Wake. Errinerung is also crucial to the philosophy of Hegel as presented in that other narrative within which the entire history of the world is condensed, the Phenomenology of Spirit:
‘The June snows was flocking in thuckflues on the hegelstomes, millipeeds of it and myriopods….’
- ‘Finnegans Wake’
Erinnerung resounds throughout the artistry of the Wake. It is through recollection that the mind or spirit achieves its self-knowledge, as that which was merely external is taken possession of by mind or by spirit through the operations of memory. In the Phenomenology as in the Wake memory and recollection endows a particular and determinate existence with individual mental or spiritual forms of experiential factuality that then become essential elements of the evidenced self-knowledge of the recollecting process in its entirety. The affinities between Joyce and Hegel are clear enough; the dreamer of the Wake is caught in a self-developing process incorporating the whole of history, and within the cycles of his dreaming are identifiable moments of negativity, his falling, which are recollected as crucial moments in his development. The Wake may thus be read in spite of its obscurity as a narrative through which recollection of determinately negated components enables the progressive accomplishment of a consummate self-translucency for the dreamer in the form of self-awareness.
But most remarkable of all in terms of the end and of the beginning of the Wake is the kind of recovery from death in the form of recollection that takes precedence both in the Phenomenology and in the Wake, since it is through such recovery that the dreamer moves in the direction of self-awareness. In the development of mind the return from death of those forms of mind return in the sense of recollection, and this is what gives mind the image of knowing itself or it is what generates the image of mind as determined again and again as the process of a thing becoming a self-aware mind recovering from decline and death. This is played out at the end of the Wake through the monologue of Anna Livia Plurabelle; she tries to wake her sleeping husband, declaring ‘Rise up, man of the hooths, you have slept so long!’, and she recollects a walk they once took, and she hopes for it to happen again; Anna Livia as the river Liffey turns into molecules of air, the river becomes one with the Irish sea and the sea becomes molecules of air which become clouds that float over the Wicklow Hills that come down as rain back to the beginning as rain as the Liffey forming in the Wicklow hills flows through Dublin … the book’s last words are fragmentary, but they can be turned into a complete sentence by attaching them to the words that start the book; similarly the life of mind as narrated by Hegel in the Phenomenology suffers the death of its finite constituents and trudging onwards on the way of despair towards self-awareness.
‘Natural consciousness will show itself to be only the Notion of knowledge, or in other words, not to be real knowledge. But since it directly takes itself to be real knowledge, this path has a negative significance for it, and what is in fact the realization of the Notion, counts for it rather as the loss of its own self; for it does lose its truth on this path. The road can therefore be regarded as the pathway of doubt , or more precisely as the way of despair’.
- ‘The Phenomenology of Spirit’
In such a process mind seemingly self-actualizes its way to an ever greater and more comprehensive expression of its coming to self-awareness. Out of the welter of undifferentiated matter into which Anna Livia is being dissolved, her very own body, her individual self, may be preserved and restored to her to live again as she lived before. It is her prayer for the resurrection of the body, but the life everlasting she desires is the life on earth she knew. Recollection is thereby very much in operation here, recollection of past events are internalizations of those event: an event is thus within rather than at a spatio/temporal distance; and to recollect an event it is necessary that, at the same time of the event, the event is internalized and a memory acquired of the event so that at some later time it may be recalled; the memory is not so much internalized by recollection as it is externalized and unearthed from memory.
Erinnerung is thereby not primarily recollection but rather the internalization of a sensory intuition as an image and the image is subsequently abstracted from the concrete position, in space and in time, of the intuition, and given a place in the intelligence which possesses its own subjective space and time. And yet the image is ephemeral and passes out of consciousness, and thus Hegel and Joyce concur with regard to the equating of memory with imagination, for the latter is needed to revive or reproduce the image; the imagination, that is to say, is successfully reproductive, associative and creative. Urania works her spell.
However, developments in the science of psychology have of course proven human memory to be remarkably flawed; see my article The Metaphysics of Memory — Part Three. It cannot be relied upon to recount events accurately.
Jusepe de Ribera, ‘A Bat and Two Ears’, 1620s. The bat is a common enough emblem for the artist’s native region of Valencia on account of a legend telling of one landing upon the helmet of King James I of Aragon while he fought to recapture the territory in the 13th Century, but no satisfactory interpretation of this drawing that definitively decodes its impenetrable symbolism has been forthcoming. In the absence of memories and associations the imagination flaps about blind as a bat.
The theme of falling and rising in the Wake is developed through the dreamer’s embarrassing encounter with two teenage girls and three soldiers in Phoenix Park, Dublin; following clues in the dream it quite patently involves exhibitionism, voyeurism, masturbation, homosexuality, murder, cannibalism, killing the king, killing the pope. The dreamer’s sense of guilt is somewhat overblown and instils a sense of sexual horror given that this is a protestant residing in Catholic Ireland. But recollections alter with the retellings. The alleged encounter, the account of Harold or Humphrey Chimpden receiving the nickname Earwicker from the Sailor King, who encounters him attempting to catch earwigs with an inverted flowerpot on a stick while manning a tollgate through which the King is passing. This name helps Chimpden, now known by his initials H.C.E., to rise to prominence in Dublin society as Here Comes Everybody, for he is an everyman figure carrying the weight of the world’s memories upon his shoulders, or his hump, symbol of guilt, his own and collectively, though Humphrey at the same time is hump-free. He is subsequently brought low by a rumour that begins to spread across Dublin, apparently concerning a sexual trespass involving the two girls in the Phoenix Park, although details of H.C.E.’s transgression change with each retelling of the events.
And so the rumour spreads, beginning with H.C.E,’s encounter with a cad with a pipe in Phoenix Park who greets him in Gaelic and asks the time, but H.C.E. misunderstands the question as an accusation, (memories intervening) and incriminates himself by denying rumours the cad has not even heard yet. These rumours quickly spread across Dublin, gathering up apace until they are converted into a song authored by the character Hosty called ‘The Ballad of Perse O’Reilly’; (perce-oreille (French) = earwig). As a consequence, H.C.E. goes into hiding, whereupon he is besieged at the closed gate of his pub by a visiting American looking for drink after hours. H.C.E. remains silent, not responding to the accusations or verbal abuse. He is buried in a coffin at the bottom of Lough Neagh and is finally brought to trial, under the name Festy King. He is eventually freed, and goes once more into hiding. An important piece of evidence during his subsequent trial, a letter about H.C.E. written by his wife A.L.P., is called for so that it can be examined in closer detail.
A.L.P,’s Letter becomes the focal point in the trial as it is analysed in detail, such analysis being analogous with attempts to interpret the Wake as a whole. This letter was dictated by A.L.P. to her son Shem, a writer, and entrusted to her other son Shaun, a postman, for delivery. The letter never reaches its intended destination, ending up in a midden heap where it is unearthed by a hen named Biddy. Following on from this revelation the narrative digresses in order to present the main and minor characters in more detail, in the form of twelve riddles and answers.
Urania thus displays her influence, extrapolating principles and relevant information and making meaningful associations from a richness of details. Jacques Derrida, (1930–2004), once admitted: ‘I have often compared Joyce’s Ulysses to Hegel’s, for instance, Hegel’s Encyclopedia or Hegel’s Logic. It is an attempt to read the absolute knowledge through a single act of memory; this being possible only by loading every sentence, every word with a maximum of equivocalities, of possibilities, of virtual associations, that is, by making this organic linguistic totality as rich as possible’.
For Derrida, Joyce is very close to Hegel with the attempt to gather totality: ‘I’m referring here to Ulysses and Finnegans Wake — to gather the totality, the presumed totality not only of one culture but of a number of cultures, a number of languages, literatures, religions and so on and so forth. And this impossible task of decided gathering in a totality, in a potential totality, the potentially infinite memory… is at the same time for me exemplarily new in its modern form and very classical in its philosophical form’.
Derrida went further: ‘In a book on Husserl, [Edmund Husserl, (1859–1938)], my first book on Husserl, I tried to compare the way Joyce treated language and the way classical philosophers…also treated language. Joyce wanted to make history and the resumption, the totalization of history possible through the accumulation of equivocalities, of metaphoricities, tropes and so on and so forth whereas Husserl thought that historicity was made possible by the transparent univocality of language, that is, scientific, mathematical language, pure language. There is no historicity without the transparency of the tradition, Husserl says, and there is no historicity without this accumulation of equivocalities in language, as Joyce has said, and it’s from that tension between the two interrelations of language that I try to address questions of language’.
And so a literary imagination and a philosophical imagination meet and work together, though in Derrida’s case he is, dare I say, less of a favoured one of Urania in that in the matter of discerning and dissecting associations and connections contingency and necessity are all mixed up, (such are the pitfalls of deconstruction, so much of it is arbitrary), whereas Hegelian logic is about discovering necessary connections, and that makes it more challenging and considerably more interesting. It may be the case that Hegelian aesthetics exerted its influence on Joyce too, not necessarily through a direct reading of Hegel, but through a reading of the heavily influential A History of Aesthetic by Bernard Bosanquet, (1848–1923), which is predominantly Hegelian in its outlook, and to which is appended the closing section of Hegel’s Introduction to his Aesthetics. Joyce’s writing are also clearly indebted to early German Romanticism, given the allusions, the affinities, the analogies, in addition to which differential relationships between Joyce’s work and texts of Johann Wolfgang Goethe, (1749–1832), Friedrich Schiller, (1759–1805), Friedrich Schlegel, (1772–1829), and Novalis, (1772–1801), are much in evidence in most of his oeuvre and in particular the Wake.
Furthermore, James Joyce’s early essay, Drama and Life, draws substantially upon Richard Wagner’s Hegelian (in rather simplistic form) essay The Art-Work of the Future, 1849. ‘As Man stands to Nature, so stands Art to Man’, wrote Wagner. A community of men who feel a common and collective want create Art to fulfil that want and those feeling no such want are outsiders to the community of people, the folk (Volk) community, and crave only aimless and inconsequential luxury, that is to say, base entertainment masquerading as true art, Grand Opera for instance, and once such luxury has been eliminated by the folk community they will be able to band together to produce the artwork of the future. I can’t wait.
Ah Urania, involved as you are with theoretical, abstract or symbolic knowledge and understanding, nurturing and encouraging the capacity to extrapolate principles and relevant information from a mass of details, your influence is especially needed in the matter of influence itself. There is an Hegelian influence on James Joyce through Giambattista Vico, (1668–1744), who believed that societies rise and fall through discernible historical cycles, the philosopher with an immanent influence upon the Wake, but then, is it not rather to do with the topoi between Hegel and Vico, the literary or rhetorical themes or formulae. Influence is in any case a metaphor and perhaps not the significant one. Rather, inspiration and suggestion is not so much streaming in as rather there are emerging systems or identical interconnectedness; homomorphic structures, if I may borrow (or making an association with) a concept from mathematics. Joyce, it may be said, discerned homomorphic structures in the Odyssey, in Hamlet, in Don Giovanni, in The Count of Monte Cristo, in the life of H.C.E., in his own life. The suggestion is that the structures or systems of language themselves generate themes and plots, and then the influence between Joyce and Hegel by way of Vico is more a matter of each of those said individual’s topologies.
And a central topos of both Hegel and Vico is that of recollection, the key to self-knowledge, as with recollection and the imagination the daughters of memory dream up their fables. Recollection in the role of the imagination. And of rhetoric. Or the notion of recollection and circularity in the development of the sciences, practical wisdom and history. And so on.
‘The True is the whole’, said Hegel. ‘The whole is really the flower of wisdom’, said Vico.
And yet, the power of language is so much dependent upon rhetorical skills and combine that with philosophical insights when making quite comprehensive assertions concerning largely empirical phenomena, our experiences, as opposed to theory or pure logic, one cannot help but have one’s concerns about how much of the heavy lifting is done at the level of language rather than at the level of facts, (and remember, in memory as defined by Hegel, one is liberated from images through language). It may be supposed that insofar as we are dealing with subjective matters, literature or music say, that matters not so much, but for truly extensive all-encompassing assertions the greater has to be the evidence that is forthcoming to support them, and then it assuredly does matter how much it is language rather than the required evidence that is bolstering up the assertions. Abstract from an experience, in which individual elements are combined to form a whole, and an ideal type has subsequently been constructed, a type that is conceptually not dependent upon empirical factors or variables, and yet against which particular instances of the appropriate grouping discovered within lived experiences can be measured. It may be then objected that neat distinctions are available at the level of language and not at the level of facts and through the lens of philosophy ideal types are being confused with reality. The perennial dilemma, it may be that something sounds right and pleasing to one but that does not mean that it has to be true.
So much for the memory of words. Joyce’s language certainly gives evidence for a complex ambivalence towards memory in the context of his own aesthetic philosophy, an ambivalence manifested most forcefully through his literary representative Stephen Dedalus of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, he with a bookish imagination and who deviates between the aspiration for an independent authorship and the burdensome weight of a heavily loaded memory. Urania my muse, how much encouragement and support you have to grant to those concerned with philosophy who go in deeper and deeper. Awkward, complex relations between sound and sense, thought and action, demand a highly self-conscious intense attention, acted out as they are by Joyce’s literary method and Hegel’s philosophical procedure, reflecting as they do the manifold of psychic contradictions that emerge through recollection, and with which we are all beset.
‘What has gone? How it ends?
Begin to forget it. It will remember itself from every sides, with all gestures, in each our word. Today’s truth, tomorrow’s trend.
- James Joyce, ‘Finnegans Wake’
‘Fabled by the daughters of memory. And yet it was in some way if not as memory fabled it’.
- James Joyce, ‘Ulysses’, 1922
Coming up in Part Two:
Terpsichore, the muse of dance.
Notes to ‘Finnegans Wake’:
1. jo = used informally to address a man whose name the speaker does not know, guy, fellow; and jo (Hungarian), good, nice, pleasant; and jo (Danish), yes, as a reply to a negative question or assertion).
2. winevat = a vat in which the grapes are pressed in wine-making majesty; and magyar (Hungarian), Hungarian.
3. archdiocese = the diocese of an archbishop; One night drinking with Ottocaro Weiss, who had returned from the army in January 1919, Joyce sampled a white Swiss wine called Fendant de Sion. This seemed to be the object of his quest, and after drinking it with satisfaction, he lifted the half-empty glass, held it against the window like a test tube, and asked Weiss, ‘What does this remind you of?’ Weiss looked at Joyce and at the pale golden liquid and replied, ‘Orina’. ‘Si’, said Joyce laughing, ‘ma di un’ arciduchessa’ (‘Yes, but an archduchess’s’). From now on the wine was known as the Archduchess.
4. duchess = a lady holding in her own right a position equal to that of duke; a woman of imposing demeanour or showy appearance (Slang); and douche (French), shower; and duke, duchess.
5. Fever; and fervour = warmth or glow of feeling, passion, vehemence, intense zeal; an instance of the same; and feherbor (Hungarian), white wine.
7. fanny = buttocks; the female genitals; a tin for holding anything to be drunk.
8. Urania = muse of astronomy, planet, Aphrodite as spiritual love; and urine; and Orion; and what are you grinning at, you could fancy it was her urine.