Probable Impossibilities and Improbable Possibilities — Part Four

We’ve had our day at triv and quad and writ our bit as intermidgets. Art, literature, politics, economy, chemistry, humanity, &c. Duty, the daughter of discipline, the Great Fire at the South City Markets, Belief in Giants and the Banshee, A Place for Every- thing and Everything in its Place, Is the Pen Mightier than the Sword? A Successful Career in the Civil Service, 3 The Voice of Nature in the Forest, 4 Your Favorite Hero or Heroine, On the Benefits of Recreation, 5 If Standing Stones Could Speak, Devotion to the Feast of the Indulgence of Portiuncula, The Dublin Metropolitan Police Sports at Ballsbridge, Describe in Homely Anglian Monosyllable the Wreck of the Hesperus, 6 What Morals, if any, can be drawn from Diarmuid and Grania? 7





Julius Caesar.



Adam, Eve.

Domitian. Edipus.




Marcus Aurelius.]

3 R.C., disengaged, good character, would help, no salary.

4 Where Lily is a Lady found the nettle rash.

5 Bubabipibambuli, I can do as I like with what’s me own. Nyamnyam.

6 Able seaman’s caution.

7 Rarely equal and distinct in all things.

- James Joyce, ‘Finnegans Wake’

A passage from the ‘Night Lessons’ episode from the Wake; we have been here before, see my article ‘A Geometry of the Absolute’. The chapter represents a day in the life of school children receiving a classical liberal education; and so they have their day at ‘triv and quad’: that is to say, trivium, the lower division of seven liberal arts in the educational curriculum: grammar, logic, and rhetoric; and quadrivium, the upper division of seven liberal arts in the educational curriculum: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Joyce was taught by Jesuits, first at Clongowes Wood College, then Belvedere College, where he would have been taught rhetoric, the art of persuasion. While at school he penned a school exercise entitled ‘Trust Not Appearances’, which has been dated at around 1896, which if correct would mean that Joyce wrote it when fourteen years old; and when I think back to myself at that age and what I was preoccupied with then … however, I attended merely a Comprehensive State School, I was not educated by Jesuits; (nor am I a literary genius for that matter). The Jesuits , as I said, would have taught the young Joyce rhetoric, and ‘Trust Not Appearances’ exhibits the lofty, mellifluous style of Cicero, (106 BC — 43 BC), (the rhetorician that the Jesuits would most likely have focussed upon), together with the prose poetical style of another great rhetorician, Isocrates, (436 BC — 338 BC):

‘There is nothing so deceptive and for all that so alluring as a good surface. The sea, when beheld in the warm sunlight of a summer’s day; the sky, blue in the faint and amber glimmer of an autumn sun, are pleasing to the eye: but, how different the ocean, choking with froth and foam, to the calm, placid sea, that glanced and rippled merrily in the sun. But the best examples of the fickleness of appearances are — Man and Fortune. The cringing, servile look, the high and haughty mien alike conceal the worthlessness of the character … Fortune that glittering bauble, whose brilliant shimmer has allured and trifled with both proud and poor, is as wavering as the wind. The friend, who is but the fane of fortune, fawns and grovels at the feet of wealth’.

I do not know if Joyce ever studied that other great rhetorician, Quintilian, (c. 35 AD — 100 AD), who presents us with an excellent reason for the study of rhetoric, though here he refers specifically to the art of playing upon words, and presumably this is an end in view that Joyce’s Jesuit teachers did not have in mind when teaching the subject: ‘Urbanitas est virtus quædam, in breve dictum, verum sensu duplici, coacta, et apta ad delectandos homines’. (‘Punning is a virtue, comprised in a short expression, with a double meaning, and fitted to delight the ladies’). And in Joyce’s school exercise figurative uses of language (tropes) and literary themes and formulae (topoi) are arranged and amassed one upon another with rhetorical flourish, the use of alliteration for instance, for it was with playing with words and stylistic innovation that Joyce was to excel while elegantly engendering an extravagantly embellished euphony. Theoretical and practical quandaries and questions concerning the matter of art together with their resolutions that are imbuing Joyce’s texts are often grounded within or informed by a classical rhetorical style a la Cicero in particular, parodying through the employment of rhetorical stereotypes and categories his years of school exercises at Belvedere; utilising, as H. Marshall McLuhan, (1911–1980), noted, ‘the verbal stereotype to indicate and embody archetypes’.

‘What Morals, if any, can be drawn from Diarmuid and Grania?’

‘The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne’, is an Irish prose narrative tale, dating from the 10th century, from the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology, respecting the fine though ageing leader of the warrior band the Finanna Fionn mac Cumhaill’s plans to wed the beautiful princess Gráinne, (daughter of the High King Cormac mac Art), a fair maiden who, alas and alack for Fionn, has taken for herself a lover, the handsome Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, the latter possessing a Love-spot upon his forehead rendering him irresistible to the ladies. Upon the eve of the wedding the devious minx slips a sleeping potion to the guests while using her feminine wiles to persuade Diarmuid to elope with her; the noble Diarmuid at first declining, given his loyalty to Fionn, whereupon the inexorable enchantress threatens him with a geas (an Irish curse, oh do I know about those) thereupon compelling his compliance. They conceal themselves in a forest across the River Shannon with Fionn hot on their tail, the honourable Diarmuid at first refusing to make the beast with two backs in sexual conjunction with Gráinne at first out of respect for Fionn, in response to which she quips, indicating a familiarity with the Tristan and Iseult legend in which a similar quip appears, that the water that has splashed up her leg is more adventurous than he.

The couple having been pursued for many years around Ireland by the vengeful Irish chieftain, Fionn eventually succeeds in bringing about the death of the honest Diarmuid with the assistance of a wild boar; thereupon winning back the love of the fickle Gráinne; though as Diarmuid lay dying hope was still alive for him knowing that receiving a drink of water from Fionn, he of the magical powers of healing, would revive him; and Fionn did albeit it reluctantly fetch him water in his cupped hands, but thinking upon Gráinne he allowed the water to trickle through his fingers; and the same occurreds a second time; and for the third time Fionn succeeded in bringing Diarmuid the water, but by then he was dead.

What moral would I draw from this? Well, if you are blessed with a Love-spot upon your forehead wear a headband to keep it covered until needed; which Diarmuid must have done in any case, otherwise he would have been forever fighting off the ladies.

‘The Sorrow of Love’

by William Butler Yeats (1865–1939)

THE brawling of a sparrow in the eaves,

The brilliant moon and all the milky sky,

And all that famous harmony of leaves,

Had blotted out man’s image and his cry.

A girl arose that had red mournful lips

And seemed the greatness of the world in tears,

Doomed like Odysseus and the labouring ships

And proud as Priam murdered with his peers;

Arose, and on the instant clamorous eaves,

A climbing moon upon an empty sky,

And all that lamentation of the leaves,

Could but compose man’s image and his cry.

The Wakes’s day at the triv and quad invokes Aristotle of course, and in my quick run through his ‘Poetics’ I have now, as it happens, reached the stage whereupon Aristotle turns his attention to the diction of poetry, classifying words as either current, strange, metaphorical, ornamental, newly coined, lengthened, contracted, or altered; the latter five used by the poet for his immediate purposes of expression or metre. A word is strange if used in another country, current if in general use in one’s own. Metaphor is the transference of a name from one thing to another by certain relationships which Aristotle carefully describes: it may transfer a name from a genus to a species of it, or from species to genus, or from species to species, or by analogy or proportion. In metaphor by analogy or proportion, the second term is to the first as the fourth term is to the third, for example, old age is to life as evening is to day, so we may speak of ‘the evening of life’. On occasion one of the terms is lacking, with no word existing to fill its place, but such a metaphor may still provide expression. A poet says ‘sowing the god-created light’ when some unnamed process is to light as sowing us to seed. A command of metaphor is the greatest mark of a good writer, yet it alone cannot be taught by another, and is a mark of genius. Other embellishments may be employed to secure good effect by causing style to depart from the normal idiom; only, of course, in due proportion and with propriety; and the use of these devices of language can achieve greater clarity of style, for the perfection of style is to be clear without being mean.

The epic, Aristotle declares, in many ways is like tragedy. It should be constructed on dramatic principles. It too should resemble a living organism in its unity, having as its object a single action with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Epic has the same four kinds as tragedy, the simple, complex, ethical, and pathetic. It has the same parts excepting song and spectacle, that is, rhythm, poetic language, character and thought. The epic differs from tragedy in scale and metre; it has a special capacity for enlarging the dimensions of tragedy, for the narrator can transcend the limits of the stage. He can achieve greater diversity of materials, and can narrate simultaneous events, thus adding mass and dignity. As to metre, nature herself has taught us the proper one, the heroic or iambic hexameter which is the gravest and weightiest; for experience has shown others more suitable to other compositions and leaves us with only this still in use.

The poet should intrude into the narrative as little as possible; many have failed, not realising that it is not in this respect that they imitate. Homer excels in this, as he does also with respect to magnitude and unity. Again, Homer has shown the way in telling false things skilfully. He recounts one event such as would be caused by another, the earlier actually being false or impossible; and thus makes us fallaciously infer that the impossible event did occur. The diction should be elaborated in the pauses of incident, not in the action, so as not to obscure character and thought. And then a chapter near the end of the Poetics Aristotle lists certain criticisms such as might be applied to a poet’s work, and offers replies which the poet might make. I shall leave that until the next and concluding part. I would like to end here with a look at Aristotle’s contention that a command of metaphor is the greatest mark of a good writer, yet it alone cannot be taught by another, and is a mark of genius .Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (1770–1831), discusses metaphor in his ‘Aesthetics’, clearly with Aristotle’s ‘Poetics in mind, He writes:

‘The range, the variety of form, of metaphor is infinite, yet its definition is simple. It is an entirely compressed and abbreviated comparison, in that it does not oppose image and meaning to one another but presents the image alone ; the literal sense of the image, however, it extinguishes and it makes the actually intended meaning recognizable at once in the image through the context in which the image occurs, although this meaning is not expressly stated’.

‘But since the sense so figurated is clear only from the context, the meaning expressed in metaphor cannot claim the value of an independent artistic representation but only of an incidental one, so that metaphor therefore can arise · in an even enhanced degree only as a mere external adornment of a work of art which itself is independent’.

In demonstrating poetic use of metaphor metaphor we can address another question from the Wake’s school exercises: ‘Describe in Homely Anglian Monosyllable the Wreck of the Hesperus’.

The ‘Wreck of the Hesperus’, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1809–1882), is a heartbreaking tale that presents the tragic consequences of a sea captain’s pride. On an ill-fated voyage during the winter, the captain took his daughter aboard ship for company, but disaster struck when the captain ignored the advice of one of his experienced men, who feared that a hurricane was approaching. When the hurricane arrives, he ties his daughter to the mast to prevent her from being swept overboard; she calls out to her dying father as she hears the surf beating on the shore, then prays to Christ to calm the seas. The ship crashes onto the reef of Norman’s Woe (a reef on Cape Ann, Massachusets, US) and sinks; a horrified fisherman discovers her body, still tied to the mast, drifting in the surf the next morning. And the poem concludes with a prayer that we all be spared such a fate ‘on the reef of Norman’s Woe’.

It was the schooner Hesperus,

That sailed the wintry sea;

And the skipper had taken his little daughtèr,

To bear him company.

Blue were her eyes as the fairy-flax,

Her cheeks like the dawn of day,

And her bosom white as the hawthorn buds,

That ope in the month of May.

The skipper he stood beside the helm,

His pipe was in his mouth,

And he watched how the veering flaw did blow

The smoke now West, now South.

Then up and spake an old Sailòr,

Had sailed to the Spanish Main,

“I pray thee, put into yonder port,

For I fear a hurricane.

“Last night, the moon had a golden ring,

And to-night no moon we see!”

The skipper, he blew a whiff from his pipe,

And a scornful laugh laughed he.

Colder and louder blew the wind,

A gale from the Northeast,

The snow fell hissing in the brine,

And the billows frothed like yeast.

Down came the storm, and smote amain

The vessel in its strength;

She shuddered and paused, like a frighted steed,

Then leaped her cable’s length.

“Come hither! come hither! my little daughtèr,

And do not tremble so;

For I can weather the roughest gale

That ever wind did blow.”

He wrapped her warm in his seaman’s coat

Against the stinging blast;

He cut a rope from a broken spar,

And bound her to the mast.

“O father! I hear the church-bells ring,

Oh say, what may it be?”

“‘T is a fog-bell on a rock-bound coast!” —

And he steered for the open sea.

“O father! I hear the sound of guns,

Oh say, what may it be?”

“Some ship in distress, that cannot live

In such an angry sea!”

“O father! I see a gleaming light,

Oh say, what may it be?”

But the father answered never a word,

A frozen corpse was he.

Lashed to the helm, all stiff and stark,

With his face turned to the skies,

The lantern gleamed through the gleaming snow

On his fixed and glassy eyes.

Then the maiden clasped her hands and prayed

That savèd she might be;

And she thought of Christ, who stilled the wave

On the Lake of Galilee.

And fast through the midnight dark and drear,

Through the whistling sleet and snow,

Like a sheeted ghost, the vessel swept

Tow’rds the reef of Norman’s Woe.

And ever the fitful gusts between

A sound came from the land;

It was the sound of the trampling surf

On the rocks and the hard sea-sand.

The breakers were right beneath her bows,

She drifted a dreary wreck,

And a whooping billow swept the crew

Like icicles from her deck.

She struck where the white and fleecy waves

Looked soft as carded wool,

But the cruel rocks, they gored her side

Like the horns of an angry bull.

Her rattling shrouds, all sheathed in ice,

With the masts went by the board;

Like a vessel of glass, she stove and sank,

Ho! ho! the breakers roared!

At daybreak, on the bleak sea-beach,

A fisherman stood aghast,

To see the form of a maiden fair,

Lashed close to a drifting mast.

The salt sea was frozen on her breast,

The salt tears in her eyes;

And he saw her hair, like the brown sea-weed,

On the billows fall and rise.

Such was the wreck of the Hesperus,

In the midnight and the snow!

Christ save us all from a death like this,

On the reef of Norman’s Woe!

Hegel’s dismissal of the use of metaphor in art as merely ornamental given that a meaning that is pictured achieves clarity through interaction with its specific context may seem odd in the light of his own frequent use of metaphor, but he has more positive things to say about it outside of the ‘Aesthetics’. Indeed, Aristotle’s assertion that a command of metaphor is the greatest mark of a good writer, yet it alone cannot be taught by another, and is a mark of genius, applies equally to the philosopher and Hegel’s masterful command of metaphor marks him out as a very great philosopher indeed. What has to be understood however is that when a metaphor is functioning ideally and thereby transcends mere ornamentation it performs a mediating function leading us from representation (Vorstellung) to the Notion (der Begriff) and is not the task of philosophy that of recognising der Begriff in the Vorstellungen of everyday life? Furthermore, a metaphor can in addition make us aware of language as the medium that is truly universal (allgemein) and through which we can come to recognise both ourselves and others. And to return to the matter of rhetoric, in a text that is destabilised through the employment of rhetorical devices a metaphor can compel the reader to critically reflect upon the very nature of representation.

Precisely in their being an interruption of the conceptual course (des Vorstellungsganges) and bringing into convergence images that do not belong either to the matter in hand or to the meaning, metaphors alert us to the fact that representations, rather than being allowed to subsist (bestehen) must engage in a fluid interaction one with the other, thereby releasing that which is represented by a pictured meaning from its concreteness, and in this manner what is thought may be fully explicated and developed. That which is real cannot be simply disrupted and ripped apart, this is disclosed to us through our perception of metaphors as disruptors, and through such a disclosure something else opens up to our awareness also, the underlying continuity of being and thinking. Which is to say, metaphors perform a dialectical function, they are the very instigators of speculative thought, the enablers of thought to proceed to a conceptual understanding through the sublation (Aufhebung) of its representations. And through this sublation of the metaphor the original unity of what there is, or what is to be thought, is simultaneously restored, and revealed to be, like the metaphor itself, a duality in itself (eine Zweiheit in sich selbst), an identity of identity and non-identity; and in Absolute Knowing, a pure conceptual understanding of what is has thereby been achieved, and in pure conceptual thought, that is to say, thought thinking itself , that which a metaphor initially stood for has fully clarified itself, and the metaphor ceases being a metaphor.

There are so many examples of Hegelian metaphors I could provide in order to further elucidate this point; I will settle for one, let us suppose that we truly comprehend what happens in the unfolding of a flower, we can thereby comprehend it as being a manifestation of the process that also determines thought; for organisms in nature express what they are through being in continuous movement, wherein parts interact and thus form a living whole, which can only be grasped in a system that is itself organic, in which all the parts are in continuous interaction with the whole. It may be objected that this example of the flower is an analogy and not a metaphor but then, as readers of the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ that have made it to the end will know, having followed Mind or Spirit towards Absolute Knowledge one then returns to the beginning with a fuller more comprehensive understanding of what true knowledge of the matter at hand or the thing itself (die Sache selbst) entails, and by means of this comprehending cognition we thereby recognise that this is not analogy; through the unfolding of the flower the Notion expresses itself. And Hegel in the ‘Aesthetics’ refers to metaphors of the ornamental kind as Blumen des Ausdrucks, flowers of expression. Now there’s a thought, the flower as a metaphor for metaphors:


There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.


There’s fennel for you, and columbines.-There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me. We may call it ‘herb of grace’ o’ Sundays.- Oh, you must wear your rue with a difference.- There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died. They say he made a good end (sings) For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy-

- ‘Hamlet’, Act 4, Scene 5

To be continued ….

Notes to ‘Finnegans Wake quotation:

1. trivium (Latin) = (1) place where three roads meet; (2) lower division of seven liberal arts in educational curriculum: grammar, logic, rhetoric (O Hehir, Brendan; Dillon, John M. / A classical lexicon for Finnegans Wake).

2. quadrivium (Latin) = (1) place where four roads meet; (2) upper division of seven liberal arts in educational curriculum: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music (O Hehir, Brendan; Dillon, John M. / A classical lexicon for Finnegans Wake).

3 intermezzo = a short dramatic, musical, or other performance, of a light and pleasing character, introduced between the acts of a drama or opera.

4. SOUTH CITY MARKET = The block bounded by South Great George’s Sreet, Exchequer Sreet, Drury Sreet, and Fade Sreet. The Market was opened in 1881, almost entirely destroyed by fire, 27 August 1892; and Thom’s Directory of Ireland/Dublin, Dublin Annals section 1892: ‘August 27. — The South City Market almost entirely destroyed by fire’.

5. Cato, Marcius Porcius = great-grandson of Cato the Censor and a leader of the Optimates (conservative senatorial aristocracy) who tried to preserve the Roman Republic against power seekers, in particular Julius Caesar; and Cato was a determined advocate of war with Carthage. Every time he gave his opinion in the senate, he ended with the famous words ceterum censeo delendam esse Carthaginem (“Besides which, my opinion is that Carthage must be destroyed”).

6. Nero = the fifth Roman emperor (AD 54–68), rumoured to have instigated fire that destroyed half of Rome.

7. Saul = first king of Israel (c. 1021–1000 BC)

8. banshee = a supernatural being supposed by the peasantry of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands to wail under the windows of a house where one of the inmates is about to die.

9. Civil Service = a collective term for all the non-warlike branches of the public administrative service of the state, including the diplomatic intercourse, the working of the post office and telegraphs, the educational institutions controlled by the state, and the collection of the revenue, etc.

10. disengaged = unemployed.

11. nettle rash = an exanthematous eruption on the skin, appearing in patches like those produced by the sting of a nettle.

12. nyamnyam = to eat, esp. with relish; and Jespersen: Language, its Nature, Development and Origin 158 (VIII.8): ‘breast… obsolete E. bubby… Inseparable from these words is the sound… which expresses the child’s delight over something that tastes good; it has by-forms in the Scotch nyam or nyamnyam’.

13. Domitian = Roman emperor (AD 81–96), known chiefly for the reign of terror under which prominent members of the Senate lived during his last years.

14. Sphinx is often depicted sitting on a column whilst confronting Oedipus.

15. indulgence = the practice or habit of indulging or giving way to one’s inclinations; self-gratification, self-indulgence.

16. Ajax = son of Telamon, king of Salamis. In the Iliad he leads Salaminian contigent against Troy; of enormous size, a byword for physical strength. Ajax fought Ulysses at funeral games for Patroclus.

17. portiuncle = a small portion (of land), a pendicle; and portioncula (Latin), portion.

18. BALLSBRIDGE = District, South-East Dublin; site of Royal Dublin Social grounds, site of the August Horse Show and of athletic meetings. The locality is named after the bridge which carries the ancient highway from Dublin to Blackrock over the Dodder River.

19. homely = unsophisticated, simple; plain, unadorned.

20. Anglian = of or pertaining to the Angles (one of the Low-German tribes that settled in Britain, where they formed the kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, and East Anglia, and finally gave their name to the whole ‘English’ people).

21. monosyllable (Slang) = euphemism for ‘cunt’.

22. Marcus Aurelius = Roman emperor (AD 161–180), best known for his Meditations on Stoic philosophy. Marcus Aurelius has symbolized for many generations in the West the Golden Age of the Roman Empire. Marcus Aurelius’ death is often held to have been the end of the Pax Romana.

23. Hesperus = the evening star; ‘The Wreck of the Hesperus; (a poem by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow).

24. Diarmaid elopes with Gráinne (Grace), a king’s daughter whom Finn, as an old man, wishes to marry.