The Divided Mind. Part Three: The Unhappy Consciousness (5)

‘Wait! In the name of. And all the holly. And some the mistle and it Saint Yves. Hoost!! Ahem! There’s Ada, Bett, Celia, Delia, Ena, Fretta, Gilda, Hilda, Ita, Jess, Katty, Lou, (they make me cough as sure as I read them) Mina, Nippa, Opsy, Poll, Queenie, Ruth, Saucy, Trix, Una, Vela, Wanda, Xenia, Yva, Zulma, Phoebe,Thelma. And Mee! The reformatory boys is goaling in for the church so we’ve all comefeast like the groupsuppers and caught lipsolution from Anty Pravidance under penancies for myrtle sins’.

- James Joyce, ‘Finnegans Wake’

Wherein Shem the Penman interrogates Shaun the Post concerning the main characters and symbolism of the Wake; the first question is about Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, the second is about Anna Livia Plurabelle, the third the motto of Dublin, the fourth is Dublin (as told by the respective historians of the four main cities of Ireland), the fifth Old Joe, the sixth Kate, the seventh concerns the twelve Murphys, the eighth the 28 Rainbow girls or Magdalene girls, the ninth is the central vision of the Wake, the kaleidoscope of history, the tenth Issy, the eleventh is Mick or Shaun and the twelfth is about Nick or Shem.

Here we are concerned with Issy: listen, there’s the train, and the sounds of all the four courts, and the big guy and the eleven boozers, (the Last Supper, the Middle East), causing a nuisance, and my eight and twenty classmates (Rainbow girls)! There’s A B C D E F GF H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z and me! The reformatory boys are in church, so we are come to feast like grasshoppers and got absolution and penance and when I get married all my girls will sing and bright pigeons all over the world will fly with mistletoe around their necks and a crumb from my cake we keep all the wrapping paper (the mysterious letter from Boston). Oh my Darling! Close your eyes, now open your lips Pepette (mirror image — for cake or chocolate), like I used to with Dan Holohan. Whoever would have ears like ours — do you like (the sound of the cake/chocolate wrapper) my silent one (looking into mirror)?

Myrtle sins, the myrtle being sacred to Venus and used as an emblem of love; her mortal sins are sins of love the absolution for which Issy much seek through penancies; how are we to understand penance philosophically, this act of self-abasement, mortification, or devotion undergone to demonstrate sorrow or repentance for sin? We left the Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel’s, (1770–1931), Unhappy Consciousness at the end of the previous part of this series in difficulties; in a condition of false humility and recognising itself in such as it treated the world and its capacities as gifts from the Unchangeable (God if you prefer) for which it gave thanks while recognizing that such gifts are a source of prideful enjoyment for it: ‘Consciousness feels itself therein as a particular individual, and does not let itself be deceived by its own seeming renunciation, for the truth of the matter is that it has not renounced itself’. And from this sense of unworthiness it moves on from the ideal of work and enjoyment to the ideal of penitence, where the Unhappy Consciousness tries to overcome its hypocrisy (this is a very interesting take on the subject of penitence): ‘Work and enjoyment thus lose all universal content and significance, for if they had any, they would have an absolute being of their own. Both withdraw into their mere particularity, which consciousness is set upon reducing to nothingness’. In its endeavours to purify itself the Unhappy Consciousness turns upon its own body as a source of weakness and spiritual corruption, as standing in the way of its attempts to rise above its mere individuality; but the more it tries to overcome its physical nature, the more the body becomes an obsessive focus of attention:

‘Consciousness is aware of itself as this actual individual in the animal functions. These are no longer performed naturally and without embarrassment, as matters trifling in themselves which cannot possess any importance or essential significance for Spirit; instead, since it is in them that the enemy reveals itself in his characteristic shape, they are rather the object of serious endeavour, and become precisely matters of the utmost importance. This enemy, however, renews himself in his defeat, and consciousness, in fixing its attention on him, far from freeing itself from him, really remains for ever in contact with him, and for ever sees itself as defiled; and, since at the same time this object of its efforts, instead of being something essential, is of the meanest character, instead of being a universal, is the merest particular, we have here only a personality confined to its own self and its own petty actions, a personality brooding over itself, as wretched as it is impoverished’.

In going further in this attempt at reducing its particularity to nothingness the Unhappy Consciousness now relinquishes all freedom of action as well as all earthly goods, and puts them in the hands of a ‘mediator or minister [priest]’, to decide for it how it should act:

‘This mediator, having a direct relationship with the unchangeable Being, ministers by giving advice on what is right. The action, since it follows upon the decision of someone else, ceases, as regards the doing or the willing of it, to be its own. But there is still left to the unessential consciousness the objective aspect, viz. the fruit of its labour, and its enjoyment. These, therefore, it rejects as well, and just as it renounces its will, so it renounces the actuality it received in work and enjoyment . . . Through these moments of surrender, first of its right to decide for itself, then of its property and enjoyment, and finally through the positive moment of practising what it does not understand, it truly and completely deprives itself of the consciousness of inner and outer freedom, of the actuality in which consciousness exists for itself. It has the certainty of having truly divested itself of its ‘I’, and of having turned its immediate self-consciousness into a Thing, into an objective existence’.

Here the Unhappy Consciousness comes to feel it has achieved authentic self-renunciation, in a manner that was not feasable either through prayer or through work; however, although the individual can take a step towards universality by putting himself or herself under the influence and guidance of the priest, this is merely a negative loss of self, and so does not really signal the synthesis of universal and individual, as the latter is seen as negated by the former: ‘The surrender of its own will, as a particular will, is not taken by it to be in principle the positive aspect of universal will. Similarly, its giving up of possessions and enjoyment has only the same negative meaning’.

I have previously identified Søren Kierkegaard, (1813–1855), as an exemplar of the Unhappy Consciousness in prayerful mode, Albert Schweitzer, (1875–1965), in work and desire mode; and in penitential mode? I suggest Blaise Pascal, (1623–1662).

‘Sickness is the natural state of Christians’, said Pascal, himself a sick man all his life and clearly ‘a personality brooding over itself, as wretched as it is impoverished’ who saw his body as a source of weakness and who opted for suffering rather than for the help afforded by medical science, almost certainly shortening his life in the process; he preferred suffering over enjoyment; the author of tedious, dreary and poorly argued theological work written as though its arguments are very much settled and beyond dispute; writings imbued with the fear of god and death (which makes you wonder why he didn’t seek after medical attention but then he is an Unhappy Consciousness in penitential mode); and in constant breach of the 8th Commandment (Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour) in his interminable misrepresentation of and derisiveness towards atheists.

Some thoughts of Pascal:

‘There are only three kinds of persons; those who serve God, having found Him; others who are occupied in seeking Him, not having found Him; while the remainder live without seeking Him, and without having found Him. The first are reasonable and happy, the last are foolish and unhappy; those between are unhappy and reasonable’.

‘To begin by pitying unbelievers; they are wretched enough by their condition. We ought only to revile them where it is beneficial; but this does them harm’.

‘Surely then it is a great evil thus to be in doubt, but it is at least an indispensable duty to seek when we are in such doubt; and thus the doubter who does not seek is altogether completely unhappy and completely wrong. And if besides this he is easy and content, professes to be so, and indeed boasts of it; if it is this state itself which is the subject of his joy and vanity, I have no words to describe so silly a creature’.

‘ … at least learn your inability to believe, since reason brings you to this, and yet you cannot believe. Endeavour then to convince yourself, not by increase of proofs of God, but by the abatement of your passions. You would like to attain faith, and do not know the way; you would like to cure yourself of unbelief, and ask the remedy for it. Learn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their possessions. These are people who know the way which you would follow, and who are cured of an ill of which you would be cured. Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc. Even this will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness.- ‘But this is what I am afraid of’. — And why? What have you to lose?’

And further, Pascal attempts at reducing his particularity to nothingness through relinquishing all freedom of action and placing himself in the hands of a mediator, ultimately of course Jesus Christ the high Priest, (c. 4 BC — c 30/33 AD), to decide for him how to act:

‘If God gave us masters by His own hand, oh! how necessary for us to obey them with a good heart! Necessity and events follow infallibly’.

‘“I am present with thee by My Word in Scripture, by My Spirit in the Church and by inspiration, by My power in the priests, by My prayer in the faithful”’.

‘I consider Jesus Christ in all persons and in ourselves: Jesus Christ as a Father in His Father, Jesus Christ as a Brother in His Brethren, Jesus Christ as poor in the poor, Jesus Christ as rich in the rich, Jesus Christ as Doctor and Priest in priests, Jesus Christ as Sovereign in princes, etc. For by His glory He is all that is great, being God; and by His mortal life He is all that is poor and abject. Therefore He has taken this unhappy condition, so that He could be in all persons, and the model of all conditions’.

But though as an Unhappy Consciousness Pascal is in a sorrowful state stuck in a particular moment of religious murkiness, in the Phenomenology this is the moment of transition for consciousness with an abrupt change from gloomy religiosity to rationalistic optimism; for once it has adopted the priest as a mediator consciousness can then conceive of the possibility of blessedness and come to think that at least in principle its actions might be recognized as those required and ordained by the Unchangeable; it thereby no longer views itself as inherently out of touch with the rational order that governs the world, even though it still sees such reconciliation as a beyond, something best regarded as a hope; and yet once it relinquishes thinking of this reconciliation as out of reach the rationalistic self assurance of Stoicism (see The Divided Mind. Part One: Stoicism) makes a comeback but this time in a new and more radical form in which self-consciousness as an individual recognizes itself in the world of objects, and thereby no longer sets itself outside the rational order qua universal: ‘In this movement it has also become aware of its unity with this universal’ and thus it acquires a rejuvenated rationalism.

Thus the section on the Unhappy Consciousness in Hegel’s Phenomenology comes to an end but more needs to be said about the mediator, and about the enemy that Hegel keeps referring to and was mentioned briefly above (you may have been wondering who this enemy is) before this series ends also.


by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

AWAY! the moor is dark beneath the moon,

Rapid clouds have drunk the last pale beam of even:

Away! the gathering winds will call the darkness soon,

And profoundest midnight shroud the serene lights of heaven.

Pause not! the time is past! Every voice cries, ‘Away!’

Tempt not with one last tear thy friend’s ungentle mood:

Thy lover’s eye, so glazed and cold, dares not entreat thy stay:

Duty and dereliction guide thee back to solitude.

Away, away! to thy sad and silent home;

Pour bitter tears on its desolated hearth;

Watch the dim shades as like ghosts they go and come,

And complicate strange webs of melancholy mirth.

The leaves of wasted autumn woods shall float around thine head,

The blooms of dewy Spring shall gleam beneath thy feet:

But thy soul or this world must fade in the frost that binds the dead,

Ere midnight’s frown and morning’s smile, ere thou and peace, may


The cloud shadows of midnight possess their own repose,

For the weary winds are silent, or the moon is in the deep;

Some respite to its turbulence unresting ocean knows;

Whatever moves or toils or grieves hath its appointed sleep.

Thou in the grave shalt rest: — yet, till the phantoms flee,

Which that house and heath and garden made dear to thee erewhile,

Thy remembrance and repentance and deep musings are not free

From the music of two voices, and the light of one sweet smile.

To be concluded ….

Notes to ‘Finnegans Wake quotation:

1. in the name of God and all that’s holy (phrase).

2. mistle = missel, mizzle + mistletoe.

3. Saint Ives, town, Cornwall; and ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ (song).

4. hoost = a cough.

5. ahem = an exclamation to attract attention to the speaker, or to give him time to consider what he is to say; and Issy shaded into all young girls and splintered into phases of the female psyche, a mystery the writer seems to have found more intriguing as he aged. What may be involved here is something we are not yet prepared to explore, the writer’s perception of the nature of sanity (Hayman, David / The “Wake” in transit).

6. Delia (Latin) = Diana (from her birth on Delos).

7. íde (Irish) = thirst.

8. Is reads; and coughs (Joyce’s note).

9. mina (Latin) = smooth.

10. Ops = Roman goddess of fertility, agriculture, wife of Saturn.

11. Queenie = Parnell’s name for Mrs O’Shea.

12. úna (Irish) = famine.

13. Xenia (‘gifts for strangers’) = title of Martial’s Epigrams. Heroine of Boris Godunov; and xenia (Greek), hospitality.

14. Phoebe = the Moon personified, a shepherdess in ‘As You Like It’. ‘Phoebe Dearest’ is a song.

15. reformatory = an institution to which juvenile incorrigibles or offenders against the law are sent with a view to their reformation.

16. goal = the destination of a (more or less laborious) journey; and going in.

17. confessed.

18. grasshoppers.

19. absolution.

20. providence, the guardianship and control exercised by a deity; and pravda (Russian), truth; and pravda (Serbian), justice.

21. penancy = penitency, repentance.

22. myrtle = a shrub growing abundantly in Southern Europe, having shiny evergreen leaves and white sweet-scented flowers, and now used chiefly in perfumery. The myrtle was held sacred to Venus and is used as an emblem of love; mortal.



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David Proud

David Proud is a British philosopher currently pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, on Hegel and James Joyce.