The Metaphysics of Memory — Part Eight

‘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.

Forget, remember!

Have we cherished expectations? Are we for liberty of perusiveness? Whyafter what forewhere? A plainplanned liffeyism assemblements Eblania’s conglomerate horde. By dim delty Deva.


- James Joyce, (1882–1941), ‘Finnegans Wake’.

Anna Livia Plurabelle’s monologue at the end of ‘Finnegans Wake’ is a protracted register of memories; and immediately prior to the cessation of all verbalization, prior to the sundering of body and spirit, A.L.P. utters the word ‘mememormee’…… thereby enunciating a terminal aspiration for the physical part of her with which she identifies. Memory is a function of the mind that Joyce associated with the imagination, and it most assuredly has its role in the performance of those sympathetic and empathetic operations that constitute a significant element in the facilities with which the perceptive and receptive artist is endowed, as evidenced in his or her flights of fancy. Memory is that which connects our physical existence to its appetites, and to its operations, and our spiritual existence to its hopes, to its passions and yearnings, and to its dreams and desires. Anna Livia appeals to memory not merely as a kind of evocation through recollection of past occurrences but in addition, and in some sublime and otherworldly manner, as the restorative that will return to her the life that is slipping away.

According to Frank Budgen, (1882–1971), this can be clearly perceived were we to take the word ‘mememormee’ as suggestive of ‘Me, me, Ocean, Me’:

‘…her final prayer that out of the welter of undifferentiated matter into which she 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’.

And from thence the novel turns full circle back to the beginning and riverrun…… Erinnerung, the word Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (1770–1831), used for recollection, but frequently with an additional connotation of internalization. A recollection of a past event is an internalization of that event: the 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 concurs with Joyce 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.

An awareness of the significance of memory in Hegel’s philosophical system is as crucial for its understanding as much as an awareness of its significance in ‘Finnegans Wake’ is crucial for its understanding. Endings and beginnings amount to much the same thing; for time, though it has the appearance of linearity, is in a sense circular. ‘Finnegans Wake’ is of course by no means confined within any particular cosmological theory; suggestions of the end of the world, be it Judgement Day, Armageddon, or whatever, permeate the book; indeed, on page 424 of this 628 page novel the world ends, in the Norse fashion, announced with a clap of thunder …… rackinarockar…… Ragnarok:.

Ullhodturdenweirmudgaardgringnirurdrmolnirfenrirlukkilokkibaugimandodrrerinsurtkrinmgernrackinarockar! Thor’s for yo!

‘Thor Battering the Midgard Serpent’, Henry Fuseli, 1790

Most of what constitutes this clap of thunder derives from the Norse eddas. Midgaard, that is, Earth. Ullr, a god of winter, and of archery. Hodr, also a god of winter and slayer of Baldr, assisted by Loki; they killed him with mistletoe, for mistletoe was to Baldr as kryptonite is to Superman. Baugimand suggests bogeyman, but also Baugi, the giant who holds the mead of inspiration, made out of the blood of poets, (odrrerin is one of the vessels used to house this mead), and which endows the drinker with the power to write poetry; presumably, like the poetic edda ‘Völuspá’, ‘Prophecy of the Völva (Seeress)’, wherein is related, by a völva to Odin, the story of the creation of the world and its approaching end. The völva’s account of the state of humanity as the end approaches certainly has resonances within ‘Finnegans Wake’, if we consider in particular the children of H.C.E. and A.L.P.; Shem, Shaun and Issy. Issy, with a mirror-twin representing a split in her psyche, daughter and sister, perchance an item featuring within some veiled and inhibited devotion of her father and of her two brothers. The twin sons, Shem the Penman, a writer, Shaun the Post, a postman, engaged in rivalry over who shall take the place of their father, and over who will win their sister’s affection. They are known by many names, like their father, and like Odin. Caddy and Primas, Mercius and Justius, Dolph and Kevin, Jerry and Kevin. And allusions are plentiful to sets of opposing siblings or rivals in history, mythology or literature; Set and Horus, who feature in the story of Osiris; the Biblical twosomes Jacob and Esau, Cain and Abel, St. Michael and the Devil; Shaun is equated with Mick, Shem is equated with Nick. And from mythology, Romulus and Remus.

As the völva prophesied:

Brœðr muno beriaz

ok at bǫnom verða[z]

muno systrungar

sifiom spilla.

Hart er í heimi,

hórdómr mikill

- skeggǫld, skálmǫld

- skildir ro klofnir -

vindǫld, vargǫld -

áðr verǫld steypiz.

Mun engi maðr

ǫðrom þyrma

Brothers will fight

and kill each other,

sisters’ children

will defile kinship.

It is harsh in the world,

whoredom rife

- an axe age, a sword age

- shields are riven -

a wind age, a wolf age -

before the world goes headlong.

No man will have

mercy on another.

‘Odin and Fenrir, Freyr and Surt’, 1905, Emil Doepler

To return to the thunderclap, according to Dounia Bunis Christiani, (‘Scandinavian Elements of Finnegans Wake’, 1965), ullhod also suggests the Norwegian word ulvehode, wolf’s head; and such were often depicted on the shingles that hang outside European public houses. And public houses certainly play a significant role in ‘Finnegans Wake’; a public house is its setting. And Fenrir also features in the thunderclap, the lupine offspring of Loki that, according to prophesy, was destined to slay Odin at the battle of Ragnarok.

A scene from the last phase of Ragnarök, after Surtr has engulfed the world with fire, Emil Doepler, 1905

It is characteristic of religions generally that they are accompanied with feelings of awe, feelings of worship, of feelings of something greater than its devotees; which brings with it feelings of dependency and subordination. But whatever this something is that is greater than the religious devotees it cannot, according to Hegel, be something wholly other than them; that way alienation lies. The dialectic of religion, in a nutshell, is thus: the nearer a religion approaches the recognition of the ultimate religious object as Spirit, the higher the ascent from the opacity of diurnal life towards the translucency of conceptual cognition. And the conception of Spirit is approached by Christianity through maintaining that at the very least there was one historical human being who was identical with God. This supposedly gives it the edge over other religions, because in Norse mythology, for instance, the gods and goddesses play merely transient roles; they were disposed to assuming mortal forms and imposing themselves into the ways of the world; and they die.

‘The new world that rises after Ragnarök’, (as described in the Völuspá), Emil Doepler

Religion may originate with feeling, but feeling has to be reinforced by thought, and the object of such feeling cannot persist in its indeterminacy as a something or other we know not what. ‘Religious feeling becomes yearning hypocrisy’, Hegel pointed out. Friedrich Schleiermacher, (1768–1834), had insisted upon the feelings of dependency for religion, resulting in Hegel’s retort: ‘a dog would then make the best Christian’. The object of religious feeling has to be represented by an image, an icon, an idea; but images and icons are finite, whereas the objects of religious worship are infinite.

The Snaptun Stone, Denmark, may depict Loki, c. 1000 C.E.

An image, iconic or otherwise, is, as was noted previously, initially a sensory intuition that has been internalized to be subsequently abstracted in recollection from the concrete spatio/temporal position of the intuition, and given a place in the intelligence which possesses its own spatio/temporal subjectivity. And in the dialectic of religion, Norse mythology may be far removed from recognizing any ultimate religious object as Spirit, thereby it is restricted by the opaqueness of diurnal life, obstructed in any movement towards the translucency of conceptual cognition. But in the dialectic of religion it is overcome while assimilated, that is, recollected; recollection, historical and individual, impresses upon ‘Finnegans Wake’ its timelessness; recollection, historical and individual, renders the Hegelian system a philosophy for all time.

It may be objected that such a reading of Hegel is not only at odds with how his philosophy is commonly understood but in addition it grates against some of Hegel’s own utterances on philosophy. After all, was he not an historicist who contended that ‘each individual is . . . a child of his time; thus philosophy, too, is its own time comprehended in thoughts’? And then the question arises as to what extent his thinking has significance simply within its own historical context, and how much of it endures in its relevance. ‘No one can read this book without feeling that he or she is encountering not only an important historical, document but a living example of the finest powers of the philosophical imagination’, said Robert C. Solomon, (1942–2007), referring to the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’. Many there are that admire the work while being of the opinion that the philosophy therein cannot be taken quite in the way that Hegel himself intended; for our modern perspective is crucially and fundamentally different from his. Post-Darwinism, post-Marxism, (Karl Marx, (1818–1883), thought we needed to distinguish clearly between the ‘rational kernel’ and the ‘mystical shell’ in Hegel), post-idealism,(Benedetto Croce, (1866 –1952) thought we needed to distinguish between what is ‘living’ and what is ‘dead’ in Hegel), structuralism, post-structuralism, post-modernism, post-whateverism.

But given the central importance of recollection in the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ it would be misguided to enquire how much of it is lost to us in this way. It would be equally misguided to refrain from taking the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ earnestly in its entirety upon the mistaken assumption that the essential Hegelian thoughts upon which it is formulated, Spirit, absolute idealism, absolute knowing, are characterised by such an outlandishness that they cannot be afforded any serious role in contemporary philosophical thinking. Concepts that were so firmly established in Hegel’s own philosophical and cultural environment, rationalistic Platonism, Christian mysticism, Spinozism, Romanticism, and which are not so readily understood or appreciated by us today, directed Hegel, it is supposed, to assume his distinctive stance in the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’, and in other works, that is absolutely unthinkable and extraordinary in this modern milieu. It is then also supposed that while there may be much that we can learn from Hegel’s system, his critique of other thinkers, his historical analysis of the cultural and philosophical wellspring of modernity, nonetheless it is a forlorn hope to suppose that we could ever rediscover and revitalise its essential and foundational arguments for a clear and specific tenet in so far as it intrinsically involves the aforesaid questionable notions.

And with such objections as these a crucial component of Hegel’s system, recollection, is thereby overlooked, and the common defences of Hegel can be equally misguided as they overlook this also. A typical defence is that such a historicist manner of addressing the Hegelian system renders Hegel an injustice, neglecting a proper interpretation of Hegel’s understanding of such key notions, endowing them with a more peculiar appearance than they truly warrant. Should we not rather cut away the metaphysical trappings from the notions of Spirit, of Idea, so that they may be more in tune with a contemporary perspective? May not Spirit be comprehended in terms of intersubjectivity, for instance? Or if such reconstructions of Hegelian thought are unacceptable, may not the notions in question be downplayed a propos their function in the system; that whatever rich conception of Spirit Hegel held we need not follow him in that? Hegel the educator, no matter that what we learn from him, thereby parts from his actual teachings.

And then another objection arises; granted that the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ is not historically inaccessible to us considered as a stand alone text, the system as a whole remains alien to us, making it impossible to integrate it into the system in general; this text that was supposed to pave the way for Hegelian logic, the dialectical investigation of categories; this logic that is a product of an essentialist metaphysics wherein being is deduced from essence, the world from thought; and further, the dialectical method is at odds with the principles of logic, the law of non-contradiction for instance, upon which modern logical theory depends. And so it goes … maybe the logic itself is neither so metaphysical and essentialist, nor so strange in its methodology, as it is here assumed to be: the ‘Phenemenology of Spirit’ is then allowed to be more than mere observations upon philosophical history, or on politico-social theory, or on the problems confronting modernity.

But then there is another argument from historicity that is supposed to deal the killer blow. It is concerned not with the alien nature of the concepts Hegel employs nor with the system as a whole but rather with the objective of his whole project, and the underlying outlook and aspirations expressed by that objective. More than anything else this apparently divides us from Hegel, who asserted that ‘to him who looks at the world rationally the world looks rationally back’; the philosophical system guides us towards feeling at home in the world, that is its ultimate goal. Who amongst present day thinkers would go along with such a claim? A claim already rejected by Arthur Schopenhauer, (1788–1860), Friedrich Nietzsche, (1844–1900), and Theodor W. Adorno, (1900–1969).

Is not such a goal rather devoutly to be wished for but at the same time illusory and impossible to achieve? Or if not, why suppose philosophy rather than science, or art, or religion, or politics on their own can achieve it? A faith in reason would seem to have little more justification than a reasonable faith. And what of the faith in progress? And if Hegel’s objective is seen to be one merely of reconciliation, though seemingly unrealisable and perhaps even undesirable from a contemporary perspective, may not the Phenomenology of Spirit’ be valued as a kind of apophatic discourse that lays bare the obstacles in the way of such reconciliation? And thus his warnings against the one-sided claims that aspire to provide gratification for consciousness may be heeded while reserving judgement upon whether he himself can avoid these shortcomings in the positive programme he erects upon the system proper. Adorno will have none of it: ‘Dialectics serves the end of reconcilement . . . but none of the reconcilements claimed by [Hegel’s] absolute idealism — and no other kind remained consistent — has stood up, whether in logic or in politics and history’.

And so certain aspects of the the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’, it is said, make it very much a work of its time, so that parts of it are of merely historical interest; in certain sections, such as in the discussion of observing reason, the focus is very much on the scientific outlook of his period, though the problem he is interested in is one we can still take seriously and reinterpret in our own terms. But Marx’s historicist and materialist critique suggests that his time has passed, as does analytical philosophy and post-modernism, though he may occasionally return to speak to us yet again, in ways not imagined previously. But once the central importance of recollection is recognised all such critiques are revealed as lacking and missing the point. Looking on the world rationally so that it will look rationally back at us contains its element of recollection, the system is alive and well because Spirit continues to be enriched by recollected images, Spirit acquires its weight and self-knowledge through recollection; it acquires its external form through recollection; and so it goes on……

As Hegel wrote:

‘History is a conscious, self-mediating process — Spirit emptied out into Time; but this externalization, this kenosis, is equally an externalization of itself; the negative is the negative of itself. Thus Becoming presents a slow-moving succession of Spirits, a gallery of images, each of which, endowed with all the riches of Spirit, moves thus slowly just because the Self has to penetrate and digest this entire weight of its substance. As its fulfilment consists in perfectly knowing what it is, in knowing its substance, this knowing is its withdrawal into itself in which it abandons its outer existence and gives its external shape over to recollection’.

And to return to the quote with which I began:

‘…..It will remember itself from every sides, with all gestures, in each our word. Today’s truth, tomorrow’s trend…..’

- ‘Finnegans Wake’

Elihu Vedder, ‘Memory’, 1870


Notes to Quotations from ‘Finnegans Wake’:

First Quotation:

1. cherish= to protect and care for (someone) lovingly.

2. perusiveness = persuasiveness, power of persuasion, the power to induce the taking of a course of action or the embracing of a point of view by means of argument or entreaty ; and peruse, to read thoroughly or carefully.

3. forewhere = forever.

4. assemblements = an assembly, assemblage, gathering.

5. Eblana = Ptolemy’s name for Dublin.

6. conglomerate = gathered together into a more or less rounded mass, or consisting of parts so gathered; clustered; also figuratively.

7. horde = a great company, esp. of the savage, uncivilized, or uncultivated.

8. Deva = a god, a divinity; one of the good spirits of Hindu mythology; and deva (Pan-Slavonic), girl; and Dear Dirty Dublin; and the dream starts to be forgotten, to be only subliminally remembered, leaving behind many questions.

Second Quotation:

1. Ull = a Norse archer god; and ull- (ul), (Gaelic), prefix, great, huge, chief, monstruous, mighty.

2. turdenweir = tordenveir (Norwegian), thunderstorm.

3. mudgaard = Midgaard, in Norse myth, the abode of the first pair, parents of the human race; it was joined to Asgard by the rainbow bridge Bifrost; and Utgard, in Norse myth, the realm of giants, where Utgard-Loki had his castle.

4, gringnir = Gungnir, Odin’s Spear in Norse myth.

5. Urd = a Norse Fate.

6. molnir = Mjollnir, Thor’s hammer in Norse myth.

7. Fenrir = a wolf in Norse myth, the son of Loki, who, with his father, will attack the gods on Ragnarøkr. Odin is swallowed whole and alive fighting the wolf Fenrir, but Fenrir will in turn be killed by Odin’s son Víðarr.

8. lokki = Loki, a god or jötunn (or both). Loki is the father of Hel, the wolf Fenrir, and the world serpent Jörmungandr. With the onset of Ragnarök, Loki is foretold to slip free from his bonds and to fight against the gods among the forces of the jötnar, at which time he will encounter the god Heimdallr and the two will slay each other.

‘Loki and Sigyn’, 1863, by Mårten Eskil Winge

9. Baugi = a Norse giant who held the mead of inspiration in the cauldron Odreri.

10. surt = Surtr or Surt (Old Norse ‘black’ or ‘the swarthy one’) is a jötunn. Surtr is foretold as being a major figure during the events of Ragnarök; carrying his bright sword, he will go to battle against the Æsir, he will do battle with the major god Freyr, and there will be a harsh conflict before Freyr falls, and afterward the flames that he brings forth will engulf the Earth.

‘Freja’, 1905), John Bauer

11. krinmger = Grimnir, the Norse god Odin.

‘After being put to sleep by Odin and being awoken by the hero Sigurd, the valkyrie Sigrífa says a pagan prayer’, 1911, Arthur Rackham

12. rackinarockar = Ragnarøkr (Old Norse), destruction of the Norse gods (Eddas)

Thor will do battle with the great serpent Jörmungandr during the immense mythical war waged at Ragnarök, and there he will slay the monstrous snake, yet after he will only be able to take nine steps before succumbing to the venom of the beast.

‘Thor’s Fight With the Giants’, Mårten Eskil Winge, 1872

13. yo = dialect pronunciation of you; and Yo, Japanese female principle.

In Japanese myth the Chinese dualistic principles of Yang and Yin, male and female respectively, become In and Yo




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

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

Being Metaphysical or Spiritual: What keeps humanity united despite having alternative beliefs?

Break the Spell

Why Does Everything Happen?

Degrees of Freedom

Making peace like Nature


Busyness 201: A Brief History of Work & BUSY in America

Sloww Busyness 201

Four forms of existence and identity views categories I have learned so far.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
David Proud

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.

More from Medium

on making friends

Ringcold….. Making donations transparent

TCoE: Suam Novam Vitam 1.3

2021 Firelight Year-in-Review: Program Highlights