The Metaphysics of Memory — Part Five

‘Eat ye up, heat ye up! sings the somun in the salm. Butyrum et mel comedet ut sciat reprobare malum et eligere bonum. This, of course, also explains why we were taught to play in the childhood: Der Haensli ist ein Butterbrot, mein Butterbrot! Und Koebi iss dein Schtinkenkot!

Ja! Ja! Ja!’

- James Joyce, ‘Finnegans Wake’

Marcus Junius Brutus (the Younger), (85 BC 42 BC), was a senator of the late Roman Republic, a principal player and conspirator in the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar, (100 BC — 44 BC), along with Gaius Cassius Longinus, (c. 85 BC — 42 BC). Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker and his wife Anna Livia Plurabelle, have three children. Shem the Penman, Shaun the Postman, and Issy. Shem the Penman and Shaun the Post are adversaries in the matter of supplanting their father, and in winning over their sister Issy’s affection. Shaun is characterised as a shallow and dull postman, very much of a kind to comply with whatever society may expect from him; Shem, on the other hand, is a quick-witted and clever artist, a mischievous innovator, perhaps within the narrative he is Joyce’s alter-ego. At one point in the dream that is ‘Finnegans Wake’ Shaun becomes Burrus (Brutus) and Shem becomes Casseous (Cassius).

Death of Julius Caesar, 1798, Vincenzo Camuccini

Burrus and Casseous, however, seem primarily preoccupied about the future dominance of Irish dairy produce; preferring the shunning of imports in favour of increasing exports, though there is some dispute over the issue of the market dependency on butter. Prior to the passage quoted above, it is made clear that the old Caesars must be replaced: ‘The older sisars (Tyrants, regicide is too good for you!) become unbeurrable from age…’ Burrus/Brutus/Shaun and Casseous/Cassius/Shem have to kill Caesar (H.C.E., their father) and subsequent upon that to engage in a power struggle in the wake of his downfall. Burrus/Brutus/Shaun, of course, has a greater ‘beurrability’ than Shem, (French, ‘beurre’ = ‘butter’); Shem is more like H.CE., that is to say, ‘unbeurrable fromage’, that is, cheese that cannot be made into butter, (French, ‘fromage’ = ‘cheese’). Within this scenario the capability to be similar to or to produce butter has become the standard measure of value; otherwise, there would be no reason to murder and supplant an unbeurrable Caesar. And Burrus, it would seem from all the indications in the text, including his name, is the favoured son, Ireland’s future saviour. In his younger days Burrus was, we are told, ‘a king off duty and a jaw for ever!’; ‘jaw’, which is slang for talk, but memories are also evoked here of John Keats’, (1795–1821), ‘Endymion’:

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:

Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness; but still will keep

A bower quiet for us, and a sleep

Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

But who is the king off duty? Well it could be Charles Stewart Parnell, (1846–1891), an Irish politician, the uncrowned king not yet on duty, a leading figure in the movement for Irish home rule, but whose downfall followed on from revelations of an affair with a married woman, Katharine O’Shea, (1846–1921); thus ended Parnell’s leadership of the Irish Parliament and he died a broken man, only a few months subsequent to marrying Katharine.

And then there comes in the text Vulgate Latin prophecy to be found in ‘Isaiah’ 7.15: ‘Butyrum et mel comedet ut sciat reprobare malum et eligere bonum’; ‘butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good’. This passage has been interpreted as a prophecy of the advent of Jesus:

‘Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good’.

- ‘Isaiah’ 7: 14–15.

The uncrowned king is thus brought into accordance with Jesus Christ the King, (4 BC — 30/33 AD); and the good that is supposedly associated with all that. But (within parentheses) the Wake’s narrator observes that such a Shakespearean tragedy, (we are still here within the context of ‘Julius Caesar’), is now presented as ‘the farce of dustiny’; destiny, that is, and evoking memories of Giuseppe Verdi’s, (1813–1901), opera ‘La Forza del Destino’ (‘The Force of Destiny’); but in addition recalling Karl Marx’s, (1818–1883), dictum that history repeats itself as tragedy first and then as farce; not that Marx actually believed that history repeats itself, but he did write:

‘Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce’.

Where Hegel is supposed to have made this remark I have never been able to ascertain; Marx may have had in mind a letter to himself from Friedrich Engels, (1820–1895), 3 December 1851:

‘…it really seems as though old Hegel, in the guise of the World Spirit, were directing history from the grave and, with the greatest conscientiousness, causing everything to be re-enacted twice over, once as grand tragedy and the second time as rotten farce, Caussidière for Danton, L. Blanc for Robespierre, Barthélemy for Saint-Just, Flocon for Carnot, and the moon-calf together with the first available dozen debt-encumbered lieutenants for the little corporal and his band of marshals. Thus the 18th Brumaire would already be upon us’.

Although Joyce makes use of Giambattista Vico’s, (1668–1744), cyclical theory of history he did not take it to be true in any chronological sense. His concern is with the human psyche as a sphere of repetition and return through the operations of memory and recollection; and also with the cultural memory incorporated within mythology and etymology and its role in the interpretation of history; historical events themselves play a mere subsidiary role. And Hegel most certainly did not think that history repeats itself; just the opposite. As Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach, (1804–187)2, remarks:

‘German speculative philosophy [i. e., Hegel] stands in direct contrast to the ancient Solomonic wisdom: Whereas the latter believes that there is nothing new under the sun, the former sees nothing that is not new under the sun’.

And so to return to the quote from ‘Finnegans Wake’ with which I began. Someone in the psalm, that is Solomon, (reigned 970 BC- 931 BC), sings: ‘I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved’. (‘Song of Solomon’, 5:1). And so, eating butter and honey, ‘butyrum’, was in the Biblical prophesy of Jesus, and thus they learned an anti-semitic song in their childhood: Hans eats bread and butter but Jacob eats pork fat bread, or stinking ‘Kot’! (as they say in German). Butter and honey shall he eat, and he will be called Immanuel.

The debate goes on:

‘This in fact, just to show you, is Caseous, the brutherscutch or puir tyron: a hole or two, the highstinks aforefelt and anygo prigging wurms. Cheesugh! you complain. And Hi Hi High must say you are not Hoa Hoa Hoally in the wrong!’

Roy Lichtenstein, ‘Cheese Head’, 1978

‘Cheesugh’! Jesus, that is. And cheese, ugh; a predilection for lowly word play and terrible punning that Joyce shares with William Shakespeare, (1564–1616):

MARULLUS: You, sir, what trade are you?

Second Commoner: Truly, sir, in respect of a fine workman, I am but, as you would say, a cobbler.

MARULLUS: But what trade art thou? answer me directly.

Second Commoner: A trade, sir, that, I hope, I may use with a safe conscience; which is, indeed, sir, a mender of bad soles.

- ‘Julius Caesar’, Act 1, Scene 1.

And so to continue the story of the development of religious consciousness; it had reached that stage whereby it can remain no longer content with a sort of purely secular outlook and thus it proceeds forward to a more overtly religious outlook and a conception of the divine representing a real advance on anything encountered hitherto; that is to say, God becomes manifest in the shape of a human being. Or, as Hegel puts it, thus far we have moved from the doctrine that ‘Absolute Being is substance’, which gave priority to God as a self-subsistent and independent reality, to ‘The Self as absolute Being’, which gives priority to humanity as possessing the type of subjectivity that God is perceived to lack; and so the move now has to be made towards the final stage of religion, that in which ‘Absolute Being is subject’, whereby God will be seen as achieving self-consciousness through humanity; dialect works itself out, as always; neither side here ends up acquiring un-dialectical pre-eminence over the other.

The Wake plays on the sense of ‘wake’ as following on as a consequence, and the happy consciousness of Greek comedy has passed into the unhappy consciousness of Roman Stoicism and Scepticism by concentrating upon an inevitable disenchantment of the world that the former brings in its wake; that is, as a consequence of consciousness coming to sense the real significance behind the claim that ‘God is dead’. Hegel writes:

‘Trust in the eternal laws of the gods has vanished, and the Oracles, which pronounced on particular questions, are dumb. The statues are now only stones from which the living soul has flown, just as the hymns are words from which belief has gone. The tables of the gods provide no spiritual food and drink, and in his games and festivals man no longer recovers the joyful consciousness of his unity with the divine. The works of the Muse now lack the power of the Spirit, for the Spirit has gained its certainty of itself from the crushing of gods and men’.

But given that the history of religious consciousness is not in itself chronologically cyclical, though repetitions and returns are in play through memory and recollection, once religious consciousness has reached this particular place it can never rediscover itself through a return to natural religion or religion in the form of art, and thus it has to be that religious belief assumes another form. Religious consciousness can only recover itself through an encounter with God in the shape of a human being; and then we are taken beyond all other prior varieties of religious experience:

‘The Self of existent Spirit has, as a result, the form of complete immediacy; it is posited neither as something thought or imagined, nor as something produced, as is the case with the immediate Self in natural religion, and also in the religion of Art; on the contrary, this God is sensuously and directly beheld as a Self, as an actual individual man; only so is this God self-consciousness’.

Once assuming such a form, religious consciousness comes to regard the divine as something that has manifested itself; this is revealed religion. God has become another subject, and is knowable to us through sharing in our natures: ‘The divine nature is the same as the human, and it is this unity that is beheld’. And alongside the divine revealing itself God remains a substance, that which is unconditioned and absolute; only by becoming human is this possible; without the assumption of the human form God would neither be unconditioned nor absolute; instead God would be set over against us in a purely transcendent realm: ‘The absolute Being which exists as an actual self-consciousness seems to have come down from its eternal simplicity, but by thus coming down it has in fact attained for the first time to its own highest essence’.

Peter Paul Rubens, The Transfiguration of Christ, 1605

Only through the revealed form may we truly conceive of the divine as absolute, and hence Christianity is in essence the most consummate form of religious consciousness (Hegel argues): ‘The hopes and expectations of the world up till now had pressed forward solely to this revelation, to behold what absolute Being is, and in it to find itself’. Rather happily for Hegel, this accords with his own philosophical outlook, whereby such hopes and expectations are fulfilled in rather identical fashion, with a consequent and final surmounting of the tension between religion and philosophy.

Prior to this stage being achievable, however, revealed religion is presented with a problem in need of a resolution. How is a God incarnated in a particular individual nevertheless able to share His nature with all of us as distinct individuals?: ‘i.e. Spirit as an individual Self is not yet equally the universal Self, the Self of everyone’. And the answer is for the divine to relinquish its immediate incarnation and to be resurrected. The religious community will then understand that its existence is more than ‘this objective individual’. God is now conceived of as Holy Spirit.

But as we have noted, the history of religious consciousness is not cyclical; mere recollection of the incarnation is not sufficient to be the exclusive grounding upon which its faith rests; as Hegel says, it rather leaves it ‘still burdened with an unreconciled split into a Here and a Beyond’, for it recognizes that the time of this incarnation cannot be fully recovered; there is no going back.

Memory plays its part in the development of religious consciousness, but conversely so does forgetting; religious consciousness forgets what the proper lesson of the resurrection is; which is to say, the resurrection is supposed to demonstrate for us that the incarnation is not in and of itself significant. God is always and forever present in the life of the community of believers upon recognition of His nature and of what He is: ‘What results from this impoverishment of Spirit, from getting rid of the idea of the community, and its action with regard to its idea, is not the Notion, but rather bare externality and singularity, the historical manner of the manifestation of its immediacy and the non-spiritual recollection of a supposed individual figure and of its past’.

Actual historical events, as we have said, are playing a subsidiary role; it is an error for religious consciousness to involve itself in purely historical questions concerning the life of Christ, of the kind typically brought to light during the Age of Enlightenment. And in ‘Finnegans Wake’ events such as the crucifixion and resurrection, whether they occurred or not, are secondary in a text that resonates with the memories and recollections of their psychical and cultural representation and significance.

‘Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’.

- Luke 23:34

‘Forgive me, Shaun repeated from his liquid lipes, not what I wants to do a strike of work but it was condemned on me pre-mitially by Hireark Books and Chiefoverseer Cooks in their Eusebian Concordant Homilies…’

‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit’

- Luke 23:46

‘Unto his promisk hands’.

All of which requires a considerable amount of epexegesis; or, to put it another way, and in line with the Jesus/cheese theme:

‘I am resting on a pigs of cheesus but I’ve a big suggestion it was about the pint of porter’.

To be continued…..

Cross in the Mountains, 1806, Caspar David Friedrich

Notes to Quotations from ‘Finnegans Wake’:-

First Quotation:

1. somun = someone; and Solomon.

2. salm = Salm (German), psalm, sermon; and ‘Song of Solomon’ 5:1: ‘I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved’.

3. butyrum = (Latin), butter; and et mel = mel (Latin), honey; and comedet = comedo (Latin), to eat; and comedet (Latin), he may eat; and malum = malum (Latin), evil; and eligere bonum = eligo (Latin), to elect; and bonum (Latin), good; and ‘Vulgate Isaiah’ 7:15: ‘Butyrum et mel comedat ut sciat reprobare malum et eligere bonum’: ‘butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good’ (this sentence is regarded as prophecy of Jesus).

4. Haensli and Koebi = Swiss/German diminutives of John and James; and Haensli isst ein Butterbrot, mein Butterbrot! Und Koebi isst dein Schinkenbrot! Ja! Ja! Ja! (German) = Little Hans is eating a piece of buttered bread, my piece of buttered bread! And little Jacob is eating your ham sandwich! Yes! Yes! Yes!

5. Schtinkentot = stinken (German), to stink (pronunciation = ‘schtinken’); and Kot (German), excrement, ; and Jacob eats stinking sh*t!

Second Quotation:

1. sisars = Caesar, an absolute monarch, an autocrat, emperor ; and Caesar (Latin), hairy or bluish: cognomen in the gens Julia, esp. of C. Julius Caesar (102–44 B.C.).

2. tyrant = a king or ruler who exercises his power in an oppressive, unjust, or cruel manner.

3. regicide = the killing or murder of a king;and among the motives for assassinating Caesar was his apparent desire to become king (rex). He was already tyrannos, so his murder was tyrannicide to forestall the necessity for it to be regicide.

4. unbearable = unendurable, intolerable; and beurre (French), butter.

Third Quotation:

1. brutherscutch = butterscotch, candy (composed of sugar and butter); and brother ‘scotch’ or poor cheese, with a hole or two and a high stink that you notice before he arrives…..

2. puir = poor; and pure.

3. tyron = tyros (Greek), cheese; and tyrant.

4. hole = spec. (slang) the mouth, the anus, or the female external genital organs.

5. highstinks = high jinks, free or unrestrained merry-making.

6. anygo = anoigô (Greek), to open some

7. prigging wurms = greedy worm, avarice or greediness as an itching passion in the heart; and prig, to steal; and prigging (slang), f*cking; and Wurm (German), worm.

8. Cheesugh! = Jesus, and cheese, ugh.

9. Hi = I.

10. in the wrong = to be wrong (about something).

Fourth Quotation:

1. forgive me = ‘Luke’ 23:34: ‘Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’, (first of seven last words of Christ).

2, lipe = a portion, a slip; and lips.

3. strike = a group’s refusal to work in protest against low pay or bad work conditions; formerly sometimes more explicitly strike of work.

4. condemned = First Station of the Cross, Christ condemned to death.

5. premitially = primatial, of, pertaining to, or having ecclesiastical primacy; gen. Of pre-eminence or superiority; and praemittere (Latin), to send in advance; and prematurely; and pre-initially.

6. Hireark = hierarch, one who has rule or authority in holy things; an ecclesiastical ruler or potentate; a chief priest.

7. Chiefoverseer= a bishop is chief over a see.

8. Cooks = John Maddison Morton, ‘Box and Cox’, a farce about two long-lost brothers, John Box and James Cox, who unknowingly rent the same room, one working by day, the other by night.

1869 playbill for the first professional production of operetta ‘Cox and Box’, based on the play ‘Box and Cox’; music Arthur Sullivan

9. Eusebian = pertaining to Eusebius of Cæsarea, or the historical works written by him; and Eusebian Canons: an arrangement of the contents of the four Gospels into ten classes of passages, according as the passages occur in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John alone, or in any one of the nine possible combinations of two or three out of the four; and Sullivan, ‘The Book of Kells: ‘eight pages are filled with what are known as the Eusabian Canons. They take their name from Eusebius, bishop of Cæsarea… Before his time a Harmony of the Gospels had been constructed… in which St. Matthew’s Gospel was taken as the standard, and parallel passages from the other Gospels were set out side by side with it. Eusebius improved on his predecessor’s plan; his object being to set forth the mutual relation of the four evangelical narratives’ (The Book of Kells plate I shows one such page).

10. concordant = agreeing in sentiment or opinion; of one heart or mind; harmonious, unanimous.

11. homily = a sermon on a moral or religious topic.

Fifth Quotation:

1. promisk hands = promise land; and ‘Luke’ 23:46: ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit’ (seventh of seven last words of Christ).

Sixth Quotation:

1. a pigs of cheesus = epexegesis (Greek), detailed account, explanation; ‘I Am Resting in the Arms of Jesus’ (song, James Rowe); and piece of cheese.