The Seventh Degree of Wisdom — Part Two

‘Ding dong! Where’s your pal in silks alustre? Think of a maiden. Presentacion. Double her, Annupciacion. Take your first thoughts away from her, Immacolacion. Knock and it shall appall unto you! Who shone yet shimmers will be e’er scheining. Cluse her, voil her, hild her hindly. After liryc and themodius soft aglo iris of the vals. This young barlady, what, euphemiasly? Is she having an ambidual act herself in apparition with herself as Consuelas to Sonias may?’

- James Joyce, ‘Finnegans Wake’

This passage is taken from perhaps the most garbled and disconnected of chapters in the Wake; a sort of dreamily constructed culmination, Shaun is now Yawn, prior to the awakening; for, as is well catalogued by experimental studies, there an intensification of dream activity before awakening, including a transpiration of the experience of an early-morning erection (for men anyway); ‘when the morn hath razed our limpalove’, as Joyce writes earlier in the text. Lust rekindled and guilty secrets permeate the chapter. The instigator of such dreamy longings is Shaun/Yawn’s sister Issy with her special appeal; the dreamer is searching for ‘my darling only one’ whom he later addresses thus: ‘I sold’, for Issy is also the Irish princess Isolde, she that embarked upon a tragic adulterous love affair with the Cornish knight Tristan. The dreamer appears to be re-enacting quite audaciously his wedding night frolics, together with the defilement of youth, reliving somewhat feverishly the act of generation itself; the dream at this point reverberates with the voices that attend upon or follow in the wake of such phenomena, especially with regard to the nightmare that inescapably accompanies remorseful deeply buried thoughts upon such hidden murky and unsavoury matters; for the dreamer, as is clear throughout the text, bears a somewhat exaggerated sense of guilt. Towards the end of the chapter Yawn will become a kind of spiritual medium through which the voice of his father Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker sounds on the defensive with regard to the matter of his own life in the section Haveth Childers Everywhere, having children everywhere.

Salvador Dali, ‘The Spectre of Sex Appeal’, 1934

Prior to the passage quoted above, Issy/Isolde is very touchingly reprimanding and consoling her own reflection in a mirror, in language suggestive of her doomed and also guilt-ridden trysts with her lover Tristan: attend sweety, my faired haired, frail one, come rest upon this bosom, ah, so sorry you poor lamb that you lost him but you know yourself to be a very wicked girl to go into the dream place at that time of day; it was such a wrong thing to do even under the dark flush of night; nonetheless you are forgiven and all are aware of how really alluring you look though of course it was downright wicked of him to meet me in disguise, (Tristan returned in disguise to Cornwall to meet Isolde); how we adore each other, ma reinebelle (rainbows again, see preceding part of this series), my futuous (pardon the bad language for those of you familiar with Latin). And Shaun/Yawn is reassuring, all will turn out well, the marriage will take place as arranged at St Audien’s chapel, Dublin; sing to us, sing to us, sing to us, sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, be free to me my sister for I am fading. Alice through the looking glass, alas through the alluring glass; think of a maiden, double her, for she is mirrored, repeated twice, knock and it shall appeal and appall to you; for apparently she is engaged in an act in apparition (appearance) with herself.

Salvador Dali, ‘Night and Day Clothes of the Body’, 1936

The daytime dreamtime and the dark flush of night suggest the Tristan and Isolde story as presented through the opera of Richard Wagner, (1813–1883); who was influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer, (1780–1860), the philosopher who contended that humans are driven by continual, unattainable desires, and the chasm that lies between human desires and the possibility of achieving them results in misery; and so it is, in the opera, that Tristan longs for release from the passions that inflict such pain and anguish upon him. But the world is also presented as a representation, a phenomenon of an unknowable reality, a noumenon; a notion initially posited by Immanuel Kant, (1724–1804). Wagner thereby employs the metaphor of Day and Night to designate the two worlds that Tristan and Isolde inhabit; the world of Day is the domain of falsehood and unreality; the lovers are tied by the guiding authoritative precepts of the court of King Mark and they must needs suppress their mutual love and feign indifference towards one another; the world of Night is the domain of unity, togetherness, truth and reality; and yet also the domain of death, the only world within which Tristan and Isolde can be united together forever. And Tristan in Schopenhaurean fashion fulminates against the daylight and often bewails having the desires he has and cries out to be released from them; and so it is that the domain of Day is implicitly likened to the notion of phenomenon and the domain of Night to the notion of noumenon.

How fitting it is then that the passage from the Wake quoted above evokes ‘e’er scheining’, that is to say, Erscheinung, the appearance or phenomenon in Kantian philosophy, though the word can also be translated as apparition which Joyce makes use of here. The phenomenon is the object as it is represented under the necessary conditions that our cognitive capacities impose upon it, as opposed to Ding an sich, the thing in itself, which is the same object considered independently of these conditions and, therefore, independently of us.

This is Kant’s transcendental idealism; simply put, there are things that we can know to be true because the knowing mind makes them true; an idealism that Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (1770–1831), listed among the bad idealisms; and it certainly leads to a very curious place as far as knowledge of oneself is considered. The Kantian division of noumenon and phenomenon took him to a notion of the self itself as an appearance, an inner sense as he terms it; it is not a cognition or knowledge of the self as it is in-itself, it is intuited as an appearance, for the transcendental condition of appearance is that it be intuited so, though without the content of sensibility. As Kant asserts, ‘the determination of my existence can only occur in correspondence with the form of inner sense, according to the particular way in which the manifold that I combine is given in inner intuition, and I therefore have no cognition of myself as I am, but only as I appear to myself.’

Salvador Dali, ‘Couple With Their Heads Full of Clouds’, 1936

We can never know ourselves other than as an appearance to ourselves; and yet if we think this through, consistent with Kant’s philosophy, whatever it is that is causing the appearance of our subjective self has to be objectively real; for as Kant has argued in the case of space as an inner sense, for instance, our subjective forms impose spatiality upon things, but by no means do they determine where in that space things happen to appear; that is up to the thing in itself together with the material content it provides for us. Similarly, causality may well be something that our subjectivity imposes upon objects, but in no way does that imply that our subjectivity thereby determines what happens to cause what. And so, at a fundamental level, the appearances, regardless of their being termed appearances, are objectively real things. But what of the self? Is this very essence of, indeed source of, subjectivity, an appearance that is caused by something objectively real? Of what sense can we make of that? Isn’t the unknowable noumenal self, assuming the coherence of such a notion, an unknowable that is knowable otherwise we would not know of it, being a self though unknowable do we not at least know it to be a subjective thing?

And so, the question arises in the dreamer’s dream, concerning Issy as she is conversing with her own reflection: ‘Is she having an ambidual act herself in apparition with herself as Consuelas to Sonias may?’. The Kantian self is indeed an apparition; reflecting upon her reflection Issy is herself a reflection. Of what? Well she is consoling herself, so in this instance Consuelas (Spanish for comfort) reflects Sonia, heroine of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, (1821–1881), ‘Crime and Punishment’; just as Sonia reflects Consuelas. Sonia, comforter of, and source of moral strength for, axe-murderer Raskolnikov, one of whose victims was Sonia’s friend. Certainly more of an apparition than a flesh and blood character, in my humble judgement, but then I do have my scepticism not to mention resistance towards Dostoyevsky and what may be loosely designated existentialist writers generally, an attitude I touch upon in my article ‘A World of Gods and Monsters — Part Three’, so I need not go through that again here.

Salvador Dali, ‘Mirror Women — Mirror Head’, 1982

Instead I will continue where I left off at the end of part one in outlining the arguments of Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’; I ended by asking, of synthetic a priori propositions, how are they possible? Propositions, that is, that we can know to be true independently of experience, that are necessarily true, and that are nonetheless informative about the world. They are possible if it can be demonstrated that human knowledge is dependent upon certain concepts which are not empirical in origin but have their origin in human understanding; and yet prior to his great reveal concerning the existence of such concepts Kant endeavoured to demonstrate in the first major division of the Critique entitled the ‘Transcendental Aesthetic’ that a priori considerations form the basis even of human perception or sensibility; a very significant view to Kant in the context of his proposed Copernican revolution in epistemology whereby the two sources of knowledge (perception and sensibility) and understanding operate inseparably in tandem together. For as he had already expressed in his introduction to the Critique, all knowledge begins with experience, but it does not necessarily arise out of experience.

According to Kant, these a priori foundations of sensibility are space and time; his reasoning being that all objects of perception are necessarily located in space and time. Such objects may vary over a period of time in colour, shape, size, and so on and still be perceptible objects, but they cannot be deprived of space and time and remain perceptible; indeed, even to establish oneself as a perceiver, and objects in one’s environment as objects of perception, requires the employment of spatial and temporal terms; hence, the concepts of space and time. And as a percipient one regards perceived objects as separate from or distant from oneself; and one thereby realizes that one’s perceptions themselves, whether of external objects or of one’s own thoughts and feelings, succeed one another in time. They cannot be represented otherwise and still sensibly preserve the meaning of the terms perceiver and and object of and object of perception.

Salvador Dali, ‘Melting Space Time’, 1975

In this sense space and time merit recognition as presuppositions of sense experience; and all our descriptive characterizations of perceptible objects take for granted their fundamental nature as objects in space and time; and therefore Kant designates space and time as forms of intuition in order to distinguish them from the contents of sense experience. It may certainly be the case that segments of space and moments of time can be perceived, (in a broad sense of perceiving), but such parts have to be understood as forming parts of an underlying continuum of space and of time. British phenomenalists, (phenomenalism: the theory that material objects cannot with any justification be said to exist in themselves, but only as perceptual phenomena or sensory stimuli situated in time and in space), such as Bishop Berkeley, (1685–1753), and David Hume, (1711–1776), most certainly would not concur with this interpretation of space and time, but whether one can agree with Kant in the details of his argument, one probably can agree with him that the perception of anything really does presupposes the existence of space and of time.

Believing himself to have already demonstrated the dependency of human knowledge upon conditions prior to immediate sense experience, Kant next proceeds to a consideration of the a priori conditions of human understanding, but that I will leave for the next part. To conclude for now though, some thoughts. Kant characterised his solution to the problems of what he took to be dogmatism on the one hand, and Humean scepticism concerning causality on the other, as akin to a Copernican turn in philosophy, (Nicolaus Copernicus, (1473–1543), who formulated a model of the universe placing the Sun at its centre rather than the Earth, replacing the geocentric model of Claudius Ptolemy, (c. 100 — c. 170)); that is to say, according to Kant, and this is his transcendental idealism, it is not our minds that conform to the world, in the manner that René Descartes, (1596–1650), John Locke, (1632–1704), or David Hume supposed; rather, it is the other way around, that is to say, it is the conceptual activity of our minds on what is given in sensation that creates the world as it appears. But therein lies the problem, and this defeats the object of idealism, which is to say, that given that the world as it appears is necessarily a product of what is intuited in sensation as structured by the activity of the transcendental subject, one must abandon any possibility of perceiving or indeed conceiving anything about the world as it is in itself, independently of one’s mental activities. Kant has in effect presented us with an epistemological idealism, so to speak, rather than a metaphysical one; his concern being primarily to explain the possibility of knowledge; and thus philosophy is lumbered with this distinction between phenomena, that which appears to us as it necessarily appears to us, and noumena, things in themselves.

Salvador Dali, ‘Perspectives’, 1937

Hegel’s criticism of Kant centres largely around this distinction; for following the groundwork laid out by Johann Gottlieb Fichte, (1762–1814), and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, (1775–1854), in the post-Kantian developing and supplementing of the critical philosophy, Hegel contends that we would have to have the noumena in thought, given Kant’s insistence that the thing in itself when one conceives of it is that about which we know nothing, and yet through positing such a limit to thought, Kant has inadvertently brought that which is beyond thought back into thought; and what is by definition unthinkable is nevertheless being thought in the very process of making the point that it is unthinkable. Subject and object are thus identical; for the noumena is disclosed as another manifestation of the phenomena, and what is unthinkable is also thinkable, and what is thinkable depends upon the necessary conceptual activity of a rational being, and as a consequence the noumenal region beyond thought is dependent upon thought and the subject is thereby identical with its own object.

We must rather prioritise process and change over what is fixed and given; what is posited as unthinkable is simultaneously thinkable; this is a contradiction, but in the Hegelian system contradictions, once accepted in the form of a determinate negation, resolve themselves; what is taken to be immediate sense-certainties are nothing of the sort, and the Kantian notion of what is given in sensation, a colour, a taste, or whatever, is not to be thought of as the apprehending of an object-like thing; rather, consciousness unfolds itself in its experience of an underlying process. Colours and tastes change in intensity and they diminish, as do sensory perceptions and concepts in thought in general. What appears to be fixed and orderly is thereby disclosed as a deeper process of historically unfolding becoming (in a broad sense of historical; the diurnal unfolding of one’s personal history, for instance).

And thus it transpires that the Kantian transcendental subject, the guarantor of the transcendental and universal synthetic a priori knowledge that necessarily structures one’s perceptions and conceptions, is thereby deprived of its ontological status; for even if there were such a subject, as Hegel demonstrates, that subject would itself be an historically contingent outcome of a natural process struggling with itself in the light of dialectical contradiction; and that which Kant posits as the timeless and universal structure of thought is, in reality, conditioned by its own process of development; as it happens, that which Kant observed in us was indeed far from given, but rather was itself a part of history’s unfolding towards the Absolute.

Salvador Dali, ‘The Anthropomorphic Tower’, 1930

Unfathomable Sea! whose waves are years,

Ocean of Time, whose waters of deep woe

Are brackish with the salt of human tears!

Thou shoreless flood, which in thy ebb and flow

Claspest the limits of mortality!

And sick of prey, yet howling on for more,

Vomitest thy wrecks on its inhospitable shore;

Treacherous in calm, and terrible in storm,

Who shall put forth on thee,

Unfathomable Sea?

- Percy Bysshe Shelley, (1792–1822)

To be continued …

Notes on ‘Finnegans Wake’ quotation:

1. ding dong = a ringing sound.

2. silks alustre = Sechseläuten, Zurich spring festival; and Pingpong, the bell for Sechseläuten, and concepit de Saint-Esprit (motif).

3. presentacion = (Spanish), show, exhibition; Presentation of Blessed Virgin Mary as a child.

4. Annupciacion = Annunciation (to Blessed Virgin Mary by Gabriel); and nuptials.

5. first thoughts = second thoughts, ideas occurring subsequently; later and maturer consideration (usually in the phrase on or upon second thoughts); so first thoughts.

6. Immacolacion = immaculation, immaculate (spotlessly clean or neat) condition; and Immaculate Conception; and immolation.

7. appall = to cause the heart of (anyone) to sink; to dismay, shock, terrify; and Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9: ‘Knock and it shall be opened unto you’; and appear (apparition of Blessed Virgin Mary at Knock, County Mayo, 1879).

8. shone = Shem/Shaun (motif).

9. e’er scheining = Schein (German), light, shine; appearance; and Erscheinung (German), apparition, phenomenon (Kant).

10. cluse = close; Vaucluse, where Petrarch lived.

11. voil = voile (French); and veil; and voli je (Serbian), love her.

12. hild = hold; and hilde (Danish), ensnare.

13. hindly = hand; and kindly.

14. liryc = lyric.

15. themodius = melodious; and Cyril and Methodius are the principal saints of the Eastern church.

16. aglo = Olga the Slav, Eastern saint; and Anglo.

17 iris = (Greek, Latin), goddess of the rainbow; the rainbow; and Irish.

18. vals = val, wall (obsolete); and Wales.

19 barlady = By our Lady!; contraction of by our Lady, used as an oath, form of adjuration, or expletive; bar lady.

20. euphemiasly = euphemiously, by way of euphemism (Rhetoric: That figure of speech which consists in the substitution of a word or expression of comparatively favourable implication or less unpleasant associations, instead of the harsher or more offensive one that would more precisely designate what is intended); and euphêmia (Greek), use of auspicious language; praise.

21. ambidual = ambi-, both; and ambidualis (Latin), around about two. 22. apparition = appearance, semblance; an appearance, especially of a remarkable or unexpected kind; a phenomenon.

23. Consuealas = consuelo (Spanish), comfort; and George Sand: Consuela; and Angelus: ‘et concepit de Spiritu Sancto’ (Latin), ‘and she conceived of the Holy Ghost’.

24. Sonias = Sonia, heroine of Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’.

Salvador Dali, ‘Night and Day’ sculpture, 1981