Beyond The Orality/Literacy Dichotomy: James Joyce And The Pre-History Of Cyberspace

by Donald F. Theall

The Gutenberg Galaxy, a book which redirected the way that artists, critics, scholars and communicators viewed the role of technological mediation in communication and expression, had its origin in Marshall McLuhan's desire to write a book called "The Road to Finnegans Wake." It has not been widely recognized just how important James Joyce's major writings were to McLuhan, or to other major figures (such as Jorge Luis Borges, John Cage, Jacques Derrida, Umberto Eco, and Jacques Lacan) who have written about aspects of communication involving technological mediation, speech, writing, and electronics. While all of these connections should be explored, the most enthusiastic Joycean of them all, McLuhan, provides the most specific bridge linking the work of Joyce and his modernist contemporaries to the development of electric communication and to the prehistory of cyberspace and virtual reality. McLuhan's scouting of "the Road to Finnegans Wake" established him as the first major disseminator of those Joycean insights which have become the unacknowledged basis for our thinking about technoculture, just as the pervasive McLuhanesque vocabulary has become a part, often an unconscious one, of our verbal heritage.

In the mid-80s, William Gibson first identified the emergence of cyberspace as the most recent moment in the development of electromechanical communications, telematics and virtual reality. Cyberspace, as Gibson saw it, is the simultaneous experience of time, space, and the flow of multi-dimensional, pan-sensory data:

All the data in the world stacked up like one big neon city, so you could cruise around and have a kind of grip on it, visually anyway, because if you didn't, it was too complicated, trying to find your way to the particular piece of data you needed. Iconics, Gentry called that. (Mona Lisa 16)
This "consensual hallucination" produced by "data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system" creates an "unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights receding" (Neuromancer 51). Almost a decade earlier, McLuhan's remarks about computers (dating from the late 70s) display some striking similarities:
It steps up the velocity of logical sequential calculations to the speed of light reducing numbers to body count by touch . . . . It brings back the Pythagorean occult embodied in the idea that "numbers are all"; and at the same time it dissolves hierarchy in favor of decentralization. When applied to new forms of electronic- messaging such as teletext and videotext, it quickly converts sequential alphanumeric texts into multi-level signs and aphorisms, encouraging ideographic summation, like hieroglyphs. (Global Village 103)
McLuhan's hieroglyphs certainly more than anticipate Gibson's iconics and McLuhan's particular use of hieroglyph or iconology, like that of mosaic, primarily derives from Joyce and Giambattista Vico.

It is not surprising then that McLuhan's works, side by side with those of Gibson, have been avidly read by early researchers in MIT's Media Lab, for these researchers also conceive of a VR composed, like the tribal and collective "global village," of "tactile, haptic, proprioceptive and acoustic spaces and involvements" (McLuhan, Letters 385). The experiments of the artistic avant- garde movements (such as the Dadaists, the Bauhaus and the Surrealists) and of individuals (such as Marcel Duchamp, Paul Klee, Sergei Eisenstein or Luis Bunuel) generated the exploration of the semiotics and technical effects of such spaces and involvements. Duchamp, for example, became an early leading figure in splitting apart the presumed generic boundaries of painting and sculpture to explore arts of motion, light, movement, gesture, and concept, exemplified in his Large Glass and the serial publication of his accompanying notes from The Box of 1914 through The Green Box to A l'infinitif. His interest in the notes as part of the total work echo Joyce's own interest in the publication of Work in Progress and commentaries he organized upon it (e.g., Our Exagmination Round his Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress). Joyce also explores similar aspects of motion, light, movement, gesture and concept. So the road to VR and MIT's Media Lab begins with poetic and artistic experimentation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century; later, as Stuart Brand notes , many of the Media Lab researchers of the 60s and 70s placed great importance on collaboration with artists involved in exploring the nature and art of motion and in investigating new relationships between sight, hearing, and the other senses.

Understanding the social and cultural implications of VR and cyberspace requires a radical reassessment of the inter- relationships between Gibson's now commonplace description of cyberspace, McLuhan's modernist-influenced vision of the development of electric media, and the particular impact that Joyce had both on McLuhan's writings about electrically mediated communication and on the views of Borges, Cage, Derrida, Eco and Lacan regarding problems of mediation and communication. Such a reassessment requires that two central issues be discussed: (i) the crucial nature of VR's challenge to the privileging of language through the orality/literacy dichotomization used by many theorists of language and communication; (ii) the idea of VR's presence as the super-medium that encompasses and transcends all media. The cluster of critics who have addressed orality and literacy, following the lead of Walter Ong, H.A. Innis and Eric Havelock, have--like them--failed to comprehend the fact that McLuhan was disseminating a Joycean view which grounded communication in tactility, gesture and CNS processes, rather than promulgating the emergence of a new oral/aural age, a secondary orality. This emphasis on the tactile, the gestural and the play of the CNS in communication is a key to Joyce's literary exploration of a theme he shared with his radical modernist colleagues in other arts who envisioned the eventual development of a coenaesthetic medium that would integrate and harmonize the effects of sensory and neurological information in currently existing and newly emerging art forms.

Joyce's work should be recognized as pioneering the artistic exploration of two sets of differences-- orality/literacy and print/[tele-]electric media--that have since become dominant themes in the discussion of these questions. Finnegans Wake is one of the first major poetic encounters with the challenge that electronic media present to the traditionally accepted relationships between speech, script and print. (Ulysses also involves such an encounter, but at an earlier stage in the historic development of mediated communication.) Imagine Joyce around 1930 asking the question: what is the role of the book in a culture which has discovered photography, phonography, radio, film, television, telegraph, cable, and telephone and has developed newspapers, magazines, advertising, Hollywood, and sales promotion? What people once read, they will now go to see in film and on television; everyday life will appear in greater detail and more up-to-date fashion in the press, on radio and in television; oral poetry will be reanimated by the potentialities of sound recording. (Theall, "Hieroglyphs")

The "counter-poetic," Finnegans Wake, provides one of the key texts regarding the problem presented by the dichotomization of the oral and the written and by its frequent corollary, a privileging of either speech or language. This enigmatic work is not only a polysemic, encyclopedic book designed to be read with the simultaneous involvement of ear and eye: it is also a self-reflexive book about the role of the book in the electro-machinic world of the new technology. The Wake is the most comprehensive exploration, prior to the 1960s or 70s, of the ways in which these new modes created a dramatic crisis for the arts of language and the privileged position of the printed book. The Wake dramatizes the necessary deconstruction and reconstruction of language in a world where multi-semic grammars and rhetorics, combined with entirely new modes for organizing and transmitting information and knowledge, eventually would impose a variety of new, highly specialized roles on speech, print and writing. Joyce's selection of Vico's New Science as the structural scaffolding for the Wake--the equivalent of Homer's Odyssey in Ulysses-- underscores how his interest in the contemporary transformation of the book requires grounding the evolution of civilization in the poetics of communication, especially gesture and language and the "prophetic" role of the poetic in shaping the future.

As the world awakens to the full potentialities for the construction of artifacts and processes of communication in the new electric cosmos, Joyce foresees the transformation (not the death) of the book--going beyond the book as it had historically evolved. Confronted with this situation, Joyce seeks to develop a poetic language which will resituate the book within this new communicative cosmos, while simultaneously recognizing the drive toward the development of a theoretically all-inclusive, all- encompassing medium, "virtual reality." Since the action takes place in a dreamworld, Joyce can produce an impressively prophetic imaginary prototype for the virtual worlds of the future. His dreamworld envelops the reader within an aural sphere, accompanied by kinetic and gestural components that arise from effects of rhythm and intonation realized through the visual act of reading; but it also reproduces imaginarily the most complex multi-media forms and envisions how they will utilize his present, which will have become the past, to transform the future. (Theall, "Literary Engineer," "Joyce and McLuhan")

The hero(ine) in the Wake, "Here Comes Everybody," is a communicating machine, "This harmonic condenser enginium (the Mole)" (310.1), an electric transmission-receiver system, an ear, the human sensorium, a presence "eclectrically filtered for all irish earths and ohmes." Joyce envisions the person as embodied within an electro- machinopolis (an electric, pan-global, machinic environment), which becomes an extension of the human body, an interior presence, indicated by a stress on the playfulness of the whole person and on tactility as calling attention to the interplay of sensory information within the electro-chemical neurological system. This medley of elements and concerns, focussed on questioning the place of oral and written language in an electro- mechanical technoculture that engenders more and more comprehensive modes of communication biased towards the dramatic, marks Joyce as a key figure in the pre-history of virtual reality.

Acutely sensitive to the inseparable involvement of speech, script, and print with the visual, the auditory, the kinesthetic and other modes of expression, Joyce roots all communication in gesture: "In the beginning was the gest he jousstly says" (468.5-6). Here the originary nature of gesture (gest, F. geste = gesture) is linked with the mechanics of humor (i.e., jest) and to telling a tale (gest as a feat and a tale or romance). Gestures, like signals and flashing lights that provide elementary mechanical systems for communications, are "words of silent power" (345.19). A traffic crossing sign, "Belisha beacon, beckon bright" (267.12), exemplifies such situations "Where flash becomes word and silents selfloud." Since gestures, and ultimately all acts of communication, are generated from the body, the "gest" as "flesh without word" (468.5-6) is "a flash" that becomes word and "communicake[s] with the original sinse" [originary sense + the temporal, "since" + original sin (239.1)]. "Communicake" parallels eating to speaking, and speaking is linked in turn to the act of communion as participation in, and consumption of, the Word-- an observation adumbrated in the title of one of Marcel Jousse's groundbreaking books on gesture as the origin of language, La Manducation de la Parole ("The Mastication of the Word"). By treating the "gest" as a bit (a bite), orality and the written word as projections of gesture can be seen to spring from the body as a communicating machine. The historical processes that contribute to the development of cyberspace augment the growing emphasis, in theories such as Kenneth Burke's, on the idea that the goal of the symbolic action called communication is secular, paramodern communion.

The Wake provides a self-reflexive explanation of the communicative process of encoding and decoding required to interpret an encoded text, which itself is characteristically mechanical:

The prouts who will invent a writing there ultimately is the poeta, still more learned, who discovered the raiding there originally. That's the point of eschatology our book of kills reaches for now in soandso many counterpoint words. What can't be coded can be decorded if an ear aye seize what no eye ere grieved for. Now, the doctrine obtains, we have occasioning cause causing effects and affects occasionally recausing altereffects. Or I will let me take it upon myself to suggest to twist the penman's tale posterwise. The gist is the gist of Shaum but the hand is the hand of Sameas. (482.31-483.4)
The dreamer as a poet, a Hermetic thief, an "outlex" (169.3)- -i.e., an outlaw, lawless, beyond the word and, therefore, the law, "invents" the writing by originally discovering the reading of the book and does so by "raiding" [i.e., "plundering" (reading + raiding)]. This reading encompasses both the idealistic "eschatology" and the excrementitious-materialistic (pun on scatology) within the designing of this "book of kills" (deaths, deletions, drinking sessions, flows of water--a counterpoint of continuity and discontinuity), a book as carefully crafted or machined as the illuminations of the Book of Kells are. Seeing and hearing are intricately involved in this process, so the reader of this night-book also becomes a "raider" of the original "reading-writing" through the machinery of writing. It is a production "in soandso many counterpoint words" that can be read only through the machinery of decoding, for "What can't be coded can be decorded, if an ear aye seize what no eye ere grieved for" (482.34). The tale that the pen writes is transmitted by the post, and the whole process of communication and its interpretation is an extension of the hand and of bodily gesture-language: "The gist is the gist of Shaum but the hand is the hand of Sameas" (483.3-4).

Orality, particularly song, is grounded in the machinery of the body's organs : "Singalingalying. Storiella as she is syung. Whence followeup with endspeaking nots for yestures" (267.7-9). The link is rhythm, for "Soonjemmijohns will cudgel some a rhythmatick or other over Browne and Nolan's divisional tables" (268.7-9). Gesture, with its affiliation with all of the neuro-muscular movements of the body, is a natural script or originary writing, for the word "has been reconstricted out of oral style into verbal for all time with ritual rhythmics" (36.8-9). Since the oral is "reconstricted" (reconstructed + constricted or limited) into the verbal, words also are crafted in relation to sound, a natural development of which is "wordcraft": for example, hieroglyphs and primitive script based on drawings or mnemonic devices (Gelb, Study of Writing). Runes and ogham are literally "woodwordings," so pre- or proto-writing (i.e., syllabic writing) is already "a mechanization of the word," which is itself implicit in the body's use of gesture.

Joyce's practice and his theoretical orientation imply that as the road to cyberspace unfolds, the very nature of the word, the image, and the icon also changes. Under the impact of electric communication, it is once again clear that the concept of the word must embrace artifacts and events as well (McLuhan, Global Village, 182). Writing and speech are subsumed into entirely new relationships with non-phonemic sound, image, gesture, movement, rhythm, and all modes of sensory input, especially the tactile. To continue to speak about a dichotomy of orality versus literacy is a misleading over-simplification of the role that electric media play in this transformation, a role best comprehended through historical knowledge of the earliest stages of human communication where objects, gestures and movements apparently intermingled with verbal and non-verbal sounds. Marschak's study of early cultural artifacts, the Aschers' discussion of the quipu, and Levi- Strauss's discussions of the kinship system demonstrate the relative complexity of some ancient, non- linguistic systems of communication. Adapting Vico's speculation that human communication begins with the gestures and material symbols of the "mute," Joyce early in the Wake presents an encounter between two characters whose names deliberately echo Mutt and Jeff of comic strip fame. Mutt (until recently a mute) and Jute (a nomadic invader) "excheck a few strong verbs weak oach eather" (16.8-9).

Beginning with gesture, hieroglyph and rune, Joyce traces human communication through its complex, labyrinthine development, right down to the TV and what it bodes for the future. For example, an entire episode of the Wake (I,v) is devoted to the technology of manuscripts and the theory of their interpretation--textual hermeneutics--in which the Wake as a book is interpreted as if it were a manuscript, "the proteiform graph is a polyhedron of all scripture" (107.8). At each stage, Joyce recognizes how the machinery of codification is implicit in the history of communication, for discussing this manuscript, he observes that

on holding the verso against a lit rush this new book of Morses responded most remarkably to the silent query of our world's oldest light and its recto let out the piquant fact that it was but pierced but not punctured (in the university sense of the term) by numerous stabs and foliated gashes made by a pronged instrument. . . . (123.34-124.3)
This illustrates how the beginning of electric media (the telegraph) is a transformation of the potentialities of the early manuscript, just as any manuscript is a transformation of the "wordcraft" of "woodwordings." "Morse code" is indicative of the mechanics of codification, for while code is essential to all communication (thus prior to the moment when the mechanical is electrified), the role of codification is radically transformed by mechanization.

The appearance of the printing press demonstrates the effect of this radical transformation:

Gutenmorg with his cromagnon charter, tintingfast and great primer must once for omniboss step rubrickredd out of the wordpress else is there no virtue more in alcohoran. For that (the rapt one warns) is what papyr is meed of, made of, hides and hints and misses in prints. Till ye finally (though not yet endlike) meet with the acquaintance of Mister Typus, Mistress Tope and all the little typtopies. Fillstup. So you need hardly spell me how every word will be bound over to carry three score and ten toptypsical readings throughout the book of Doublends Jined . . . . (20.7-16)
As "Gutenmorg with his cromagnon charter, tintingfast and great primer" steps "rubrickredd out of the wordpress," the dream reminds us that "papyr is meed of, made of, hides and hints and misses in prints." Topics (L. topos) and types (L. typus) as figures, forms, images, topics and commonplaces, the elemental bits of writing and rhetoric, are now realized through typesetting. Implicit in the technology of print is the complex intertextuality of verbal ambivalence, for "every word will be bound over to carry three score and ten toptypsical readings throughout the book of Doublends Jined." Printing sets in place the "root language" (424.17) residing in the types and topes of the world and potentially eliminates a multitude of alternate codes such as actual sounds, visual images, real objects, movements, and gestures that will re-emerge with the electromechanical march towards VR and cyberspace.

By the 1930s, in a pub scene in the Wake, Joyce playfully anticipated how central sporting events or political debates would be for television when he described the TV projection of a fight being viewed by the pub's "regulars" (possibly the first fictional TV bar room scene in literary history). Joyce's presentation of this image of the battle of Butt and Taff, which is peppered with complex puns involving terminology associated with the technical details of TV transmission, has its own metamorphic quality, underscored by the "viseversion" (vice versa imaging) of Butt and Taff's images on "the bairdboard bombardment screen" ("bairdboard" because John Logie Baird developed TV in 1925). Joyce explains how "the bairdboard bombardment screen," the TV as receiver, receives the composite video signal "in scynopanc pulses" (the synchronization pulses that form part of the composite video signal), that come down the "photoslope" on the "carnier walve" (i.e., the carrier wave which carries the composite video signal) "with the bitts bugtwug their teffs." Joyce imagines this receiver to be a "light barricade" against which the charge of the light brigade (the video signal) is directed, reproducing the "bitts." Although (at least to my knowledge) bit was not used as a technical term in communication technology at the time, Joyce is still able, on analogy with the telegraph, to think of the electrons or photons as bits of information creating the TV picture.

Speech, print and writing are interwoven with electromechanical technologies of communication throughout the Wake. References to the manufacture of books, newspapers and other products of the printing press abound. Machineries and technological organizations accompany this development: reporters, editors, interviewers, newsboys, ad men who produce "Abortisements" (181.33). Since complex communication technology is characteristic of the later stages, in addition to newspapers, radio, "dupenny" magazines, comics (contemporary cave drawing), there is "a phantom city phaked by philm pholk," by those who would "roll away the reel world." Telecommunications materialize again and again throughout the night of the Wake, where "television kills telephony."

The "tele-" prefix, betraying an element of futurology in the dream, appears in well over a dozen words including in addition to the familiar forms terms such as "teleframe," "telekinesis," "telesmell," "telesphorously," "televisible," "televox," or "telewisher," while familiar forms also appear in a variety of transformed "messes of mottage," such as "velivision" and "dullaphone." This complex verbal play all hinges on the inter- translatability of the emerging forms of technologically mediated communication. In the opening episode of the second part, the "Feenicht's Playhouse," an imaginary play produced by HCE's children in their nursery is "wordloosed over seven seas crowdblast in cellelleneteutoslavzendlatinsoundscript. In four tubbloids" (219.28-9). Like the cinema, "wordloosed" (wirelessed but also let loose) transglobally, all such media are engaged in a "crowdblast" of existing languages and cultures, producing an interplay between local cultures and a pan-international hyperculture.

In the concluding moments of the Wake, Joyce generalizes his pre-cybernetic vision in one long intricate performance that not only concerns the book itself, but also anticipates by twenty years some major discussions of culture, communication, and technology. A brief scene setting: this is the moment in the closing episode just as the HCE is awakening. In the background he hears noises from the machines in the laundry next door. It is breakfast time and there are sounds of food being prepared; eggs are being cooked and will be eaten, so there is anticipation of the process of digestion that is about to take place (Rose and O'Hanlon 308-9) At this moment a key passage, inviting interminable interpretation, presents in very abstract language a generalized model of production and consumption, which is also the recorso of the schema of this nocturnal poem, that consumes and produces, just as the digestive system itself digests and produces new cells and excrement--how else could one be a poet of "litters" as well as letters and be "litterery" (114.17; 422.35) as well as literary?

The passage begins by speaking about "our wholemole millwheeling vicociclometer, a tetradomational gazebocroticon," which may be the book, a letter to be written, the digestive system assimilating the eggs, the sexual process, the mechanical "mannormillor clipperclappers" (614.13) of the nearby Mannor Millor laundry, the temporal movement of history, or a theory of engineering, for essentially it relates the production of cultural artifacts or the consumption of matter (like reading a book, seeing a film or eating eggs; the text mentions a "farmer, his son and their homely codes, known as eggburst, eggblend, eggburial, and hatch-as-hatch-can" (614.28)). The passage concludes, "as sure as herself pits hen to paper and there's scribings scrawled on eggs" (615.9-10). Here the frequent pairing of speaking (writing) with eating is brought to a climax in which it is related to all the abstract machines which shape the life of nature, decomposing into "bits" and recombining.

These bits, described as "the dialytically [dialectic + dialysis] separated elements of precedent decomposition," may be eggs, or other "homely codes" such as the "heroticisms, catastrophes and ec-centricities" (the stuff of history or the dreamers stuttering speech or his staggering movements) transmitted elementally, "type by tope, letter from litter, word at ward, sendence of sundance . . ." (614.33-615.2). All of these bits--matter, eggs, words, TV signals, concepts, what you will--are "anastomosically assimilated and preteri-dentified paraidiotically," producing "the sameold gamebold adomic structure . . . as highly charged with electrons as hophazards can effective it" (615.5-8). In anticipation of the contemporary electronic definition of the "bit," Joyce associates the structure of communication (ranging from TV and telegraphic signals to morphophonemic information and kinesthesia) with bits of signals, "data" and information. He presents it as essentially an assemblage of multiplicities, different from a synthesizing or totalizing moment, for it occurs by the crossing of pluralistic branches of differing motifs, through a process of transmission involving flows, particularly the flowing of blood, water and speech, and breaks such as the discontinuous charges of electrical energy, telegraphy, and punctuation--those "endspeaking nots for yestures" (267.8).

Here Joyce's entire prophetic, schizoid vision of cyberspace seems somewhat Deleuzian. It is an ambivalent and critical vision, for the "ambiviolence" of the "langdwage" throughout the Wake implies critique as it unfolds this history, since Joyce still situates parody within satire. He does not free it from socio-political reference, as a free-floating "postmodernist" play with the surface of signifiers would. This can be noted in the way that Joyce first probes what came to be one of the keystones of McLuhanism. Joyce plays throughout the work with spheres and circles, some of which parody one of the mystical definitions of God frequently attributed to Alan of Lille (Alanus de Insulis), but sometimes referred to as Pascal's sphere. Speaking of a daughter-goddess figure, he says:

our Frivulteeny Sexuagesima to expense herselfs as sphere as possible, paradismic perimutter, in all directions on the bend of the unbridalled, the infinisissimalls of her facets becoming manier and manier as the calicolum of her umdescribables (one has thoughts of that eternal Rome) . . . . (298.27-33)
Here a sphere is imagined whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere, since it is infinitesimal and undescribable (though apparently the paradigmic perimeter is sexual), as the paradisal mother communicates herself without apparent limit. This is both an embodied and a disembodied sphere, polarizing and decentering the image so as to impede any closure. The same spherical principle is applied more widely to the presentation of the sense of hearing. The reception of messages by the hero/ine of the Wake, "(Hear! Calls! Everywhair!)" (108.23), is accomplished by "bawling the whowle hamshack and wobble down in an eliminium sounds pound so as to serve him up a melegoturny marygoraumd" (309.22-4), a sphere for it requires "a gain control of circumcentric megacycles" (310.7-8). It can truly be said of HCE, "Ear! Ear! Weakear! An allness eversides!" (568.26), precisely because he is "human, erring and condonable"(58.19), yet "humile, commune and ensectuous" (29.30), suffering many deprivations his "hardest crux ever" (623.33) [italics mine]. Though "humbly to fall and cheaply to rise, [this] exposition of failures" (589.17) living with "Heinz cans everywhere"(581.5), still protests his fate "making use of sacrilegious languages to the defect that he would challenge their hemosphores to exterminate them" (81.25) by decentering or dislocating any attempts to enclose him.

This discussion of sphere and hearing critically anticipates what McLuhan later called "acoustic space"--a fundamental cyberspatial conception with its creation of multi- dimensional environments, a spherical environment within which aural information is received by the CNS--that also embodies a transformation of the hermetic poetic insight that "the universe (or nature) [or in earlier versions, God] is an infinite sphere, the center of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere" (Borges 6-9). Today, VR, as Borges' treatment of Pascal's sphere seems to imply, is coming to be our contemporary pre-millennial epitome of this symbol, a place where each participant (rather than the deity), as microcosm, is potentially the enigmatic center. People englobed within virtual worlds find themselves interacting within complex, transverse, intertextual multimedia forms that are interlinked globally through complex, rhizomic (root-like) networks.

All of this must necessarily relate back to the way Joyce treats the subject of and produces the artifact that is the book. While, beginning with Mallarme, the themes of the book and the death of literature resound through modernism, Joyce's transformation of the book filtered through the "mcluhanitic" reaction to "mcluhanism" becomes, in the usual interpretation of McLuhan, the annunciation of the death of the book, not its transformation, as with Joyce. Joyce is important, for following Marcel Jousse and Vico, he situates speech and writing as modes of communication within a far richer and more complex bodily and gestural theory of communication than that represented by the reductive dichotomy of the oral and the literate. As the predominance of print declines, the Wake explores the history of communication by comically assimilating the method of Vico's The New Science--which, as one of the first systematic and empirical studies of the place of poetic action in the history of how people develop systems of signs and symbols, attributes people's ability for constructing their society to the poetic function.

Joyce avoids that facile over-simplification of the complexities of print, arising from the orality/literacy dichotomy, which attributes a privileged role to language as verbal--a privilege based on theological and metaphysical claims. The same dichotomy creates problems in discussing technological and other non-verbal forms of mediated communication, including VR and TV. At one point in the Wake "Television kills telephony in brothers' broil. Our eyes demand their turn. Let them be seen!" (52.18-9), for TV also comprehends the visual and the kinesthetic. Yet most McLuhanites who have opted for the orality/literacy split still call it an oral medium in opposition to print. The same problem occurs when mime, with its dependence on gesture and rhythm, is analyzed as an oral medium. As the Wake jocularly observes:

seein as ow his thoughts consisted chiefly of the cheerio, he aptly sketched for our soontobe second parents . . . the touching seene. The solence of that stilling! Here one might a fin fell. Boomster rombombonant! It scenes like a landescape from Wildu Picturescu or some seem on some dimb Arras, dumb as Mum's mutyness, this mimage . . . is odable to os across the wineless Ere no dor nor mere eerie nor liss potent of suggestion than in the tales of the tingmount. (52.34- 53.6)
The mime plays with silence, sight, touch and movement seeming like a landscape or a movie.

Facile over-simplification also overlooks that long before the beginnings of the trend towards cyberspace, print had not been strictly oriented towards linearity and writing, for the print medium was supplemented by its encyclopedic, multi-media nature, absorbing other media such as illustrations, charts, graphs, maps, diagrams, and tables, not all aspects of which are precisely linear. While writing may have had a predominantly linear tendency, its history is far more complex, as Elizabeth Eisenstein has established. The orality/literacy distinction does not provide an adequately rich concept for dealing with print, any more than it does for the most complex and comprehensive images of virtual reality and participatory hyperspace (e.g., sophisticated extensions of the datagloves or the Aspen map), which, to adapt a Joycean phrase, directly transmit "feelful thinkamalinks." Since VR should enable a person to feel the bodily set of another person or place, while simultaneously receiving multiple intersensory messages, understanding the role of the body in communication is crucial for understanding VR. When McLuhan and Edward Carpenter first spoke about their concept of orality (linked to aurality, mouth to ear, as line of print to eye scan), it entailed recognizing the priority and primacy of tactility and inter- sensory activity in communication, for "In the beginning there was the gest."

As Kenneth Burke realized in the 30s, Joyce's grounding communication and language in gesture is distinctly different from an approach which privileges language, for it involves a complete embodying of communication. While the oral only embodies the speech organs, the entire CNS is necessarily involved in all communication, including speech. As John Bishop has shown in Joyce's Book of the Dark, the sleeper primarily receives sensations with his ear, but these are tranformed within the body into the world of signs that permeate the dream and which constitute the Wake. Joyce views language as "gest," as an imaginary means of embodying intellectual-emotional complexes, his "feelful thinkamalinks." From this perspective, the semic units of the Wake (integrated complexes constructed from the interaction of speech and print involving, rhythm, orthography as sign and gesture and visual image) assume the role of dialogue with other modes of mediated communication, exploiting their limitations and differences. Joyce crafts a new lingua for a world where the poetic book will deal with those aspects of the imaginary that cannot be encompassed within technologically mediated communication. Simultaneously, he recognizes that a trend towards virtual reality is characteristic of the electro- mechanically or technologically mediated modes of communication. This process posits a continuous dialogue in which Ulysses and the Wake were designed to play key roles.

As Joyce--who quipped that "some of the means I use are trivial--and some are quadrivial"--was aware, ancient rhetorical theory (which he parodied both in the Aeolus episode of Ulysses and in the "Triv and Quad" section (II, 2) of the Wake) also included those interactive contexts where the body was an intrinsic part of communication. Delivery involved controlling the body, and the context within which it was presented, as well as the voice. The actual rhetorical action (particularly in judicial oratory) also frequently involved demonstration and witnesses. This analysis, closer to the pre- literate, recognized the way actual communication integrated oral, visual, rhythmical, gestural and kinesthetic components. Recent research into the classical and medieval "arts of memory," inspired by Frances Yates, have demonstrated that memory involves the body, a sense of the dramatic and theatrical, visual icons and movement, as well as the associative power of the oral itself. Joyce playfully invokes this memory system familiar to him from his Jesuit education: "After sound, light and heat, memory, will and understanding. Here (the memories framed from walls are minding) till wranglers for wringwrowdy wready are . . ." (266.18-22). A classical world, which recognized such features of the communicative process, could readily speak about the poem as a "speaking picture" and the painting as "silent poetry." Here, there is an inclusiveness of the means available rather than a dependency on a single channel of communication.

Joyce was so intrigued by the potentials of the new culture of time and space for reconstructing and revolutionizing the book that he claimed himself to be "the greatest engineer," as well as a Renaissance man, who was also a "musicmaker, a philosophist and heaps of other things" (Letters 251). The mosaic of the Wake contributes to understanding the nature of cyberspace by grasping the radical constitution of the electronic cosmos that Joyce called "the chaosmos of Alle" (118.21). In this "chaosmos," engineered by a sense of interactive mnemotechnics, he intuits the relation between a nearly infinite quantity of cultural information and the mechanical yet rhizomic organization of a network, "the matrix," which underlies the construction of imaginary and virtual worlds. One crucial reason for raising the historic image of Joyce in a discussion of cyberspace is that he carries out one of the most comprehensive contemporary discussions of virtual recollection (a concept first articulated by Henri Bergson as virtual memory). In counterpoint to the emerging technological capability to create the "virtual reality" of cyberspace, Joyce turned to dream and hallucination for the creation of virtual worlds within natural language.

That tactile, gestural-based dreamworld has built-in mnemonic systems:

A scene at sight. Or dreamoneire. Which they shall memorise. By her freewritten. Hopely for ear that annalykeses if scares for eye that sumns. Is it in the now woodwordings of our sweet plantation where the branchings then will singingsing tomorrows gone and yesters outcome . . . . (280.01-07)
Joyce's virtual worlds began with the recognition of "everybody" as a poet (each person is co-producer; he quips, "his producers are they not his consumers?"). All culture becomes the panorama of his dream; the purpose of poetic writing in a post-electric world is the painting of that interior (which is not the psychoanalytic, but the social unconscious) and the providing of new language appropriate to perceiving the complexities of the new world of technologically reproducible media:
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. (614.19-21)
Joyce's text is embodied in gesture, enclosed in words, enmeshed in time, and engaged in foretelling "Today's truth. Tomorrow's trend." The poet reproducing his producers is the divining prophet.

If speaking of Joyce and cyberspace seems to imply a kind of futurology, the whole of McLuhan's project was frequently treated as prophesying the emergence of a new tribalized global society--the global village, itself anticipated by Joyce's "international" language of multilingual puns. In fact, in War and Peace in the Global Village, McLuhan uses Wakese (mostly from Joyce, freely associated) as marginalia. McLuhan flourished in his role as an international guru by casting himself in the role of "the prime prophet" announcing the coming of a new era of communication (now talked about as virtual reality or cyberspace, though he never actually used that word). The prime source of his "prophecies," which he never concealed, is to be found in Joyce and Vico. The entire Joycean dream is prophetic or divinatory in part, for the anticipated awakening (Vico's fourth age of ricorso following birth, marriage, and death) is "providential divining":

Ere we are! Signifying, if tungs may tolkan, that, primeval conditions having gradually receded but nevertheless the emplacement of solid and fluid having to a great extent persisted through intermittences of sullemn fulminance, sollemn nuptialism, sallemn sepulture and providential divining, making possible and even inevitable, after his a time has a tense haves and havenots hesitency, at the place and period under consideration a socially organic entity of a millenary military maritory monetary morphological circumformation in a more or less settled state of equonomic ecolube equalobe equilab equilibbrium. (599.8-18)
Earlier, it is said of the dreamer that "He caun ne'er be bothered but maun e'er be waked. If there is a future in every past that is present . . ." (496.34-497.1). Joyce, from whom McLuhan derived the idea, is playing with the medieval concept of natural prophecy, making it a fundamental feature of the epistemology of his dream world, in which the "give and take" of the "mind factory," an "antithesis of ambidual anticipation," generates auspices, auguries, and divination--for "DIVINITY NOT DEITY [is] THE UNCERTAINTY JUSTIFIED BY OUR CERTITUDE" (282.R7-R13).

Natural prophecy, the medieval way of thinking about futurology with which Joyce and McLuhan were naturally familiar from scholasticism and Thomism, occurs through a reading of history and its relation to that virtual, momentary social text (the present), which is dynamic and always undergoing change. Joyce appears to blend this medieval concept with classical sociological ideas--of prophecy as an "intermediation"--quite consistent with his concepts of communication as involving aspects of participation and communion. It is only through some such reading that the future existent in history can be known and come to be. McLuhan's reading, adapted from Joyce, of the collision of history and the present moment led him to foresee a world emerging where communication would be tactile, post-verbal, fully participatory and pan- sensory (Theall, Rear View)

Why ought communication history and theory take account of Joyce's poetic project? First, because he designed a new language (later disseminated by McLuhan, Eco, and Derrida) to carry out an in-depth interpretation of complex socio- historical phenomenon, namely new modes of semiotic production. Two brief examples: Hollywood "wordloosing celluloid soundscript over seven seas," or the products of the Hollywood dream factory itself as "a rolling away of the reel world," reveal media's potential international domination as well as the problems film form raises for the mutual claims of the imaginary and the real. For example, the term "abortisements" (advertisements) suggests the manipulation of fetishized femininity with its submerged relation of advertisement to butchering--the segmentation of the body as object into an assemblage of parts.

Second, Joyce's work is a critique of communication's historical role in the production of culture, and it constitutes one of the earliest recognitions of the importance of Vico to a contemporary history of communication and culture. Third, his work is itself the first "in- depth" contemporary exploration of the complexities of reading, writing, rewriting, speaking, aurality, and orality. Fourth, developing Vico's earlier insights and anticipating Kenneth Burke, he sees the importance of the "poetic" as a concept in communication, for the poetic is the means of generating new communicative potentials between medium and message. This provides the poetic, the arts, and other modes of cultural production with a crucial role in a semiotic ecology of communication, an ecology of sense, and making sense. Fifth, in the creative project of this practice, Joyce develops one of the most complex discussions of the contemporary transformation of our media of communication. And finally, his own work is itself an exemplum of the socio- ecological role of the poetic in human communication.

VR or cyberspace, as an assemblage of a multiplicity of existing and new media, dramatizes the relativity of our classifications of media and their effects. The newly evolving global metropolis arising in the age of cyberspace is a site where people are intellectual nomads: differentiation, difference, and decentering characterize its structure. Joyce and the arts of high modernism and postmodernism provide a solid appreciation of how people constantly reconstruct or remake reality through the traversing of the multi-sensory fragments of a "virtual world" and of the tremendous powers with which electricity and the analysis of mechanization would endow the paramedia that would eventually emerge.


  1. William Gibson, Mona Lisa Overdrive (NY: Bantam Paperback, 1989), 16.
  2. William Gibson, Neuromancer (NY: Ace, 1984), 51.
  3. This quotation is taken from the posthumously published Marshall McLuhan and Bruce R. Powers, The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century (NY: Oxford UP, 1989). It was edited and rewritten from McLuhan's working notes, which had to date from the late 70s, since he died in 1981. McLuhan's words were written more than a decade before their posthumous publication in 1989.
  4. Marshall McLuhan and Bruce R. Powers, The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century (NY: Oxford UP, 1989), 103.
  5. Stuart Brand, The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT (NY: Viking, 1987).
  6. Marshall McLuhan, The Letters of Marshall McLuhan, ed. Matie Molinaro, Corinne McLuhan and William Toye (Toronto: Oxford UP, 1987), 385.
  7. Craig E. Adcock, Marcel Duchamp's Notes from the Large Glass: An N-Dimensional Analysis (Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI, 1983), 28: "The Large Glass is an illuminated manuscript consisting of 476 documents; the illumination consists of almost every work that Duchamp did."
  8. Stuart Brand, The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT (NY: Viking, 1987).
  9. A further paper needs to be written on the way in which synaesthesia as well as coenesthesia participate in the pre- history of cyberspace. The unfolding history of poets and artists confronting electromechanical technoculture, which begins in the 1850s, reveals a growing interest in synesthesia and coenesthesia and parallels a gradually accelerating yearning for artistic works which are syntheses or orchestrations of the arts. By 1857 Charles Baudelaire intuited the future transformational power of the coming of electro-communication when he established his concept of synaesthesia and the trend toward a synthesis of all the arts as central aspects of symbolisme. The transformational matrices involved in synaesthesia and the synthesis of the arts unconsciously respond to that digitalization implicit in Morse code and telegraphy, anticipating how one of the major characteristics of cyberspace will be the capability of all modes of expression to be transformed into minimal discrete contrastive units-bits.

    This assertion concerning Baudelaire's use of synesthesia is developed from Benjamin's discussions of Baudelaire. The role of shock in Baudelaire's poetry, which links the "Correspondances" with "La Vie Anterieur," also reflects how the modern fragmentation involved in "Le Crepuscle du Soir" and "Le Crepuscle du Matin" is reassembled poetically through the verbal transformation of sensorial modes. This is the beginning of a period in which the strategy of using shock to deal with fragmentation is transformed into seeing the multiplicity of codifications of municipal (or urban) reality. So when the metamorphic sensory effects of nature's temple are applied to the splenetic here and now, in the background is the emergence of the new codifications of reality, such as the photography which so preoccupied Baudelaire, and telegraphy, which had an important impact in his lifetime.

  10. See D.F. Theall, "The Hieroglyphs of Engined Egypsians: Machines, Media and Modes of Communication in Finnegans Wake," Joyce Studies Annual 1991, ed. Thomas F. Staley (Austin: Texas UP, 1991), 129-52. This publication provides major source material for the present article.
  11. "Machinic" is used here very deliberately as distinct from mechanical. See Gilles Deleuze, Dialogues, trans. Hugh Tomlinson & Barbara Haberjam (NY: Columbia UP, 1987), 70-1, where he discusses the difference between the machine and the 'machinic' in contradistinction to the mechanical.
  12. Giambattista Vico, The New Science, ed. T.G. Bergen and M. Fisch (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1948).
  13. For fuller discussion of Joyce and these themes see Donald Theall, "James Joyce: Literary Engineer," in Literature and Ethics: Essays Presented to A.E. Malloch, ed. Gary Wihl & David Williams (Montreal: McGill-Queen's UP, 1988), 111-27; Donald and Joan Theall, "James Joyce and Marshall McLuhan," Canadian Journal of Communication, 14:4/5 (Fall 1989), 60-1; and Donald Theall (1991), 129-152. A number of subsequent passages are adapted with minor modifications from parts of the last article, which is a fairly comprehensive coverage of Joyce and technology.
  14. While in one sense the dreamer is identified as the male HCE, the book opens and closes with the feminine voice of ALP. It is her dream of his dreaming, or his dream of her dreaming? Essentially, it is androgynous, with a mingling of male and female voices throughout. For another treatment of the male- female theme in the Wake, see Suzette Henke, James Joyce and the Politics of Desire (NY: RKP, 1989).
  15. "Jousstly" refers to Marcel Jousse's important work on communication and the semiotics of gesture, with which Joyce was familiar. See especially Lorraine Weir, "The Choreography of Gesture: Marcel Jousse and Finnegans Wake," James Joyce Quarterly, 14:3 (Spring 1977), 313-25.
  16. This motif will be developed further below. It relates to Joyce's interest in Lewis Carroll. Gilles Deleuze comments extensively on manducation in The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale, ed. Constantin V. Boundas (NY: Columbia UP, 1990).
  17. See Dewey, Art As Experience (NY: G.P. Putnam, 1958) and Kenneth Burke, Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965).
  18. Cf. T.S. Eliot, Selected Essays (NY: Harcourt, Brace, 1932), 182: "One of the surest of tests is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal . . . "; see also "Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires," ("East Coker," Four Quartets, l. 5). Joyce's use of "outlex" relates to Jim the Penman, for Joyce analyzing Shem in the Wake is aware of how the traditions of the artist as liar, counterfeiter, con man, and thief could all coalesce about the role of the artist as an outlaw.
  19. "Kills" in the sense of "to kill a bottle"; "kills" also as a stream or channel of water.
  20. See Walter Ong's remarks about Marcel Jousse in The Presence of the Word (New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1967), 146- 7, and Lorraine Weir's more extensive development of the theme in (1977), 313-325, and in Writing Joyce: A Semiotics of the Joyce System (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1989).
  21. I.J. Gelb, A Study of Writing (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1963).
  22. Marshall McLuhan and Bruce R. Powers, The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century (NY: Oxford UP, 1989), 182.
  23. Alexander Marschak, The Roots of Civilization (NY: McGraw-Hill, 1982); Marcia Ascher and Robert Ascher, Code of the Quipu: A Study in Media, mathematics and Culture (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1981); Claude Levi-Strauss, The Elementary Structures of Kinship, trans. James Harle Bell and John Richard von Sturmer, ed. Rodney Needham (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969).
  24. The usual way to indicate sections of the Wake is by part and episode. Hence I,v is Part I episode 5. There are four parts, the first consisting of eight episodes, the second and the third of four episodes each and the fourth of a single episode.
  25. Danis Rose and John O'Hanlon, Understanding Finnegans Wake (NY: Garland Publishing, 1982), 308-09.
  26. For detailed discussion of the treatment of the ear and hearing in Finnegans Wake, see John Bishop, Joyce's book of the Dark: Finnegans Wake (Madison, WI: U of Wisconsin P, 1986), Chapter 9 "Earwickerwork," 264-304.
  27. Jorge Luis Borges, Other Inquisitions: 1937- 1952, trans. Ruth R. Sims (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1968), 6-9.
  28. Lorraine Weir, Writing Joyce: A Semiotics of the Joyce System (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1989).
  29. Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (NY: Cambridge UP, 1983).
  30. John Bishop, Joyce's book of the Dark: Finnegans Wake (Madison, WI: U of Wisconsin P, 1986), 264-304.
  31. Eugene Jolas, "My Friend James Joyce," in James Joyce: two decades of criticism, ed. Seon Givens (NY: Vanguard, 1948), 24.
  32. E.g., in Frances Yates, The Art of Memory (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1966).
  33. James Joyce to Harriet Shaw Weaver, Letters, ed. Stuart Gilbert (NY: Viking, 1957), 251 [Postcard, 16 April 1927].
  34. For a discussion of this see Gilles Deleuze, Bergsonism (NY: Zone, 1988), Chapter 3, "Memory as Virtual Co-existence," 51-72.
  35. Speaking of the all-embracing aspects of VR and cyberspace, the work which Baudrillard has made of "simulation" and "the ecstasy of communication" should be noted. This issue is too complex to engage within an essay specifically focused on Joyce. In approaching it, however, it is important to realize the degree of similarity that Baudrillard's treatment of communication shares with McLuhan's. In many ways, I believe it could be established that what Baudrillard critiques as the "ecstasy of communication" is his understanding of McLuhan's vision of communication divorced from its historical roots in the literature and arts of symbolisme, high modernism, and particularly James Joyce.
  36. This is a major theme of McLuhan and McLuhan's The Laws of Media (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1988).
  37. See Donald F. Theall, The Medium is the Rear View Mirror; Understanding McLuhan (Montreal: McGill-Queen's UP, 1971).
  38. John O'Neill credits Vico with a "wild sociology" in which the philologist is a wild sociologist in Making Sense Together: An Introduction to Wild Sociology (NY: Harper & Row, 1974), 28-38. The significance of Vico's emphasis on the body is developed in John O'Neill, Five Bodies: The Human Sense of Society (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1985).