|ERIK S. RORABACK
ARTISTIC AUTHORITY, INTERPRETATION AND ECONOMIC POWER: JOYCE'S FINNEGANS WAKE
This article will attempt to trace both how artistic authority and anti-authority can be seen to operate in Joyce's Finnegans Wake (1939, abbreviated here as FW for purposes of citation) and the role the reader as interpreter plays in this process, especially given the extent to which the interpreter is asked to replicate Joyce's narrative procedures and contents under his instruction. Hence my raison d'être in the present paper will be to emphasize the ways in which Joyce's major work either claims to possess or to lack authority and the role the reader plays in this economy; in this regard I shall consider the notion of interpretation as a form of cultural capital and thus also of economic power. (Here for terminological clarification I cite the OED, which defines capital as "[w]ealth in any form used to help in producing more wealth"; and that defines fixed capital as "that which remains in the owner's possession" and circulating capital as "that which is constantly changing hands or passing from one form into another, as goods, money, etc." Moreover, the economic power within the varied discourses of Finnegans Wake will also be broached.
Our engagement with the Wake requires us to deal with Joyce's verbal authority. Yet is there not too an anti-authoritative stance in this respect in Joyce? That is, how does Joyce short circuit the authoritative and interpretive leanings of his readers and thus create new conditions of possibility for non-dominatory types of engagement, symbolic exchanges and interpretive debts for readers of the Wake? Is there a renunciation of authority in Joyce, despite all of his claims for cultural authority? These are the questions that will be addressed with attention to the notion of interpretation as a form of economic capital, and thus also as a product of value. To look at the Wake as expensive intellectual property and the consequent interpretive inheritance this work bequeaths to the reader is to see Joyce himself as a sign of circulating intellectual capital and energy that remains to be transformed by his interpreters: the conceptual interactions between the "grouptriad" (FW, 167) of authority, of interpretation and of economic power of the Wake play a role in this transformation.
First of all, permit me to give some socio-historical and epistemic observations about the Wake. Fredric Jameson writes of
Boris Groy's remarkable Gesamtkunstwerk Stalin, where the dictator is identified as the greatest of modern Utopians and more specifically as a modernist in state-craft, whose monumental "Soviet Union" is as grand a conception as Finnegans Wake or A la recherche du temps perdu [ . . . and Jameson also adds] people cannot stand the sustained demands of the political absolute, their human frailty then calling forth the violence of the Jacobin-Stalinist state as it tried to bully them into sustaining this impossible momentum. Artistic modernism is then the expression of this same will to power in the imaginary, in the absence of state power or of the deed: and Le Corbusier will bully his clients into a healthy and strenuous high-modern life style with much the same obsessive single-mindedness, while, with more subtle Nietzschean dissimulations and indirections, Joyce or Mallarmé will try imperiously to appropriate their readers' existential time by way of a commitment to interminable exegesis and a quasi-religious adulation.1
This kind of macropolitical reading of the Wake that broaches the notion of exegesis is of course a category that Joyce's book renders problematic from many points of view. For one thing, the Wake invites new modalities of movement from its engagers, forms of mobility that exceed dominating and appropriating interpretive moves. Jameson's warning about the 'quasi-religious adulation' that Joyce's work inspires is perhaps more true and hortative than wrong, though his pointedly provocative reading of modernism as a kind of Stalinist regime within the imaginary seems reductive, totalistic and simplistic.
One feature of Joyce's authority is that while he is a virtuoso neologizer and 'sentence-smith' he is hardly the equal of a Maurice Blanchot or a Georges Bataille, for example, as a speculative thinker: Moreover, as a conceptual cartographer Joyce also cannot hold a candle to most good philosophers. So the present paper does not wish to run Joyce up the wrong flagpole, as it were. Sheldon Brivic writes that "[a]nother objection to Joyce's authority involves the role of the reader, whose interpretations may supplement the visions of both character and author. Joyce, however, apprehends and includes his readers to a unique extent by designing ambiguities that anticipate a wide range of responses."2 Joyce's precomprehension here for all exegetical movements toward his work is a gesture of control on his part. Still, Joyce cannot account for all of the Wake's textual and extratextual effects. Brivic also writes that "[n]othing is more characteristic of [Joyce's] writing than the sense of projecting the totality of language. Yet there are unanswered questions and loose ends that point to a prevalent Joycean strategy of projecting himself as a source of transcendent knowledge that shifts and turns out to be a step beyond comprehension. By the use of his authority, Joyce lures his reader to confront the limitations of the reader's insights."3 Here the project of the Joycean signature seems imbued with a drive for the infinite or to a level where Joyce's succession as an authority figure is guaranteed.
In his reading of Jacques Lacan and of Jacques Derrida on Joyce, Brivic notes, "[i]f Lacan sees a personal agency beyond consciousness in Joyce, Derrida virtually deifies him, and, while Derrida's views should not be imposed on Lacan, it may not be a coincidence that both thinkers are impressed by Joyce's method of increasing his authority by seeming to abandon it [. . .] Derrida is not sure if he likes Joyce's claim to absoluteness, but he justifies it as partly demonic and revolutionary."4 Joyce's quest for omniscient cultural authority is shot through with laughter, for as Brivic notes:
That Derrida sees the form of prayer appropriate to Joyce as laughter accords with Lacan's idea, derived from Freud, that laughter speaks for the unconscious. It may seem that the spirit of laughter that Lacan and Derrida see as essential to Joyce is an element that leaves authority behind, but Freud indicates otherwise. In his 1927 essay 'Humour,' he says that it involves a humorist in the role of a father who reduces his objects to the positions of children (SE 21:163). Freud's recognition that there is always an authority behind laughter suggests that the dissemination or analysis of language cannot be sustained without insemination or synthesis to oppose it. But the creative principle of Joyce's authority is dissemination or otherness, which means that it is always moving away from what we can see or express.5
In truth, it is a cliché of Wakean criticism that there is "lovesoftfun at Finnegan's Wake" (FW, 607) and that the Wake, if an "unjoyable" (FW, 529) and a "wordybook" (FW, 529) is nonetheless, a very funny book. In regard to Derrida's notion that prayer is an appropriate response to Joyce, one may cite the phrase in the Wake: "for here the holy language" (FW, 256). Brivic adds "that the foundation or substratum (or solvent) of language is laughter, which is described by Lacan and Derrida as the most essential element of Joyce's writing."6 The Joycean modes of laughter are perhaps tied to the power Joyce has over his readers and to the knowledge that ultimately he too does not have the answers for which some are perhaps still seeking from his textual project.
With respect to the notion of the economic power of Finnegans Wake, consider the following from Derrida:
What is fascinating is perhaps the event of a singularity powerful enough to formalize the questions and the theoretical laws concerning it. No doubt we shall have to come back to this word power. The 'power' that language is capable of, the power that there is, as language or as writing, is that a singular mark should also be repeatable, iterable, as a mark [ . . . ] A text by Joyce is simultaneously the condensation of a scarcely delimitable history. But this condensation of history, of language, of the encyclopedia, remains here indissociable from an absolutely singular event, an absolutely singular signature, and therefore also of a date, of a language, of an autobiographical inscription. In a minimal autobiographical trait can be gathered the greatest potentiality of historical, theoretical, linguistic, philosophical culture-that's really what interests me. I am not the only one to be interested by this economic power.7
The forms of culture that Derrida nominates here can be amplified to include other registers of culture and so of cultural capital too, such as religious, scientific, psychological, anthropological, literary, musical and so forth. The power of the signature here has a triple value, one that involves the biographical Joyce, the text of Finnegans Wake and the signature signed by its interpreters. As for the latter it might be said that Joyce's signature is powerful in its ability to spawn a proliferation of critical texts, colloquia, symposia and so forth in the service of "Saint Scholarland" (FW, 135). The scholarly apparatus built up around Joyce approximates the scale of his textual enterprise.
Joyce's will-to-authority has also been noted by the outstanding critic, Leo Bersani, who in his essay "Against Ulysses" writes: "In a sense, the unhappy destiny of the literary work is that it cannot avoid being read. However much the writer may work to create the ideal reader for his text, a certain inattentiveness in the reading of texts defeats that work, thus saving us from such totalitarian projects."8 The textual totalitarianism of the Wake, therefore, will always be undercut and undone by this textual program that includes the writer, the text and the fallible interpreter always in need of "foregiftness" (FW, 498). What Bersani writes of Ulysses might be said to some extent of Finnegans Wake, "[w]here Ulysses really leads us is to Joyce's mind; it illuminates his cultural consciousness. At the end of the reader's exegetical travails lie the promise of an Assumption, of being raised up and identified with the idea of culture made man. Joyce incarnates the enormous authority of sublimation in our culture--of sublimation viewed not as a nonspecific eroticizing of cultural interests but as the appeasement and even transcendence of anxiety."9 Yet this reading remains somewhat reductive in ignoring the notion of textual play from Joyce's reader, the engager who collides with the Joycean text in a fruitful way for her own creative counter-signatures. But Bersani is right in implying that Joyce's compositional mobilities and contents invest in the idea of a work that might somehow redeem the reader's lack of cultural knowledge.
The composer John Cage once wrote that "I have gone to Joyce as to a jail [ . . . ] I don't understand any of it."10 So perhaps paradoxically, despite all of Joyce's impressive erudition at the level of content, reading him is a way of escaping from literature. This type of imprisoning literary regime is also alluded to by Bersani in his (now out-of-print) study The Death of Stéphane Mallarmé, where he writes that "Mallarmé [and Joyce] could be treated as a primary example of literary imperialism in modern writing, of an effort--traceable, roughly, from Mallarmé to Jacques Lacan--to colonize an audience's interpretive ingenuities."11 This attempt at colonization is no doubt bound up with the notion of cultural authority as artistic identity or to the possibility of designing lines around one's identity to reinforce one's authority, an operation to which Joyce's compositional labour seems to subscribe. For Joyce as authority figure constructs his readers to varying extents both in appropriating their mental efforts and in abetting their appropriating exegetical moves toward his work.
In a discussion of the importance of form over content that tosses light on the question of imperialistic-like difficulty, Bersani writes: "Difficulty might be thought of as the principal element in the textual imperialism which I mentioned earlier in this study. It can function--it has functioned--as the justification, or pretext, for centralizing certain texts as inexhaustible objects of interpretation. We might, however, ask to what extent this centralization is the work of the most prestigious modernist texts themselves, and to what extent it expresses certain critical decisions about modernism."12 As one of modernity's icons of difficulty, the Wake would seem complicit with this state of affairs from both sides of the debate, for it is both a high-canonical modernist text and it informs the cultural category of modernism itself. Bersani also explains that the critic Richard Poirier
suggests that the difficulty--and the modernity--of writers as different from one another as Mallarmé, Yeats, Joyce, Faulkner and Pynchon lie less in their elaborate 'formal placements,' the learning, the cultural displays, the mechanics of structuring which their works exhibit, than in 'the art of displacement by which one form is relinquished for another.' The formal and allusive puzzles which have fascinated and immobilized criticism are most interesting not for what they 'mean,' but rather as signs of 'the enormous difficulty of mastering a technology,' of the 'inadequacy of forms and structures or styles to the life they propose to explain or include.'13
This could serve as a good description of Finnegans Wake, of course, which incorporates numerous cultural forms in its discursive register, and which in its use of language self-ironizes its own pretensions to represent the real. As for the notion of difficulty for Bersani,
On the one hand, difficulty has nourished textual imperialism when it has resulted in the interpretive centring of highly valued texts, a centring which reinforces traditional cultural hierarchies and privileges. On the other hand, difficulty can be created by (and critically treated as) an extreme mobility of attention, a continuous moving away from what might be called the narrative ordering of thought. The former type of difficulty demands exegesis (which is itself a narrativizing activity of the mind), and it therefore implicitly asserts the epistemological priority of sense which can be narrativized over interpretive play; the latter type of difficulty largely precludes exegesis. The former, finally, is consistent with the metaphysical seriousness of a Book which would 'explain' the universe, while the latter may be the product not only of a continuous relinquishing of tentative formal arrangements but also of a playfully promiscuous attention always ready to swerve to the side of its objects and to wander in a variety of sensually appealing digressive activities.14
The difficulty of the Wake corresponds neatly to this doubled quality that Bersani cites. The well-nigh totalitarian literary ambitions of the Wake can be seen in the apparatuses of annotations and of exegetically oriented critical books that cluster around it. The place of such cultural artefacts in the economic ordering of publishing houses, of symposia, of colloquia, of scholarship and of scholars is obvious enough, but the way in which the Wake complicates 'the epistemological priority of sense' shows an anti-authoritative stance in Joyce. Anti-authoritative too is the manner in which the Wake invites creative counter-signatures. For Joyce's narrative strategies make the Wake not so much a zone of combat as a space for rewriting. The disciplined act of reading is re-disciplined to include more and more of the reader's own interpretive capital. In this way Joyce's fixed capital gives way to the Wake's circulating capital.
Not only this, the dismantling of certainties regarding the semantic, the rhetorical and the phonic dimensions of the language in Finnegans Wake dislocates both Joyce and the reader as subjects. This yields a non-thematizable economy in terms of canonical relations between the writer and the reader of the Wake. The re-dispersion of the reading subject that Joyce activates in the economic circuit of his language plunges the reader back into ever-new exchanges or economies of meaning with Finnegans.
Attempts to domesticate the Wake will necessarily fail because of the second type of difficulty that Bersani names that rely on new interpretive procedures and aims. That Joyce sees language as a tool for recontextualizing world-history in Finnegans Wake is bound up with the idea of this project as an anti-novelistic design. The new modes of mobility available in the interstices of Joyce's language 'impossibilizes' fixed meaning and forges a double notion of textuality that includes both writer and reader. The divisibility of the meaning, the sound and the structure of the Wake replicate the divisibility of the character subjects of the book. While Joyce does provide some guardrails in the Wake, the reader may still jump over to other meanings in this anti-novel of bountiful and unarrestable meaning. The reader is re-implicated in the textual economy of the Wake so that relations are constructed around Joyce's dream and fetish objects: words. Joyce's fictional text is a crossroads of meanings where the reader both legitimates and exceeds the book's textual and economic power.
The monumentalization of world culture in Finnegans Wake in this Joycean reign of verbal power that brings seemingly incompatible things together unleashes an interpretable demon. For as we have suggested, on the one hand the Wake can seem rife with immobilizing strategies, overwrought and excessively self-associative. Yet on the other hand, the Wake's unreadability makes it both very indigestible and very digestible as a reading encounter. So, Joyce is appealing because he is unreadable; the scope of his task may inspire confidence in those who read him just as easily as it might intimidate others through its show of cultural authority. And because the Wake is designed both to intimidate and to instil epistemological and ontological uncertainty, if not puzzlement in the reader, the book can prove an entertainingly overdone, if also anxiety-laden reading experience. The concomitant lack and absoluteness of epistemological and ontological authority of the Wake makes critical activity at once open-ended and yet also pre-programmed. Joyce's textual moves resituate not only the reader and writer positions, but also the ontology of these positions. The re-mapping of the work by the interpreter results from the power and capital flows between Joyce and his readers. The dense texture of the canvas of Finnegans Wake illuminates not only Joyce's compositional activity, but also the need for interpreters to come to this work. Exegetical criticism is necessary but not the terminus of this non-terminable text that dissolves meaning and structures even as it collects cultural and economic power.
From another point of view with regard to modes of mobility, reading speeds prove highly variable with the Wake, which again displays the negotiable nature of the text. By extension it may also illustrate the notion that authority is a matter of negotiation; no single subject has absolute authority within a modernist context. The reconstruction of cultural history takes place at variable speeds that correspond to heterogeneous movements on the reader's part. The Wake is decipherable even if it is unreadable, and the modes of decipherability are tied to the exegetical moves by the interpreter; yet a new kind of reading does take place, one which abandons epistemological and ontological certainty and authority for Wakean epistemological and ontological play and anti-authority for the interpreter "dreaming of net glory" (FW, 444) given the "gross proceeds of [Joyce's] teachings" (FW, 431).
The legitimation of power and of authority in the Wake is as 'dialectizable' as anything in the book, so that the work serves to abet questions about the real nature of authority and of legitimation. The encyclopaedism of the Wake outfits "poor twelve o'clock scholars" (FW, 427), whose hermeneutic efforts may belie an interpretive will-to-power, an instantiation perhaps of "the murder of investment" (FW, 341). The relation embedded in the title of the present article of artistic authority, interpretation and economic power implicate both Joyce and his interpreters as producers of value and of meaning. To quote the Wake itself: "His producers are they not his consumers? Your exagmination round his factification for incamination of a warping process. Declaim!" (FW, 497). This double movement of Joyce and of the reader and of their respective economic identities places both agencies on a new platform for economic production. This mode of production demands on the reader's part a non-appropriating consciousness for a more specifically sensitized interpreter that exceeds even Joyce's calculated effects and his status as a kind of metadiscursive author who is the omniscient and transcendent builder of the monument of Finnegans Wake.
But the Joycean game of interpretation does give the interpreter of the Wake an education in Joycean taste. As students under Joyce's tuition, his readers receive Joyce's checkered recapitulation of world history, and the author's expropriations of world culture to the reader make this Joycean operation one whose visual, semantic, phonetic and rhetorical densities invite if not cajole the reader into the slow and laborious process of exegesis. Thus, the reader is taken into Joyce's artistic world as a part of his attempt to achieve universality. Yet the extension of the interpreter into the world makes Joyce's work one which is also always being discovered now for the first time.
In truth, Joyce's onto-economical authority in the Wake is only ostensibly absolute, for as has been suggested, the reconstitution of the reader that the book effects opens the possibility of undoing this hierarchical opposition of Joyce and the reader. For amidst the remains of culture that is Finnegans Wake, the reader gains a sense of critical play and critical nimbleness for having stood fast and ploughed through a volume that might be said to end an epoch and an episteme.
As an economic, legal and civic subject, the reader is asked to bear witness to Joyce's authority. And Joyce reconfigures the subjectivity of the reading subject by involving her in the collaborative project of Finnegans Wake. Joyce's sovereign activity of writing the Wake aims for another subjectivity to come. For in its myriad discursive modalities the exposition of Finnegans Wake has the triple result of producing values for Joyce, for the interpreter, and for the Wake. The attempt on Joyce's part for total knowledge goes hand in hand with the imbrication of each of these three possessors of value with each another, and with the forging of an economy to come that contains problems that are unthematizable for the novelties they afford and bequeath. The general textuality of the Wake yields as yet incalculable economic effects that have yet to be theorized. Much work remains to be done on this subject area.
The registers of the writer and of the reader of Finnegans Wake mark the end of a certain spirit of modernity, thus causing for both subject positions the loss of any position function or 'positionality', a fact that might mean the incorporation of new conceptual and economic spaces in a post-Wake era of ever more self-differentiation of interpretation and of cultural capital. Or: to quote the book itself, this democracy of interpreters may invoke "a newera's day!" (FW, 623). This dispersal of the self and of capital makes for a more commensurable relation to Finnegans Wake, a text that offers such disseminative and multiform renumeration for its engagers, and also the textual conditions for new modes of economic production from its interpreters on the stock exchange of Joycean capital.
Otherwise put, Joyce's "excellent inkbottle authority" (FW, 263) might make us "rest insured" (FW, 442) for the "topping fun" (FW, 444) and "joyicity" (FW, 414) of Finnegans Wake. To "dwealth" (FW, 449) in this "funforall" (FW, 458) is a "remarketable" (FW, 533) exercise, "[s]o hemp me cash" (FW, 538). The reader may ask: "You are taxing us into the driven future, are you not, with thus ruttymaid fishery" (FW, 525) and respond yes, though with the knowledge that this Wakean future will always mean discovering the text anew in an ever-present now of relations informed by the "[i]nterpenetrativeness" (FW, 308) and proliferation of economic power, of artistic authority and of continual exegesis.
© Erik Roraback
|volume 4, issue 1, 2003|