Alexandra Dumitrescu

1. Prelude

Speaking to the Polish writer Jan Parandowski, James Joyce illuminated his technique and vision in a way which supports the increasingly well-spread assumption with regards to the enhanced accessibility of the Wake as a vocalised, rather than a read, text:

the few fragments[of Finnegans Wake] which I have published have been enough to convince many critics that I have finally lost my mind, which, by the way, they have been predicting faithfully for many years. And perhaps it is madness to grind up words in order to extract their substance, to create crossbreeds and unknown variants, to open up unsuspected possibilities for these words, to marry sounds which were not usually joined before although they were meant for one another, to allow water to speak like water, birds to chirp in the words of birds, to liberate all sounds from their servile, contemptible role and to attach them to the feelers of expressions which grope for definitions of the undefined. ... With this hash of sounds I am building the great myth of everyday life. (apud Armand and Pilný, 2002, p. 2)

Thus, there is no doubt that the Wake world is meant to be listened to. The author himself entreats us to lend our ears to its music:

Lissom! Lissom I am doing it. Hark, the corne entreats! And the larpnotes prittle. (Joyce, 1983, p.64)

Sounds do not structure hierarchically. Unlike written words which relate hierarchically, there is no precedence of one sound over another: the initial fiat, Joyce seems to suggest is as present as any sound or word ever pronounced.Sounds accumulate and interrelate, storm into one another and depart creating whirlwords that mirror "whirlworlds":

Countless of livestories have netherfallen by this plage, flick as flowflakes, litters from aloft, like a waast wizard all of whirlworlds (Joyce, 1983, p.58).

2. Abstract

The vortex-like succession of words and sounds, evocative of concepts, ideas, or whole paradigms of thought in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake may be interpreted as suggestive of the fact that human experience does not structure itself hierarchically in meaningful categories. This is further reinforced by the free associations--that the notebooks, in conjunction with the finished text often reveal--between images, concepts, narratives. When read parallel with Joyce's notebooks, Finnegans Wake expounds a theory of knowledge and of literature that can be understood in the light of the latest discoveries and scientific results. Re-defining the concept of bootstrap and applying it to cultural paradigms and literary texts, the paper will address the question whether the bootstrap model may and can be fruitfully employed in order to understand the theory of knowledge and literature behind Finnegans Wake and the notebooks.

Associating non-hierarchical items of information, Joyce seems to suggest that no significant barriers separate epistemes as diverse as mythology, science and literature, pre-Christianity, Christianity or libre pensée. The bootstrap model helps to interpret these domains as behaving like structured agglomerations of concepts that stand for nodes in epistemic networks. The sum of these networks comprise the entire human knowledge and all vocalised (i.e. expressed in linguistic form) achievements, supposedly represented in Finnegans Wake and made accessible due to the notebooks. This invites interpretation of Finnegans Wake as summa ideorum and mirror mundi.

3. Defining bootstrapping

As a philosophical term, bootstrapping refers to a "conception of the material world as an interconnected web of relations (that emerged from quantum theory)" (Capra, 1982). The bootstrap philosophy is potentially appealing to postmodern theorists, as it not only abandons the idea of fundamental theories, but accepts no fundamental entities whatsoever--no fundamental paradigms, period terms or concepts. In a very Joycean note, the bootstrapping model regards "the universe [...] as a dynamic web of interrelated events. None of the properties of any part of this web is fundamental; they all follow from the properties of the other parts, and the overall consistency of their interrelations determines the structure of the entire web."

3.1. Bootstrapping and theory

If a text can be construed as a network made up of nodes and links between them, bootstrapping refers to the dynamics of the network. A defining function of bootstrapping is the emergence of meaning as a result of this dynamism. Because it signifies the dynamism of a network, bootstrapping allows for the simultaneous co-existence and applicability of different models (or paradigms of understanding) that may emerge from one and explain or complete one another. Thus, paradigms of thought as diverse as postmodernism and metamodernism(1) are not seen as mutually exclusive, but as completing and defining each other. What is more, their explanatory relevance emerge from their interrelation. This means that, within a bootstrap model, one is aware of the existence of a previous pattern of thought, but is able to see its limitations, and preserving those aspects that are still functional, is capable to move forward.(2)

3.2 Bootstrapping texts

Contrary to regressive genetic analysis (that would read earlier versions of a text in the light--blinding, more often than not--of the final text) and refining the radical progressive readers' approach (that regard all versions as created equal), the bootstrap model attempts to pin down the interconnectivity between different versions of a text, between the text and the elusive mind of the reader, the text and the evasive world.(*)

In this paper, however, apart from several ending remarks, I will not rest at length on bootstrapping the text of Finnegans Wake as such, but rather on pinpointing the important part that interconnectivity and networking play in structuring the world of a final version of the text, that is, the one of 2 February 1939.

In order to do that we need to cast a glance at the ways in which Joyce organises his world in Finnegans Wake.

4. The modern imperative: make it new! Consequences and implications

Traditional pre-modern narratives would be organised as hierarchical orderly structures with identifiable beginning, content and conclusion. Against the grain of such a tradition and faithful to the modern imperative voiced by Ezra Pound to "make it new!," Joyce replaces the monolithic structure of narratives with repetitive spiral-like patterns that, through successively circular movements aspire to englobe the whole world's cultural inheritance, every-day experience and life itself, with its cross breeding and errors, changes and noises, meaningless(ness) or meaningful(ness).

4.1. Crossbreeds and networks

Returning to the quotation mentioned previously, in Finnegans Wake, he endeavoured

to grind up words in order to extract their substance, to create crossbreeds and unknown variants, to open up unsuspected possibilities for these words, to marry sounds which were not usually joined before although they were meant for one another, to allow water to speak like water, birds to chirp in the words of birds, to liberate all sounds from their servile, contemptible role

as signifiers, as pointers to a reality other than their own,

and to attach them to the feelers of expressions which grope for definitions of the undefined. ... With this hash of sounds I am building the great myth of everyday life. (Capra 1982)

Following in the footsteps of William Blake--his Romantic predecessor who attempted to create a whole mythology of political and spiritual resurrection with a view to implement this awakening by means of his own work--Joyce takes pains to outline a whole world in which the different ontological levels exist inasmuch as they are rendered in linguistic form. Such a world stands for its own immanence and transcendence, a mythological universe that contains its own text and interpretation.

Although it is very tempting to subscribe to the well-spread assumption that Finnegans Wake "manages to deconstruct the very conditions that make it possible to speak or write about literature" (Lernout, 1996), I will resist the temptation to read Finnegans Wake as "a paradigm of the fundamental conditions of literature and of language per se," and I will argue that Finnegans Wake provides us with a (theoretical and linguistic) model of the world as an un-hierarchical structure of interconnected elements.

4.2. "a waast wizard all of whirlworlds": melting pot or structured organization?

Quite suggestively, chapter one of Finnegans Wake contains more than one instance of hierarchies being leveled down, all merging in the all-encompassing melting pot of human experience, countless life-stories governed by rules as simple and as indomitable as death and love. These stretch the span of existence, human or not, from the first fiat to individual instances of death.

Countless of livestories have netherfallen by this plage, flick as flowflakes, litters from aloft, like a waast wizard all of whirlworlds. Now are all tombed to the mound, isges to isges, erde from erde. Pride, O pride, thy prize! (Joyce, 1983, p.58)

The paradigmatic image is that of babylone, obviously, unordered, un-hierarchical, accumulation, characterized by coincidentia opositorum. In this universe of ontological mirroring and linguistic mimicry, contrasts and contraries co-exist: large and small, equal and unequal, inasmuch as and inaslittle as:

Fiatfuit! Hereinunder lythey. Llarge by the small an' everynight life olso th'estrange, babylone the greatgrandhotelled with tit tit tittlehouse, alp on earwig, drunk on ild, likeas equal to anequal in this sound seemetery which is leebez luv. (Joyce, 1983, p. 59)

Echoing the Ecclesiast's vanitas vanitatum Joyce's erde(3), coupled with the descending image of snow flakes accumulating: "flick as flowflakes, litters from aloft," twirling in whirlwinds, or rather wirlworlds, as Joyce puts it, reinforce the idea of a world image in which up and down, high and low coexist as interchangeable coordinates. There is no privileged topos. This world evinces not just a reversal of hierarchies--as in Blake, for whom high is low and low is high, the elect are doomed and the sinners ingratiated, hell takes on all energy and liveliness, whereas heaven is stuck in motionless self-absorption and self righteousness -, but also a thorough cancellation of hierarchies that adumbrate postmodernism. For Joyce there seem to be no sublime and trite acts, no high and low when it comes to lived experience: urinating seems as significant as meditating in Ecclesiastical terms on the vanitas of any undertaking.

4.3. Unhierarchical reads unstructured?

Perceived by critics as a labyrinth made up of ostensibly senseless concatenations, a view much in agreement with the non-hierarchical perception of Finnegans Wake favoured in this paper, I would like to raise a question regarding this babylonic image of the world that Finnegans Wake displays: are these accumulations un-hierarchical as well as unstructured?

The obvious answer would be no: there is structure displayed as reversibility: the very shape traced by the river Liffy indicates a return if not to, at least closer to its spring than any point in its middle course.

The Wake world is mapped by reversals if not to the source, at least somewhere to a stage that would re-enact the origin. These recursive patterns Joyce feels able to identify not only in stories and mythologies, but also in life itself.

Finnegans Wake, with its unhierarchical textual organization affords a vision of the world crystallized alongside principles of interconnectivity: a universe perceived as made up of networks whose cultural, political, economical, historical or human nodes or hubs determine and explain each other. And, more significantly, Finnegans Wake advocates a vision of truth and meaning that unfold as a result of interconnections.

Significantly, vortexes--metaphoric correlatives of network hubs--map Finnnegans' world

Countless of livestories have netherfallen by this plage, flick as flowflakes, litters from aloft, like a waast wizard all of whirlworlds.
(Joyce, 1983, p. 59)

Joyce's narrative about HCE and his wife Livia Plurabelle contains Everyman's and woman's story. HCE stands for the common, trite, devoid of sublimity post-lapsarian human, the latter (HCE) seems to thrive in the precariousness of his fallen condition. Yet, the story of HCE's encounter with the king and his acquiring the Earwicker title may read as suggestive of the fact that even the tritest of stories may have a share in romance, that the most common of human beings is the descendant of someone who walked in the garden of Eden and communed with God(s).

Everyone can be saved by a story, for everyone has a story to tell:

The movibles are scrawling into motions, marching, all of them ago, in pitpat and zingzang for every busy eerie whig's a bit of a torytale to tell. One's upon a thyme and two's behind their lettice leap and three's among the shrubbery beds.
(Joyce, 1983, p. 63)

As opposed to the mind of the poetic genius who distinguishes him/her self by superior ways of organizing reality (Kermode, 1974), in the mind of everyman stories coexist as units linked by free association, much in the way Joyce's words freely combine and merge. They develop meander-like patterns that accommodate contraries:

What a meanderthalltale to unfurl and with what end in view of squator and anntisquattor and postproneauntisquattor! (Joyce, 1983, p.62)

Joyce never tires to reinforce the idea that the world he creates as the world he sees/listens to defies ranking not only when it comes to the sounds/words used to describe it and its dynamism, but also in terms of the non-linguistic constitutive elements it evokes:

To sa too us to be very tim, nick and larry of us, sons of the sod, sons, littlesons, yea and lealittlesons, when uses not to be, every sue, siss and sally of us, daughters of Nan!

Interrelated stories map the history of humankind and of individuals: phylogeny and ontogeny interrelate and define one another.

[...] For then was the age when hoops(4) ran high. Of a noarch and a chopwife; of a pomme full grave and a fammy of levity; or of golden youths that wanted gelding; or of what the mischievmiss made a man do...But lay it easy, gentle mien, we are in rearing of a norewhig. So weenybeenyveenyteeny. Comsy see! Het wis if ee newt. (Joyce, 1983, p. 64)

4.4. Mapping Joyce's universe

As we have seen, Joyce's world structures as multiple-centred network organised around what we can call vortexes: agglomerations of meanings around which segments of text gravitate, describing recursive movements.

Circularity maps Joyce's universe not only structurally, but also in its thematic idiosyncrasies. Early critics such as Clive Hart would take at face value reports such as that of Adaline Glasheen. Apparently, Dr. O'Brien, a friend of Joyce's, "told her in conversation" that Joyce told him "that Finnegans Wake was 'about' Finn lying dying by the river Liffey with the history of Ireland and the world cycling through his head" (apud Hart, 1962, p.81). Hart thought he could identify "three consecutive four-part cycles in I.6, forming a microcosm of Books I-III."

The circular, or rather spiral-like movement from innocence to experience, and then to regained innocence--a favourite with Blake, Joyce's literary model for a while--finds its reflection in Joyce's Wake, with its ambivalent meaning ascribable to wake as in "awakening" and as funeral "wake"; associating presumably spiritual "awakening"--that is, the quintessential lived experience as an attempt at approximating the pre-lapsarian innocence--with the death of the body comes as no surprise when one thinks of Joyce as an author well-read in theological literature.(5)

Moreover, the cyclical movement in Finnegans Wake is also given by the "dream-representations of Finn-Earwicker at different stages of his career" (Hart, 1962, p.81). The stages of this movement are three, as with Blake: "first, the youthful vigour Finn is allotted two hundred years of full power (equivalent to the Earwicker of Book I)" Second, Finn lives through the decline and decrepitude of his last thirty years (the windy but effete Earwicker of Book II). And finally, the "moment of death, the 'auctual futule pretering unstant' of transition from one world to the next" stands for a state of "suspensive exanimation" (idem) bringing together the ideas of re-animation, that is, new life--supposedly of a spiritual nature, as in Christ's resurrection, and examination as a prerequisite for awareness. Thus, although apparently divergent, the cyclical patterns Blake's(6) and Joyce's characters live through may be seen as converging in their overall outline, that is, in the movement from an initial moment of potentiality, to a stage in which energies are used to the full, then to a point where experience is examined and ascribed meaning.

6. Networks and unashamed tears

The very title of one of the major guides to understanding James Joyce's Finnegans Wake cannot fail to draw one's attention to the idea of linking and interconnectivity. Published in 1939, "A Symposium: Our Exagmination round his factification for incamination of Work in Progress," brings together in one title two possible keys to understanding Finnegans Wake: circularity (evoked by "round") and networking (suggested by "incamination"). "Incamination," in its turn, reminds of Italian camino, and invokes "incatenation" or "incameration." These reinforce the fact that James Joyce himself and those who were the closest to him regarded his work as best understood both in its interconnectivity and circularity, as significance emerging from revisiting several hallmarks along the progression of the text. Moreover, the Wake reminds us once again that meaning emerges at the intersection between the text and reader's perception, cultural background, and aesthetic education, as a dynamic process that everyone experiences differently.

An example in this respect, one underlining the connection between notebook entries and Joyce's overall frame of mind, his earlier preoccupation and constant concerns is, perhaps, provided by VI.C.1-64 (Joyce, Buffalo Notebooks, VI, 1978, p.18), where a notebook entry in Joyce's own handwriting goes:

mark my use of
you--notice how I [1st 2 lines crossed over]
God bless the prince
of Wales
sociable [line crossed over]
physical hind _ ____
in time
waste time
Fr. Livingstone cf. I.M. north
G Wash and J. C
wept honest unashamed tears

The last line of the manuscript notebook echoes Blake's "voice of honest indignation" (in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Plate 12: "the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God"), especially if one links it to one of Joyce's Padua notes. Joyce transcribes and translates from Italian into English a fragment by Pietro Colleta, in which the latter attempts to account for his persuasiveness. Coletta (1775-1831) resorts to almost Blakean honesty as the motivation behind his charisma and creativity: "Everyone who has known me has granted me a talent for persuading others: and I myself [...] have experience it on more than one occasion. The cause of this is not eloquence [...] for I am quite lacking in the art of oratory and in the wisdom on which oratory is based [...]." (Joyce, Notes, Criticism, Translations, & Miscellaneous Writings, 1978, p. 273)

Not eloquence, but heartfelt conviction lends persuasiveness to his charismatic discourse and texts: "I have always [...] I have always spoken in good faith." (Joyce, Notes..., 1978, p.274). Unsurprisingly, the sincerity of the one who never speaks "except at the bidding of conscience," the feeling of whom "is plainly legible in [his] eyes and gestures, in the logical consequences of the ideas"--fail to impress as heartfelt. Instead, he passes "in the world for a shrewd man, that is to say, a pretender, a liar and a sly deceiver" (Joyce, Notes..., 1978,274- 275). It is noteworthy to remark that Joyce's transcribing and translating the whole quote marks an act of appropriation and identification: Like Coletta and Blake, Joyce would construe the persuasive power springing from sincerity as the axis of his personality (Joyce, Notes..., 1978).

Despite tempting considerations regarding the possible theatricality of such remarks, i.e. the likelihood of Joyce's putting on a mask that may or may not become him, which may or may not express his position, we can sense here a certain uneasiness of Joyce's with not being read as he would be read. And a willingness on his part to have his texts be taken at their word and, what is more, to have the the audience open towards receiving, understanding and appropriating the truth in defence of which he has taken up the pen.

In the Cornell notes (Joyce, Notes..., 1978, p.215) Joyce praises Blake for "il coragio di portare nella strada il berretto rosso, emblema della nuova era." It is this very courage to express one's position in spite of likely retaliation on the part of the authorities that constitutes much of the substance and concentrates much of the energy of Joyce's work, as well as Blake's.

Thus, the appeal of Joyce to the intelligentsia of all nations has to do, perhaps, not only with a certain fascination exercised by the incomprehensible (or the difficult to understand) that requires clarification or disentanglement--which may or may not be one of the motivations behind several Blakean and Joycean studies--but also with a certain relentless vehemence of the artist's voice that oftentimes led him to assume positions quite shocking. A desire to raise his audience into awareness, to make it vibrate to the truth that triggered the artist's vision seems to be the prime mover of Coletta's, Blake's and Joyce's discourses. When Joyce ends his notebook entry VI.C-64 (Joyce VI, 1978, p.8) with "wept honest unashamed tears," following closely after the name of Livingstone Joyce reiterates the quality and the duty of true visionaries to enlarge the knowledge and awareness of their contemporaries and posterity.

One would certainly find it hard to go along with Rose in his regarding the material for Joyce's Wake as mere importations from other sources. Actually, quite unsurprisingly, Joyce does what other writers do: sublimates and interprets, establishes new connections and ascribes various meanings. But he does these to words, as opposed to other writers who may seem to be doing it with ideas, stories, events, or characters. Moreover, the transformation underwent by words from their sources (in either bookish or vocalised experience) is marked by series of intermediate steps, the notebooks being the first interpretive filter that words pass through in their way to the finite text. It is true that the entries in the notebooks seem to be direct or indirect quotations from sources that Joycians are so keen to identify. But they serve as mere hallmarks--interpreted hallmarks, to be sure, that are far from being raw quotes, as Rose suggests--along the banks of the river overflowing with words that Finnegans Wake stands for.

As many a critic must have noticed, Joyce's method is one that deepens the implications and the suggestive power of words by merging them (by "marrying" them), thus establishing unexpected connexions between words as entities, and between words and semantic fields, epistemes and paradigms of thought. Although Richard Ellmann has cautioned against searching for a key, a "scheme beyond the scheme," in the manuscripts, the bootstrapping model is too tempting not to be considered. Defined as the dynamics of a network, bootstrapping allows for the coexistence of conflicting interpretations of the text, and, within the text itself, it focuses on meanings as emerging from the interaction between words and the various levels of the text, between notebooks, earlier versions and the final text. To "bootstrap," in this context, would mean to consider the text, the manuscripts and biographical anecdotes as making up a whole that allows for a plurality of interpretations, none of which is apt to be deemed as "false" or "the only true." Considering the interplay of many systems or cultural levels (such as the historical, mystical, theological, literary, etc), deeming none superior to another, what Joyce actually does is to "bootstrap" these, that is, he integrates them in a network within which they communicate and fertilise one another. Their meaning is thus developed and deepened as they interrelate. In epistemological context, bootstrapping means the negation of a single absolute truth in favour of truths that interrelate and thus define themselves in the process.

In spite of everything, Joyce's message is intrinsically optimistic. Although apt to be equated with Blake's "the same old dull round," Giambattista Vico's image of the rebirth of the cycle of history, which Joyce shared, encapsulates an inherently optimistic mood. In ages--such as his and ours--marred by the catastrophic result of apparently reasonable ideologies that would, on the level of collective psyche, proclaim the resurgence of the aggressive (masculine or not) ego, Joyce's Finnegans Wake "advents" an age of contrasting movement towards the collective unconscious evoked by his feminine character Anna Livia Plurabelle and the Liffy river. As if dominated by a mother's perspective, who would be always impartial in her showering of attention to those within her reach, Finnegans Wake's is a world undivided by hierarchies between ideas, words, or concepts. For Joyce's penetrating mind reaches, and leads the reader, to the realm beyond reasoned experience, where concepts and myths are being shaped, and the fundamental unity of all linguistic and lived experience is revealed.

Thus, the bootstrap model affords an intuitive all-encompassing approach and reading of Finnegans Wake, which yield a vision--traditionally associated with the waters of materia prima in alchemical texts--characterised by a feminine-like totalizing perspective, as opposed to the scintillating, yet limited, soundness of reason.


Armand, L., Pilný, O. (eds.), Night Joyce of a Thousand Tiers. Petr Škrabánek: Studies in Finnegans Wake, Prague: Litteraria Pragensia, 2002.

Capra, F., The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising Culture, London : Wildwood House 1982

Hart, C., Structure and Motif in Finnegans Wake, London: Faber and Faber, 1962. Joyce, J., Finnegans Wake, London: Faber and Faber, 1971.

Joyce, J., Finnegans Wake. A Facsimile of Buffalo Notebooks, VI. 1,2,3,4,5,7, Prefaced and arranged by Danis Rose, Garland Publishing, Inc, NY and London, 1978.

Joyce, J., Finnegans Wake. Chapter One. The Illnesstraited Colossick Idition by Tim Ahern, Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1983.

Kermode, F., Romantic Image, London : Fontana, 1971.

Lernout, G., "Further Notes Toward a Reading Proposal: Work In Progress and Finnegans Wake," in Papers on Joyce 2 (1996): 35-40

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Alcorn, M. W., Jr. and Bracher, M., "Literature, Psychoanalysis, and the Re-Formation of the Self: A New Direction for Reader-Reception Theory," PMLA 100 (1985): 342-54.

Rose, D., The Textual Diaries of James Joyce, Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 1995.

Web source:

(c) Alexandra Dumitrescu, 2006

* Editorial Note: Notebook VI.C.1:64 is an amanuensis copy of what Joyce himself wrote in VI.B.16.132-33, the latter being available in the Notebook Edition published in Oct 2003. In a regressive perspective, he took those notes from Pierre Key's John McCormack: His Own Life Story (1918).
1 As we cannot ponder at length upon it, suffice it to say that, suggested by the title of Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi's book Metamodern Era (1999), the concept of metamodernism may be employed to describe a paradigm of thought subsequent to the postmodern one.
2 To give just an example relating to one aspect of the two paradigms: it is only after one is dissatisfied with the ethics of proximity that s/he will understand the need for a kind of ethics that govern human relationship worldwide. This comes down to saying that an ethic of proximity-- characteristic of postmodernism and the ages before-- coexists, in a metamodern age, with the imperative for a global type of ethics. And it is in relation with the former that the latter is being shaped.
3 Erde derives from Erd, the Old English for earth.
4 bold emphasis-- mine
5 Quite strangely, most Christian literature, considers bodily annihilation as prerequisite for spiritual resurrection.
6 Blake's Albion, in Jerusalem is but one such example.