BLANCHOT, FRAGMENTATION, BILDUNG, EPIPHANY
Are we seeking a place where new language-artistic activities can begin? The work involves, however loosely, approximations to various versions of the metamorphosis and the phenomenology of language absented from predication and the fungible. When we find ourselves unable to “put into words” a certain feeling we have or have had to someone else – a certain unusual idea or image in our “mind’s eye” – it seems to us that any attempt to fulfill that sense using “normal” words would so far miss the target that it might be the best option to say nothing. Or to perhaps say to the other person something as close to what was felt and imagined as possible with the adage “this is what I thought and had in mind but saying it as I would wish is useless”, that they will not be able to envisage the sensation – the picture. Here the vast spaces of metamorphosis as activity and illusion through thought and language may become clear to us:
“Heidegger says that the task of language is to make manifest the world, that is, the human world of time and history, the world of constructions and projections onto the future, the world of struggle and destiny, of Bildung and work. Language is not a system for describing a world already there; rather, it is only in language that the world comes to be as something describable or inhabitable, that is, as a world around us and for us. Language gives us the horizon against which we appear for the first time as beings-in-the-world”. (1)
Wittgenstein writes: “Suppose someone said: every familiar word, in a book for example, actually carried an atmosphere with it in our minds, a ‘corona’ of lightly indicated uses. – Just as if each figure in a painting were surrounded by delicate shadowy drawings of scenes, as it were in another dimension, and in them we saw the figures in different contexts – Only let us take this assumption seriously! – Then we see that it is not adequate to explain intention. For if it is like this, if the possible uses of words do float before us in half-shades as we say or hear them – this simply goes for us. But we communicate with other people without knowing if they have this experience too. (2)
Different planes of thinking language and thus the world appear to us in statements such as these – they offer tasks for thought in writing thereby providing us with tests inside which we can practice our thought. Rather like practicing a musical piece from a score – various nuances of reading and playing appear, and each slightly different, one from the other. Tests like these expose the reader to written interstices of changing imagination where, like poetry, our thoughts slide amongst shifting discriminations of an unusual, or at least untypical, nature. I might want to say that doors of sense open and close in the Wittgenstein proposition as they do not in the Heidegger (and after all the “Heidegger says…” is an outline, a précis by another author); yet both snippets indicate a sensation of the existential. The word ‘atmosphere’ in Wittgenstein’s proposition is a term for ‘an indescribable character’ and a character such as this arrives by means of learning, education (Bildung), and use – (“the meaning of a word is its use in the language” (PI. 43) the complexities of which, in terms of our deeper inquest on our ways of conversing, thinking and writing, are vast. Our difficulty of matching experience with the play of language arrives as the modification of previous thought alternating dynamically, uncertainly, and in states of fluctuation, where indecision exercises our mobility as to analyses of works of art, works of poetry. Gerald Bruns situates Mallarmé as the poet of incertitude and silence against the language of Dionysus:
So whereas Mallarmé thinks of poetry as the elimination of things, Heidegger thinks of it as the event of disclosure in which things enter into the openness of being; hence the temptation to situate Heidegger and Mallarmé along a plane between two evidently different poetic theories. In the one (call it Orphic), the poet calls the world into being; in the other (hermetic), the poet produces the pure work of language from which every trace of the world (including the poet as a subject who objectifies or gives voice to the world) has disappeared. Taken together the Orphic and the hermetic appear to define the topology of poetry. They are not alternative genres or traditions but limits. (3)
A notion like autonomy in Modernism – that the work of art is understood in the language to be emancipated from the world surrounding it, with all the implications applying to this concept – might largely be understood as a paradox. Clearly such an involution as a key concern in Modernism has overt justifications residing inside of the “limits” Bruns suggests above. Learning and inventing around a particular word-use, as in Heidegger’s concept of Being, “Dasein”, we are situated by acquisition and innovation but also a testing to which its unusual reference is drawn and how it is to be thought within the contexts of his thought on Being, and what this special sense of Being might implement in our thought. We feel we need to discover what his special uses of the term “Being” and “Being in the World” communicate. This learning is very difficult because the stress on “Dasein” presents an unusual way of thinking the world with its emphasis on “my” world as opposed to a world of the “they” or “them”. In a Mallarméan sense it is “they” who are addressed as a means of autonomy, and more so in his later poems as opposed to the “my”, because the poet has freed his words, opening his poem into itself. Autonomy is conflated with heteronomy, an alteration of the self, the self as what is other than the self, “oneself as other”, a self-constituted other. A non-presence, such as that which cannot be voiced, is the speculative space of Dasein when a mind seeks what Heidegger explains is “that entity which in its Being has this very Being as an issue”, the distinguishing of everyday consciousness from that special introversion seeking its vocabulary to express its sense. Phenomenal objects – irrational or antirational – are grasping, choosing and gaining access to details of the most obscure concept of all: “Being”. The concept of Being is undefinable. But “the undefinability of Being does not dispense with the question of its meaning but compels that question”. (4) Is the undefinable the most ingenious and proper subject of visual and literary art? And if it is then we have already been on our way.
The contents of our interior states extend through fibers and fluctuate within them, but such vibrations (traces) are non-cognitive, but never occur without cognitive knowing – we expose experience to what it cannot locate or grasp. The same, as Maurice Blanchot contends, occurs in the play of speech:
“What is present in this presence of speech, as soon as it affirms itself, is precisely what never lets itself be seen or attained: something is there that is beyond reach (of the one who says it as much as the one who hears it). It is between us, it holds itself between, and conversation is approach on the basis of this between-two: an irreducible distance that must be preserved if one wishes to maintain a relation with the unknown that is speech’s unique gift”. (5)
Differance is likewise non-cognitive, and never occurs without cognitive knowledge – the realm of presence. What Blanchot describes as being the “beyond” of speech transports our thought to a potential phenomenology of inner sensation irreducibly posited by Mallarmé’s Crisis:
To what good the marvel of transposing a fact of nature into its vibratory near-disappearance, in accordance with the play of the word, if it is not in order that the pure notion may emanate from it, without being hampered by a close or concrete recall. (6)
Here is at least one ornamentation of Duchamp’s text on “the sum total of the Bride’s splendid vibrations” in his long automobile orientated note on her “cinematic blossoming” from the Green Box on wireless telegraphy; sparks and oscillations become central to his entire practice on the Glass. The “poet” “artist” says the absolutely other that can never be reduced to the same but takes place in the whole – it is essentially non dialectical – as though it were a matter of allowing the moment to be expelled as music, or the evanescence of speech in plural conversation becoming noticeable.
On Blanchot’s Infinite Conversation Bruns writes:
One thinks of the echo, but Blanchot would have us imagine an echo that is internal to the speech that you and I exchange: not something ringing in our ears after the fact of our speaking but an event occurring while we speak: an event that forms the entre-temps of the conversation itself. And, what is more, not an echo that either of us produces, but rather one that is interminable, incessant. As if there were between us a speech that neither of us could interdict. (7)
Few of us would fail to appreciate Blanchot’s report on this “meanwhile”. We seek to prolong in the rare that which is, at moments, unbearably faint and fleeting, synonymous with the entre-temps of mental life, whose grief and laughter are left in their wake, vivifying for us that like language time goes on without pause. Our memory-circuits provide “knowledge” of our experiences contextually in the sense that the relations of an object in any system of objects or meanings are always changing (differing) and hence meaning (i.e., identity) is continually postponed or deferred – the realm of Derrida’s différance becomes a metaphor for metaphor where identity is what it is not, and is not what it is. Blanchot’s words are followers of metamorphosis provided by sharply defined edges that curl in the sense that Deleuze’s folds assume the flows of the Baroque. Bruns’ writings on Blanchot and Heidegger invoke the temporality of time as the entre-temps beating its wings between both their nets. Writing may allow our insurmountable words to render thoughts and expose them in the way we might wish, as opposed to speech. However, I am not about to embark upon arguments and discussion on either phonocentrism or logocentrism: clearly Finnegans Wake has lifted its readers beyond this particular orbit. Either way, something more than empathy is required in order to liberate a complex, involved and mercurial idea – Bildung – an unfolding of our bias toward education initially with art and language at the creative helm.
What the everyday use of language overlooks to make use of the idea, literature and art remain fascinated by, the absence that makes it possible. Literary language, therefore, is a double negation, both of the thing and the idea. It is in this space that literature becomes possible where words take on a strange and mysterious reality of their own, and also where meaning and reference remain allusive and ambiguous. As a matter of our everydayness fictions and facts invariably blur in the lives of our feelings. Our awareness of particularly rapid sensations of the existentially present are broadly frozen by an absence of mutually understood terms – an art of appreciation of such sensations has not been created, and thus the work of literature and poetics strike us as all the more immaterial – less than the taste of Proust’s ‘madeleine’ – “in the form of a past that was never present”. (8) When we attempt to discuss poetry, then, and the facticity of Finnegans Wake in its violent metamorphoses, from a theoretical point of view Mallarmé’s ghost climbs on board. Portmanteau words dissolve any possibility of clarification in the Wake where no foundation exists, just as none exist in the creation of poetry nor the inexplicable sensations whose sheerness denies linguistic grip, as Blanchot puts the case: “[…] the poem stands unjustified; even realized, it remains impossible”. (9) “How to clarify this impossibility?” Gerald Bruns asks – and I cannot put it better:
“Possibly by recurring to the idea that the experience of language in Blanchot’s thinking is a limit-experience – not an experience of integral rationality (such as logic, linguistics, and philosophy of language try to describe) but of désoeuvrement. For example, a recurring theme in Blanchot’s writing is the anxiety or fear (or perhaps only a momentary thoughtfulness, or maybe an odd pleasure or dependency) aroused by words which, being neither nouns nor verbs – that is, not names of any sort – ordinarily draw no one’s attention […] in a space set apart or neutralized by writing – words like “except”, “then”, “here”, “so far”, “really”, “soon”, “at one time”, “perhaps”, are opaque little pieces of disturbance, inquietude, or madness“.
In a fragment of a récit that occurs in Le pas au-delà, a narrative voice almost detaches the word “almost” from the rest of language: “almost” detaches, but not entirely, since similar words trail in its wake, as if draining from the whole – certain “ways of speaking, maybe, barely, momentarily, unless, and many others, signs without signification” – words that are not quite words: neutral words, neither/nor or in-between words. “Almost” at all events belongs to the entre-temps, the time of no longer and not yet that parallels or traverses the space of too much and not quite, the space of quotation marks and parentheses, a reserved space or space reserve, where everything seems “completely immobile as in a place where nothing happens [un place où rien ne ce passé)”. This is literary space, the space of writing, or the space in which la folie d’écrire occurs. (10)
Such a transcendence of the dialectic enters the space of the neuter – the space outside language, and this space exists in writing, or literature. The democracy of literature and poetry arrives in the act of revealing what has been uncreated – of “désoeuvrement”, “un-working”, or “de-creation”, and in Duchamp’s terms – “idleness” – hence his creation of the unreal by what is real in presenting his readymades – particular, unobtrusive, and inert items, deliberating a universal poetry that is reflected in everything – a debate that opens and closes a particular branch of phenomenological enquiry around which the business of the presence of absence features not only in the world of the everyday, but also in the activities of mimesis or, for us, the exercise of painting and photography in artistic representation. Alterity and paradox in the framing of a simple question produces energy in a moment of suspension and potentiality before an answer is provided which, if not answered, remains incomplete in its void that permits us not to have it yet – “almost”, “….”. The paradox of Duchamp’s art becomes a river of correspondences in its foundationless questioning as a demand for something else that has failed to provoke a serious response – save in writing. Timidity suggests itself as something wherein negativity exerts its strength through this new 4th dimension of man out of time in his time.
Researching this field we find in common the regard Blanchot shows for pause and separation, discontinuity and interruption, fragmentation and rupture – désoeuvrement in an activity of disappearing from all discursive sense. It is concerned with being in another place than the “ordinary” or the laudable; rather it prefers speaking the unknowable. The space of this thought and writing is the real, and more so since the ‘unrepresentable’ is an image – perhaps of ‘thought’ as such without content. Blanchot replaces man by language, hence his trial in The Writing of the Disaster obliquely to conquer his inability to say one thing through the hard-won ability to say another thing that neighbors on it. “The tears are also the child’s. —Tears of a whole life, of all lives, the absolute dissolution which, be it joy or sorrow, the face in its invisibility childish, lifts up, in order to shine in this dissolution and keep shining all the way to emotion that gives no sign at all. —Immediately banally interpreted”. —
—Banality makes no mistake; it is consolation’s commentary whereby solitude is shut out, refused all shelter. — Let me continue to emphasize the banality; the circumstances are of this world – the tree, the wall, the winter garden, the play space and with it, lassitude; then time is introduced, and its discourse: the recountable is either without any episode of note, or else purely episodic. Indeed, the sky, in the cosmic dimensions it takes on as soon as it is named—the stars, the universe—brings only the clarity of parsimonious daylight, even if this were to be construed as the “fiat lux.”—It is a distantness that is not distant—Nevertheless the same sky . . .—Exactly, it has to be the same. —Nothing has changed. —Except the overwhelming overturning of nothing. —Which breaks, by the smashing of a pane (behind which one rests assured of perfect, of protected, visibility), the finite-infinite space of the cosmos—ordinary order—the better to substitute the knowing vertigo of the deserted outside. Blackness and void, responding to the suddenness of the opening and giving themselves unalloyed, announce the revelation of the outside by absence, loss and the lack of any beyond. (11)
The text is beyond the rule of identity, neutral, an opponent to Dasein.
We fail to see this image of our thought if the course of it returns to, say, philosophy’s answers as opposed to unanswerable questions posed by the likes of poetry, prose, and the double-fiction of literature – the scandal of unfettered and unfixed, unsettled universal chatter, rumor and gossip that allows us to unconceal the empty grey suburban street in our imagination:
Literature is not a simple deception – it is the dangerous ability to go toward what exists, by the infinite multiplicity of the imaginary. The difference between the real and the unreal, the inestimable privilege of the real is that there is less reality in reality, being only unreality negated, distanced by the energetic labor of negation and the negation that labor also is. (12)
Language bites back at us, caught as we are inside its inventiveness and its visualizations of our thought. Blanchot places reality on the hither side of the beyond, whose worth is only made visible by faint praise.
To speak the unknown, to receive it through speech while leaving it unknown, is precisely not to take hold of it, not to comprehend it; it is rather to refuse to identify it even by sight, that “objective” hold that seizes, albeit at a distance. To live with the unknown before one (which also means: to live before the unknown, and before oneself as unknown) is to enter into the responsibility of a speech that speaks without exercising any form of power; even the power that accrues to us when we look, since, in looking, we keep whatever and whomever stands before us within our horizon and within our circle of sight — thus within the dimension of the visible-invisible. (13)
Reconfiguration of what has been in the language, in the text, occurs as a “possible” relationship to infrathin thought associations developed by this “unknown” – any cohesive thought developed away from this “unknown” bears no resemblance to it – no semblance of meaning or suggestion. The mood or “atmosphere” or aura does not belong to an objective reality but rather to our unmediated involuntary reflex at a vision, a song, or musical interlude – that stroll along a dilapidated closed down-pier at the seaside.
Mary Jacobus marks her reflections on this experiential phenomenon by way of the philosopher and art historian Richard Wollheim:
In Germs, a posthumous memoir of his suburban childhood, the philosopher and aesthetician Richard Wollheim describes his deep-seated dread, on emerging from rainy-day afternoon trips to the cinema, of the sight of the sun on a wet road—”where the first rays of pale sunlight hit it, so that, looking out, I could see the tarred surface glint and sparkle in the late, departing glory of the evening”. “A natural cause of joy to many,” he recalls, “this sight stirred in [him] the deepest, darkest melancholy.” As one can tell from even this brief excerpt, the young Wollheim is a budding aesthete—a Wordsworthian Proust, fostered alike by beauty, boredom, and suburban fear. His confessional memoir sometimes refers to discussions with his psychoanalyst, Dr. S. As the psychopathology of everyday life goes, British suburbia has a lot to answer for. But it has also produced its own distinct aesthetic, as we know from the poetry of Wollheim’s near contemporaries, John Betjeman and Philip Larkin. (14)
Probably our empathy with Wollheim’s mental spur will not surprise us – as unusual as it is to see such stimulation made reference to at all. For us the correspondence may be immediate although perhaps not reaching into those depths of “the darkest melancholy” – an extra-temporal event that instead rather sharpens our sensory acuteness to a striking susceptibility – always strange to us because of its mysterious source: a body becoming a consciousness open to this profound experience without subject or target. From the perspective of “aspect seeing” (as Wollheim himself might well have approved) such an experience is simultaneously subliminal and also supraliminal – involuntary and responsive/attentive – perhaps a movement rather than a “bodily sensation” after all. We learn to avoid speaking our sensations as very young children, certainly such sensations as these that occur to us often and, taken as “juvenile”, unable to experience reserve or discretion (our floundering with non-signifying elements of language that create the “portmanteau” word from inner sensation) are easily dismissed.
Such sensations are not the same as synaesthesia: synaesthetes experience a blending of their senses that produces unusual effects from one sense to another sense. But a taste, for example, that triggers our thought toward something else as in metaphor, and perhaps our invention of a new word for this taste that aligns immediately with it, brings a condition to us that is in excess of the poetic and at the edge of musical sagacity (but without music itself) that develops as a feeling in our mind and body and colours our experience. Our feelings in such instances arrive as from an infinitely unbridgeable, distant place, and what we sense remains discrete, it fosters a particular intensive sense. We live inner-sensations such as these rather like a quiet note that has been struck, a colour that turns our sensations and thought toward something unusual, strangely other, a sensational experience that may live with us forever. Such sensations as these bypass imagination like a muted delicate fragrance or perfume that in the language of sensory engineering may be brought to the surface as fragmented thought as we slip into the phenomenological, conversational, and technological world of writing that reveals its stubborn dense opacity, yet, importantly, still leaving us feeling bemused by such an ineffable constituent of mind. We cannot indicate such features of our experience whose existence is incommunicable. It is inappropriate to use the term ‘qualia’ for such feelings (experiences that have ineffably that which applies to, say, ‘colour descriptions’). We emphasize instead the sense of our experiencing ourselves locating an almost clandestine consciousness concerning cognitive curiosities appearing from another sphere – a limit-experience, an immanence silently appearing in our mind and located in our body. Such is at least the semblance of these mental effects and it lies outside of our control, disinterested, undefined, metaphorical, represented inadequately by clichéd verbal conventions – but imbued with intimation.
Each of us has vastly different and specific experiences in such different ineffable mental contexts that it is as though we would each need to build our own particular and representative vocabularies to grasp them. By our ‘mental context’ I mean our anamnesis, our alacrity, our self-images, and all the other multivalent phenomena that form the background for any particular experience. A discernment of such ‘mental vapors’ as these is essentially different from imaginary experiences – it is instead closer to Proust’s ‘petite madeleine…’ as much as to anything else:
Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? (15)
However, we are not discussing this effect exactly, nor am I writing about dejà-vu, both of which are the result of ‘involuntary memory’, yet this is as near to the sensation that Wollheim expressed as makes no difference.
Proust’s taste of his ‘madeleine’ has no support for its spell but actually it accesses a proper memory as a site of location when the narrator was a child: “That taste was the taste of the little piece of madeleine… my Aunt Léonie would give me after dipping it in her infusion of tea or lime-blossom”. As a repeated “Sunday morning…” ritual there is a cause for a memory, involuntary as it may be. Wollheim’s is a sensation, however, without any relation whatsoever – it is not a memory – but an effect that arrives wholly whose location is mysterious. Where Wollheim is his own strange effect Proust’s ‘epiphany’ operates from a different altitude – and where the memory effect is perhaps more mundane it is more reducible in effect than “the glint and sparkle” that would stir Wollheim. We all have such experiences or something close to it, the point being however, that such complex intellectual characteristics are consistently ignored by us – becoming foreign for us once we begin to think them in the light of our consciousness. Proust in search of his “lost time” thus exclaims:
I put down my cup and examine my own mind. It is for it to discover the truth. But how? What an abyss of uncertainty whenever the mind feels that some part of it has strayed beyond its own borders; when it, the seeker, is at once the dark region through which it must go seeking, where all its equipment will avail it nothing. Seek? More than that: create. It is face to face with something which does not so far exist, to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day. (16)
Far from what might look briefly a conspicuous gesture toward Freud’s psychoanalytic (Proust and he were contemporaries although neither read each other) our interest is captured by the poetic of resistance to the banal through the very means in the banal that actually creates such epiphanies. Proust is caught between ‘recherché’ and the gift to ‘create’ – a pause that accompanies the question of the ‘epiphany’ as memory and thus memory as active creativity and essentially change, while the image is submerged.
Because metaphor and memory are synonymous phenomena like dreams, metaphor is the ultimate creative force in the language of our life – image resides in the margins of our metaphors as displacement taking the part of what is imaged by language as impossible because it is always in change. When we are face-to-face with language as extraordinary and even when transparent we are revealed as complex beings, infinitely more so because of our tekhnè in simultaneously sharing our ‘now’ reality with papery fiction made of words and without further consequences as such for what our sense of ‘reality’ and ‘fiction’ are – we move from one to the other, all of the time, without difficulty, and essentially, often, without knowing. Such is the ‘mind’ onto which Proust releases his thought on uncertainty; the quotidian opens the faculty of innovative thought as literary memory in its ecstatic transformation reflected upon thematically as experience. The image is the physical effect of its always originary words rather than how we usually think of it as overt stimulation toward habituated thought. And thus, following Blanchot the metaphor for our ‘mental vapors’ and ‘cognitive dissonance’ – even the transmutation of life into fiction – is a continuous unfolding operation/separation – that continuing challenge to ideas and the extreme complication of aesthetic consciousness unfolding as the power of fragmentation that elicits the fictional as the only possible realistic ordering of reality in time-space – including the idea of death as ‘meta-phenomenological’ and a resignation of all presence. This takes its place, as Blanchot suggests, from the ambiguity of language and a world. The transformation of a mood into instant subjective aesthetic experience witnessing, as it were, the creation of an ultra-sensitive consciousness no longer caught in the constraint of a referent, but eliciting an indeterminate generation of sensation, is not only the specific function of the poetic use of language. This novelty of aesthetic sensation is partly its ephemerality discovered in the ‘everyday’ of consciousness and its habitual orientation.
The aesthete emphasizes the mood of lived experience – the fleeting inner sensation that thought, a taste, a sound, an aroma of the outer world more generally may occasion. The ‘everyday’ is constantly transformed in this atmosphere in which ineffable feelings are given to effloresce. Genuine, unified thought on ineffable matters in our own day appear only when the aesthete actively struggles to overcome the powerful resistance of this rapid life even as it is contained within communal common forms of ‘art’. It is as though the art of our todays ‘everyday’ has lost its colour, is grey, drained of its own accord – being unable to find resistance, crucially, to inquiry by interrogative language, discussion, analysis, and deep thought. Granted, writing itself misleads if it posits itself merely as dominant form inside a subjective content in what is inherently a deep human complexity of fragmentation in the ‘everyday’ – and as Blanchot cuttingly suggests:
The everyday is platitude (what lags and falls behind, the residual life with which we fill our trash cans and cemeteries: scraps and refuse); but this banality is also what is most important if it brings us back to existence in its very spontaneity and as it is lived – at the moment when, lived, it escapes every speculative formulation, perhaps all coherence and all regularity. We can evoke here the poetry of Chekhov or even Kafka, and affirm the depth of the superficial, the tragedy of nullity. The two sides always meet: the everyday with its tedious, painful, and sordid side (the amorphous, the stagnant); and the inexhaustible, irrecusable, constantly unfinished everyday that always escapes forms or structures (particularly those of political society: bureaucracy, the wheels of government, parties). And that there may be a certain relation of identity between these two opposites is shown by the slight displacement of emphasis that permits passage from one to the other; as when the spontaneous, the informal – that which escapes form – becomes the amorphous and when, perhaps, the stagnant merges with the current life, which is also the very movement of society. (17)
Stubborn gratuitous depths of human molestation appear in Kafka’s work on invisible bureaucracies slicing blindly at banality, while Joyce’s rêvers ‘everyday’ in Finnegans Wake are fitted here, for me, as lyric epiphanies.
Students of English will have known the curious caesura originals to the work of the epiphany in Proust, perhaps fewer will be aware of the work and thought of Wollheim. Further works present epiphany-like moments such as Doctor Zhivago, Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törless and La Nausée and the more specific Joycean epiphany is to be found in Stephen Hero, Portrait of the Artist and Ulysses. But the sources of fictive identity unrevealed by overt revelation as Joyce’s family of ‘man’, is sought as a way of crystalling ‘everyman’ as ‘everyday’ through the textual trope, literally, of the ‘letter’ itself. A reader will discern these letters as tricks to have their own epiphanies in Here Comes Everybody in Finnegans Wake. An epiphany in Joyce may be an event that arouses no special impression when it occurs, but produces a sudden sensation of new awareness when it is recalled at some future time; thus reminding us of Proust and his À la recherché du temps perdu, often called ‘retrospective epiphanies’. These secular epiphanies reflect aspects of Joyce’s life at the time when they first were written (1898-1904) during ‘formative’ periods in his life. They are also ‘snapshots’ recording specific minute fragments of ordinary life and presented originally without commentary; appearing first in suburban Dublin as trivialities, and as an inadvertent revelation in Stephen Hero:
A young lady was standing on the steps of one of those brown brick houses which seem the very incarnation of Irish paralysis. A young gentleman was leaning on the rusty railings of the area. Stephen as he passed on his quest heard the following fragment of colloquy out of which he received an impression keen enough to afflict his sensitiveness very severely.
The Young Lady – (drawling discreetly) … 0, yes… I ……. at the …cha…pel… The Young Gentleman – (inaudibly) … I … (again inaudibly) … I The Young Lady – (softly) .0… but you’re … ve….ry… wick…ed… (18)
The text is elusive and we creatively surmise what is ‘revealed’ to Joyce.
Introspective sensitivity opens up our spontaneous embodiment of the life of sensations as we attend to and think the art of Joyce’s epiphanies. His ‘mechanism of aesthetic apprehension’, the object and observer, coincide to produce a pellucid reality, here and there dictating at certain special moments, epiphanic release as attempts to give shape to the shapeless and substance to the insubstantial. The noted scholarly entries of epiphany in Ulysses are observed through the musician’s intellect that extend from the work of Walter Pater’s The Renaissance and as Alan Perlis has suggested Marius the Epicurean (19). Joyce’s life of sensation and his musicality of mind required a firm footing for his impressions of transubstantiation since these epiphanies are often the conjoining of opposites, the spiritual shadow to the heightened levels of Joyce’s visionary experiences in bodily form in Ulysses and the mundane which, in its final form, presents a charged, striking example of the world at large as the vast epiphany of humankind in Finnegans Wake. As Shiv K. Kumar has noted:
[…] the present moment in Ulysses has the same fluid tendency of continuously fading into the past and future in complete defiance of any arbitrary divisions of time. The minds of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Daedalus remain in a perpetual flux and cannot be said to coincide with any particular, mathematical instant. (20)
The secular epiphany signals a traversal of the finite by the infinite, of the particular by the universal, the mundane by the mystical, and of time by infinity. As Walter Pater himself suggests:
To such a tremulous wisp constantly reforming itself on the stream, to a single sharp impression, with a sense in it, a relic more or less fleeting of such moments gone by, what is real in our life fines itself down. It is with this movement, with the passage and dissolution of impressions, images, sensations, that analysis leaves off – that continual vanishing away, that strange perpetual weaving and unweaving of ourselves. (21)
What, then, are these lyric epiphanies? Not exalted mysticism, to be sure. Lucia Boldrini names Finnegans Wake “a gigantic epiphany of language” (22) discussing Joyce’s ‘epiphanies’ as the work of distilling vulgar matter into illustre: luminous, radiant, and splendid claritas. Is it not the ‘irreducible difference’ of the word “body” (each body is unique) as Barthes thinks it, that can truly only lead us to micro-level activities and personal micro-nuances of the ‘text’ unable to find expression in the outer world of facts? Joyce’s words of lustre amass potentiality, virtuality that wishes to converse immediately with the functioning of the mind. Page 53.1 of the Wake, for instance, refers its reader to the image appearing within the mind as Federico Sabatini explains it: “It scenes like a landescape from Wildu Picturescu or some seem on some dimb Arras, dumb as Mum’s mutyness, this mimage of the seventyseventh kusin of…” (FW. p.53.1)
Here, the author underlines the escapist character of his scene-making process by evoking a landscape which escapes from mere representation and from mimesis. And mimesis, in its Joycean version, contains the word image itself, which is to be referred to a mind’s image, original and unique, rather than to a mere representation/imitation of a pre-existing one. (23)
According to Barthes, ‘text’ is an ancient world, which involves the concept of ‘spinning and weaving’: it is the word from which the new reader derives the word for ‘manufactured cloth or textiles’. The phenomenon of spinning and weaving in the text is made from ‘quotations, references, echoes’, which is potentially infinite, making it impossible to arrive at the sources and origins of text but rather give direction with the already written and already said: ‘the quotations a text is made of are anonymous, irrecoverable, and yet already read: they are quotations without quotations marks’ (24).
This brief background illustrates the progressive awareness that takes Joyce to the creation of the notion of the ‘immarginable’ (FW 4.19) in the very first book of Finnegans Wake. This infinitely readable concept vibrantly illustrates the langscape that the author has now managed to re-create. The ‘immarginable langscape’ refers to a space of language where space and placelessness are finally subsumed into language itself, which is then able to enact and recreate a constantly renewed and renewable space. Most significantly, this happens both with the author’s act of recreation and with the readers themselves, who recreate a multiple hypertrophic dimension in their minds through the sensory data which language evokes. Joyce’s interest in dealing with the conscious and unconscious is submerged on the homonymic influence that recurs continuously in the Wake. This dissolute language may also reflect a sympathetic interest in Vico’s argument that all history is reflected in the development of language – though we should also add that language itself is likewise the creator of history: it is not as though language as such is ever a mere medium. Finnegans Wake is also a place where any sensation of personal expression is diluted to virtually nothing. HCE is a place of self-mourning – an absurd logic – that registers a model of self-identification founded on an irreducible otherness-to-self, namely, on the memory, always already, of a traumatic event that has occurred beyond the possibilities of subjective experience. Such a memory haunts. And its haunting bespeaks a history in which the present carries with it all of the un-translatability of the immemorial past. In creating visual/written work in response to Joyce’s discourse through the varied moments of the figure of HCE plays on the role of paronomasia, of course, that has now become a method of thinking through looking again and almost testifying to the void at the origin of thought as a force for imagery itself, and thus of unpacking the concept of memory as a necessary incompleteness itself.
(1) Gerald Bruns. Maurice Blanchot. The Refusal of Philosophy. John Hopkins University 1997. p.11
(2) Ludwig Wittgenstein. Philosophical Investigation. Blackwell. p. 181
(3) Gerald Bruns. Maurice Blanchot. The Refusal of Philosophy. John Hopkins University 1997. p.11.
(4) Martin Heidegger. Basic Writings. Being and Time. Routledge.1994.
(5) Maurice Blanchot. The Infinite Conversation. The University of Minnesota Press. 1993. p. 212.
In the relation of the self (the same) to the Other, the Other is distant, he is the stranger; but if I reverse this relation, the Other relates to me as if I were the Other and this causes me to take leave of my identity. Pressing until he crushes me, he withdraws me, by the pressure of the very near, from the privilege of the first person. When thus I am wrested from myself, there remains a passivity bereft of self (sheer alterity, the other without unity). There remains the unsubjected, or the patient. (The Writing of the Disaster. p.18)
(6) Stephan Mallarmé. The Crisis of Verse. See: http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft8h4nb55x&chunk.id=d0e1804&toc.id=d0e1625&brand=ucpress;query=literary%20criticism
(7) Gerald Bruns. Maurice Blanchot. The Refusal of Philosophy. John Hopkins University 1997. p. 141.
(8) Gilles Deleuze. Difference and Repetition. Columbia University Press, 1994
(9) Maurice Blanchot. The Work of Fire. John Hopkins University Press. p.105.
(10) Gerald Bruns. Maurice Blanchot. The Refusal of Philosophy. John Hopkins University 1997. p.154.
(11) Maurice Blanchot. The Writing of the Disaster. Translated by Ann Smock. University of Nebraska Press. 1995. p.115
(12) Maurice Blanchot. The Book to Come. Stanford University Press. 2003. p.95.
(13) Maurice Blanchot. The Infinite Conversation. The University of Minnesota Press. 1993. p. 302.
(14) Mary Jacobus. Cambridge University. Romantic Phsyche and Psychoanalysis. The Ordinary Sky: Wordsworth, Blanchot, and the Writing of the Disaster. http://www.rc.umd.edu/praxis/psychoanalysis/index.html
(15) Marcel Proust. In Search of Lost Time. Chatto and Windus, New York: The Modern Library, 1992. Based on the French “La Pléiade” edition (1987–89).
(16) Marcel Proust. In Search of Lost Time.
(17) Maurice Blanchot. The Infinite Conversation. Theory and History of Literature. Volume 82. University of Minnesota Press. 1993.
(18) James Joyce. Stephen Hero. p.211. New Directions Publishing Corporation. (Mar 1969)
(19) Alan D. Perlis. Beyond Epiphany: Pater’s Aesthetic Hero in the Works of Joyce. University of Alabama. JJQ. Vol. 17, No 3. Spring, 1980. p.272
(21) Ibid. The standard edition of Pater’s work is the New Library Edition of the Works of Walter Pater. (London: Longman’s. 1977). The Renaissance. I. p.157.
(22) Lucia Boldrini. Joyce, Dante and the Poetics of Literary Relations. Cambridge University Press. 2001. (p.122).
(23) Federico Sabatini. “Im-marginable Langscape”. Re-creation and de-creation in Joyce and Beckett. The AnaChronisT 13 (2007–2008)
(24) Roland Barthes. The Rustle of Language. The University of California Press of Berkeley and Los Angeles. 1989. p.60.