Details from: Yawn 1. Yawn 2. Yawn 3. Yawn 4. Yawn 5. Yawn 6.

Every artist is linked to a mistake with which he has a particular intimacy. All art draws its origin from an exceptional fault, each work is the implementation of this original fault, from which comes a risky plenitude and new light.” (Maurice Blanchot: The Book to Come)

 On Details of Details in Reading Finnegans Wake & Duchamp’s Notes

The unobserved complexities of life and their intrication of mind/body conceived against the backdrop of memory and individual experience, solicit our attention to more diligent thought on mind phenomena even against discerning paradoxes such as those developed by philosophers of phenomenology. We convey to others our “innermost feelings”, but this is negligible compared with finer sensations occurring within us everyday and at each moment. Beyond deconstructive “slippages” our language-use is not confined merely to it as written and spoken – and men and women incapable of exploring their own complexity of mind fail in being unaware of how disadvantageous there condition is. This phenomenon is everywhere mental for us, and attention can be drawn to it – though at some risk – through experiences of art, poetry, music and literature. With respect to Joyce’s Finnegans Wake the deeper reader is always looking for something that is not on the page being read, in the “sentence”, in each word; and what s/he is looking at is incoherent – not merely difficult to comprehend – hence its structure is confirmed as a vehicle proposing a more refined and inventive kind of reading, and in this way the Wake provides a network for the kind of development that tests even the most talented, academic and creative imagination in ways that never figured it before or since after the book’s first conception and subsequent reception.

Interim sensations, the sense/trace of a meanwhile, subsist in the Wake’s irradiating words, its thick glossolalia, during and within which its own translatability is both scorned and made humorous as interpreters who are mediating between various characters emphasize the role of translation in the linguistic fabric of the Wake (see FW 91.3-4, 478/8, 478.9 etc). (1) An epistemological change in my work has for some years developed in readings of Ulysses/Finnegans Wake and critiques that have accompanied Joyce’s work have exercised a great influence on the way in which my work has been opening out. Also influenced by the work of Duchamp’s writing and notes this long period of learning and study has taken my thought and creativity away from what might be the called the strange character and general constructions of the narrative functions that might be loosely applied to both artist’s work. Influence – in the sense in which I wish to discuss it – are seen as various shapes to which I can offer some examples in regard to the images and texts developed from this relationship with language through Joyce and Duchamp in Reading Joyce Reading Duchamp. Perhaps the most notable issue might be the constant drone of the signifier and the signified in all its complexity in the work of the culture of painting: the element of signifier as paint itself, and the signified constituted by what the paint appears to suggest produces a gestalt: a tinkering with the figurative possibility of the painting in view, and paint as the material out of which this image has been made possible. This compound feature of painting for instance, often thought together with the issue of figure and ground, opens out into a complexity that has challenged Modernist art for generations, reaching its “intellectual” peak with Paul Cézanne. The difficulty of amalgamation and fusion in relation to signifier and signified in his paintings and drawings came to display discrete and intrinsic questions regarding the play of his medium, his use of colour and his subject with reference to linear perspective and surface.

A similar question arises in reading Joyce’s last book as Laurent Milesi describes it, though here the matter of materiality and senses are being shifted more dramatically:

At first sight, Finnegans Wake is run through by post-Babelian xenolalia; its opaque, foreign-sounding, alien-looking texture causes the signifier to be foregrounded and deprives the written trace of spontaneous semantic intelligibility, and the (temporary) disruption of the link between signifier and signified leaves the reader/decipherer in a maze of arcane sounds. (2)

What matters here is our ability to maintain the ambiances thus created in the folds of material exploration and sense that gives both painting and language their life – that we maintain their conflicting depths of visual cognitive and imaginative priorities. Such mindfulness might leave us, as it were, dangling for a while without support – art is after all here a vast assumption before the appearance of further language, or as Mallarmé has it “I say: ‘a flower!’ and, outside the forgetfulness to which my voice consigns all floral form, something different from the usual calyces arises, something all music, essence [aroma], and softness: the flower which is absent from all bouquets”, or the disappearance of semantic space by which means the “flower” designates only itself as both signifier and signified since “In poetry language is not the medium of anything, unless it is of disappearance itself”. (3) That is to say that although the works of language deployed academically in analyses of visual works of art may well provide infinitely subtle leverage as a means of writing upon that which can be observed and in time understood beside works of art – aesthetically historically – like Mallarmé’s poetic it becomes invisible but in a very different way as thin language itself like all types of informative descriptive and interpretive language it is deeply hidden behind meaning.

New “meaning” or new worlds cannot be created in this way hence our movement away from the problem of “meaning” as such as the only way open to more deeply embedded seeds of thought-processing whose roots are perhaps just as well described in the Deleuzian model of the rhizome (although here we remain within representational thinking and conceptual determination by rules of philosophy, and we wish to move beyond to the self-questioning of “meaning” itself). Finnegans Wake is negation of the “rational” in a dialectical movement that cannot be brought under control. The Wake like The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, even are their own duplicity and self-contradiction as works of “literature” and “art”. A prevalence of non-meaning and rather the “beginning of the life of the mind” is foundational in these iconic works whose poetic on the brink are located outside subjectivity and objectivity. Duchamp’s writings seek the hither side of language and the poetic in terms of inframince; an existence that cannot be objectified any more than thought as such may be justified. Duchamp’s art is not any kind of thing at all save for kinds of mediation that language finds useful as a way of bringing the work into the world. Today we are outside what was once a Modern world of art, philosophy, literature, poetics and music – the Arnoldian Populace – how they were understood as intellectual instruments for progress and constant change and thus fully exemplified in different Modernist discourses; their status’ rigorously rehearsed, recreated by artists and critics alike and taught (often, if certainly not always) as ingenious planes and facets of the human mind. Why such humanistic ways of creating are now agreed to be superfluous to human growth and intellectual power may be accredited to an intrinsically indifferent teaching of genuine imaginative power as such and the abdication of philosophical thought on human existence and its underdeveloped complexities: freedom to be brought about by the very depth of our thought or “thinking” for which no possible theory can exist.

What we discover is a closure to imaginative thought exerted by the spell of dilettante individuals whose intellectual status records a zero for mind, and that ontologically Finnegans Wake and the Glass exist as products of the logic of exclusion and are thus linked conceptually to nondiscourse or to exile, or the exile’s return in the form of the negotiated Outsider. Like poetry these works speak not as a medium but as things of their own – the way a person speaks. The art world at present is noisy in contrast to these worlds of interiority and cognition that regard silence, the inverse, and the utter abandonment of belief as poetic states of affairs, playing no part in the otherwise flamboyant spectacle of the everyday. In works such as the poetic affiliations thrown out by the Wake and the Glass the incoming world that would have typically beat us into shape has been rearranged by the power of the artist’s intellect and discharged back at the world’s face.

A life of the mind belongs to the structure of our experience without its fate being doomed to the vault of “meaning” – it belongs to the way in which things emerge into appearance through “intuition” as opposed to the “rigour” of discursive language. Due to the ever-expanding lines of inquiry and thought constantly opening up in my project whose concerns began with the development of art and language in Joyce and Duchamp, an equation between ongoing procedures of writings such as this paper and its previous and future writings will remain open – not merely in the mode of these protagonists whose notes imply the ever new redirections of their thought as a way of working, but rather because of the amount of reading and learning that has been brought into view since the beginning of my venture into language and art as such. The implications of such a series of ongoing readings carry with them the problem of language as a form of literature, as forms of philosophy and also poetics so that the aim of the work would be wagered were it to be spent on the need for closure.

Indecisiveness is the work of art and the work of poetry’s friend – it sets the work of discovering sensations there whose power is made greater for them having been recognized by spectators themselves, and where subtler sensations may be assumed to subsist. Pictorial and written details of details motivated here by the most complex and difficult works in the fields of literature and the visual arts, the Wake and the Glass, will find no place in the world as it is, standing as it does with it’s loss of criticism and insight across works of art and literature. The art of Reading Joyce Reading Duchamp provides written visual material for the future where it may become appreciated as a platform for further research and cross-fertilizations from artworks and texts of the past including the current deluge of nothingness, and to give itself as a resource for those who enjoy genuine interactive complexity that fascinates our thought. We cannot be interested in living the travesty of ‘a completed meaning’, for instance, and the passage or neutered interim is instead the resource of temporality as opposed to the source of what we too often call ‘history’. Reflections on language cannot come to an end on either writing (écriture) or speaking or thinking (as Maurice Blanchot has shown in many varied essays) such that the “presence of absence” is possible. In a word – Blanchot thinks of time, author, and presence as nondialectical thus engaging our thought more accurately when we are studying his own writings, and interestingly the creations of Joyce and Duchamp. It is the nondialectical position of Blanchot’s difficult quest for presence that brings about Contestation. Contestation here means a sharp unsettling, doubting, questioning or contending in Blanchot’s texts. He writes about the time of the absence of time: here “the contradictions” do not exclude each other and do not reconcile each other either [“Les contradictions ne s’y excluent pas, ne s’y concilient pas”] {Contradictions do not exclude it, it does not reconcile} (The Space of Literature p.27).

He writes the same about the non-dialectical contestation: it “ignores the contradictions [“ignore les contradictions”],” here “the opposition does not oppose but juxtaposes [“l’opposition n’oppose pas, mais juxtapose”] (The Space of Literature p. 231). It means that the contestation substitutes the dialectical negation – i.e., the contradictions, exclusions and oppositions – with juxtaposition. The negation is always subordination, because “non-A” is deduced from an “A”, because the purpose of negation is the surpassing of negation, the reconciliation or Aufhebung. The juxtaposition makes every negation impossible, for it makes the subordination impossible. So the contestation is juxtaposition. Here the negation and the consequence of negation in Duchamp’s literary act of reproduction and readymade in reconciliation are awkward – contestation is not a negation, nor is it its dialectical reconciliation. According to Blanchot the contestation is not a negation but an affirmation. Blanchot follows Nietzsche when he uses the affirmation instead of the Hegelian, dialectical negation. Michel Foucault and Derrida emphasize that it must be understood as a “double affirmation”. A double “yes” for two opposite possibilities, by which the opposites become non-opposite and they transform into juxtaposition. It says the same affirmation, the same “yes” for both the existence and the non-existence. The counter-time is that time which says, “yes” for the presence and for the absence too. So the counter-time is a non-dialectical double affirmation of timethe double affirmation of the presence and the absence. It is the contestation of the certainty of time, the contestation of a sure present and a sure absent. The counter-time is an uncertain mixture of the presence and the absence. It is not a non-time as well as it is not an eternity, the counter time is only an uncertain, contested time. Where we cannot distinguish the time and the non-time, the present and the past, the present and the future form each other; where the presence and the absence are inseparable. (4)

It is a coordinative temporality far from a subordination of the dialectical negation – we might easily think of Duchamp’s ‘chess problem’ Brother and Sister Squares are Reconciled. Rene Char’s poetry, as expounded by Blanchot, is close to that of Duchamp’s work with language that places an onus upon the imagination of his spectators and readers to understand the complicit foundation between that which is incomplete in the poet’s writing, and to create the indelible figure of reality from ‘non-presence’:

Imagination consists of expelling from reality many incomplete persons, making use of the magical and subversive powers of desire, to obtain their return in the form of a completely satisfying presence. This, then, is the inextinguishable, uncreated reality”, we see clearly how poetic imagination distances itself from reality in order to join this very movement of self-distancing to this reality, to make inside of what is, that which is not, and take that as its principle, an absence that makes presence desirable, irreality that allows the poet to possess the real, to have a “productive knowledge” of it. Poetic imagination does not attach itself to things and people such as they are given, but to their lack, to what there is in them of the other, to the ignorance that makes them infinite (“A being whom one does not know is an infinite being”): thus they are “expelled”, they cease to be what is present, what one has in order to become what one would like to have, what one desires. But having become desire, imagination, in this absence it has brought to life, recognizes not the absence of nothing but the absence of something, the movement toward something whose realization it demands and whose “return” it obtains without renouncing the distancing this return permits. Now, it takes pleasure in things that are, as if they were not granted it; it perceives from their presence the irreality that makes this presence possible, and realizes the imaginary by rediscovering the imaginary in the real. Such is the supreme paradox of the poem, if it is “the realized love of desire that has remained desire”. (5)

Most “things” we think of as meaningful bypass “thought”, denying us words for their location and existence. Duchamp’s play with words in all of his works that includes the creation of his term “Infrathin” possess a determination of such locations of withdrawal as synonyms for language.

Finnegans Wake offsets itself and its author against the renunciation of language – the language that provides the world – as the image that offers location and dislocation that is the Glass and its language. Blanchot notes the crux of this matter in the poetry of Rimbaud:

Rimbaud’s scandal took many forms: first he writes masterpieces, then renounces writing others while he appears capable of producing many. To renounce writing, when one has proven to be a great writer, certainly does not occur without mystery. This mystery increases when one discovers what Rimbaud asks of poetry: not to produce beautiful works, or to answer to an aesthetic ideal, but to help man go somewhere, to be more than himself, to see more than he can see, to know what he cannot know – in a word, to make of literature an experience that concerns the whole of life and the whole of being. From this point of view, the abandonment becomes a greater scandal. The poet does not renounce just any activity, or even any privileged activity, but the very possibility that, glimpsed and pursued, cannot be destroyed without a diminution in comparison with which suicide and madness seem nothing. (6)

My habit of reading inside and outside of the effect of the Wake and the poetics of the Glass have further developed my conceptions of the power of language located in the practices and criticisms or analyses of works of philosophy and poetry. As to the work of art it is incapable, of course, of rendering the multiplicities of phenomena and perspectives that language makes accessible to us. It simply is, in one sense at least for me, largely a speculative response to a prolonged project on the Wake’s text as though perhaps it were able to provoke a statement from myself as a complexity in imagery and text that will have sown its inspirational desire as a gamut of visual forces and mind problems: a consequence of reading and writing through philosophy and poetry – taking the form of texts on images but eventually conspiring to bend itself away from studied, university critical art historical criticisms and histories on behalf of analyses of works of art.

The creative hybridity of shuttling thoughts in this project, occasioned by reproduction processes and Internet image(s) (the Internet is all language and image) or the infinite play of words as to the creative act, underlines the fact that art has always been a mind product, a house of being for intellectual practices. Developing a working project from the residue of Joyce and Duchamp indicates that there is a precise lack of what their work actually consisted and still consists in. It is a Galerie von Bildern as Hegel describes remembering in his Phenomenology that rises sui generis externally and internally as an expression of the human body in the visual and textual work at this stage of the work in progress. The figure of Shem provides a vision of internal stresses in the Wake suggesting the working of mind and body in its creator’s imagination engaged in the processes of metamorphosis. If one series of works could engage thoroughly in this arena of production – a calling for the dark arts of writing – it would be those works imbued with experimentation on the role of experimentation itself, for no further gain than for its own sake. The Human Body is the Source for the living and the corpse in the form of a “map” orchestrated as the surgical plumbing of details of such intricacy that a figure emerges Shem/Shaun. Tampering and tinkering the images mentally makes them convertible, dubious and erroneous consequently becoming an infinite statement of change and deviousness, the sincerest address perhaps that Joyce contrives of himself in the Wake as the penman Shem – particularly between pages 169-195. It is the impossibility of addressing Finnegans Wake in the manner of a visual interpenetration between word and image that destabilizes or jilts my work in reading, writing and imaging, while equally the Shem passages contrive to bleed themselves into the pull of a counterart that is the aim of the avant-garde foreclosing its intentions as high art – displaying the original shadowy desires of Dada that Duchamp had initially pioneered and continued with in New York until his demise.

It is worthwhile considering one of Duchamp’s perhaps less sparse notes concerning his deep preoccupation with language in his work as a whole:

The search for “prime words” (”divisible” only by themselves and by unity).

Take a Larousse dict. And copy all the so-called “abstract” words i.e., those which have no concrete reference.

Compose a schematic sign designating each of these words. (This sign can be composed with the standard stops). These signs must be thought of as the letters of the new alphabet.

A grouping of several signs will determine

(Utilize colors – in order to differentiate what would correspond to this [literature] to the substantive, verb, adverb declensions, conjugations etc.)

Necessity for ideal continuity i.e.: each grouping 
will be connected with the other groupings by abs
tract meaning (a sort of grammar, no longer requiring  
…[…] sentence construction. But, apart from 
the differences of languages, and the “figures of speech” peculiar to each 
language—; weights and measures some
 abstractions of substantive, of negatives, of
 relations of subject to verb etc, by means of standard-signs. 
(Representing these new relations: conjugations, declensions, 
plural and singular, adjectivation inexpressible by 
the concrete alphabetic forms of languages 
living now and to come.) 
This alphabet very probably is only suitable for the description
 of this picture.

Hypothesizing the potential creation of an artificial language as opposed to code, Duchamp here predicates a generalization of natural language as an autopoetic machine or system as an explanation for the Glass and the Glass’ explanation of itself as an autonomous unit as opposed to the work of art as we think we know it – the game is in the language of the “Bride”.

Duchamp’s Rrose Sélavy and Joyce’s Shem, connected with self-creation, are evocative of the pun as “a low form of wit” save that in the hands of like-minded men the sense of what I earlier noted as finer sensations may be extracted from Duchamp’s linguistic experiments and compared to any portmanteaus in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Aware of the difficulties involved in this contortion of ordinary language against an artificial one I suggest reading Jay Gould’s The Substantial Ghost: 
 Towards a General Exegesis of 
Duchamp’s Artful Wordplays at the following address: – various puns and the artist’s use of them with exegesis can be found here and might generally help the reader to locate the generalized condition of the gestalt composition of puns as such and to which I am referring. Take particular note of Duchamp’s remark repeated here from an interview:

I like words in a poetic sense. Puns for me are like rhymes…for me, words are not merely a means of communication. You know, puns have always been considered a low form of wit, but I find them a source of stimulation both because of their actual sound and because of the unexpected meanings attached to the interrelationships of disparate words. For me, this is an infinite field of joy – and it’s always right at hand. Sometimes four or five different levels of meaning come through.

Obscurity in the intent and the source provides a freedom for puns to be circulated around Duchamp’s Glass but not only the Glass – his notes are found to be “explanatory” like poetry surrounding his oeuvre as a whole with the Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even at the centre of the web. “Meaning” is cut adrift because “meaning” is always present to any observer parallel to what is perceived in the framing – the mise-en-scene. Duchamp, like Joyce, invents his own audience in the manner of negative “pedagogical” unfamiliarity – the sense is in the self-creation of oneself. Language made enigmatic returns the looks of the regardeur of the work.

As a matter of learnedness we, as audience, are taking an apprenticeship in reading, but through the ways in which we see ourselves evolving with the materiality of the pun, the portmanteaux, the incomplete, in mixed-up and interrupted contexts, and “where the reader sets the standard for what counts as illuminating” (7) opening his imagination to extreme subtleties of appearance whose difficulty leads us to alter the furniture of our mind. Duchamp gave an address at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art in March 1961 where he articulated his thought that: “The great artist of tomorrow will go underground” due to the then current audience expectation of representative or non-representative (abstract) retinal works of art. As I have noted elsewhere not only has the ‘work of art’ become a commodity as Duchamp suggested it would, but works that have poached and reiterated the Duchampian enigma for itself have been themselves overlooked by time. Against the earlier Modernist “isms” that Duchamp dismisses in his address he proposes the laying down of something of a ground for the future:

Therefore I am inclined, after this examination of the past, to believe that the young artist of tomorrow will refuse to base his work on a philosophy as over-simplified as that of the ‘representative or non-representative’ dilemma. I am convinced that, like Alice in Wonderland, he will be led to pass through the looking glass of the retina, to reach a more profound expression. I am only too well aware that among the ‘isms’ that I have mentioned, Surrealism introduced the exploration of the sub-conscious and reduced the role of the retina to that of an open window on the phenomena of the brain. (8)

Duchamp is locating himself against the “mistake” of a Modernism that rejected any relationship with language and thus a teasing out of thoughts and ideas Surrealism determined to exorcise by means of, for example, automatic writing. (9) But beyond the unconscious and its relation with indeterminacy, the question of internal human experiences must expand.

The aura of something not entirely fathomable in human beings stems in great part from our lack of interest in the tiniest of features that each of us displays as difference and differAnce. Visual art can offer analyses of the fleeting moment caught and delayed, differed and deferred, inside human living of the most ordinary occurrences-made-epiphanies – quite how this venture into the human individual might be accomplished rests upon the ways in which we each conspire to work with language and not overlook its inevitable powers of world-making. “Unobserved complexities” are of course themselves the product of language as, shall we say, the tip of the iceberg – and what lies underneath are the potential observations of a life that passes us by as poetry in the street, in the home, at the dinner table. The camera, the film equally if not necessarily firstly, rouses expectations in its facility to microscope effects of unnoted human behaviour and its activities whose entanglements pass us by rather than alerting us to where language has brought us, that reveal just how infinite our senses might be. Joyce and Duchamp’s “epiphanies” of the everyday remain in isolation in this particular sense as “infrathins” exposing spaces to be developed in an orchestration of time – and not, as the term epiphany is usually discussed, as a mere jolt, but instead when “the apprehensive faculty [is] scrutinized in action” (10) and the “triviality” is exposed to all the mind’s senses through The Incertitude of the Void. (11) “The warmth of a seat that has just been left is an infra-thin” (Note 4) appeals to me as a mind activity, as do Duchamp’s trails of text that refine the perceptible: “The quarrel of the cast shadow in relationship with the infrathin”. (Note 40) Such matters that perhaps seem detached from the flow of everyday experience but rouses the poet, can become “radiant” for us too when our mind is set against drudgery offered as the next new thing to reach the gallery or the book store: as Joyce put it: “Poetry, even when apparently most fantastic, is always a revolt against artifice, a revolt, in a sense, against actuality”.


(1)   Laurent Milesi. Finnegans Wake: The Obliquity of Trans-lations.

(2)   Ibid.

(3)   Gerald Bruns. The Refusal of Philosophy: Maurice Blanchot. John Hopkins University Press. 1997. p.8

(4)   See Zoltán Popovics: Counter-time: A Non-dialectical Temporality in the Works of Maurice Blanchot.(

(5) Maurice Blanchot. The Work of Fire. p.104

(6) Ibid. pp. 154-155

(7) See Michael Wood. Quashed Quotatoes. 2010.

(8) Marcel Duchamp. Where do we go from Here?

(9) For an unusual and informed essay on Surrealism see Maurice Blanchot’s Reflections on Surrealism. The Work of Fire. pp. 85 – 97.

(10) James Joyce. Stephen Hero. pp. 210-211

(11) Morris Beja, [in the short essay “The Incertitude of the Void: Epiphany and Indeterminacy” (in Joyce, The Artist Manqué, and Indeterminacy)] reads the heavy uses of ellipses in this passage from Stephen Hero and others as markers of an indeterminacy that characterise the sort of meaning that Joyce is communicating in his epiphanies and epiphanic works. The essay ends with an attempt to reframe the long debate about the value of epiphanies as bearers of meaning: “For when faced with all those sudden spiritual manifestations in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture, critics have tended – almost defensively, I think – to dismiss them, and the idea of them, as having failed. But as I tried to bring out at the start of my essay, if an artist conveys a sense of perplexity and mystery, he or she may not have failed to communicate. And after all, if the meaning and significance behind an epiphany were readily or logically graspable, the experience of epiphany itself would be redundant”.