Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Book Review (PART 2 of 4): Joyce's Book of the Dark by John Bishop

"In fact, under the closed eyes of the inspectors the traits featuring the chiaroscuro coalesce, their contrarieties eliminated, in one stable somebody" 
- Finnegans Wake, pg. 107

As one progresses along through Joyce’s Book of the Dark, the analysis grows deeper and more thorough (as well as dense and slightly more difficult to read) while the rewards of Bishop’s deep investigations become more exciting. At the heart of the text lies the chapter entitled “Meoptics,” the second-longest chapter in the book, in which Bishop comprehensively discusses the visual aspect of Finnegans Wake. Of course, since it’s a book of the dark in which we share in the experience of a main character who is asleep, the chapter begins by driving home the point that there is rarely anything actually visible in the Wake except pitch-black darkness, hence the hundreds upon hundreds of references to darkness, blackness, and every other kind of murkiness all throughout “the lingerous longerous book of the dark” (FW p. 251).

Occasionally, though, visual dreams do occur inside the head of our dreaming hero. “And Dub did glow that night” (FW p. 329). But if the phenomenon of vision entails light bouncing off of objects and then reflecting back to the retina, we are led to wonder how anyone can have visual dreams with their eyes shut. Thus begins a highly fascinating inquiry by Bishop into the optics of one who has their eyes closed. The word “meoptics” (FW p. 139) suggests “my optics” and “myopia” or nearsightedness and Bishop discovers that our sleeper’s eyes are awakened by phosphorescent (“fusefiressence” FW p. 378) flashes on the insides of his eyelids which remain closed in “blepharospasmockical suppressions” (FW p. 515, Greek blepharon means “eyelid”), and “his eyelids are painted” (FW p. 248) with “his own length of rainbow” (FW p. 79) which seems to emanate from inside the body.

In a dark room with eyes closed, the eyeballs are suddenly somehow lit up to form visual dreams which the eyes view across the inside surface of the eyelids like a movie screen. Bishop elaborates: “because the shimmer falling over all surfaces of the world perceived in dreams is created out of the eye’s flesh and cast forth in a semblance of the real, HCE’s ‘eyebulbs’ (FW p. 531) might be understood to create light---‘fleshed light’ (FW p. 222)---like ‘glowworms,’ ‘fireflies,’ ‘lightning bugs,’ and other forms of life that radiate out of living tissue.” As his own flesh flashes forth florescent streams of light, the sleeper confuses them for meteors or “falling angles” (FW p. 21) or lightning bolts or “starshootings” (FW p. 22) and his “gropesarching eyes” (FW p. 167), groping and searching, try to capture these elusive glowing flickers.

Continuing his inquiry into the visual dreams taking place inside the Wake, Bishop engages in one of his rare discussions of the secondary characters in the book, the children Shem, Shaun and Issy. Alluding to the chapters of the Wake known as “The First and Second Watches of Shaun” (the first 2 chapters of Book III), he notes how “the dreamed image of Shaun” lights up the sleeper’s eyes and becomes visible---“now, fix on the little fellow in my eye” (FW p. 486). Known as “Shaun the Postman” he also carries letters and thus literacy and daytime reality, signaling the awakening of the dreamer’s ego. He is associated with space, visible space, and his “spatiality” (FW p. 172) is to bring forth forms of visible space to be “seene” ([scene] FW p. 52). Bishop also notes that Shaun is “as much a figure through whom we see things as a figure whom we see” which is why extended portions of the Wake are actually narrated by Shaun. This all makes sense when you consider the location of the Shaun chapters toward the end of the book when the night is reaching its conclusion and the sleeper will soon wake up to daylight.

With this perspective of the Shaun character in mind, Bishop also sheds new light on the chapter known as “The Mime of Mick, Nick, and the Maggies” (Book II Chapter 1). What seems to be going on in this chapter, according to most Wake commentaries, is a children’s game in which Shem and Shaun have to try to guess the color of Issy’s underwear, leading to a conflict between the two brothers. The chapter is in the form of a stage play, a pantomime filled with rainbows and references to the word heliotrope (which literally means "moving toward the sun"). For Bishop, the entire thing plays out inside the body of the sleeper and he explains the frequent references to heliotrope as having to do with the movement of the “unknown sunseeker” (FW p. 110), the sleeping body of HCE, floating “toward sunrise, resurrection, and the wakened discovery of sunlit vision" as nighttime progresses toward morning.

In this chapter-long vignette, Shem and Shaun take on the roles of Mick and Nick or the Archangel Michael and Old Nick (nickname for Lucifer/Satan), representing the powers of Light and Darkness battling it out inside the eyes of the sleeper. Associated with visual space and daytime reality, the Shaun/Mick figure attempts to awaken the dreamer to light (Joyce sometimes spells Shaun as “showm” or “shone”) and recapture his grasp on reality. Shem/Nick is the force of darkness or deep sleep trying to subdue the dreamer back into blacked-out sleep and the unconscious realm with its “shameful” repressed material. Bishop sees this as the struggle “which structures any dream, during which a variable force impinging on the ‘tropped head’---pain, desire, a sensory disturbance---seeks to return the ego toward wakefulness… while a concurrently acting counterforce [which Freud calls] ‘the universal, invariably present and unchanging wish to sleep,’ dissolves all such ‘upsits’ ([upsets] FW p. 127).”

As for the mysterious Issy character, always one of the toughest elements of the Wake to pin down, Bishop sees her as the ideal beauty who “drifts through the Wake in the guises of so many female models, movie stars, actresses” always inviting the envious eyes of the sleeper inside of whose eyelids her apparition floats like a “skysign of soft advertisement” (FW p. 4). Appearing surrounded by “rainbow girls” she seems to be the sleeper’s associative interpretation of bright rainbow phosphenes ("truetoflesh colours" FW p. 481) flashing on the retina causing HCE’s “Envyeyes” (FW p. 235) to try “to catch… by the calour of brideness” (FW p. 223) these tenuous clouds. Symbolizing two aspects of HCE himself, Shem and Shaun tussle with each other as the “shameful” devilish Shem tries to guess the color of Issy’s drawers while the watchful eye of Shaun steps in to censor him and send him back down into the dark unconscious. Complicated as this "rainborne pamtomomiom" ([rainbow pantomime/pandemonium] FW p. 285) all may sound, for Bishop this entire entanglement embodies the situation inside the closed eyes of the Wake’s sleeping hero.

Of course, there is so much more to his interpretation than my cursory summary suggests, and the visible colors/rainbow theme of Finnegans Wake is one that’s rich enough to write an entire book about. Joyce, who suffered from countless eye diseases and endured about a dozen ghastly eye surgeries during his writing career, was keenly interested in the mechanics of vision and explicitly attested to the Wake’s elaborate “theory of colours” in letters to friends. Bishop’s “Meoptics” chapter unpacks a wealth of information about the color spectrum and Helmholtzian optics found to be present in the “acheseyeld” ([exiled] FW p. 148) Irishman’s magnum opus. Bishop even uncovers a mass network of blinking/eyelid references within this book of forty winks, leading to an examination of “those lashbetasselled lids” (FW p. 474) which, he explains, developed on the bodies of animals living outside of water so they could refresh their eyes with saltwater or “meye eyesalt” (FW p. 484). I assure you, Bishop goes much further in his attempt to “define the hydraulics of common salt” (FW p. 256) in the Wake’s sleeping hero but we’ve covered enough about the eyes, let’s move on to the ears, which any reader of the Wake knows are the most important. “Ear! Ear! Not ay! Eye! Eye! For I’m at the heart of it” (FW p. 409).

*   *   *

“In sleep our senses are dormant, except the sense of hearing, which is always awake, since you can’t close your ears. So any sound that comes to our ears during sleep is turned into a dream.” – James Joyce

When commissioned to create a portrait of Joyce in 1929 to be included with the publication of a section from the as-yet-unfinished Wake, Romanian artist Constantin Brancusi came up with a disarmingly simple illustration featuring a large spiral. This symbol could be representative of many things (and indeed spirals are ubiquitous in Finnegans Wake) but I prefer to picture it as a symbol for the ear. The auditory realm is vast in its scope, allowing one to hear all around them, but the wide world of sounds swirls its way into the inner ear like water whirlpooling down a drain.

In his study of the Wake’s auditory dynamics (the chapter entitled “Earwickerwork”), Bishop maintains that the “sound sense” (FW p. 109) of Joyce’s book is its most crucial component. He mentions fellow Joyce scholar Adaline Glasheen’s suggestion that a  reader should try to count how many times the word “ear” appears in the text as well as other auditory words like “hear” and “listen” and “sound.” With the help of the online search engine FWEET (Finnegans Wake Extensible Elucidation Treasury), I found those words appear almost 300 times in the 628 page book and that’s not counting the words like “Bullsear!” (FW p. 9) and foreign words such as the ubiquitous “oreilles” (“ears” in French) and other ear ciphers.

The ears of the sleeping body at the center of Finnegans Wake never fall asleep, thus the hero’s central nickname “Earwicker” which derives from the Anglo-Saxon Euerwaar or “Ever-Waker” and designates a watchman.  All of the sounds in his surroundings leak into his head as “Acoustic Disturbance” (FW p. 71) and find their way into his dreams. These sounds include his own body’s snoring, the beating of his heart, the grumbling of his stomach (“all the vitalmines is beginning to sozzle and chew and the hormonies to clingleclangle” FW p. 456), farts, grinding teeth, and perhaps sleepily mumbling to himself “imeffible tries at speech unasyllabled” (FW p. 183). Outside sounds like cars, trains, singing birds, and even a rooster crowing “Cocorico!” (FW p. 584) proliferate towards the end of the book when morning approaches, confirming (according to Bishop) the work’s overall chronological structure of one single night experienced by “one stable somebody” (FW p. 107) as opposed to the “universal dream of some disembodied global everyman as some Wake critics have attested.”

Indeed, Bishop’s textual analysis diverts sharply from the general consensus of Wakean criticism at times but he always backs up his imaginative arguments thoroughly and convincingly. This was particularly the case with his piecing apart of the pages which open Book II, chapter 3 of the Wake. This is perhaps the most difficult and dense chapter in Finnegans Wake, but the opening seems to be describing a very complex and powerful radio, “as modern as tomorrow afternoon… equipped with supershielded umbrella antennas” (FW p. 309) inside Earwicker’s pub. At least that’s how it had always been interpreted. I had always loved this image since it was one of the many examples in the Wake of technology that hadn’t been invented yet. Bishop sees things differently though, and the results of his detective work appear to be impeccable.

He begins his virtuoso exegesis of the radio passage by emphasizing the most worthwhile approach to interpreting the Wake: “rather than reading it linearly and literally, we interpret it as we might interpret a dream, by eliciting from the absurd murk a network of overlapping and associatively interpenetrating structures.” Digging into the murk of this ostensibly electronic passage he uncovers that “this harmonic condenser enginium” (FW p. 310) not only conceals the appearance of the sleeping body of HCE at all times but specifically alludes to his head (“enginium” = Latin ingenium or “mental power”) described as having “a howdrocephalous enlargement” (FW p. 310) (Greek kephale means “head” and the medical term hydrocephalus means “water on the brain”). Concurrently, he finds embedded throughout the passage all the anatomical parts of the ear, leaving the Wake reader agape for not realizing all along that what we are dealing with here is just a very dense and radio-analogy-filled description of “the lubberendth of his otological life.” (FW p. 310)

Alongside a diagram of the inner ear, Bishop includes all of the ear anatomy terms like “hummer, enville, and cstorrap” ([hammer, anvil, and stirrup] FW p. 310), “routs of Corthy” ([rods of Corti] FW p. 310), and “tympan” ([tympanum] FW p. 310) which are found to be lurking all over this Wake passage we once thought was describing a radio device. This leads him to declare that “Earwicker, as a recurrent ‘character’ in the Wake, is constituted essentially of two vast, vigilant, and radarlike ears with a large and hydrocephalus head wedged vacantly somewhere in between.”

HCE’s “pricking up ears… picking up airs from th’other over th’ether” (FW p. 452) don’t simply perceive sound, though, they also interpret as they listen, for even while asleep his mind can’t help but activate its predisposition for making what Bishop calls “audiophonic associations” no matter how absurd they may be. As Bishop explains, “Like all of his body, HCE’s ears are humanly made and organized, wired by parents and the authority of literacy.” So the sounds that his “vast, vigilant, radarlike ears” absorb then enter into a massive knotted web of phonetics (what the Wake calls “funantics” FW p. 450), a matrix of words and language which reach back through connections and meanings beyond HCE’s conscious mind, recalling again the aforementioned etymological archaeology of Vico. For Bishop concludes his line of thought thusly:
If a reading of [Vico’s] The New Science shows HCE lying at the evolved end of a diachronic language whose roots lie unrecapturably buried in the unconsciousness of prehistory, immersion in the Wake’s ‘funantics’ complementarily shows Earwicker lying at the center of an immense phonological tangle whose totality is language as a synchronic structure.
Concluding his study of the Wake’s “otological life” (FW p. 310) and “funantics” (FW p. 450), Bishop more or less advises the reader who wishes to engage this notoriously difficult and “superliterate” text to become like HCE and merely listen, letting the breeze of mixed sounds wash over you, drawing up sparks of association, memory, emotion here and there inside one’s radiohead. As hard as this may be, the Wake reader must try to give up the natural inclination to make rational sense out of everything and “abandon the monied and privileged reflex of literacy in order to attain to ‘dummyship’ and become as good an illiterate as HCE.” Or as Finnegans Wake itself states: “What can’t be coded can be decorded if an ear aye seize what no eye ere grieved for.” (FW p. 482)

Monday, January 6, 2014

Book Review (PART 1 of 4): Joyce's Book of the Dark by John Bishop

"Sleep, where in the waste is the wisdom?" - Finnegans Wake, p. 114

Since first discovering John Bishop's monumental book about 4 years ago, I've been disappointed about how little discussion there is about it on the internet. Now that I've finally gotten around to reading it (twice), I'd like to change that here.

Joyce's Book of the Dark is a masterpiece of literary criticism while at the same time an eye-opening scholarly consideration of sleep. Bishop begins with the provocative premise that Finnegans Wake is, at all times, a record of what goes on inside the body and mind of one sleeping person (that is, not just dreams, but even the extended mysterious dreamless periods) and proceeds to build upon that argument almost ad nauseam, deploying snippets from the text of the Wake relentlessly through twelve progressively groundbreaking chapters concluding with a most brilliant and original theory of what the flowing female character Anna Livia Plurabelle really represents in the book.

One of the most fascinating things about Finnegans Wake is that you can study it through any particular lense and construct a pretty good argument that the whole book is all about, for instance, fly fishing---as a funny New York Times piece explored once. There's a whole series of books on Kabbalah in Finnegans Wake; George Cinclair Gibson wrote a well-received book Wake Rites arguing that the ancient rituals of Tara underlie the whole thing; Benjamin Boysen's humongous new study of Joyce declares it's all about love; Marshall McLuhan posited it is “about the electric retribalization of the West” via technology and, following McLuhan, Donald Theall considered it a kind of hybrid literary-electronic-hypertext device. The Wake undoubtedly has a special verbal Rorschach quality to it, inviting endless interpretation, which is one of the reasons why it's so rewarding to read with a group.

Bishop's sleeping body argument is by no means a radical one, though. While Joyce offered few clues about his Work in Progress over the 17 years of its composition and died shortly after its publication without getting to explain much about it, he did certainly make it clear as day in his letters and conversations with friends that this book of his was to be about the night, a "reconstruction of the nocturnal life" and "an imitation of the dream-state." This is part of what makes Bishop's thesis so compelling. Many readers consider Joyce's Book of the Dark to be the finest analysis of Finnegans Wake that's ever been written and I have to agree. Building a gigantic scholarly mountain of material on top of his rather simple thesis, Bishop's text is definitely the most extensive treatment of the Wake thus far; with 385 pages plus 80 pages of footnotes (which are filled with enough enlightening material to form a small book on their own), it's about as wide as a coffee table book and is peppered with geographical maps, etymological charts, diagrams, and illustrations to convey his theories. He writes with an engaging, humorous though densely informative style while incessantly weaving in quotes taken from all over the Wake. This lends his argument an increasingly convincing credence but also forces the reader to slowly parse through passages since, essentially, you're oftentimes reading a collage of various Finnegans Wake snippets.

While Joyce’s most famous work Ulysses maintains a reputation for being impenetrable and puzzling, it's also sprung forth a pretty substantial library of exegeses which make quite clear the book's intentions and intricately constructed mechanisms. With an evolving, erudite and increasingly odd writing style, Ulysses tells the story of Leopold Bloom, a rather ordinary modern human being during a single day in Dublin, zooming closely into his inner experience and the way in which his mind and body interact with the world around him.  While Ulysses is often associated with the stream of consciousness technique, Finnegans Wake, on the other hand, is essentially an account of the "stream of unconsciousness" as its hero drifts off into sleep. Ulysses follows one single day, and the Wake one single night. In the latter, though, all rationality, reason, relativity, spacetime and other daytime mental structures collapse and crumble along with the conscious mind. This is, as Bishop argues, part of the meaning behind Finnegan's fall on the first page, "The fall... of a once wallstrait oldparr" which is "retaled early in bed" (FW p. 3).

With the fall into sleep, there is also a fall inwards of our sensory perception, the world of objects disappears and we fully inhabit the world of our own bodies, in which all dreams take place. Everyone and everything we experience during our dreams is in fact ourselves (Bishop makes liberal use of Freud's Interpretation of Dreams to support this). The same goes for Finnegans Wake, in which a sleeping body underlies every scene, character, and event. As Bishop writes, "All things at the Wake start here, 'in the flesh.'"

Early on in the text, Bishop introduces a thought experiment that he frequently returns to:
Suppose that we charged ourselves with the task of providing in chronological order a detailed account of everything that occurred to us not last night (such an account would be far too sketchy to be useful) but in the first half hour of last night's sleep; or better yet, suppose that we fall asleep tonight intent on preserving for liberal study in the morning a detailed memory of the first half hour of sleep. ... What we are likely to recall... is a gap of obscurity far more stupefying than anything Joyce ever wrote.
Alluding to the etymological source of the word "bed" which derives from a root referring to a dug up spot of turf (think "flower bed"), and quoting from various sources such as Schopenhauer who said "there is no radical difference between sleep and death," Bishop explains the numerous references in the Wake to a corpse---"the presence (of a curpse)" (FW p. 224)---as an intertwining of sleep and death. The sleeper in the Wake is, after all, "tropped head" (FW p. 34) and "Dead to the World" (FW p. 105), completely unconscious of himself as an entity with a name, address, personal history, etc. He no longer possesses an identity or has a body. He simply is a body.

Following this logic, Bishop makes a good case for the main character's recurring initials of HCE standing for hoc corpus est or "this is the body," a Latin phrase from the consecration of the Roman Catholic Mass. The HCE initials take on thousands of different permutations and varieties throughout the book, but while the Wake refers "to him by all the licknames in the litany" (FW p. 234) he is ultimately a corpse (German Leichnam "corpse"), "he's rehearsing somewan's funeral" (FW p. 477), "in beautific repose, upon the silence of the dead" (FW p. 452). Elaborating on his initial thought experiment, Bishop concludes:
These considerations will enable us to begin filling in the vast "blank memory" we all have of the night by allowing us to see that what must take place in parts of sleep void of dreams is the body itself, which has to be there in the "Real Absence" (FW p. 536) of everything else for one "to be continued." ... Since the content of our "knock[ed] out" hero's "tropped head" here is largely "his own body" (FW p. 185)... what is ultimately being represented is less a dream than the fertile ground of dreams ... Finnegans Wake, in other words, is a representation of a human body. This is only what we might expect of a work entitled the Wake, where, as at all wakes, the body is the life of the party. 
This all comes from the chapter on “The Identity of the Dreamer” in which Bishop also ponders the daytime identity, the real regular human being who is the star of the show, lying asleep at the Wake. As Joyce filled his book with references to a giant garbage dump or rubbish heap, Bishop sees this as referring to the “chaotic trash heap of mnemonic bric-a-brac, scraps, trivia, personal memories, and particles of information gathered from such places as the Encyclopedia Britannica and Dublin’s papers and lore.” Sifting through the repeated elements within these scraps, one gathers that “our hero seems to be an older Protestant male, of Scandinavian lineage, connected with the pubkeeping business somewhere in the neighborhood of Chapelizod, who has a wife, a daughter, and two sons… What emerges from an examination of the details is the sense of someone as singularly unsingular as Leopold Bloom.”

Therefore, just as Joyce lifted a drab Dubliner in Bloom up to the lofty heights of a mythological Everyman in Ulysses, Bishop finds that the sleeping figure through whom all of Finnegans Wake emerges is a regular 50-something year old pubkeeper, a perfectly normal guy, or as the Wake so humorously describes him: “One of the two or three forefivest fellows a bloke could in holiday crowd encounter” (FW p. 596), “somebody mentioned by name in his telephone directory” (FW p. 118).

Whereas Bloom was a man with a very creative, intelligent, and inquiring mind, always trying to come up with new advertising ideas and pondering the scientific explanations behind natural events, Bishop postulates that Joyce chose a middle-aged Protestant publican to be the source of the lively cosmic and colorful circus of history that is Finnegans Wake to emphasize the dormant energies lying within all of us always. “What he is unconscious of is precisely his own potential, and the possibility that life could be so much more.”

This is where the ideas of Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico and their major influence on Joyce become so important. It is through his study of Vico that Joyce developed the perspective of the human body containing the entire history of the species within it. As Joyce’s friend Frank Budgen once wrote:
We carry around within us in the unvisited yet populous recesses of our minds signatures of a past infinitely more remote. From the dawn of life to the moment in which we live all experience is written in the structure and function of our bodies---all is preserved in the depths of our memories. This is the unknown country into which we are led when we begin to read [Finnegans Wake].
Since there is an unbroken link of life (as Joyce wrote in Ulysses “The cords of all link back, strandentwining cable of all flesh”) from the earliest humans all the way down the line of history and ancestry to yourself as you are right now, your body contains all of that history within it. Our bodies weren’t instructed how to evolve in the womb from a one-celled organism into a human being, nor do we consciously move our bodies to digest our food or circulate our blood. This important information is all contained within the unconscious wisdom of the biological system. It’s all within our DNA. And this is what Finnegans Wake explores as it depicts the night, when the conscious mind dissolves into the body. 

*   *   *

Einstein raised an amused eyebrow. "Jeem," he said, "you look into words like a biologist looking down a microscope. I begin to believe you really meant all those paradoxes you were reciting last night, about the content of mind being nothing but words."
"The history of consciousness is a history of words," Joyce said immediately.

-  Robert Anton Wilson,  Masks of the Illuminati, p. 229
A recent issue of New Scientist magazine (Sept 7-13, 2013) featured a cover story about how linguists now say “it is possible to excavate thousands of years of human history from the words we speak.” Unfortunately, there is no mention of 18th century Italian philosopher/historian Giambattista Vico who pioneered this idea in his book The New Science (a strange omission considering the synchronicity between their titles). In one of the more enlightening chapters of Joyce’s Book of the Dark, Bishop thoroughly describes Vico’s special brand of verbal archeology and takes us through its major role in Joyce’s conception of the style of Finnegans Wake and even draws interesting parallels between the Wake and The New Science.

It is generally recognized by Wake critics that Vico’s work, The New Science, strongly influenced Joyce but, as Bishop strongly contends, they don’t even come close to recognizing the magnitude of that influence. Every study of the Wake simply repeats the same facts: that the whole text, split up into its 4 books, is structured around Vico’s idea of a cyclical history (“vicous cicles” FW p. 134) with 4 repeating stages and that references to these 4 stages reoccur throughout. While this is certainly true, it doesn't begin to touch upon the importance of The New Science which, Bishop argues, Joyce conceived “as an intellectual foundation that would underlie Finnegans Wake as the Odyssey had Ulysses.”

Vico’s work is essentially an attempt to reconstruct how the rational, enlightened mind of modern man grew out of the beastly animal lifestyle of cavemen, who Joyce calls “our family furbear[s]” (FW p. 132) or forebears. This is an important endeavor as, while we’ve built layers and layers of reason atop our irrational aboriginal mind over the centuries, these irrational foundations still underlie and influence our current state. Predating Freud, Vico invents his own version of depth psychology to burrow into the ancient sources of the human mind to its original infantile state out of which language and civilization eventually grew. While Freud was focused on the influence of one’s parents in striving to cure irrational disturbances within the psyche, Vico’s perspective is that all of history weighs down upon us. As Bishop explains:
The individual cannot purge himself of neurotic unhappiness by rethinking familial past alone, because his parents are largely innocent transmitters of a language and an ideology determined by a history that transcends them and himself both. Fully to understand the irrationalities understructuring his mind, he has to exorcise his parents’ parents, and his parents’ parents’ parents, and [quoting Vico] the ‘first men, stupid, insensate, and horrible beasts,’ who laid down the foundations of human civil life and consciousness.
This partially explains why Joyce frequently rejected the influence of modern psychoanalysis, once declaring “my imagination grows when I read Vico as it doesn’t when I read Freud of Jung.” Bishop points to a strong Vico influence in all of Joyce’s work, even accounting for the complete re-writing of his first novel which began as Stephen Hero and turned into A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man with a detectable Viconian perspective as the prose depicts Stephen’s mind growing from childish talk toward refined, intellectual language. Vico sees the aboriginal human mind as equivalent to the mind of a small child and it is out of childish babble that “articulate language began to develop by way of onomatopoeia, through which we still find children happily expressing themselves.” (A later chapter in Bishop’s book, “The Nursing Mirror”, explores the playful childishness of the Wake and begins by quoting Freud who wrote, “dreams simply make us into children once more in our thoughts and our feelings” and concludes with Bishop declaring “one must become a child again if one is to read the Wake.”)

Examining the historical development of consciousness through language, Vico’s New Science posits that language begins with the body. This is the first key etymological principle espoused in his book, “Words are carried over from bodies and the properties of bodies to signify the institutions of the mind and spirit.” Hence we use the word “head” for the top or beginning of something, refer to the “eye” of a needle, “mouth” for any opening, “teeth” of a comb or rake, “hands” of a clock, etc. (Bishop even points to the root of the word “language” which derives from Latin lingua or tongue.) These origins are present in all of our language if we consider the deepest etymological roots of words, as Bishop displays with massive two-page charts showing the various networks of words that grew from one common original root.

Vico’s next two etymological principles highlight how important his work truly was for Joyce in creating the Wake, which he called his “history of the world.” The second principle holds that “the internal social history of a people is implicitly preserved in and transmitted through its language, and that all words carry a subliminal record of an entire past: etymology, in short, is also a form of history, or verbal archaeology.” Studying the origins of words and common roots between certain words begins to shed light on the dynamics of the earliest social groupings, the original families and their developing hierarchies. This of course calls to mind the one family of Finnegans Wake which seems to lie behind all characters in human history, their tensions evident in phrases like “The family umbroglia” (FW p. 284) and “family histrionic” (FW p. 230). 

The third of Vico’s etymological principles states that the etymology of language “can reveal not only the internal social formation of a people, but also the international forces that transformed that people through trade, war, migration, colonization” and “miscegenations on miscegenations” (FW p. 18). When nations collide, their cultures and languages collide as well. This is especially true of the English language since their empire expanded to the far reaches of the globe, pillaging other nations while splicing in pieces of their language. As the Wake has it, “our social something bowls along bumpily, experiencing a jolting series of prearranged disappointments, down the long lane of… generations, more generations, and still more generations.” (FW p. 107)

Since it is language that structures our consciousness and creates our reality, we carry all of this history within us. This vast history is what Joyce draws forth through the unconscious mind of HCE. Bishop notes that the Wake “treats its central figure as the raddled blur of millions of persons, most of whom are completely absent from the consciousness that they unconsciously helped to shape. ‘As a singleminded supercrowd’ (FW p. 42), our hero is ‘more mob than man’ (FW p. 261).” The endless gamut of historical figures that pop up on every page of the Wake are there because, in a strange way, they are present in the unconscious (timeless and spaceless) sleeping mind of this humdrum middleaged pubkeeper as having contributed to it. Bishop comes to this incisive conclusion:
HCE’s personality, then, is defined not only by family and contemporaries, but by people as remote in history as Christ and Constantine and Attila. These people are members of his personality: they arise in his ‘nightlife’ not simply in composite structures that obliquely capture his identity, but as parts of him, by virtue of having made parts of his consciousness possible. Thousands of people from the past and from all nations crowd into HCE’s dream to constitute the mind beneath his mind. In the individually dreaming body they establish a thickly entwined human community whose evolution in history has vitally formed the ground of his wakeful life. His ego or ‘I…be the massproduct of teamwork.’ (FW p. 546)