Friday, May 16, 2008

The Pre History of Cyberspace

The Pre History of Cyberspace


University Professor
Trent University

_Postmodern Culture_ v.2 n.3 (May, 1992)

Copyright (c) 1992 by Donald F. Theall, all rights
reserved. This text may be freely shared among
individuals, but it may not be republished in any
medium without express written consent from the authors
and advance notification of the editors.

[1] _The Gutenberg Galaxy_, a book which redirected the way
that artists, critics, scholars and communicators viewed the
role of technological mediation in communication and
expression, had its origin in Marshall McLuhan's desire to
write a book called "The Road to _Finnegans Wake_." It has
not been widely recognized just how important James Joyce's
major writings were to McLuhan, or to other major figures
(such as Jorge Luis Borges, John Cage, Jacques Derrida,
Umberto Eco, and Jacques Lacan) who have written about
aspects of communication involving technological mediation,
speech, writing, and electronics. While all of these
connections should be explored, the most enthusiastic
Joycean of them all, McLuhan, provides the most specific
bridge linking the work of Joyce and his modernist
contemporaries to the development of electric communication
and to the prehistory of cyberspace and virtual reality.
McLuhan's scouting of "the Road to _Finnegans Wake_"
established him as the first major disseminator of those
Joycean insights which have become the unacknowledged basis
for our thinking about technoculture, just as the pervasive
McLuhanesque vocabulary has become a part, often an
unconscious one, of our verbal heritage.
[2] In the mid-80s, William Gibson first identified the
emergence of cyberspace as the most recent moment in the
development of electromechanical communications, telematics
and virtual reality. Cyberspace, as Gibson saw it, is the
simultaneous experience of time, space, and the flow of
multi-dimensional, pan-sensory data:
All the data in the world stacked up like one big neon
city, so you could cruise around and have a kind of
grip on it, visually anyway, because if you didn't, it
was too complicated, trying to find your way to the
particular piece of data you needed. Iconics, Gentry
called that.^1^
This "consensual hallucination" produced by "data abstracted
from the banks of every computer in the human system"
creates an "unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged
in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of
data. Like city lights receding."^2^ Almost a decade
earlier, McLuhan's remarks about computers (dating from the
late 70s) display some striking similarities:^3^
It steps up the velocity of logical sequential
calculations to the speed of light reducing numbers to
body count by touch . . . . It brings back the
Pythagorean occult embodied in the idea that "numbers
are all"; and at the same time it dissolves hierarchy
in favor of decentralization. When applied to new
forms of electronic-messaging such as teletext and
videotext, it quickly converts sequential alphanumeric
texts into multi-level signs and aphorisms, encouraging
ideographic summation, like hieroglyphs.^4^
McLuhan's %hieroglyphs% certainly more than anticipate
Gibson's %iconics% and McLuhan's particular use of
hieroglyph or iconology, like that of mosaic, primarily
derives from Joyce and Giambattista Vico.
[3] It is not surprising then that McLuhan's works, side by
side with those of Gibson, have been avidly read by early
researchers in MIT's Media Lab^5^, for these researchers
also conceive of a VR composed, like the tribal and
collective "global village," of "tactile, haptic,
proprioceptive and acoustic spaces and involvements."^6^
The experiments of the artistic avant-garde movements (such
as the Dadaists, the Bauhaus and the Surrealists) and of
individuals (such as Marcel Duchamp, Paul Klee, Sergei
Eisenstein or Luis Bunuel) generated the exploration of the
semiotics and technical effects of such spaces and
involvements. Duchamp, for example, became an early leading
figure in splitting apart the presumed generic boundaries of
painting and sculpture to explore arts of motion, light,
movement, gesture, and concept, exemplified in his _Large
Glass_^7^ and the serial publication of his accompanying
notes from _The Box of 1914_ through _The Green Box_ to _A
l'infinitif_. His interest in the notes as part of the
total work echo Joyce's own interest in the publication of
_Work in Progress_ and commentaries he organized upon it
(e.g., _Our Exagmination Round his Factification for
Incamination of Work in Progress_). Joyce also explores
similar aspects of motion, light, movement, gesture and
concept. So the road to VR and MIT's Media Lab begins with
poetic and artistic experimentation in the late nineteenth
and early twentieth century; later, as Stuart Brand notes,
many of the Media Lab researchers of the 60s and 70s placed
great importance on collaboration with artists involved in
exploring the nature and art of motion and in investigating
new relationships between sight, hearing, and the other
[4] Understanding the social and cultural implications of
VR and cyberspace requires a radical reassessment of the
inter-relationships between Gibson's now commonplace
description of cyberspace, McLuhan's modernist-influenced
vision of the development of electric media, and the
particular impact that Joyce had both on McLuhan's writings
about electrically mediated communication and on the views
of Borges, Cage, Derrida, Eco and Lacan regarding problems
of mediation and communication. Such a reassessment
requires that two central issues be discussed: (i) the
crucial nature of VR's challenge to the privileging of
language through the orality/literacy dichotomization used
by many theorists of language and communication; (ii) the
idea of VR's presence as *the* super-medium that encompasses
and transcends all media. The cluster of critics who have
addressed orality and literacy, following the lead of Walter
Ong, H.A. Innis and Eric Havelock, have--like them--failed
to comprehend the fact that McLuhan was disseminating a
Joycean view which grounded communication in tactility,
gesture and CNS processes, rather than promulgating the
emergence of a new oral/aural age, a secondary orality.
This emphasis on the tactile, the gestural and the play of
the CNS in communication is a key to Joyce's literary
exploration of a theme he shared with his radical modernist
colleagues in other arts who envisioned the eventual
development of a coenaesthetic medium^9^ that would
integrate and harmonize the effects of sensory and
neurological information in currently existing and newly
emerging art forms.
[5] Joyce's work should be recognized as pioneering the
artistic exploration of two sets of differences--
orality/literacy and print/[tele-]electric media--that have
since become dominant themes in the discussion of these
questions. _Finnegans Wake_ is one of the first major
poetic encounters with the challenge that electronic media
present to the traditionally accepted relationships between
speech, script and print. (_Ulysses_ also involves such an
encounter, but at an earlier stage in the historic
development of mediated communication.) Imagine Joyce
around 1930 asking the question: what is the role of the
book in a culture which has discovered photography,
phonography, radio, film, television, telegraph, cable, and
telephone and has developed newspapers, magazines,
advertising, Hollywood, and sales promotion? What people
once read, they will now go to see in film and on
television; everyday life will appear in greater detail and
more up-to-date fashion in the press, on radio and in
television; oral poetry will be reanimated by the
potentialities of sound recording.^10^
[6] The "counter-poetic," _Finnegans Wake_, provides one of
*the* key texts regarding the problem presented by the
dichotomization of the oral and the written and by its
frequent corollary, a privileging of either speech or
language. This enigmatic work is not only a polysemic,
encyclopedic book designed to be read with the simultaneous
involvement of ear and eye: it is also a self-reflexive book
about the role of the book in the electro-machinic world of
the new technology.^11^ The _Wake_ is the most
comprehensive exploration, prior to the 1960s or 70s, of the
ways in which these new modes created a dramatic crisis for
the arts of language and the privileged position of the
printed book. The _Wake_ dramatizes the necessary
deconstruction and reconstruction of language in a world
where multi-semic grammars and rhetorics, combined with
entirely new modes for organizing and transmitting
information and knowledge, eventually would impose a variety
of new, highly specialized roles on speech, print and
writing. Joyce's selection of Vico's _New Science_^12^ as
the structural scaffolding for the _Wake_--the equivalent of
Homer's _Odyssey_ in _Ulysses_--underscores how his interest
in the contemporary transformation of the book requires
grounding the evolution of civilization in the poetics of
communication, especially gesture and language and the
"prophetic" role of the poetic in shaping the future.
[7] As the world awakens to the full potentialities for the
construction of artifacts and processes of communication in
the new electric cosmos, Joyce foresees the transformation
(not the death) of the book--going beyond the book as it had
historically evolved. Confronted with this situation, Joyce
seeks to develop a poetic language which will resituate the
book within this new communicative cosmos, while
simultaneously recognizing the drive toward the development
of a theoretically all-inclusive, all-encompassing medium,
"virtual reality." Since the action takes place in a
dreamworld, Joyce can produce an impressively prophetic
imaginary prototype for the virtual worlds of the future.
His dreamworld envelops the reader within an aural sphere,
accompanied by kinetic and gestural components that arise
from effects of rhythm and intonation realized through the
visual act of reading; but it also reproduces imaginarily
the most complex multi-media forms and envisions how they
will utilize his present, which will have become the past,
to transform the future.^13^
[8] The hero(ine)^14^ in the _Wake_, "Here Comes
Everybody," is a communicating machine, "This harmonic
condenser enginium (the Mole)" (310.1), an electric
transmission-receiver system, an ear, the human sensorium, a
presence "eclectrically filtered for all irish earths and
ohmes." Joyce envisions the person as embodied within an
electro-machinopolis (an electric, pan-global, machinic
environment), which becomes an extension of the human body,
an interior presence, indicated by a stress on the
playfulness of the whole person and on tactility as calling
attention to the interplay of sensory information within the
electro-chemical neurological system. This medley of
elements and concerns, focussed on questioning the place of
oral and written language in an electro-mechanical
technoculture that engenders more and more comprehensive
modes of communication biased towards the dramatic, marks
Joyce as a key figure in the pre-history of virtual reality.
[9] Acutely sensitive to the inseparable involvement of
speech, script, and print with the visual, the auditory, the
kinesthetic and other modes of expression, Joyce roots all
communication in gesture: "In the beginning was the gest he
jousstly says" (468.5-6). Here the originary nature of
gesture (gest, F. %geste% = gesture)^15^ is linked with the
mechanics of humor (i.e., jest) and to telling a tale
(gest as a feat and a tale or romance). Gestures, like
signals and flashing lights that provide elementary
mechanical systems for communications, are "words of silent
power" (345.19). A traffic crossing sign, "Belisha beacon,
beckon bright" (267.12), exemplifies such situations "Where
flash becomes word and silents selfloud." Since gestures,
and ultimately all acts of communication, are generated from
the body, the "gest" as "flesh without word" (468.5-6) is "a
flash" that becomes word and "communicake[s] with the
original sinse" [originary sense + the temporal, "since" +
original sin (239.1)]. "Communicake" parallels eating to
speaking, and speaking is linked in turn to the act of
communion as participation in, and consumption of, the
Word--an observation adumbrated in the title of one of
Marcel Jousse's groundbreaking books on gesture as the
origin of language, _La Manducation de la Parole_ ("The
Mastication of the Word"). By treating the "gest" as a bit
(a bite), orality and the written word as projections of
gesture can be seen to spring from the body as a
communicating machine.^16^ The historical processes that
contribute to the development of cyberspace augment the
growing emphasis, in theories such as Kenneth Burke's, on
the idea that the goal of the symbolic action called
communication is *secular, paramodern communion*.^17^
[10] The _Wake_ provides a self-reflexive explanation of the
communicative process of encoding and decoding required to
interpret an encoded text, which itself is
characteristically mechanical:
The prouts who will invent a writing there ultimately
is the poeta, still more learned, who discovered the
raiding there originally. That's the point of
eschatology our book of kills reaches for now in
soandso many counterpoint words. What can't be coded
can be decorded if an ear aye seize what no eye ere
grieved for. Now, the doctrine obtains, we have
occasioning cause causing effects and affects
occasionally recausing altereffects. Or I will let me
take it upon myself to suggest to twist the penman's
tale posterwise. The gist is the gist of Shaum but the
hand is the hand of Sameas. (482.31-483.4)
The dreamer as a poet, a Hermetic thief, an "outlex"
(169.3)--i.e., an outlaw, lawless, beyond the word and,
therefore, the law, "invents" the writing by originally
discovering the reading of the book and does so by "raiding"
[i.e., "plundering" (reading + raiding)].^18^ This reading
encompasses both the idealistic "eschatology" and the
excrementitious-materialistic (pun on scatology) within the
designing of this "book of kills" (deaths, deletions,
drinking sessions, flows of water--a counterpoint of
continuity and discontinuity),^19^ a book as carefully
crafted or machined as the illuminations of the _Book of
Kells_ are. Seeing and hearing are intricately involved in
this process, so the reader of this night-book also becomes
a "raider" of the original "reading-writing" through the
machinery of writing. It is a production "in soandso many
counterpoint words" that can be read only through the
machinery of decoding, for "What can't be coded can be
decorded, if an ear aye seize what no eye ere grieved for"
(482.34). The tale that the pen writes is transmitted by
the post, and the whole process of communication and its
interpretation is an extension of the hand and of bodily
gesture-language: "The gist is the gist of Shaum but the
hand is the hand of Sameas" (483.3-4).
[11] Orality, particularly song, is grounded in the
machinery of the body's organs: "Singalingalying. Storiella
as she is syung. Whence followeup with endspeaking nots for
yestures" (267.7-9).^20^ The link is rhythm, for
"Soonjemmijohns will cudgel some a rhythmatick or other over
Browne and Nolan's divisional tables" (268.7-9). Gesture,
with its affiliation with all of the neuro-muscular
movements of the body, is a natural script or originary
writing, for the word "has been reconstricted out of oral
style into verbal for all time with ritual rhythmics"
(36.8-9). Since the oral is "reconstricted" (reconstructed
+ constricted or limited) into the verbal, words also are
crafted in relation to sound, a natural development of which
is "wordcraft": for example, hieroglyphs and primitive
script based on drawings or mnemonic devices.^21^ Runes and
ogham are literally "woodwordings," so pre- or proto-writing
(i.e., syllabic writing) is already "a mechanization of the
word," which is itself implicit in the body's use of
[12] Joyce's practice and his theoretical orientation imply
that as the road to cyberspace unfolds, the very nature of
the word, the image, and the icon also changes. Under the
impact of electric communication, it is once again clear
that the concept of the word must embrace artifacts and
events as well.^22^ Writing and speech are subsumed into
entirely new relationships with non-phonemic sound, image,
gesture, movement, rhythm, and all modes of sensory input,
especially the tactile. To continue to speak about a
dichotomy of orality versus literacy is a misleading
over-simplification of the role that electric media play in
this transformation, a role best comprehended through
historical knowledge of the earliest stages of human
communication where objects, gestures and movements
apparently intermingled with verbal and non-verbal sounds.
Marschak's study of early cultural artifacts, the Aschers'
discussion of the quipu, and Levi-Strauss's discussions of
the kinship system demonstrate the relative complexity of
some ancient, non-linguistic systems of communication.^23^
Adapting Vico's speculation that human communication begins
with the gestures and material symbols of the "mute," Joyce
early in the _Wake_ presents an encounter between two
characters whose names deliberately echo Mutt and Jeff of
comic strip fame. Mutt (until recently a mute) and Jute (a
nomadic invader) "excheck a few strong verbs weak oach
eather" (16.8-9).
[13] Beginning with gesture, hieroglyph and rune, Joyce
traces human communication through its complex, labyrinthine
development, right down to the TV and what it bodes for the
future. For example, an entire episode of the _Wake_
(I,5)^24^ is devoted to the technology of manuscripts and
the theory of their interpretation--textual hermeneutics--in
which the _Wake_ as a book is interpreted as if it were a
manuscript, "the proteiform graph is a polyhedron of all
scripture" (107.8). At each stage, Joyce recognizes how the
machinery of codification is implicit in the history of
communication, for discussing this manuscript, he observes
on holding the verso against a lit rush this new
book of Morses responded most remarkably to the silent
query of our world's oldest light and its recto let out
the piquant fact that it was but pierced but not
punctured (in the university sense of the term) by
numerous stabs and foliated gashes made by a pronged
instrument. . . . (123.34-124.3)
This illustrates how the beginning of electric media (the
telegraph) is a transformation of the potentialities of the
early manuscript, just as any manuscript is a transformation
of the "wordcraft" of "woodwordings." "Morse code" is
indicative of the mechanics of codification, for while code
is essential to all communication (thus prior to the moment
when the mechanical is electrified), the role of
codification is radically transformed by mechanization.
[14] The appearance of the printing press demonstrates the
effect of this radical transformation:
Gutenmorg with his cromagnon charter, tintingfast
and great primer must once for omniboss step
rubrickredd out of the wordpress else is there no
virtue more in alcohoran. For that (the rapt one
warns) is what papyr is meed of, made of, hides and
hints and misses in prints. Till ye finally (though
not yet endlike) meet with the acquaintance of Mister
Typus, Mistress Tope and all the little typtopies.
Fillstup. So you need hardly spell me how every word
will be bound over to carry three score and ten
toptypsical readings throughout the book of Doublends
Jined . . . . (20.7-16)
As "Gutenmorg with his cromagnon charter, tintingfast and
great primer" steps "rubrickredd out of the wordpress," the
dream reminds us that "papyr is meed of, made of, hides and
hints and misses in prints." Topics (L. %topos%) and types
(L. %typus%) as figures, forms, images, topics and
commonplaces, the elemental bits of writing and rhetoric,
are now realized through typesetting. Implicit in the
technology of print is the complex intertextuality of verbal
ambivalence, for "every word will be bound over to carry
three score and ten toptypsical readings throughout the book
of Doublends Jined." Printing sets in place the "root
language" (424.17) residing in the types and topes of the
world and potentially eliminates a multitude of alternate
codes such as actual sounds, visual images, real objects,
movements, and gestures that will re-emerge with the
electromechanical march towards VR and cyberspace.
[15] By the 1930s, in a pub scene in the _Wake_, Joyce
playfully anticipated how central sporting events or
political debates would be for television when he described
the TV projection of a fight being viewed by the pub's
"regulars" (possibly the first fictional TV bar room scene
in literary history). Joyce's presentation of this image of
the battle of Butt and Taff, which is peppered with complex
puns involving terminology associated with the technical
details of TV transmission, has its own metamorphic quality,
underscored by the "viseversion" (vice versa imaging) of
Butt and Taff's images on "the bairdboard bombardment
screen" ("bairdboard" because John Logie Baird developed TV
in 1925). Joyce explains how "the bairdboard bombardment
screen," the TV as receiver, receives the composite video
signal "in scynopanc pulses" (the synchronization pulses
that form part of the composite video signal), that come
down the "photoslope" on the "carnier walve" (i.e., the
carrier wave which carries the composite video signal) "with
the bitts bugtwug their teffs." Joyce imagines this
receiver to be a "light barricade" against which the charge
of the light brigade (the video signal) is directed,
reproducing the "bitts." Although (at least to my
knowledge) bit was not used as a technical term in
communication technology at the time, Joyce is still able,
on analogy with the telegraph, to think of the electrons or
photons as bits of information creating the TV picture.
[16] Speech, print and writing are interwoven with
electromechanical technologies of communication throughout
the _Wake_. References to the manufacture of books,
newspapers and other products of the printing press abound.
Machineries and technological organizations accompany this
development: reporters, editors, interviewers, newsboys, ad
men who produce "Abortisements" (181.33). Since complex
communication technology is characteristic of the later
stages, in addition to newspapers, radio, "dupenny"
magazines, comics (contemporary cave drawing), there is "a
phantom city phaked by philm pholk," by those who would
"roll away the reel world." Telecommunications materialize
again and again throughout the night of the _Wake_, where
"television kills telephony."
[17] The "tele-" prefix, betraying an element of futurology
in the dream, appears in well over a dozen words including
in addition to the familiar forms terms such as "teleframe,"
"telekinesis," "telesmell," "telesphorously," "televisible,"
"televox," or "telewisher," while familiar forms also appear
in a variety of transformed "messes of mottage," such as
"velivision" and "dullaphone." This complex verbal play all
hinges on the inter-translatability of the emerging forms of
technologically mediated communication. In the opening
episode of the second part, the "Feenicht's Playhouse," an
imaginary play produced by HCE's children in their nursery
is "wordloosed over seven seas crowdblast in
cellelleneteutoslavzendlatinsoundscript. In four
tubbloids" (219.28-9). Like the cinema, "wordloosed"
(wirelessed but also let loose) transglobally, all such
media are engaged in a "crowdblast" of existing languages
and cultures, producing an interplay between local cultures
and a pan-international hyperculture.
[18] In the concluding moments of the _Wake_, Joyce
generalizes his pre-cybernetic vision in one long intricate
performance that not only concerns the book itself, but also
anticipates by twenty years some major discussions of
culture, communication, and technology. A brief scene
setting: this is the moment in the closing episode just as
the HCE is awakening. In the background he hears noises
from the machines in the laundry next door. It is breakfast
time and there are sounds of food being prepared; eggs are
being cooked and will be eaten, so there is anticipation of
the process of digestion that is about to take place.^25^
At this moment a key passage, inviting interminable
interpretation, presents in very abstract language a
generalized model of production and consumption, which is
also the recorso of the schema of this nocturnal poem, that
consumes and produces, just as the digestive system itself
digests and produces new cells and excrement--how else could
one be a poet of "litters" as well as letters and be
"litterery" (114.17; 422.35) as well as literary?
[19] The passage begins by speaking about "our wholemole
millwheeling vicociclometer, a tetradomational
gazebocroticon," which may be the book, a letter to be
written, the digestive system assimilating the eggs, the
sexual process, the mechanical "mannormillor
clipperclappers" (614.13) of the nearby Mannor Millor
laundry, the temporal movement of history, or a theory of
engineering, for essentially it relates the production of
cultural artifacts or the consumption of matter (like
reading a book, seeing a film or eating eggs; the text
mentions a "farmer, his son and their homely codes, known as
eggburst, eggblend, eggburial, and hatch-as-hatch-can"
(614.28)). The passage concludes, "as sure as herself
pits hen to paper and there's scribings scrawled on eggs"
(615.9-10). Here the frequent pairing of speaking
(writing) with eating is brought to a climax in which it is
related to all the abstract machines which shape the life of
nature, decomposing into "bits" and recombining.
[20] These bits, described as "the dialytically [dialectic +
dialysis] separated elements of precedent decomposition,"
may be eggs, or other "homely codes" such as the
"heroticisms, catastrophes and ec-centricities" (the stuff
of history or the dreamers stuttering speech or his
staggering movements) transmitted elementally, "type by
tope, letter from litter, word at ward, sendence of sundance
. . ." (614.33-615.2). All of these bits--matter, eggs,
words, TV signals, concepts, what you will--are
"anastomosically assimilated and preteri-dentified
paraidiotically," producing "the sameold gamebold adomic
structure . . . as highly charged with electrons as
hophazards can effective it" (615.5-8). In anticipation of
the contemporary electronic definition of the "bit," Joyce
associates the structure of communication (ranging from TV
and telegraphic signals to morphophonemic information and
kinesthesia) with bits of signals, "data" and information.
He presents it as essentially an assemblage of
multiplicities, different from a synthesizing or totalizing
moment, for it occurs by the crossing of pluralistic
branches of differing motifs, through a process of
transmission involving flows, particularly the flowing of
blood, water and speech, and breaks such as the
discontinuous charges of electrical energy, telegraphy, and
punctuation--those "endspeaking nots for yestures" (267.8).
[21] Here Joyce's entire prophetic, schizoid vision of
cyberspace seems somewhat Deleuzian. It is an ambivalent
and critical vision, for the "ambiviolence" of the
"langdwage" throughout the _Wake_ implies critique as it
unfolds this history, since Joyce still situates parody
within satire. He does not free it from socio-political
reference, as a free-floating "postmodernist" play with the
surface of signifiers would. This can be noted in the way
that Joyce first probes what came to be one of the keystones
of McLuhanism. Joyce plays throughout the work with spheres
and circles, some of which parody one of the mystical
definitions of God frequently attributed to Alan of Lille
(Alanus de Insulis), but sometimes referred to as Pascal's
sphere. Speaking of a daughter-goddess figure, he says:
our Frivulteeny Sexuagesima to expense herselfs as
sphere as possible, paradismic perimutter, in all
directions on the bend of the unbridalled, the
infinisissimalls of her facets becoming manier and
manier as the calicolum of her umdescribables (one has
thoughts of that eternal Rome) . . . . (298.27-33)
Here a sphere is imagined whose center is everywhere and
circumference nowhere, since it is infinitesimal and
undescribable (though apparently the paradigmic perimeter is
sexual), as the paradisal mother communicates herself
without apparent limit. This is both an embodied and a
disembodied sphere, polarizing and decentering the image so
as to impede any closure. The same spherical principle is
applied more widely to the presentation of the sense of
hearing. The reception of messages by the hero/ine of the
_Wake_, "(Hear! Calls! Everywhair!)" (108.23), is
accomplished by "bawling the whowle hamshack and wobble down
in an eliminium sounds pound so as to serve him up a
melegoturny marygoraumd" (309.22-4), a sphere for it
requires "a gain control of circumcentric megacycles"
(310.7-8). It can truly be said of HCE, "Ear! Ear! Weakear!
An allness eversides!" (568.26),^26^ precisely because he is
"%h%uman, %e%rring and %c%ondonable"(58.19), yet "humile,
commune and ensectuous" (29.30), suffering many deprivations
his "%h%ardest %c%rux %e%ver" (623.33) [italics mine].
Though "humbly to fall and cheaply to rise, [this]
exposition of failures" (589.17) living with "%H%einz %c%ans
%e%verywhere"(581.5), still protests his fate "making use of
sacrilegious languages to the defect that he would
%c%hallenge their %h%emosphores to %e%xterminate them"
(81.25) by decentering or dislocating any attempts to
enclose him.
[22] This discussion of sphere and hearing critically
anticipates what McLuhan later called "acoustic space"--a
fundamental cyberspatial conception with its creation of
multi-dimensional environments, a spherical environment
within which aural information is received by the CNS--that
also embodies a transformation of the hermetic poetic
insight that "the universe (or nature) [or in earlier
versions, God] is an infinite sphere, the center of which is
everywhere, the circumference nowhere."^27^ Today, VR, as
Borges' treatment of Pascal's sphere seems to imply, is
coming to be our contemporary pre-millennial epitome of this
symbol, a place where each participant (rather than *the*
deity), as microcosm, is potentially the enigmatic center.
People englobed within virtual worlds find themselves
interacting within complex, transverse, intertextual
multimedia forms that are interlinked globally through
complex, rhizomic (root-like) networks.
[23] All of this must necessarily relate back to the way
Joyce treats the subject of and produces the artifact that
is *the book*. While, beginning with Mallarme, the themes
of the book and the death of literature resound through
modernism, Joyce's transformation of the book filtered
through the "mcluhanitic" reaction to "mcluhanism" becomes,
in the usual interpretation of McLuhan, the annunciation of
the death of the book, *not* its transformation, as with
Joyce. Joyce is important, for following Marcel Jousse and
Vico,^28^ he situates speech and writing as modes of
communication within a far richer and more complex bodily
and gestural theory of communication than that represented
by the reductive dichotomy of the oral and the literate. As
the predominance of print declines, the _Wake_ explores the
history of communication by comically assimilating the
method of Vico's _The New Science_--which, as one of the
first systematic and empirical studies of the place of
poetic action in the history of how people develop systems
of signs and symbols, attributes people's ability for
constructing their society to the poetic function.
[24] Joyce avoids that facile over-simplification of the
complexities of print, arising from the orality/literacy
dichotomy, which attributes a privileged role to language as
verbal--a privilege based on theological and metaphysical
claims. The same dichotomy creates problems in discussing
technological and other non-verbal forms of mediated
communication, including VR and TV. At one point in the
_Wake_ "Television kills telephony in brothers' broil. Our
eyes demand their turn. Let them be seen!" (52.18-9), for
TV also comprehends the visual and the kinesthetic. Yet
most McLuhanites who have opted for the orality/literacy
split still call it an oral medium in opposition to print.
The same problem occurs when mime, with its dependence on
gesture and rhythm, is analyzed as an oral medium. As the
_Wake_ jocularly observes:
seein as ow his thoughts consisted chiefly of the
cheerio, he aptly sketched for our soontobe second
parents . . . the touching seene. The solence of that
stilling! Here one might a fin fell. Boomster
rombombonant! It scenes like a landescape from Wildu
Picturescu or some seem on some dimb Arras, dumb as
Mum's mutyness, this mimage . . . is odable to os
across the wineless Ere no dor nor mere eerie nor liss
potent of suggestion than in the tales of the
tingmount. (52.34-53.6)
The mime plays with silence, sight, touch and movement
seeming like a landscape or a movie.
[25] Facile over-simplification also overlooks that long
before the beginnings of the trend towards cyberspace, print
had not been strictly oriented towards linearity and
writing, for the print medium was supplemented by its
encyclopedic, multi-media nature, absorbing other media such
as illustrations, charts, graphs, maps, diagrams, and
tables, not all aspects of which are precisely linear.
While writing may have had a predominantly linear tendency,
its history is far more complex, as Elizabeth Eisenstein has
established.^29^ The orality/literacy distinction does not
provide an adequately rich concept for dealing with print,
any more than it does for the most complex and comprehensive
images of virtual reality and participatory hyperspace
(e.g., sophisticated extensions of the datagloves or the
Aspen map), which, to adapt a Joycean phrase, directly
transmit "feelful thinkamalinks." Since VR should enable a
person to feel the bodily set of another person or place,
while simultaneously receiving multiple intersensory
messages, understanding the role of the body in
communication is crucial for understanding VR. When McLuhan
and Edward Carpenter first spoke about their concept of
orality (linked to aurality, mouth to ear, as line of print
to eye scan), it entailed recognizing the priority and
primacy of tactility and inter-sensory activity in
communication, for "In the beginning there was the gest."
[26] As Kenneth Burke realized in the 30s, Joyce's grounding
communication and language in gesture is distinctly
different from an approach which privileges language, for it
involves a complete embodying of communication. While the
oral only embodies the speech organs, the entire CNS is
necessarily involved in all communication, including speech.
As John Bishop has shown in _Joyce's Book of the Dark_, the
sleeper primarily receives sensations with his ear, but
these are tranformed within the body into the world of signs
that permeate the dream and which constitute the _Wake_.^30^
Joyce views language as "gest," as an imaginary means of
embodying intellectual-emotional complexes, his "feelful
thinkamalinks." From this perspective, the semic units of
the _Wake_ (integrated complexes constructed from the
interaction of speech and print involving, rhythm,
orthography as sign and gesture and visual image) assume the
role of dialogue with other modes of mediated communication,
exploiting their limitations and differences. Joyce crafts
a new %lingua% for a world where the poetic book will deal
with those aspects of the imaginary that cannot be
encompassed within technologically mediated communication.
Simultaneously, he recognizes that a trend towards virtual
reality is characteristic of the electro-mechanically or
technologically mediated modes of communication. This
process posits a continuous dialogue in which _Ulysses_ and
the _Wake_ were designed to play key roles.
[27] As Joyce--who quipped that "some of the means I use are
trivial--and some are quadrivial"^31^--was aware, ancient
rhetorical theory (which he parodied both in the Aeolus
episode of _Ulysses_ and in the "Triv and Quad" section (II,
2) of the _Wake_) also included those interactive contexts
where the body was an intrinsic part of communication.
Delivery involved controlling the body, and the context
within which it was presented, as well as the voice. The
actual rhetorical action (particularly in judicial oratory)
also frequently involved demonstration and witnesses. This
analysis, closer to the pre-literate, recognized the way
actual communication integrated oral, visual, rhythmical,
gestural and kinesthetic components. Recent research into
the classical and medieval "arts of memory," inspired by
Frances Yates,^32^ have demonstrated that memory involves
the body, a sense of the dramatic and theatrical, visual
icons and movement, as well as the associative power of the
oral itself. Joyce playfully invokes this memory system
familiar to him from his Jesuit education: "After sound,
light and heat, memory, will and understanding. Here (the
memories framed from walls are minding) till wranglers for
wringwrowdy wready are . . ." (266.18-22). A classical
world, which recognized such features of the communicative
process, could readily speak about the poem as a "speaking
picture" and the painting as "silent poetry." Here, there
is an inclusiveness of the means available rather than a
dependency on a single channel of communication.
[28] Joyce was so intrigued by the potentials of the new
culture of time and space for reconstructing and
revolutionizing the book that he claimed himself to be "the
greatest engineer," as well as a Renaissance man, who was
also a "musicmaker, a philosophist and heaps of other
things."^33^ The mosaic of the _Wake_ contributes to
understanding the nature of cyberspace by grasping the
radical constitution of the electronic cosmos that Joyce
called "the chaosmos of Alle" (118.21). In this "chaosmos,"
engineered by a sense of interactive mnemotechnics, he
intuits the relation between a nearly infinite quantity of
cultural information and the mechanical yet rhizomic
organization of a network, "the matrix," which underlies the
construction of imaginary and virtual worlds. One crucial
reason for raising the historic image of Joyce in a
discussion of cyberspace is that he carries out one of the
most comprehensive contemporary discussions of virtual
recollection (a concept first articulated by Henri Bergson
as virtual memory).^34^ In counterpoint to the emerging
technological capability to create the "virtual reality" of
cyberspace, Joyce turned to dream and hallucination for the
creation of virtual worlds within natural language.
[29] That tactile, gestural-based dreamworld has built-in
mnemonic systems:
A scene at sight. Or dreamoneire. Which they shall
memorise. By her freewritten. Hopely for ear that
annalykeses if scares for eye that sumns. Is it in the
now woodwordings of our sweet plantation where the
branchings then will singingsing tomorrows gone and
yesters outcome . . . . (280.01-07)
Joyce's virtual worlds began with the recognition of
"everybody" as a poet (each person is co-producer; he quips,
"his producers are they not his consumers?"). All culture
becomes the panorama of his dream; the purpose of poetic
writing in a post-electric world is the painting of that
interior (which is not the psychoanalytic, but the social
unconscious) and the providing of new language appropriate
to perceiving the complexities of the new world of
technologically reproducible media:
What has gone? How it ends?
Begin to forget it. It will remember itself from every
sides, with all gestures, in each our word. Today's
truth, tomorrow's trend. (614.19-21)
Joyce's text is embodied in gesture, enclosed in words,
enmeshed in time, and engaged in foretelling "Today's truth.
Tomorrow's trend." The poet reproducing his producers is
the divining prophet.
[30] If speaking of Joyce and cyberspace seems to imply a
kind of futurology, the whole of McLuhan's project was
frequently treated as prophesying the emergence of a new
tribalized global society--the global village, itself
anticipated by Joyce's "international" language of
multilingual puns. In fact, in _War and Peace in the Global
Village_, McLuhan uses Wakese (mostly from Joyce, freely
associated) as marginalia. McLuhan flourished in his role
as an international guru by casting himself in the role of
"*the* prime prophet" announcing the coming of a new era of
communication^35^ (now talked about as virtual reality or
cyberspace, though he never actually used that word). The
prime source of his "prophecies," which he never concealed,
is to be found in Joyce and Vico.^36^ The entire Joycean
dream is prophetic or divinatory in part, for the
anticipated awakening (Vico's fourth age of ricorso
following birth, marriage, and death) is "providential
Ere we are! Signifying, if tungs may tolkan, that,
primeval conditions having gradually receded but
nevertheless the emplacement of solid and fluid having
to a great extent persisted through intermittences of
sullemn fulminance, sollemn nuptialism, sallemn
sepulture and providential divining, making possible
and even inevitable, after his a time has a tense haves
and havenots hesitency, at the place and period under
consideration a socially organic entity of a millenary
military maritory monetary morphological
circumformation in a more or less settled state of
equonomic ecolube equalobe equilab equilibbrium.
Earlier, it is said of the dreamer that "He caun ne'er be
bothered but maun e'er be waked. If there is a future in
every past that is present . . ." (496.34-497.1). Joyce,
from whom McLuhan derived the idea, is playing with the
medieval concept of natural prophecy, making it a
fundamental feature of the epistemology of his dream world,
in which the "give and take" of the "mind factory," an
"antithesis of ambidual anticipation," generates auspices,
auguries, and divination--for "DIVINITY NOT DEITY [is] THE
[31] Natural prophecy, the medieval way of thinking about
futurology with which Joyce and McLuhan were naturally
familiar from scholasticism and Thomism, occurs through a
reading of history and its relation to that virtual,
momentary social text (the present), which is dynamic and
always undergoing change. Joyce appears to blend this
medieval concept with classical sociological ideas--of
prophecy as an "intermediation"--quite consistent with his
concepts of communication as involving aspects of
participation and communion. It is only through some such
reading that the future existent in history can be known and
come to be. McLuhan's reading, adapted from Joyce, of the
collision of history and the present moment led him to
foresee a world emerging where communication would be
tactile, post-verbal, fully participatory and
[32] Why ought communication history and theory take account
of Joyce's poetic project? First, because he designed a new
language (later disseminated by McLuhan, Eco, and Derrida)
to carry out an in-depth interpretation of complex
socio-historical phenomenon, namely new modes of semiotic
production. Two brief examples: Hollywood "wordloosing
celluloid soundscript over seven seas," or the products of
the Hollywood dream factory itself as "a rolling away of the
reel world," reveal media's potential international
domination as well as the problems film form raises for the
mutual claims of the imaginary and the real. For example,
the term "abortisements" (advertisements) suggests the
manipulation of fetishized femininity with its submerged
relation of advertisement to butchering--the segmentation of
the body as object into an assemblage of parts.
[33] Second, Joyce's work is a critique of communication's
historical role in the production of culture, and it
constitutes one of the earliest recognitions of the
importance of Vico to a contemporary history of
communication and culture.^38^ Third, his work is itself
the first "in-depth" contemporary exploration of the
complexities of reading, writing, rewriting, speaking,
aurality, and orality. Fourth, developing Vico's earlier
insights and anticipating Kenneth Burke, he sees the
importance of the "poetic" as a concept in communication,
for the poetic is the means of generating new communicative
potentials between medium and message. This provides the
poetic, the arts, and other modes of cultural production
with a crucial role in a semiotic ecology of communication,
an ecology of sense, and making sense. Fifth, in the
creative project of this practice, Joyce develops one of the
most complex discussions of the contemporary transformation
of our media of communication. And finally, his own work is
itself an exemplum of the socio-ecological role of the
poetic in human communication.
[34] VR or cyberspace, as an assemblage of a multiplicity of
existing and new media, dramatizes the relativity of our
classifications of media and their effects. The newly
evolving global metropolis arising in the age of cyberspace
is a site where people are intellectual nomads:
differentiation, difference, and decentering characterize
its structure. Joyce and the arts of high modernism and
postmodernism provide a solid appreciation of how people
constantly reconstruct or remake reality through the
traversing of the multi-sensory fragments of a "virtual
world" and of the tremendous powers with which electricity
and the analysis of mechanization would endow the paramedia
that would eventually emerge.



^1^ William Gibson, _Mona Lisa Overdrive_ (NY: Bantam
Paperback, 1989), 16.

^2^ William Gibson, _Neuromancer_ (NY: Ace, 1984), 51.

^3^ This quotation is taken from the posthumously
published Marshall McLuhan and Bruce R. Powers, _The Global
Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st
Century_, (NY: Oxford UP, 1989). It was edited and
rewritten from McLuhan's working notes, which had to date
from the late 70s, since he died in 1981. McLuhan's words
were written more than a decade before their posthumous
publication in 1989.

^4^ McLuhan (1989), 103.

^5^ Stuart Brand, _The Media Lab: Inventing the Future
at MIT_ (NY: Viking, 1987).

^6^ Marshall McLuhan, _The Letters of Marshall
McLuhan_, ed. Matie Molinaro, Corinne McLuhan and William
Toye (Toronto: Oxford UP, 1987), 385.

^7^ Craig E. Adcock, _Marcel Duchamp's Notes from the
Large Glass: An N-Dimensional Analysis_ (Ann Arbor,
Michigan: UMI, 1983), 28: "The _Large Glass_ is an
illuminated manuscript consisting of 476 documents; the
illumination consists of almost every work that Duchamp

^8^ Stuart Brand (1987).

^9^ A further paper needs to be written on the way in
which synaesthesia as well as coenesthesia participate in
the pre-history of cyberspace. The unfolding history of
poets and artists confronting electromechanical
technoculture, which begins in the 1850s, reveals a growing
interest in synesthesia and coenesthesia and parallels a
gradually accelerating yearning for artistic works which are
syntheses or orchestrations of the arts. By 1857 Charles
Baudelaire intuited the future transformational power of the
coming of electro-communication when he established his
concept of synaesthesia and the trend toward a synthesis of
all the arts as central aspects of %symbolisme%. The
transformational matrices involved in synaesthesia and the
synthesis of the arts unconsciously respond to that
digitalization implicit in Morse code and telegraphy,
anticipating how one of the major characteristics of
cyberspace will be the capability of all modes of expression
to be transformed into minimal discrete contrastive units--
This assertion concerning Baudelaire's use of
synesthesia is developed from Benjamin's discussions of
Baudelaire. The role of shock in Baudelaire's poetry, which
links the "Correspondances" with "La Vie Anterieur," also
reflects how the modern fragmentation involved in "Le
Crepuscle du Soir" and "Le Crepuscle du Matin" is
reassembled poetically through the verbal transformation of
sensorial modes. This is the beginning of a period in which
the strategy of using shock to deal with fragmentation is
transformed into seeing the multiplicity of codifications of
municipal (or urban) reality. So when the metamorphic
sensory effects of nature's temple are applied to the
splenetic here and now, in the background is the emergence
of the new codifications of reality, such as the photography
which so preoccupied Baudelaire, and telegraphy, which had
an important impact in his lifetime.

^10^ See D.F. Theall, "The Hieroglyphs of Engined
Egypsians: Machines, Media and Modes of Communication in
_Finnegans Wake_," _Joyce Studies Annual 1991_, ed. Thomas
F. Staley (Austin: Texas UP, 1991), 129-52. This
publication provides major source material for the present

^11^ "Machinic" is used here very deliberately as
distinct from mechanical. See Gilles Deleuze, _Dialogues_,
trans. Hugh Tomlinson & Barbara Haberjam (NY: Columbia UP,
1987), 70-1, where he discusses the difference between the
machine and the 'machinic' in contradistinction to the

^12^ Giambattista Vico, _The New Science_, ed.
T.G. Bergen and M. Fisch (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1948).

^13^ For fuller discussion of Joyce and these themes
see Donald Theall, "James Joyce: Literary Engineer," in
_Literature and Ethics: Essays Presented to A.E. Malloch_,
ed. Gary Wihl & David Williams (Montreal: McGill-Queen's UP,
1988), 111-27; Donald and Joan Theall, "James Joyce and
Marshall McLuhan," _Canadian Journal of Communication_,
14:4/5 (Fall 1989), 60-1; and Donald Theall (1991), 129-152.
A number of subsequent passages are adapted with minor
modifications from parts of the last article, which is a
fairly comprehensive coverage of Joyce and technology.

^14^ While in one sense the dreamer is identified as
the male HCE, the book opens and closes with the feminine
voice of ALP. It is her dream of his dreaming, or his dream
of her dreaming? Essentially, it is androgynous, with a
mingling of male and female voices throughout. For another
treatment of the male-female theme in the _Wake_, see
Suzette Henke, _James Joyce and the Politics of Desire_ (NY:
RKP, 1989).

^15^ "Jousstly" refers to Marcel Jousse's important
work on communication and the semiotics of gesture, with
which Joyce was familiar. See especially Lorraine Weir,
"The Choreography of Gesture: Marcel Jousse and _Finnegans
Wake_," _James Joyce Quarterly_, 14:3 (Spring 1977), 313-25.

^16^ This motif will be developed further below. It
relates to Joyce's interest in Lewis Carroll. Gilles
Deleuze comments extensively on manducation in _The Logic of
Sense_, trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale, ed.
Constantin V. Boundas (NY: Columbia UP, 1990).

^17^ See Dewey, _Art As Experience_ (NY: G.P. Putnam,
1958) and Kenneth Burke, _Permanence and Change: An Anatomy
of Purpose_ (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965).

^18^ Cf. T.S. Eliot, _Selected Essays_ (NY: Harcourt,
Brace, 1932), 182: "One of the surest of tests is the way in
which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets
steal . . . "; see also "Old stone to new building, old
timber to new fires," ("East Coker," _Four Quartets_, l. 5).
Joyce's use of "outlex" relates to Jim the Penman, for Joyce
analyzing Shem in the _Wake_ is aware of how the traditions
of the artist as liar, counterfeiter, con man, and thief
could all coalesce about the role of the artist as an

^19^ "Kills" in the sense of "to kill a bottle";
"kills" also as a stream or channel of water.

^20^ See Walter Ong's remarks about Marcel Jousse in
_The Presence of the Word_ (New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1967),
146-7, and Lorraine Weir's more extensive development of the
theme in (1977), 313-325, and in _Writing Joyce: A Semiotics
of the Joyce System_ (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana
UP, 1989).

^21^ I.J. Gelb, _A Study of Writing_ (Chicago: U of
Chicago P, 1963).

^22^ Cf. McLuhan (1989), 182.

^23^ Alexander Marschak, _The Roots of Civilization_
(NY: McGraw-Hill, 1982); Marcia Ascher and Robert Ascher,
_Code of the Quipu: A Study in Media, mathematics and
Culture_ (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1981); Claude
Levi-Strauss, _The Elementary Structures of Kinship_, trans.
James Harle Bell and John Richard von Sturmer, ed. Rodney
Needham (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969).

^24^ The usual way to indicate sections of the _Wake_
is by part and episode. Hence I,v is Part I episode 5.
There are four parts, the first consisting of eight
episodes, the second and the third of four episodes each and
the fourth of a single episode.

^25^ Danis Rose and John O'Hanlon, _Understanding
Finnegans Wake_ (NY: Garland Publishing, 1982), 308-09.

^26^ For detailed discussion of the treatment of the
ear and hearing in _Finnegans Wake_, see John Bishop,
_Joyce's book of the Dark: Finnegans Wake_ (Madison, WI: U
of Wisconsin P, 1986), Chapter 9 "Earwickerwork," 264-304.

^27^ Jorge Luis Borges, _Other Inquisitions:
1937-1952_, trans. Ruth R. Sims (NY: Simon and Schuster,
1968), 6-9.

^28^ Lorraine Weir (1989).

^29^ Elizabeth Eisenstein, _The Printing Revolution in
Early Modern Europe_ (NY: Cambridge UP, 1983).

^30^ Bishop (1986), 264-304.

^31^ Eugene Jolas, "My Friend James Joyce," in _James
Joyce: two decades of criticism_, ed. Seon Givens (NY:
Vanguard, 1948), 24.

^32^ E.g., in Frances Yates, _The Art of Memory_
(Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1966).

^33^ James Joyce to Harriet Shaw Weaver, _Letters_,
ed. Stuart Gilbert (NY: Viking, 1957), 251 [Postcard, 16
April 1927].

^34^ For a discussion of this see Gilles Deleuze,
_Bergsonism_ (NY: Zone, 1988), Chapter 3, "Memory as Virtual
Co-existence," 51-72.

^35^ Speaking of the all-embracing aspects of VR and
cyberspace, the work which Baudrillard has made of
"simulation" and "the ecstasy of communication" should be
noted. This issue is too complex to engage within an essay
specifically focused on Joyce. In approaching it, however,
it is important to realize the degree of similarity that
Baudrillard's treatment of communication shares with
McLuhan's. In many ways, I believe it could be established
that what Baudrillard critiques as the "ecstasy of
communication" is his understanding of McLuhan's vision of
communication divorced from its historical roots in the
literature and arts of %symbolisme%, high modernism, and
particularly James Joyce.

^36^ This is a major theme of McLuhan and McLuhan's
_The Laws of Media_ (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1988).

^37^ See Donald F. Theall, _The Medium is the Rear
View Mirror; Understanding McLuhan_ (Montreal:
McGill-Queen's UP, 1971).

^38^ John O'Neill credits Vico with a "wild sociology"
in which the philologist is a wild sociologist in _Making
Sense Together: An Introduction to Wild Sociology_ (NY:
Harper & Row, 1974), 28-38. The significance of Vico's
emphasis on the body is developed in John O'Neill, _Five
Bodies: The Human Sense of Society_ (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP,

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