Intervention – 'Here Comes Everybody: Joyce’s Urban Chaosmos' by Andy Merrifield

“He lifts the lifewand and the dumb speak” – James Joyce

Here Comes Everybody: Joyce’s Urban Chaosmos

Andy Merrifield, Fellow, Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge

One of the great humanist visions of James Joyce’s masterwork, Finnegans Wake [1939], is the sigla HCE, named after the book’s fifty-something anti-hero, Dublin innkeeper Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. Joyce homes in on one Saturday night, a single evening’s sleep after a whole day’s drinking, amid a thunderstorm, when Earwicker’s disturbed mind tosses over, with bad conscience, the previous day’s events and the whole of his life hitherto. Earwicker’s is the “patternmind”, Joyce says (1966: 70), of a complex dream language, a dream of a man dreaming a dream of the world. HCE are the “normative letters” of a constituency Joyce calls “Here Comes Everybody” (1992: 32), a “manyfeast munificent” (1966: 261), an archetypal image of our collective, desiring unconscious. But this dreamer is “more mob than man”, Joyce tells us (1966: 261), “an imposing everybody he always indeed looked constantly the same as and equal to himself and magnificently well worthy of any and all such universalization” (1966: 32).

Ever since I first encountered Finnegans Wake in my twenties—to say first “read” isn’t quite right; it’s a book nobody really reads in the conventional sense—I’ve been fascinated by the imagery of Here Comes Everybody. Doubtless it appealed to my offbeat sensibility; doubtless I’d probably seen it as synonymous with the urban process, with our emergent urban planet, the social, political and economic environment to which everybody is coming or shaping, if always unevenly. Only later did I likely recognize it in the same light as Henri Lefebvre’s (2003) “complete urbanization of society”. It’s not that everybody lives in cities so much as now we’re all somehow touched by the culture of urbanism, evermore touched by it, by its economics and politics, by its immense social sway: we all live out urban existences whether we think it or not, whether we like it or not. Urbanism is global—planetary, if we can accept Lefebvre’s stellar terminology; it’s an intricate and inextricable “way of life” for everybody, for a Here Comes Everybody.

The puns and portmanteaus—“fermented language”, Joyce called it—of Finnegans Wake, its roguish drolleries and comic lampoons, its decentered way of seeing reality, of inventing it, always seemed closer to the truth of the world for me, always spoke to me, revealed something real. Finnegans Wake has always intrigued me more than Ulysses, which, despite its own complexities, is a more grounded book, more obviously urban, with categorical Dublin coordinates, a tale of a specific city on a specific day, with specific dramatis persona—the Blooms and the Dedaluses—who all appear as themselves and only as themselves, in wide-awake daytime. Finnegans Wake, conversely, supplies no “objective” frame of reference, and offers only subjective distortions and contortions, liquefactions and refractions, things nearer, perhaps, to the diffusive and expansive “patternmind” of capitalist urbanization.

Not that Finnegans Wake doesn’t have any structuring. If Ulysses adopts Homeric punctuation to its eighteen episodes, Finnegans Wake’s four-part ring cycle takes Vico to heart, Giambattista Vico, the eighteenth-century humanist author of New Science [1725]. “Do you believe in New Science?”, a friend once asked Joyce. “I don’t believe in any science”, the latter rejoined, “but my imagination grows when I read Vico as it doesn’t when I read Freud and Jung” (quoted in Ellman 1959: 693). Joyce admitted he was never a deep reader of the Italian philologist-cum-philosopher-cum-historian: he merely took what he needed, took one or two simple ideas that helped him frame what he wanted to frame.

James Joyce (1882–1941)

One major strand Joyce borrowed is Vico’s “poetic wisdom” (see Vico 1999: Book 2), the belief that humans alone create the world, create it by transforming one another into the facts of society: we recreate our own creations, you might say, anthropomorphically, inherit and reinvent them from other men and women—not from gods. The second Viconian inflection, flagging out Finnegans Wake’s basic foundation, is the notion that civilizations pass through definitive phases, cycles when we’ve imagined divine gods, created myths about great heroes, and come to see things in human terms, as life comprising real men and women—the everyday human cycle—more or less where we find ourselves today, though with a few theological twists hinting at a Viconian ricorso.

In the deep past, deities conditioned our life. In ancient Greece, we built great cities, but the gods still apparently watched over us, cursed us, and always held the fragile key to our collective destiny. Or so we thought. Then, later on, we began to ponder a heroic phase, feeling the need not so much to have faith in gods as to believe heroic myths, myths about Caesar and Napoleon, myths about heroic master-builders like Stalin, like Baron Haussmann, like Le Corbusier, like Robert Moses et al. Finnegans Wake is full of digs and jests about master-builders; it has many allusions to Ibsen’s The Master Builder [1892], and we might recall that Ibsen was the adolescent Joyce’s own cult hero. (Ibsen’s The Master Builder points to the frailty of the builder’s ego, the rationalization that their particular gifts are gifts from God. Solness, Ibsen’s eponymous master-builder, has amassed considerable fame and fortune from his construction exploits. Yet it’s never enough; his paranoia abounds, his fear of falling, his mania to uphold supernatural powers, including his sexual powers.)

As we’ve moved through time, another phase has beset us in which we’ve maybe at last relinquished our faith in man-gods and super-heroes. But Vico isn’t a believer in progress; he never conceived each cycle as advancement, as improvement in the human lot. In the all-too-human phase, he knew that before us lay the immanent possibility for democracy as well as the dread of chaos. And in Vico’s mind, the latter won out. His line, like Spengler’s, is one of cultural pessimism, a belief in the inevitability of decline, that each reoccurring cycle doesn’t so much shine light as darken the sky, spell moral breakdown rather than spiritual enlightenment (that came only in heaven). History, for Vico, twists back on itself: each potentially positive corso slips back into a barbaric ricorso, into a ruse of reason, into the deceit of bureaucracy, the terror of technocracy.

In Finnegans Wake, Joyce has his Viconian cycles interrupted by a loud thunderclap, by a “bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner-ronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntooohoordenenthurnuk!” The language here—Joyce’s “langscape” (1966: 595)—even sounds like breakdown, like a rending, like a crisis of some sort. It’s a noise that jars, that shakes the earth, that announces the end of one epoch and the birth of another, an epistemological rupturing, an ontological seismic shift. Maybe here it’s possible to give Joyce’s Viconian cycles of the divine, the heroic and the human another spin—replete with all those corso possibilities as well as ricorso threats.

One time, not so long ago, we had god-like managers who acted as good social democrats, during the good old days of the public sector, the old providential Keynesian state when administrative deities seemed to care about real people and gave the poor a break. We might label this divine phase the age of urban managers, the managerialist cycle, which seemed to crumble, seemed to sound, in the mid-1970s, the tocsin of bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonn… Then we heard a thunderclap that foretold of a new period, a heroic cycle of mythical entrepreneurs, the 1980s, when public managers gave way to private moguls, to new myths about fearless people who innovate in our economy, to people who speculate and cogitate on the power of money, on its spectacular prowess.

Yet just when it seemed this heroic phase was set in stone, was holy writ, that there was NO ALTERNATIVE to it, we began to witness this NO ALTERNATIVE crack and crumble, too; we began to recognize that the mythic entrepreneurial heroes of the stock market and the private sector were only human after all, all-too-human in fact, terribly human. Soon another cycle opened up, and another thunderclap was heard throughout our land; a cycle we’re living through right now, one in which “collisions with men” mean “collusions with money” (Joyce, 1966: 433) and humans prey off one another. Hence a parasitic epoch, and the epoch of the parasitic city.

Parasites now chomp away at the common-wealth the world over. They eat away inside the social body, stripping peoples’ assets, foreclosing homes, dispossessing value rather than contributing anything towards its creation. In parasitic cities, social wealth is consumed through conspicuously wasteful enterprises, administered by parasitic elites, our very own aristocracy (the 1%), who squander generative capacity by thriving exclusively from unproductive activities: they roll dice on the stock market, profit from unequal exchanges, guzzle at the public trough, filch rents from property and housing and gouge fees from ordinary people—mysterious, made-up fees, fees for utilities, for using ATMs, for borrowing money, for doing transactions online.

If these parasites ever innovate, if they ever have any creative capacity, then innovation and creation frequently relate to new creative ways to screw people, to profit from actually creating very little; “creation” in this guise—and disguise—seems more akin to creative accountancy and creative ways to avoid paying tax; to creative finagling of stock markets and manipulating financial markets (like LIBOR); to creative new patents to tap hitherto untapped markets; to creative destruction of competition; to creative ways to garner inflated monopoly rents and profits; to creatively grabbing land for free; and to creatively inventing excuses to cadge money from the state.

Such seems to support Vico’s pessimism, that the promise of our progressive all-too-human phase isn’t so progressive after all; that it’s one great big depressing lie thrown back in our faces; that those in control of society and the economy, and of politics, can summon up the dark forces of persuasion and fear, of fundamentalism and free-marketeerism, of theology and austerity, to command the bodies and souls of us all. And yet, and yet, just when all seems lost, Joyce veers from Vico; retrogression isn’t his thing. (When thunder strikes, it terrifies us; a screaming comes across the sky. We scurry for cover. Sometimes it terrifies us so much we seek the support and comfort of other people.) Somehow, the cycles of Finnegans Wake take us onwards, forwards towards progression. Earwicker’s night sweats are shrugged off by morning; his inner demons have been overcome, his soul resurrected, refreshed and brought back to ordinary life, in broad daylight. As Edmund Wilson (1961: 226) put it, “the Phoenix of Vico and the Phoenix Park [of Joyce’s Dublin] has arisen from its ashes to new flight; Tristram has built a castle (Howth Castle) for his bride; and Iseult, once the object of an outlawed love, now married and growing older, turns naturally and comfortably at last into the lawful wife in bed beside him…the tumult and turbidity of Saturday night run clear in the peace of Sunday morning.”

And so, for Joyce, the promise of this human phase is the promise of Here Comes Everybody, an enlarged democratic vista; a vaster, more inclusive form of humanity; an affirmation and exaltation, an act of integration—not disintegration. Here Comes Everybody is an opening up to the future not a narrowing of the present; if Braudel (1982) rightly saw financialization as a “sign of autumn”, as a cycle of decline and decay, then spring will always come around again for Joyce, replenishing those fallen leaves in a “commodious vicus of recirculation”. Finnegans Wake is a tragicomedy with a happy undertow, a chaosmos with a democratic ordering, basking in a “panaroma of all flores of speech” (Joyce 1966: 143). Maybe it’s even possible to see Here Comes Everybody as a new kind of citizenship, which remained Joyce’s hope against hope throughout his peripatetic life, a new sense of belonging in which citizenship meant a good deal more for him than an Irish passport. (For the record, Joyce always held a British passport.) In another sense, too, this democratic constituency might also be read through Marx’s lens, who, almost a century before Finnegans Wake, had conceived of “world literature”.

“World literature”, for the Marx of the Communist Manifesto (Marx and Engels 2011: 69), is what everybody and anyone can read. (Remember Joyce hoped Finnegans Wake was a book anybody could read; indeed, he said it was “written for everybody.”) We all instinctively get world literature, understand it, because we’ve somehow helped script it; it’s literature that’s translatable and communicable—notwithstanding our native tongue. It isn’t tabloid trash Marx has in mind here. Quite the opposite: it’s the broadest of broadsheets, a global literature that hits the newsstands as samizdat. Invariably, this literature is a dialectical byproduct, an unintended good thing emerging from an intentional bad thing. It’s a byproduct, Marx knew, of a bourgeoisie intent on business, on tapping the world market.

Marx is adamant that this process isn’t only earth-moving (and earth-shattering) material production; it’s also an earth-moving and potentially earth-shattering “intellectual production” (Marx 2011: 69). What’s more, in Marx’s eyes, the “intellectual creations of individual nations” have the power to become “common property”. World literature becomes a new sort of commons, for Marx, a collective visual and written language, something we see today as an ever-emergent world culture, as use-values ordinary people everywhere continually have to fight for and struggle to hold on to, especially as human value systems melt into air and get converted into anti-human, hyper-inflated exchange-values. In the Manifesto, Marx sketches out the historical and geographical mission of the mode of production, its need to urbanize itself, to create industrial cities, to move mountains, to dig canals, to connect everywhere, nestle everywhere. Within it all, Marx thought urbanization would create a physical and emotional proximity of workers, workers piled on top of one another, beside each other. Cosmopolitanism would thus be a kind of sharing, an awareness of common lived experience, a Here Comes Everybody.

Here Comes Everybody‘ by Robert Montgomery

Before us and inside us, urbanism today is a truly cosmopolitan world culture, our very own world literature, our Here Comes Everybody. Here Comes Everybody is what global citizenship ought to be about—hence the “normative letters”, HCE—a citizenship conceived of as something urban, as something territorial, yet one in which urban territoriality is narrower and broader than both “city” and “nationality”; a citizen of the block, of the neighborhood, becomes a citizen of the world, a universal citizen rooted in place, encountering fellow citizens across the corridor and at the other end of the planet, sharing world music together, reading books in every language, watching world cinema, entering Twitter streams and communing on Facebook. For good reason, then, did Joyce (1966: 21) also offer of a variant on his Here Comes Everybody thesis: Here Comes Everybuddy, a wink to Facebook users everywhere (cf. Merrifield 2011).

World literature has morphed into world culture, and this world culture is now an urban arena in which a more advanced cosmopolitan citizenship emerges—might emerge—a Here Comes Everybody forever present at its own birth pangs. Or almost everybody, a 99% of everybody. In this citizenship perception replaces passport and horizon is almost as important as habitat; a perception and horizon simultaneously in place and in space, off-line somewhere local, and online somewhere planetary, somewhere virtual. It is a space, in other words, in which Everybody meets Everybuddy, staving off Everybully (as Joyce cautions). Citizenship therein reveals itself through the negation of distance and the reaching out to distance, an opening up and a drawing in, a passionate embrace between bodies and buddies. It’s the point of convergence of both, a dialectic that’s a structure of feeling and a way of seeing—feeling and seeing oneself on the same plane as one’s planet. At the point of convergence, any singularity will be so powerful that no border patrol can ever prevent its rites of passage. This, perhaps, is the outcome of Earwicker’s great dream.

It’s a dream, too, in which there’s reconciliation with Ann—aka Anna Livia Plurabelle (ALP), the “bringer of plurabilities”, the wife and mother of Earwicker’s twins, Jerry (Shem) and Kevin (Shaun), and daughter Isobel (Izzy). ALP’s presence flows eternally through Finnegans Wake; ALP is Dublin’s Liffey River opening up the sea, is Paris’s Seine creating Being, washing away the grime of life. Both the Liffey and the Seine gush through Anna like a river of blood, like healing waters, like the ebb of death and the flow of renewed life. The “Sein annews”, Joyce says (1966: 277): it’s the sinew and core of his and HCE-ALP’s very Being, their “Sein”. (Sein is the German verb “to be”.) At the same time, the Seine “anews”, is eternally reoccurring and constantly renewing, forever bridging the past and the future, like in Anna Livia’s beautiful closing elegy, expressing cleansing waters and the healing powers of reunification, of a rising up to a new level:

“Soft morning, city! Lsp! I am leafy speafing. Lpf! Folty and folty all the nights have falled on to long my hair. Not a sound, falling. Lispn! No wind no word. Only a leaf, just a leaf and then leaves. The woods are fond always. As were we their babes in. And robins in crews so. It is for me goolden wending. Unless? Away! Rise up, man of the hooths, you have slept so long! Or is it only so mesleems? On your pondered palm. Reclined from cape to pede. With pipe on bowl. Terce for a fiddler, sixt for makmerriers, none for a Cole. Rise up now and aruse!” (1966: 619).

What does this HCE-ALP alliance rise up towards? Collisions of men and women don’t, Joyce implies, necessarily have to be “collusions with money,” nor even collusions with oppression and sexism. They can also express complex collideorscapes, that magnificently suggestive concept from Finnegans Wake (1966: 143): “what would that fargazer seem to seemself to seem seeming of, dimm it all? Answer: A collideorscape!”

Joyce’s fargazing saw one great big kaleidoscope, a collision of people, people encountering other people, a coincidence of opposites, the coexistence of unity within disunity, a human kaleidoscope in which each separate image, each separate mix, changes with each respective shake. Human patterns and colorations thus depend upon how things come together, how coincidences take hold, how they congeal to form other realities, other ways of seeing and acting. Something new here is disclosed, an urban image and langscape, comings together of people, of skyscrapers and towers—“a waalworth of a skyerscape of the most eyeful hoyth entowerly” (1966: 4). Listen to the sound of “eyeful” as Eiffel, a wonderful instance of Joyce’s ear talk, of his acoustics, of sounds to be heard and sang with others rather than read alone; “soundsense”, Joyce (1966: 121) dubbed it, a sensual modality in which “soundsense and sensesound” conjoin, become “kin again”. (Earwicker isn’t called the “paradigmatic ear” for nothing; his eyes may be closed, but his ears are permanently open, “earsighted”.) Perhaps above all else, the collideorscape is a “collision” or “escape”, a collision and an escape, a dialectics of liberation, a thesis and antithesis creating new synthesis. Joyce hatches his Great Escape here, his Great Escape from language, and our Great Escape from the dominant order.

Indeed, the Joycean collideorscape amounts to nothing less than the contingent creation of a new political movement, one struggling to impose its singularity as a mass democratic movement, one building democracy through the scattered shards of social movements the world over. Therein each scattered shard bonds and reinforces the other, forms a new patternmind of an offensive front and rearguard defense. Efficacy will likely be predicated on how protagonists organize themselves internally yet coordinate themselves externally, reach out to one another to create a broader, more inclusive constellation of dissent, coexisting horizontally and democratically, overground and underground. The ensuing collideorscape refracts fresh light on things, creates a new political aura, and a different shape and sound to social reality.

In its cosmic radiance and human heterogeneity, the collideorscape represents “the general will”, an infallible will when it congeals democratically. Such a political movement implies that all disparate social movements, those struggling for local concerns (concerns that are now, willy-nilly, common global concerns), need to make themselves more important than they actually are, need to publicize their activism, publicize their agendas and grievances to wider audiences, through alternative media and relentless ear talk, sharing tales of neoliberal crimes and misdemeanors, propelling themselves outwards, onto a planetary plane, onto the fargazing plane of Finnegans Wake. This is what Here Comes Everybody has to be about, can be about. An intersection. The lifewand in which the dumb speak.


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