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Notebook Notebook, 1993- APPROACHES

Eco, Umberto. The Aesthetics of Chaosmos. The Middle Ages of James Joyce. Translated from the Italian by Ellen Esrock. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press. 1989.

The Aesthetics of
Chaosmos

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The following are discussed in the text:
The term "poetics" has acquired many meanings during the centuries - The Catholicism of Joyce - Portrait of the Artist as a Young Thomist - Claude Lévi-Straus - Jean of Salisbury - The contemporary thinker, small and incapable in respect to the giants of the past, nonetheless has the chance to hoist himself upon their shoulders and see, if only slightly, further ahead. - The principal themes of Stephen's aesthetics - Joyce defines the aesthetic emotion as a sort of stasis - The concepts of integritas, proportio, and claritas which he translates by "wholeness," "harmony", and "radiance." - Coleridge: The sense of beauty - Puns - The medieval thinker - Aesthetic formulations of St. Thomas - Framework of Order - Encyclopedic approach [or Technique of the inventory [or list]] - Ulysses - Finnegans Wake - A Portrait - Stephen Hero - Ars - Perfectio prima - Dialectic - Rhythm - Quidditas - Epiphany - Integritas - Proportio - Claritas - Poetics - Consonantia



T E X T
"Steeled in the school of the old Aquinas."
--James Joyce, "The Holy Office"
The term "poetics" has acquired many meanings during the centuries. Aristotle's Poetics is an answer to both the questions "What is Art?" and "How does one make a work of art?" The modern philosophical tradition has preferred to define the theoretical answer to the first question as "aesthetics" and to utilize "poetics" in order to describe the program of a single artist or a particular artistic school. In this context, "poetics" addresses the question "How does one make a work of art according to a personal program and an idiosyncratic world view?" The more recent definition by the Praque Linguistic School considers "poetics" as the study of "the differentia specifica of verbal behavior." [Roman Jakobson, "Closing Statements: Linguistics and Poetics," in Style in Language, ed. T. A. Sebek [Cambridge: MIT Press, 1960] In other words, "poetics" is the study of the structural mechanism of a given text which possesses a self-focusing quality and a capacity for releasing effects of ambiguity and polysemy.

Joyce plays with all these notions of poetics throughout his works; he interweaves questions as to the concept of art, the nature of his personal artistic program, and the structural mechanisms of the texts themselves. In this respect all of Joyce's works might be understood as a continuous discussion of their own artistic procedures.

A Portrait is the story of a young artist who wants to write A Portrait; Ulysses, a little less explicit, is a book which is a model of itself; Finnegans Wake is, above all, a complete treatise on its own nature, a continuous definition of "the book" as the Ersatz of the universe. The reader, therefore, is continually tempted to isolate the poetics proposed by Joyce in order to define, in Joycean terms, the solutions that Joyce has adopted.

Although one can discuss the poetics of Horace, Boileau, or Valéry without referring to their creative works, Joyce's poetics cannot be separated from Joyce's texts. The poetics themselves form an intimate part of the artistic creation and are clarified in the various phases of the development of his opus. The entire Joycean project might thus be seen as the development of a poetics, or rather, as the dialectical [p. 1] movement of various opposite and complementary poetics--the history of contemporary poetics in a game of oppositions and continuous implications.

Among the numerous cultural influences upon the young Joyce, we note three major lines which appear in all his works. On one count, we find the influence of Aquinas, thrown into crisis but not completely destroyed by the reading of Bruno and, on another, the influence of Ibsen, with a call for closer ties between art and life. Finally, we note the influence of the symbolist poets, with the aesthetic ideal of a life devoted to art and of art as a substitute for life, and with their stimulus to resolve the great problems of the spirit in the laboratory of language. [See "The Study of Languages" [CW, Chapter III] in which Joyce [1898-99, at the age of sixteen] already outlines his main lines of thought: 1] the discourse must maintain "even in moments of the greatest emotion an innate symmetry"; 2] "the higher grades of language...are...the champion and exponents...of truth"; 3] "in the history of words there is much that indicates the history of men." These three remarks can be read as the program of the three major works, A portrait, Ulysses, and the Wake ] These contrasting influences from different centuries were assimilated within a framework that grew increasingly concerned with the problems of contemporary culture, from the psychology of the unconscious to the physics of relativity. The staggering quantity of Joyce's reading and the diversity of his interests opened the way to his discovery of new dimensions of the universe.

Approached in this way, our research needs a guiding thread, a line of investigation, an operative hypothesis. We take, therefore, the opposition between a classical conception of form and the need for a more pliable and "open" structure of the work and of the world. This can be identified as a dialectic of order and adventure, a contrast between the world of the medieval summae and that of contemporary science and philosophy.

Joyce himself authorizes us to use this dialectical key. The Joycean detachment from the familiar clarity of the schoolmen and his choice of a more modern and uneasy problematic is actually based on the Brunian revelation of a dialectic of contraries, on the acceptance of the coincidentia oppositorum of Cusano. Art and life, symbolism and realism, classical world and contemporary world, aesthetic life and daily life, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, Shem and Shaun, order and possibility are the continuous terms of a tension that has its roots in this theoretical discovery. In Joyce's work the very crisis of late scholasticism is accelerated and therein a new cosmos is born.

But this dialectic is not perfectly articulated; it does not have the balance of those ideal triadic dances upon which more optimistic philosophies build legends. While Joyce's mind brings this elegant curve of oppositions and mediations to its limits, his unconscious agitates like the unexpressed memory of an ancestral trauma. Joyce departs from the summa to arrive at Finnegans Wake, from the [p. 2] ordered cosmos of scholasticism to the verbal image of an expanding universe. But his medieval heritage, from which his movements arise, will never be abandoned. Underneath the game of oppositions and resolutions in which the various cultural influences collide, on the deepest level, is the radical opposition between the medieval man, nostalgic for an ordered world of clear signs and the modern man, seeing a new habitat but unable to find the elusive rules and thus burning continually in the nostalgia of a lost infancy.

We should like to demonstrate that the definitive choice is not made and that the Joycean dialectic, more than a mediation, offers us the development of a continuous polarity between Chaos and Cosmos, between disorder and order, liberty and rules, between the nostalgia of Middle Ages and the attempts to envisage a new order. Our analysis of the poetics of James Joyce will be the analysis of a moment of transition in contemporary culture. [p. 3]


The Catholicism of Joyce
"I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use--silence, exile, and cunning . . . . " [p. 247]

With Stephens' confession to Cranly, the young Joyce proposes his own program of exile. The assumptions of Irish tradition and Jesuitical education lose their value as rules. Thus Joyce abandons the faith but not religious obsession. The presence of an orthodox past reemerges constantly in all of his work under the form of a personal mythology and with a blasphemous fury that reveals its affective permanence. Critics have spoken a great deal of Joyce's "Catholicism." The term appropriately reflects a mentality which rejects dogmatic substance and moral rules yet conserves the exterior forms of a rational edifice and retains its instinctive fascination for rites and liturgical figurations. Evidently, we are dealing with a fascination à rebours; speaking about Catholicism in connection with Joyce is a bit like speaking about filial love in connection with Oedipus and Jocasta . . . . [p. 3]

. . . In A Portrait, Cranly observes the curious fact that Stephen's mind is saturated with the religion that he supposedly rejects.

Similarly, references to the liturgy of the Mass appear in the most unexpected ways at the center of the puns which are woven throughout Finengans Wake:

"enterellbo add all taller Danis] [336.02].... Per omnibus secular seekalarum [81.08] . . . . meac Coolp, [344.31] . . . . meas minimas culpads! [448.35] . . . . Crystal elation! Kyrielle elation! [528.08] . . . . Sussumcordials [453.26] . . . . -Grassy ass ago [252.13] . . . . Eat a missal lest [456.18] . . . . Bennydick hotfoots omnipundent stayers! [469.23] . . . . Here one can discern the pure taste for assonance and parody. In light of this ambivalent relationship with Catholicism, the two [p. 4] symbolic superstructures imposed upon Ulysses and Finnegans Wake appear clearer . . . . In the heart of this same evolving cycle of human history, the author feels as victim and logos, "In honour bound to the cross of your own cruelifiction."

But the displays of Joycean Catholicism develop along more than one line. If we find, on one side, this almost unconscious , obsessive ostentation, somewhat mal tournée, then on the other we detect a mental attitude that is valuable at the level of operative efficacy. On the one hand, a mythical obsession, on the other, a way of organizing ideas. Here, the deposit of symbols and figures is filtered and brought to play within the framework of another faith; there, a mental habit is placed in the service of heterodox Summulae. This is the second moment of Joycean Catholicism--the moment of medieval scholasticism . . . . According to Harry Levi, the tendency for abstraction reminds us continuously that Joyce reaches aesthetics through theology. Joyce loses his faith but remains faithful to the orthodox system. Even in this mature works, Joyce often seems to have remained a realist in the most medieval sense of the word [Levin, 1941, p. 25]

This mental structure is not exclusively a characteristic of the young Joyce who is still close to the jesuitical influence, for the syllogistic style of reasoning survives even in Ulysses, if only as the distinctive mark of a pattern of thinking . . . . [p. 5]

What is meant by the affirmation that Joyce remained medievally minded from youth through maturity? In reading all of Joyce it is possible to single out thousands of situations in which he uses terms drawn from the medieval tradition, arguments accorded to a technique from medieval literature and philosophy. At this point, it may be helpful to construct an abstract model of the medieval way of thinking in order to demonstrate how Joyce adapts it point by point. While the medieval thought process is certainly more complex than the proposed outline, so too is Joyce. The point of this exercise is to summarily indicate the presence of medieval patterns in the mental economy of our author.

The medieval thinker cannot conceive, explain, or manage the world without inserting it into the framework of an Order, an Order whereby, quoting Edgar de Bruyne, "les ê tres s'emboitent les un dans les autres." The young Stephen at Clongowes Wood College conceives of himself as a member of a cosmic whole--"Stephen Dedalus--Class of Elements--Clongowes Wood College--Salins--County of Kildare--Ireland--Europe--The World--The Universe." Ulysses demonstrates this same concept of order by the choice of a Homeric framework and Finnegans Wake by the circular schema, borrowed from Vico's cyclical vision of history.

The medieval thinker knows that art is the human way to reproduce, in an artifact, the universal rules of cosmic order. In this sense art reflects the artist's impersonality rather than his personality. Art is an analogon of the world. Even if Joyce had discovered the notion of impersonality in more modern authors such as Flaubert, it goes without saying that his enthusiasm for [ ?] theory had medieval sources.

This framework of Order provides an unlimited chain of relations between creatures and events. Quoting Alanes [sp] ab Insulis:

Omnis mundi creatura
quasi liber et pictura
nobis est in speculum

Nostrae vitae, nostrae mortis
nostri status, nostrae sortis
fidele signaculum

Is the mechanism which permits epiphanies, where a thing becomes the living symbol of something else, and creates a continuous web of references. Any person or event is a cypher which refers to another part of the book. This generates the grid of allusions in Ulysses and the system of puns in Finnegans Wake. Every word embodies every other because language is a self-reflecting world. Language is the dream of history telling itself to itself. Language is a book readable by an ideal reader affected by an ideal insomnia. If you take away the transcendent God from the symbolic world of the Middle Ages, you have the world of Joyce. This operation, however, is performed by the most medieval thinkers of the Renaissance--Giordano [p. 7] Bruno and Nicola a Csa, both master to Joyce. The world is no longer a pyramid composed of continual transcendent displacements but a self-containing circle or spiral.

For the medieval thinker, the objects and events which the universe comprises are numerous. A key, therefore, must be found to help the scholar discover and catalogue them. The first approach to the reality of the universe was of an encyclopedic type. It was the first in the sense that the great popular encyclopedias, De Imagine Mundi, Specula Mundi, The Herbary or The Bestiary, historically preceded the epoch of the great theological arrangements. It was also the first in the sense that it was the most immediate, the most familiar and remains as a mental plan in even the most elaborate philosophical treatments. The encyclopedic approach uses the techniques of the Inventory, the List, the Catalogue or, in classical rhetorical terms, the Enumeratio. In order to describe a place or a fact, the early poets of the Latin Middle Ages first provide a list of detailed aspects. This extract from Sidonius Appolinaris is a representative example from a potential list that would compose several volumes:

Est locus Oceanai, longiquis proximus
Indis, axe sub Eoo, Nabateum tensus in Eurum;
ver ibi cntinuum est, interpellata nec
ullis frigoribus pallescit humus, sed
flore perenni picta peregrino ignorant
arva rigores; halant rua rosis,
indiscriptosque per argos fragrat odor;
violam, cytisum, serpylla, ligustrum
lilia, narcissos, casiam, colocasiax,
caltas, costum, malobathrum, myrrhas,
opobalsama, tura parturiunt campi; nec
non pulsante senecta inc redivia petit
vicinus cinnama Phoenix [Carmina 2].
[p. 8]

. . . . These authors compile catalogues of objects and treasures from cathedrals and kings' palaces where the seemingly casual accumulation of relics and art objects follows without clear distinctions between the beautiful work and the teratological curiosity. They obey, instead, a logic of the inventory.... These lists curiously resemble the list of the paraphernalia of the various saints in the mystical procession which appears in the "Cyclops" chapter of Ulysses . . . . The technique of the inventory is also typical of primitive thought, as explained by Claude Lévi-Strauss in La Pensée Sauvage. The "Savage Mind" arranges the world according to a taxonomy that builds coherent wholes through the technique of bricolage, reconstructing a form by utilizing the parts of no longer existing forms. This procedure is typical of a medieval civilization which must reconstruct a world on the ruins of a pagan and Roman one, without yet having a precise vision of the new culture. In listing the artifacts of a past civilization, the medieval mind examines them to see if a different answer might be born from a new combination of pieces. As we will later [p. 9] see, this is exactly the project that Joyce proposes in destroying the form of the world given to him from traditional culture. With a medieval disposition, he examines the immense repertory of the universe reduced to language, in order to catch glimpses of new and infinite possibilities of combination

The technique of the list returns in other areas of human history. We find it in the early Renaissance with Rabelais, and there too it was an attempt to produce a different arrangement of reality by rejecting the order imposed from academic, archaic, and scholastic culture. We discover it in Giordano Bruno [it was not by chance that Bruno was so admired by Joyce]. Finally, we find it in contemporary art and in the various techniques of assemblage, collage, pop clippings, and pasting from products of a previous culture. But once again, for Joyce the first inspiration was of medieval origin. His initial model was the Litany of the Blessed Virgin and the monotonous and repetitive cyclic succession of the Rosary. We must remember that the technique of the inventory does not appear only in the narrative pages but occurs even in the technique of cultural phagocytosis that Joyce used to acquire fresh information on ancient and modern culture.

Once the material which the world comprises is controlled though the preliminary inventory, the medieval thinker tries to explain the form of the universe. But he would never venture out alone in this undertaking. He must always be guaranteed the pledge of an Auctoritas. Although the medieval mind does not fear innovation, it conceals changes under the form of commentaries which were appended to the thoughts of a previous Great Thinker . . . . [p. 10] Finnegans Wake, even more than Ulysses, can be seen in its entirety as an immense catalogue of authoritative quotations, a Walpurgisnacht of philosophy à rebours.

It is only at this point that the medieval thinker can permit himself to betray his own masters and to confess it, at least to himself. A beautiful phrase which reflects this way of thinking is from Bernard of Chartres [then revived by others, even Newton and Gassendi] and can only be quoted through the words of ^Jean of Salisbury:

"dicebat Bernaardus Carnotensis nos esse quasi nanos gigantium humeris insidentes ut possimus plura eis et remotiora videre, non utique proprii visus acumine aut eminentia corporis, sed quia in altum subvehimur et extollimur magnitudine gigantes."

This means that the contemporary thinker, small and incapable in respect to the giants of the past, nonetheless has the chance to hoist himself upon their shoulders and see, if only slightly, further ahead.

Joyce implicitly and unconsciously adopts this quotation when he states that his is the use of an "applied Aquinas" [SH 77] and affirms that he has "only pushed to its logical conclusion the definitions Aquinas has given of the beautiful" [SH 95]. [p. 11]

We will attempt to follow the process of the young artist who conserves and repudiates the mental forms that presides over the ordered cosmos proposed by the medieval Christian tradition and who, still thinking as a medieval, dissolves the ordered Cosmos into the polyvalent form of the Chaosmos. [p. 11]


Portrait of the Artist as a Young Thomist
The principal themes of Stephen's aesthetics are: 1] the subdivision of art into three genres--lyric, epic and dramatic; 2] the objectivity and impersonality of the work; 3] the autonomy of art; 4] the nature of the aesthetic emotion; 5] the criteria of beauty. From this last theme emerge 6] the doctrine of the epiphany and 7] the pronouncements of the nature of poetic activity and the function of the poet. [p. 14]

The discussion of genres is somewhat academic. [5] In the lyrical genre the artist presents his image in immediate relationship with himself, while in the epic he presents it in an indirect relationship with himself and others:

"The lyrical form is in fact the simplest verbal vesture of an instant of emotion, a rhythmical cry such as ages ago cheered on the man who pulled at the oar or dragged stones up a slope. He who utters it is more conscious of the instant of emotion than of himself as feeling emotion" [p 214].

On the contrary, the epic form is the continuation, almost a maturation, of the lyrical form and assumes equidistance between poet, reader and emotional center. The narration is no longer in first person, and the individuality of the artist flows into the personages like a vital sea. Joyce produces the example from the ancient ballad Turpin Hero which begins in the first person and ends in the third. The dramatic form is achieved:

" . . . . when the vitality which has flowed and eddied round each person fills every person with such vital force that he or she assumes a proper and intangible esthetic life. The personality of the artist, at first a cry or a cadence or a mood and then a fluid and lambent narrative, finally refines itself out of existence, impersonalizes itself, so to speak . . . . The mystery of esthetic like that of material creation is accomplished. The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails . . . . " [p 215].

[continued]




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