The Joyce of Science: New Physics in Finnegans Wake
Index    Introduction    Background    Physics    Philosophy    Relativity    Quanta    Conclusion
Quantum Physics in Finnegans Wake  


Cloud-tracks of a-rays of radium

"... the sameold gamebold adomic structure ... as highly charged with electrons as hophazards can effective it"
Finnegans Wake (615)

Joyce and Quantum Mechanics

The development of Einstein's relativity theory was paralleled and complemented by the introduction of quantum mechanics. Max Planck anounced his Quantum Theory in 1900, but it was Einstein's paper on the quantum nature of light, published five years later with the special theory of relativity, that gave the new research its direction and momentum. This exploration of the realm of the infinitely small proved even more difficult than relativistic attempts to describe the shifting fabric of the universe. In overcoming the difficulties, quantum mechanics became an enormous collective enterprise. Between 1905 and 1930 the best scientists constantly crossed national borders to collaborate in their search for the essence of matter. Their work is still in progress today, but it was the third decade of the new century that marked the emergence of particle physics as a consistent way of viewing the world.

Thus the development of a philosophical interpretation of quantum phenomena coincided with the writing of Finnegans Wake, which spanned the years 1923 to 1939. The publicity regarding the findings of particle physics and of their philosophical implications was perhaps not as dramatic as that of relativity, since quantum mechanics took a longer period to evolve. Nonetheless, information about the major achievements in understanding the world of particles was publicized in the media. Joyce, submerged in his new work and sensitive to anything that could support his ideas, found particle physics as congenial to his project as relativity theory. As in Einstein's work, he discovered in quantum mechanics a number of concepts which paralleled his own metaphysics and his methods of work. In Finnegans Wake Joyce made use not only of the ontological and epistemological implications of particle physics, but he also provided numerous allusions to specific elements of the subatomic realm that twentieth-century physics finally managed to uncover.

The process of unraveling the structure and workings of the atom was long and tedious. Physicists had a sense of shaping a brand new science but they had no notion of the nature of that shape. Like geographical explorers in the previous century, they were groping in an uncharted territory, having a roughly defined objective on their minds but not knowing where the next step was going to take them and what they were going to encounter there. Such a spirit of discovery also characterized the writing of Finnegans Wake. When Joyce began his last book he only had a vague idea of what shape the work was going to take. He did have a general plan and method, but he had no notion as to the precise nature of the outcome. In the fall of 1923, barely a few months into his seventeen-year-long literary experiment, Joyce wrote to Harriet Weaver:

The construction [of Finnegans Wake] is quite different from Ulysses where at least the ports of call were known beforehand. . . . I work as much as I can because these are not fragments but active elements and when they are more and a little older they will begin to fuse of themselves. (Letters I 204-05)

A Change in Working Method

Joyce's working method and the scope of the book were unprecedented and he adjusted to the requirements of his new work by adopting a more scientific procedure. His purpose was still artistic, but in his working method he now resembled a scientist rather that a novelist. He systematically and painstakingly compiled multilingual lists of words in several notebooks and crossed individual words out of the inventory after they had been used in Finnegans Wake. A polyglot himself, he looked for assistance with more obscure languages such as Albanian, Ruthenian and Kiswahili. He started to approach words in the scientific, analytical way, breaking them down into syllables and phonemes, then recombining them according to his own purpose. Etymology, that most scientific approach to words, became an important factor in shaping the texture of Finnegans Wake.

Joyce's new approach to language and his peculiar working method, however, did not result from a new attitude towards science on his part but rather from the inadequacy of the traditional treatment of language to his project. The purpose of Finnegans Wake was to recreate the workings of the unconscious or dreaming mind in which multiplicity of meaning and constant shifting of images preclude the use of formal logic and traditional linguistic constructions. Faced with these difficulties, Joyce was forced to employ in Finnegans Wake a new language of his own making, and to work effectively with that language he had to adopt a new method.

Ironically, while Joyce's method became more scientific to accommodate his new treatment of language, twentieth-century physicists, faced with the novelty of the subatomic realm, did just the opposite: they moved toward a more artistic, creative approach. Classical science was understood as strictly passive in relation to its subject: its function was to observe reality conceived as independent and external. The goal of the scientist was to discover and describe the mechanisms governing the actions of the components of reality. This passive, scientific approach was contrasted with the more active attitude of the artist whose goal was to transform reality in a manner that was aesthetically pleasing.

This classical differentiation between the aims and methods of science and art was shown by quantum mechanics to be unfounded and misleading. On the one hand, particle physics suggested that there is no such thing as an objective reality and consequently the goal of science in its classical sense can never be realized. On the other hand, the artistic or imaginary language proved to be the only nonmathematical medium capable of describing subatomic phenomena. To talk about their findings, physicists had to renounce the rules of logic and the strictness of scientific language. Instead, like artists, they had to rely on their imagination. They could no longer describe reality in given language conventions but rather had to create images to communicate their ideas. The language of predecessors proved to be inadequate in discussing newly discovered phenomena. This inadequacy forced the physicists to develop a new idiom which could at least partly describe their experimental and mathematical findings. The following statement by Max Planck is typical of this new scientific attitude toward rational intellect and scientific language:

Science . . . means unresting endeavor and continually progressing development toward an aim which poetic intuition may apprehend, but which the intellect can never fully grasp. (83)

The Subsemantic Particles

In composing Finnegans Wake Joyce was confronted with a similar linguistic difficulty. His goal was to explore the world of dream, or the primitive, mythical consciousness. To realize that goal he resolved to break up the primal matter of words "for the verypetpurpose of subsequent recombination" (614.34-35) and thus to create a new, fluid and highly denotative language: "nuemaid motts truly prural and plusible" (138.08-09). The absence of flexion and the abundance of monosyllabic words in the English language facilitated his task. By altering spelling or fusing parts of words into new entities Joyce managed to create a rich and varied vocabulary. His "Nichtian glossery which purveys aprioric roots for aposteriorious tongues" (83.10-11) resulted in a new language, highly efficient and concentrated, in which multiple denotations are of primary importance. "So you need hardly spell me," Joyce tells his reader, "how every word will be bound over to carry three score and ten toptypsical readings throughout the book of Doublends Jined" (20.13-16).

Joyce's resolve to break up the smallest semantic units of language and experiment with linguistic particles formed a striking parallel to the goals and methods of quantum mechanics. Both Joyce and quantum physicists were attempting to penetrate what had hitherto been considered the smallest indivisible unit in language or physics. This correspondence between quantum mechanics and the language of Finnegans Wake is explored in the following news broadcast in the book:

The abnihilization of the etym by . . . the first lord of Hurtreford expolodotonates through Parsuralia with an ivanmorinthorrorumble fragoromboassity amidwhiches general uttermost confussion are perceivable moletons scaping with mulicules . . . Similar scenatas are projectilised from Hullulullu, Bawlawayo, empyreal Raum and mordern Atems. (353.22-29)

The passage refers to the first successful splitting of the atom by Lord Rutherford in 1919. It compares the reception of this breakthrough event in Paris, Rome, Athens and other locations to the very explosion produced in the experiment (and to the shooting of the Russian general by Buckley in the story which the passage interrupts), a detonation in which, among general confusion, one can observe the scraping and escaping projectiles--"moletons" and "mulicules"--the subatomic particles created in the experiment. Imperial Rome is empirical space, and the murdered atoms are divisible, as opposed to the original Greek concept of atomos: uncut.

Thus, by playing out his own, literary experiment within the context of Lord Rutherford's achievement, Joyce compares the splitting of the atom with his new approach to language. Like the physicists breaking up the atoms, he annihilates words, reducing them to nothing, and then ex nihilo he builds up new words and meanings. His words thus are used as etyma, both in the sense of retaining their original source or meaning, and as constituents from which new words are formed. In this new treatment of language Joyce is following Vico who believed that from etymology, through careful examination of the origin of words, man can get a glimpse into the course and nature of human history.

This Wakean correspondence between "etym" and "atom" is further expanded to include Adam--another first principle, and the symbol of man, the subject of creation and annihilation. Joyce describes the contents of Finnegans Wake as having "the sameold gamebold adomic structure . . . highly charged with electrons" (615.06-07). The acronym HCE clearly identifies the atomic structure with the book's hero, and so does "adamic" for Adam is one of HCE's incarnations. This correspondence between the human and the subatomic realm is also underscored elsewhere in the book when Kate, the cleaner, experiences "her birthright pang that would split an atam" (333.24-25). In his sermon to Issy, Jaun further indicates the connection between Adam and the atom: "We may come, touch and go, from atoms to ifs but we're presurly destined to be odd's without ends" (455.16-18).


Such joining of different realms is typical of Finnegans Wake. The book, designed to duplicate the workings of the nonrational aspect of the psyche, is organized according to the fluid and merging movement of the dreaming mind and not the logical processes of our waking consciousness. Consequently, one of the underlying characteristics of the Wakean reality is an intrinsic unity in all of its elements. This unity ignores the categories imposed on things by the rational intellect. Instead, it suggests the existence of an underlying connecting principle which unifies all forms of being.

This essential characteristic of Finnegans Wake also found support in the discoveries of quantum mechanics. In nineteenth-century science the relationship between various elements of the world was understood in purely mechanical terms. The causal relationship described by classical physics implied a discreteness between objects. The Cartesian scheme of the world as a movement of innumerable but logical cogs was clean and simple: "cog it out, here goes a sum" (304.31). The subatomic experiments of quantum physics, however, indicated that the discreteness is only superficial and that ultimately all matter is united in a profound way that simple causal relationships do not suggest. In Heisenberg's words,

elementary particles can, at sufficiently high energies, be transmuted into other particles, or they can simply be created from kinetic energy and can be annihilated into energy. . . . All the elementary particles are made of the same substance, which we may call energy of universal matter; they are just different forms in which matter can appear." (160)

This interaction between energy and matter suggested an essential interconnectedness of events in the universe. The new definition of material particles as mere temporary realizations of the field of force indicated that no element of the universe could be positively separated from its surroundings. Events were no longer entities of their own; they always reached toward other events, forming a complex web of relationships from which individual elements could not be completely separated.

A similar interconnectedness is suggested throughout Finnegans Wake . The book is an enormous structure of intricate correspondences in which the meaning of any one element can only be understood fully in its relationship to the whole. This interpenetration of "undivided reawlity" (292.31) is expressed in Finnegans Wake on two levels. On the one hand, the merging word formations stress the fluid, gradual connections between ideas. Freed from their traditional form, words merge into one another. Ceasing to exist in their traditional role as symbols or signs of discrete entities, they assume instead the role of a bond between apparently disconnected phenomena. This linguistic level of interpenetration is accompanied by a persistent shifting of the recurrent motifs in Finnegans Wake . Characters and events in Joyce's book are "everintermutuomergent" (55.11-12). Their connections, correspondences and constant transformations create a sense of intrinsic unity in the fictional world of the book.

The Flux

The constant shifting of the Wakean reality resembles the universe of quantum physics. Subatomic experiments showed that solid matter is not as permanent as classical physics claimed. The life of the universe does not consist of a rearrangement of indestructible material particles; on the contrary, the matter is actually an endless process of creation and annihilation--a process which submerges the universe in a state of constant flux. The corresponding flux in Finnegans Wake is expressed primarily on the lexical level. The constant shifting of meaning in Joyce's new vocabulary creates an illusion that the book is alive: "But look what you have in your handself!" Joyce tells his reader:

The movibles are scrawling in motions, marching, all of them ago, in pitpat and zingzang for every busy eerie whig's a bit of a torytale to tell. (20.20-23)

Each of Joyce's words is busy expressing simultaneously more than one meaning. Semantic value is thus created not only on the syntactical level, as in the traditional use of language, but also on the lexical. An obvious example of this extensively used technique is the phrase "Gricks may rise and Troysers fall" (11.35). The phrase clearly refers to the fall of Troy, but the modified spelling brings in additional connotations which suggest the sexual motif of rise and fall, alluding at the same time to procreation and to the moral fall and redemption.

Joyce described this fluidity and merging of words and meanings in his comments on the nature of Finnegans Wake :

On the face of it . . . [the book] is a thing once for all done and there you are somewhere and finished in a certain time . . . but one who deeper thinks will always bear in the baccbuccus of his mind that this downright there you are and there it is is only all in his eye. Why? Because . . . every person, place and thing in the chaosmos of Alle . . . was moving and changing every part of the time. (118.05-23)

The experience of reading Finnegans Wake confirms this Joycean observation. After the initial difficulties are overcome, the reading of a familiar passage creates a strong impression that the book is alive: its lexical correspondences and recurrent motifs not only shift constantly, but they even appear slightly different on different readings. In Finnegans Wake time not only flows; its passage is always accompanied by dynamic transformations: "Tempos fidgets" (468.29).

Being and Becoming

Finnegans Wake in its flux is also a "wold made fresh": (336.17) the world of the book and every word in it are in the state of original becoming out of the familiar sources rather than a fixed being. Joyce constantly reminds his reader of this subtle yet essential characteristic of reality, claimed for ages by philosophers and reconfirmed by the findings of quantum mechanics. Almost as often as he supplements space coordinates with the temporal ones, he modifies the misleading connotations of "being" by supplementing them with the more appropriate "becoming." Anticipating his readers' frustration with the difficult text, for example, he thus cautions them against impatience:

Now, patience; and remember patience is the great thing, and above all things else we must avoid anything like being or becoming out of patience. (108.08-10)

Mercius (Shem) in his defense against his brother's accusations, addresses him in a similar manner:

you who ever since have been one black mass of jigs and jimjams, haunted by a convulsionary sense of not having been or being all that I might have been or you meant to becoming. (193.34-36)

In his questioning by the four old men, Yawn observes: "I'm not meself at all, no jolly fear, when I realize bimiselves how becomingly I to be going to become." And the questioners respond: "-O, is that the way with you, you craythur? In the becoming was the weared" (487.18-21). The world, like Joyce's words, is in a state of flux, the "untireties of livesliving being the one substrance of a streamsbecoming" (597.07-08). Only the new language of Finnegans Wake can express the essence of this dynamic flow and change; traditional words are inadequate for "there is no true noun in active nature whose every bally being . . . is becoming" (523.10-12).

The Reader and the Experimenter

This "constant of fluxion" (297.29) in Finnegans Wake is, of course, also created by the reader's response to the multiplicity of correspondences in the text. The active role of the reader parallels the peculiar role of the experimenter in particle physics. Quantum mechanics rejected the concept of an objective observer in science, suggesting that in the investigation of the subatomic realm the scientist cannot avoid influencing the outcome of his experiments by decisions regarding the choice of his experimental procedures. To accommodate this peculiar characteristic of the subatomic world, the concept of the observer had to be changed in quantum physics to that of an active participator. This change had a profound impact because it not only suggested that we cannot study nature without influencing its course, but it also indicated that the nature of the universe is partly created by the observer.

This interdependence between subject and object is expressed in Finnegans Wake through identifying reader and writer. " Quis est qui non novit quinnigan ," asks Joyce. " Qui quae quot at Quinnigan's Quake! Stump! His producers, are they not his consumers?" (496.36-497.02). The readers of Finnegans Wake are also its writers, for the book forces them to participate actively in creating the meaning of the text. Early in the book, addressing the reader, Joyce hints at this peculiar requirement of his work:

(Stoop) if you are abecedminded, to this claybook, what curios of signs (please stoop), in this allaphbed! Can you rede (since We and Thou had it out already) its world? (18.17-19)

In the passage Joyce indicates that his "claybook"--his universal roman a clef , a playbook, and book of Adam--requires not only the knowledge of the alphabet (the language) but also the ability to forget its traditional rules (to be absentminded). By replacing the verb "read" with the German Rede : speech, he further suggests that the apparently passive act of reading will now require active participation. This requirement of the reader's active engagement in shaping the reality of Finnegans Wake is also expressed through literal identification of the author with his audience. "I can tell you something more than that, dear writer," (476.20-21) says Joyce to his reader, indicating that their roles are similar since both are involved in the shaping of fictional reality of the Wake .

Mind and Matter

This mental character of Finnegans Wake reality, a reality which can only exist in definite form in the reader's mind, parallels the ontological implications of particle physics. The findings of quantum mechanics suggest a strong link between ontology and epistemology. Sir James Jeans writes:

And now that we find that we can best understand the course of events in terms of waves of knowledge, there is a certain presumption--although certainly no proof--that reality and knowledge are similar in their natures, or, in other words, that reality is wholly mental. Apart from arguments of this type, we can have no means of knowing the true nature of reality. The most we can say is that the cumulative evidence of various pieces of probable reasoning makes it seem more and more likely that reality is better described as mental than as material. (Physics and Philosophy 203)

These implications of quantum physics are in stark opposition to the Cartesian dictum that mind and matter are separated, mind being too dissimilar from matter to be able to influence it. On the other hand, they support Berkleyan metaphysics, and Joyce found "the phyllisophies of Bussup Bulkeley" (435.10-11) particularly agreeable. Berkeley asserted that since our knowlegde of matter comes to us through the mind, mind and matter cannot be dissimilar in nature, and since mind is not material, then matter has to be mental.

The world of Finnegans Wake also exists as a mental entity, being a product of the interaction between the reader's mind and the text. This nonmaterial character of the book is a reflection of Joyce's own metaphysics rather than of the new scientific interpretation of the world, but quantum physics does provide an additional support to Joyce's idea of realty as a mental construct. For instance, the dissolution of material particles into a field of force--a purely mental entity--is suggested in the scene where Matt Gregory, on the way to find Yawn, is "seeking spoor through the deep timefield" (475.24). In another passage, from the children's lesson, Joyce alludes to the indefnite nature of the field, which consists merely of probability waves with a potential to become matter:

Thanks eversore much, Pointcarried! I can't say if it's the way you strike me to the quick or that red mass I was looking at but at the present momentum, potential as I am, I'm seeing rayingbogeys rings round me. (304.05-09)

"Pointcarried" is the mathematician Jules Henri Poincare, but the word evokes also the movement of a materialized subatomic particle, whose picture on a photographic plate often takes the form of a series of bright concentric circles.

Joyce further explores the dematerialization of reality on the lexical level through the correspondence between the merging concept of world and void, as in "we marooned through this woylde" (588.03) or "I'll travel the void world over" (469.10-11). The world of the book, devoid of matter, is built of mental constructs only: "Every those personal place objects if nonthings where soevers," (589.01) and this mental quality of the book is a reflection of the "multimathematical immaterialities" (394.31-32) of quantum physics.

The Quantum World in Finnegans Wake

The new physical conception of nonmaterial world in which particles of matter transform into energy and vice versa is also explored in Finnegans Wake through numerous allusions and references to the concepts and phenomena described by quantum physics: split atoms, subatomic particles, radiation and various forms of electromagnetic waves. The photoelectric effect, for example, a phenomenon involving the interaction of radiation (light) with matter, is referred to in "this dry call of selenium cell," (323.25) as well as in the following description of the early television tube:

Duff-Mugli . . . now may be quoted by very kind arrangement (his dectroscophonious photosensition under suprasonic light control may be logged for by our none too distant futures as soon astone values can be turned out from Chromophilomos, Limited at a millicentime the microamp). (123.12-15)

The process of emitting radiant energy in the form of waves or particles recurs in several other passages in Finnegans Wake. The electrodes emitting and collecting electrons in an electron tube and the accompanying emission of light are recalled by HCE in his long self-defense speech as he describes "Elgin's marble halles lamping limp from black to block, through all Livania's volted ampire, from anodes to cathodes and from the topazolites of Mourne" (549.15-17). The subatomic processes, typically mixed with macroscopic events, are also described in these lengthy comments on the inner workings of the television tube:

In the heliotropical noughttime following a fade of transformed Tuff and, pending its viseversion, a metenergic reglow of beaming Batt the bairdboard bombardment screen, if tastefully taut guranium satin, tends to teleframe and step up to the charge of the light barricade. Down the photoslope in syncopanc pulses, with the bitts bugtwag their teffs, the missledhropes, glitteraglatteraglutt, borne by their carnier valve. Spraygun rakes and splits them from a double focus . . . and the scanning firespot of the sgunners traverses the rutilanced illustred sunksundered lines. Shlossh! A gaspel truce leaks out over the caeseine coatings. (349.06-16)

All the components of the subatomic reality are here: matter in the form of waves ("walve"), particles ("bombardment," "missle"), and the release of energy in the form of light: "beaming" and "metenergic reglow." Equally impressive is Joyce's analysis of Earwicker's radio receiver, a "tolvtubular high fidelity daildialler . . . equipped with supershielded umbrella antennas for distance getting and connected by the magnetic links of a Bellini-Tosti coupling system with a vitaltone speaker . . . electrically filtered for allirish earts and ohmes" (309.14-310.01). The wireless, identified with its owner, is a "harmonic condenser enginium," and is powered by a "magazine battery . . . tuned up by twintriodic singulvalvulous pipelines (lackslipping along as if their liffing deepunded on it) with a howdrocephalous enlargement, [and] a gain control of circumcentric megacycles" (310.01-07). The flow of the electric current from the battery, on which the life of the receiver depends, is compared to the flow of water (the river Liffey), the eternal energy of life.

A variety of other subatomic phenomena are described in Finnegans Wake. Atomic fission is transposed to the macroscopic scale when a "pitcher go[es] to aftoms on the wall," (598.21-22) or when Gaping Gill leaves a trace of "monticules of scalp and dandruff droppings [which] blaze his trail," (37.11-12) thereby recalling the bright trajectories of subatomic particles registered on the photographic plate in quantum experiments. Jaun, taking leave of his twenty-nine girl followers, is described by them in bright terms as having "the nucleus of a glow of a zeal of soul of service such as rarely . . . [is] met with single men" (472.26-27). Atomic fission is also evoked in the children's lesson where Euclid and algebra are transformed to "nucleuds and alegobrew" (283.24): the allusion here is to both a nucleus and a nuclide: a species of atom characterized by the constitution of its nucleus and hence by the number of protons, the number of neutrons, and the energy content, "Webster says" (479.30). Another subatomic particle is used for heavy emphasis by one of the four old men interrogating Yawn: "Now, to come nearer zone; I would like to raise my deuterous point audibly touching this. There is this maggers. . . ." (478.06-07). The particle in question is deuteron: the nucleus of the atom of deuterium, a hydrogen isotope, also called "heavy hydrogen."

Various forms of electromagnetic waves are also employed to enrich the texture of Finnegans Wake. The visible part of the spectrum, the white light with its constituent parts, is used in the recurrent motif of the rainbow associated with the seven rainbow girls: "Split the hvide and aye seize heaven!" (247.31). The undulatory nature of light is often stressed in the context of splitting the white light: " That grene ray of earong it waves to us yonder as the red, blue and yellow flogs time on the domisole, with a blewy blow and a windigo" (267.13-16). The two borderline frequencies delineating the visible part of the spectrum, the ultraviolet and the infrared, are also present in Finnegans Wake and are often used in conjunction as in "their ultravoilance led them infroraids," (316.02-03) or in "I am altogether a chap too fly and hairyman for to infradig the like of that ultravirulence," (425.34-35) or again in "They know him, the covenanter, by rote at least, for a chameleon at last, in his true false heaven colours from ultraviolent to subred tissues" (590.07-09). Ultraviolet is also recalled in another scene where in the falling darkness "nighthood's unseen violet rendered all animated greatbritish and Irish objects nonviewable to human watchers" (403.22-24).

Other invisible parts of the spectrum, employed in radio transmission, are also evoked in the Wake , as in "low frequency amplification" (312.33). Radiating with affection, Issy assures departing Jaun that she will carry the precious memories of their time together on her "hearz' waves" (460.25). Similarly, the "crowdblast" of The Mime of Mick, Nick and the Maggies is "wordloosed over seves seas" (219.16-17) "on herzian waves" (232.10-11). Finnegans Wake itself is also described in terms of electromagnetic waves as a "radiooscillating epiepistle" (108.24).


Joyce's world of subatomic particles in Finnegans Wake is governed by the same unpredictability that was discovered inside the atom by physicists. The "adomic structure" of HCE is "as highly charged with electrons as hophazards can effective it" (615.06-08). "Hophazards" are the unpredictable orbital jumps accompanying the energy transformations within the atom. Joyce is not surprised at the similarity between his character and the atom, but, like physicists, he is puzzled by the exact nature of causality: "Of cause, so! And in effect, as?" (615.11). This indefinite character of causality in the subatomic realm is reflected in Finnegans Wake in numerous allusions to uncertainty accompanying causal relationship. In some instances the unpredictability of the subatomic world is rendered through lack of certainty about the causal correlation between successive events. In the description of Earwicker's receiver, for instance, the electrons "lackslipping" from the battery finally transform into the particles of the acoustic wave and enter the ear, but the exact nature of the causal relationship is not clear: "They finally caused, or most leastways brung it about somehows, (that) the pip of the lin (to) pinnatrate inthro an auricular forficle" (310.08-10). The unclear causal relationship between two successive states is also underscored in the description of exhaused Yawn: "Pure Yawn lay low. . . . His dream monologue was over, of cause, but his drama parapolylogic had yet to be, affact" (474.04-05). A similar confusion in causality also characterizes Yawn's interrogators in that scene as one of them observes: "Now, the doctrine obtains, we have occasioning cause causing effects and affects occasionally recausing altereffects" (482.36-483.01). Causal relationship is completely reversed in another passage where a coffin's sudden appearance by the corpse is "materially effecting the cause" (76.13). The complex nature of causality is underscored in "All effects in their joints caused ways" (503.01); the same pun is employed elsewhere when in his meeting with HCE the king intends "to inquire what, in effect, had caused yon causeway to be thus potholed" (31.05-06).

The lack of strict causality in Finnegans Wake is only one aspect of the book's indeterminacy. Like the subatomic world where Heisenberg's uncertainty principle precludes full knowledge, the realm of Finnegans Wake does not admit of complete understanding of its constituent elements. Facts are never presented in a definite way; they are subject to doubt and distortion. There is no fixed reality in the book; there are only different accounts of characters and events, each distorted in its own way.

This uncertainty is partly expressed through linguistic difficulties on both the semantic and syntactic level. It is also evoked by the recurrent motif of the fog which strikingly resembles the physical concept of "haziness" of the subatomic world. Like the blurred picture of subatomic reality, "this vague of visibilities" (608.01) in Finnegans Wake makes the characters and events difficult to distinguish with certainty: "Chest Cee! 'Sdense! Corpo di barragio! you spoof of visibility in a freakfog" (48.01-02). The reader's task in these conditions is indeed immense, and approximating certainty is all he can hope for:

Whence it is a slopperish matter, given the wet and low visibility (since in this scherzarade of one's thousand one nightiness that sword of certainty which would indentifide the body never falls) to identifine the individuone. (51.03-06)

As "humble indivisibles in this grand continuum, overlorded by fate and interlarded with accidence," (472.30-31) Finnegans Wake readers are "circumveiloped by obscuritads" (244.15). The book's events and characters are hidden from the reader; whatever he does learn, he receives indirectly, through others' accounts:

Thus the unfacts, did we possess them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude, the evidencegivers by legpoll too untrustworthily irreperible where his adjugers are seemingly freak threes but his judicandees plainly minus twos. (57.16-19)

Forced to depend on untrustworthy "evidencegivers," the Finnegans Wake reader is compelled to rely on whatever accounts are available. He may pose questions, but the answers will never be definite or certain. Take for example the possible reasons for Tim Finnegan's fatal fall:

What then agentlike brought about that tragoady thundersday this municipal sin business? . . . It may half been a missfired brick, as some say, or it mought have been due to a collopsus of his back promisses, as others looked at it. (There extend by now one thousand and one stories, all told, of the same). (5.13-29)

A similar ambiguity is found in the recurrent question of the exact nature of Earwicker's indiscretion in the park: "Of the persins sin this Erawyggla saga . . . no one end is known" (48.16-24). Some Finnegans Wake accounts not only contradict other accounts "in various phases of scripture," (254.27) but in themselves they contain contradictory elements. Such, for instance, is the opening of the tale of Kersse the tailor and the Norwegian captain:

It was long after once there was a lealand in the luffing ore it was less after lives thor a toyler in tawn at all ohr it was note before he drew out the moddle of Kersse by jerking his dressing but and or it was not before athwartships he buttonhaled the Norweeger's capstan. (311.05-09)

Such different accounts of a single event, however, are treated in Finnegans Wake not as inconsistent but as complementary. Like the corpuscular and the undulatory characteristics of light in Bohr's complementarity principle, they are but different facets of the same entity. Even such disparate views as those held by Saint Patrick and the Archdruid in their debate on the "true inwardness of reality" (611.21) are ultimately dissolved into a complementary unity:

for beingtime monkblinkers timeblinged complementarily murkblankered in their neutrolysis between the possible viritude of the sager and the probable eruberuption of the saint. (612.21-24)

Finnegans Wake shares this complementarity with quantum physics as it shares the spatiotemporal unity with the relativity theory. Joyce points out in his book that only through unification of apparently disparate concepts can the "true inwardness of reality" shine through: "And let every crisscouple be so crosscomplimentary, little eggons, youlk and meelk, in a farbiger pancosmos" (613.10-12).

Index    Introduction    Background    Physics    Philosophy    Relativity    Quanta    Conclusion  

Copyright © 1997 Andrzej Duszenko