(Stoop) if you are abcedminded, 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? --James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, pg. 18.
I have taken the liberty here of reproducing and sharing a small part of his text, reproduced from a presentation he made at University Sydney titled 'whatever happened to the book' and a part of particular interest to me, as a budding 'Joycephile' and student of 'maybelogic: the many lives and ideas of Robert Anton Wilson.
I applied a sprinkling of 'hyperlinks' to those already added by Mark, mosbunal link to 'wikipedia' others connect to external sources and 'Joycean' articles, web pages, and some other works by Mark Pesce, thanks, steve: (http://ataleofatribe.blogspot.com/)
Part Three: Finnegans Wiki.
It is easy to conceive of a world where non-fiction texts simplydissolve into the universal sea of texts. But what aboutstories? From time out of mind we have listened to storiesBeowolf held listeners spellbound as the storyteller wove thetale. For hours at a time we maintained our attention andfocus as the stories that told us who we are and our place inthe world traveled down the generations.Will we lose all of this? Can narratives stand up against thecentrifugal forces of hypertext? Authors and publishers bothseem assured that whatever happens to non-fiction texts, theliterary text will remain pure and untouched, even as itbecomes a wholly electronic form. The lure of the literary textis that it takes you on a singular journey, from beginning toend, within the universe of the author’s mind. There are nodistractions, no interruptions, unless the author has expresslyput them there in order to add tension to the plot. A wellwrittenliterary text – and even a poorly-written but wellplotted‘page-turner’ – has the capacity to hold the readertight within the momentum of linearity. Something is a ‘pageturner’precisely because its forward momentum effectivelyblocks the centrifugal force. We occasionally stay up all nightreading a book that we ‘couldn’t put down’, precisely becauseof this momentum. It is easy to imagine that every literarytext which doesn’t meet this higher standard of seduction willsimply fail as an electronic book, unable to counter theoverwhelming lure of the medium.This is something we never encountered with printed books:quite alluring and only growing more so – offers itself up incompetition for attention, along with television and films andhas so suddenly become a regular feature of our media diet.How can any text hope to stand against that?And yet, some do. Children unplugged to read each of theincreasingly-lengthy Harry Potter novels, as teenagers did forDan Brown in numbers that boggle the imagination. None ofthis is high literature, but it is literature capable of resistingall our alluring distractions. This is one path that the bookwill follow, one way it will stay true to Aristotle and therequirements of the narrative arc. We will not lose ourstories, but it may be that, like blockbuster films, they willbecome more self-consciously hollow, manipulative, andbroad. That is one direction, a direction literary publisherswill pursue, because that’s where the money lies.There are two other paths open for literature, nearlydiametrically opposed. The first was taken by JRR Tolkien inThe Lord of the Rings. Although hugely popular, the threebookseries has never been described as a ‘page-turner’, beingtoo digressive and leisurely, yet, for all that, entirelycaptivating. Tolkien imagined a new universe – or rather,retrieved one from the fragments of Northern Europeanmythology – and placed his readers squarely within it. Andalthough readers do finish the book, in a very real sense theydo not leave that universe. The fantasy genre, which Tolkiensingle-handedly invented with The Lord of the Rings, sellstens of millions of books every year, and the universe ofMiddle-Earth, the archetypal fantasy world, has become theplayground for millions who want to explore their ownimaginations. Tolkien’s magnum opus lends itself tohypertext; it is one of the few literary works to come completewith a set of appendices to deepen the experience of theuniverse of the books. Online, the fans of Middle-Earth havecreated seemingly endless resources to explore, explain, andmaintain the fantasy. Middle-Earth launches off the page,driven by its own centrifugal force, its own drive to unpackitself into a much broader space, both within the reader’smind and online, in the collective space of all of the work’sreaders. This is another direction for the book. While everyauthor will not be a Tolkien, a few authors will work hard tocreate a universe so potent and broad that readers will betempted to inhabit it. (Some argue that this is the secret of JKRowling’s success.)Finally, there is another path open for the literary text, onewhich refuses to ignore the medium that constitutes it, whichof hypertext. There have been numerous attempts at‘hypertext fiction’; nearly all of them have been unreadablefailures. But there is one text which stands apart, bothbecause it anticipated our current predicament, and becauseit chose to embrace its contradictions and dilemmas. Thebook was written and published before the digital computerhad been invented, yet even features an innovation which isFinnegans Wake, and it was Joyce’s deliberate effort to makeeach word choice a layered exploration of meaning that givesthe text such power. It should be gibberish, but anyone whoThe text is overloaded with meaning, so much so that themind can’t take it all in. Hypertext has been a help; there area few wikis which attempt to make linkages between the textand its various derived meanings (the maunderings of fourgenerations of graduate students and Joycephiles), and it mayeven be that – in another twenty years or so – the wikis willbegin to encompass much of what Joyce meant. But there isanother possibility. In so fundamentally overloading the text,else, Joyce wanted to point to where we were headed. In this,Finnegans Wake could be seen as a type of science fiction, nota dystopian critique like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World,nor the transhumanist apotheosis of Olaf Stapleton’sStarmaker (both near-contemporary works) but rather a textthat pointed the way to what all texts would become,performance by example. As texts become electronic, as theymelt and dissolve and link together densely, meaningmultiplies exponentially. Every sentence, and every word inevery sentence, can send you flying in almost any direction.The tension within this text (there will be only one text) willmake reading an exciting, exhilarating, dizzying experience –as it is for those who dedicate themselves to Finnegans Wake.It has been said that all of human culture could bereconstituted from Finnegans Wake. As our texts becomeone, as they become one hyperconnected mass of humanexpression, that new thing will become synonymous withculture. Everything will be there, all strung together. Andthat’s what happened to the book.
--MARK PESCE, FUTURE PRESENT(pdf)