From Retrovirus to Hyptertext: The Technogeneses of the Wake

Louis Armand


There is no genetics without ‘genetic drift’. The modern theory of mutations has clearly demonstrated that a code, which necessarily relates to a population, has an essential margin of decoding: not only does every code have supplements capable of free variation, but a single segment may be copied twice, the second copy left free for variation. In addition, fragments of code may be transferred from the cells of one species to another. (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus)


Textual genetics, with its focus on the structural significance of avant-textes, has brought to light ways of treating James Joyce’s notebooks and manuscripts that do not necessarily posit an originary, authorising idea concealed within, or even outside Ulysses or Finnegans Wake (as an Ur-text or skeleton key), but rather views these avant-textes— along with the other elements that form Joyce’s ‘works in progress’ — in terms of a genetic hypertextuality (cf. for example, the electronic journal Genetic Joyce Studies).1 For many genetic theorists, Finnegans Wake (hereafter FW) is nothing less than the open totality of all the texts that can be grouped together around that name (cf. Dean et al, 2000). Whilst this idea approximates the structural possibilities of hypertext, it is nevertheless important for us to look more deeply into what might be implied in the term ‘genetic’. But while most theorists have been careful to avoid reductive ways of viewing the objects of textual genetics, others have tended simply to adopt the term ‘genetics’ for the purpose of modernising the Alexandrian project of correcting and codifying Joyce’s texts. Although it is not the intention, here, to evaluate the respective ‘genetic’ theories, it remains necessary to investigate how this term can, in itself, be rendered so as to disrupt such a project. This would involve considering more closely the structure and implications of the genetic metaphor, to see how it carries within itself the germ of an idea that would prohibit a reduction to first principles and so discredit from the beginning any project of establishing a Joycean Ur-text on the basis of a genetic code, or what the Wake refers to as the ‘greeter glossary of code’ (FW 324.21).

Molecular biology provides a descriptive formula which brings together these seemingly unrelated ideas from the textual and biological fields of genetics — that is, the ‘enzyme reverse transcriptase’. The enzyme reverse transcriptase is that attribute of RNA (ribonucleic acid) which makes a retro-virus possible, as a mechanism of ‘integration’ (that is, a virus whose operations have been integrated or programmed into the genetic structures of the ‘host’). In other words, what, within the basic genetic fabric, programmes the retro-virus and causes it to function and propagate in a quasi-genetic way, giving rise to what might be called ‘viral DNA’ (deoxyribonucleic acid). When the RNA of a retro-virus enters a ‘host cell’ it essentially receives the same treatment as the host’s own genetic material. According to computer scientist Douglas Hofstadter, this ‘would mean getting transcribed and translated’ so that the seemingly innocuous genetic code by which the virus entered the cell would be ‘decoded’ into a different, viral code which would then be programmed into the cell’s infrastructure and in order to be replicated by it (Hofstadter, 1980: 523).

Technically speaking, the reverse transcriptase catalyses the formation of double-stranded DNA using the single strand of its viral genome as a template. This allows the viral genome firstly to be inserted into the host’s DNA and then to be replicated by the host. The reverse transcriptase is thus the reverse of the usual process of transcription in cells. That is, the process in which the genetic information of DNA is transferred to a molecule of messenger RNA, as the first step to protein synthesis. (The process of transcription, in which information for the manufacture of proteins and their constituent amino acids is encoded in messenger RNA (normally transcribed from DNA in the nucleus of the cell), is followed by a process of translation, which takes place at the ribosomes, in which this encoded information is translated into a sequence of amino acids (Lehninger, 1976).)

The reversibility of the transcription process provides, at the indifferent stage of translation, interesting corollaries to the Heideggerean concept of ’emplacement’ (i.e. as an ‘originary’ integration, which would situate the attributes of the retro-virus as inherent to genetics and not as a perversion of it: Heidegger gives to this concept a particularly technological slant, wherein the techne of, for example, ‘translation’, is shown to belong to the singularity of logos as its prior possibility (‘techno-logia’)). This process of transcription and translation can also be seen to describe what Hofstadter calls a ‘morphological pathway’ (1980: 539), or what Brian Massumi has described as ‘a mise en abyme of homologous organic structures’ organised according to the ‘polymorphous connective potential’ of the genetic apparatus (1993: 119). In this sense a ‘morphological pathway’ would also describe the impossibility of its reduction (genealogy), and not merely the translatability of its particular terms. We might also call this pathway a transversal, by which the genetic metaphor (as a sign for translatiometaphora and its literal transcription) articulates itself as this techne of ’emplacement’ (the pro-gramme in advance of the genetic ‘code’).

The problem remains, however, in determining so-called ‘authentic’ genetic codes from encoded viral messages, which ostensibly take the same form. It is not simply a question of affecting the simulation or substitution of the original genetic structure, but of an activation of what is inherent to the genetic programme itself, and which reveals a lapsus or ‘slippage’ in place of what would be determined as the originary code. As Walter Benjamin argues in ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, the ‘presence of the original is the prerequisite for authenticity’ (1995: 214). Like Benjamin’s notion of mechanical reproduction, it is the non-presence of the original (i.e. of an ‘original code’) which makes reproduction, translation and transcription, possible in the first place through the technics of ‘writing’ (the written trace or gramme). What is more, this concept of originary non-presence has an important relation to the question of binary determinations generally (techne-physislogos-gramme, etc.).

In ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’ (‘the whole of that essay . . . being itself nothing but a reading of Finnegans Wake‘), Jacques Derrida similarly remarks:

In order for these contrary values (good/evil, true/false, essence/appearance, inside/outside, etc.) to be in opposition, each of the terms must be simply externalto the other, which means that one of these oppositions (the opposition between inside and outside) must already be accredited as the matrix of all possible opposition. And one of the elements of the system (or of the series) must also stand as the very possibility of systematicity or seriality in general. (Derrida, 1981: 88 n20; 103)

This seeming paradox describes the condition of a certain pharmakon (poison/cure) of writing. Relating the myth of writing’s origin as a prosthesis of memory, Derrida traces a movement of debilitation within the system of oppositions which determines this ‘prosthetic function’ as a perversion, in the tendency of the written mark (gramme/grapheme) towards the redundancy of the word, and hence a type of forgetfulness. This debilitation, rather than acting externally upon this system of oppositions, is located within its very expression, as the ‘equivocation’ of the genitive. This pharmakon, ‘far from being governed by these oppositions, opens up their very possibility without letting itself be comprehended by them’. Moreover, writing as a pharmakon:

cannot simply be assigned a site within what it situates, cannot be subsumed under concepts whose contours it draws, leaves only its ghost to a logic that can only seek to govern it insofar as logic arises from it… All the more so if what we have just imprudently called a ghost can no longer be distinguished, with the same assurance, from truth, reality, living flesh, etc. One must accept the fact that here, for once, to leave a ghost behind will in a sense be to salvage nothing. (Derrida, 1981: 103-4)

Equally, the ‘morphological pathway’ described by series of genetic translation and transcription, cannot be situated in terms of an inside/outside of a formal system of coding and decoding, in which the translated or transcribed term would be considered as the ghost or simulacrum of either of two terms in opposition (‘viral’ DNA or ‘authentic’, non-viral DNA). This genetic babelisation, its ‘origin’ in translation, likewise describes the absence of any determinate ‘originary’ code, such that the series of coding and de-coding implicit to any morphological reduction must necessarily continue to virtually infinite levels of complexity. And as with the mechanisms of translation and transcription themselves, the system thus affected would amount to something like an apparatus of ‘interruptions and isolations, extensions and accelerations, enlargements and reductions’ (Benjamin, 1995: 230).

The mechanism of translation functions, and continues to function, irrespective of absence or presence of an originary code or intention. It is enough that the code is structurally contiguous with the possibility of its repetition, as either translation or transcription, and that the ‘tekhne of writing’ implicit to it can be seen as bearing the mark of dependency (the programmatics of prosthesis) (Derrida, 1981: 104). Consequently, the ‘viral’ code will be precisely the one to represent the authoring genetic scriptor, even if (or indeed because) its antithetical origins are forgotten, and even if there is nothing other than its own inscription to continue authorising it. By virtue of a type of inflationary paradox, this proxy or metonymic representative thus lays claim to an authority and authenticity greater than that for which it is the substitute. Moreover, the substitutability of viral RNA can be said to situate it in a ‘technological’ relation to autopoiesis and cyclical recursion.

The complex relation between viral and non-viral RNA and DNA, as a form of recursive ‘paracitation’, suggests analogous complexions of significance, beyond what we might strictly speaking call textual genetics, in the organisation of textual structures generally. By the same token, such complexions invite consideration of otherwise syntactic or semantic ‘codes’ as somehow genetic, as indicative of an ‘originary code’ which is at the same time viral, parasitic, dissimulating: what of genetics is structurally necessary and yet threatens the normativity of what we call genetic structure from within and from its origins.

The concept of viral emplacement raises questions not only about technological aspects of reproduction, but about the ’emplacements’ of technology itself and of the ‘genetic scene’. This also leads us to ask questions about what it means when we approach the genetic programme as a particular technology. That is, as a form of recursive solicitation, between techne and logos, ‘and the carollas he so has saved gainst the virus he has thus injected!’ (FW 321.05-6). In other words, it raises the question of how the ‘vicious circle ‘of retro-viral emplacement (translation and transcription) at once calls for and motivates a kind of hypertextual apparatus irreducible to a stable field, or place-ment, whereby a text could be defined in relation to a structural episteme (or ‘genetic code’).

This solicitation would consequently imply, as Samuel Weber argues, a way ‘in which the “technics” of Heidegger’s quest(ion) entails the destabilisation of such fields’ (that is, through the mechanics of viral/technological ’emplacement’, as opposed to a hermeneutics of reduction or ‘being placed’). (Weber, 1990: 48) Hence the question can be also be posed in terms of how this solicitation as a deconstructional bringing-forth might be regarded simultaneously as a function of poiesis and of technics, both ‘originary’ and mechanical production, reproduction or repetition, in the form of a ‘viral’ propagation. Which leads to the question ‘is not the emergence of the grapheme… the very origin and possibility of logos itself’ (Derrida, 1981: 88-9)?

If we look at it textually, in terms of what Hofstadter calls ‘typographical enzymes’, we can begin to envisage a textual genetics, or ‘typogenetics’, that can be recognised inFinnegans Wake in terms of the structural triads H.C.E. and A.L.P. (Hofstadter, 1980: 505; 504). The phrase ‘enzyme reverse transcriptase’ might, in this sense, be just as well taken to describe the ‘morphological pathways’ marked out by these two textual ‘RNA strands’ as it would to describe biological RNA. And just as the ‘morphological pathways’ of molecular biology also describes a genetic history, or genetic memory of themselves, so would those transversals ‘intersecting’ in the triads H.C.E. and A.L.P. describe a genetic memory of the Wake. This suggests the further significance to textual genetics and genealogy of what has been called by cyberneticists iterability and (by Blanchot and Derrida) trace, and the relation of the genetic code (and of the genealogical will) to a particular ‘repetitional’ play of memory and programmatics.

Borrowing a computing metaphor, we might view this viral technics as contiguous with the de-centred structures inscribed within or between languages and programmed by language, as an accumulation of processes of coding and transcoding, translation and integration between differing softwares and different operating systems. As Geoffrey Bennington argues, this medium recalls:

. . .the ‘memory’ traces of an electronic archive, which can only with difficulty be thought according to the opposition between the sensible and the intelligible, and more easily as differences of force or capacity. (Bennington, 1993: 313-4)

At the same time, this apparatus remains linked to textuality, ‘helping us to think writing in a more complicated relation with space and time. . .because of the possibilities of folding a text back on itself, of discontinuous jumps establishing quasi-instantaneous links’ (Bennington, 1993: 313-4). In other words, this ‘medium’ would articulate a textualapparatus which would also be technological.

In Of Grammatology, Derrida suggests that we might think this in terms of cybernetics, and in particular the cybernetic programme, as describing a field of writing:

. . .if the theory of cybernetics is by itself to oust all metaphysical concepts — including the concepts of soul, of life, of value, of choice, of memory — which until recently served to separate the machine from man, it must conserve the notion of writing, trace, gramme [written mark], or grapheme, until its own historico-metaphysical character is also exposed. (1976: 9)

This may in fact be one of the most succinct statements about the nature of such metaphors as ‘hypertext’, situated as it is on the breach of the mechanical and the human, techne and physis, and so on — informing the cybernetic apparatus, from the most elementary processes of information to structural formulations of semantic systems, as contiguous with a condition of writing. At the same time, this condition itself is seen to undergo modifications, following the various developments of ‘the practical methods of information retrieval’ which extend ‘the possibilities of the “message” vastly, to the point where it is no longer the “written” translation of a language, the transporting of a signified which could remain to be spoken in its integrity’ (Derrida, 1976: 10). This development consequently describes a particular abnegation of the signifier as ‘phonetic writing’, that is, as the record of the absence of a speaking subject. Thus the ‘cybernetics’ to which Derrida alludes can be thought of as a moment or series of moments in which the pro-gramme is seen to mark a writing ‘prior’ to the sign, that ‘medium of the great metaphysical, scientific, technical and economic adventure of the West’, which in its turn is ‘limited in space and time’ to a particular historical placement. It is this tentative ‘priority’ of the pro-gramme which provides the deconstructive ‘element’ of this cybernetics, as non-linguistic inscription:

Even before being determined as human (with all the distinctive characteristics that have always been attributed to man and the entire system of significations that they imply) or nonhuman, the gramme — or the grapheme — would thus name the element. An element without simplicity. An element, whether it is understood as a medium or as the irreducible atom, of the arche-synthesis in general, of what one must forbid oneself to define within the system of oppositions of metaphysics, of what consequently one should not even call experience in general, that is to say, the origin of meaning in general. (Derrida, 1976: 10)

This ‘nonfortuitous conjunction of cybernetics and the ‘human sciences’ could be one way in which we might understand Derrida’s description of Ulysses and Finnegans Wakeas ‘1000th generation computer’ or ‘hypermnesiac machine’ (Derrida, 1984: 147-148).


In ‘Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences’, Derrida makes the point that it is impossible to conceive of an unorganised structure. But although the genetic code, like the philosophico-historical episteme, will always have functioned as an ‘organising principle which would limit what we might call the play of structure’ (Derrida, 1978: 278) — even if this limit were to be marked as a kind of probability quotient or evolutionary chain — this does not mean to say that there cannot be an ‘organising principle’ which would not, at least in an analogous sense, limit the ‘play of structure’. Such an ‘organising principle’ would pose a challenge to the authority of the ‘code’, or of the episteme, over the general field of discourse.

Among the basic tenets of poststructuralist thought is the contention that the episteme is that which ‘absolutely requires, which is the absolute requirement that we go back to the source, to the centre, to the founding basis, to the principle’ (Derrida, 1978: 286). Epistemic discourse might thus be regarded as necessarily genealogical, labouring beneath the spectre of memory as re-presencing. However, according to this ‘absolute requirement’ that we ‘go back’, there arises a certain aporia in the paradoxical will to derivation and truth. Michel Foucault defines this in terms of genealogy:

Genealogy, as an analysis of descent, is thus situated within the articulation of the body and history. It’s task is to expose a body totally imprinted by history and the process of history’s destruction of the body… The historical sense gives rise to three uses that oppose and correspond to the three Platonic modalities of history. The first is parodic, directed against reality, and opposes the theme of history as reminiscence or recognition; the second is dissociative, directed against identity, and opposes history given as a continuity or representative of a tradition; the third is sacrificial, directed against truth, and opposes history as knowledge. (Foucault, 1977: 148-160)

This genealogical movement is paradoxical precisely because it will have been inscribed, a priori, in the discourse over which it has always assumed a certain mastery, and because it will have posited from within (and upon the basis of) this discourse an episteme which is forever exterior to it. Nietzsche makes a similar point in Beyond Good and Evil, when he asks:

Who is it that here questions us? What really is it that wants the truth? … Which of us here is Oedipus? Which of us sphinx? (1990: 33)

In other words, the genealogical will remains entangled in, and dependent upon, the very (technological, discursive) structures that it requires to be reduced, and in this sense the movement of epistemic discourse always takes the form of a quest, detour or ‘riverrun’. This is not to say, however, that epistemic discourse is opposed to some other discourse (say, ‘mythological discourse’), but that from its origin epistemic discourse is, in and of itself, mythomorphic — a ‘cataleptic mithyphallic’ (FW 481.04).

In the section of L’Origine des manières de table entitled ‘Du mythe au roman’, Claude Lévi-Strauss describes a ‘process of degradation’ in myths which takes place over the course of their transformations as social narratives and ritual re-tellings and meta-narratives (1968: 105). This degradation, in which the cyclical periodicity of a myth is lost in a diversity of episodes relating to ever shorter periods of time, may be characterised, according to Stephen Heath, as a ‘loss’ of structure (1984: 48-9). In other words, ‘its structural content is dissipated’ as what Heath calls a ‘fall into seriality’ (ibid., 49). This ‘fall into seriality’ has been discussed at length by Margot Norris in her 1974 structuralist analysis The Decentered Universe of Finnegans Wake (1976). One of the things that Norris suggests is that the reception of ‘unmistakable similarities’, in the way the ‘event’ of H.C.E’.s supposed fall is retold (the ‘Phoenix Park incident’), marks precisely what gives mythologising its possibility — as a type of ‘hearasay in / paradox lust’ (FW 263.L4):

At no point does the account of the Phoenix Park incident qualify as the real or factual event, the ‘true’ account of what happened that day. Instead we merely receive different versions with unmistakable similarities… The lack of an authentic source, of a ‘true’ version, suggests that… the original trauma, was itself experienced as a fiction or myth at the moment of its occurrence. (1976: 26)

Similarly, the recursive fall of the tropic figure H.C.E., as ‘Hocus Crocus, Esquilocus’ (FW 254.20), suggests that the equi-locus of the Wakean ‘concentric centre’ is tied to the solipsism of self-identity or Freudian repetition compulsion — what Joyce refers to as ‘cycloannalism, from space to space, time after time, in various phases of scripture as in various poses of sepulture’ (FW 254.26-8). As Lévi-Strauss suggests, the ‘function of repetition is to render the structure of myth apparent’ (1967: 226). But rather than assuming that similarity in repetition points towards either a prior truth or to a mythification which has already taken place, we might say that they belong to a myth-in-process — a type of repetition compulsion whereby memory, mediated through a ‘return of the repressed’, no longer belongs to a remembrance of an originary event, but to a form of paracitation.

Similarly, we would not properly be able to speak of something ‘experienced as a fiction or myth at the moment of its occurrence’, unless that ‘moment of occurrence’ were itself already mythomorphic. In this way discourse would be organised around a certain aporia of destination — the episteme as the mythic ‘event’ par excellence and epistemic discourse as a discourse that is mythomorphic precisely because it constitutes itself as the (future) recurrence of ‘its own’ event (/advent). Further, we could say that theambivalence of this recurrence fulfils, in a sense, what (of myth) marks ‘the essence of technics’ as ‘the destiny of being placed‘ (Weber, 1990: 49).


It remains a common-place assumption in Finnegans Wake criticism that A.L.P. and H.C.E. (nominally Anna Livia Plurabelle and Humphery Chimpdon Earwicker) function as archetypal parental figures who somehow engender all of the Wake‘s various narratological forms, providing Joyce’s text with a kind of architectonics: ‘The meandertale, aloss and again, of our old Heidenburgh in the days when Head-in-Clouds walked the earth’ (FW 18.21-22). What is of particular interest is how this speculative project derives from a certain complacency regarding the respective identities of these triads, H.C.E. and A.L.P., and our ability to structure around them familiar historical narratives and Oedipalised genealogies of ‘this old world epistola of their weatherings and their marryings’ (FW 117.27-8).

Consequently these figures are often taken to describe a polymorphous or ‘genetic’ network of possible identities (fictional, historical, autobiographical), which, however fragmented or divergent they may at first appear, can nevertheless be reduced to a set of normative predicates (novelistic structure, ‘Scene and property plot’ (FW 558.35-6), etc.) — what Roland Barthes calls a ‘narrative (… unveiling of truth)’ which ‘is a staging of the (absent, hidden, or hypostatised) father’ (Joyce, H.C.E.?), and which ‘would explain the solidarity of [the text’s] narrative forms’ and of its ‘familial structures’ (Barthes, 1975: 10). They are then regarded as acting like a genetic ‘master key’ whose permutations and combinations are supposed to follow essentially coherent, if superficially obscured, evolutionary patterns, and which, despite appearing to mark an aleatory scattering of semes, nevertheless remain gathered about a central meaning or originary code which through a rigorous genealogical project might be fixed and interrogated.

But while this genealogical impulse may provide a ‘motivation’ for a particular reading of the text, it remains that this impulse describes a structural outcome that its own process renders illusory. We might say, in fact, that this ‘motivation’ remains the condition of such a reading throughout, without there being any possibility of a final decoding of the genealogical or genetic sequence, no matter how much information is accumulated, or how much data is uncovered. Reading in this sense would always remain in an ‘initial’ state — a motivation or machination of the textual programme.

This notion of a reading suspended in an ‘initial state’, or of a genealogy in utero, points towards another aspect of the textual programme: its literal or etymological sense of before the word, or before writing, which would also suggest one of the ways in which Finnegans Wake ‘calls for’ reading, as something which Derrida describes as being precisely what we have not yet begun to read (‘between the closure of the gramme and the trace of difference’) (Derrida, 1982: 63). In this sense we might say that Finnegans Wake ‘solicits’ reading — that it motives or machinates reading in the form of a textual apparatus, situated at the limits of a type of autoproduction, or re-production, which would also take the form of a cybernetic or hypertextual machine:

. . .writing thithaways end to end and turning, turning and end to end hitherways and with lines of litters slittering up and louds of latters slattering down, the old semetomyplace. (FW 114.16-20)

Such an apparatus would remain in a constant discursive state, manufacturing by turns both resemblances and differences that appear to hint, regardless of how chaotic the process of articulation or manufacture may appear on the surface, at some determinate organising principle beyond: what Joyce here calls ‘the old semetomyplace’.

Resonating with the possible significations of ‘see-me’, ‘seem’, ‘seam’ and ‘seme’, combined with the preposition ‘to’ and the genitive ‘my place’, this line suggests that what motivates this cybernetic apparatus is, again, a ‘paradox lust’: an interminable passage, or detour, between the assumption of a present and the appearance of representation, or between the ‘place’ of identification and textual production. Similarly, we might say that H.C.E. and A.L.P., rather than standing in place of a signified concept that would structure this grid from outside, describe instead transverse communications within the Wakean grid between differing moments of a desire for signifying structure. Each movement towards a signified concept is then put to work as yet one more series of co-ordinates in the Wakean ‘grand continuum’ (FW 472.30), marking out a chain of dis-placement and substitution whose ‘genealogy’ in fact describes the genetic mediation of the H.C.E. and A.L.P. triads.

This does not mean that H.C.E. and A.L.P. will have taken the place of a genealogy or of an identity as such. Nor that they should not be thought of as being affected in terms of a prior code — in the sense of a concealed meaning or Platonic aletheia. But rather that they affect what Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok describe as the ‘lexical contiguity of various meanings of the same word’ (Abraham and Torok, 1976: 118). Such a contiguity would be regarded as ‘antisemantic or a-semantic’ because of the way in which a ‘word’ becomes the site of a ‘contamination’, where signifiers ‘agglutinate homonymically’. Similarly, we might regard the Wake‘s acrostics and portmanteaux as affecting a kind of viral typogenetics, simulating all the properties of a genetic code or a genetic ‘memory’ at the same time as reorganising that code’s arche- or teleo-logical imprint.

Such a ‘contiguity’ between a viral typogenetics (A.L.P. and H.C.E.) and schematic structure, or between retro-viral DNA and its host, would be one way that we might view the dynamics of Finnegans Wake as a ‘communication’ motivated by the recurrence of chance operations in the alignment and re-alignment of sublexical graphic and phonic elements in Joyce’s textual apparatus. What is important is how the triads H.C.E. and A.L.P., as the traditionally privileged sites of this communication, demonstrate one way in which a process of genetic poiesis ‘marks the necessity of a contamination of any essence by a generalised technology’ (Bennington, 1993: 312-3). As Derrida writes, countering Heideggers assertion that the essence of technology is nothing technological:

Contamination… of the thought of essence by technology, and so contamination by technology of the unthinkable essence of technology — and even of a question of technology by technology. (Derrida, 1989: 10)

What is also important is how this techno-genetic metaphor derives not from a particular thematics, or from the numerous possible references to biological and technological phenomena to be found in the Wake, but from those geno-technic functions that emerge from and within the Wake‘s language itself. In this way the lexicography of Finnegans Wake implies a movement towards a totalisation of the word, under the tenor of otherwise latent formal syntactic and grammatical structures, and thus a possible semantic system. Such an approach nevertheless requires the assumption that, in order to be ‘readable’, a text must first be constituted in relation to an horizon of expectations, and to the necessity of a prior translational or transcriptive code (even if this code is characterised by the lack of a system). What in fact emerges, however, is that the mechanism which initiates the translation-transcription process is not one which is affected in terms of a prior code but rather by the ‘lexical contiguity of various meanings of the same word’, or of the same compound (Abraham and Torok, 1976: 118).

In Joyce’s radically paronomasian text, this contiguity operates not only on the lexical scale, but also on a tropic and schematic scale — a structural shift orientated, as we have already seen, by such ‘co-ordinates’ as H.C.E. and A.L.P. These co-ordinates would also be seen as describing transverse relations across all of these scales, and so bringing about transverse communications. Through its various enzymatic processes of meaning formation and de-formation, this communication seems to bring-forth virtually infinite series of other texts, causing them to intersect according to the allegorico-metonymic figures of H.C.E. and A.L.P. At best, however, these figures would indicate a certain schematic idea of one another and of the place where contact could be made, as the promise of some future ‘advent’. A.L.P. and H.C.E. might then come to describe ‘indexical’ terms in what might be called an ‘interminable list of all the so-called undecidable quasi-concepts that [are] so many aporetic places or dislocations’ (Derrida, 1993: 15).

Such an ‘interminable list’ would traverse another kind of narrative space, something like a simulacrum index rerum cutting across the totality of Joyce’s ‘encyclopaedic’ text at the same time as invalidating any architectonics or formal element which might be offered as relating all the parts to the whole. That is to say, these indices would remain irreducible beyond a certain genesis, a ‘paradox lust’ or Paradise Lost which would also repeat the on-going site of the ‘fall’ as an allegorical rendering of the aporia of the genealogical will — what Joyce calls ‘eldorado or ultimate thole’ (Ultima Thule) (FW 134.01-02). Moreover we should understand that this ‘fall’ is not the fall from an originary, purer, more elevated state. Rather it marks a certain internal difference of the so-called ‘ultimate event’, whereby the memory of/at the origin is already contaminated by the divisibility of the trace.


The re-inscription of indexical value within the space of the technologico-viral matrix (A.L.P. and H.C.E.), nevertheless supposes what Weber calls ‘a place of reckoning: a place from which to take stock and take a stand’ (Weber, 1990: 49). That is, against the ambivalent or unsecured being placed by which we might say that Joyces hypertextual poiesisbelongs to technics. By posing emplacement against a place of reckoning, this aporia of genealogy threatens to re-establish precisely the oppositional foundation of inside/outside, physis/techne and so on, which viral propagation will have supposedly deconstructed. As Heidegger argues:

What looks like disunity and an unsure, ‘haphazard’ [Zufall] way of ‘trying things out’, is really an elemental restlessness, the goal of which is to understand ‘life’ philosophically and to secure for this understanding a hermeneutical foundation. (Heidegger, 1992: 398)

The paradigmatic treatment of the Wake‘s ‘genetic’ strands, A.L.P. and H.C.E., may itself be viewed as symptomatic of such an ‘elemental restlessness’ and the desire to situate the text in regards to first principles (as the decipherable code of a hermeneutic reduction). In this sense, the Zufall organisation of the Wake‘s typogenetic codes would be posed as a form of discursus, a universalised theorein of speculative knowledge, whose procedures are probabilistic, in terms of a ratio of assumed outcomes (concealment/revelation). In other words, the hermeneutic reductionism which this Zufall movement conceals, is directed by a desire for signifying ‘equation’, or adæquatio — a movement of revealing which, in the goal of securing a hermeneutic ground, establishes a self-contradiction:

For a surview over all the factionables see Iris in the Evenine’s World. Binomeans to be comprehendered. In excessible as thy by god ways. The aximones. And their prostalutes. For his neuralgiabrown. Equal to=aosch. P.t.l.o.a.t.o. So, bagdad, after those initials falls and that primary taincture, as I know and you know yourself

(FW 285.26-286.06)


For Joyce, what is ‘by no means to be comprehendered’ is not only inaccessible, but in excess of the system of postulates and axioms which would seek to establish knowledge (or self-knowledge) by means of reduction or adæquatio. Whilst the right-hand marginalia points towards the apotheosis or ‘theosis’ of the lustral principle (A.L.P.) as a function of a certain grammatology, the term ‘HEPTAGRAMMATON’ simultaneously points to the words ‘equal to’ and the letters ‘P.t.l.o.a.t.o.’ in the central column of text. While the seven letters and four consonants ‘P.t.l.o.a.t.o.’ suggest a coding of ‘equal to’, they also suggest another sense of equation (or inequation) in the relation of the words ‘equal to’ and the meaning of the equals sign (=). As a type of rebus, the = siglum invites a particular deciphering of the double sense of the words ‘equals to’ and the letters ‘P.t.l.o.a.t.o.’ by way of ‘aosch’ (or ‘chaos’), as a transpositional ‘hypothesis’ of the textual derivation of what is ‘in exessible’ (i.e. the meaning of the trinitarian figure A.L.P. in toto).

Approached otherwise, the letters ‘P.t.l.o.a.t.o.’ can also be read as suggestive of an acronym, or what Shklovsky termed ‘algebrisation’, whose capitalised first term also invites identification with a proper noun. Among various other possibilities is the name ‘Plato’ (‘after those initials falls’), whose Socratic dialogues likewise mark out a path of derivation through a dialectics of knowledge and self-knowledge. Earlier in the same chapter, Plato’s name is similarly involved in an anagrammatical entanglement with the letters H C E A L and P in the line: ‘Easy, calm your haste! Approach to lead our passage!’ (FW 262.01-2). Here, too, a hermeneutic movement is suggested under the guise of an elemental restlessness (‘Easy, calm you haste!’), in the invocation of A.L.P. to ‘Approach to lead our passage!’ The ‘defilement’ of the proper name Plato, and its anagrammatical entanglement with A.L.P., belies the thematics of hermeneutic reduction and of the proper itself (as purely ‘nominal’), in a way that re-introduces to the signifying equation a fundamental element of ‘chaos’ (its ‘in excessible’ meaning).

Further allusions to Plato and Platonism appear throughout ‘Nightlessons’, and the Wake as a whole. One reference to A.L.P. as ‘eternal geomater’ (FW 296.31-297.01), provides a possible link in Joyce’s text between geometry (as the classical science of pure forms) and Platonic aletheia (as the presencing of logos) in the word ‘Aletheometry’ (FW 370.13), which elsewhere is linked to signifiers of originary dissimulation, as ‘lethemuse’ (FW 272.F3). At the same time, A.L.P. is related to the mythical underworld figure Persephone (perce oreille), just as the name Plato is related to that of Pluto (‘plutonically pursuant’ (FW 267.09-10)). As the signifier of a maternal origin of geometry and of Platonic logos (‘eternal geomater’), A.L.P. can be seen as describing what amounts to a ‘contamination’ of the ‘essence of truth’ from within, echoing the internal defilement of Plato by Pluto (in which the relation of Acheron to the ‘Analogy of the Cave’ in Plato’s Republic suggests an occultation of aletheia as a bringing to the light).

Typographically, the Greek term aletheia (truth, unconcealment, adæquatio) can also be read as a-letheia – so that, as Heidegger says, the privative alpha is taken to indicate that concealment (lethe) always accompanies unconcealment (1992: 33). In Heideggers interpretation, ‘self-concealing’, concealment, belongs to a-letheia, not just as an addition, not as the shadow of light, but rather as the heart of a(lethe)ia. Hence Platonic aletheia is shown to belong to that which persists within it, as lethe, and which gives rise to it through a movement of abnegationa movement which nevertheless both preserves and affirms the words ‘originary’ sense of concealing-forgetfulness.

In an important corollary, this quasi-viral emplacement of lethe within one of the founding terms of Platonic metaphysics is seen to draw together, in an important way, the two-fold movement of concealing forgetfulness with a concept of technology, which likewise suggests a further sense of ’emplacement’ in terms of a typogenetic defilement. For Heidegger:

Technology comes to presence in the realm where revealing and unconcealment take place, where aletheia, truth, happens. (Heidegger, 1993: 319)

This technology of aletheia, as a mnemotechnic, resides in the topical reversion of memory as ‘writing’. In this sense it is the typogenetic mechanism of emplaced lethe/aletheiawhich gives rise to an ‘autopoietics’ of a-letheia (a hypermnesiac machine, which remembers by forgetting everything, en abyme), just as the typogenetics of the Wake allows for the reading of the proper name Plato and the figure of A.L.P. as congruent in the line ‘Approach to lead our passage!’ which likewise suggests a passage of mimetic recursion or entropics. While possible reference to Greek mythology links the analogy of Plato’s cave to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice as a ‘passage’ of aletheia, it also points to a counter movement of cyclical recursion in the figures of both Eurydice and Persephone, in which aletheia is ‘negated’ in the reversioning of the name Plato as Pluto. The typographical ‘marrying’ of Plato and A.L.P. similarly suggests the seasonal re-marrying of Pluto and Persephone, as the parallel reversion of lethe in aletheia, and the Virgilian epigraph to Freud’s Traumdeutung: ‘Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo’.

Joyce’s allusion to the river Lethe, in the word ‘lethemuse’, likewise draws attention to the operation of concepts like mimesis and mnemosyne, or creative memory (the source of language, according to Hegel). As with the figure of Mnemosyne in Keats’ Hyperion fragment, which is inextricably linked to a notion of ‘fall’ and topical reversion (Apollo-Hyperion), the mnemotechnic of a-letheia marks a certain defilement of internalised memory in a way that would characterise memory as the recurrent affirmation of concealing-forgetfulness, but also as a kind of recursive apparatuswhat Heidegger terms Ge-stell, or enframing¸ as a technological form of disclosure or ‘revealing’ (1993: 324).

What lethe gives of its effacement in a-letheia is the possibility of a being-placed, by which a-letheia re-marks itself in the affirmation of its own interminable passage toward the aporia of self-presence. We could say, then, that a-letheia always takes the form of a detour and a repetition (the emplacements of lethe in aletheia describing a passage twice through Lethe in the counter-memory of its origin as mnemotechnic), suggesting another way in which the ‘riverrun’ of Finnegans Wake might enact a retroversion of Platonic logos to what Joyce calls the ‘babbling pumpt of platinism’ (FW 164.11). This aporia of reduction likewise describes what Derrida calls the ‘differentiation within language’, between reproducing and supplanting (1981: 89). For Derrida, this takes the form of something like a viral, typogenetic emplacement, by which logos (as emplaced techno-logy) is effectively spirited away from itself (‘lethelulled’ (FW 78.04)):

. . .it is this life of the memory that the pharmakon of writing would come to hypnotise: fascinating it, taking it out of itself by putting it to sleep in a monument. Confident of the permanence and independence of its types (tupoi), memory will fall asleep, will not keep itself up, will no longer keep to keeping itself alert, present, as close as possible to the truth of what is. . .it will sink down into lethe, overcome by non-knowledge and forgetfulness.

(Derrida, 1981: 105)

And yet:

Memory and truth cannot be separated. The movement of aletheia is a deployment of mneme through and through… The power of lethe simultaneously increase the domains of death, of nontruth, of nonknowledge. This is why writing, at least insofar as it sows ‘forgetfulness in the soul’, turns us towards the inanimate and towards nonknowledge. But it cannot be said that its essence simply and presently confounds it with death or nontruth. For writing has no essence or value of its own, whether positive or negative. It plays within the simulacrum. It is in its type the mime of memory, of knowledge, of truth, etc. (ibid.)

What emerges from this play between lethe and a-letheia, then, is a particular notion of originary difference or différance which marks an aporia of hermeneutic reduction at the same time as it signals its on-going ‘solicitation’. As the ‘mime’ of memory, writing or the written trait affects a typogenetics of counter-reductive ‘reversion’ (lethemneme as aporia of origins), in which the babelisation of language (‘lethurgies’ (FW 334.01)) no longer describes a form of concealment of meaning, but rather the ‘essence’ of unconcealment as techne.


While we might say that Wakean ‘typogenetics’ frustrates the desire to secure a place or stable field wherein Finnegans Wake could be defined in regard to a structuralepisteme, it is not then a matter of privileging this geno-technics in place, for example, of logocentric discourse. As Weber suggests: ‘Technics… even and especially as emplacement, remains a movement of unsecuring‘ (1990: 50). It is in this sense that we can regard the ‘genetics’ of the Wake as motivating a ‘paradox lust’ between techne on the one hand and logos on the other (even as these two terms come to imply one another under the tenor and concept of technology). And inasmuch as we might call certain typographical effects, such as H.C.E. and A.L.P., resemblant of a genetics infrastructure, this would have more to do with the concept of a retro-virus (and with the way viral emplacement programs the fundamental logic of genetic structure), than with anything that might simulate genetics. It is precisely because of this engagement with genetic, or geno-technic emplacement that we need to take into account the various influences affected by this word’s etymology within the field of received philosophical concepts.

The geno-technics of the retrovirus can be thought of as infecting from within, and through a type of perverse etymological filiation, the entire discursive field of genealogygenregendergenus and genesis. Extending, through the function of the genitive, to all of our concepts of belonging, ownership, capital, identity and of the proper name. And subsequently, via the Greek geno- and the Latin gens and discursus, to the entire history of Western metaphysical notions of conceptionunderstanding and knowledge. The ‘genetics’ of the Wakean triads H.C.E. and A.L.P. would thus entail what Deleuze and Guattari have described as ‘propagation by epidemic, by contagion’ which no longer ‘has anything to do with filiation by heredity… even if the two themes intermingle and require each other’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1993: 241).

As conceived by Deleuze and Guattari, this movement of unsecuring of/at the origin informs a structural decentring which operates the metaphor of ‘desiring machines’. The desiring machine, counter to any system of closure or simulated organic unity, functions by means of a process of ‘flows and interruptions’ or ‘breakthroughs and breakdowns’. Not surprisingly, the desiring-production of desiring machines takes the form of a type of hypertextuality, which, like the ‘riverrun’ of Finnegans Wake ‘turns back upon’ itself in a way that brings about:

. . .transverse communications, transfinite inscriptions, polyvocal and transcursive inscriptions on its own surface, in which… functional breaks and flows… are continually intersected by breaks in the signifying chains, and by breaks effected by a subject that uses them in order to locate itself. (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977: 43)

In their 1979 book Autopoiesis and Cognition, cyberneticists Humberto Maturana and Francesco Varela coin the phrase ‘autopoietic machines’ to describe analogous processes of mechanised autoproduction. In cybernetics the term autopoietic refers to ‘machines’ organised as a network of processes of production, transformation and destruction. This network gives rise to components which, through their interactions and transformations, regenerate and in turn realise the network or processes that produced them. At the same time these components constitute the network as a concrete unity in the space in which they exist by specifying the ‘topological domain of its realisation’. In other words, the components of autopoietic machines generate recursively, by means of their interaction, the same network of processes by which they themselves are produced.

Like Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘desiring machines’, autopoietic machines describe a movement of self-engendered ‘transverse communications’. The recursive play between topology and tropology here suggests that we might also approach Finnegans Wake as a type of ‘word machine, or a complex machination of meanings’, a ‘perverse semic machine’ which ‘has the ability to distort the classical semiological relation between “production” and “information” by disarticulating the sequence of encoding and decoding’ (Rabaté, 1984: 79). Among other things, this disarticulation serves to affirm the Saussurean view that what remains necessary for ‘meaning’ to arise is not a predetermined system of codes, but rather a network of internal textual difference (the technics of autopoiesis). Similarly, in the case of the Wakean figures, H.C.E. and A.L.P., it is not the logic of genetic filiation that gives rise to something resembling identity (even virtual identity), but rather the particular differential functions that each of these figures describes, as a kind of matrix or difference engine — a ‘polyhedron of all scripture’ or ‘proteiform graph’ (FW 107.08) motivated by recurrences in the alignment and re-alignment of sublexical graphic and phonic units — a technological event which produces, potentially, infinite networks of meanings.

The letters H C E A L and P — far from indicating a kind of indexical code that would affirm, at another level, an architectonics of Finnegans Wake — indicate instead the various shifting co-ordinates, or lattice points, of a traversal across the entire discursive field of linguistic substitutability, whose outer limits necessarily exceed the structure of the book itself and not simply the formal structures allegedly contained by it. What it is that motivates this ‘hypertextual’ apparatus might then be simply expressed as a statement defining a communication between the assumptions of genetics and genetic structure, on the one hand, and a general movement of viral emplacement, on the other. The space of this communication would be said to arise in an ‘originary’ fashion — that is, as a movement of unsecuring of/at the origin. In this way what we would call genetic memory will always already have been divided from itself, mediated from within by this space of différance, and paradoxically affirmed in a retrogressive tendency to repetition and autopoiesis in the evolution of Joyce’s ‘hypermnesiac machine’.2

Being hetero-genetic, this ‘hypermnesiac machine’ would thus situate writing as the form and horizon of a projective re-memoration, marking the substitution of trace, or arche-trace, since the concept of a mnemotechnics arises from a direct re-experiencing of a past (presence) that returns (in the present). Similarly, the recursive mechanism which gives rise to concepts of identity in Finnegans Wake is not the proximity of its signifiers to some prior code, but rather a technics of signifying memory, a hetero-genetic memory that would remain unfixed and whose apparent limits would describe ‘aberrant paths of communication between noncommunicating vessels’ and ‘transverse unities between elements within their own particular boundaries’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977: 43). And if these paths of communication appear at first to function together as a ‘genetic key’ that might unlock the Wake‘s hypertextual labyrinth, it would only be in the sense that, like retro-viral propagation, they assume the coherence of a structure which they nevertheless, in advance, deconstruct from within.


1 Genetic Joyce Studies: Electronic Journal for the Study of James Joyce’s Works in Progress can be found at:

2 At the beginning of Finnegans Wake the play between the Hegelian term Erinnerung (remembrance or memory as interiorisation) and the first word of Finnegans Wake‘riverrun’ (as indicative of a recursive babelisation of language) opens what we might call a space of hetero-genetic memory: the ghost of Erinnerung contained in ‘riverrun’, whose sense, we might say, henceforth derives from this interior communication. In the larger context of the question concerning ‘memory’ and ‘writing’ in Joyce’s text, this babelisation, mediated by the Wake‘s various lexical and mythical designs, describes one way in which Erinnerung is substituted by Gedächtnis, which would also suggest a type of mechanical or technical hypermnesis. In this way ‘writing’ would also come to define what is understood by ‘thought’. Paul de Man suggests that this movement of substitution is already present in Hegel, as a type of deconstructive imminence (viral emplacement) within dialectics: ‘Hegel… in a crucial passage from the Encyclopaedia… defines thought (Denken) as the substitution of Gedächtnis… for Erinnerung’ (de Man,1984: 288).

Similarly Derrida, in ‘Ousia and Gramme’, points out that in ‘a transitional remark between the chapter devoted to memory and the chapter devoted to thought, Hegel recalls that “German language has etymologically assigned memory (Gedächtnis), of which it becomes a foregone conclusion to speak contemptuously, the high position of direct kindred with thought (Gedanke)” (Encyclopaedia, §464, 223)’ (1982: 87). Likewise in Being and Time, Heidegger approaches Erinnerung as a form of ‘commemorative’ thinking (andenkendes Denken). For Heidegger, however, the substitution of ‘commemoration’ for ‘manipulative’ thinking, is not a determination of thought itself. The change from formative or ‘manipulative’ thinking cannot itself be manipulated — it is a change subject to no ‘instrumentality’, but to a certain discursus which must be endured: ‘It takes place as the entry into the word’s own rule, which means making the passage from the concept-formation, over something which we imagine we have control, into placing ourselves within the grant of language’ (Bernasconi, 1984: 11).

This endurance of the word becomes for Heidegger the remembrance of ‘words for Being’. These words are heard at the end of philosophy, since it as the end of philosophy which allows us to hear ‘anew’ (FW 594.15) through a constant dialogue with the thinking that precedes it. In Book IV of Finnegans Wake this ‘anew’ is the dawn, the Viconian ricorso, the age of anarchia, of technology as the proliferation of signifiers. That is, in this ‘anew’ the word’s own rule is realised as a form of both discursive emplacement and cyclical ‘annulus’. It is in this sense that the Wake might be said to articulate an end of philosophy — what is fundamental to the end of philosophy, not as a place of reckoning, but of what is described in Was Heißt Denken as the possibility of thought. It is this strange ‘commemoration’ at the end of history in which the word comes into its own — the ‘its own’ of Joyce’s ‘word, letter, paperspace’ as a ‘perfect signature’ (FW 115.06-08).

But despite this imposition of the genitive, there remains no privileged standpoint at the ‘end of philosophy’, and while Heidegger imagines there to be a ‘unity’ to metaphysics at the end, this unity shows itself as a series of different signatures for Being, arising from the persistence of the ‘beginning’ in Erinnerung and unrecognised as such until the ‘end’. Heidegger considers this series to be free, as taking place as a recursive series of lapsus, inaugurated by what Derrida characterises as ‘the moment when language invaded the universal problematic, the moment when, in the absence of a centre or origin, everything became discourse… a system in which the central signified, the original or transcendental signified, is never absolutely present outside a system of difference. The absence of the transcendental signified extends the domain of the play of signification infinitely’ (1978: 151-2).


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Louis Armand lectures in cultural theory and art history at Charles University and at the University of New York, Prague, the Czech Republic.