Posts Tagged ‘coincidence’


The obscure soul of the world, a darkness shining

January 17, 2016

The title is a direct quotation from the ‘Nestor’ episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses, when Stephen Dedalus employs the ‘ethics of the chiaroscuro perspective’ (Mahaffey 2009: 206) to challenge the  dualism of Deasy, who equates darkness with evil and the foreign ‘Other’ sinning ‘against the light’. The ‘darkness that shines’ that Joyce wishes to claim for a humankind made whole in its diversity, in ‘a triumph of heterodoxy’ (ibid.), is illustrated in a sixteenth-century alchemical text by Salomon Trismosin, Splendor Solis, in the image of the Black Sun (Sol Niger).

black sun

This image came to mind on viewing for the first time, this week, the video of the title song of David Bowie’s last album, Blackstar, released on his 69th birthday, on January 8th, just two days before his sad passing on January 10th. I apologise for the apparent opportunism of focusing upon Bowie’s last work in the week that he died, but the coincidence of his passing – a shocking event which I absolutely had not anticipated – with my last post, itself on the theme of dream darkness and mortality, I wish to explore by the obscure light of some alchemical allusions in Blackstar.

Bowie Blackstar

This still from the beginning of the video shows the body of an astronaut lying in the light of a darkened sun. Perhaps the viewer familiar with the earlier work of David Bowie is led to surmise that this is the last resting place of Major Tom after his helpless drift through space. A woman is shown approaching the body; she appears to have a tail protruding from her dress. She opens up the visor on the astronaut’s helmet to reveal a jewel encrusted skull, which she detaches from the rest of the body before being shown bearing it in a glass casket towards a mysterious city.

skull bowie.png

A circle of women is shown preparing to receive the skull – with all the reverence due to a holy relic – while the skeletal remains of the astronaut are shown drifting across space, twisting and receding towards the darkened sun, evoking for me the image I had dreamt last October of a winding sheet or swaddling clothes metamorphosing into ‘the Lamb of God’. The whole video shines with a light similar to that of the dream.

The whole song and the imagery of the video is rich in symbolic associations and possible meanings but I shall discuss only the image of black sun (‘black star’) and skull for the sake of brevity. In Emblem no. 9 from the Philosophia Reformata of Johann Daniel Mylius (Frankfurt 1622), a skeleton is shown standing on a flaming black globe, holding a black crow in its right hand, symbolising the alchemical stage of putrefactio. Perhaps the drifting of the headless skeleton towards the black star in Bowie’s video is intended to evoke that image. Which ‘blackness of Nature’, according to a text attributed to Marsilio Ficino, ‘the ancient philosophers called the crows head or the black sun’ (Marsilius Ficinus, ‘Liber de Arte Chemica’. Theatrum Chemicum, Vol 2, Geneva, 1702, p172-183. Transcribed by Justin von Budjoss, from here).


One section of the Blackstar video shows three crucified scarecrows appearing to twitch and gyrate in ecstasy. This is an obvious reference to the Crucifixion of Christ and the two thieves crucified on either side of him at the place known as Golgotha, ‘the place of the skull’. Their identification as scarecrows is a deliberate allusion, I believe, to the crow as the black sun, while Golgotha plays a central role likewise in the alchemical phase of putrefactio or nigredo, the blackening of matter as the first step in the pathway to the Philosophers’ Stone, a starting-point understood as the caput mortuum (death’s head), the substance remaining after putrefaction, symbolised by a skull (Magee 2001: 145-146). The reconstitution of the Philosophers’ Stone in the alchemical process partakes of the theme of the Resurrection, symbolised by the image of the Phoenix and the risen Christ. Bowie’s song, Lazarus, from the Blackstar album, also partakes of this theme.

Aware of his looming departure, David Bowie seems to have drawn on and played with a wealth of occult sources and imagery to convey the idea that death is not the end but a beginning…


Mahaffey, V. 2009. Love, Race and Exiles: The Bleak Side of Ulysses, in Harold Bloom (ed.), James Joyce. New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism, Infobase Publishing, pp.205-220.

Magee, G.A. 2001. Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.




Hodology of a Dream

January 10, 2016

R. Hisda says: an uninterpreted dream is like an unread letter

Chaim Lauer

In the early hours of October 7th 2015 I had a strange dream. By the very nature of dreaming it’s hard to describe when wide awake a chronology or chain of events when there’s a collage of narrative/visual elements impinging upon each other in a moveable timespace, as if what happened in the dream earlier happened after what happened later or both were happening at the same time, while thoughts, feelings and impressions that elude description are at least as important as what is seen in whatever order.

One of the stimuli of the dream was an exchange I had on twitter with the writer, David Southwell, a few days before. My interest had been piqued by a comment of his, posted on October 3rd:

The hodology of London, the roads that shaped the city, came from the cattle walked to slaughter. London formed in blood shadow.

Without then knowing the meaning of hodology (the study of paths) I envisioned the old drovers’ routes running into London from different directions, from the West, the South, Wales, Scotland, the North. I thought of the cattle market in front of St Martin-in-the-Fields (where Trafalgar Square is now), and Smithfield. I thought of the lapsed project to seek a correlation between Red Cow pubs and the course of the Roman Road, Watling Street (based on the idea that the legendary black, white and red cows who formed the first roads in Ireland may have had a correlate in Britain).

As it turned out, Watling Street – in the form of the Edgware Road, the length of the street running north-west of Marble Arch, from the site of the Tyburn gallows – was described in conversation by David Southwell as

the old straight track through Middlesex Forest to London… my ancestral route of death.

Why an ancestral route of death? Because a forebear, Robert Southwell, a Jesuit priest convicted of high treason, was executed at Tyburn in 1595. The execution site stood at the junction of Edgware Road and Oxford Street, the latter also marking the course of a Roman Road, The Portway, which led to Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum) in Hampshire.

tyburn tree

Picture from International Times

Such thoughts of ancient paths trodden by cows and Catholic martyrs, routes of death, must have made a deep impression, when I found myself by night at a staggered road junction, a composite of at least two places separated by a mile in waking life – the junction of Rownhams Lane and Botley Road in North Baddesley, and the junction of Castle Lane and Winchester Road/Bournemouth Road in Chandler’s Ford, now just 100 yards apart. I was standing facing up a long straight road (corresponding to Castle Lane, but with a resemblance to Nine Mile Ride in Berkshire), waiting for an unidentified woman – likely a composite of different people – who was driving a car that was indicating to turn towards me from a junction to my right, to drive up Castle Lane. I waited and waited, but the woman driving the car had not turned, she had gone, disappeared.

I then found myself – still in the dark of night – stood outside the empty shell of a church or chapel. From the street I walked through an arch into an unroofed courtyard, its stone flags glistening in the moonlight, though the moon was unseen. I thought it slightly reminiscent of Holy Rood church in old Southampton, an empty shell without its roof, destroyed in the Blitz of November 1940. I turned to face the way I came in, seeing a chamber built into the external wall of the church. Looking into the chamber through a small window I saw it was a giant stone vat, full of laundry – white sheets – soaking in water. As I looked in, the ‘vat’ became a dark, faintly starry, dynamic space. The white cloth – swaddling clothes come to mind as I write – started twisting and receding into the distance, like a drifting galaxy, shrinking from view until coalescing into the tiny form of a lamb. At this point, a disembodied voice announced, sonorously, “The Lamb of God”.

On waking, it didn’t take me long to correlate the dream with the significant date – October 7th. It was the due date calculated for the birth of our son, Joshua, in 1991. To our distress Joshua didn’t survive pregnancy and the suffering of his premature birth. At the time of his passing I had had a dream in which most of the letters of his name – J-O-S-H-U-A – were incorporated anagrammatically in the name of a dream character called John Hughes, visualised in the dream as a soldier who dies in battle, just as Joshua struggled to the end. The Lamb of God. Always loved. As I wondered about the import of the unidentified woman driving the car who disappeared, I realised that another anniversary was imminent, for October 9th – John Lennon’s birthday – was the anniversary of my wife’s sister’s death just a few years before.

The composite of Castle Lane/Nine Mile Ride was evidently a route of death of the kind alluded to by David Southwell, comparable to the spirit roads and corpse paths along which the departed travel, whether in corporeal or more incorporeal form as fairies or ghosts, or even the terrestrial correlates of the flight paths of witches or shamans. I realised that the road off which Castle Lane runs in real life – Bournemouth Road/Winchester Road – was the route along which the body of King William Rufus was carried from the New Forest to Winchester. I couldn’t resist trying out some cartographic dream interpretation/divination when I unfurled the 1:50 000 OS map and the two foot ruler, to see if any patterns emerged.


The tomb of William Rufus in Winchester Cathedral depicted in 1832 (Wikimedia Commons).

Results, while inconclusive, were suggestive. In extending the alignment of the straight section of Castle Lane as it approaches Bournemouth Road/Winchester Road a series of road junctions and old farms seemed to converge on the line. The pattern was slightly more promising along the eastern length – it includes the junction of Mortimers Lane and Winchester Road at Lower Upham (by the Alma Inn – named after the Crimean War battle), a Bronze Age round barrow in woodland at Hazel Holt, and grazes the southern terminal of a Neolithic long barrow known locally as Giant’s Grave, in the shadow of Old Winchester Hill. [In fact, as of 9/1/16 I found a rather more compelling alignment from that Castle Lane junction, which I shall outline in a future post]. For reasons explained below, the place name Hazel Holt was part of an arresting coincidence when I  revisited this alignment on the evening of October 10th.

Stronger than death

I had no forewarning until the evening of its broadcast on October 10th of a major documentary on the poet, Ted Hughes. Once I found out, I hadn’t anticipated a TV programme with such enthusiasm for years, and I wasn’t disappointed on watching Ted Hughes: Stronger Than Death. His birth and early years in the village of Mytholmroyd, near Hebden Bridge, resonated with a weekend stay in the town three years before when my wife, Jo, and I attended a dayschool in commemoration of the arrest and trial of the Pendle Witches in 1612 (see here). A fascinating consideration of Ted Hughes as ‘Shaman of the Tribe’, written by Brian Taylor, was published in Hebden Bridge-based Northern Earth magazine a few years ago, a pdf of which can be found here, a theme further discussed on Brian’s Animist Jottings blog here.


Needless to say, the shadow of Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the tragedy of their relationship loomed large on September 29th 2012 when John Billingsley, dayschool organiser and editor of Northern Earth, led a party of us that evening to Heptonstall churchyard, where Sylvia Plath is buried.


Remembering this excursion, it dawned on me that the ruined church of Heptonstall (its successor stands yards away) offered a model of the church I had dreamt of a few nights before, just as much as Holy Rood in Southampton, maybe more so. As I’ve just read, the old church is dedicated to the martyr, St Thomas á Beckett. The graveyard is reputed to contain the remains of over 100,000 people.


The realisation that Heptonstall contributed part of the composite imagery of the dream led in turn to the realisation that the unidentified woman in the dream, who I had observed from about a 100-yard distance indicating to turn towards me but didn’t arrive, could now just as well have been Sylvia Plath as my sister-in-law, Ginnie, at least at that distance.


Sylvia Plath


Watching the documentary on October 10th I was disquieted by the visceral theme of a radio play written by Hughes and first broadcast in January 1963, The Difficulties of a Bridegroom, a storyline which now I find impossible to disentangle from a passage in a letter to Olwyn, his sister, dated 10th February 1963, about visiting his lover, Assia Wevill:

I drove up to London, ran over a hare (by pure chance – it’s impossible to do it deliberately) sold it to a butcher’s in Holborn and he gave me five bob. I spent it on roses – 4 I got for 5/-, smashed two, & gave 2 to Assia.

It was suggested on the documentary that hearing the play may have unsettled Sylvia Plath, who took her own life on February 11th, 1963. According to this site the play was broadcast on the Third Programme on February 9th; the site quoted the following synopsis:

Sullivan, driving up to London to see a girl, runs over a hare. Its death triggers off in the invisible world of his mind a sequence of happenings which determine what shall be allowed to happen in the visible world. The outer freakish accident seems almost to have been arranged purposely to fit the inner events.

On checking the cast list of the play I was astonished to find one of the characters identified as ‘The Women’ was played by someone called Hazel Holt.


After the documentary finished, I looked for the file of pictures taken on the Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall visit. I opened up an image of one of the many old gravestones in Heptonstall churchyard. I was mindful of the florid heart motif which, as John Billingsley had informed us, symbolises the soul in funerary iconography, in style almost assuming the facial characteristics of the head carvings in their embellishment.


As I regarded the picture, the phone started ringing. It was past 11pm. Concerned, I answered the phone. It was a close friend with news of his father, who had that day suffered a massive stroke and was not expected to survive. He passed away a few days later.

This week, sat in the van, I was writing on a piece of scrap paper an account of what I’d dreamt on Joshua’s due date, the part where the vat of soaking laundry became a starry space and the white cloth or swaddling clothes resolved into the form of a lamb. At the same time as I was writing this, a piece of music called Adieu, by Karlheinz Stockhausen, was introduced and played on the radio. Stockhausen dedicated the composition to the deceased son of a friend, who had been killed in a car-crash.

You are the one
Solid the spaces lean on, envious.   
You are the baby in the barn.
Sylvia Plath,
Nick and the Candlestick

A Petroglyphic Monad: The Constellation of Megalithic Art, Finnegans Wake, and Benjamin’s Arcades Project

August 14, 2015


A Petroglyphic Monad:

The Constellation of Megalithic Art,

Finnegans Wake

and Benjamin’s Arcades Project

Dr Simon Crook

O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

The fact that ‘this idea is reflected in all the others’ is precisely what we consider the characteristic of a dialectical bookThe Society of the Spectacle…as a negative of spectacular society…ultimately seeks nothing other than to overthrow the existing relation of forces in the factories and the streets.

Anon., ‘How not to understand Situationist books’, Internationale Situationniste No.12, 1969 (trans. Knabb 1981: 266).

Structuring the Conjunction

The discipline of archaeology has struggled to engage with questions of consciousness and ‘magical agency’ surrounding places inscribed with images of prehistoric ‘art’, such as the megalithic ‘tombs’ which are a focus of this article. The evanescent quality of experience eludes a dualistic empiricism which privileges material culture understood in its most crudely physical form. A concomitant narrowing of human motivation to an austere, instrumental rationality, determined by a ‘mode of production’, ensures that the qualitative activity of engraving images – deemed marginal to the construction of grand narratives of cultural history or social development – is reduced to a form of ‘symbolic labour’. Conceiving such images as a reflection of social structure further privileges a perceptually impoverished utilitarian model of social organisation, inadequate to the interpretation of a ‘spectrum of consciousness’ (Lewis-Williams 2002: 121) extending beyond the limits of such social theory.

As a gesture in acknowledgement of such ineffable dimensions – the ‘unusable superfluous force of matter or luxury’ (Asger Jorn, Held og Hasard, p.54 1963, in Shield 1998:142) – unrecognised by discursive structures which reproduce the positivist assumptions of social science, I prise a corpus of prehistoric rock art out of the linear sequence of archaeological chronology, to experiment with the potential of magical thought as a research method, in which the aim is ‘continually set far beyond the boundaries of what is empirically and rationally verifiable’ (Johannisson 1988: 252). It means not stopping at the theories of science, which are dictated by logic, but applying an analogical reasoning. Analogy, André Breton explains,

transgresses the deductive laws in order to make the mind apprehend the interdependence of two objects of thought situated on different planes, between which the logical functioning of the mind is unlikely to throw a bridge.

(Choucha 1991: 59).

Hence, driven by dissatisfaction at the limited permutations of predictable outcomes – ‘regularities’ – determined by functional models of social relations, and motivated by a playful misappropriation and subversion of poststructuralist-influenced ‘archaeologies-of-text’, some years ago I embarked upon the dialectical process of interpreting megalithic art of the Neolithic through the medium of James Joyce’s novel, Finnegans Wake, while interpreting the ‘sacred text’ of the Wake through the medium of megalithic art. This ludic approach to the materials has released me from certain methodological obligations – literary and archaeological – which govern the analysis of each phenomenon in isolation (Crook 2004).

Détournement, the ‘mutual interference of two worlds of feeling’, supersedes ‘the original elements and produces a synthetic organisation of greater efficacy’, according to early Situationist theorists (Debord and Wollen 1956: 9). The process of ‘mutuomorphomutation’ (FW 281.R) activated by the ‘structured conjunction’ of archaeological and literary phenomena has evolved to include a third element – as ‘the astrologer’ to ‘the conjunction of two stars’ (Benjamin 1999a: 696) – Walter Benjamin’s Passagenwerk, his ‘Arcades Project’. One commentator suggests that in this project Benjamin had in mind ‘a surreal Talmud for our times’ (Mertens 2004: 73), in which insight would not be created by a structured enumeration of arguments, instead its seemingly random quotations are ‘meant to create centres of associations between which sparks can jump’ (ibid.: 65). Together, these three elements – Megalithic Art, Finnegans Wake and the Passagenwerk – coincide in ‘a single space-time construction’ (Debord 1957: 55), ‘in double preposition as in triple conjunction’ (FW 595.24-25).

Grand Cerf

To ‘repeat at luxure’ (FW 328.9) the singularity wherein this whole is refracted, simultaneously, through its multiple facets, characterises an ornamental mode which does not follow a set of a priori procedural rules, is ‘not successive, not extorted by the oblique violence of premises’ (Walter Charleton 1650, in Ormsby-Lennon 1988: 313), but is motivated by an impulse to redeem a disenchanted world which is ‘fractured into a series of discrete entities’ (Chambers 1998: 172), which are governed by ‘an imperious rationalism’ (ibid.: 176). An impulse consonant with the humour of melancholy, which Hildegard of Bingen relates to the theological state of fallen humanity, ‘an anamnestic trace of divine nostalgia’ (Pensky 1993: 31), it aligns with Walter Benjamin’s quest to rescue ‘the intoxication of cosmic experience that the human being of antiquity possessed’ (Scholem 1976: 217-218). I elaborate this motivated text in the context of the resonance of the clash between Aristotelian and Rosicrucian models of language, both implicated in the metaphor of the ‘neurological bridge’ of altered states of consciousness applied to the interpretation of rock art (Lewis-Williams and Dowson 1988: 202).

The Speculative Good Friday

In 1604 – according to the history related in the Fama Fraternitatis, the first Rosicrucian Manifesto – the seven-sided burial chamber of the ‘illuminated father’, Christian Rosenkreuz, was discovered. Enlightened by a mysterious ‘inner sun’, geometrical figures embellished its walls. Engraved upon an altar was the legend: ‘This compendium of the universe I made in my lifetime to be my tomb’ (Yates 1972: 291). His uncorrupted body was found, clutching a sheaf of mysterious writings. Ten years after this discovery the first two anonymous Rosicrucian manifestos appeared. Declaiming on the portentous ‘new stars’ discovered in the constellations Cygnus and Serpentarius in the year 1604, which lent an eschatological dimension to their mission of universal reformation, the Rosicrucians drew on the esoteric currents of Renaissance Hermetic and magical tradition, the Jewish Kabbalah and the Paracelsian revival of alchemy (Yates 1972).


The philosophy of the ‘crucian rose’ (FW 122.25) permeates Finnegans Wake, which begins with the word ‘riverrun’ (FW 3.1), alluding to the motif of erinnerung, Hegel’s concept of ‘recollection’ which concludes his ‘ghost story’, The Phenomenology of Spirit. Here, the Absolute Spirit, ‘sunk into the night of its self-consciousness’ (Verene 1985: 4), interiorises the entirety of human history. Likewise, writing ‘entiringly as he continues highly-fictional, tumulous under his chthonic exterior’ (FW 261.17-18), Joyce conceived of Finnegans Wake as the dream of the fallen old Finn, lying in death by the River Liffey, watching the history of Ireland and the world – past and future – flow through his mind (Ellmann 1982: 544): ‘their joke was coming home to them, the steerage way for stabling, ghustorily spoeking’ (FW 323.35). The ‘Omnitudes in a knutshedell’ (FW 276.L2) of the ‘Headmound’ (FW 135.9), the riverside tomb of this composite patriarchal figure – HCE/Finnegan/Edmund, ‘king and martyr’ (FW 135.9) – recalls the image of Hegel’s ‘Golgotha of the spirit’, the Schädelstätte, the ‘Place of the Skull’ with which the Phenomenology ends:

the life of the Spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself.

(Hegel 1977: 18-19).

The 1922 Boundary Commission map of Ulster

The 1922 Boundary Commission map of Ulster: ‘made him, while his body still persisted, their present of a protem grave in Moyelta of the best Lough Neagh pattern’ (FW 76.20-22).

In alchemical tradition this image is understood as the caput mortuum, the substance remaining after putrefaction, symbolised by a skull (Magee 2001: 145-146), which Robert Fludd – a defender of the Rosicrucians (1616) – described as ‘the midden of them all… or dung of the whole spiritual mass’ (Huffman 2001: 81). The work of alchemical renewal in Finnegans Wake revolves around ‘that fatal midden’ (FW 110.25), in the reconfiguration, redemption and waking of ‘that same snob of the dunhill’ (FW 50.30), the ‘proper old promnentory’ (FW 623.6), HCE:

Well, this ought to weke him to make up. He’ll want all his fury gutmurdherers to redress him (FW 617.17-19).


Priapic ‘assauciations’ (FW 413.18) at a chambered tomb in Guernsey: ‘disassembling and taking him apart, the slammocks, with discrimination for his maypole and a rub in passing over his hump’ (FW 358.33-35).

In ‘the deification of his members’ (FW 498.21), HCE (Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker) is the dismembered Egyptian god, Osiris, whose missing member it is the task of Isis, in the person of his wife, ALP (Anna Livia Plurabelle), to find. In his ‘boke of the deeds’ (FW 13.30-31), Joyce assumes the role of Thoth, the scribe of the gods, who provides ALP/Isis with the words of power with which she is able to rouse Osiris: ‘Irise, Osirises!’ (FW 493.28).

John Dee's Sigillum Dei Aemaeth. A model of Christian Rosenkreuz's tomb? HCE’s prismatic suspension here, ‘like a heptagon crystal emprisoms’ (FW 127.3)

John Dee’s Sigillum Dei Aemaeth. A model of Christian Rosenkreuz’s seven-sided tomb? Was HCE prismatically suspended here, ‘like a heptagon crystal emprisoms’ (FW 127.3)?

This search for lost fragments – ‘recalled and scrapheaped by the Maker’ (FW 98.17) – corresponds to the materialist historiography of Walter Benjamin. While, for Hegel, the dialectic was ineluctably a temporal process, conceptualisable only in or as narrative (Helmling 2003), Benjamin saw such narratives as complicit with the triumphal procession of history’s victors, an understanding consonant with Stephen Daedalus’ complaint in Ulysses: ‘History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake’ (U.42). Instead, Benjamin’s re-membering of discontinuous fragmentary images exists outside the order of time altogether (Pilkington 1976: 174):

If the object of history is to be blasted out of the continuum of historical succession, that is because its monadological structure demands it. This structure first comes to light in the extracted object itself. And it does so in the form of the historical confrontation that makes up the interior… of the historical object, and into which all the forces and interests of history enter on a reduced scale.

(Benjamin 1999: 475).

Rescued in this way and reconfigured according to a principle of montage, the materialist historian seeks to discover ‘in the small individual moment the crystal of the total event’ (ibid.: 461), like William Blake’s ‘World in a Grain of Sand’, threatened by the calculative logic of Single Vision and Newton’s Sleep:

There is a Grain of Sand in Lambeth that Satan cannot find. Nor can his Watch Fiends find it: tis translucent & has many Angles.

(William Blake, Jerusalem 41: 16-17).


Walter Benjamin writes, ‘A historical materialist approaches a historical subject only where he encounters it as a monad. In this structure he recognises the sign of a Messianic cessation of happening… a revolutionary chance in the fight for the oppressed past. He takes cognisance of it in order to blast a specific era out of the homogeneous course of history – blasting a specific life out of the era or a specific work out of the lifework’. Theses on the Philosophy of History, XVII (1968a: 254).

The historian who stops ‘telling the sequence of events like the beads on a rosary’ and ‘grasps the constellation which his own era has formed with a definite earlier one’ establishes ‘a conception of the present as the “time of the now” which is shot through with chips of Messianic time’ (Benjamin 1999a: 255). Such ‘litterish fragments lurk dormant’ (FW 66.25-26) in Finnegans Wake‘s ‘mudden research’ (FW 595.25), the ‘Refuse of History’ (Benjamin 1999: 461). Its ‘wholemole millwheeling vicociclometer’ (FW 614.17) is modelled on Vico’s cyclical history of three ages and a ricorso which, like the Wake, is opposed to the unidimensional linear progress of the Enlightenment, and interrupts any ‘straight unfolding of a single line of development’ towards one aim (Heath 1984: 46). Hegel’s writing of history oriented to the realisation of Geist partakes of this unilinear model, informing his characterisation of Napoleon as ‘the World-Soul… riding a white horse’ (Lauer 1993:19). While HCE is the patriarchal hero on the ‘ghostwhite horse’ (FW 214.15) who, like Kalki, the tenth avatar of Vishnu in Hindu and Buddhist eschatology, concludes unilinear history and the world, in Joyce’s writing of a ‘whorled without aimed’ (FW 272.4-5) he is toppled in the play of chance and Dame Fortune – ‘the besieged bedreamt him stil and solely of those lililiths undeveiled which hat undone him’ (FW 75.5-6) – as the following illustration by Stephen Crowe of the text of Finnegans Wake shows:

fw9 03

© Stephen Crowe 2010 (from here)

So it is that Finnegans Wake, in the dissolution of all the artistic means of bourgeois society, amidst ‘the decomposition in which we, like everyone else, are completely involved’ (Debord 1957: 52) has been considered as less ‘an artistic creation’, more ‘an autopsy of its corpse’ (Anon. 1959: 85), a summation in tune with the Wake‘s continuous conjunction, within the divinatory moment of ‘the now’, of alchemical putrefaction and renewal: ‘your phumeral’s a roselixion’ (FW 346.12-13).

Signatures of Trance

In furnishing Louis Gillet with ‘the key to his work’ in Finnegans Wake, Joyce told him about

the language he had adopted in order to give his vocabulary the elasticity of sleep, to multiply the meaning of words, to permit the play of light and colour, and to make of each sentence a rainbow to which each tiny drop is itself a many-hued prism

(Atherton 1959: 17).

Research into altered states of consciousness (ASC) has identified recurring visual elements, defined by Heinrich Klüver in 1926 as form constants, said to derive from the human nervous system, which are experienced by all people who enter such states ‘no matter what their cultural background’ (Lewis-Williams and Dowson 1988: 202). These elements – which can take geometric forms as lattices, zigzags, dots, spirals and catenary curves – have been described as entoptic phenomena (from the Greek ‘within vision’) (ibid.). The identification of such visual forms as images in rock art known to have been produced in the context of altered states in the recent past, has led to the generalisation of a ‘neuropsychological model’ to the interpretation of rock art in prehistory, where no ‘ethnographic data’ exists.

Comparison of form constants (entoptics) encountered in the early stages of trance with motifs in rock art

Comparison of form constants (entoptic phenomena) encountered in the early stages of trance with motifs in rock art (Lewis-Williams and Dowson 1988).

While this model has constructed something of a ‘neurological maze of geometric ASC percepts’ (Luke 2010: 23), nevertheless, the title of Lewis-Williams’ and Dowson’s paper, ‘The Signs of All Times’ (1988) evokes the portentous tenor of the Rosicrucian Manifestos, which is suggestive of ways of seeing beyond the very confines of the neurophysiology which the authors employ as the empirical seat of ‘single vision’. To characterise entoptic motifs as signatures of trance, connotes the Paracelsian concept of ‘The Signature of All Things’, which ‘from the Creation, not with Inke, but with the very finger of God are imprinted in all creatures’, and forms ‘the better part of true Literature’ (Ormsby-Lennon 1988: 318) as envisioned in the Rosicrucian Linguistics of the seventeenth century.

Antagonistic to the Aristotelian view of language as a machinery adapted to social collaboration and the organization of facts and arguments that such collaboration requires (ibid.: 329), the Rosicrucians saw a necessary or motivated (usually magical) connection between words and the things they signified (ibid.: 315), and felt the inadequacy of ‘discursive speech’ for conveying the experience of a direct apprehension of truth and the ‘ineffable’ intensity of the mystic vision (ibid.). While language planners were determined to construct novel mechanisms of denotation and communication (Ormsby-Lennon 1988: 330), Rosicrucians sought the Lingua Adamica in which the post-Babelian confusion represented by Aristotelianism ‘would be mystically (even telepathically) transcended’ (ibid.), offering an epistemology of mystical apprehension – by revelation (ibid.: 313). Conversely, Aristotelian Linguistics functions through rational comprehension (ibid.), forging a discursive sequence in a ‘social factory’ where ‘knowledge’ is conceived ‘as a production’ (Shanks and Tilley 1992: 114).

That the neurophysiology of altered states is an object of study is a measure of the success of the analytical mode of Aristotelianism. Nevertheless, the presentation of the signatures of trance reveals the perennial disturbance of the lived body – albeit estranged from the continuum of Divine Nature – to the discursive structure of a social science informed by the dualism of structural linguistics. Its distinction of signifier and signified, and absolute separation of subject and object makes it as averse today to ‘human universals’ as its Aristotelian precursors were to the Rosicrucian ‘compendium of the universe’. Ultimately, this discursive structure dictates that ‘”I” can only come to know “myself” through the medium of language’ (Thomas 1996: 46). Consequently, the subject

must insert itself into the networks of the symbolic system in order to become a ‘self’, the subject is always fundamentally absent from itself, always dispersed and fragmented in webs of signification. The self is constructed in language. The externality from which it must emerge … is one not simply of language and culture, but also of power relations

(Thomas 1996: 46).

The precedence given to the ‘symbolic system’ over the lived body makes intelligible the charge of utopianism against those who refuse the ‘humanly inadequate world’ (Hudson 1982: 21) of such linguistic and social constructions, those who seek a ‘universall sensuall tongue,’ common to the senses of all, accessible at all times, but paradoxically, inexpressible in linguistic terms as conventionally understood. Benjamin, echoing the Rosicrucians, associates the Messianic era with the advent of this universal language, capable of replacing the confusion of the Tower of Babel, that everyone would understand ‘as children on Sunday understand the language of the birds’ (Löwy 1992: 233).

Joyce also sought ‘a language which is above all languages’ (Cheng 1995: 278), and described the words of Finnegans Wake as ‘not fragments but active elements and when they are more and a little older they will begin to fuse of themselves’ (Joyce 1957: 205). To Samuel Beckett, it was ‘not about something, it is that something itself’ (Beckett 1929) , its motivated nature merging signifier and signified.

The fact that the language of real communication has been lost is what the modern movement of art’s decay… expresses positively. What it expresses negatively is that a new common language has yet to be found – not, this time, in the form of unilaterally arrived-at conclusions… – but rather in a praxis embodying both an unmediated activity and a language commensurate to it. The point is to take effective possession of the community of dialogue, and the playful relationship to time, which the works of the poets and artists have heretofore merely represented.

(Debord 1994 §187)

Indeed, Finnegans Wake, with its ‘chaosmos of Alle anyway connected’ (FW 118.21-22), in which ‘the world, mind, is was and will be writing its own wrunes for ever’ (FW 19.35-36), manifests the conception of an infinite ‘field of consciousness’, whereby minds are not confined to the insides of heads, but share a communicative field, even ‘beyond the limitations of space and time’ (Luke 2010: 23). For this reason, its ‘Magis landeguage’ (FW 478.9-10) transcends applications of the ASC model which reduce the amplitude of experience to neurophysiological processes restricted to the functioning of the individual human brain: ‘dirt cheap at a sovereign a skull!’ (FW 374.27-28). Such applications are redolent of what Hegel deridingly refers to as ‘phrenology’ (Verene 1985: 90): a technique that presents experience ‘like a skeleton with tickets stuck all over it’ (Verene 1993: 44), a ‘table-of-contents mentality’ that leaves the life of its object untouched (ibid.). ‘The untireties of livesliving being the one substrance of a streamsbecoming’ (FW 597.7-8) universalises the materiality of altered consciousness (substrance), in ‘various phases of scripture as in various poses of sepulture’ (FW 254.28), inviting a reading of archaeology as scriptural exegesis:

so witness his chambered cairns a cloudlelitter silent that are at browse up hill and down combe …a testament of the rocks from all the dead unto some the living

(FW 73.29-33).


Here, ‘at no spatial time processly which regards to concrude chronology’ (FW 358.5-6), consciousness ‘is free to consider events in any order it wishes, or spatially rather than temporally’ (Purdy 1982: 212), as ‘If there is a future in every past that is present’ (FW 496.35). This reconfiguration of history is conducive to the divinatory moment whereby Walter Benjamin’s materialist historian grasps ‘the constellation which his own era has formed with a definite earlier one’ (Benjamin 1999a: 255), interrupting the linear sequence by which both chronology and Aristotelian language fall into step with the forward march of an objective history written by the victors. Likewise, ALP, the ‘Ensouling Female’ (FW 302 L), engages in the redemptive task of ‘victuum gleaner’ (FW 364.33-34), retrieving the ‘jetsam litterage’ (FW 292.16) of ‘lost histereve’ (FW 214.1). The Wake‘s ‘eternal conjunction’ (FW 251.12-13) of Giordano Bruno’s coincidenta oppositorum realises Bruno’s critique of Aristotle’s statement that contraries cannot come together in the same subject (Punter 1982: 28), a philosophical position summarised as ‘Harrystotalies’ (FW 110.17). To Robert Fludd, ‘all souls have a continuous relation to the one world-soul… as has the sunlight to the sun’ (Huffman 2001: 138), which explains the logical impossibility of acquiring knowledge of an infinite universe by means of the analysis of discrete fragments, for the only possible knowledge of such a universe must be through a dialectical synthesis (Punter 1982: 29).

Watercolour by G. V. du Noyer of the Cairn T backstone (1865)

Cairn T, Loughcrew: ‘persianly literatured with burst loveletters, telltale stories, stickback snaps, doubtful eggshells, bouchers, flints, borers…fallen lucifers, vestas which had served, showered ornaments’ (FW 183.8-28) Watercolour by G. V. du Noyer of the Cairn T backstone, Loughcrew (1865). This stone is illuminated by the equinox sunrise.

‘In imageascene all’

‘russicruxian’ (FW 155.28) allusions proliferate around that ‘Malingerer in Luxury’ (FW 192.5), Shem the Penman, Joyce’s parodic alter ego, ‘first till last alshemist’ (FW 185.34-35). As ‘unseen blusher in an obscene coalhole’ (FW 194.12), his ‘rosy gnoses glow’ slides ‘lucifericiously within an inch of its page’ (FW 182.4-5), by ‘that rosy lampoon’s effluvious burning’ (FW 182.11). He embodies Cornelius Agrippa’s humor melancholicus, which ‘attracts certain demons into our bodies, through whose presence and activity men fall into ecstasies and pronounce many wonderful things’ (Yates 1979: 62). Shem the ‘Shamman’ (FW 192.23), ‘driven by those numen daimons’ (FW 142.23), falls into such ecstasies:

the whirling dervish, Tumult, son of Thunder, self exiled in upon his ego a nightlong a shaking betwixtween white or reddr hawrors, noondayterrorised to skin and bone by an ineluctable phantom… writing the mystery of himsel in furniture

(FW 184.5-10).

Even in this act of ‘writing the mystery of himsel’, Shem’s own ‘hermeneutics of megalithic space’ (Thomas 1993) is a rejection of the external conditioning of subjectivity determined by structural linguistics. Echoing the characterisation of chambered tombs as the house of the sidhe (‘shee’ – the fairies of Irish tradition), the description of Shem’s lodgings as his ‘house O’Shea or O’Shame…no number Brimstone Walk’ (FW 182.30-1) includes details which recall the acoustic qualities and decorative repertoire of the architecture of megalithic tombs, in that the

soundconducting walls thereof, to say nothing of the uprights and imposts, were persianly literatured with burst loveletters, telltale stories, stickback snaps, doubtful eggshells, bouchers, flints, borers…fallen lucifers, vestas which had served, showered ornaments, borrowed brogues…blasphematory spits…fresh horrors from Hades

(FW 183.8-28).

The ‘burst loveletters’, ‘persianly literatured’ on the ‘magicscene wall’ (FW 553.24) are engraved with ‘all the charictures in the drame!’ (FW 302.31-32):

ownconsciously grafficking with his sinister cyclopes after trigamies and spirals’ wobbles pursuiting their rovinghamilton selves

(FW 300. 25-28).


Engraved kerbstones from Knowth and Newgrange (after Martin Brennan).

Finnegans Wake is Shem’s ‘traumscrapt’ (FW 623.36), a dream narrative, written at the behest of his mother, ALP, ‘bespaking the wisherwife’ (FW 66.15-17). With her 111 children, ALP transliterates the system of gematria in kabbalistic mysticism, whereby a numerical value is assigned to each letter of the word which is the name of the letter in the Hebrew alphabet (Ifrah 1998: 255) – ‘Anna Lynchya Pourable! One and eleven’ (FW 325.4-5). Aleph, the name of the first letter, ‘the spiritual root of all other letters’ (Scholem 1965:30), has the value 1 + 30 + 80 = 111 (ibid.). As Shem writes for ALP, so in kabbalistic mysticism ‘the truly divine element in revelation, the immense aleph, was not in itself sufficient to express the divine message, and in itself it was more than the community could bear’ (Scholem 1965: 31). Only ‘the prophet was empowered to communicate the meaning of this inarticulate voice to the community’ (ibid.):

Ever of thee. Anne Lynch. He’s deeply draiming! Houseanna. Tea is the Highest! For auld lang Ayternitay!

(FW 406.27-8).

The ‘trancedone boyscript’ (FW 374.3-4), revolving around the ‘equoangular trillitter’ (FW 286.21-22) of ALP is ‘the record of an entranced mind’ (Gordon 1986:183-184), replaying the scene in Ulysses when Leopold Bloom induces a trance as he stares at the red triangle trademark on a bottle of Bass:

And lo, wonder of metempsychosis, it is she, the everlasting bride, harbinger of the daystar, the bride, ever virgin… writhing in the skies a mysterious writing till, after a myriad metamorphoses of symbol, it blazes, Alpha, a ruby and triangled sign upon the forehead of Taurus.


For Joyce, ‘his books were not to be taken as mere books, but as acts of prophecy’ (Purdy 1982: 207), in which ‘Every letter is a godsend’ (FW 269.17), bespeaking simultaneously the origin and end of God in ‘their sacreligion of daimond cap daimond’ (FW 365.3-4).


Geometric forms encountered in Irish megalithic art (left) and form constants encountered in altered states (right).  Bradshaw Foundation 2011

Theatres of Memory

Neolithic chambered tombs can be conceived as ‘memory theatres’ of the kind developed in the Renaissance, by which time the principles of the classical art of memory came under the influence of the Hermetic-Cabalist tradition via Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola (Yates 1966: 129). Giordano Bruno tries to unify the universal contents of memory by basing it on visual emblems, ‘in living, magical contact with reality – in contrast to the empty pedant language’ of the Aristotelians (Yates 1964: 283). Since the divine mind ‘is universally present in the world of nature’, in Bruno’s image magic ‘the process of coming to know the divine mind must be through the reflection of the images of the world of sense’, which unify the contents of memory and ‘set up magical correspondences between outer and inner worlds’ (Yates 1966: 257). These images must be charged with affects, ‘particularly with the affect of Love’. As Yates observes, ‘We are here within range of Bruno’s Eroici furori with its love conceits which have power to open “the black diamond doors” within the psyche’ (Yates 1966: 257-258).

The world's oldest rock art, from Blombos Cave, South Africa. The incised lattice pattern on a piece of red ochre gives the impression of a row of diamonds, their upper and lower halves delineated by a horizontal line.

The world’s oldest rock art, from Blombos Cave, South Africa. The incised lattice pattern on a piece of red ochre gives the impression of a row of diamonds, their upper and lower halves delineated by a horizontal line.

Giulio Camillo’s Theatre of Memory rested on the seven pillars of Solomon’s House of Wisdom, where the universe will be remembered ‘through organic association of all its parts with their underlying eternal order’ (Yates 1966: 138). The ‘organic association of all its parts’ corresponds with the condensation of the wider landscape into the architecture of Newgrange through the gathering of local and non-local materials – sand, stone and cobbles – used in its construction (Cooney 2000: 136), a place, perhaps, for people ‘to regul their reves by incubation’ (FW 397.34), a place for the incubation of dreams. Camillo correlates the seven planetary spheres of the celestial world with eight Sephiroth of the supercelestial world, excluding the two highest of the ten, Kether and Hokmah, explaining that he is not going above the sephira, Binah, to which Moses ascended, stopping his series at Binah-Saturn (Yates 1966: 149).

Seeing the Boyne valley tombs as ‘memory places’, or topoi, within which to associate and recall all the disparate and diverse elements of the universe, introduces, with the invocation, ‘Approach to lead our passage!’ (FW 262.2), the figure of Anna Livia Plurabelle (ALP), ‘her all cunniform letters’ (FW 198.25), arrayed around the quintessential emblem in the Wake‘s ‘memory theatre’, the diagram on page 293: ‘a microcosm corresponding in all motions to the macrocosm’ (Yates 1972: 293), but configured by Joyce as a feminised space: ‘pubably it resymbles a pelvic or some kvind’ (FW 608.23) (Danish kvinde, ‘woman’). Here ALP holds ‘the cluekey to a worldroom beyond the roomwhorld’ (FW 100.28-9), where she and her husband, HCE, are buried ‘fux to fux’ (FW 177.36), like Queen Victoria and her Consort, Prince Albert:

in their bed of trial… by the glimmer of memory… Albatrus Nyanzer with Victa Nyanza, his mace of might mortified, her beautifell hung up on a nail, he, Mr of our fathers, she, our moddereen ru arue rue, they, ay, by the hodypoker and blazier, they are

(FW 558.26-30).

mace of might

The ceremonial carved flint head of Albatrus Nyanzer’s ‘mace of might’ was found in the right-hand, northern recess of the eastern tomb chamber of Knowth Site 1 in 1982, the mushroom spirals and the hole for a wooden shaft conveying the look of eyes and mouth, a face with a mortified expression. The Wake‘s theatrical/cinematic description of ALP and HCE’s ‘residmance of a delugion’ (FW 367.24) cuts to a

Chamber scene. Boxed. Ordinary bedroom set. Salmonpapered walls. Back, empty Irish grate, Adam’s mantel, with wilting elopement fan, soot and tinsel, condemned. North, wall with window practicable. Argentine in casement. Vamp. Pelmit above. No curtains. Blind drawn. South, party wall. Bed for two with strawberry bedspread, wickerworker clubsessel and caneseated millikinstool. Bookshrine without, facetowel upon.

(FW 559.1-7).

The elaborate decoration of the right-hand recess of the eastern chamber of Knowth’s ‘salmonpapered walls’ is characterised by nested arcs (resembling upturned rainbow patterns).


Orthostat 54 in the right-hand recess of the eastern chamber of Knowth Site 1. Note the rows of paired light and dark triangles at the base, the ‘glimmer of memory’ of the light and dark halves of the rhombus in the ALP diagram (Picture: World Heritage Ireland).

The vesica piscis formed by the overlapping of the ‘daintical pair of accomplasses’ (FW 295.27), and the diamond configured by doubled triangles at its centre, is simultaneously rhomb, tomb and womb, displaying ‘the body- and image-space’ (Weigel 1996) of megalithic art as ‘Humperfeldt and Anunska, wedded now evermore in annastomoses by a ground plan of the placehunter’ (FW 585.23), with its ‘Uteralterance or the Interplay of Bones in the Womb’ (FW 293.L). It coincides with the alchemical motif of the conjunction of opposites as a womb which is also a marriage bed of the ‘Royal Couple’ Sol and Luna – in which the king is dissolved, as in the grave, to bring forth the red son or Phoenix:

reberthing in remarriment out of dead seekness to devine previdence… in red resurrection

(FW 62.7-20).

Where ‘thinking suddenly stops in a configuration pregnant with tensions… it crystallizes into a monad’ (Benjamin 1970: 254). HCE’s prismatic suspension here, ‘like a heptagon crystal emprisoms’ (FW 127.3), recalls the seven-sided chamber of Christian Rosenkreutz’s tomb, a ‘compendium of things past, present, and to come’ (Yates 1972: 293), a spectral realisation of Hegel’s erinnerung in the seven-hued ‘Renborumba’ (FW 351.5).

293 That Finnegans Wake is such a compendium accords with the suggestion that, included within the playing card diamond of the ALP diagram, are the principles of crystallogical measurement as formalised by Miller’s Indices (Paré 2013). Translated to three dimensions the lozenge takes the form of an octahedron, the form assumed by the minerals diamond and gold when fully developed. The angles of the axes and the ratio of the lengths of the parameters are the ‘elements’ of a crystal. Applied to the octahedron the indices of each of the eight faces is 111 (ibid.), corresponding with the gematric value of ‘the divine element in revelation’, ALP, in the Wake‘s ‘polyhedron of scripture’ (FW 107.8), condensing Benjamin’s monadic ‘crystal of the total event’ (Benjamin 1999: 461) which escapes the objective sequence order of chronology, the ‘falling into step’ of things:

eskipping the clockback, crystal in carbon,sweetheartedly.
(FW 579.5-6).
A row of carved triangles, forming lozenges, on a roofslab within Newgrange, where the passage opens into the chamber (after O'Kelly 1982). 'The hatboxes which composed Rhomba, lady Trabezond (Marge in her excelsis), also comprised the climactogram up which B and C may fondly be imagined ascending' (FW 165.21-24).

A row of carved triangles, forming lozenges, on a roofslab within Newgrange, over the opening to the passage from the chamber (after O’Kelly 1982: 180). ‘The hatboxes which composed Rhomba, lady Trabezond (Marge in her excelsis), also comprised the climactogram up which B and C may fondly be imagined ascending’ (FW 165.21-24).

The archaeological metaphor, ‘Dream is the earth in which finds are made’ (Benjamin 1999: 909), aligns the memory magic of passage tombs with his Passagenwerk – ‘The Arcades Project’ – his endeavour to transfigure the dreamworld of modernity, symbolised by the commodity culture of nineteenth century Paris, and its shopping arcades. Benjamin’s unfinished project shares Finnegans Wake‘s appeal for a collective awakening, ‘the awakening of a not-yet-conscious knowledge of what has been’ (Benjamin 1999: 458). As dream- and wish-image, the Arcades were to be ‘Fermenters of intoxication in the collective consciousness’ (ibid.: 905), to effect a ‘transformation of reason’, rather than an undialectical ‘derangement of the senses’ (Eiland 2006: viii-ix):

Shamwork, be in our scheining!

(FW 613.10).

The upper ‘light’ triangle and the lower ‘dark’ triangle of the ALP diagram appear at Newgrange and Knowth in the contrast between the closely pecked lower half of lozenge motifs and the unpecked upper space between other pecked triangles (O’Kelly 1982: 180). Like the lozenge at the centre of the ALP diagram, a duality between ‘lighter’ and ‘darker’ halves of the ‘diamondcuts’ at Knowth and Newgrange is suggested by the distinction between the upper and lower halves of lattice carvings, distinguished by a greater or lesser intensity of pecking, giving the lattices the appearance of rows of conjoined triangles: ‘hatboxes which composed Rhomba, lady Trabezond (Marge in her excelsis)’ (FW 165.21-23). They are reminiscent of Robert Fludd’s ‘divine and mundane triangles’, in which God is represented in an upward-pointing equilateral triangle, as a second, reflected triangle below represents the world.


This configuration, conceived as a ‘dialectical image’, manifests the Wake’s coincidenta oppositorum and Benjamin’s dialectic at a standstill. A form of dialectic without the Hegelian sublation (Aufheben) or reconciliation (Versohnung), the dialectic at a standstill is not about the overcoming of contradictions through the closure of narrative, but ‘the ability to linger in ambiguity, attentive to the richness of concrete experience’ (Brand 2002: 218). In its refusal of narrative closure it shares the fin negans of Joyce’s novel. If ambiguity is the imagistic appearance of dialectics at a standstill, and this standstill is utopia, ‘a place saturated with wishful affect’ (Cohen 1993: 48), then Neolithic passage tombs are such places, awash with the ‘wishmarks of mad imogenation’ (FW 251.17).


Finnegans Wake begins and ends at the Vernal Equinox: ‘a white horsday… about the first equinarx in the cholonder’ (FW 347). Book IV is the most important of a number of ‘stills’ (Hart 1962: 73) in ‘this allnights newseryreel’ (FW 489.35): a timeless moment which ‘contains all the seeds of the book’ (Hart 1962: 73). As Book IV opens, the sun rises at 6 am exactly, and is still rising as the book ends, in a state of momentary changeover from one cycle to the next, but here ‘frozen’ in the act (ibid.). The Wake’s ‘stopping of the day’ illuminates Benjamin’s observations on temporal standstill:

The initial day of a calendar serves as a historical time-lapse camera…it is the same day that keeps recurring in the guise of holidays, which are days of remembrance. Thus the calendars do not measure time as clocks do; they are monuments of a historical consciousness of which not the slightest trace has been apparent in Europe in the past hundred years

(Benjamin 1999: 253).


This consciousness is found to be still alive in an incident in the July Revolution when, on the first evening of the fighting, it turned out that ‘the clocks in towers were being fired on simultaneously and independently from several places in Paris’ (ibid.).


‘a ground plan of the placehunter’ (FW 585.23). Knowth Site 1 (after George Eogan 1986), showing the ‘equinoxious’ east and west passages.

The ‘spearspid of dawnfire’ that touches ‘the centre of the great circle of the macroliths’ (FW 594.21-23) anticipates the perception – now considered erroneous (Prendergast and Ray 2015) – that the east and west passages of Site 1 at Knowth, a Neolithic chambered tomb in the Boyne valley, were aligned to the vernal and autumnal equinox sunrises and sunsets. Since the two passages were rediscovered in 1967 and 1968, an equinoctial alignment has been assumed. Nevertheless, Site 1 does materialise Finnegans Wake, in that the elliptical groundplan of this double-entrance tomb can be transposed onto the ‘ALP diagram’ on page 293 so that each ‘equinoxious’ entrance aligns and opens on the apex of each end of the diamond on its long axis.  ALP-Knowth

‘framm Sin fromm son, acity arose’

The correlation of Archaeology, Literature and Philosophy (ALP) can be explored via a comment Joyce made to the sculptor August Suter, as reported by Frank Budgen. He said: “I feel like an engineer boring through a mountain from two sides. If my calculations are correct we shall meet in the middle” (Budgen 1960). The architecture Knowth and of Finnegans Wake, expressed in this way, accords with the unrealised project of Le Corbusier and Edouard Trouin at La Sainte Baume, the mountain cave where Mary Magdalene was said to have spent her last years (Samuel 2001). Described as a city ‘according to Rabelais’ and an ‘orphic city’ (Samuel 2001: 325), it was to include a museum of Magdalenic iconography, a theatre, and a Basilica, envisaged as a Cathar cathedral, actually situated on the site of the Grotto of the Magdalene.

Basilique, La Sainte Baume

The design for the Basilica, to be bored into the mountain, is redolent of Joyce’s two-sided tunnelling metaphor in his Magdalenic text, and accords with Le Corbusier’s favourite diagram, his drawing of the cycle of day and night (Samuel 2001: 331). This sign of the 24 hour day Le Corbusier saw as an object of meditation, a route to the ‘Lost Paradise’ (ibid.), perhaps to the Wake‘s ‘one sweet undulant mother’ (FW 41.7). Asger Jorn, who was employed by Le Corbusier in 1936, adapted this image as a ‘dialectical symbol’ to illustrate a ‘genuinely materialist art’, to provide a critical contrast between what he regarded as dualistic and dialectical solutions in art, design and symbol (Birtwistle 1986: 39). The undulating, wave form of this image – encountered as a motif in megalithic art – enacts the journey of Panurge underground to seek the wisdom of a ‘chthonic Solphia’ (FW 450.18), much like the Wake‘s Shem, that ‘unseen blusher in an obscene coalhole’ (FW 194.18).

The solar cycle, LC 1954 In his sketchbook of 1954 Le Corbusier copied out several pages of Book Five of Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, in which Panurge visits the Oracle of the Holy Bottle in an attempt to discover whether he should get married or not (Samuel 2001: 326). Arriving at a holy fountain, Panurge encounters Bacbuc the High Priestess, who orders him to drink ‘one, two, three times’ (ibid.: 327). Behind these repeated recommendations to drink lies the explanation that ‘the headiest liquor of all’ is the liquor of learning, the knowledge in question being that of God, not the ‘hypocritical’ God of established religion, but a more complex deity with links back to ancient religion and philosophy (ibid.: 326).


Likewise, the textual architecture of Finnegans Wake revolves around the microcosm of the public house – the ‘twoinns’ (entrances) of Knowth (and its implicit injunction, in the Anglicised version of its name, to know) – ‘his umbrageous house of the hundred bottles’ (FW 380), a ‘porterhouse’ (FW 405:23) where Anna serves ‘her old phoenix portar’ (FW 406.10): ‘very potably so… 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’ (FW 118.15-17). Perhaps this is one context for the Basin Stone in the right-hand recess at the end of the eastern passage of Knowth. The π (pi) symbol alludes to the Magdalenian dimension in that it is Welsh for magpie, and expressed as a fraction it approximates to 22/7, the numeration of Mary Magdalene’s Feast Day on 22nd July. Also implicit are the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, essential to kabbalistic mysticism, and the twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana of the Tarot, which themselves have been linked to the letters of that alphabet:

Bass- Diamond

The Chemical Wedding

With the Wake‘s ‘Hullo Eve Cenograph’ (FW 488.23-24), sent ‘for the seek of Senders’ (FW 389.36), ‘for Maggi beyond by the ashpit’ (FW 211.22), Joyce activates the Cinderella narrative as an allegory of the soul’s transformation of light out of darkness (Bayley 1912). She is the

personification of the Holy Spirit dwelling unhonoured amid the smouldering ashes of the Soul’s latent, never totally extinct, Divinity

(Bayley 1912: 194-195).

Joyce knew Bayley’s ‘intriguing array of Cinderella lore’ well (Gordon 1986: 281-282); it influenced his characterisation of Issy, the ‘pretty Proserpronette’ (FW 267.10-11), daughter of ALP and HCE. Indeed, ALP – whose ‘hallucinian via’ (FW 478.13-14) the passage of the tomb is – is Demeter to Issy’s Persephone: ‘the message she braught belaw from the missus she bragged abouve’ (FW 333.19-20). Cinderella personifies both the human soul, exiled from Paradise and the ‘light’ of the Holy Spirit of Wisdom, hidden within the soul, unrecognised until events are set in motion by the appeal to her ‘God’-mother (Baring 1991: 152). In this role she is like Sophia, or the Shekhinah, whose loss is felt by HCE in ‘mourning the flight of his wild guineese’ (FW 71.4). Like the Bride in the Song of Songs she undergoes trials in darkness prior to her royal marriage. Like the Prince in the story, Solomon is consumed with love for her and seeks her until he finds her (ibid.: 61).

The Dream of Oenghus is a version of this narrative in which an altered state of consciousness plays a central role, located within the chambered tomb at Newgrange. Visited there in dream each night by the fairy woman, Caer, Oenghus is rendered lovesick at her departure, each morning. After a long search, he eventually finds her at Hallowe’en, in the form of a swan among a group of 150 swans on Lough Bel Dragon. In the form of two swans they returned to Newgrange, where they ‘sang a choral song so that it put the people to sleep for three days and three nights’ (Jackson 1971: 93-97).

Swan Kiss

Kissing Swans, Lac Leman, Geneva: ‘through neck and necklike Derby and June’ (FW 454.31-32)

The ‘swaying motif of rising-and-falling intervals’ which emerges in the second movement of Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony, and flies forth in the finale, Sibelius called his ‘swan hymn’ (Ross 2007), described by Alex Ross as a spiritual force in animal form (ibid.). This theme was inspired by the sight of sixteen swans flying in formation over his home, Ainola. During the composition and recomposition of this symphony, Sibelius compared his compositional practice to ‘the search for the proper reconfiguration of scattered mosaic tiles flung down from heaven’ (James Hepokowski), a description redolent of the redemptive practice of tikkun in Lurianic kabbalah. Just so with the number and letter magic of Finnegans Wake, performed through the Abulafian figure of Shem in his entranced reconfiguration of ALP’s ‘meusic before her all cunniform letters’ (FW 198.24-25), ‘flashing down the swansway(FW 450.5), whereby Joyce combines the ‘riverrun’ of the Meuse, music and mosaic in his stream of consciousness.


‘neoliffic smith and magdalenian jinnyjones’ (FW 576.36). A Bronze Age rock carving from Hvarlös, Sweden, recorded by P.V. Glob. Considered to be a depiction of a ‘sacred marriage’, the woman’s vagina has been configured as a lozenge: ‘And be the powers of Moll Kelly, neighbour topsowyer, it will be a lozenge to me all my lauffe’ (FW 299.27-29).

In terms of the repertoire of carved motifs, the ratio of lattice patterns carved within the chambers of Knowth and Newgrange has led to a hypothesised relationship between lattices and ancestors (Dronfield 1996: 22). In fact, the correlation between lattice/lozenge carvings – ‘diamondcuts’ (FW 572.4) – and mortuary deposits (Dronfield 1996: 23) parallels a relation between inhumations and carved iconography (notably the suits of playing cards) expressed in Joyce’s novel:

Tomb be their tools. When the youngdammers will be soon heartpocking on their betters’ doornoggers: and the youngfries will be backfrisking diamondcuts over their lyingin underlayers, spick and spat trowelling a grave trench for their fourinhand forebears. Vote for your club!

(FW 572.2-6).

The association of lattice motifs and bones suggest a conceptual connection which may be parallelled in Tukano symbolism, where the lattice/lozenge pattern symbolises matrilineal descent and exogamy (marrying women ‘from outside’) (Dronfield 1996: 52). As a heraldic device in Europe the lozenge was appropriated to the arms of spinsters and widows (Baker 1932: 651). Its etymological derivation from Provençale lauza (‘tombstone’) and probably from Latin lapis (‘stone’) (ibid.) corresponds to its recurrence as a motif in megalithic art. Joyce’s use of playing cards – ‘heartpocking’, ‘diamondcuts’, ‘spat’ and ‘club’ – and his accumulation of gambling references – ‘alla ludo poker’ (FW 261.F1) – recalls Anatole France’s characterisation of gambling as ‘the art of collecting into a single instant the emotions dispersed throughout the slow-moving existence of ordinary men’ (Benjamin 1999: 498). The cards – ‘with their hurts and daimons, spites and clops’ (FW 476.15-16) – may be ‘related to the images of Ars Memorandi’, freeing faculties in us ‘which are suppressed by convention and daily routine’ (Seligmann 1997: 416). A memory system to ‘fress up the rinnerung’ (FW 300.15-16), engraved on the walls – ‘(the memories framed from walls are minding)’ (FW 266.20-21) – they render the chambered tomb a ‘cartomanse’, a holy house of cards:

House of call is all their evenbreads though its cartomance hallucinate like an erection in the night of the mummery of whose deed

(FW 310.22-24).

Diamond DelugionThe preponderance of lattice/lozenge designs in megalithic tombs, and their proposed association with exogamy, corresponds with the marriage of Oenghus and Caer, ‘sommerlad and cinderenda’ (FW 331.26), and Solomon and Sheba, the ‘shebeen quean’ (FW 68.21-22):

Never play lady’s game for the Lord’s stake. Never lose your heart away till you win his diamond back

(FW 433.13-14).

Implicating the cosmic marriage of Sol and Luna – the Chemical Wedding of the alchemical great work, depicted in the ALP diagram – is Kerbstone 52, the ‘Calendar Stone’, set in the ‘paradismic perimutter’ (FW 298.28-9) of Knowth. It may resolve the ‘age-old problem of harmonizing the solar and lunar cycles’ (Brennan 1983: 144). It appears to show the 28 phases of the moon as engraved horseshoe-like crescents circulating around the ‘waveney lyne’ (FW 209.18) of the ecliptic, transforming into circles as they reach the full moon. The twenty-seventh or last visible phase enters a central spiral, which obscures the invisible phases (ibid.). A twenty-ninth phase is shown – the new moon, marking the renewal of a twenty-eight day cycle, in ‘Geoglyphy’s twentynine ways to say goodbett an wassing seoosoon liv’ (FW 595.7-8). It corresponds to the images of the twenty-eight mansions of the moon and the Draco Lunae given by Cornelius Agrippa (Yates 1964:196), the latter, 29th image, showing the head and tail of the lunar dragon. – that of renewal, or the new moon (ibid.).

Image (88)

The ‘Calendar Stone’ K52 (after Martin Brennan).

The depiction on K52 at Knowth of the ‘underlacking of her twenty nine shifts’ (FW 289.11-12) weaves a pattern, ‘to no end gathered’, on ‘the loom of the moon’ (U), ‘of the best Lough Neagh pattern’ (FW 76.21-22), through which conjunctions of the ‘wished for’ and ‘nature’ are constructed. The ‘twentynine ditties round the wishful waistress’ (FW 255.33), associates Knowth’s ‘wishful’ perimeter with the ‘leap-year girls’ of ‘St Bride’s Finishing Establishment’ (FW 220.2-4), who symbolise the lunar cycle in Finnegans Wake: ‘And what do you think that pride was drestin! Voolykins’ diamondinah’s vestin’ (FW 250.30-31). They are The Floras, ‘a month’s bunch of pretty maidens’ (FW 220.5) who, as a ‘lunarised score’ (FW 92.12-13) of twenty-eight, form ‘with valykyrienne licence’ (FW 220.5-6) the guard for their twenty ninth member, Issy, ALP’s daughter/younger self: ’29 sweet reasons why blossomtime’s the best’ (FW 64.35-36). They also embody the coincidenta oppositorum, ‘weeping like fun’ with ‘gleeful cries’:

amongst revery’s happy gardens nine with twenty Leixlip yearlings, darters all, had such a ripping time with gleeful cries… and weeping like fun, him to be gone, for they were never happier, huhu, than when they were miserable, haha

(FW 558.21-25).

They may also be present as the twenty-nine upright stones which line the passage of the decorated tomb at Gavrinis, Brittany. ALP, Izod’s ‘fiery goosemother’ (FW 242.25), is also their ‘mivver, Mrs Moonan… off in the fuerst quarter scrubbing the backsteps of Number 28’ (FW 157.14-16).

The concern with lunar cycles postulated for stone K52 correlates with the Kabbalistic conception of the Shekhinah within Judaism, which introduces the symbolism of the feminine into the divine (Scholem 1965: 106). The ambivalence and the exile of the Shekhinah, linked to the phases of the moon, lends an additional analogical significance to stone K52. As the lowest of the ten sephiroth of the Tree of Life, the powers of mercy and of stern judgment are alternately preponderant in the Shekhinah (Scholem 1965:107), so that at times she ‘tastes the other, bitter side, and then her face is dark’ (ibid.). This dual aspect of the Shekhinah is personified as the two wives of Jacob, Rachel and Leah; the one exiled from God and lamenting, the other in her perpetually repeated reunion with her Lord (Scholem 1965: 149), suggested by the ‘lighter’ and ‘darker’ halves of the diamond in the ALP diagram, and the ‘diamondcuts’ at Knowth and Newgrange, as well as the ‘Gay’ and ‘Gloamy’ aspects of Issy. They appear in the Wake as the fortune-teller:

Kate (Miss Rachel Lea Varian, she tells forkings for baschfellors, under purdah of card palmer teaput tosspot Madam d’Elta, during the pawses)

(FW 221.12-14).

Chagall Bride

The ‘ambivalence’, the alternating phases of the Shekhinah, is related to that of its exile, sometimes represented as the banishment of the queen or of the king’s daughter by her husband or father (Scholem 1965: 149). The ‘lessening of the moon’, the ‘duindleeng lunas’ (FW 549.13) – both dwindling and two indwelling in Finnegans Wake – was interpreted by the Kabbalists as a symbol of the Shekhinah’s exile, the Shekhinah itself being the ‘holy moon’, which has fallen from its high rank, been robbed of its light and sent into cosmic exile, shining only with reflected light (ibid.: 51). No cosmic event seemed to be more closely connected with the exile of all things than the periodic waning of the moon (ibid.: 152). This exile is ritually dramatised in the yom kippur katan, or Lesser Day of Atonement, as the Kabbalists called the day before the new moon, devoted to fasting and repentance:

Let us hear, therefore, as you honour and obey the queen, whither the indwellingness of that which shamefieth be entwined of one or atoned of two

(FW 488.1-3).

This is the context for the performance of the Lurianic Midnight Rite by the ‘Negoist Cabler’ (FW 488.21), Shem. This kabbalistic rite has two parts, devoted to the two aspects of the Shekhinah, Rachel and Leah. The tikkun Rachel, or ‘Rite for Rachel’, was the true rite of lamentation; in observing it,

men ‘participate in the suffering of the Shekhinah’ and bewail not their own afflictions, but the one affliction that really counts in the world, namely, the exile of the Shekhinah

(Scholem 1965: 149).

The mystic, then, should rise and dress at midnight and recite a set liturgy which includes Psalm 137: ‘By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept’ (Scholem 1965: 149-150). At the close of the chapter which begins with the burial of HCE in Lough Neagh, ALP is brought in, with an allusion to the same psalm:

For we, we have taken our sheet upon her stones where we have hanged our hearts in her trees; and we list, as she bibs us, by the waters of babalong.

(FW 103.9-11).

Does Joyce allude here to Aleister Crowley’s Scarlet Woman, Babalon, of whom Crowley wrote: ‘And in her is a perfect purity of that which is above, yet she is sent as the Redeemer to them that are below’ (Crowley 1954). According to the Zohar, at midnight the Shekhinah, who is in exile, sings songs and hymns to her spouse, and a dialogue or even a hieros gamos is enacted between God and the Shekhinah (Scholem 1965: 148).

The actual day of the new moon, ‘When the moon of mourning is set and gone’ (FW 623.27-28), and the moon is reborn, is a day of rejoicing on which fasting is expressly prohibited (ibid.: 151): ”Tis golden sickle’s hour’ (FW 360.24). The ‘golden sickle’ of the lunar crescent appears at the feet of The High Priestess in the Rider/Waite version of the Tarot, along with the horned diadem on her head. Sat between the white and black pillars – Japheth and Boaz – of Solomon’s Temple, she represents ‘the Second Marriage of the Prince who is no longer of this world… the spiritual Bride and Mother, the daughter of the stars’ (Waite 1910: 76). She is herself the Supernal Mother of the Kabbalah, Binah, who reflects to the emanations beneath, the Shekhinah ‘that is both above and below’ (ibid.: 79), a status homologous with that of ALP and Issy in Finnegans Wake:

And I sept up twinminsters, the pro and the con… now all loosebrick and stonefest, freely masoned arked for covennanters and shinners’ rifuge: descent from above on us, Hagiasofia of Astralia, ourorisons thy nave and absedes, our aeone tone aeones thy studvaast vault; Hams, circuitise!

(FW 552.3-8).


The ‘sacred marriage’ which annuls, momentarily, the exile of the Shekhinah each sabbath is a ceremony in which Messianic redemption is anticipated (ibid.: 153) (‘do you mind waiting?’), manifesting Benjamin’s dialectic at a standstill, the opening to a Messianic interruption of ‘the homogeneous course of history’ (Benjamin 1968a: 254):

There’s Mumblesome Wadding Murch cranking up to the hornemoonium… The finnecies of poetry wed music. Feeling the jitters?… Now’s your never! Peena and Queena are duetting a giggle-for-giggle and the brideen alannah is lost in her diamindwaiting.

(FW 377.14-20).

The state of being lost in her two minds at her diamond wedding, depicted in the ‘duominous… mezzotinties’ (FW 552.24) of megalithic lozenge/lattice motifs, and the double entrances or ‘twoinns’ (FW 111.17) of Knowth, accords with the ambivalence of the Shekhinah. Ambiguity, states Benjamin, is ‘the imagistic appearance of dialectics at a standstill… a dream image’ (Cohen 1993:46). The use of dream elements in waking being ‘the textbook example of dialectical thinking’ (Cohen 1993:48), in ‘awakening’ occurs the dialectical synthesis between dream consciousness and waking consciousness (Cohen 1993: 55).

The Oneirocriticon of Artemidorus distinguishes between two kinds of dream, the oneiron and the enhypnion: the former foretells the future and the latter reproduces ‘the things that are’ (Boas 1993:12). Presumably, Benjamin has in mind the oneiritic dream – ‘the ride onerable’ (FW 328.13) – which points to what Ernst Bloch described as the anticipatory consciousness of a possible world, adequate to the ‘utopian subject’ (Hudson 1982: 21). This is distinguished from the ‘bad empiricism’ of ‘the world at hand’, a ‘humanly inadequate world’ (ibid.), reproduced through the enhypnion. Benjamin’s concept of the constellation (evoking Joan Miro’s series of paintings produced between 1939 and 1941, with its images of stars, birds and women) is consonant with Freud’s method of free association in dream interpretation, which utilises the dreamer’s free associations, insisting that ‘by a circuitous route they guide him back to the hidden meaning of the dream’ (Frieden 1993: 103). In Benjamin’s schema ‘historical awakening’ is the ‘critical moment in the reading of dream images’ (1999: 912), ‘the exemplary case of remembering’ (ibid.: 907).

Irradiated Swan

Joan Miro, Femmes au bord du lac a la surface irisee par le passage d’un cygne (Women at the Edge of a Lake Irradiated by the Passage of a Swan) 1941

From spark to phoenish

Within the ‘tumass equinous’ (FW 93.9) of Knowth dream elements coalesce in the context of a ‘social awakening’. It is a place, like the tombs at Loughcrew, ‘where the real world and the other world collided’ (Champion and Cooney 1999: 210) – a ‘collideorscape’ (FW 143.28). Here, ‘from each equinoxious points of view, the one fellow’s fetch being the other follow’s person’ (FW 85.28-29), HCE – the man on a white horse – confronts the dark horse of the colonial and working class subject (Cheng 1995), ‘with his deepseeing insight… within his patriarchal shamanah… he conscious of enemies, a kingbilly whitehorsed in a finglas mill’ (FW 75.12-16). In the dark room of the passages, where ‘photoplay finister started’ (FW 516.35-36), the allusion to the world’s end (finis terre) identifies the tenth and final avatar of Vishnu – Kalki – mounted on a white horse, the harbinger of the end time in Hindu eschatology and the start of a golden age.

The Seventh Tarot Trump, La Carrozza (The Chariot), from an Italian design. Note the ‘equinoxious points of view’ of the black and white horses.

The Seventh Tarot Trump, La Carrozza (The Chariot), from an Italian design. Note the ‘equinoxious points of view’ of the black and white horses.

Yet, the copresence of the dark horse in this photofinish recalls the chariots of Plato’s Phaedrus, in which the soul is guided by the dark horse of passion and the white horse of reason, suggesting a dialectical intertwinement beyond either/or dualism. Benjamin’s constellation, ‘an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again’ (Benjamin 1999: 247), realises the dynamism of the astrological ‘Horuscoup even when Oldsire is Dead to the World’ (FW 105.28-29), the ‘snapshot’ taken at the moment of an individual’s birth which forms a configuration capable of interpretation (Auerbach 2007):

almost any photoist worth his chemicots will tip anyone asking him the teaser that if a negative of a horse happens to melt enough while drying, well, what you do get is, well, a positively grotesquely distorted macromass of all sorts of horsehappy values and masses of meltwhile horse

(FW 111.26-30).


Recalling ‘a king billy whitehorsed in a finglas mill’: the upward-pointing white triangle of the obelisk at Farley Mount, Hampshire, a memorial to a racehorse interred in this Bronze Age burial mound. By coincidence, this picture was taken on the evening of 22/7/2013, the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene, and just a couple of hours after the birth of a scion of the House of Windsor was announced. Amidst the rumbles of thunder and the passing showers, church bells were heard ringing in celebration of the royal birth: ‘dizzed and dazed by the lumpty thumpty of our interloopings, fell clocksure off my ballast: in our windtor palast it vampared for elenders (FW 550-551).

Joyce’s photographic process within ‘darkumound numbur wan’ (FW 386.20-21), recalls Benjamin’s ‘A Small History of Photography’, in which he introduces his concept of the aura. The old photograph is exemplified in the portraits of David Octavius Hill. Their ‘aura’ is a result of the technical conditions of the period and of the status of photography, producing ‘the absolute continuum from brightest light to darkest shadow,’ so that ‘the way light struggles out of darkness… is reminiscent of mezzotint’ (Rochlitz 1996: 151-2). The ‘mezzotinties’ (FW 552.24) embodied in the dark and light triangles of ALP/Knowth reveal the interplay of light and shade in the lost letter(s) concealed in the of ‘the Mound of a Word’ (FW 175) where

the traits featuring the chiaroscuro coalesce, their contrarieties eliminated, in one stable somebody… experiencing a jolting series of prearranged disappointments, down the long lane of (it’s as semper as oxhousehumper!) generations, more generations and still more generations!

(FW 107.23-35).

In a Rosicrucian twist on structuralist-informed ‘hermeneutic archaeology’, the mound, the ‘oxhousehumper’ of aleph (ox), beth (house) and gimel (camel), is comprised of the litter of letters from the Fall, inviting an interpretive number and letter magic: ‘Can you rede… its world?’ (FW 18.18-19). The lozenge/lattice motifs on ‘the mizzatint wall’ (FW 334.24) at Knowth and at Newgrange embody the ‘parchment pied’ (FW 395.4) of ALP’s ‘Grandmère des Grammaires’ (FW 256.20), her ‘Primer of Black and White Wenchcraft’ (FW 269. F4):

the fairness of promise with consonantia and avowals. There lies her word, you reder. The height herup exalts it and the lowness her down abaseth it (FW 249.13-15).


The ‘lowness of her down’ is the ‘bluishing refluction below’ (FW 299.17-18) of ALP’s daughter, ‘Izzy, her shamemaid’ (FW 212.17-18), embodying the ‘chthonic Solphia’ (FW 450.18). In alchemical philosophy, the upward pointing triangle is identified as the ‘fiery triangle’, while the downward is the ‘watery triangle’ (Roob 1997: 173). When these triangles interpenetrate each other to form the six-pointed Seal of Solomon, or hexalpha, ‘the work of rebirth and reunification with Sophia will be complete’ (ibid.). This is the context for Finnegan’s resurrection in the traditional song when, in the midst of battle, a bottle of whiskey (‘firewater’) is thrown, spilling on his head, reviving him:

Let be buttercup eve lit by night in the Phoenix! Music. And old lotts have funn at Flammagen’s Ball. Till Irinwakes from Slumber Deep.

(FW 321.16-17).

Phoenix North

HCE’s pub, The Phoenix Tavern, where ALP serves ‘her old phoenix portar’ (FW 406.10), is in Chapelizod, a village named after the Irish princess Isolde, rival of Isolde of Brittany in the affections of Tristan, and both embodying the dual nature of Issy in her ‘mirrorminded curiositease’ (FW 576.24). Isolde’s ‘rival doors of warm bethels of worship’ (FW 186.30) coincide with the east and west passages at Knowth, illuminated (as was once believed) by the equinoctial sunrises and sunsets (Eogan 1986: 128). Here the two ‘flash brides’ (FW 66.36), who ‘as magdalenes, were drawpairs’ (FW 237.36-238.1) are complicit in the social/sexual Fall of HCE, also correspond to the commodified female ‘threshold-dweller’ of Benjamin’s Arcades, the central figure of his project, through whose profane illumination ‘images become dialectical images’ (Weigel 1996: 87), embodying the sexual geography of the awakening of desire in the commodified space of the city. The notion of the dialectical image is, says Taussig, aimed ‘precisely at the holy alliance of the orderly with the sacred’ (Taussig 1987: 443). In the recurrent parodised appropriation of the motto of the Order of the Garter – Honi soit qui mal y pense (‘Shame on him who thinks ill of it’) – Joyce seems to celebrate this ‘joyfold’ (FW 527) conjunction:

Honey swarns where mellisponds. Will bee all buzzy one another minnies for the mere effect that you are so fuld of pollen yourself

(FW 238.33-35).


Finsbury Follies

Describing his project to Gershom Scholem as a ghostly procession, Benjamin’s provisional title identifies it with a supernatural spectacle: ‘Parisian Arcades. A Dialectical Féerie’. The Féerie was an elaborate theatrical spectacle but, as a term it was discarded by Benjamin in favour of phantasmagoria (Cohen 1993: 254). He compares his practice to the cinema: ‘Method of this project: Literary Montage. I need say nothing. Only show’ (ibid.: 254). Combining magic lantern projection with verbal utterances, sound effects, music, smoke, incense, mirrors and audience participation, at the centre of the show ‘stood the phantoscope, a medium of illumination that transforms the unfiltered natural light of rational understanding into an energy somewhere between nature and art’ (Cohen 1993: 256). Seeking to register sediments of experience ‘no longer or not yet claimed by social and economic rationality’ and render them legible ‘as emblems of a forgotten future’ (Hansen 1987: 209), Benjamin hoped ‘to tap into an ontologically prior form of auratic experience’ which, by a shock of recognition, would trigger ‘forms of collective memory and experience unavailable to forms of instrumental perception’ (Cooper 2002: 62). And, just as the camera ‘introduces us to the optical unconscious’ (Work), so Joyce resorts to its imagic language because

One great part of every human existence is passed in a state which cannot be rendered sensible by the use of wideawake language, cutanddry grammar and goahead plot.

letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver (24 November 1926).


‘Our central idea’, states Guy Debord, ‘is that of the construction of situations… the concrete construction of momentary ambiances of life and their transformation into a superior passional quality’ (1957a: 22), in order ‘to multiply poetic subjects and objects’ and organise ‘games of these poetic objects among these poetic subjects’ (ibid.: 25).

Admission is ‘dirt cheap at a sovereign a skull’ (FW 374.27-28) to the Wake‘s ‘auradrama’ (FW 517.2) at ‘Feenichts Playhouse’ (FW 219.2), where the House of the Dead is a taproom presided over and patronised by ‘that host of a bottlefilled’ (FW 310.26), an ‘unconsciously penetrated space’ (Benjamin 1968b: 230) haunted by ‘the fair folk’ and ‘the good people’, traditional epithets of the fairies:

With futurist one-horse balletbattle pictures and the Pageant of Past History worked up with animal variations… Shadows by the film folk, masses by the good people… Longshots, upcloses, outblacks, and stagetolets by Hexenschuss, Coachmaker, Incubone and Rocknarrag

(FW 221.18-24).

In performing the ‘problem passion play’ (FW 32.31), funerary and festive coincide in socialist cinema – ‘see the Bolche your pictures motion’ (FW 330.23), revealing the end of the old regime in the dreamscape of the pub, an ‘eeridreme… being effered you by Bett and Tipp’ (FW 342.30) with its caricature of a horse/hearse/arse:

The Games funeral at Valleytemple. Saturnights pomps, exhabiting that corricatore of a harss, revealled by Oscur Camerad. The last of Dutch Schulds, perhumps. Pipe in Dream cluse. Uncovers Pub History.

(FW 602.21-24).


Projected through the ‘myrioscope’(FW 127.35), they are ‘Movies from the innermost depths of my still attrite heart’ (FW 194.2-3), ‘Real life behind the floodlights as shown by the best exponents of a royal divorce’ (FW 260.F3), in an ‘underworld of nighties and naughties and all the other wonderwearlds!’ (FW 147.27-28):

The construction of situations begins on the ruins of the modern spectacle… the very principle of the spectacle – nonintervention – is linked to the alienation of the old world. Conversely, the most pertinent revolutionary experiments in culture have sought to break the spectator’s psychological identification with the hero so as to draw him into activity by provoking his capacities to revolutionise his own life

(Debord 1957a: 25).

The ‘hallucinian via’ (FW 478.13-14) of Finnegans Wake opens up a ‘phantastichal roseway anjerichol’ (FW 470.18) which evokes, simultaneously, the ascending hierarchy of angels and the tumbling walls of Jericho, implicated in the fall of the hero, HCE: ‘such a satuation, debauchly to be watched for, would empty dempty him down to the ground’ (FW 319.35-36), in a Joycean echo of the ‘constructed situation’. As the situationists fashioned – after Lefebvre – the critique of everyday life, so Joyce saw ‘the music hall, not poetry’, as ‘a criticism of life’, performed in Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld and its climax in the infernal gallop of the can-can:

and fourtiered skirts are up, mesdames

(FW 194.27-28).

ars magna lucis

A page from Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae (1646) by Athanasius Kircher.

Joyce’s 1924 notebook has the notation, ‘Dawn wireless thought transference’ (Gordon 2004: 271), anticipating the Wake‘s field of consciousness, attuned to ‘the wireless harps of sweet old Aerial’ (FW 449.29-30). Its ‘radiooscillating epiepistle’ (FW 108.24) – transmitted at the behest of ALP/Isis, who ‘dream telepath posts dulcets on this isinglass stream’ carried ‘on my hearz’ waves’ (FW 460.21-27) – has a corresponding echo in the conjunction of archaeoacoustic research focused on megalithic tombs and the frequency of the number 111 in Finnegans Wake: ‘the majik wavus has elfun anon meshes’ (FW 203.31): the magic wave has 11+1 meshes.

Priestess Tarot Crowley

As ‘the ride onerable’ (FW 328.13) – three ones – of ALP’s gematric value, 111 Hz is also a natural resonance frequency identified for Neolithic tombs and chambers in Ireland and Britain, which cluster mostly within the ‘myrioheartzed’ (FW 331.23) range of 110-112 Hz (Mills 2014: 66-67). In the context of ‘chambermade music’ (FW 184.4) this frequency has consciousness-altering effects: at 110-112 Hz the patterns of activity over the prefrontal cortex abruptly shift, resulting in a relative deactivation of the language centre, with regular exposure to resonant sound at that frequency ‘turning on’ an area of the brain that relates to mood, empathy and social behaviour (Cook, et al 2008). Within the ‘homedromed and enliventh performance’ (FW 32.31-32) of the tomb’s ‘Magnificent Transformation Scene’ (FW 222.17) the combined effects of light and sound ‘may have enhanced the spectacle of communication with the dead or spirits’ (Mills 2014: 66), while carved motifs may have been visualisations of sound phenomena experienced within the tomb (ibid.). The ‘soundconducting walls’ (FW 183.8) of Cairn T at Loughcrew come to mind, embellished with ‘burst loveletters’ (FW 182), aligned on the Equinox sunrise, and resonant at 111 Hz. Shem’s synaesthetic experience in ALP’s ‘genesic field’ (FW 112.16) is implied here:

I shall have a word to say in a few yards about the acoustic and orchidectural management of the tonehall

(FW 165.8-9).

Benjamin’s post-Enlightenment challenge to Marx also involves the dark room, the camera obscura. Marx represents this entity in Enlightenment terms, opposing the darkened space of ideological illusion to the sun-filled landscape of reality, emblematising his faith in the illuminating power of rational critique (Cohen 1993: 255). Benjamin’s phantasmagorical show transgresses the dichotomy of reason/illusion (ibid.: 256), a transgression anticipated in Nicholas of Cusa’s negative theology, for the place

wherein Thou art found unveiled is girt round with the coincidence of contradictories, and this is the wall of Paradise wherein Thou dost abide. The door whereof is guarded by the most proud spirit of Reason, and, unless he be vanquished, the way in will not lie open

(Happold 1970: 336).

Le Hougue Dehus, Paradis.

La Hougue de Déhus, Paradis, Guernsey.

Adorno exhorted Benjamin to emerge from the cave of representation and bring his project into the light of day (Cohen 1993: 257), though Benjamin suggested that the phantasmagoria had been ‘integrated into the construction’ of his study rather than described (ibid.). Countering Adorno’s description of his critical route as emergence from a darkened cave into a natural space where things appear as they really are, Benjamin evokes the image of the flash ‘Fludd of truth’ (1616) of the equinox at Loughcrew and the Winter Solstice at Newgrange and Maes Howe: ‘”Theory… breaks like a single ray of light into an artificially darkened chamber,” thereby placing his spectators, and possibly himself, in the camera obscura where phantasmagorical projection occurs’ (Cohen 1993: 257):

Our situations will be ephemeral, without a future; passageways.

(Debord 1957a: 25).


Conclusion: ‘whorled without aimed’

Through the retrieval and active involvement with the scattered materials reconfigured here, it can be seen that détournement and the literary montage of Benjamin and Joyce are completely unlike postmodern modes of deconstruction in which ‘neutral and indefinitely interchangeable elements’ are used ‘without negation, without affirmation, without quality’ (Anon. 1966:176). Détournement does not rest merely on displacement, the infidelity of the element, but is a return to a superior fidelity of the element within the dialectical development of a unifying meaning (ibid.). Likewise, the juxtaposition of images in Benjamin’s technique of montage was intended to facilitate the construction of paradise from the glimpses of alternative futures by revealing ‘otherwise concealed or forgotten connections with the past’ (Tambiah 1987: 369).

Dispersed through Lewis-Williams’ and Dowson’s deployment of the neurophysiology of altered states to interpret rock art, are fragments of a Rosicrucian epistemology: portentous signs, signatures and the concept of analogy (1988).  ‘Deactivated’, ostensibly, by their metaphorisation, these buried fragments are, nevertheless, active elements which, ‘by dint of a secret heliotropism’ (Benjamin 1968a: 246), turn towards the light, like Joyce’s ‘sleeper awakening, in the smalls of one’s back presentiment… a flash from a future of maybe’ (FW 597.26-28). While the relation of the present to the past is temporal, ‘the relation of what-has-been to the now is dialectical: not temporal in nature but figural’ (Benjamin 1999: 463). The utopian charge implicit to this spatial and atemporal conception of history (Helmling 2003) is congruent with ‘dreaming’s disregard for sequential regularity’, which counters ‘the whole discourse of time, discipline and order’ (Wolfe 1991: 204).

The magical correspondence between Benjamin’s Arcades, Finnegans Wake, and the archaeology of megalithic art, suggest realms of experience ‘too all-encompassing to have coincided with the locality of their times’ (Bloch 1976: 8). The ‘living and speaking pictures’ of image magic – too much for the discursive hegemony of an atomistic, either-or rationality to bear – in their ambiguity are attentive to a ‘secret commonwealth’ of experience in an ‘undivided reawlity’ (FW 292.31), which does not exclude the social productions and theories of the temporal world, because ‘There is No Limit of Translucence’ (William Blake, Jerusalem).


Anon. 1959. The Meaning of Decay in Art. Internationale Situationniste No.3, pp.3-8, in McDonough, T. 2002. Guy Debord and the Situationist International. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, pp. 84-93.

Anon. 1966. The Role of Godard. Internationale Situationniste No.10. Transl. Ken Knabb, in Knabb, K. 1981. Situationist International Anthology. Berkeley: Bureau of Public Secrets, pp.175-176.

Atherton, J.S. 1959. The Books at the Wake. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Auerbach, A. 2007. Imagine no Metaphors: the Dialectical Image of Walter Benjamin. Image & Narrative: Online Magazine of the Visual Narrative No.18. Retrieved 30/10/2014

Baker, E.A. 1932. New English Dictionary. London: Odhams.

Bayley, H. 1912. The Lost Language of Symbolism. Vol I. London: Williams and Norgate.

Beckett, S. 1929. “Dante… Bruno. Vico.. Joyce”. In Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress. London: Faber & Faber.

Benjamin, W. 1968a. Theses on the Philosophy of History, in Illuminations.

Benjamin, W. 1968b. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, in Illuminations.

Benjamin, W. 1999. The Arcades Project. (Editor Rolf Tiedemann, Trans. Eiland, H. and Kevin McLaughlin, K.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Benjamin, W. 1999a. Doctrine of the Similar. In Jennings, M.W., Eiland, H. and Smith, G. (eds.) Walter Benjamin: selected writings. 1931-1934. Vol.2, pt.2. Cambridge, Mass.: University of Harvard Press, pp.694-698

Blisset, L. 1994. The Situationists as Rosicrucians. Here and Now No.16/17 Guy Debord Supplement, pp.xixxxv.

Bloch, E. 1976. Dialectics and Hope. New German Critique No 9, pp.3-10.

Boas, G. 1993. The Hieroglyphics of Horapollo. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Bond, S. 2011. “R.C.”: Rosicrucianism and Cartesianism in Joyce and Beckett. Miranda 4. Retrieved 20/11/2014.

Brand, R. 2002. Experiment in the Technique of Awakening: Working-through Walter Benjamin’s Passage-Work. Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal Vol.23, No.2. pp.213-226.

Brennan, M. 1983. The Stars and the Stones. London: Thames and Hudson.

Budgen, F. 1960. James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses.Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Chambers, Iain. 1998. History, the Baroque and the Judgement of the Angels. In Marcus, L. and L. Nead (eds.), The Actuality of Walter Benjamin. London: Lawrence and Wishart, pp.172-193.

Champion, S. and Cooney, G. 1999. Naming the Places, Naming the Stones. In Gavin-Schwartz, A. and Holtorf, C.J. (eds.), Archaeology and Folklore. London: Routledge, pp.196-213.

Cheng, V. J. 1995. Joyce, race, and empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Choucha, N. 1991. Surrealism and the Occult. Oxford: Mandrake.

Cohen, M. 1993. Profane Illumination: Walter Benjamin and the Paris of Surrealist Revolution. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Cook, Ian A.; Pajot, Sarah K.; Leuchter, Andrew F. 2008. Ancient Architectural Acoustic Resonance Patterns and Regional Brain Activity, Time and Mind, Volume 1, Number 1, March 2008 , pp. 95-104.

Cooney, G. 2000. Landscapes of Neolithic Ireland. London: Routledge.

Cooper, S. 2002. Technoculture and Critical Theory: In the service of the machine? London: Routledge.

Crook, S. 2004. The World’s End: Rock Images, Altered Realities, and the Limits of Social Theory. University of Manchester.

Crowley, A. 1954. Magick Without Tears.

Debord, G. and Wolman, G. 1956. Methods of Detournement. Les Lèvres Nues No.8, transl. Ken Knabb in Knabb, K. (ed.) 1981. Situationist International Anthology. Berkeley: Bureau of Public Secrets, pp.8-14.

Debord, G. 1957. One More Try if you want to be Situationists (The SI in and against Decomposition), Potlatch 29 November 5th, in McDonough, T. 2002. Guy Debord and the Situationist International. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, pp 51-59

Debord, G. 1957a. Report on the Construction of Situations (Excerpts). Transl. Ken Knabb, in Knabb, K. 1981. Situationist International Anthology. Berkeley: Bureau of Public Secrets. pp.17-25.

Debord, G. 1994. The Society of the Spectacle. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. New York: Zone Books.

Devereux, P. and Jahn, R.G. 1996. Preliminary investigations and cognitive considerations of the acoustical resonances of selected archaeological sites. Antiquity 70: 665-666.

Devereux, P. 2001. Stone Age Soundtracks. London: Vega.

DiBernard, Barbara 1980. Alchemy and Finnegans Wake. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Dronfield, J. 1996. The Vision Thing: Diagnosis of Endogenous Derivation in Abstract Arts. Current Anthropology 37(2): 373-391.

Eiland, H. 2006. Translator’s Foreword to Benjamin, W., On Hashish. Harvard University Press, pp.vii-xii.

Ellmann, R. 1982. James Joyce. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Eogan, G. 1986. Knowth and the passage-tombs of Ireland. London: Thames and Hudson.

Fludd, R. 1616. Rosicrucian Defence: Apologia Compendiaria A Brief Apology, washing away and … applied to the Fraternity of the Rosy Cross with, as it were, a Fludd of truth.

Gordon, J. 2004. Joyce and Reality: the Empirical Strikes Back. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Gordon, J. 1986. Finnegans Wake: A Plot Summary. Dublin: Gill & MacMillan.

Hansen, Miriam 1987. Benjamin, Cinema and Experience: ‘The Blue Flower in the Land of Technology’. New German Critique Vol. 40: 179-224.

Happold, F. C. 1963. Mysticism. London: Pelican.

Hart, C. 1962. Structure and Motif in Finnegans Wake. Northwestern University Press.

Heath, S. 1984. Ambiviolences: Notes for reading Joyce. In Attridge, D. and Ferrer, D. (eds.) Post-structuralist Joyce: Essays from the French. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.31-46.

Hegel, G.W.F. 1977. The Phenomenology of Spirit. (trans. A.V. Miller). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Helmling, Steven 2003. Constellation and Critique: Adorno’s Constellation, Benjamin’s Dialectical Image. Postmodern Culture: Journal of Interdisciplinary Thought on Contemporary Cultures Vol.14 No.1

Hudson, W. 1982. The Marxist Philosophy of Ernst Bloch. London: Macmillan.

Huffmann, W. 2001. Robert Fludd. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.

Ifrah, G. 1998. The Universal History of Numbers (trans. David Bellos, E.F. Harding, Sophie Wood and Ian Monk). London: Harvill (first published 1994 as Histoire universelle des chiffres by Editions Robert Laffont, Paris).

Jackson, K. H. 1971. A Celtic Miscellany. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Johannisson, K. 1988. Magic, Science and Institutionalization in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. In: Merkel, I. and Debus, A. G. (eds). Hermeticism and the Renaissance. Washington: Folger Books.

Jorn, A. 1963. Held og Hasard , 54, cited in P. Shield 1998. Comparative Vandalism: Asger Jorn and the artistic attitude to life. Aldershot: Ashgate, 142.

Joyce, J. 1922. Ulysses.

Joyce, J. 1939. Finnegans Wake. London: Faber and Faber.

Lauer, Quentin. 1993. A Reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (Second Edition). New York: Fordham University Press.

Lewis-Williams, J. D. 2002. The Mind in the Cave. London: Thames and Hudson.

Lewis-Williams, J. D. and Dowson, T. A. 1988. The Signs of All Times. Current Anthropology Vol. 29. No. 2: 201-245.

Löwy, M. 1992. Redemption and Utopia: Jewish Libertarian Thought in Central Europe. London: The Athlone Press.

Luke, D. 2010. Rock Art or Rorschach: Is there More to Entoptics than Meets the Eye? Time and Mind. Vol.3 Issue 1, pp. 9-28.

Magee, G.A. 2001. Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

McHugh, R. 1976. The Sigla of Finnegans Wake. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Mills, S. 2014. Auditory Archaeology: Understanding Sound and Hearing in the Past. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.

O’Kelly, M. J. 1982. Newgrange. London: Thames and Hudson.

Ormsby-Lennon, H. 1988. Rosicrucian Linguistics: Twilight of a Renaissance Tradition. In: Merkel, l. and Debus, A. G. (eds.) Hermeticism and the Renaissance. Washington: Folger Books. pp 311-341.

Paré, Dominique G. 2013. ALP, 111, 1911, and the Goniometer Retrieved 5/11/2014.

Pensky, Max. 1993. Melancholy Dialectics: Walter Benjamin and the Play of Mourning. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Pilkington, A. 1976. Bergson and his Influence: A Reassessment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Prendergast, F. and Ray, T. (forthcoming, 2015), ‘Alignment of the Western and Eastern passage tombs at Knowth Tomb 1’, Appendix 2 in G. Eogan and K. Cleary (Archaeological Editor), Excavations at Knowth 6: The Great Mound at Knowth (Tomb 1) and its passage tomb archaeology. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy.

Punter, D. 1982. Blake, Hegel and Dialectic. Würzburg: Königshausen and Neumann and Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Rochlitz, R. 1996. The Disenchantment of Art: The Philosophy of Walter Benjamin. New York: The Guilford Press.

Roob, A. 1997. Alchemy and Mysticism: The Hermetic Museum. Köln: Taschen.

Ross, A.  2007.  Apparition in the Woods: Rescuing Sibelius from Silence. The New Yorker, July 9th 2007 Retrieved 12/7/2015.

Samuel, F. 2001. Le Corbusier, Rabelais and the Oracle of the Holy Bottle. Word and Image 17, No.4, pp.325-338.

Scholem, G. 1965. On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism. New York: Schocken Books.

Scholem, G. 1976. ‘Walter Benjamin and his Angel’, in Werner J. Dannhauser (ed.), On Jews and Judaism in Crisis. New York: Schocken Books, pp.198-236.

Seligmann, K. 1997. The History of Magic. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club.

Shanks, M. and Tilley, C. 1992. Re-Constructing Archaeology. (Second Edition) London: Routledge.

Shield, P. 1998. Comparative Vandalism: Asger Jorn and the artistic attitude to life. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Tambiah, S.J. 1990. Magic, Science, Religion and the scope of rationality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Taussig, M. 1987. Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Thomas, J. 1993. The Hermeneutics of Megalithic Space. In Tilley, C. (ed.) Interpretative Archaeology. Oxford: Berg. pp.73-97.

Thomas, J. 1996. Time, Culture and Identity. London: Routledge.

Thompson, E.P. 1978. The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays. London: Merlin Press.

Tindall, William York. 1954. James Joyce and the Hermetic Tradition. Journal of the History of Ideas Vol. 15, No. 1 (Jan., 1954), pp. 23-39.

Verene, D.P. 1985. Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in the Phenomenology of Spirit. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Verene, D.P. 1993. ‘Two Sources of Philosophical Memory: Vico versus Hegel’, in Cook, P. (ed.) Philosophical Imagination and Cultural Memory. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.pp. 56-57.

Waite, A.E. 1910. The Pictorial Key to The Tarot. London: Rider & Company.

Watson, A. and Keating, D. 1999. Architecture and sound: an acoustic analysis of megalithic monuments in prehistoric Britain. Antiquity 73: 325-336.

Weigel, S. 1996. Body-and Image-Space: Re-reading Walter Benjamin. London: Routledge

Wolfe, P. 1991. On Being Woken Up: The Dreamtime in Anthropology and in Australian Settler Culture. Comparative Studies in Society and History No.33.

Yates, F. 1964. Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Yates, F. 1966. The Art of Memory. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Yates, F. 1972. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. London: Paladin (1975 edn.).


The Seven Thorns Inn: a Sorry State

March 8, 2014

When the rose is gone and the rose-garden fallen to ruin,

Where will you seek the scent of the rose?

From rose-water?

Jalallud-din Rumi (1207-73).

Then as we drove along… we passed by, a little to our left, the lonely Seven Thorns Inn of legendary renown, a hostelry of importance at one time, which is said to stand exactly half-way between London and Portsmouth. Near here one stormy winter’s night a century or so ago three coaches, one from London and two bound thither, were blocked in by deep snow-drifts. Fortunately for the passengers the Seven Thorns was within a walk, and let us hope that they all spent a sociable and merry evening therein…

James John Hissey, Through Ten English Counties, 1894

‘Talismanic significance’ is becoming something of an over-used phrase in my vocabulary lately, but a pub which has languished – scandalously – in rack and ruin for many years has long had that status for me, for its very name alone, never mind anything else. It’s been known by other names too, but for me it will always be The Seven Thorns Inn. Yet, however you get distracted by personal obsessions and intellectual escapism, ‘life’ finds a way of reminding you of where you are, of our connections with the world, our connections with each other – often by means of ‘coincidence’.

Seven Thorns map

A detail from C and J Greenwood’s one inch map of Hampshire (from here).

Just inside Hampshire, south of the Surrey town of Hindhead, the Seven Thorns conjures images of a wind-blasted heath with gnarled, Rackhamesque thorn bushes, twisting their branches by the wayside, such are the otherworldly connotations of its name. Such impressions would be dispelled today, positioned as it is, teetering by the A3(M) and the southern entrance to the Hindhead Tunnel.


To restore this pub to its former glory must rank alongside one of those quixotic dreams like rebuilding Brighton’s West Pier, or creating a global human community, free of the state, nations and money…

In better days... An old postcard found on this urban exploration site.

In better days… An old postcard found on this urban exploration site.

But that’s by the by, as is the psychogeographical context of the Seven Thorns – whether or not it is exactly half-way between London and Portsmouth, or whether it marks the course of a Watkinsian ley – things to explore another time.

H 12

The Seven Thorns c.1906 before being rebuilt (from this site).

Seven Sorrows

So, the fate of the Seven Thorns Inn was (and remains) a matter of great interest to me. However, an unexpected pattern of coincidence emerged in February 2010, involving a family bereavement in Russia and a resulting visit to Kent, concurrent with a phase of obsessing about this pub. Travelling to Kent, I chose a different route to usual, planning it to go past the Seven Thorns (which I’d only gone past, knowing of its existence, a couple of times before) to snatch a couple of pictures as we hurtled by.

Sev T

We returned home the same day, but not before having had a personal possession urgently thrust into our hands, as a gift: a Russian icon of ‘Our Lady of Sorrows’, almost identical to the image shown here.

Seven Sorrows

An internet search that evening uncovered some lines from Dante Gabriel Rossetti, linking pub and icon:

The seven-thorn’d briar and the palm seven-leaved

Are her great sorrow and her great reward.

Of this particular icon this is written:

On February 2… Orthodox Christians and Eastern Catholics commemorate a wonder-working icon of the Theotokos (Mother of God) known as “the Softening of Evil Hearts” or “Simeon’s Prophecy.”

It depicts the Virgin Mary at the moment that Simeon the Righteous says, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also….” (Luke 2:35). She stands with her hands upraised in prayer, and seven swords pierce her heart, indicative of the seven sorrows. This is one of the few Orthodox icons of the Theotokos which do not depict the infant Jesus. The refrain “Rejoice, much-sorrowing Mother of God, turn our sorrows into joy and soften the hearts of evil men!” is also used.

Another ‘bead’ in this strange string of coincidence appeared within a fortnight, while driving north of Winchester, when I was transfixed on hearing a radio presenter’s introduction for a piece of music about the Virgin Mary by Vivaldi: she translated the lyric as, ‘painted in purple and armed with thorns’ – a description immediately evoking the purple-clad Mary of the icon. Compelled then to linger and listen to Carolyn Sampson singing Ostro picta, armata spina, only now has it clicked, four years on, that as I waited for the music to finish and the presenter to repeat its title, I happened to have come to a halt by an old cottage called The Rosary

Vivaldi’s lyric contrasts the transient beauty of the wild rose against the eternal glory of the Virgin Mary:

Crimson-dyed and armed with thorns,

Greater than all in pride and beauty,

Bloomed the wild rose. But now at day’s decline

She pales and languishes, like any weed,

Bereft of scent and beauty.

Leaving aside all the religious connotations, that just about sums up the bereft, ruinous state of the Seven Thorns, and so much else besides. Whatever’s going on, I don’t think ‘it’ is about a derelict pub, although the pub is part of a bigger picture…

Edit 16/3/14 – Should I be surprised at the apparent irony of the icon,  The Softener of Evil Hearts (Умягчение злых сердец), being appropriated to a discourse of nation, cultural identity and tradition which entails a hardening of the heart among its adherents, against a demonised other? I think of the hard-hearted thuggery of the cassocked and bejewelled clergy, pictured laying into participants in a Gay Pride march in Moscow a few years ago…

Turn our sorrows into joy and soften the hearts of evil men!


Figure 11: ‘Situlogy is the transformative morphology of the unique’

February 8, 2014
Image (33)

Click on this image for a closer look…

A page – ultimately, not included – from an early draft of The World’s End: Rock Images, Altered Realities and the Limits of Social Theory. It registers the structured conjunction of themes encompassing ‘Celtic’ Art, the artistic theories of Asger Jorn, archaeology and James Joyce’s novel, Finnegans Wake. The triply-interlaced motif on a bucket escutcheon found on White Horse Hill (Berkshire) parallels this passage in the novel: ‘his threefaced stonehead was found on a whitehorse hill’ (FW 132.12), a manifestation of prudentia, regarding past, present and future simultaneously. [Edit: in one of those serendipitous twists of meaningful coincidence, within half-an-hour of posting this, I find that the BBC – in advance of a documentary – has just started publicising a 4,000-year-old burial ‘of international importance’ on another Whitehorse Hill on Dartmoor (Devon), excavated in 2011. Details here]. The appearance of yin-yang-like motifs incised on an Iron Age bone flake found in a Neolithic tomb invites a playful anachronism that ruptures the linear seriality of archaeological narratives, at the same time as ‘confirming’ Jorn’s avowal of an oriental, anti-classicist principle motivating Viking and Celtic art.

In the elemental contrast of stone and water, embodied in henges, can be found a metaphor for the conflict between monumentality and the rhythm of life that Asger Jorn found in the dualism of the Apollonian aristocratic and the Dionysian folk-culture (Birtwistle 1986:33), brought into play in the article ‘Yang-Yin’, published almost concurrently with ‘Apollo or Dionysos’ in 1947, in which he opposes the ‘Chinese philosophy’ of Tao to all that is classically European (ibid.). Known as ‘the Watercourse Way’ (Watts 1975), Jorn gave Tao a universal significance:

Tao is not a Chinese ideology. It is only the name and the particular expression which is Chinese. Tao is to be found, and has existed, in all natural cultures in the history of mankind throughout the world from the dawn of time. It antedates present-day reality and in the future it will be … a concrete social and personal reality, a real way of life not only for China but for the whole world

( in Birtwistle 1986:36).

In Tao, Jorn found a ‘dialectical-materialist principle of life’ (‘Yang-Yin’, 1947, in Birtwistle, 1986:36), a ‘natural dialectic’ which could be thrown against the socially-constructed dualisms of European Culture, given form in the ‘monumentalness’ (FW 543.7-8) of HCE and of hierarchical authority in the Wake, embodied in the Wellington Monument, and continually eroded by the babbling flow of ALP’s ‘riverrun’:

Nothing in the world is weaker than water,
But it has no better in overcoming the hard.

(Lao-Tzu, Tao te Ching: 78, cited in Watts 1975:47).

As in the theory of the dérive, the ‘poetic value of passivity’ (Debord 1958, in Knabb 1981:50) of letting go, allows us to drift in the Wake of ‘his fiery goosemother, laotsey taotsey’ (FW 242.22-26), the ‘reine of the shee’ (FW 68.21) who ensures ‘What regnans raised the rains have levelled’ (FW 56.36-57.1):

If hot Hammurabi, or cowld Clesiastes, could espy her pranklings, they’d burst bounds agin, and renounce their ruings, and denounce their doings, for river and iver, and a night. Amin!

(FW 139.25-28).


Extract from The World’s End: Rock Images, Altered Realities and the Limits of Social Theory (2004) Simon Crook


The Flutter of a Falling Card

February 7, 2014

a bar called AT THE END OF THE WORLD (Au bout du monde), on the edge of one of Paris’s strongest unities of ambiance (the rue Mouffetard, rue Tournefort, rue Lhomond area) is not there by chance. Events are only fortuitous insofar as the general laws governing their category are unknown.

‘Architecture and Play’, Potlatch 20, May 1955

January was a strange month.

For reasons too personal to go into in great detail for now, but closely entwined with a recent family bereavement, the so-called ‘Tichborne Curse’ has featured quite prominently in my thinking lately. This is largely because of a ‘brush’ with that history, connecting the 14th Baronet of Tichborne to my recently deceased brother-in-law, which has played out in a slightly unsettling way. This post is not primarily about that particular matter, however. Instead it is about a convoluted coincidence that knits together disparate people, places, ideas and parallel circumstances over an extended period of time, while at the same time assuming a meaning and making sense to me in the light of the Tichborne connection.

‘All your graundplotting and the little it brought’

Sir Anthony Doughty-Tichborne, the 14th – and last – Baronet of Tichborne, died on 18th July 1968. His passing was reported as the fulfilment of an 800-year-old curse, as this newspaper-cutting shows.


Newspaper-cutting taken from this page.

The historical and legendary background against which to set the passing of the last Baronet and which lends meaning to a pattern of still-developing coincidences relates to the reputed origin of the ceremony known as the Tichborne Dole, which takes place on Lady Day, March 25th. In fact, this legend of origin recapitulates a recurrent theme in folklore, which links the social conscience of particular women – sometimes embodying uncanny or otherworldly qualities as banshees or Melusine figures – and certain plots of land, dedicated to the welfare of the poor or common people, in the face of the hardheartedness of the temporal lord. The legend of Lady Godiva, for instance, is part of this genre of stories. This is a brief summary of the ceremony and the legend behind it:

An annual dole of flour is distributed to the parishioners of Tichborne, Cheriton, and Lane End, Hampshire, on Lady Day (25 March). The accompanying legend relates that in the 12th century one Lady Mabella, wife of Sir Henry de Tichborne, was much loved by the local people for her charity and kindness. When she was dying, she asked her husband to dedicate some land to support a charity for the poor in her name. His reply was to pull a burning brand from the fire and say that she could have as much land as she could walk round, carrying the torch, before it went out. As ill as she was, she still managed to crawl around 23 acres of land, before the fire petered out… Her actions not only secured the charity, but also prompted the name ‘the Crawls’ by which those acres are still known. Lady Mabella was also sufficiently cautious to lay a curse on Sir Henry, and his heirs, if they ever interfered with the charity. The real origin of the charity is not known. Nowadays, flour made from wheat grown on the Crawls is distributed on the steps of the church, after a short open-air service. A gallon of flour is given to adults, and half a gallon to children.

The Tichborne Dole 1670

Gillis van Tilborch, The Tichborne Dole 1670 From here

Letters from Afar

On January 25th we’d got back to Southampton from Kent after attending the funeral of my brother-in-law, John. That evening, as if to cut off from the sad preoccupations of the previous weeks, I started reading through the correspondence between the Marxist theorists, Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse, concerning the German student movement of 1969, which had only just been published in online form here. In this exchange of letters, Adorno reproaches Marcuse for his uncritical support for a movement which he considered had technocratic tendencies and a current of ‘thoughtless violence’ which converged with fascism:

You object to Jürgen’s expression ‘left fascism’, calling it a contradictio in adjecto. But you are a dialectician, aren’t you? As if such contradictions did not exist—might not a movement, by the force of its immanent antinomies, transform itself into its opposite? I do not doubt for a moment that the student movement in its current form is heading towards that technocratization of the university that it claims it wants to prevent, indeed quite directly. And it also seems to me just as unquestionable that modes of behaviour such as those that I had to witness, and whose description I will spare both you and me, really display something of that thoughtless violence that once belonged to fascism.

— letter from Adorno to Marcuse, written in May 1969.

As I was scrolling through this correspondence, I heard something flutter and flop to the floor in the dining room behind me, a sound evocative – looking back – of the descent of a petal of magnolia blossom. In the light of family preoccupations and the peculiar circumstances of the previous 3-4 weeks, I just knew it was a ‘message’.

On investigation, I found a hand-made greeting card from 2009, wishing a ‘Merry Spring’, had fallen from one of the two large mounts on the wall, where it was displayed with about 30 other seasonal cards we had received over the years from an artist friend. On the front he had depicted an image of St Mildred of Thanet, ‘in garments based on the Kentish style of Anglo-Saxon female clothing’, standing alongside a small, antlered hind, teasing one of his tines between her fingers. The Kentish connection I found an interesting coincidence, in view of where we’d been the previous few days. I started to read the text (by Kenneth Lymer) on the back:

St Mildred was a famous Anglo-Saxon abbess of Minster in the Isle of Thanet, Kent during the 7th century CE. Mildred’s mother was St Ermenburga who in turn was the aunt of King Egbert. Ermenburga’s younger brothers, Ethelred and Ethelbright, were murdered by Thunor, one of Egbert’s men. In compensation, wergild, for their deaths Ermenburga received land in Minster for the building of a monastery. The extent of the land ceded by Egbert was determined by the amount of area in which Ermenburga’s pet hind could run around – about a thousand acres.

I paused, bowled over by the startling similarity between the Tichborne and Minster legends, both revolving around the granting of an area of land determined by a ritualised, divinatory circuit. I read on:

Ermenburga was the first abbess of the new monastery c. 670 CE and then quickly handed over the charge of the abbey to Mildred. The abbey buildings at Minster were later destroyed after the dissolution of monasteries during the time of Henry VIII. In 1937 a small group of Benedictine nuns from St Walburga’s Abbey at Eichstadt, Germany purchased the remains of the old abbey and re-established a new nunnery. They also installed a relic of St Mildred into the altar of a newly-built private chapel.

Even in the case of the nuns of St Walburga’s, ‘timely correspondence’ appears to have played a role in their acquisition of Minster Abbey, as this account on the website of Minster Abbey suggests:

In 1937, Mr and Mrs Senior, who had resided at the Abbey for several years, were planning to sell and retire to a smaller property. It proved difficult, however, to find a buyer. At this time the parish priest of the small Roman Catholic Church at Minster was Dom Bede Winslow OSB, a monk of St. Augustine’s Abbey, Ramsgate. Inspired by the idea that Minster might once again become home to a monastic community, he ‘advertised’ it to a number of English monastic houses. Since no-one took up his suggestion, he went further afield with his dream, using his ecumenical and Benedictine contacts on the continent.

According to the Minster Chronicle, Abbess Benedicta von Spiegel zu Peckelsheim of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Walburga in Eichstatt, our founding house in Bavaria, received Dom Bede’s letter on the same day on which an officer of the Nazi SS requisitioned part of the abbey property for the use of Hitler’s ‘storm troops’. Abbess Benedicta saw the hand of providence in this ‘coincidence’ and determined, if at all possible, to view the property. On the return journey from a visitation to St. Walburga’s foundations in the United States she made an undeclared stop-over at Southampton and a friend travelled with her down to Kent.

In short, the nuns of Eichstatt acquired the abbey when the deeds were handed over on 25th March 1937, the Feast of the Annunciation, also known as Lady Day, the day that the Tichborne Dole is dispensed each year…

‘flick as flowflakes’

Christel Mattheeuws suggests that ‘experiences of synchronicity appear more often during emotional distress and as part of transformations’ (2014: 51). The interpretation of meaningful coincidence must reveal as many possibilities as the open-ended nature of Talmudic dream interpretation – an unacknowledged influence upon Freud’s method of free association – in which ‘an uninterpreted dream is like an unread letter’ (Frieden 1993: 108). I see the unfolding and enfoldment of coincidence as a continuous process, an aspect of the ‘mystery of consciousness’ in which all beings participate, as suggested by a phrase I found on this blog post, credited to Nietzsche: ‘We are buds on a single tree’.


The card I heard fall fluttered like descending magnolia blossom, a metaphor which, elaborated in my mind today (of all days), has stirred memories of my late brother-in-law’s wife, Tanya, born and brought up in Sochi, southern Russia. Not believing magnolias could flower in England, she loved the blossoming magnolia tree in our garden because it reminded her of Sochi. Today (February 7th) the Winter Olympics open in Sochi. Today is the fourth anniversary of Tanya’s passing away. I honestly hadn’t realised that when I decided, yesterday, on a second concerted attempt to write this post about the Tichborne/Minster coincidence. Coincidence multiplies upon coincidence…

Does it take our ‘thoughtfulness’ (deeply felt) to activate/motivate such patterns of coincidence? Does the agency of those we have known and loved continue after their physical departure? Are our individual memories and thoughts in some way congruent with the memory and thought of ‘the universe’? As James Joyce writes in Finnegans Wake, ‘the world, mind, is, was and will be writing its own wrunes for ever’ (19.35-36). By the way, none of this should be conflated with the Jungian idea of the ‘collective unconscious’ or be seen as in any way an endorsement of it – I’m sure there are better ways of appreciating and approaching the strangeness of it all.

The correspondence between Adorno and Marcuse concluded in this way:

Within a few days, Adorno replied to Marcuse and passed the letter to his secretary. As she typed it up on 6 August, Adorno lay dying. Despite warnings from his doctor, he had travelled by cable car up a 3000 metre Swiss mountain peak. His heart was aching. He came back down the mountain, went into a shoe shop to make a purchase and, while there, suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of sixty-five.


Frieden, K. 1993. ‘Talmudic Dream Interpretation, Freudian Ambivalence, Deconstruction’. In C.S. Rupprecht (ed.) The Dream and the Text. Albany: State University of New York Press, pp. 103 – 111.

Mattheeuws, C. 2014. ‘Experiences of Synchronicity and Anthropological Endeavours (Part 2): Beyond a Psychology of Projection into a Cosmology of Synchronicities’. Paranthropology Vol.5 No.1 (January 2014), pp.51 – 63.