McLuhan and Kenner (Dublin’s Joyce, chap 3)

their aqueous emotional element the humming denizens took for granted, (…) as men take air for granted.1 (Dublin’s Joyce27-28)

He made a careful distinction between lilting gestures of embellishment and the rhythms which imitate those discernible in the subject, S184/163, “the first formal relationship among parts and whole”, P241/234, “the first entelechy”, U425/413 2 (Dublin’s Joyce29)

Whether in fact or in artifact,3 a thing exists first as a set of relations, then [second] when matter joins proportion, or words join rhythm, as a set of articulate [cognate with ‘artifact’] relations.4 (Dublin’s Joyce29)

Controlled rhythms afford a continuous matrix to contain what drops through the sieve of discursive denotations.5 Hence it is always with rhythms, arranged relationships, that artistic imitation begins. Like Flaubert, Joyce always conceives the prose paragraph as a rhythmic unit; it is the component of “absolute rhythm” that explains why so much of Finnegans Wake communicates, when read aloud, before being understood. (Dublin’s Joyce29)

A metaphoric perception (“Votre âme est un paysage choisi . . .” [Verlaine]) is raised to intelligibility (Joyce’s term was “epiphanized”) by articulation of images whose relevance the poet does not need to justify. (Dublin’s Joyce30)

In the emergence of the “meaning” (…) we may discern the “luminous silent stasis of esthetic pleasure” of which Joyce makes Stephen speak: “the instant wherein that supreme quality of beauty, the clear radiance of the esthetic image, is apprehended luminously by the mind which has been arrested by its wholeness and fascinated by its harmony is the luminous silent stasis of esthetic pleasure.6 P250/242 (Dublin’s Joyce30)

Verlaine discovered, or rediscovered, how to make a mode of passion emerge illuminated without employing the images as mere steps in an argument, and with an action, a progression d’effet, that parallels the movement of the mind penetrating — not playing checkers with — the données.7 (Dublin’s Joyce30

Here is the programme of “double-writing”: the received expression used “a little ironically”.8 (Dublin’s Joyce34)

the poem (…) is the first example (…) of the double-writing that is characteristically Joyce’s. To turn “Love in ancient plenilune” into the dream of a “sweet sentimentalist” with (…) poised equivocalness of feeling…  (Dublin’s Joyce35)


  1. ‘The humming denizens’ are the Dubliners constantly at their singing. The first words of this chapter are: “Joyce’s Dublin submerged itself in song”. (Augustine: ‘once sung, twice said’.) As was already to be found in the presocratics, the ontological background, on the basis of which all things first of all are, may be thought of as primordial ‘water’ or primordial ‘air’. It is what is always already there enabling both factual things and our artifactual hold on things.
  2. The question, as always, concerns the reality of finite things and the reality of their relation to non-finite things — along with the question of how such matters are to be thought, articulated and communicated.
  3. “Whether in fact or in artifact”: fact is the subject matter of ‘old science’, arti-fact the subject matter of ‘new science’.
  4. “A thing exists first as a set of relations” — this is what Kenner indicated with “the intelligible order (of things) with which (mind) copulates”. “Then when matter joins proportion or words join rhythm, as a set of articulate relations” — this is Kenner’s “intellected order”. (Citations are from Dublin’s Joyce19-20.) McLuhan, 17 years later, in Take Today (3): “the ‘meaning of meaning’ is relationship”.
  5. “What drops through the sieve of discursive denotations” is the gap or medium between them. It works to hold them in being only when it itself is held in being by a prior gap or medium in the ground of things.
  6. Italics added. The “instant” of “arrest” in poetry became very important for McLuhan around 1950 (see “Arrest in time” in McLuhan) and then became the central difference for him between fact and artifact. What characterizes every artifact was the ‘technical means’ or medium of the structural construction displayed in it moment to moment to moment — like frames in film. Hence ‘understanding media’ was the key to a specification of such moments and therefore of all ‘artifacts’ — just as an understanding of the elements was the key to the specification and investigation of physical materials as ‘facts’.
  7. Progression d’effet — compare McLuhan to Skornia: “Media are ‘ideas’ in action” (June 5, 1959).
  8. Double-writing is an artifact considering artifacts; a gapped technique considering gapped techniques “a little ironically”.