Joyce’s Practice of Intertextuality: The Anticipation of Hypermedia and Its Implications for Textual Analysis of Finnegans Wake


digital culture, intertextuality, interdiscursivity, Joyce, culture digitale, intertextualité, interdiscursivité

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Theall, D. (2000). Joyce’s Practice of Intertextuality: The Anticipation of Hypermedia and Its Implications for Textual Analysis of Finnegans Wake. Digital Studies/le Champ Numérique, (7). DOI:


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The history of hypertext usually marks 1945 as the date of an originary moment, for that is when Vannevar Bush first outlined in the Atlantic Magazine his ideas about Memex. Bush notes how the conclusion of the war is a moment when there could be a new relationship between the thinking person and the sum of their knowledge. The history of grammatology with its perception of virtual hypertext should mark 1939, on the eve of World War II, as the date of an originary moment, for that is when Finnegans Wake appeared – a work to which Borges, Derrida, Eco and McLuhan all attribute in one way or another their relative interests in the nature of writing or the relationship between writing and other modes of communication. Since the eighties when Derrida, while revealing the importance of Joyce's work to his writings, clearly outlined the affinity of Joyce with computers and digitalization, Joyce's pre-cybernetic intuition has become more and more widely recognized, so that now there even is a journal entitled Hypermedia Joyce.

In exploring Joyce's pre-cybernetic intuitions and their relationship to using computers in analysing the Wake, I will examine the theoretical implications and the ways in which hypermedia and artificial realities transform processes of reading and understanding. While there will be some discussion of specific examples of text analysis and concordancing, the primary consideration will be the implications of a work whose assemblage anticipates cyberculture and whose very existence has implications for all readings of texts subsequent to the digitalization of the docuverse.

At the outset I want to assert a stronger claim that should inform any approach to Joyce's later works. That claim is that living within the same historical frame that produced Vannevar Bush's Memex – a period marked by the rise of contemporary technoculture – Joyce, from the perspective of a cultural producer, intuitively recognized the emergence of digital culture. Joyce's intuition of this cyberculture has been established in articles by Derrida, Eco and Laurence James; and in books and articles by Darren Tofts, Lorraine Weir and myself, particularly my James Joyce's Techno-Poetics (Theall 1997). Joyce's treatment anticipates such cybernetic concepts as code, surprise or deviation, memory storage, non-linearity, transversality, link, frame and even with a very slight stretch of hermeneutic imagination, bit and bite. Besides, he is most likely the earliest writer to practice so comprehensively, complexly and exhaustively the poetic strategies of intertextuality – or perhaps more properly, of interdiscursivity – in order to create a major anticipation of hypermedia.

The crux of the issue is the peculiar problem that the Joycean text presents because in the Wake there is an intrinsic inter-relationship between Joyce as a prophet of cyberculture, self-conscious about its potentialities, and the Wake as a uniquely challenging object for processes of interpretation which use computer software and hypermedia as modes to aid understanding. Most of us are familiar with Joyce's remarks about deliberately enticing his readers into interminable interpretation, since his book is directed towards "the ideal reader with ideal insomnia," but the Wake's interdiscursive (or intertextual) aspect as well as its complex intratextuality goes much further – a situation to which the wide variety of nearly a hundred web sites addressing aspects of Joyce's work attest. First, Joyce's deliberate strategy of introducing the public to his work by gradual stages over the seventeen years he was writing it consciously encouraged his readers to develop an interest in the genesis of the Wake. It was initially published in bits and pieces under the working title, Work in Progress (first in journals, followed by specific sections in chapbooks). Then he proposed that C.K. Ogden write an introduction to a series of fragments entitled Tales Told of Shem and Shaun, encouraging him to include a discussion of the book's mathematics. He also encouraged Beckett to edit and along with others to write a volume of critical essays explicating Work in Progress (1929). (Later he would embed the title of the collection of essays into the Wake suggesting it to be a partial interpretation by playfully transforming the Wake's title into "Quinnigan's Quake!" and Beckett's collection into "Your exagmination round his factification for incamination of a warping process" [Joyce 1999: 497.2-3], just as he would allude to C.K. Ogden in "basically English" and in references to his books). In 1929 he recorded a portion of Anna Livia Plurabelle for Ogden, while from the outset of the writing until publication, he continued to provide exegetical guidance to many of his interpreters, such as Mercanton, Giedion-Welcker, Valéry-Larbaud and Frank Budgen, as well as friends such as Harriet Shaw Weaver. This is a program similar to Pope's staged development of The Dunciad from The Scriblerus Papers through its various versions from 1728 to The Dunciad Variorum of 1743.

In addition to his efforts with the staging of Work in Progress and critical commentary about it, for some sections of the book he also (whether accidentally or deliberately) left us up to nine various stages of the evolution of the manuscript, including his correction of printed items from Work in Progress and the proofs of the Wake. These different stages of the manuscript are supplemented by eighteen notebooks that he had used while composing the Wake (which now account for 16 volumes of the James Joyce Archive). In the digital era the availability of such material for genetic research invites hypertext, just as hypertext invites genetic research. Examples of such a response to Joyce can be found at web sites in Yokohama, Oregon, Zurich, Peterborough, Antwerp, and at Temple University (the latter of which includes the first issue of Hypermedia Joyce), for hypertext provides a rich mode for presenting varying layers of composition accompanied by annotations and cross-references to the text of the work when published and links to sites involving places, persons and things interdiscursively involved in the Wake (for example, detailed maps, photographs, historical information about Dublin, Ireland, Italy and France). Some of the sites permit interactive suggestions or further suggestions alternative to earlier ones to contribute to the interpretation of the notebooks (whose handwriting is often difficult to interpret), providing for a collaborative act of reading. Jorn Barger maintains a site where all the versions of the segments of the Wake from which Joyce began are available to permit an online tracing of the genesis of these key sections.

Joyce's deliberate machination of the genesis of the Wake supplemented by the rich fund of genetic material available produces one type of intertextuality. A second type of interdiscursivity involves Joyce's complex and multiple allusiveness, both transversely within the text and externally, to a multitude of persons, places, books and other cultural productions – all sources towards which he deliberately pointed his readers. This latter type of interdiscursivity encourages the early intimations of a primitive online hypertextual variorum edition maintained by Tim Szeliga and me which uses a hypertextual version of my wife, Joan's, and my electronic text of the entire work. Finnegans Web (Szeliga 1999) at Trent links every reference to the work from most of the major critical books to individual page and line references within the text and also provides a search engine permitting wildcard searches.  Frames provide a means for visually presenting Joyce's use of marginalia and foot-notes in the second section of Book II, including graphic material (e.g. scales, doodles, etc.).

What needs to be noted in all of this is the unique importance of Joyce's conception of the reader-writer, producer-consumer relationship, which is referred to immediately following the reference in the Wake to "Quinnigan's Quake" cited above: "His producers are they not his consumers?" As early as 1982 in a lecture on James Joyce: Poetic Engineer, I related Joycean semiotics with an anticipation of cybernetic processes. The Joycean writer comes to be replaced by the reader who re-writes the text – the reader as poet related to processes of coding, to mnemonically pursuing transverse references and to a mimesis of multi-media perception:

The prouts who will invent a writing there ultimately is the poeta, still more learned, who discovered the raiding there originally. That's the point of eschatology our book of kills reaches for now in soandso many counterpoint words. What can't be coded can be decorded if an ear aye seize what no eye ere grieved for. Now, the doctrine obtains, we have occasioning cause causing effects and affects occasionally recausing altereffects. (Joyce 1999: 482.31-483.1)

Jacques Derrida, who described the Wake as a "hypermnesiac machine," and noted the potentialities of hypermedia to investigate such a text, suggests that Joyce was:

there in advance, decades in advance, to compute you, control you, forbid you the slightest inaugural syllable because you can say nothing that is not programmed on this 1000th generation computer – Ulysses, Finnegans Wake – beside which the current technology of our computers and micro-computerfied archives and translating machines remains a bricolage of a perhistoric child's toys. And above all its mechanisms are of a slowness, incommensurable with the quasi-infinite speed of the movements on Joyce's cables.[1]

Joyce's "hypermnesiac machine" operates through his readers being "in his memory". By examining his use of pre-digital hyperlinks involving memory and mimesis, this aspect of his creative process provides an interesting way of examining how his virtual or imaginary hypermedia is a pre-digital prophecy of contemporary hypermedia.

One of his prime and complex means of creating networks of interlinkage within the text (i.e., transversality or intratextuality) is to play on minimal differences within simple syllables by their transformation and/or insertion into a variety of words along with their potential for creating assonance and consonance. The items of minimal difference involved frequently relate to prime clusters of inter-related meanings. Text analysis software with wild card capability, the use of Boolean operators and other such search devices is of considerable value both in ferreting out these groups and in revealing many of the polysemic aspects of their interconnection. To explore memory, mimesis and related concepts take as an example the following chain entered into a search engine of a text analysis and concordancing tool: m preceded by the regular expression "any" (i.e., a single period followed by a wildcard [an asterisk]) then [brackets enclosing aeiou], i.e., indicating any vowel occupying the position between the two ms the second m being followed by the repetition of the opening sequence, a combination which asks for all words that contain any three letter syllable such as:

m - [aeiou] - m

Applied to the text of the Wake this is very productive in generating a multitude of examples illustrative of Joycean excesses of meaning for it selects all the monosyllabic and morphological chains involving mam-mem-mim-mom-mum (interestingly the first two members of which, if the second m is dropped, become ma and me). When the text is searched for occurrences, Joyce's insistence on the relation of the mother to such concepts as mimesis, mimicry, mime, memory, moment, silence (being mum) is established and the chain expands through multimimetica (multimedia) to semiotics (the meaning of meaning) and mathematics: "lead us seek, lote us see, light us find, let us missnot Maidadate, Mimosa Multimimetica, the maymeaminning of maimoomeining!" (Joyce 1999: 267.2-3) to "the deprofundity of multimathematical immaterialities" (394.31-2). From the multiple plays on the basic chain of vowel changes, here the reader is led into relating the mimesis and memory to Ogden and Richards, The Meaning of Meaning and Ogden's interest in mathematical (Liebnizian) theories of meaning. The strategy being pursued here rises out of Joyce's encyclopaedic design coupled with his practico-theoretic interest in inter-relating such basic textual concepts as imitation, dramatic presentation, memory, meaning and mathematical order. This is similar to that which characterizes hypermedia links and their rhizomic like organization.

These Joycean links, which pre-date digital culture, are aural-mnemonic; the m-vowel-m sets serving as the anchors for the internal (intratextual) links, as illustrated in how the "maymeaminning of maimoomeining" cited above evokes The Meaning of Meaning because these anchors are supplemented by the visual and auditory structure of words or phrases in the text including puns on the German word for "opinion" and the Irish for "stuttering" to provide the external (interdiscursive) links. But this interweaving goes further, anticipatorily mimicking some of the more complex aspects of hypertext by inter-relating the maternal, the imitative, the semiotic, the mnemonic and the mathematical (and/or logical) ordering. This is what creates a reciprocity between the Joycean text and the computer programs, which complement (partly, but not solely, by speed) the cerebral processing of the reader reading with eye and ear – the hypertextual path supplementing the path guided by human memory.

As this example attests, text analysis and concordancing software, such as TACT, has become essential in "raiding" Joyce, even more so when, in addition to highly flexible programs for browsing and searching, it also includes programs to produce anagrams, tables of collocations, frequency lists, graphs of distribution and the like.[2] But the Joycean pre-post-modernist (or radical modernist) project makes it even more appropriate since, as established in Thomas Rice's Joyce, Chaos and Complexity and my James Joyce's Techno-Poetics, Joyce utilized geometrical and arithmetical principles of organization as well as logico-mathematical and structural semiotic ones.[3]  This creates a context within which the computer aids and abets the radical type of "raiding" with its "decoding" and "dechording" which the Wake envisions in the reader's re-writing. The point is that such an interface does not only assist interpretation or understanding, but it also aids and abets a new mode of advanced modernist (or poststructuralist) reading, radically transverse, as our examples with mam-mem-mim-mom-mum demonstrate. It has been pointed out how the all important "yes" of Ulysses becomes associated in the extravagant play of the Wake with "eyes". Then the association of the "eye" (e-y-e) with "aye" (a-y-e) and then with capital "I" inter-relate the acts of seeing or vision, of affirmation, and of identity. Computers exponentially increase the capability to investigate the Wake not only by their use in concordancing, searching and linking or their statistical power, but also because their hypermediac encyclopaedism is complementary to the Wake's proto-hypermnesiac-encyclopaedism.

Since the Joycean world is consciously a world of permutations, combinations and probabilities, the ability of the computer to provide statistics and distribution graphs contributes further to its reading. I'll take a rather simplistic example. While the Wake is often described as a book about death, dream, sleep, trees and rivers, one of the more statistically significant words in it is "old" – there are 463 occurrences of "old" alone (about three times as many as would likely be anticipated). When this is supplemented by the use of "old" as an initial syllable in compounds, the count rises to 539. If a dominant variant of old, "auld" together with its initial appearance in compounds is added, the count increases to 555. One of these compounds combines "auld" with "ancient" in "auldancient", so that if we add "ancient" to the "auld" list another 23 new words are added for 578. (Additionally "auld" provides an interdiscursive node for the entire set of old-ancient-auld.) Distributional graphs further reveal the higher concentration of these occurrences are in the third of the four books dealing with the third and final Viconian era before the conclusion of one cycle and the beginning of another, or in sections dealing with the heroic Finn-HCE figure. The high collocation of the word "old" with "new" indicates the dual role of "old" ("auld") as past and of old as preparing for the new cycle. Although with Joyce's incredibly complex word-play statistical results must be tentative – usually erring on the conservative side – such analysis may reveal challenging, counter-intuitive views of the thematics of the Wake. Primarily, though, I am using it here to illustrate the potentialities for producing readings of the Wake, perhaps even reading the Wake in a manner closer to its conception, which can be accelerated and deepened by both a use of the computer and an understanding of the role of digitalisation, memory and hypermedia in the cybernetic.

Finally, by anticipating the emergence of hypermedia and virtual (artificial) realities, Joyce's hypermnesiac differential or calculating engine moved beyond the orality/literacy dichotomy, anticipating digitalization as part of the pre-history of cyberspace, and thus participating in the radical modernist drive to maximize synaesthesia and coenaesthesia (i.e., the integration of the arts). What are the further implications of this overt awareness, over fifty years ago, of the implications of hypermedia? First, concurring with Derrida and Rabaté, Joyce's post-encyclopaedic memory machine – at least for the moment – is beyond the computer in the speed and range of the linkages and the excessive productivity of what Joyce described as his "ambiviolence". His words, phrases, tales and assemblages encompass and yet go beyond the media, yet they simultaneously invite and demand the processes of reading possible in the context of hypertext, hypermedia, telecommunications and artificial reality. His work invites and incites the richest encyclopaedic setting – a setting which will generate readings beyond any specific intention, yet implicit in the global social and cultural context within which it was crafted where the readers (consumers) are perpetual ongoing producers. Second, together with Ulysses, through its very complexity the Wake should provide a practico-theoretic ground for the entire humanities computing community, since it attempts to be a summa of all the potentialities of speech and writing.

The current web and other digital projects of the Joycean community are generating a global pan-encyclopaedic hypertextual context for the reading of the Wake. This means that an elaborately online networked Finnegans Wake consisting of a multitude of international nodes will be generating itself in the next century constituting a practico-theoretic exercise in the limits of reading and understanding with implications for all texts. If one thinks of the complex tools for Joycean interpretation currently available on and off line – gazetteers, maps, collections of music, references to a multitude of books, sets of printed and online annotations, lexicons of classical, Gaelic, Scandinavian, Anglo-Irish and German words and word play, collections of photographs, stages of the manuscript, notebooks used in composition, etc. –, the ultimate value of a global interactive cooperation in generating a new context of reading – encyclopaedic, multi-media, yet alphabetic, photographic, phonographic, filmic, gestural and dramatic – will contribute to our new modes of "raiding" a text in which the computer will be both a tool and an alter-ego to the readers in their act of re-writing – the consumer-producers in their act of reproducing. Joyce's dream, having produced a virtual hypermedia, will generate through its researcher-readers a cyberspatial hypertext.


  • DERRIDA, Jacques (1984). "Two Words for Joyce: He War", in Postmodern Joyce (ed. Derik Attridge) Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
  • JOYCE, James (1999).  Finnegans Wake (ed. Donald and Joan Theall), Szeliga 1999.
  • LANCASHIRE, Ian, in collaboration with John BRADLEY, Willard MCCARTY, Michael STAIRS & T.R. WOOLDRIDGE (1996). Using TACT with Electronic Texts: Text-Analysis Computing Tools 2.1 for MS-DOS and PC DOS, New York: Modern Language Association.
  • RICE, Thomas Jackson (1997). Joyce, Chaos, and Complexity, Urbana and Chicago: U of Illinois P.
  • SZELIGA, Tim (1999).  Finnegans Web.  <URL:>.
  • THEALL, Donald F. (1997). James Joyce's Techno-Poetics, Toronto and Buffalo: U of Toronto P.



Donald Theall (Trent University)





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