WRITING THE IMPOSSIBLE: JOYCE, REALISM & THE ANTHROPOCENE, by Louis Armand*

*Paper presented at the 2019 North American James Joyce Symposium, “Joyce Without Borders”, 14 June 2019, at the CASUL, Ciudad de Mexico.

ABSTRACT: For the catalogue of the groundbreaking Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition at London’s ICA in 1968, John Cage wrote: “What we need is a computer that isn’t labour-saving but which increases the work for us to do – that puns (this is McLuhan’s idea as well as Joyce’s) revealing bridges (this is Brown’s idea) where we thought there weren’t any – turns us (my idea) not ‘on’ but into artists.” In the period since, the connection between Joyce, McLuhan, Cage & cybernetics has opened a purview onto what Donald Theall in 1995 famously called the “Joyce Era of technology, culture & communication.” At the time, Joyce’s later work heavily inflected postructuralist theories of writing & technicity, from Derrida onwards, productive of a radical “posthumanism” avant la lettre. The question that obtains today is, How do the implications of Joyce’s “revolution of the word” open new possibilities for experiment & resistance in the epoch of the Anthropocene? How does the Wake, as anti-labour-saving, affect more than merely a “critique” of our posthuman condition & define a strategy for writing back against the Anthropocene via an active subversionof the industrial/capitalist sublime? That is to say, via the subversion of those “means of production of reality” vested in logic of a realism defined by the obsolescence of semantic labour: that seamless acquiescence to the fantasy of perpetual cultural consumption without responsibility. If there is an ethical dimension to Joyce’s work it lies not so much in the question of semantic “content,” but in the resistance of medium; of language itself as the substance of the representable. If, in contradiction to the apocalyptic blandishments of neoliberalism, another end of the world is possible, it is firstly a question of articulating it. The supposed “impossibility” of going beyond the permissions of capitalist-realism & its world-totalising schemas, stands in direct relation to the experimental task of writing set down by Joyce.

KEYWORDS: Anthropocene, Cybernetics, Finnegans Wake, Alienation, James Joyce

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